Monday, January 29, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 1/22/18 to 1/28/18

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 

* John Seven on PARK BENCH by Chaboute, writing "Discomfort is a universal constant and a human requirement for change, and it's contained in deceivingly static spaces like park benches. Not static emotionally, though."

* Robin Enricho on WUVABLE OAF V by Ed Luce, "a series that holds an important place in indie comics as a uniquely queer male take on the romantic comedy."

* Scott Cederlund reviews Samplerman's FEARLESS COLORS, which is "like taking a weird acid trip through comics as images fall apart and melt down in front of you, recombining with different images to form brand new comic pages."

* Sam Ombiri on Coco Moodysson's NEVER GOODNIGHT.

* Ryan C. reviews THE BIG ME BOOK by Tom Van Deusen.

* Tom Murphy on MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS by Emil Ferris.

WHATNOT 

* Andy Oliver interviews LUCY SULLIVAN, who talks about her debut OGN Barking and the power of graphic medicine.

* Kat Overland interviews ROSIE BRAND "about her upcoming book, her sculpture work, and what she's been reading lately."

 Hillary Brown interviews TOMMI PARRISH about their new book, The Lie and How We Told It.

* ShortBox #7 is now available for PRE-ORDER until January 31st. If you're a friend of Your Chicken Enemy, you know that this is something to which you should pay attention, as three of my favorite books from last year were ShortBox releases. Unsurprisingly, Zainab Akhtar has an eye for all that is good in comics.

* And speaking of ShortBox, Rosie Knight interviews ZAINAB AKHTAR, the fantastic comics critic and curator/publisher of ShortBox.

* Ben Passmore's YOUR BLACK FRIEND has been turned into an animated short film.

* Toby Morris draws THE SIDE EYE: THIS IS NOT A TABLE.

* Sarah Horrocks' THE SPIRITUAL VERSUS THE POLITICAL IN ART.

* Marjorie Ingall's FINALLY, AN AGE-APPROPRIATE HOLOCAUST MOVIE FOR YOUNG VIEWERS which talks about the film, The Number on My Great-Grandpa's Arm.

* Lucy Bourton presents excerpts from Melani de Luca's book POST-BUTT which "looks beyond a good looking arse focusing on the 'virality of images in our mediated society'."

Friday, January 26, 2018

Cutting Deep But Missing The Artery: Ryan C. Reviews SLASHER by Charles Forsman

(Editor's Note: Ryan C. runs his own review site called Four Color Apocalypse which is full of his excellent writing. When Ryan asked if he could write about Charles Forsman's Slasher, I (being a Forsman fan), of course, said, "Please Do." Ryan's look at how Slasher fits into the Forsman oeuvre is insightful and absolutely worthy of your consideration.)

I'll say this much for Chuck Forsman's just-released Slasher trade paperback collection (Floating World Comics, originally serialized over five issues) --- it leaves you with plenty to think about. 

That's a good thing. As is Forsman's crisp, stark, cinematic cartooning and moody, inventive use of color. The book's visuals make the unnerving, the disturbing, both deeply and immediately human, offering no "safe distance" between reader and subject, utilizing a decidedly grindhouse aesthetic sensibility to deliver the goods by turning the world upside-down on page one (which explicitly portrays human beings as meat), then drawing back to something vaguely resembling "normalcy," and then absolutely going for the throat --- yes, literally. The ingredients for a memorable, even a classic, read? They're all here. 

And yet --- 

There's an inescapable sense that we've seen this all before, that Slasher is staking out something of a "middle ground" between Forsman's trademark "all is lost" portraits of alienated youth (The End Of The Fucking World, I Am Not Okay With This) and his genre-themed work (the two Revenger series). Certainly, in Slasher, he captures the flat and affect-less character of suburban American life that his protagonist, a data-entry clerk in her mid-20s named Christine, both internalizes and mirrors, with keen accuracy and clinical dispassion, but that's taken as a given with Forsman at this point. We know he does this sort of thing and does it well, and ditto for the specific details, which are likewise right up his alley --- Christine is sleepwalking through life, her sexual bloodlust providing the only points of exclamation in an otherwise wholly unremarkable existence; the internet, as you'd expect, has to date been the only "release valve" for her admittedly deviant fetish, and that's where she vicariously "meets" Joshua, a 14-year-old handicapped kid from nowhere, suffering through an openly vicious co-dependent relationship with his domineering, religious fanatic mother. Yeah, he's jailbait, but he "gets" her. Even prods her forward. Goads/coaxes her into taking things to the next level, into making her fantasies an actuality. In due course, she outfits herself with a "gimp"-esque leather mask/bodysuit combo and buys the knife of her dreams. Oh yeah --- shit's gonna get real. 

