Friday, June 29, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 6/22/18 to 6/29/18

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

* Daniel Schindel reviews GUMBALLS by Erin Nations, saying "reading Gumballs is like getting different bite-sized experiences vended to you one at a time. For Nations, self-described as intensely introverted, this is a middle ground between complete memoiristic interiority and incorporating other points of view into his work. Many of his shorts speak to a desire to connect but trepidation toward people, and with Gumballs he charts both his own gradually mounting self-actualization as a trans man and his imaginings of other people’s thoughts."

* Rob Clough on BEHIND THICK GLASS, I SAW THE STARS by Rob Jackson, whose "overall message is: there's always someone bigger than you, but there are ways around that."

* Kevin Bramer looks at GOITER #2 by Josh Pettinger

* Chris Mautner on THE NEW WORLD: COMICS FROM MAURETANIA by Chris Reynolds, writing "There’s an overwhelming sense of loss that suffuses The New World, of missed opportunities and time eradicating the landmarks that were once held importance to you. It’s not nostalgia, per se, as much as it is an awareness of the passage of time, a recognition that special moments, once obtained, are impossible to return to or recreate."

* Robin Enrico reviews Iasmin Omar Ata's MIS(H)ADRA, writing "What makes the work stand out is that unlike many other graphic narratives dealing with disease not only is this one is fictional (though based on the creator’s own direct experience) it also comes from the perspective of someone in their early twenties. It is refreshing to see such a new take on the narrative of chronic illness, one in which the protagonist not only should be in the prime of their lives but is not."

* Sam Ombiri on MERE by C.F., "a personal document of art in that it doesn’t care what it’s documenting. Rather it is more preoccupied with how it’s documenting it." 
WHATNOT

* Robin McConnell interviews TOMMI PARRISH about their latest book.

* Tara Booth has new comics up on Vice: PISSING IN NATURE, STARTING FIRES, AND BEING AFRAID OF THE DARK.

* Seo Kim also has another comic on Vice called DRAWER FULL OF TAKEOUT UTENSILS.

* Gina Brandolino has another installment of Comics Academe on WWAC, this one titled LOOK HARDER: CHOOSING COMICS FOR THE CLASSROOM.

* Austin English has this MUST READ column up on TCJ this week called SIMPLIFY, STUPID in which he wonders if Will Eisner really deserves more acclaim than Don Martin, compares Crumb's "Short History of America" to corny Green Lantern comics, sticks up for Carlos Burgos and Anke Feuchtenberger, and pans Kristen Radtke."

* Daphne Milner has this really interesting essay called FROM @TABLOIDARTHISTORY TO THE ROYAL COURT: SOCIAL MEDIA'S INFLUENCE ON ART CRITICISM

* Kayleigh Hughes wrote WHY IT WILL NEVER BE THE WRONG TIME TO LIZ PHAIR'S EXILE IN GUYVILLE and you should read it because it is a pretty spectacular piece of writing.


Monday, June 25, 2018

Review: YOUR MOTHER'S FOX by Niv Sekar

From the first moment of YOUR MOTHER’S FOX, Niv Sekar’s new book from ShortBox, the reader finds her or himself in the uncomfortable space between observer and observed through the simple use of the second person subjective pronoun “you”. Sekar’s choice to place the framing narration of this book in the second person perspective directly addresses the audience and forces a connection between them and subject of the main narrative, which essentially focuses on the story of an “other”, a twenty-nine-year-old second-generation immigrant woman who is at a crossroad in her life and uses this as an opportunity to engage in a cross-country trip across today’s America. It’s an unsettling technique, as it forces an instant affiliation and alliance with this main character about whom Sekar has provided no backstory. This thrust into the immediacy of and the intimacy with a complete stranger serves as an emotional coupling that forces, in its way, the reader to give her or himself up to all that unfolds next. 

This connection is absolutely imperative to the effectiveness of the emotional gravity of Your Mother’s Fox, its thematic exploration, and its fairytale quality -- and this book is a fairytale at heart. After all, the main character takes her cross-country journey on the back of a giant, talking fox. 

