March 22, 2019

Enemies of the State #002 – EGG CREAM #1 by Liz Suburbia

We’re really pleased to air the second episode of Enemies of the State, a podcast series co-sponsored by Your Chicken Enemy and our esteemed colleagues over at Sequential StateEnemies of the State is a monthly virtual book club discussion on a recently published comic, featuring a rotating cast of comics critics.

Episode #2 of Enemies of the State features commentary on Liz Suburbia’s new annual Egg Cream #1, co-published by Czap Books and Silver Sprocket in 2019. Egg Cream #1 expands the story of Sacred Heart, a comic originally published by Fantagraphics in 2015, and also gives Suburbia a new outlet for the short comics she makes throughout the year.

The cast for this episode includes the following critics:

Daniel Elkin of Your Chicken Enemy
Alex Hoffman of Sequential State
Phillipe Leblanc of The Comics Beat
Sarah Miller of The Sequentialist
Jules Bakes, freelance critic
Ryan C. of Four Color Apocalypse


Subscribe to Enemies of the State on iTunes, Google Podcasts, and other podcast apps or listen here and at Sound Cloud. If you are a comics critic and are interested in joining in on the show, please contact me at YCEReviews@gmail.com. And of course, if you have any feedback, contact us!

We hope you enjoy the podcast!

March 20, 2019

When Reality Slips into Fantasy: Fred McNamara reviews TAEMONS by Kim Salt

Published as part of last year’s ShortBox #9 collection, Kim Salt’s TAEMONS employs its intimate themes of self-discovery to flex the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Adding to the immediate quirkiness of the comic, Taemons’ definition of reality itself is enjoyably blurred. Taemons tells the story of a nameless woman’s journey into untangling her introversion via an app, one that quite literally pits her against her inner demons. It’s a pleasingly quirksome take on the well-tread trope of traveling to another world as a metaphor for inner reflection. 

Color is integral to Taemons’ separation of the real and the unreal. Salt depicts the true world in black-and-white, while she illuminates the fantasy world the main character is escorted to in a tense shade of orange as if to highlight the urgency of the world she’s placed into. Demons and aliens populate this world. Shape is a factor as well; Salt creates the fantasy world with a riot of curves, from the creature within to the table and chairs they sit at alike. Even the steam radiating from the tea is a billowing mass of untamed form.
Counteracting this is how Salt depicts the real world. Salt places the panels of the comic into the very architecture of the story’s landscape. Buildings and walls become snapshots of the characters’ lives, containing flashbacks to their pasts. Happy, sad, thoughtful, their lives are condensed into the very structure of their world. It’s as if the monochrome color scheme is there to reflect the drabness of the main character’s life, yet the meta-esque breakdown of paneling reads like an inner probe of her own confused mental state. The swirling state of the fantasy world becomes a much deeper probing, an active exploration of her mental state, compared to the passive, immovable structures of the real world. There’s a taut sense of confidence in the symbolic nature of Salt’s artwork. It leads to an emotionally precise read that offers a firm grip on its journey.

Elsewhere, the story Salt tells is a little more heavy-handed and less subtle than the story it shows. Taemons shows its emotions and ideas with cool, youthful clarity. However, things become sticky when it attempts to communicate those feelings verbally. The dialogue between the main character and her friend, who introduces her to the "Taemons app", feels clunky, almost heavy-handed. The reader already understands the disconnect the heroine feels via her internal monologue and the gorgeously inventive panel structures. The overall result is Taemons’ unintentional emphasis on its own inquisitive visuals acting as the comic’s strongest elements. However, the dialogue in the comic remains sincere in its confirmation of the book’s wider themes.
That sincerity spreads to the characters themselves. They’re introspective, self-aware of their own broken-down emotions. Salt’s evocative artwork may open the door, but it’s the characters that make us step through into Taemons’ world. Salt writes her characters with a touching keenness about them, how they’re not afraid to confide in each other, wanting to untangle themselves, and taking the necessary steps in doing so. Or rather, in Taemons’ case, taking the necessary sips of tea. That delicate touch of personality gives Taemons a sense of immense scale when placed next to its quirky, all-encompassing visuals.  