Her first "taste" of bloodletting (okay, bloodtaking) --- an anonymous bar pick-up that her gay "frenemy" warns her to avoid --- isn't enough. Things go a little bit wrong and she lets the poor schmuck live. Sorry, but that just ain't gonna cut it (insert groan here). But there's hope for upping the ante right around the corner. Her sleazy, sexually-harassing pig of a boss invites her over to his place for a bit of "fun" while his wife’s out of town. You already know only one person's coming out of that house alive. 

And so Christine's "career" as a serial killer begins, partly done for her own gratification, partly done to impress her ostensible "boyfriend." Shocking enough on paper, but again, par for the Forsman course. Two hopelessly broken souls come together and bring out the worst in each other. Why not? It's a premise that got him all the way to Netflix last time around (TEOTFW is now available as a streaming series on there in case you didn’t know). 

But wait! There is, as it turns out, a twist. And it's actually a damn good one --- so good that I won't "spoil" it, except to say that when Christine finally works up the nerve to track Joshua down in person, she learns that when it comes to the world of online perverts, well --- there's always a bigger fish. And herein lies Slasher's biggest opportunity --- unfortunately, as events play out, it turns out to be a missed one. 

For a good chunk of this story’s length, Forsman really does throw a spanner into the works. Things could go in any number of directions. We're thrust, at the 2/3 mark of the story, into the unknown. What will happen next is anyone's guess. Christine's bitten -- or cut --- off more than she can chew. All bets are off. And while I’ll grant you that the inherently conservative and moralistic undercurrent here --- "following your own desires is just gonna get you in trouble" --- is problematic, maybe even borderline-offensive, at least Forsman doesn't take the easy route of info-dumping some clumsy backstory onto his protagonist, of "explaining away" her fetish/need by means of some childhood abuse or trauma . Okay, yes, her relationship with her mother is far from healthy (another point of mutual understanding she shares with Joshua), but Christine is who and what she is, and now that we know that, can her emotional survival be negotiated in a world specifically aligned against that very possibility? That strikes me as a very worthy and challenging question. On the other hand, though, "no, it can't, so don't even try or you're doomed?" That's a gutless and far too easily-arrived-at answer. 

And "gutless" is the operative word for Slasher's final act. The inexorable tug begins almost as soon as the previously-referenced plot twist runs its course --- the magnetic pull toward what we've come, in fairly short order, to recognize as a typical Forsman ending. And he just can't resist. Maybe it's not even realistic to expect him to yet --- after all, in the scheme of things,, his career's just a handful of years old. But the simple fact that he shows, just pages earlier, that he’s willing to at least entertain the possibility of breaking his self-cast mold demonstrates that he recognizes it exists, and that some sort of way out of it must exist, as well. Then he seems to shrug his shoulders and admit that whatever that way may be, he just simply hasn't found it yet. For the time being, at least, he's a cartoonist who no doubt excels at taking readers out of their comfort zones --- but clearly isn't ready step out of his own, which is more than a bit of shame --- the opportunity to approach the questions he broaches about alienation and the way it manifests in a person’s pyshosexual urges in a new and more provocative way is there for the taking here, but at this point would it shock you to learn that Slasher ends the same way that The End Of The Fucking World does? The same way that I Am Not Okay With This does? 

Nah --- I didn't think so. 

As stated at the outset, Slasher at least leaves the reader with many questions to think about --- unfortunately, the biggest and most pressing of them is "When is Charles Forsman going to take the leap forward that he's been on the cusp of for some time now"? It very nearly happens here --- but he pulls his knife back at the very same moment Christine thrusts hers in for the final time. If you’re new to Forsman’s body of work, then you may get a lot out of this, but if you’re a longtime reader, well ---- this is just a bloodier version of a story he’s told us a couple of times already.


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Ryan C. lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He writes about comics for Daily Grindhouse, Graphic Policy, and at his own blog. He also maintains a long-running film review blog, Trash Film Guru.