In most fairytales, the fox is sly and cunning, a trickster who uses its guile and cleverness to playfully baffle fools or humiliate egoists. Here, though, Sekar is using the fox to play upon expectations and emphasize the ideas she is trying to explore. In Your Mother’s Fox, this creature is a conduit between the past and the present, as well as a guide along the journey the main character is taking. 

Also emphasizing its fairytale nature, there are a lot of the common tropes of the monomyth to be found in this book. Within this prescribed structure, though, Sekar again raises expectations and underscores theme. The hero’s journey should be transformative for the hero, leading her to new insights into the workings of the world while gaining maturity and confidence in her response to her new understanding. How Sekar manipulates this outcome in Your Mother’s Fox speaks volumes about her intent. This is a fairytale, but it is one for our times; one that all of us should connect with on a very personal level. 

In her 2015 article for The New Republic titled “The Irresistible Psychology of Fairy Tales”, Professor Ellen Handler Spitz states “I propose that, when confronted with texts of this kind, whether scriptural, mythical, or faerie, we are hooked not only by what is given, the positive imagery, but by the very gaps—’the negative spaces’—as we might say in visual arts. In this manner, the tales take on a projective valence, rather like a species of narrative inkblots. Meaning-making occurs through ongoing, evolving negotiations that are historically bound but highly idiosyncratic.” In its use of a fairytale structure, Your Mother’s Fox pushes a discussion around the way each person sees the world as it was, the world as it is, and the world as it could be. As a retelling of the monomyth, it also takes the reader on a personal journey around meaning, connection, and hope. 

As part of an interview with Sloane Leong for The Comics Journal, Sekar says, “I often thought of the fox is as a dream. The American dream, maybe, or even more specifically, my parent’s early dream of who I might be. A dream that belonged to just them, that served them well, that shaped me in many ways. A dream that I wish were mine.” 

What Sekar has been able to create with Your Mother’s Fox is a dream that we can all have, as its lessons speak to the present in fundamentally transformative ways. This is not an easy story to read. It is suffused with a longing and sorrowfulness and it may make you cry, but the final moment of the journey is not only meant for the main character of the story. 

Remember, it is also meant for “you”.

Friday, June 22, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 6/15/18 to 6/22/18

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  

* Carta Monir on PINKY AND PEPPER FOREVER by Ivy Atoms, who "prioritizes depicting the emotional state of a scene over its physical or spatial state. The art is expressive and extremely cute, but without sacrificing any level of fidelity or aesthetic quality." 

* Alex Hoffman reviews THE STRANGE by Jérôme Ruillier, writing "the lack of a dominant first-person perspective allows Ruilier to address the systemic nature of the immigration crisis and how politicians disparaging of the humanity of others can create massive suffering."

* Daphne Milner on the work of ROSIE YASUKOCHI, whose "ongoing illustrative project explores her dual Japanese-American identity, the history of both nations and how her heritage impacts Rosie today."

Robin Enrico on THE WHYS by Virginia Paine, writing "What is even more fascinating about Paine’s work here is the way in which her usage of the aesthetics and storytelling techniques of indie comics fundamentally alters the form of the stereotypical super-powered teenagers storyline into something unique."

* Nathan Scott McNamara on SABRINA by Nick Drnaso, writing "The most unsettling effect of this graphic novel is the pressure Drnaso finds between tedium and horror, in waiting for something to happen, in it maybe never happening.

* Paul Lai also on SABRINA by Nick Drnaso, writing "Drnaso craftily harnesses our paranoias. Characters appear like landmines. Slow moments we might otherwise find quaint, instead, we read into with portent. Like a million stories have taught us, whether fictional or frighteningly factual, we find ourselves unsure whether to love or to fear these characters we watch so intimately."

* Ryan C. ALSO reviews SABRINA, writing that it "studiously avoids not only any urge to polemicize but to even editorialize in any way, Drnaso’s authorial POV being as confidently no-frills and straightforward as the largely-blank expressions on his characters’ faces."