Taemons’ climax provides further emphasis on its eloquence by showing rather than telling. Trapped in a far-flung world and verbally toyed with by her demons, the main character initially bows down to her hosts, an added slice of sincerity on her part. However, her submissive attitude evaporates as her turmoil in this strange land continues. Knife in hand, she leaps from her position at a Mad Hatter-esque teatime and lunges for her metaphorical self. Salt illustrates this burst of confidence via a handful of evocative splash pages that place her nameless protagonist firmly in the center of focus.

This burst of confidence mellows into tenderness when the character unmasks her demons and discovers she is fighting herself. Taemons concludes with an open-ended scenario, displaying the lead’s now more rounded awareness of her own issues, while also acknowledging the long road ahead that she needs to take to overcome her difficulties. This open-ended attitude gives Taemons a sense of maturity in how it doesn’t need to provide a clean, happy ending for all concerned. Perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay Taemons is how it shows that mental health can be an unexpected journey with little end in sight. As the main character’s journey demonstrates, it can be no easy route, often fraught with chaotic bends in the road, with the destination being a better understanding of yourself. In fact, the main character’s uncovering her disguised self is the closest Taemons comes to a happy ending.
A final, subtle shade Salt gives her lead character comes in the form of a 12-panel page, with her filling in the entire page, running back towards reality. Each panel bears a separate shade of color, suggesting that all of her pieces are there, they just need filling in with a unified color. Perhaps this is a symbol of her unfinished state, how her mission of self-realization has only just begun. Or perhaps her pieces aren’t meant to be filled in at all. Is she running away from her demons, or running towards overcoming her fears? Salt’s dialogue here suggests the former. Then again, an answer more in-tune with Taemons may well be that there can never be a straightforward answer. Salt’s narration intertwines with the visuals to create something of a misleading march into the subconsciousness, landing in a place that provokes a vague atmosphere with no easy answers. 

Taemons is a thoughtful, bracing, stately introspection that delights in playing with perspective. It’s smart enough to offer no one easy interpretation of the questions it asks, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps. Salt’s strengths as an illustrator radiate throughout Taemons. The stripped-back approach to color and detail allows for a bold, eccentric structure that reflects the moods and ideas scattered throughout. Emotionally, Taemons acts like something akin to an outstretched hand, inviting you to explore our own inner demons. If your own journey is as sweetly-natured and oddly fun as Taemons, it will be worth the trip.
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Fred McNamara thoroughly enjoys writing about comic books and TV shows you've never heard of. His love of indie/small press comics arose through his role as senior editor for the superhero/comic book hub A Place To Hang Your Cape. He's currently enduring a prolonged period of sleepless nights as his debut book, Spectrum is Indestructible, is gearing up for publication later this year from Chinbeard Books.

March 18, 2019

Biography As Memoir: Jason Sacks reviews NOBODY'S FOOL by Bill Griffith

It’s funny, the things which never occur to you.

I’ve read Zippy the Pinhead comic strips and stories since the 1980s, amused by creator Bill Griffith’s absurdist humor and off-kilter view of society. Comic strips generally represented a normatively conformant kind of art, reinforcing the societal status quo and not challenging its foundations. Griffith, on the other hand, exposed the shaky roots of modern American conformity by showcasing the absurdity of modern American thought. Griffith’s Zippy presented a worldview that was just plain weird and was imbued with a kind of counterculture anger mixed with old-fashioned preposterous whimsy.

