Saturday, September 29, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 9/22/18 to 9/28/18

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

* Caitlin Rosberg on Aminder Dhaliwal's WOMAN WORLD which "feels bright and optimistic, silly and emotional and joyous because it can afford to when there is no one to tell women they shouldn’t be."

* Laura Stump looks at HOW TO BE ALIVE by Tara Booth, a book that "explores what a successful comic can be and who can create one."

* Sally Ingraham on SPACE ACADEMY 123 by Mickey Zacchilli, writing "Her drawings contain and transmit the wild rush of strange emotions, the sick sense of failure, the fraying of sanity, and the bold realization of the total absurdity of life."

* John Seven reviews FLOCKS by L. Nichols, writing "Despite what the book portrays, this is a very uplifting work that strives for togetherness more than expressing rage or seeking revenge against those who wronged her. It’s very much an examination of group dynamics and how they can work against individuals, but also how that shouldn’t stop you from remaining open to a like-minded group as you walk through your life. It’s not only about acceptance but about refusing to allow those who hate you to taint your own practice of acceptance and obstruct your own quest for it."

* Paul Lai on Sophia Foster-Dimino's DID YOU SEE ME? writing "this book is asking questions, not wagging fingers, about our social fabrics, dramatically reconfigured by social media, and how they wrap up our quivering hearts."

* Ryan Carey reviews MONKEY CHEF by Mike Freiheit, lauding "Freiheit’s clean and humane cartooning style, his flair for characterization, his smooth and evocative color choices, his self-deprecating wit — but the unforced, naturalistic manner in which he consistently demonstrates correlations between “monkey world” and “people world” definitely stands out as a high point among high points." Carey also reviews THE PRINCE by Liam Cobb which "is probably best viewed as an intriguing experiment that flirts with essential reading status only to occasionally undercut itself by punching outside its weight class."

* Dominic Umile on ESCAPING WARS AND WAVES by Olivier Kugler, writing "The animated pages in Escaping read like composites of several images, where physical geography is represented fractionally and sitting subjects look to be in motion. The story retains a sketchbook-like sensibility rather than that of formal, finalized storytelling. It’s fitting: Everyone is on the move. Their stories are far from over, and some are still waiting to be told."

WHATNOT

* Robin Enrico writes about SMALL PRESS EXPO 2018 -- LOOKING BACK AT A WEEKEND OF TRUE COMICS COMMUNITY AT THIS YEAR'S SPX for Broken Frontier. It was so great to finally meet Robin at our little comics critics gathering on Sunday morning. And his write-up here truly captures the mood of the show.

* Seo Kim's comic on Vice this week is called THE FOOD YOU WANT TO EAT WHEN NO OTHER FOOD WILL DO and it is a bit too on the nose for me not to link to.

* Karen Schousboe writes about the new book by Bo Gräslund, Beowulfkvädet. Den nordiska bakgrunden, which dates the epic poem Beowulf back to AD 550 -- which is just what my class of unruly High School Seniors really want to hear right now.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Dark Rooms: Matt Vadnais on Art and Other People’s Stories in Seekan Hui’s A PROJECTION

On its surface, Seekan Hui’s delightful and disorienting A Projection is a story about Cecilia, a character whom Hui carefully and somewhat inexplicably depicts with a second head literally projecting from her primary one. The title suggests that the reader ought to be thinking about identity as a kind of prosthesis, one that is both projected by one’s actions and presence in the world and also functions as a projection created by one’s interlocutors that prevents one from being seen as one truly is. Hui reinforces the title’s emphasis on Cecilia’s identity by crafting a relatively straightforward plot in which Cecilia takes the sort of shitty job one takes between college and one’s career and by making it clear that no one bothers to actually get to know her or acknowledge her complex, two-headed personhood. However, Hui’s use of Cecilia as a protagonist is a deft bit of sleight of hand that projects the linear story of Cecilia’s very bad summer upon a much differently shaped narrative involving the disruption of her boss’s cyclical grief involving the death of a child. Hui uses the relative familiarity of a late-stage coming of age story to get at a story that would crumble under the weight of linearity and, in doing so, creates a visual argument that demonstrates ways humans cannot help but use art to mitigate and control the otherwise overwhelming and incomprehensible intersection of the world and their own emotions.

