Sunday, April 9, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 4/3/17 to 4/9/17

Highlighting some great small press comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.

COMICS CRITICISM

* Andy Oliver takes a look at KATZINE: THE FACTORY ISSUE by Katriona Chapman, and calls it "a love letter to a place and period of Chapman's life now lost to all but memory, a eulogy to relationships and people now dispersed and scattered, and a reminder of the vital importance of those lives that our own, however briefly."

* John Seven reviews James Albon's HER BARK AND HER BITE which "pulls from a fantasy version of an older era, but manages to do so in a way that is neither entrenched in the era it evokes or lodged in the present."

* Kim Jooha waits until early April to give us her amazing BEST COMICS OF 2016 (part 1) -- and it is well worth that wait!

* Rob Clough on DEMON VOLUMES 1 AND 2 by Jason Shiga, "a book about strategy and lateral thinking as much as it is about anything else."

* Nick Hanover reviews SPENCER AND LOCKE by David Pepose and Jorge Santiago, "a ghoulish and mean-spirited work".

* Jason Wilkins reviews Teva Harrison's IN-BETWEEN DAYS, a "memoir chronicling her life as a metastatic cancer patient" which "is graphic medicine at its finest."

WHATNOT

* Naomi Fry interviews VANESSA DAVIS.

* Cara Bean's THE ART CLASS IS A SANCTUARY CITY.

* J. A. Micheline's on-point observations in her op-ed piece for The Guardian, MARVEL SUPERHEROES AREN'T JUST FOR WHITE MEN -- TRUE DIVERSITY COULD BOOST SALES.

* Logan Dalton's 20 YEARS LATER: CHASING AMY IS A NICE TRY FOR A STRAIGHT GUY.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

People, Places, Ourselves

THESIS
By Arta Ajeti
Available by from the artist directly at: Arta@ajeti.com

Fluidity. It’s the first thing we feel, floating in our mother’s womb, and what we felt long ago as single-celled amoeba floating in the sea. It’s also the main sensual component of lucid dreams and metanarratives. Arta Ajeti’s Thesis captures fluidity in all its strange ways, from floating in space, to dizzying breaks in reality, to the awesome and terrifying process of becoming someone new while still identifying as the same person. “How have I always remained me?” the narrator of Thesis asks, “Why am I still here now?”

Thesis is shaped and emphasized by four colors: black, white, pastel pink, and varying shades of greenish blue. It’s the blue, with its association with water, that strikes the most powerfully. It drips within a black and white subway station, it becomes a pool and then a bath in which the narrator submerges, and then it infects everything. As it breaks into an implied infinite number of the same simply-detailed, profiled face over and over again and Ajeti’s penciled drawings of diverse individuals swim in between, one gets the same sensation as they do when within bustling city streets. We are just one of many.

And we are one of many in not only this crowded Earth, but in ourselves. This concept culminates in Ajeti’s most magnificent page, which is of the human eye. The blue iris is no regular iris, it’s of that same simple profiled face repeating four times. In the center, instead of a pupil, sits not a profile, but a full face in white. Staring out at the reader like a reflection in a mirror, the basic composition of its features form a quality as universal as the blue water. Here I am, it says. I am me now, but I am destined to grow and shed and leave someone anew behind me. So shall you.

Reading “Thesis” is to swim through it. And while swimming, to consider the fluidity of water and the fluidity of humanity. We are ever growing, ever changing, ever more than a little bit horrified by it. But it’s sometimes nice to see the experience of our existence understood in a book rendered in black, white, pastel pink, and greenish-blues.

-- Ray Sonne @RaySonne

GREY AREA: OUR TOWN
By Tim Bird
Published by Avery Hill
Available HERE


There’s a path. By the river. Behind the retail park. We followed it through the woods. Along the back of the houses. To the gap in the fence.”

So begins Tim Bird’s latest comic from Avery Hill Publishing, Grey Area: Our Town. It is that last line, “the gap in the fence,” that resonates and informs everything that happens in this book.  “Place. Memory. Stories. Lives” -- this is a book about time and connection and creating. It is about getting old. It is about us.

In 32 pages of mostly 12-panel layouts, Bird quietly spans a man’s lifetime, focusing mostly on the relationships he has built. The most significant relationship is with a woman he meets, a woman who has been blanketing his town with hundreds of carefully folded, red origami cranes. He seems to fall in love with her not only for bringing beauty into the world, but also because of her relationship with the place so important to him as a child, the place he flew his red kite with his father, the place beyond “the gap in the fence.”

There is no mistaking that the red kite and the red cranes are meant to echo each other.

Place. Fenced in.

But is a fence a fence if it has a gap in it? The answer is the same one you must come to when you contemplate whether an origami crane is still a piece of paper. Transforming objects through the simple act of rethinking is the same as how we define our relationship with others and the places we’ve been. Your hometown is still your hometown, even when you see it after having been away for a long time. Echoes of your former connection with that place remain, undulating through your current understanding of what that place has become. New buildings are erected and old haunts are transformed. But your memory of what was once there still exists and acts as a lens to your perception. Your memory is a filter, superimposing time onto space.