Monday, January 22, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 1/15/18 to 1/21/18

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 

* John Seven on Anneli Furmak's RED WINTER, wherein "Furmark renders her story with a philosophical air, pushed forth by plenty of confessionary dialogue and self-examination, amidst the dark beauty of her artwork that offers a dark world of winter that hidden affairs can exist in as safe secrets protected by isolation."

* Robin Enrico reviews DAD'S WEEKEND by Pete Toms, in which "Toms' ability to render the intricacies of his character's performance only further accentuates the quiet desperation and despair they are going through."

* Jason Michelitch reviews BODY MUSIC, the new book by Julie Maroh, saying of it, "The visual style in Body Music is an assured synthesis of a fine arts attention to line and texture, and a cartoonist's vocabulary of caricature and iconic shorthand."

* Alex Hoffman writes about Joseph Remnant's new book, CARTOON CLOUDS, and wonders if the world really needs more books about white men "writing about the difficulty of making art." Hoffman also writes about Tommi Parrish's new book from Fantagraphics, THE LIE AND HOW WE TOLD IT calling it "one of the best graphic novels I've read in the past two years" which, coming from Hoffman, is high praise indeed.

* Andy Oliver looks at IT'S COLD IN THE RIVER AT NIGHT by Alex Potts, and writes "it's that feeling of recognition, that sense of shared experience regarding one of life's most fundamental yet often unattainable goals, that make this bleak psychological drama such a compelling read."

* Austin Lanri reads some comics and WRITES ABOUT THEM. This time he takes on Passing by Carta Monir (see below in the Whatnot section) and Blood Orange #2, a 2004 Fantagraphics Anthology.

* Ryan C. on Henriette Valium's THE PALACE OF CHAMPIONS, "Assaulting your eyeballs and sense of reason with equal gusto, Valium takes elements of old-school underground comix 'ugly art,' occult and Kabbalistic diagrams, and the other-dimensional architectural schematics of the visionary Paul Laffoley, adds in several drops of richly garish color, tosses it all in a blender, sets it on 'high,' and then pours what comes out five minutes later onto the page." Ryan also writes a review of AN EXORCISM by Theo Ellsworth. As Ellsworth is one of my favorite cartoonists creating today, I'm always interested in what other critics think of his work.

WHATNOT

* Nanette Asimov writes about last weekend's BLACK COMIX ARTS FESTIVAL in San Francisco.

* Rosie Knight's GET READY FOR A SILVER SPROCKET TAKEOVER in which she discusses both the San Francisco based small press publishing house and their slate of 2018 releases.

* Deepali Agarwal's HOW TO TALK TO MEN ABOUT COMICS.

* Carta Monir's comic on The Nib called PASSING.

* Joseph Nechvatal on Ugly Duckling Presse's THE BLIND MAN: NEW YORK DADA, 1917, a 1000-copy, boxed-set, limited-edition released as part of the Dada centennial celebration.

* Sarah LaBrie's WILL THE INTERNET DESTROY US ALL? ON FRANKLIN FOER'S 'WORLD WITHOUT MIND'.

* Bernard-Henri Levy's KING UBU, TRUMP'S DADAIST PRECURSOR.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Cities As Symbols: Philippe LeBlanc on STRUCTURES from Uncivilized Books

(Editor's Note: I've been following Philippe LeBlanc's writing over at The Beat for quite some time now, and I've always been impressed with his ability to write reviews about small press comics that come from a clear critical eye and a certain fearlessness in taking on difficult work. When Philippe said he'd like to write about the Structures series from Uncivilized Books for this site, I gave him carte blanche, as I knew he'd write something spectacular. As you can read below, I wasn't wrong.)





The first illustration comes next to the ominous words Cyclopean outpost. We see minuscule human shapes walking towards a massive metropolis, humongous in size. The figures are featureless, they barely register. How can a person matter when facing such an enormous city? We are minuscule, meaningless. These first pages marks the start of a multiyear, multi-artist project called Structures published via Uncivilized Books.

I remember meeting Tom Kazcynski, the publisher of Uncivilized books and cartoonist, at TCAF in 2014 and talking about the Structures project was going to materialize and now, four years later, I am reading Structures 1-11, the building block of this series.The book takes place in an immaterial void reflecting only a sliver of reality and not bound to a specific time of publishing. It is timeless. It’s about the structures we built and how we see them once they’re built. They become symbols. 