*Latonya Pennington on A QUICK AND EASY GUIDE TO THEY/THEM PRONOUNS by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson, "an accessible guide to gender neutral pronouns that is as handy as the dictionary. Although it is not a complete guide to everything related to gender & pronouns, it is definitely a good place to start. With straightfoward examples, scripts, and a lighthearted tone, the book provides a concise guide for making life less binary and more inclusive."

* Michelle White on Tomi Parrish's THE LIE AND HOW WE TOLD IT which paints "broad ideas with sure strokes but also highlighting the tiny moments that make all the difference."

* Kevin Bramer writes a short review of LITTLE STRANGER by Edie Fake.

* John Seven on Zach Worton's THE CURSE OF CHARLEY BUTTERS, in which Seven notes, "It is harder, especially as you age, to be creative with the sole purpose of expressing yourself, with that being creativity’s own reward. When you’re young, you have your creativity narrative for yourself, and explaining the reality of the roads you took can be a haunting experience."
WHATNOT

* Jenny Robins interviews ALEX NORRIS (aka, Dorris McComics of Webcomic Name fame).

* Robin McConnell interviews MAX CLOTFELTER about "his wide-ranging works."

* Andy Oliver interviews CAT SIMS "about her practice, her creative process, and her new comic Xenos". Oliver also interviews TIM BIRD about his latest book, The Great North Wood, and "exploring themes of place, time, and memory."

* Corissa Haury interviews STEPHANIE COOKE "about the vision for Creator Resource and what it can bring to comics."

* Tom Baker interviews PEOW STUDIOS co-founders Olle Forsslöf and Patrick Crotty about "the brass tacks of indie publishing, their goals for Peow!, and what they’ll be bringing to ELCAF this year."

* Alex Dueben interviews TATIANA GILL about her work.

* Greg Hunter interviews LAURA LANNES.

* Lucy Bourton talks to and about photographer ALEX PRAGER and features some of Prager's amazing work.

* Seo Kim has another great comic on Vice this week called BURGER.

* Jordan Kroeger is running a Kickstarter for his book THE FIST -- the blurb for it is: "A man (who punches) and his wife (who’s a spaceship)are on the run from the EVIL SPACE ARMY. Over-the-top ridiculous fights ensue."

* Finally, because, you know, why not -- Jeanna Kadlec presents SUMMER HOROSCOPES FOR WRITERS.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Hang In The Air, We Don't Dare: Rob Clough reviews THE LIE AND HOW WE TOLD IT by Tommi Parrish

It's hard not to see Tommi Parrish's The Lie And How We Told It as a continuation of their first book, the 2dcloud-published Perfect Hair. Or perhaps, if not a direct continuation, then certainly a series of echoes. Perfect Hair is a series of loosely-connected vignettes involving a couple of different characters that explore gender identity, desire, the emotional ramifications of sex work, and the desperate desire to connect. In particular, Parrish explored the ways in which adherence to culturally defined sexual and gender identities prevents authentic action and causes cognitive dissonance. Parrish used a variety of visual approaches in that book, but they mostly settled around a thick, blocky character design with heads of changing sizes (though usually much proportionately smaller than the bodies they sat atop of).

For The Lie And How We Told It, Parrish simplified their approach while creating a more emotionally complex narrative. The plot is simple: a man named Tim runs into his old friend Cleary working at a grocery store, and they awkwardly catch up over the course of an evening. Along the way, Cleary finds a comic about a stripper's ill-fated romance with a customer that she reads while waiting around. The red-headed and bespectacled Cleary is a dead ringer for the character of Nicola in Perfect Hair, and another character is named Cleary in that book. Cleary is such a strongly-designed character that it's no wonder that Parrish chose to use her again; interestingly, her template character in the first book was a sex worker.
The title of this book is also the name of a Yo La Tengo song. Its brief lyrics notes that “Talking words, angry words/Hang in the air, we don't dare”, and The Lie And How We Told It is very much about words hanging in the air that are too dangerous to ponder. Tim is clearly reluctant to spend time with Cleary, who puts him in a corner by forcing their reunion. At first, there's a certain brightness to it, reflected in Parrish's beautiful backgrounds. What they share is on the surface, as Tim reveals he's going to get married soon and makes vague noises about having her over. After Cleary reveals that her love life was terrible, Tim brings up a mutual friend that Cleary used to date. It's one of many references to a past that the reader isn’t privileged to see, making it both intriguing and frustrating. After an early confrontation, Tim goes off to get some wine, leaving Cleary to find “a novella by Bumf McQueen” entitled One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You Understand. It's about the limits of empathy and its crisp, angular, black & white art is both the opposite of, and a commentary upon, the actual story.