So, too, is it with those with whom we connect. The person you fall in love with is still the person you see, always, no matter how much they have changed. The past and the present is a mental balance you constantly strive with and for and against the longer you are together. In that way, people, too, are places in our heads, moments of our lives, signposts in our development.

Bird speaks to these issues through his art in these pages: characters abstracted, objects tight in their lines, everything awash in greys and blues and browns, punctuated (always punctuated) by a crimson red. His theme plays out like a poem, lyrical and rhythmic, each artistic choice carefully considered, each panel full and absolutely necessary to the rest of the piece.

Who we are is always who we were no matter how much we change. A place is a place no matter how it is transformed. A fence, though? A fence is no longer a fence if there is a gap in it. It is an invitation, a doorway, an opening to whatever comes next. A piece of paper, once folded, is no longer what it was., Depending on how it is folded, it can become a beautiful bird, one that brings us together, or one that flies away.

There’s a path. By the river. Behind the retail park. We followed it through the woods. Along the back of the houses. To the gap in the fence.”

Place. Memory. Stories. Lives.

Tim Bird’s Grey Area: Our Town is a snapshot of all of this. It is also a mirror we can plant at a distance and see everything that encompases us, reflected.

-- Daniel Elkin @DanielElkin

Sunday, April 2, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 3/27/17 to 4/2/17

Highlighting some great small press comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.

COMICS CRITICISM

* Leon K reviews Carta Monir's SECURE CONNECT, in which "the autobiographical allusions and affirmative conclusion of the comic characterize the work as an act of self-care, the making of the comic allowing for the purging of unwanted thoughts or feelings on the creator's part."

* Marjorie Ingall on CALIFORNIA DREAMIN': CASS ELLIOT BEFORE THE MAMAS AND PAPAS,  a book that's "funny, sad, Jewy ...  and a little troubling."

* Alenka Figa, Melissa Brinks, and Kat Overland review a group of small press books in the column SMALL PRESS BITES on WWAC. Featured this week are books by Pam Wishbow, Wendy Xu, Ens Current, and the zine Library Excavations #1

* Alex Hoffman looks at DRAW BLOOD by Ron Hotz, where the "characters' movement through the scrap and clutter of the medical establishment pulls the reader deeper into the fear and anxiety that generated them in the first place."

* Sam Ombiri reviews Dash Shaw's COSPLAYERS.

* Philippe LeBlanc on Sloane Leong's A HOLLOWING, a "dense and layered" comic.

WHATNOT

* SMALL PRESS DAY 2017 has been scheduled in the UK for Saturday, July 8th. Andy Oliver talks details HERE and it sounds great. I wonder if there is enough interest and enough of a market to pull something like this off in the US? Or are we already saturated with small press conventions?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Epic Adventures

Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s Small Press Review Column


UNTITLED APE’S EPIC ADVENTURE
By Steven Tillotson
Published by Avery Hill Publishing
Available HERE


Steven Tillotson’s Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure is a joyous undertaking of understanding and unpacking. It’s as if Tillotson, with the deftness of an origami master, folded a map into a beautiful crane that takes on a life of its own while still providing directions. New paths are formed where the folds intersect, while the bird stands ready to take flight.


The narrative of this book is, for lack of a better term, bonkers. Trying to explain it here would only lead you to begin to question my sanity, as it shifts, constantly one-upping itself in absurdity. The story is, as I said, bonkers.


The back cover blurb reads: “On this particular morning in this particular place, Untitled Ape (a giant purple ghost-beast) has decided he needs to see his family. His friend Cat (a cat) doesn’t think it’s a particularly good idea, but at this very moment a massive storm rolls in and their epic adventure begins. Without a map or much of a plan, they journey through flooded cities and stormy seas, across frozen plains and snowy mountains, and even up into the world of the clouds on their quest to find Ape’s home in the jungle. Meanwhile and elsewhere, Ape’s past is starting to catch up with him, and it becomes more and more difficult to keep his dark history from Cat… What happened to Ape? Why doesn’t he have a name? And can he resist the pressure to return to his old life and make sure his friends and family are safe?


Each step forward in this charming and poignant comic reveals new truths and extends the depth of every character introduced. With each turn of its pages, you venture further into this odd enterprise. As you read Untitled Ape, you begin to wonder if Tillotson is making all this up as he is going along, aimless and full of jokes -- a prank battle between a yeti and a mammoth, a world in the clouds staffed by bureaucratic birds, beasts of hell who think twice before being beasts. And yet, there you are at the end of Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure in exactly the place you needed to be all along.
Tillotson’s art expands the surreal nature of this epic adventure. There is a casualness to his line and a warmth to his palette that functions like well-worn, Naugahyde Barcalounger; it envelops you, lulling you into the snug comfort of the familiar, the soft support of the easily recognizable. Then, suddenly, perspective heaves or there is a flurry of panels on a page or, seemingly out of nowhere, Tillotson evokes Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Each lurch in style jolts your reading, pulls you out of your idleness, as if someone, giggling, ran an electric current through your chair.