The comic begins on Cecilia’s first day as she meets her new boss, the mysterious Baba who has taken out an ad looking for a live-in “FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHER” – a position that has clearly been filled many, many times with varying degrees of success – to provide daily documentation and, when needed, supervision of her children. Immediately, Baba shows a lack of regard for Cecilia as a person. She changes Cecilia’s name to two nicknames that she uses throughout the book without permission, introduces the house’s darkroom as the place in which Cecilia “will live,” and asserts that Cecilia’s job is not so much to take pictures influenced by her artistic sensibilities but to take photos similar enough in style that they can join the framed portraits on the wall of her family shrine, photos taken by the implied but unnamed litany of those who have held the job previously. Indeed, Baba extracts as much value from Cecilia as she can before, inevitably, Cecilia quits and Baba is, once again, in need of a family photographer. The house and job function as containers for a hermetically sealed chapter of Cecilia’s life that obeys Aristotle’s unities of storytelling, focusing on a single character, taking place in a single location, and happening during a single season. Consciously or not, readers are trained to understand a story that obeys these unities as being about the protagonist. When read in terms of how Cecilia changes or fails to change, A Projection seems to suffer for a lack of stakes. 
However, Cecilia’s photos and resignation lead Baba to realize that she and her family have been stuck in a cycle of mourning. It is unclear and frankly unimportant whether or not Cecilia is aware that Baba is going to convert the shrine to a playroom; for Cecilia, the story is about her and her work being disrespected. Hui uses conventional, Aristotelian narrative structure to foreground Cecilia’s story of struggle while hiding the story of Baba’s breakthrough.   As such, A Projection is a thrillingly ambitious rumination about the difficulty of understanding the roles one plays in the lives of other people. 
            
One way that Hui establishes that readers should look past Cecilia’s linear plot when reading A Projection has to do with the book’s art. Much of the book looks like a two-dimensional depiction of a mixed-media assemblage. Things that have been drawn are juxtaposed with things that appear to have been painted or made from paper. Moreover, the minimal use of traditional panels implies a collage-logic at odds with the sequential logic we might expect given a story with such a clear beginning, middle, and end. Some pages feel crafty, like the pages of a scrapbook, while others feel like they are messing with perspective, time, and the path of the reader’s eye in the tradition of museum mainstays like Hannah Höch. Hui begins and ends the book as though this is a story about Cecilia’s bad job; however, in order to extract that linear narrative from the pages itself, one has to work. Hue imbeds – and even camouflages – Cecilia’s narrative into inhospitable, though routinely beautiful, pages, suggesting that, after working to decode such a narrative from the art, one should work again to identify what collage-like story might be embedded in Cecilia’s narrative.
According to the role she plays in Cecilia’s story, Baba is a relatively flat antagonist; even as she says things like “I feel like a newborn baby,” her oppositional role to Cecilia does not waiver. She begins the story misnaming Cecilia and ends the story incapable of understanding ways that she has disrespected her. However, along the way, one is able to perceive, in ways that minimally matter to the oppressed and mistreated Cecilia, that Baba hires and abuses Family Photographers because of the death of a child whom only exists in one, poorly taken picture. If Hui had told the story of Baba’s transformation into an awful boss because of grief in a linear fashion, it would have had to happen so fast that the completeness of that transformation – one occurring over many cycles – would have been at cross-purposes with the moment of growth that happens when she sees pictures Cecilia has taken of the surviving children that somehow include the lost sibling, Sis. By making a reader work to decipher a sequential narrative from the not-particularly sequential art, Hui incentivizes a reader doing the inverse, working to think about how this story might be a single piece of the mosaic story of Baba. The result is compelling and real. Cecilia’s photographs of the family are, from her perspective, disrespected even as, from Baba’s perspective, they lead to a breakthrough where she is able to, for the moment at least, break the cycle of hiring new people while vowing to convert a room that had served as a monument to the past into a playroom to celebrate the present.