The next 44 pages are dedicated to this story of a stripper who decides to have sex with one of her club's patrons. Echoing the relationship between the escort and john at the end of Perfect Hair, the beginning of this story is about an all-too-familiar set of rituals. In an attempt to sell intimacy to the man, the stripper takes off her wig in front of him, much as the escort is willing to go along with saying and doing certain things to provide the “girlfriend experience”. Meanwhile, the desperate and lonely men in these scenarios mistake their money for virtue in an effort to “help” these women, acting out white knight fantasies that have more to do with saving their own egos than actually connecting to another human being. The ways in which capitalism and materialism interject themselves into the story plays out at the end of the first part of the novella, as he picks her up at her modest apartment that she cherishes and tells her not to feel embarrassed. It was a profoundly misplaced, arrogant and entitled expression of contempt disguised as pity.
When the book shifts back to Cleary and Tim (and Cleary putting away the book), their conversation grows more intense, but their initial reconnection begins to fray. For example, when Cleary relates that she used to be so insecure in her attraction to women that she would make out with them at parties to pretend it was a show for the boys. Tim replies, “That was hot”, in a completely tone-deaf manner. The more that Cleary regrets her hiding her bisexuality when she was younger, the weirder Tim gets until he reveals his own bisexual side in a language of constant self-negation. First, he tells her about an old friend that he hooked up with when they were in high school. In telling this story, he stresses that he's not gay and “always the top anyway.” Then he reveals that it is something he does all the time, something “he just has to do”. 

These exchanges reveal Cleary and Tim in diametrically opposed emotional states, as Cleary has come to terms with who she is and Tim is in denial. Parrish spotlights Tim's self-loathing as a result of his lack of authenticity when he immediately runs away to cry after confessing to Cleary that he was hooking up with men. The next scene, where an attractive man in the bathroom asks him if he's OK is almost comedic as Tim panics and runs into a stall. The act of facing up to his true nature is just too much for him. Even when he abruptly left Cleary, he made some noises about hitting on the (female) bartender, a delusion that fooled no one, least of all himself. 

This is all in a club that Tim likes, and Parrish's large page size really pays off here, depicting the visceral quality of the sheer number of brightly colorful bodies in a small space. In the context of how Parrish draws bodies, they are attractive and fairly oozing sweat and pheromones in a sexually charged atmosphere. It's implied that Tim has picked up more than one man here, something his fiance' is completely unaware of. Prior to revealing his proclivities to Cleary, he utterly shut down a fishing expedition on her part as she asked why he thought they had never hooked up back in high school. His revulsion is visceral and obviously hurtful, though he tries to play it off as thinking of her as a sister.

Cleary subsequently goes from that low moment to meeting an attractive female bartender who listens to her story, has some sage words of wisdom and winds up giving Cleary her number, much to her delight. It is the kind of event that happens when one is ready to move on with one's life instead of being stuck in a perpetual and unresolved adolescence like Tim. There are a series of brilliant panels where Tim apologizes for being weird about talking about sexuality where they are hunched over their drinks, their heads shrunken down to a tiny size, representing the way in which both of them retreated emotionally in the moment. However, any chance of repairing their friendship is over, as both of them are in vastly different headspaces. Indeed, there seems to be a connection between the size of the characters' heads and their emotional states, as though the way Parrish draws people reveals inner thoughts and feelings.