Art by Tom Kaczynski, Structures 1-11

I remember visiting Toronto for the first time and how being in the city felt. I’m from Quebec City, a much smaller city in comparison to Toronto’s enormous size. It was massive, tall and expanding into infinity. I remember the overwhelming feeling of invisibility, of worthlessness amongst a sea of human beings walking through the core of downtown in the winter, surrounded by towers hovering so far above me, I could barely register where they ended. I had been to major cities before, Montreal or New York are close relatives after all, but Toronto was something else. Perhaps it was this heterogeneous architecture, one that seems empty of planning or logic, skyscrapers surrounding townhouses, a lake with very little waterfront access on the ground (at least downtown directly), and other varied odd bits of patchwork creating the city. I remember when I first saw Denis Villeneuve’s film Enemy, it captured similar feelings as he depicted Toronto as a cage, a massive city with streetcars electrical grids constantly overhead, claustrophobia abounds. I wondered how a Metropolis such as this could have expanded this way, and how the modern wonders of architecture felt so dehumanizing and oppressive. 

Structures 1-11 stands as the foundation of this exploration of objects, space, and big ideas and it comes in deceptively small packages. It is not interested in depicting reality, but rather, it explores concepts on the outskirt of reality. What do our modern cities look like? What would the end of days look like? What is reality? All of those are contained within this series through abstraction and cryptic notes. The juxtaposition of words on a blank page and drawings on another is an interesting way to explore these concepts and a reminder of how comic books work. Comics are really just words over drawings, but what you can do with that is endless. 

Another example of these cryptic explorations of structures as symbol echoes across the two pages depicting The Tomb of Jack Kirby. It's a beautiful reminder of the massive legacy Kirby has left the comic book world. I remember reading about Kirby for the first-time in the pre-internet era of my childhood (in a copy of Wizard #33. I think). I believe it was a sort of a tribute issue, complete with a massive array of praise from a number of comics artists, editors, etc. Without having even seen his art, I knew how important his legacy was and how much comics owed to him. His creations fuel the big publishers to this day and his concepts are still the object of admiration. Depicting his legacy as a towering edifice of grief and wonder is bold and spot-on. Kaczynski creates a futuristic metropolis just on the edge of reality filled with tall concepts and ideas. Exploring our relationship with our landscapes and urban environment in our modern ages in 11 images is incredible. That four other cartoonists explored similar concepts is remarkable. 


Art by Vincent Stall, Structures 12-23

The following issues follow in the footsteps cleared by Kaczynski. Each artist tackles big, bold ideas about our modern world, and explores them in their own way. The recurring element of each comic is the structure of the comic itself, a blank page with text followed by a page with an illustration. Vincent Stall’s Structures 12-23 begins with a seeming collapse of civilization, leaving the world in ruins. From these ruins, a new type of architecture rises to impose its grotesque will on nature. We only see the structures built by the survivors as they cannibalized the past, the landscape, and nature itself to create a series of temporary habitats. Stall focuses on the way we accommodate ourselves by repurposing our surroundings. 


Art by Michael Deforge, Structures 24-34

Michael Deforge pushes these ideas forward in Structures 24-34 by moving away from physical structures and on to ideological ones. Deforge is looking at how nonsensical national myths can be. We take certain things for granted, but what we build as part of our national myth is often arbitrary. Some things are easier to understand, but others seem haphazard. Deforge shows various shapes and forms that are supposed to be items of national significance, whether it’s national ladders or national living rooms, and each image is twisted and unrecognizable. It forces the reader to consider how we build myths and why we take some things for granted when they can be, in fact, just irrational and subjective. Our inspiring stories and symbols are not always self-explanatory, if we’re thinking about some of our Canadian myths and how they take on a significance of national importance, one can understand how Maple syrup or the resilience of the beavers but some other elements are more nebulous than others. Canadian niceness, for example, is one of those that are harder to wrap your head around. Are people nice, or passive-aggressive, and how did this become part of our myths? 


Art by Patrick Kyle, Structures 35-45

In Structures 35-45 Patrick Kyle looks at the twisted structures of our mind. Kyle creates a world where everything is twisted into abstraction. It’s almost like navigating a dream, or a nightmare. You can almost recognize the structures he’s depicting, they are just twisted enough that you see the foundation of a table, or a chair, but the rest is barely decipherable. The text doesn’t talk about a structure, but of a construct of the mind, just bizarre enough to feel familiar, but strange enough to be horrific. My favourite example might be “Several people holding hands in a circle in a park somewhere in a neighbourhood in the city you live in but not in the neighbourhood you live in”. Kyle builds a nightmare for us to consider. How does our mind organize information and what happens if those structures are twisted? Kyle forces us to consider that, much like the construction of myths, habitats and cities, our psyche may not be as structured as we think. 