Another way that Hui signals the reader to look beyond the linear narrative with Cecilia as the protagonist has to do with the book’s structure. The endnotes suggest that the book is not a story but “a meditation.” The physical artifact of the comic is shaped like a parabola, bookended by pages including picture frames that are blank but for a set of eyes. At its exact center, Hui places a series of pages that are visually distinct from the rest of the art, a red-hued section where Cecilia develops the pictures of Sis. Despite containing, for readers willing to do the work, a tidy narrative that looks like it is about how Cecilia changes or fails to change, Hui’s formal innovations follow the form of a practice or obsession, something that has a beginning, middle, and ending that allows repetition as opposed to a beginning, middle, and ending that documents change.
Finally, Hui projects Cecilia’s story – which a reader has to project onto the art of the book – onto Baba’s less tidy story by ignoring recent technological innovations in the medium of photography. Surely a person seeking daily documentation of her children and family would find that easier with the instant gratification and editing capabilities that come from working digitally. However, no one in the book acts as though the digital camera has been invented, relying instead on outmoded filmic techniques by which light is projected upon film that is, with the help of a chemical bath, projected onto paper. Beyond extending the projection metaphor in a number of interesting ways, Hui’s choice to stay analog does three related things thematically. First, the use of the darkroom makes the development of photos akin to memory, a kind of conjuring of the past. Second, because of the painstaking time required to develop photographs in this traditional way, it is easier to read Cecilia’s practice as a high art, a reading necessary to foreground ways that photography is hardly a neutral medium through which the world is depicted. Finally, the use of an old-school camera reminds the reader that the eye itself is a kind of camera. Early in the book, Cecilia complains to a friend that all of the photos on the walls of the shrine have eyes that are always watching her, a complaint that draws attention to all of the eyes in the pages that bookend the meditation and asks the reader to think about the ways one’s subjectivity necessarily flattens others into objects.
Ultimately, A Projection is hopeful and upsetting in equal measure. Something about how Cecilia sees the world through photography does disrupt Baba’s preconceived notions of what photography is supposed to do and, in the process, allows her a moment of non-linear growth. However, neither Cecilia nor Baba is fully aware of this exchange of the role that each of them has played in the other’s story. Hui asserts that, despite the obvious power that art has to foster true communication and recognition, humans far too often miss the point and seek out or make art that reinforces things they already believe to be true. If a reader, like Cecilia, enters this text expecting a coming of age story, there is a good chance that is what they will find. However, A Projection offers a number of clues that readers ought to resist what they think they know about this kind of story. By nudging readers to recognize and ultimately reject the way a book like this is supposed to be read, A Projection offers readers a chance to find something in the text that they were not already bringing with them. A Projection is a story about the power of art to offer the surprise transformation; just as importantly, however, A Projection is about how rarely human beings let it happen. Hui offers readers a chance to experience something that she, at least in part, withholds from her characters.
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Matt Vadnais lives and teaches college English classes in Milwaukee. His comics-related work has appeared in Your Chicken Enemy and Comics MNT. He is the author of All I Can Truly Deliver

Saturday, September 22, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 9/15/18 to 9/21/18

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

(Editor's note: Sorry about missing last week, but things ... you know ... happen sometimes)

COMICS CRITICISM

* John Seven reviews HOME AFTER DARK by David Small which provides "a psychological map for the characters to ramble through, chased by demons they don’t perceive and grasping for answers they don’t acknowledge as necessary. Is growing up directly related to the moment you realize that you grapple with the same gray terrors as your parents? Small implies that might be so." 

* John Seven also looks at Liana Frinck's PASSING FOR HUMAN, "a book that’s filled with fables, inundated with questions, one where the mysteries pile on and what answers you find are poetic ones that pose further thoughts rather than impose an ending to the process." 

* Alex Thomas on FOLLOW ME IN by Katriona Chapman, "a truly wonderful read with a really poignant heart to it"

* Andy Oliver reviews GLORIOUS WRESTLING APOCALYPSE by Josh Hicks which "retains the signature humanity and wit that has been such a strength of the run.""

* Edwin Turner on Anders Nilsen's TONGUES, writing "There's a clarity of vision here, but almost no exposition. Instead, we have to tease out the bigger plot lines from exchanges between characters. And Nilsen takes his time getting to those exchanges, allowing scenes to build slowly."