As Cleary picks up the book to finish it after the evening is over, she picks up where the stripper understands how she's being humiliated and resents the man for it. However, it also gives her clarity, as she stands in his big, featureless house that's part of row after row of identical homes: being with him was “eavesdropping on a type of life I had never wanted for myself”. She tried on the role of being the girlfriend of a typical white, heterosexual male whose concept of sex began and ended with his penis—as did his sense of self, seeing the world as a series of things that could be bought and sold for his pleasure. She had been lying to herself about wanting this life of morally and aesthetically bankrupt ease, just as he was lying to himself about being a benevolent savior when all he wanted was to own her in a way he couldn't possess his ex-wife or their children.
With this, Parrish provides an epiphany, or, perhaps, just a moment of much-needed affirmation, for Cleary. Cleary understands that she doesn't have to lie about herself or what she wants anymore and to do so would only bring harm to herself and others. Furthermore, seeing Tim trapped in a hell of his own making makes it even clearer that living a life of lies is no longer a viable way for her to live her life. 

In both Perfect Hair and The Lie And How We Told It, authenticity is essential to living a meaningful life, with the caveat that one must have the emotional space and self-acceptance to make that authenticity possible. Unlike existentialist thought that posits authenticity as a singularly individualistic idea, Parrish counters that our connections to others always contextualize our choices. In this regard, ontology (who we are) and ethics (how we deal with others) are inescapably connected and lying about this connection to ourselves is self-negating bad faith. Or to quote RuPaul: “If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?
--------------------------------------------------------------------

Rob Clough has written about comics for Cicada, the Comics Journal, Sequential, tcj.com,
sequart.com, Savant, Foxing Quarterly, Studygroup Magazine, as well as for his own blog, High-Low (highlowcomics.blogspot.com).

Friday, June 15, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 6/8/18 to 6/15/18

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

* Tom Murphy writes about GENEROUS BOSOM #3 by Conor Stechschulte, "a mature and engrossing bit of work that repays -- and even demands -- repeated reading. It's fractured sense of reality and focus on the unpredictability of memory and perception keep the reader as off-balance as the main characters."

* Greg Hunter on Michael DeForge's A WESTERN WORLD which "conveys a worldview, configuring DeForge's comics into an argument about what's broken and what's still at stake."

* Ryan C. takes a look at Katie Skelly's THE AGENCY, "it's fast, fun, fluid, fantastic fuckery."

* Andy Oliver reviews Jayde Perkin's WHAT A LIFE, writing "Perkin is concerned in these pages not so much with a structured narrative as with bringing the reader into a state of mind; in creating a dreamy, languid sense of place and occasion."

* Cecelia Larsen on Melanie Gillman's AS THE CROW FLIES, a book she calls "quietly magnificent."

* Edward Haynes takes a quick look at Martin Rowson's illustrated version of THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.

* Seamas O'Reilly reviews ALL THE ANSWERS by Michael Kupperman.

* Rodney Ortiz writes this light review of KABUL DISCO by Nicolas Wild.

* John Seven reviews Cyril Pedrosa's PORTUGAL, "a parable of finding oneself within what already exists but is not known, of seizing your identity through what came before you and your effort to connect the lines between yourself and everything else."

* Robin Enrico has this mixed review of IS THIS GUY FOR REAL?: THE UNBELIEVABLE ANDY KAUFMAN, stating right at the outset that this is "a graphic novel that should work, but on many levels does not."

* Keith Silva points out all that is good and all that fails in ALGERIA IS BEAUTIFUL LIKE AMERICA by Olivia Burton and Mahi Grand, writing "Issues of immigration, colonialism, xenophobia, social and religious tolerance are all filtered through her lens. She provides snapshots, misses the bigger picture and leaves it for the reader to piece it all together."


WHATNOT 

* CHUCK FORSMAN and MICHEL FIFFE share this amazing conversation.