Structures is a series that has been exploring interesting topics throughout its short publication history. From the creation of modern society, to how we destroy nature for our own purpose, to how we construct myths and how our mind behaves, Structures show that comics can achieve thoughtful explorations of philosophical topics and existential questions even in small formats. The medium is made better by work like these, each piece builds onto the previous one to create something bigger than the sum of its part. Uncivilized Books can be very proud to publish such a strong and experimental comic series.


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Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improve Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie, and art comics at night and writes about them for The Comics Beat and Your Chicken Enemy

Monday, January 15, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 1/8/18 to 1/14/18

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

* Robin Enrico on RALPHIE AND JEANIE VOLUME 1 by Alabaster Pizzo, which "showcases her range as an artist in creating more widely accessible work while still maintaining the emotional core of her earlier heavy-minded work."

* Sayalee KarKare looks at Leslie Stein's collection, PRESENT, saying, "It is these little moments of life, of desperation, loneliness, and connection that Stein specializes in, capturing perfectly the colors of each state of elation, sadness and despair with her broad palette of colors."

* Ardo Omer writes about her reaction to Xia Gordon's KINDLING. I really appreciate the honesty of her review. Reviews that allow me insight into both the work being reviewed and the reviewer writing the review are some of my favorites (as you could probably guess, if you've ever read any of my reviews)

* Christine Ro on MAGRITTE: THIS IS NOT A BIOGRAPHY by Vincent Zabus and Thomas Campi, which is "more interested intensions between the desire to know an artist and the dangers of over-romanticizing them."

Leonard Pierce reviews SLASHER by Charles Forsman, wherein "the raw presentation with which Forsman unspools the narrative, both simple and thoughtful, gives it room to go about its task with plenty of air to knock out of us, and it manages just enough in the way of twists and upheavals to give it some depth of meaning, even as its brutality threatens to crowd it off the page."

* Sam Ombiri has some thoughts about DNA FAILURE: BRITISH WEAPON COMICS by Leon Sadler

* Ryan C. on Tyler Landry's SHIT AND PISS, which inspires him to write, "this is a predatory existence, and when our back is against the wall, we have no choice but to not only accept, but to embrace that fact. The strong will survive, and those who have been too strong for too long will inevitably sow the seeds of their own destruction somewhere deep within the by-product of their own excess."

* John Seven looks at Alexis Deacon's GEIS, a "parable of power and authority, by way of the Grimm Brothers, and through the lens of breathtaking illustration work that captures wonder and darkness together."

* Scott Cederlund on MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS by Emil Ferris which "perfectly captures that moment in our lives where we're between seeing the world through a child's eyes and understanding it from an adults point of view."

* Andy Oliver on KATZINE: THE GUATEMALA ISSUE by Katriona Champman, "comprising gentle social commetary, addictive trivia and small insights into her everyday routine, it's alost a sequential art Sunday supplement version of Chapman's life."

* If you hadn't noticed, I tried as best as I could to avoid linking to any "Best Of ..." type posts in this round-up over the past month or so, but I will make an exception here because it's Alex Hoffman and he frames it as COMICS THAT CHALLENGED ME IN 2017

WHATNOT

* Broken Frontier announces its SIX SMALL PRESS CREATORS TO WATCH IN 2018, all of which seem to be hugely talented. 

* In response to a series of tweets by Erik Larsen, one of the founders of Image Comics, Chase Magnett writes this editorial titled THE DANGEROUS IDEA OF A COMICS MERITOCRACY

* Art Vinyl announces THE BEST RECORD COVER ARTWORK OF 2017.

* Ben Yagoda writes a piece for Slate called THE REVIEWER'S FALLACY: WHEN CRITICS AREN'T CRITICAL ENOUGH which, while I don't agree with everything Yagoda says, is at least worth a read.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Fantasy of Fascism Hides Behind a Mask: Chase Magnett on TWILIGHT OF THE BAT by Josh Simmons and Patrick Keck

(Editor's Note: Batman is awful for a number of reasons, so when Chase Magnett pitched me the idea of reviewing Josh Simmons and Patrick Keck's Twilight of the Bat as being an examination of the fascist reality of superheroes like Batman, how could I say no? Read what Chase has to say below, and feel free to @ me about how much you hate Batman too.)