* Lisa Fernandes reviews SMALL FAVORS: THE DEFINITIVE GIRLY PORNO COLLECTION by Colleen Coover, "A happy, giddy, guilt-free ride. A raspberry blown in the direction of Freudian thought lines. And a somewhat groundbreaking representation of female sexuality in indie comix."

* Ryan Carey writes this essentially positive review of A PERFECT FAILURE: FANTE BUKOWSKI THREE by Noah Van Sciver, with this caveat: "If there’s one knock I have on this series in general (and, again, forgive me while I do my level best to refrain from “spoiling” any plot specifics) it’s the rather Tomine-esque “saviors with hearts of gold who exist solely to redeem eternally-adolescent men” portrayal of women that Van Sciver indulges in — but where his females fail to convince in terms of being fully-realized characters, they do at least (and finally) rise above being mere plot devices for the bulk of this finale even if they still, ultimately, serve that function as the metaphorical buzzer runs out. "

* Kevin Bramer has this quick review of Rob Jackson's BEYOND THICK GLASS, I SAW STARS which, from Bramer's description of it, seems like something you should read.

* And finally, up on their website, The MNT has reprinted Francesca Lyn's SEARCHING FOR MIXED-RACE IDENTITY IN COMICS from December 2017 which is a blessing because it is a piece of writing that all of y'all should read.


WHATNOT

* Alenka Figa interviews LIZ PRINCE and HANNAH TEMPLER "about the technical and emotional processes behind collecting and coloring Be Your Own Backing Band."

* Joe McCulloch interviews JIM WOODRING about Poochytown and his "living process".

* Alex Dueben interviews IVAN BRUNETTI about his new children's book, 3X4, "the relationship between art and numbers, and what he’s thinking about next." Dueben also interviews SUMMER PIERRE about her new book, All The Sad Songs.

* Kelly Froh has a comic over on Popula called HOW IT IS NOW.

* If there's a new Seo Kim comic on Vice, I'm damn well going to link to it. This one is called SMOKE ALARM.

* Jyni Ong on DINNER FOR FEW by award-winning animation artist Nassos Vakalis, "an allegory for how 'the system' appears to run like a well-oiled machine when actually, as Nassos tells us, this system 'solely feeds the select few who eventually and foolishly consume all the resources while the rest survive on scraps from the table'".

* lark pien's IMMORTAL CHICKEN.

* Jessica Plummer has this list of 25 OF THE BEST QUEER COMICS for BookRiot which misses the enormity of queer books coming from Small Press Publishers and the Self-Published world, but I applaud Plummer for at least making a stab at this (and including a link to the Queer Comics Database).

* Over on The Beat, Philippe LeBlanc has a pretty good round-up (or run-down?) of the 2018 IGNATZ AWARD WINNERS AND SPX CONTROVERSIES. Personally, I've got a few things to say about both of these things, but I'll save them for whenever I finally find the time to do a write-up (or throw-down?) about all things SPX.

* Tony Wei Ling has this intimate piece on WWAC called YOU YOURSELF ARE AN OBSOLETE COMPUTER: READING CARTA MONIR.

* Deena ElGenaidi writes THE VIEW FROM THE NY ART BOOK FAIR ZINE TENT:  8 ZINES YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT.

* If you read nothing else on this list of Whatnots, please take a look at Alexandra Petri's SOME INTERPERSONAL VERBS, CONJUGATED BY GENDER.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Reclamation Project: Rob Clough reviews Josh Bayer's RM

Josh Bayer's manic, scrawled art overwhelms the eye at first glance, daring you to immerse yourself in the images until the moment arrives that reveals a rock-solid sense of structure underlying all of its madness. His figure work can be as alien as it is familiar, the work of a cartoonist who has clearly spent hours studying a wide variety of comics art, merging any number of disparate influences in a single page. In one way, it’s as if Bayer effectively captures the energy of a comic drawn by a ten-year-old boy. One can sense the immediacy of each drawing and the simple urge to draw page after page, the images exploding out of his pen. That immediacy, even intimacy, is shored up by Bayer's obvious foundational skill and craft.