But as I enjoyed the themes Griffith presented, and as I appreciated reading his counterculture leanings on the pages of the daily newspaper and comic book pages, I never really stopped to consider the characters Griffith depicted, not really. Oh, I interpreted the Pinhead at the center of the strip, a victim of Microcephaly, as a proxy for readers. I felt Zippy’s confusion and laughed at his non-sequiturs and odd comments because he represented my own confusion and amazement at the peculiarities of our society. Zippy as a character represented a kind of absurdist societal id. He was a virtual child in a world of complicated sophisticates, lost and contemplating the most quotidian of events. Thus Griffith was able to satirize the fascinating and often bizarre impact of an over-commercialized and strange society, providing a window into the truth behind its own lies. The fact that the central character of the strip was a literal outsider, as different from my happy suburban life as a space alien might be, allowed me the distance necessary to not be troubled by his bizarre appearance.
One of the things I found comforting about Zippy was that I didn’t need to think too much about the character at its center. Zippy, the lead character, was a void, a symbol, a surrogate for the reader to see him or herself embodied within. Zippy was unique in that he sometimes seemed more symbol than living character. He inhabited the comics page but, unlike many of his fellow comic strip colleagues, he never came alive on the page. He was never an eternally depressed Charlie Brown nor a haggard Beetle Bailey nor an imaginative Calvin. Nobody was rushing to create plush toys of Zippy or to present It’s a Zippy Christmas, complete with wildly maudlin, conformity-reinforcing Christmas wishes.

There was simply nothing like Zippy the Pinhead in American newspapers, and, at its peak (in hundreds of newspapers worldwide), Griffith’s vision had the eyes of millions of readers per day. Zippy the Pinhead, a humble American comic strip, approached high art.

But at the center of Zippy was a conceit and odd exploitation. Zippy has little agency of his own. He has friends and minders and people who loved him, but Zippy represents Bill Griffith’s inner life rather than his own. Zippy’s own mind and thoughts are mysteries to readers. That void gives his comic strip a strong dollop of humorous tension, but it leaves some crucial issues unresolved upon reflection.

Griffith’s new graphic novel, Nobody’s Fool, published by Abrams ComicArts, tells the life story of the pinhead upon which Griffith based Zippy. The new book is a straightforward and truthful depiction of the life of Schlitzie the Pinhead, or at least as much of the truth as Griffith was able to piece together over the years. It’s a biography which serves at least two purposes: to tell the story of this very unique human being, as well as explain why Schlitzie became Griffith’s life-long obsession. Along the way, Griffith takes readers on a journey through a fascinating lost America, one in which poor and worried immigrant parents could sell their handicapped children to the circus, one in which small-town rubes would turn out in droves for freakshows, and one in which pre-Internet era communications would allow secrets to remain unstirred.

And although Griffith skirts around this topic, maybe because he felt uncomfortable with it, this book is also an attempt to bring humanity to this basically unknowable human being, to finally provide three-dimensionality to this character that, as he says in his introduction, he had been drawing “ever since 1963, when I was an art student and first saw Tod Browning’s 1932 film about the sideshow, Freaks.” 
The origins of the real Schlitzie the Pinhead are pretty much lost to history. As Griffith discusses in the book, there were several stories about where he was born, from the outlandish freakshow lies that he was born in Borneo to the prosaic tale Griffith depicts of Schlitzie born in a New York City tenement. As Griffith presents the scene, young Bronx-dwelling Simon Metz, a sufferer from the “pinhead’s disease”, was purchased from his desperately poor immigrant family by a sideshow manager. Whether that origin is true or not, it bespeaks of a dark and damaged version of the American experience in which fear of permanent poverty could lead parents to make terrible choices and in which deformity represented a tremendous emotional and financial burden on already burdened families. In an era when children with mental illness were sent to lifelong stays in an asylum, a choice like selling a pinheaded boy to the circus clearly seemed a rational decision. In Nobody’s Fool, Griffith adds to the pathos of the scene of the sale by emphasizing Schatzie's fascination with a plate painted with the image of the Campbell’s soup cherub, a jarring bit of pop culture strangeness which shows his own connection to a mythical America which never really existed. The plate also symbolizes a benign sort of early-20th-century hucksterism which perhaps reached its apotheosis with carnival barkers.