2017 was the year where superhero comics proved they were not up to the task of handling fascism. Their status quo of heroism, their need to please all possible readers, and their simple one-two solutions were exposed as farcical in the face of a genuinely daunting historical moment. None of this is news though. The superhero genre has always been a power fantasy, one that too often flirts with fascism. Fantasies like those dressed in capes are personal things and best expose our hopes, desires, and dreams, for better or worse. 

That is the understanding Twilight of the Bat brings to the genre. This 20-page story, written by Josh Simmons and drawn by Patrick Keck, tells the story of a familiar hero named “The Bat” who is alone in the wasteland of G- City until he finds its only other surviving inhabitant, “Joke Man”. The pair resembles two of the most popular comic book characters of the past century exactly as their names suggest, and their personalities clash along similar lines when left to endure a barren hellscape together. 

In spite of the obvious hook—something that might be spun as an Elseworlds tale by DC Comics—Simmons and Keck are largely uninterested in the idea of asking “what if” about Batman and The Joker. Rather, they are much more engaged by what this pair represents, even when read outside of the context of a 75-year-old ongoing series. The Bat is as much an archetypal superhero as a Batman analog, the same for Joke Man in his role as supervillain. If anything, the Batman comparisons more easily connect with the darker, more violent aspects of superhero stories than say those of Superman or Wonder Woman. Batman is defined as a vigilante, a seeker of justice, and a figure of fear. He is the popular superhero most easily associated with the fascist tendencies within the genre. Batman seeks to impose his worldview upon society, and he values order above all else. His methods are based in violence and fear in order to make Gotham City align with what he believes it ought to be — a fundamentally fascist fantasy. 




In Twilight of the Bat, the post-apocalyptic wasteland detailed by Keck effectively ends The Bat’s raison d'être. It’s apparent in the first couple of pages that nothing else lives in the streets of G- City now, with every aspect of the city taking on the texture of burnt wood and its citizens nothing but soot-covered bones. How The Bat and Joke Man survived is beside the point; there is nothing else left in this world. So how does The Bat choose to live when there’s no more justice to inflict or criminals to frighten? The sad answer in Twilight of the Bat is that he doesn’t change a thing. 

In a scenario where law and order have ceased to hold meaning, The Bat views Joke Man as an opportunity to recreate his mission. Everything Joke Man does is an opening for The Bat to summon his disgust and anger once more. In the context of a Batman comic, this might make sense as the villian would poison the reservoir or take children hostages, but in Twilight of the Bat, Simmons and Keck make it clear that the superhero urge is driven by an instinct to control not to protect. 

Joke Man is the sympathetic foil required by this narrative. His face is that of a burn victim and his actions are regularly repulsive, but there’s nothing inherently evil about this human being. When examined carefully, Joke Man becomes the caretaker and empathetic soul of the story. Everything he does is as an action of love. Joke Man repeatedly tells The Bat that he loves him. He makes a fool of himself, painting lipstick with his own blood and smearing himself with feces, in order to make The Bat laugh. He even goes through a dramatic routine at night, baking cupcakes and putting footprints in the snow, to provide The Bat with hope. Like some deranged mother, Joke Man perceives and reacts to the needs of The Bat at every turn. 

These actions are taken as affronts by The Bat, though. He handcuffs Joke Man at night, brutalizes and curses him, and even goes so far as to bite off a finger when angered by Joke Man’s dancing. Joke Man’s dance is not a moral misstep by any reasonable standard. The dance is simply an offense to The Bat’s understanding of order. Faced with the horrors of this world, The Bat’s only response is to remain stoic and dour with even the very hint of laughter causing him to grimace. The Bat does not want to dance or enjoy this moment, and he violently seeks to force Joke Man from doing so either. 




In the end, Joke Man’s ultimate offense is his otherness. This can be seen as a homophobic “othering” at times, as The Bat is clearly disturbed by direct pronouncements of affection from another man. When Joke Man kisses The Bat on the nose or says “I love you”, Keck always leaves an open panel in which The Bat’s expression does not change. He appears incapable of processing or accepting any form of affection. This lack of response becomes disgust given enough time. When Joke Man carries on a monologue or dances for an extended period of time, Keck slowly warps The Bat’s face towards anger until he lashes out. This feeling of disgust ultimately boils over and The Bat murders Joke Man. He rejects his last opportunity to engage with any person or idea outside of himself. 