It is unfortunate that he is best known at this point for his All-Time Comics series with Fantagraphics. Those comics tend more toward teenage testosterone than a thoughtful reclamation, and they're a pale reflection of Bayer's latest, a reinterpretation of obscure Marvel comic books. In RM, he takes a couple of long-forgotten comic books and winds them into an intense and personal story about a disaffected kid obsessed with superhero comics. This "cover version" includes Bayer rewriting and redrawing the story from beginning to end in his own style.


RM starts with the artist, his face obscured by a dark scrawl, furiously attempting to come up with a name for this very project. The reader gets a sense of the artist's impatience and frustration in trying to do something that's obviously important to him, until he goes the most direct route: simply calling his book RM and telling the reader that it's an adaptation of a comic written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Sal Buscema. Some of Mantlo's sad story is related in the introduction by his daughter; he quit comics, became an attorney specializing in social justice, and got hit by a car while jogging. He is alive but requires around-the-clock care.


Mantlo was a Marvel workhorse in the late 70s and early 80s, writing as many as four titles a month and filling in on others. Like many writers of the era, he had a tendency to overwrite, with much of his prose turning out rather purple. At the same time, he was obsessed with social justice in his stories, even if he obviously felt the odds were stacked against people trying to do the right thing. As a result, his stories always had a grim, fatalistic quality. Rom was a comic based on a toy, which quickly became Mantlo's pet project--a fable about paranoia that later transitioned into an epic about how war inevitably scars all its participants. Buscema drew the initial run, and the pairing was fitting given his status as Marvel's workhorse artist. While known for his speed and the stiffness of his characters' body language, he's also a tremendous storyteller with a powerful sense of anatomy. One was never confused about what was happening in a Sal Buscema-drawn comic book, even if the art wasn't dazzling by the standards of the time.


Bayer internalizes the solidity of that structure and storytelling in his comic; the quality of his line is obviously influenced by Gary Panter and Robert Crumb, but Buscema's figurework and storytelling sense shine through. That said, Bayer's art is so idiosyncratic that even when interpreting a specific artist's work, his own eccentricities pop up on every page. The silver, alien Spaceknight Rom here is a chunky, hulking figure frequently hunched over with sadness and resignation. The story is a typically downbeat Mantlo tale: Rom, after burying one of his fellow Spaceknights, flies off to a small town with a strange radiation signature, only to find a family dying of radiation poisoning. There's an obligatory fight with an old Hulk villain that is really a conflict about victimization.  


Bayer infuses this story with skewed perspectives, grotesque figure distortions, odd beats of humor and a rawness to the proceedings that fit snugly with the original story but add a filthy, underground quality. He gently mocks some of the dialogue by slapping the word "Exposition" on top of it, but the essence of the story remains the same. His use of color only adds to the grotesque quality of the story; the sickly greens and bruise-colored purples are in stark contrast to the typical brightening effect color has in a superhero comic. reflecting the disease and rot explored in the comic.


The end of the story bleeds into the reality of a teen named Seth, who wears a ski mask that mirrors the helmet of his hero RM. The grotesque quality of the comic he's reading is reflected in his reality, with his mother disapproving of him reading comics and lecturing him. The irony is her critiquing him for reading "dark" comics, considering how miserable his daily life was with his family and doubly so at school. The ways in which colors and lines bleed into each other in this comic reflect the manner in which the downbeat quality of the comic bleeds into Seth's life. He runs through the halls of his school with his ski mask on as though he was a hero, but he's really just trying to outrun everyone making fun of him. His real world has the same sickly, unpleasant colors as his comic book did, reflecting the role of comics in his world as a mirror, not an escapist fantasy.


The second half of the book, "RM: Cell Division", begins with another Bayer "cover version" of a Marvel comic, this time Rom 31-32. Bayer has a real eye for the weirder and more unsettling Marvel comics of the 80s, and these comics are some of the darkest of that era. Rom was in many respects an ode to the paranoia of 1950s (and later 1970s) science-fiction, as it was about a cyborg from space hunting his enemies, a race of shape-shifting aliens who had infiltrated the earth. When one of them had a child with a human mother, he became an H.R. Geiger nightmare named Hybrid. Rom teamed with various mutants to stop the creature.