* Alex Dueben interviews BETH EVANS about the release of her first book, I Really Didn't Think This Through, "her influences and process, Eurovision and more."

* Ben Yakas interviews JULIA WERTZ.

* Someone at Pipedream Comics interviews TIM BIRD about his new book from Avery Hill, The Great North Wood.

* Swapna Krishna gives us all a list of 8 COMICS TED TALKS YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT which you should ... you know ... check out.

* Seo Kim's new comic TRUST FALL over on Vice is so simple, yet it's amazingly complex and does so much within the confines of the medium that it's brilliant.

* Speaking of brilliant, the always brilliant Leslie Stein has a new comic up on The New Yorker site called DREAMING OF A READING BAR.

* Roman Muradov made a list called PEOPLE I LIKE -- which I like. More people I like should tell me whom they like so I can see if I like them too (and then add them to my list of people I like). By the way, if you haven't checked out Muradov's new book, On Doing Nothing, you should correct that. I like it.

* Sarah Rose Sharp takes a critical look at and presents some spectacular images from photographer Dave Jordano's new book A DETROIT NOCTURNE -- which looks absolutely stunning.

* Robert Rand talks about the unique place The Diary of Anne Frank has in Japanese culture in his piece over on Tablet called, THE DIARY OF ANNE.

* Lucy Bourton interviews CRAIG OLDHAM about the new publishing venture, Rough Trade Books, which hopes to bring together "the very highest calibre of artists, writers, poets, musicians, photographers, illustrators and thinkers producing work relating to their relationship with the counter-culture."

* Finally, if you're one of those poor saps that can't help but make spectacular comics, you might want to check out the CREATOR RESOURCE site. It claims to be "a site dedicated to providing comic book freelancers with as much information about the industry as possible... [where] you’ll find information on the latest rates that creators are being paid, and resources to help you navigate comic book contracts, copyrights, trademarks, and more."

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: DADDY DAY by Samuel C. Williams


There are life-affirming, life-changing, life-defining moments that occur in all of our lives, powerful in their arrival, profound in their intensity. Memorable. Momentous. Monumental. Often these are the moments to which we reach back in order to make sense of who we are, where we have been, where we might go. When we meet new people, these usually become the stories we tell.

But then there are the quiet moments. Those small, day-to-day affairs that we often breeze by on our way to something else. There are those who claim that it is the aggregation of all these little points in time that truly claim ownership of our identity -- that these small, seemingly inconsequential experiences are really the ones that make all the difference. Sometimes it is the moments which we thought were trivial or not worthy of notice that end up being the ones we miss the most when things change.

Parenthood is something that encapsulates both of these ideas -- combining both the momentous and the inconsequential. DADDY DAY, Samuel C. Williams’ new mini-comic from UK-based micropublisher Good Comics, encapsulates that encapsulation.

In his introduction to Daddy Day, Williams lets the reader know that the strips making up the book acted as “a form of therapy” for him as he dealt with the breakup of a serious relationship and having to transition “from being a full-time parent to mostly seeing [his children] on the weekends.” Both of these things challenged his identity, forced him to reassess how he envisioned life and his role in it, and compelled him to understand the importance of the little moments he had. In this 28-page series of vignettes, Williams is able to grant his reader access to the fruits of that process.
Combining both joy and sadness, Williams takes the time in the components of Daddy Day to not only chronicle each particular moment that he cherished with his kids, but, through his cartooning, register its emotional weight as well. There’s a real grasping in Williams’ work in this book, as if he is trying to both hold on to the enormity of his responsibility while at the same time being fully conscious of the impermanence of each moment.