The pinheaded boy is soon installed as a slideshow regular at Coney Island, where his cohorts include a bearded lady, conjoined twins, and a man born without arms and legs. He soon achieves a small measure of fame as “the last of the wild Aztec children”, performing card tricks and spouting non-sequiturs in his piercingly high voice. It is in the carny sideshow that Nobody’s Fool spends much of its time, and it is in those moments that I found myself most enraptured in Griffith's story and his subtly powerful art.
Griffith’s wonderfully crosshatched artwork, itself apparently hand-drawn and reflecting a straightforward approach which reflects its era, brings Coney Island circa 1920 to complex life with seeming ease. In fact, throughout Nobody’s Fool, Griffith is successful at vividly evoking this lost era of tenements and freakshows. He shows readers period-appropriate asylums, carnivals, and graveyards, among many other strange places, but Griffith’s hand-hewn, detailed art never loses its straightforward attention at depicting settings accurately and powerfully. 

The real fascination and challenge with this book, though, is that the character at its center is basically an enigma even to the people who knew him.. Griffith is skilled at showing emotion in the faces of his secondary characters, presenting angst, anger, amusement, and terror as the scene requires. Even in secondary carnival characters like sword swallower Bill Unks, Griffith seems to find the center of the man and evoke his inner life with a few subtle ink lines.
At its center, though, Schlitzie remains tantalizingly out of reach, perhaps in a symbolic recognition of the enigma that the character has always presented in Griffith's art. It’s nearly impossible to read character in Schlitzie’s cryptic facial gestures and body language, let alone his strange verbal tics. In reading these scenes, the reader begins to understand why Griffith treated Zippy as a blank slate. In fact, Schlitzie was basically a tabula rasa and gave Griffith little to build upon aside from his surface attributes and obsessions. Schlitzie walked and talked, loved to wash dishes and perform card tricks, but at his center, he was a cryptic, haunting void which gives this book much of its piercing power.

But there is power in that cryptic void as well. Schlitzie’s inability to communicate in meaningful ways helps readers feel distant from the character and see him as a pathetic creature. In that way, we could imagine the exploitation of America’s sad sideshow tradition, in which viewers were encouraged to see the people on display as the other, as almost otherworldly, rather than individuals with whom to empathize. In this book, we are never complicit with the people who attend the sideshows, but we can understand the motivation behind that fascination.

This power of this void gains tremendous power in the sections in which Griffith dwells on the 1932 film Freaks. As mentioned, this movie fascinated Griffith while he was in art school. In fact, he depicts his art as being directionless until he discovered the film; the scene in which a viewing of Freaks literally opens Griffith’s eyes to a completely different world is perhaps the finest page in this book. For ten hunting pages, Griffith shares the key scenes from Freaks with an almost religious furiousness. Freaks literally changed his life. As he shows readers, the Bill Griffith after viewing this film was different from the Griffith before viewing it. As he also says, “I was especially fascinated by the pinheads in the film. I wondered if I’d ever be able to understand their garbled dialogue...or is it gibberish? Or did it make a sense all its own?

In that scene, this book veers from biography to memoir, or perhaps to nostalgic tangent. This instant of awakening is treated as a near-religious experience and clearly has been dwelled upon and fetishized over Griffith’s life. Of course, this moment never has been objectively documented -- such a moment can’t be chronicled objectively - but it matches many interviews I’ve read with him. As he describes his conversion, Griffith draws himself looking directly at the reader, showing a sincere connection through direct eye contact which few characters show each other throughout Nobody’s Fool. In that brief moment, the history of this book shifts from objective to subjective, from a more-or-less cold recitation of events on a person who can’t change to a more-or-less warm depiction of events which change the book creator. It shifts from history to nostalgia and I found that shift is both compelling and frustrating. 

This scene also sets up a bit of a tonal shift in the book, as the sideshow circuit begins to die by the early 1970s and Schlitzie’s life becomes more difficult and fraught with troubles, including a terrifying trip to an insane asylum which is depicted with great poignancy.
Though Griffith tried to research the subject in those pre-Internet days, he was never able to really crack the mystery of the pinheads in Freaks. In fact, in significant ways, that confusion really didn’t matter. A case can be made that too much information would have taken away from the artistic side of Griffith’s approach; that by understanding the life of Schlitzie and his cohorts rather than the actual pinheads, he was able to distance himself and create his high art.