Bayer took those elements and reshaped the characters. Hybrid was now Metastasis, a word meaning an incurable cancer that has spread throughout the body. The mutant Rogue is now a Wendy O. Williams lookalike, while Mystique becomes a dead ringer for Fletcher Hanks' Phantoma. This is a typical Bayer technique: taking familiar characters and connecting them with either punk imagery or else idiosyncratic comics characters. Apart from these stylistic changes, some dialog changes (much less exposition, much more dialog in actual vernacular that sounds like a real person would say), a few story details being condensed, and, of course, Bayer's own blocky, dense, and grotesquely comic interpretation of the characters, the story unfolds pretty much like the original issues did.


Details like Metastasis taking some convicts who happened upon his house and flaying the skin off their bodies or his plans to turn mutant women into "breeding sows" in his rape camps are straight from Mantlo in comics intended for children. (Comics Code approved!) Other details, like Metastasis tempting Rom with pleasures of the flesh, are also straight from Mantlo.


Bayer veers from an open page format with no panels to hand-drawn panels. He carefully employs a lot of negative space in order to let his drawings breathe a little and to make the otherwise blocky aspect of his figures more legible in terms of their actions on the page. Bayer is once again interpreting the drawings of Sal Buscema here, a master storyteller in terms of pacing, panel-to-panel transitions, and clarity, and he maintains these aspects of the original art while putting his own unique stamp.


The backup story to "RM: Cell Division" features Seth reading this issue of RM in class as part of the larger drama involving his status as an outcast, his desperate desire to connect with others, and his anger at being rejected. When his teacher has her concert tickets stolen from her purse, the other students immediately suspect Seth who is cagey until the end and beyond. In this world, that suspicion momentarily makes him popular--a fact that he understands and completely rejects. For Seth, popularity is less important than his own personal sense of integrity, another key touchstone of punk.

RM reflects the punk aesthetic in the sense that it strips away pretension in favor of reality. Seth's reality is grim and unpleasant, but he's come to terms as to what kind of life he wants to live. He takes solace from the uncompromising harshness of the comics he reads, even if no one else cares about or understands them. These are not unfamiliar ideas, to be sure, but the way Bayer subsumes these ideas entirely within his explosive and non-intuitive color sense and his seemingly-frenzied scrawl on each page reveals a rich visual language that amplifies and distorts its text.

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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).

Monday, September 10, 2018

Change Too Often Comes At A Cost To Those Who Have No Debt To Be Paid: David Fairbanks reviews MARSUPIAL MATCH by Ana Hinojosa

Do you know who Ana Hinojosa is? If you're reading Your Chicken Enemy, you presumably like comics, and if you like comics, you should know who Ana Hinojosa is. While it was her Bedroom 2017-2018 prints that caught my eye at CAKE 2018, the "read me" sign stuck in an open copy of Marsupial Match brought out my wallet. I picked up the display copy and its smooth-but-not-too-smooth texture reminded how important every aspect of a minicomic can be; Marsupial Match was new, yet already it felt familiar. I slipped my thumb under the cover and opened to an inner cover of pink gridlines and a first page that tells quite the story on its own:
What you don't get in the picture above is the cartoonist herself saying "it's a story about a boy named Gustavo, raised in a family of opossum hunters, who decides he doesn't want to hunt opossums." And that's all it really took. I swiped my card, slid the bagged comic into my tote, and went about the festival. 

Marsupial Match wasn't done with me, however. 

CAKE exists in a shared space at the Center on Halsted, which has a seating area on the main floor where CAKE-goers regularly sit down, sort through their hauls, and snack on something from the adjacent Whole Foods. It's here, between bites of salad, that Marsupial Match came back out of the tote and bludgeoned me with feelings in a pretty public space. Uncomfortable with his family's ritualistic hunting and killing, Gustavo flees home and no sooner is he out the door than he meets someone who would be prey to his family: Opossum Opossum. 