There’s a couple of pages that are particularly striking in this regard. The first consists of a seemingly simple sepia-washed sequence of four panels in which his daughter plays on a swing. Here, Williams uses the power of the medium to create motion and time out of static images. The final panel of his daughter leaping off the swing with a smile on her face is indicative of so much -- Williams’ hopes, his pride in his daughter, his amazement at the young woman she is becoming. But it also points to the fact that each of these moments, precious though they may be, are just part of a cycle, a continuum of growth and change that no one can control. The small moment writ large.
The same sensibility can be found in a strip devoted to Williams’ son asking his father to “measure how much I’ve grown.” Once again, Williams celebrates his son’s development and, just through the act of documentation, points again to the vicissitude of each moment, that these little snippets of acknowledgment can carry as much weight as the major upheavals do and that both deserve attention and understanding.
Daddy Day is slight but deeply personal. Affecting in a quiet way, Williams expertly uses the medium of comics to transmit ideas and convey an emotional state. While it is one man’s story of healing, it ends up being a reminder to all of us to embrace life for what it is, not what we want it to be, and that every moment is an opportunity to create memories and to move forward.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Interrogating the Questions: Review of ARTSY FARTSY CRY BABY by Ron Hotz

Reading Toronto-based artist Ron Hotz’s 2018 book Artsy Fartsy Cry Baby has left me with many unanswerable questions.

To wit: Can you map the creative process? For whom do artists create? What exactly is the nature of and the responsibilities inherent in the relationship between an artist and their art? When a creator has no confidence in what they create, is what they create still art? If an artist tells you that what they have created is a narrative, is that enough for there to be a story?

I could go on. But this is a review, right? I mean, I’m telling you it is, so, therefore, it becomes one. Yes? The very nature of a review means that I should be the one doing the work, though -- the “reviewing” as it were -- instead of putting the onus on you, the reader. You’ve come here looking for direction, purpose, hoping that I will tell you about the merits of that which I am purporting to review.  Criticism is, at its heart, a statement of the critic’s sense of how a particular thing either meets or fails to meet a certain set of criteria that the critic believes to have value. The reader is supposed to take in the statements of the critic and then judge for themselves whether or not the critic has done an adequate job of convincing them of the particular stance vis a vis the merits of the work at the center of the work of criticism.

Right?

Starting reviews with questions undercuts that relationship from the get-go. Questions admit uncertainty, it points to the fact that aspects of thinking are left unresolved. Does a critic lose credibility by revealing to the reader that their authority only goes so far? Does this undermine any authority the work of criticism claims to carry? 

I know. More questions.

Artsy Fartsy Cry Baby is a question in and of itself. Is it one book or two? Is the first half of the book the process of creating the second half, a story about the search for a story? Is it the prejudice Hotz expresses towards his own art that gives him the creative push he needed to create the book itself? Is this, as Hotz suggests “style without content … [using] word bubbles to fill up space”? And, if so, why is the second part of Artsy Fartsy Cry Baby entirely wordless? Is the unifying theme of the whole thing just that it IS a whole thing because Hotz has bound it all together and therefore the form dictates its function?

Answers are hard to come by. 

Remember in 2012 when Keith Silva wrote an entire review of The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #4 all in questions? That made sense, right? I mean, the questions there WERE the answers. Weren’t they?

And it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t interrogate Artsy Fartsy Cry Baby itself. Isn’t that what criticism does? I’ve got to ask: is this even comics? It’s certainly not traditional comics -- there’s no panels or closure. The art and dialogue aren’t working in harmony to convey action, time, or character. Rather, the text seems to be commenting on the art, as if Hotz is standing next to you as you flip through his portfolio talking about each piece as you turn the page. But there is continuity in both image and idea. There’s narrative. There’s an ending -- actually, there are two endings -- but is the first ending really the beginning of the second story, the one that ends on a note that strikes one as the beginning of something else?

Hotz is taking his reader someplace interesting, though. The question (of course), is it a journey through the process of making art, the art itself, or the apperception of the art? On such a safari, who controls the narrative? Which story is being told? Who’s responsible for cutting back the jungle and how does anyone know when they’ve reached the destination? The second half of the book seems to suggest something other than the first half. Or does it? Is the arrival dependent upon who’s guiding us through? Can art itself dictate its own understanding? Can an artist unaware of purpose be counted on to find a way home? Can an audience lost in uncharted territory find its way out of the labyrinth? 

Also, why a duck?