This is the central tension at the heart of Griffith’s book: What responsibility does a creator have by placing his key characters into some sort of context? How responsible should he be for presenting the humanity of people different from himself? It’s easy to see the boundaries of that responsibility in the realm of gender or racial roles. It’s much more difficult to see those boundaries when the character being depicted has, at its center, a complex and unknowable world. Because Schlitzie gave few clues about his inner life, especially for a creator unable to perform deep research at the time, these boundaries are monumentally difficult to define.

In effect, with Schlitzie, or Zippy, remaining a void, Griffith filled the character with the only depth he could provide: the artist’s own view of the world. Griffith was free to project himself on to Zippy because the protagonist of the strip had no easily discernible inner life, or at least no inner life which most people could comprehend. Zippy, in effect, became Griffith’s alter ego, albeit through a metaphorical (and sometimes literal) funhouse mirror. By the time Griffith had drawn Zippy strips for many years, the character at its center became a representation of Griffith in the same way Charlie Brown represented a side of Charles Schulz and Calvin and Hobbes represented Bill Watterson. 
Perhaps that identification of artist with his subject is precisely the point of this book. While the life of Schlitzie is the intellectual focus of Nobody’s Fool, its emotional heart is the life of Bill Griffith. With his previous book, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist, and this volume, Griffith is slowly publishing his own autobiography through the two figures who perhaps influenced his life the most. It’s an odd paradox that these two relationships are mirror opposites of each other. Griffith knew his mother intimately, but she kept secrets from his family. Griffith never saw Schlitzie in person, but he became his lifetime companion and revealed secrets from his own life. 

Together, these heartfelt and wonderfully rendered graphic novels are perfect companions for each other. Both revel in grotesquerie, period details, and, ultimately, in deeper human truths.  They reveal Griffith’s life obliquely and illuminate the issues and people who shaped him with a deep thirst for knowledge and information in an attempt to reveal his own inner life to himself. It’s a testament to Bill Griffith’s considerable creative skills that he is able to discover deeper truths about himself by exploring a man so unlike himself. Nobody’s Fool may seem a biography, but it is biography masquerading as a memoir.
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Jason Sacks is the former Publisher of Comics Bulletin. He writes books about comics history, including Jim Shooter: Conversations and The American Comic Book Chronicles: the 1970s, when he’s not hiking, working in the software biz or tracking down lost treasure.

March 6, 2019

Kickstart Your Part: BIRDCAGE BOTTOM BOOKS 2019

Birdcage Bottom Books is running a Kickstarter for its 2019 publications. This small press has now been around for about a  decade now but their mission statement remains the same: help incredible cartoonists who may be flying under the radar get a wider audience. 

They've published some pretty amazing books in the past and this Kickstarter seems to indicate they are continuing in that tradition.

For 2019. they are featuring books by Max Clotfelter, Eva Müller, and Lance Ward. 

MAX CLOTFELTER'S ROOFTOP STEW
Rooftop Stew collects a plethora of Max Clotfelter’s depraved comics, both fictional and autobiographical, blending ‘60s psychedelic underground comic sensibility with Southern style debauchery. Debuting at Small Press Expo (SPX) in September. 

EVA MÜLLER'S FUTURE CORPSE
Future Corpse collects new short works by Eva Müller covering themes of feminism, anxiety, punk rock, immortality, labor, and robotic vacuums. This should serve as a palette cleanser between last year’s “In The Future, We Are Dead” and her current book about working/labor. Debuting at MoCCA in April.

LANCE WARD'S BLOOD AND DRUGS
Blood and Drugs is the story of people on the fringes of society and how a single poor decision changed one man’s life forever. Buster struggles against his heroin addiction, his floundering career in comics and with human relationships in a search for redemption. Debuting at Small Press Expo (SPX) in September.

CHECK OUT THE KICKSTARTER HERE.