Though apprehensive of each other, the two become friendly, leaving neither alone in the wilderness. A sparse, yet convincing wilderness that reminds me of Anders Nilsen, though I hesitate at what feels like an unfair comparison for Hinojosa. Nilsen's subject matter often gives his sparse style a sterility, a coldness that rarely does him any favors; his lines may wobble at times, but his pages simply feel too clean. Hinojosa's blades of grass, on the other hand, look disordered enough to be real; they complement the sparse fur and wayward whiskers of Opossum. The gargantuan leaves of her wilderness look paused mid-breeze, arranged just so, framing Opossum and Gustavo in a scene. Her disarray is a disarray with a purpose.

Hinojosa does a brilliant job of building up the relationship between her two characters, with Opossum living in this unusual space between animal and human. She gives Opossum no dialogue, yet they very clearly respond to each of Gustavo's questions. Opossum has a life that we as readers are not at all privy to, a life that includes a driver's license and at least one joyride in a convertible. 
When tragedy strikes, it comes from both characters reverting to their baser instincts, Gustavo doing so first -- and then reacting more violently -- speaks volumes about his past, about humanity. Gustavo simply pockets the photo of Opossum as if he has a claim to it, sabotaging whatever trust had been gained between these two strangers. Who could blame Opossum for biting the thief, either? Yet that has Gustavo draw a blade, and… you know, a fight between an opossum and a teenager may not sound particularly exciting. And in the hands of a lesser cartoonist, the tension may have been defused, the comic spoiled. But Hinojosa's command of pacing is praiseworthy.
Here again, Hinojosa's sparseness works to great advantage, forcing the reader to see these characters we have briefly grown attached to fall, disappear beneath the water, and then… nothing. When they eventually emerge from the water, Opossum's disheveled fur is now marred by graphite. It would be easy to have the red of the blood be the only piece of color in a comic like this, but there is something about the splotch of black lead spreading from Opossum to Gustavo's hand to his jacket, the soft dark of pencil lead migrating, transferring from skin to skin at first unnoticeably, but with a tenacity familiar to anyone who has picked up a pencil and drawn for more than ten minutes. She creates a metaphor that taps into one of the most common experiences -- the realization that your hand has picked up quite a bit of lead from a drawing you've been working on -- and then says "yes, this is what it is like to grievously wound someone you care about without realizing or meaning to, and it's just as difficult to clean up."

In 16 pages, Marsupial Match introduces us to a pair of characters, tells us just enough to get attached, and subjects the reader to the incredible range of human emotions. Hinojosa makes it easy to see something of ourselves in Gustavo, someone who wishes to be different from, perhaps better than, those who came before him. She presents the idea that a character raised in a toxic environment can change but that it's far from simple and nowhere near easy to do so, and that change too often comes at a cost to those who have no debt to be paid. 

Marsupial Match is unwilling to answer lingering questions about Gustavo and Opossum beyond "have they survived," and it's a testament to the strength of their characterization that I want to know what happens next for them, feel as though I already know, and also want to live in the ambiguity of a wounded opossum left alone in a hospital bed. I don't suspect there will ever be another story with these characters, as Hinojosa deftly recreates the feeling of a person entering and leaving your life, uncertain of whether they will ever return.
You can find Ana Hinojosa online at www.anahin.com.

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David Fairbanks is an artist, poet, and critic who makes a living doing none of those things. David's work has appeared at Loser City, Comics Bulletin, FreezeRay, DayOne, and now Your Chicken Enemy. His handle is bairfanx basically everywhere, and you can learn more at his charming yet infrequently updated website: davidjfairbanks.com.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 9/1/18 to 9/7/18

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 takes a deep dive into ONE DIRTY TREE by Noah Van Sciver, "a work that speaks to complex ideas in a subtle voice. It is a brave approach to take in a genre that is frequently didactic. Yet Van Sciver’s gamble completely pays off here. He masterfully evokes frustration and joy in a way that respects how inseparable the two are from the human experience. Leaving room for the reader to connect to his experience through the parts of it that remind them of their own struggle to create a future for themselves in the face of an ever-present past. In stepping out into difficult territory and handling it with grace he further cements his status as one of the foremost cartoonists working today."

* Michelle White on SHEETS by Brenna Thummler, "a lovely read that sneaks up on you, crafting a beautiful and recognizable world that’s full of personal history"

* Julia Alekseyeva reviews CARTOON DIALECTICS by Tom Kaczynski, writing "The past cannot return, the present cannot be “great again,” but, with a critical mindset and a healthy dash of reflective nostalgia, it can help soothe the alienation of our increasingly alienated lives."