And in this, Simmons and Keck suggest that the very concepts of life and personality run contrary to The Bat’s mission, offering, as they do, alternatives to the world he desires. His only true happiness come from an adult and child that exist only in his imagination. People are only pure so long as he does not see or speak with them. He can cry out with joy at the thought of them, but breaks the only living thing he encounters. 

Twilight of the Bat is a final chapter. The shell of G- City is a place without people, without otherness; it is the world The Bat created through neverending battles with anything abnormal, specifically anything that does not fit The Bat’s definition of normal. Keck’s ruinous terrain and the final panels of a seemingly endless white expanse swallowing The Bat are visual metaphors for the fantasy of control taken to its furthest logical extent. An endless need for control, the shaping of society to reflect an individual’s single desires, ultimately negates the very concept of society. The Bat abhors anything unlike himself and, when given the choice between life with others or an eternity alone, he chooses the latter. That does not stop him from mourning the decision, but the decision was his and, once made, it cannot be taken back. 

The personal fantasy of enforcing law and order, shaping society to be the thing we deem it ought to be is linked to The Bat’s vision of the world. He desires control without concern for diversity. His fascism is personal and destructive on an intimate scale. While the husk of G- City may not be his responsibility, his ultimate loneliness is. The twilight of this world is his construct, a dream of singular vision and absolute control. It simply cannot abide any other forms of thought or life. 

Power, revenge, and control fantasies are ugly things even when wrapped in a cape. The superhero that seeks to control us cannot save us. A character like The Bat does not offer hope for all, merely a fascist fantasy for the reader who imagines putting the world in their own personal order. Terms like “criminal” and “justice” are tossed around to make the plot sound proper, but they are propaganda encouraging readers to embrace law and order above all else. So Twilight of the Bat transcends an indictment of this form of the superhero genre and strikes at the broader set of fantasies defined by these terms. The proselytization of law and order, rampant homophobia, and urge to suppress anything outside of an internalized “normal” are hallmarks of the modern conservative movement. Just as Batman’s fantasy has been normalized in popular culture, so have the fascist leanings of an entire political party. Their ugliness is exposed in absurdity here, but the truth of the ugliness remains. At the end of Twilight of the Bat, The Bat learns the fatal flaw of this fantasy when left entirely alone, a lesson first offered by Terry Pratchett in the pages of Mort: “There is no justice. Just us.”
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Chase Magnett is an educator and freelance writer. You can also find his comics writing at ComicBook.Com and Comics Bulletin, as well YCE. He is currently working his way through grad school to work in public education. If you'd like to hire him, please send an e-mail to chase.magnett@gmail.com.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: KINDLING by Xia Gordon


Sometimes a work of art hits you in a visceral, aesthetic way upon your first encounter with it. That reaction, though, dissipates slowly as you begin to unpack it by applying logic and reasoning to the experience, and, often, as it is wont to do, your new understanding is less fraught and more manageable. 

Yet, in rare occasions, something else happens. 

Kindling, the new book by Brooklyn-based artist Xia Gordon (published by 2dCloud), somehow withstands the loss of its initial emotionally-charged power through analysis. In a way, it gains more of an innate, earnest sensibility through the application of head upon heart, upending the duality, and becoming something more. 

This is a beautiful book. 

The solicitation on the 2dCloud site reads: “Hazy, gesture rich lines explore ideas on love, altruism, and self-sacrifice. Abstract and expressive, visceral and affective, elusive and palpable. A letter to the universe and to oneself: LOVE!” This is the kind of talk that occurs when your language breaks down in order to convey that which you feel the strongest. And yet, what else is there to say? 

Gordon’s art is gesticulation, indication. It allows just enough to appeal to the sense-making structures to operate as they do in order to make meaning, but its true impact is in the way it unwraps loose from the page as if almost to caress, to welcome, to enfold. Two-color risographed in a soft red and blue, Kindling at times hearkens to that 3D Anaglyph effect that requires those plastic glasses that you always ending up losing at some point. This adds to the richness and depth of its communication, both upon thinking about and feeling through it. 
Kindling tells the story of journey. It tells a story of struggle. Ultimately, though, it tells a story of acceptance: acceptance of the self and acceptance that, even with this, the journey continues. Gordon makes the most of her title for this book. It serves as the building blocks to idea, to self, to community, and to affirmation. 