March 4, 2019

Top Knot Bun Sporting Yoga Boy: Daniel Elkin reviews DARK PANTS #4 by Matt MacFarland

The routine of normalcy that arises after building a life based on society’s expectations undulates with a monotonous beat. In the quest for stability, often times people lay waste to their drive for excitement, the rush of the unique, the palpitations of exhilaration. Predictability becomes engorged with routine, the hard edges become soft, losing their bite. It’s usually in the midst of the bland realization of success that people make wildly inappropriate decisions and blow up their careers, their families, their lives. The aftermath is shame and the understanding of that which is lost.

This is the endemic malaise cycle of the privileged and the subsequent breeding ground for the blown-out ego-driven spirituality that leads to events like the Fyre Festival and Burning Man or the profusion of sound healers, crystal shops, and yoga studios in gentrified neighborhoods or, say, precious Gold Rush era small towns in Northern California -- it’s also the playground of the Namaste saying, tribal tattooed, top knot bun sporting yoga boy.

You may have seen them around. They are often dramatically sipping herbal teas while telling you that, “Actually, the swastika is an ancient Vedic symbol meaning ‘Good Existence’.” They burn as many calories through their “practice” as they do through cultural appropriation, casual racism, following their “passion”, and shaking their heads at the excess of capitalism. They’re better than you because they understand how the world works without ever really needing to work in the world. They’re as smug as they are fragile; self-aggrandizing bullies who prey on the ignorance and boredom of other discontent people of privilege.
In Matt MacFarland’s DARK PANTS #4, the top knot bun sporting yoga boy is the central focus of the main character’s malaise cycle. Lisa is a successful real estate agent in Eagle Rock, CA who has a beautiful house, a devoted husband, and a couple of rambunctious children. But Lisa’s success leaves her empty -- the life she has built was not the one she had expected when she was younger. All that hard work came at the expense of excitement, the “more” of being a singer, a writer, something other than what she has dedicated so much of herself into creating.

This leads to tensions at home and dissatisfaction at work. It’s led to a quest to fill the void. It’s led to yoga classes. It’s led to Cal, the top knot bun sporting yoga boy who talks about things being “blessed” and asks her about her “passion”. It’s when Lisa puts on the titular Dark Pants in this book that she makes the predictable poor choices -- lying to her husband, belting out karaoke “Born to Run”, being sexually disappointed by Cal (of course), and suffering all the consequences thereof.
Still, MacFarland hints at the end of Dark Pants #4 that all this may have been for the best. By donning the dark pants and wiping out the vestiges of all the disappointments her successful life was built upon, Lisa is free to travel the highway and begin again. Maybe the disappointment of the top knot bun sporting yoga boy helps her get out of the “death trap” and get out while she’s young?

We don’t get answers. We get the ego-driven whine of the spurned top knot bun sporting yoga boy, dark pants in the trashcan, and a Southern California highway lined with wind turbines spinning in the breeze.
In 80 pages of MacFarland’s thick ink lines creating emotive faces, stilted intensity, and the dream-like quality of self-deprecation, Dark Pants #4 plays out not quite as you expect it to, but holds firmly to a sad believability, a condemnation of privilege, and a small celebration of excitement, no matter the cost.
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Daniel Elkin is the EIC of Your Chicken Enemy, the Former Small-Press Comics Editor for Comics Bulletin, and has Bylines at Loser CityPsycho Drive-InWinkFactionalWWAC, and PanelXPanelHe's a High School English Teacher in Northern California. He'll talk to you about Sandwiches.

March 2, 2019

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 2/24/19 to 3/1/19

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

* Dominic Umile reviews A FIRE STORY by Brian Fies, a "book-length graphic account [that] details life during and after the second-most destructive wildfire in California history."

* Andy Oliver looks back at an interview he did with Tillie Walden and uses this as a springboard for a great review of ON A SUNBEAM, "a book of resonant echoes, both in terms of its structure and the journeys the characters embark upon, and a celebration of adopted family, friendship and a love that is as expansive as the near infinite reaches of the universe it is a part of."

* Nathan Chazan reviews WINDOWPANE by Joe Kessler, "a progressive, nuanced story of the art object and our engagement with media." 