* Andrea Tessie looks at SONG OF AGLAIA by Anne Simon, "a timeless tale, filled with a witty, feminist agenda that openly showcases the protagonist’s triumphs and failures.  Aglaia’s story highlights the universal truth that there are many people who lose sight of their values when dealing with everyday life, simply because they let their emotions take over.  There is wisdom in trying to control these emotions, however, sometimes it’s not always possible."

* Henry Chamberlain reviews A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns, writing "The murky world of memory is evoked quite well and Burns manages to snare some of his childhood ghosts. He manages to sit down with them, talk to them, play with them, and reach some sort of closure. This book invites the reader to do the same."

* Rob Clough on the Taneka Slotts edited anthology, ELEMENTS: FIRE, "an ideal survey of the current generation of genre comics artists mostly working on the web or for smaller publishers." 

* Scott Cederlund reviews POOCHYTOWN by Jim Woodring, writing "Following the plot of one of Woodring’s story is following Frank discovering something new in his world, trying to figure out what it means for him as he experiences it and then having to deal with the consequences that usually leads to something new in this world."

* Dan Schindel on BERLIN by Jason Lutes, writing "It is timely not just in our current tumultuous era, but for as long as societal deprivations build until clashing ideologies come to a head. The characters in the book frequently speak as if their fight will definitively settle the direction of world history. The events of the ’30s were not a specific warning for us, but part of an ever-in-motion cycle of consequences. "

* Andy Oliver takes a look at SPINNING by Tillie Walden, writing "Heartbreak, loneliness, devastation, trepidation and quiet moments of childhood joy are just some of the feelings that will engulf the reader with an undeniable potency as they journey through Spinning‘s pages. It’s simply a masterpiece of comics narrative and an outstanding graphic memoir."

* Ryan Carey on issues one through four of Robert Sergel's BALD KNOBBER.

* John Seven reviews Nathan Gelgud's debut graphic novel A HOUSE IN THE JUNGLE where "Each moment becomes a building block for what follows, and Gelgud peppers these depictions with some calm psychedelics to bring outwards what we couldn’t possibly see otherwise. He also maps out a wonderful, colorful narrative space, filled with luscious jungle land that at times takes over the pages with extreme and forceful beauty, hinting that what might be at the center of all this is nature itself, with ourselves as just creatures merely touching the surface of a much deeper, more complicated secret."


WHATNOT

* Over on The MNT web site, there's a reprint of Steve Morris' interview with ZAINAB AKHTAR, publisher of ShortBox

* Tara Booth has a new comic up on Vice called MOTEL and, since it's a Tara Booth comic, you know I had to include it here.

* Philippe LeBlanc has another SMALL PRESS AND INDIE COMICS GALORE round-up column over on The Beat. Someday I'll remember if I post these under the "Comics Criticism" or "Whatnot" sections. Regardless, Philippe consistently does a much better job of this sort of thing than I. I hope he's privy to some of that sweet Lion Forge cash for his efforts.

* Christine Ro writes about Matthieu Gasfou's photography collection H+: TRANSHUMANISM(S).

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Kickstart Your Part: MOON by Rozi Hathaway

MOON 
is "an ethereal and enchanting short comic story printed in a mini-tabloid newpaper format" by Rozi Hathaway

Hathaway is the cartoonist behind the quiet, meditative, and wonderful COSMOS AND OTHER STORIES published last year by Good Comics.

Of her new book that she is trying to fund through Kickstarter, Hathaway writes: 
"Moon is an ethereal and enchanting original comic story about childhood, curiosity and love. I came up with the idea from one of many conversations with my partner's four-year-old son when we saw a large disc inside a storage container on a building site and he told me it looked like the moon. I decided to create this story because I think we all need some child-like fascination and magic in our lives. My wish is for someone to pick up Moon and be transported away from his/her/their troubles and become lost in a dream. There is always time to worry about school, work, money or relationships, and we all deserve to escape. "

The Kickstarter for MOON runs until September 9, 2018