Towards the end of Kindling, Gordon has scratched out a line of text that reads something like (it’s hard to discern through the scribble), “I know you’d feel better(?) if you were here.” and replaces it with “I think you’d like this place.” The simple shift from “I know you’d” to “I think you’d” is all you need to understand what Gordon is after in this book. Reconsidering and choosing not to tell someone the truth of your head, but rather offer them the hope of your heart is the prime mover of Kindling

It is these small signals that show Gordon is in command of her craft and an artist who has something to share.

Monday, January 8, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 1/1/18 to 1/7/18

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 

* Robin Enrico reviews ORBITING by Penina Gal, "the work of an artist who gained access to the deeper currents of our shared humanity as well as the knowledge of how to pluck those chords with masterful precision."

* Carta Monir examines GG's I'M NOT HERE, saying "It's not just the story about the guilt a daughter feels -- it becomes the story of the nuanced kinds of guilt she might feel in an unlimited number of circumstances."

* Philippe LeBlanc reviews BLANC by Margaux Othats which "feels like a warm blanket, some sweet voice reminding you that the cold is temporary, that the hard times will end and things will get better soon."

* Andy Oliver on Daniel Locke and David Blandy's OUT OF NOTHING, a book "that underlines just how effective the form is in breaking down and exploring profoundly layered ideas with clarity and immediacy."

* Tegan O'Neil reviews SUGAR TOWN by Hazel Newlevant, in which "Every page of the book is infused with an aesthetic understanding of queerness as a way of life defined (at least within these pages) by kindness and respect."

* John Seven takes a look at Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes' THE CASE OF THE MISSING MEN, writing, "As much as it takes its place in the teen investigative pantheon, it also understands its place within it. Teens search and search and seek change, but inevitably get swept up int he chaos that generations before them have tried to keep under control. Becoming an adult is the moment you take on that responsibility, when you work to keep all that came before waging the full scale destruction it always threatens to. Becoming an enlightened adult is that moment when you try to do it a little differently from those who came before you, maybe even understand its fury."

* Matt Lune reviews I LOVE THIS PART by Tillie Walden, " a vulnerable exploration of just how fragile love can be, especially first love, and especially first love between two people discovering their sexuality with each other."

* Ryan C. on CRUST by Sarah Romano Diehl, saying "The innovative style on display in this book may be quiet and unassuming, but it's nevertheless both very real and very refreshing."

WHATNOT 

* Yair Rosenberg interviews G.WILLOW WILSON in a piece titled, "Why a Muslim Comic Book Writer just introduced a Yeshiva Student and Kosher Food into the Marvel Universe." where Wilson explains what religion can bring to the world of comics.

* Rosie Knight talks to ALES KOT about his upcoming Image book, Days of Hate, and it leads to this amazing piece over on Women Write About Comics.

* Broken Frontier lists TEN UK SMALL PRESS COMICS YOU NEED TO OWN and, with a headline that acts as a command, how can you ignore it? Plus... you know ... it's a pretty damn good list.

* Philippe LeBlanc has put together a hurried but thorough SMALL PRESS AND INDIE COMICS GALORE NEW YEAR'S EDITION for The Beat. Once again, LeBlanc does a much better job of this "round-up" nonsense than I (oh, to be young and Canadian), but I'll keep going, if for no other reason than to link to his list every couple of weeks.

* MUST SEE OF THE WEEK: This comic by Sam Alden called DRAGON YEAR.

* Jon Curley on the new Susan Lewis collection of prose poems, HEISENBERG'S SALON, in which "Lewis refuses causal, casual, transparent notions of relations between concepts, people, or situations. She senses the irrational lurking within every gesture, symbol, structure, and sentiment. She does not exult in confusion and skepticism but dutifully communicates them..."

* Adam O'Fallon Price's piece titled REGARDING THE EM DASH is written -- as if a little gift from the back of my brain -- specifically for me.

* Walter Laqueur's HAVE "LEFT" AND "RIGHT" OUTLIVED THEIR MEANING? which asks the question, "Are we now on the eve of the emergence of a new, Fifth International?"