* Rob Clough looks at the latest releases of CASH GRAB by Aaron Lange, saying (of Lange) "He has a way of taking even the most unsympathetic or difficult figures and laying their humanity bare for the reader, generating respect if not affection for them. Lange is an excellent writer and gets at the heart of events and achievements while never losing sight of the underlying and often tortured humanity of his subjects."

* Graham Reid has this short take on RUFUS MARIGOLD by Ross Murray, "a quiet graphic novel".

* Chris Gavaler on THIS WOMAN'S WORK by Julie Delporte, writing "The memoir is much more of an attempt to construct something new, even if it is necessarily incomplete and tentative as she wanders between continents and decades of memories."

WHATNOT

* Kim O'Connor is doing a weekly Twitter reading group going through Marc Singer's new book, BREAKING THE FRAMES: POPULISM AND PRESTIGE IN COMICS STUDIES -- this week she has some pretty profound observations about Chapter 1: The Myth of Eco.

* Jameson Hampton interviews CARTA MONIR about her new publishing venture, Diskette Press, Risographing, and her friendships.

* Alex Dueben interviews LIZ SUBURBIA over on Smash Pages.

* Hillary Brown interviews JULIE DELPORTE over on Paste.

* There's a new comic on Spiralbound by Glynnis Fawkes called IMMORTAL WILDWOOD.

* Glynnis Fawkes is doing the CARTOONIST'S DIARY this week on TCJ.

* Alec Berry has this update on the PICKRODT LAWSUIT.

* Alejandra Oliva has this piece over on Electric Lit called WALKING INTO THE RIVER which has to do with "Virginia Woolf, the migrant caravan, and the fluid boundaries between people."

February 28, 2019

Announcing SHORTBOX THE TENTH

After three years of producing some of our most favorite comics out there, Zainab Akhtar and her crew have just announced the release of ShortBox the TENTH featuring a brand new title from James Stokoe about a massive crocodile god; their first dedicated all-ages title from Jessi Zabarsky, and a risograph-printed mech and alien fight-em-up from Wren McDonald. They're also debuting feature-length work from two new cartoonists, Michelle Kwon and Alivia Horsley. 

If you are unfamiliar with ShortBox:

  • ShortBox is an independent, mail-order comics box that releases twice a year. It is not a subscription service. There is no signing up. It's unique in that the comics contained in the box are ones they publish: brand new releases created especially for the box. You buy a box, and that's that - there's no further commitment to anything else. 
  • Pre-orders will run for a 14-day period ending at midnight on March 10th. This is the only way to get the box. They don't remake boxes.
  • The box will ship in April. 



Exclusive A4 static-cling PVC poster

Sobek by James Stokoe, foil embossed cover, 36pp, full-color, oversized. 
Life is pretty good being a gigantic crocodile god: spend your days lazing on the riverbeds of the Nile while your devotees shower praise and juicy offerings upon you. But Sobek's idyll is broken and he must limber into action when a distraught priest relays news of affront and vandalism from the followers of Set.  An all-new, unmissable stunner from James Stokoe. This book comes with an exclusive static-cling A4 PVC poster (colored but transparent, to be stuck on surfaces), which will only be available via the box.


Visiting by Alivia Horsley, dust jacket cover, 42pp, full-colour.
Dylan has been preparing for a visit to her beloved Auntie. Moments together are precious, and lots of time spent reminiscing, eating, gardening. All the while, Dylan's trying to build up the courage to ask Auntie a big question on behalf of her mum, even as she wrestles with the idea of it herself.


Resort on Caelum by Wren McDonald. risograph printed, 32pp.
Tobin is one of a group of fresh new recruits landing on Caelum working for Sinensis to build a new resort on the planet, and he's excited to meet the fighter mech-pilots he idolizes and to become one himself. Until it comes to battle, and it's not clear what exactly they're fighting, and why... 
(This print run of Resort on Caelum will be exclusive to ShortBox #10 only)


Boogsy by Michelle Kwon, spot gloss cover, 58pp, perfect bound.
Does sticky have to be icky? Mac's at one of life's dead-ends: no job, no motivation, no idea about what to do, and living at her twin sister's place while she (sort of) tries to figure it out. Into this picture arrives Boogsy- a boyfriend made up entirely of her apparently sentient boogers. The two instantly embark on a relationship, and, it seems, down a path of further self-destructive behaviors. 