As is true with so many other things in life, the most epic adventures tend to be the ones you don’t even know you are on until after they have ended. The stories we tell over and over are the experiences that can only be fully appreciated in retrospect. By folding the map, you discover new paths or you bring separate journeys together onto the same road. And sometimes, through our careful folding, we create objects of art out of our maps, ones that will transcend the comfortable and fly off on their own adventure.


Steven Tillotson’s Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure is this art object. It is a damn fine journey to go on.


-- Daniel Elkin


SECURE CONNECT
By Carta Monir
2dcloud
Available HERE


The finest art pieces show the world from the perspective of a complete stranger. Through the artist’s chosen medium, we gain deep insights into the world as others experience it. Art breaks down walls by giving us perspective into others. In doing so, the finest art pieces provide deep empathy for experiences outside our own quotidian lives.


Carta Monir’s new mini, Secure Connect, released by 2dcloud, does a beautiful job of helping me understand the world from the perspective of a complete stranger, a person who I probably wouldn't have looked at closely if I saw them in my everyday life. It provides me a strikingly intimate portrait of a woman whose unsettled life is very different from my own very settled life. In doing so, it shakes me up, allows me to feel emotions I wouldn’t have experienced, makes me understand the world through someone else’s memorable eyes.


Secure Connect puts readers in the head of a trans woman named Maria as she takes part in an anonymous online support group. She and three other members of the group take turns sharing images from their past, discussing fears about their lives, and wearing an image that means a lot to them. The process seems on the surface to be simple, helpful, and companionable. However, as Maria experiences the chat, the emotional nakedness of the chat only makes her feel more estranged from herself.


With Monir’s intimate approach to design and storytelling, readers feel themselves experiencing the chat as Maria does. Monir’s varied approach to page design, alternating between straightforward comic storytelling, small cameo panels mixed with text, and images from computer screens, shows Maria’s reactions in a dizzying array of images as headspinning for the reader as they are for her. We sense Maria’s mood shifts as she is confronted with highly fraught sexual images that make her feel voyeuristic and uncomfortable. We can imagine her face curl in disgust, confusion, or delight even when Monir chooses to depict the computer screen instead of the human face. This interior/exterior dichotomy beautifully captures the way we interact with the internet. This seemingly ragged storytelling approach, in fact, delivers deep insight.
A key moment in the book is one of deep and revealing angst. Maria shares a photo of her former male identity to the group but doesn’t reveal that it is her. Instead she says the picture is of her boyfriend in the middle of a sex act with her. Monir juxtaposes the clucking disapproval of her chat companions with the disgust Maria feels about letting others see a picture they describe as making them “shudder” (as one says) at the man’s “memorable eyes”. We are only shown the image for one page, but the resonance of that photo bounces throughout the rest of this book, as it constantly does around Maria’s mind. Just like real life, the past experiences she carries in her head are inescapable. She has complicated feelings about her previous identity, a mix of disgust, empathy, and self-love. The chat brings all those feelings to the surface. Though the reader has had different experiences from Maria’s, her reactions cause us to reflect on changes we have made in our lives and whether we might lie about the person we were in past lives.


Thus we see that the “secure connection” Maria is searching for may not be in a group of anonymous strangers with different life experiences than hers. The “secure connection” for which she is truly searching is within herself. As she says at the end of the mini, “An image of my face hidden under so many other images until the system can’t handle it. What am I underneath? I am blank paper.” Monir implies that until Maria can fill in that blank paper, she will always remain disconnected from others. Until she is filled in, Maria is compelled to lie about herself, even in an anonymous situation, because she is lying to herself. However, in Maria’s final statement about being a blank piece of paper, we have a small moment of optimism. We don’t know what will be written on that paper, but we’re left hoping it will bring Maria more profound connections to the world around her.


But connections are fraught with emotional risk and seldom are made without cost. Each of the members of the chat is asked to repeat the mantra “I will remake myself in my own image.” However, an image implies an external state, a view from outside the head of the person being remade. Often the most insecure connection we make is the one we make within ourselves. Maria says, “To be honest, I haven’t felt good about tonight’s session.” In her ambivalence about the session, we also feel an ambivalence about her ability to remake herself. She no longer is the man who makes others shudder, but she still has those intense eyes that still provide a nuanced view into her complex soul.


Carta Monir provides a deep connection to a complete stranger. Maria may be an enigma to herself, but under Monir’s empathetic guidance we gain sympathy and understanding of Maria and, therefore, of ourselves. Secure Connect provides a connection to others as people and provides insight into the reader’s life as well.


-- Jason Sacks