Who gets to answer these questions? More importantly, am I the one who should be asking them in the first place?

Does this make ME, the critic writing this piece, the artsy fartsy crybaby in this scenario?

Finally, a question I have an answer to. The answer is, of course, NO.

It’s not me. It’s probably not even Ron Hotz.

Assuming you’ve read this far, you’ve probably discovered that, in the end, artsy fartsy crybaby has been inside of you all along...


Friday, June 8, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 6/1/18 to 6/8/18

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

* Rob Kirby presents an excerpt from THE LIE AND HOW WE TOLD IT by Tommi Parrish, which "relentlessly interrogates issues of gender and sexuality, pointing out that strict binaries are mostly jerry-built and easily broken."

* Michelle White on Rosemary Mosco's BIRDING IS MY FAVORITE VIDEO GAME, "a collection of fun, quasi-educational comics combining weird science, cute visuals, sweet wit, and a strong environmental message."

* Chris Ware reviews SABRINA by Nick Drnaso, calling it "a perspicacious and chilling analysis of the nature of trust and truth and the erosion of both in the age of the internet -- and especially, in the age of Trump."

* Dominic Umile on the recent graphic novel, WEEGEE: SERIAL PHOTOGRAPHER, by the Belgian cartoonists Max de Radiguès and Wauter Mannaert, a "portrayal of a vulnerable man starved for fame." 

* Brian Nicholson takes a quick look at DOGNURSE by Margot Ferrick, "a gorgeous book..."

* Rob Clough on BLACK EYE NO. 3, Ryan Standfest's black humor anthology from Rotland Press, in which "there's a running theme of visceral failure and humiliation, of things coming to a crashing halt."    

* Austin Lanari on Patrick Kyle's NEW COMICS #6, saying "what makes Kyle's comics experimental is a strange division of labor wherein a visually lush, strange world is largely left up to the reader to interpret as characters stop, fully aware, to talk to the reader and explain rules that nobody could have ever inferred."

* Ryan C. reviews books by Kalen Knowles and Pat Aulisio in his WEEKLY READING ROUND-UP.

* John Seven looks at Michael Kupperman's ALL THE ANSWERS, "a multi-faceted memoir of the collision between the public and the personal, how the tremors move through the decades, and how we would all do well to pop through our cultural bubbles to look back and trace the origins of who we are, why we are this way, and why it sometimes hurts so much when we don’t feel like we actually did anything to make it hurt."

* Austin Price on LAND OF THE SONS by Gipi, calling it "a book that feels ultimately arbitrary, unconvinced of its own arguments or point because they are so confused."

* Alex Hoffman reviews Molly Mendoza's THE WORST, calling it "an absolute must-read."

* Sam Ombiri on Jon Chandler's JOHN'S WORTH #3.

* And finally, Philippe LeBlanc has made a return to his SMALL PRESS AND INDIE COMICS GALORE round-up posts over on The Beat (which I can never decide if they are Criticism or Whatnot). LeBlanc does such a better job at this sort of thing than I do (probably because he is Canadian), and it is really great to see him return. Now I just need to convince him to write for YCE again.

WHATNOT

* Sam Jaffe Goldstein interviews ELI VALLEY, covering "the chaotic farce that is the relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel ... as well as the inherent male toxicity of Zionism, and the endemic hypocrisy in justifications for Israel's actions."

* Daphne Milner talks about and to GEORGE WYLESOL over on It's Nice That.

* Dakota McFadzean has a new comic up on Topic called SOON WE'RE BOTH SCREAMING.

* Gina Wynbrandt has a new comic up on Vice called JUSTIN BIEBER'S TOILET.

* Over on WWAC, Tia Kalla writes this very informative piece called DON'T EAT THAT: TAPAS'S INCUBATOR PROGRAM giving us a point-by-point breakdown of their "shitty contracts."

* This week's MUST-READ is Transmyscira: ¡No Pasarán! bVéronique Emma Houxbois -- a deep dive into conservatism, superheroes, Comicsgate, and more.