Two of Us by Jessi Zabarsky, 44pp, full-colour. 
Febry has always wanted to be just like their enchantress mother: using magic to help people and do neat things, and going to magic school is a much-anticipated first step towards that. Febry's mum, long fascinated with the mundane world, has enrolled Febry to mundane school, much to their horror. Can the two worlds meet, or more pertinently, can the mundane world handle Febry... ShortBox is proud to present their very first dedicated, all-ages title by the wonderful Jessi Zabarksy!


'Rainy Day' by Jon McNaught. A4 print with silver foiling, exclusive to box only.


Order ShortBox #10 here.

February 25, 2019

Looking At Him Looking: Daniel Elkin reviews THROUGH A LIFE by Tom Haugomat

How'd you know I was looking at you
If you weren't looking at me?
-- Mr. Bungle, “Egg” 

We are all, in some sense, voyeurs. It’s inevitable as we watch the world before us unfold. Yet, never before have we had such access to the lives of others. And as we willingly and carefully curate and document our own lives for the edification of others, privacy becomes a tenuous space. Still, the act of watching others is how we learn: learn to grow, learn to hope, learn to dream. But what is the value of watching others as they watch their world? What do we learn from this?

In Tom Haugomat’s beautiful new book from Nowbrow Press, Through A Life, the answer seems to be that through this act of voyeurism, we learn that growing, hoping, and dreaming ultimately leads us nowhere except to disappointment.
Told through a series of single-page illustrations, Haugomat places his main character, Rodney, in time and space and then, thorough point-of-view, focuses the reader on what this character is seeing. Each page turn marches the perspective through a lifetime, year after year, from earliest memories to final moments, the full range of a life lived. By this, we are given access to the creation of Rodney’s hopes, the development of his dreams, and the brutal realities of eventual disappointment.

Haugomat is, first and foremost, an illustrator whose background in animation is instantly apparent in this book. Paring his visual cues down to their essentials, Haugomat works in forms mostly, eschewing detail in order to broaden the reader’s connection to the work. But what his illustration lacks in specificity, it makes up in his use of color. Suffused with a consistent palette throughout featuring a bold blue, a pale yellow, an inky black, and an amazingly vivid red, Haugomat’s work pops from the page, as if it is a series of propaganda posters advocating for a carefully constructed political platform that is, at its heart, a vision of an idealized world unobtainable, an illusion, a fraud.
Rodney spends his life looking through…” begins the blurb on the back of Through A Life. He’s an observer whose observations gives him a distance, sets up a barrier between himself and his experiences. As such, the emotional beats of the book seem as detached from the truth as Rodney himself is from the reality of his life. As he grows and hopes and dreams, there is an inevitability to the loss he encounters, but, because of the manner Haugomat has framed this work, the visceral impact of these losses on the reader are lessened. We are only observing someone else observing, after all.
There’s an interesting, albeit well-worn exploration of the juxtaposition of the micro with the macro in Through A Life, as Haugomat tries to bring the reader’s attention to (while raising the value of) the small moments in life by placing them in contrast to the vastness of space and the notion of grand exploration. But, once again, through the distance engendered by Haugomat’s narrative and artistic choices, this, too, seems a specious and misleading propaganda. It’s as if nothing ends up mattering in the end -- that in reality, everything is disappointing because we expect too much from it all.

Perhaps this is the parable of our times.

Perhaps, too, the value of Through A Life is not just in its striking beauty as a work of craftsmanship and art, but in the fact that its lies are so blatant while its truths are so revelatory.
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Daniel Elkin is the EIC of Your Chicken Enemy, the Former Small-Press Comics Editor for Comics Bulletin, and has Bylines at Loser CityPsycho Drive-InWinkFactionalWWAC, Shelfdust, and PanelXPanelHe's a High School English Teacher in Northern California. He'll talk to you about Sandwiches and that Tusk is the best Fleetwood Mac album.