Tuesday, January 15, 2019

We Shouldn't Fear Hurting: Justin Giampaoli reviews HAMLET IS OKAY by Lora Root

There are times when you feel like a comic is made just for you. I've always had a soft spot for The Bard, having played a rousing rendition of Romeo in a high school production of Romeo and Juliet, and thanks in no small part to Mr. Lindbergh, another high school AP English teacher who dedicated an entire semester to unpacking Hamlet around the time the Mel Gibson movie came out (I even wrote a movie review for my school newspaper). I've always been partial to the tragedy of my favorite character Mercutio ("a plague on both your houses!" and all that), so this particular comic was very much in my wheelhouse and I was so there for this reimaging of everyone's favorite brooding Shakespearean emo protag. 

Hamlet Is Okay is a modern day reinterpretation of the Prince of Denmark, wracked with grief over the death of his late father, not only seeing ghostly manifestations of dear old dad's wispy tales of murder and conspiratorial plots against the crown, but walking the streets begging for a speeding car to put him out of his misery. It takes place in lived-in pubs and flats that push clever twists like Mercutio being something of a hipster bartender, which displays a penetrating understanding of the original character's charisma and tick-tock inner workings. All of this might play like clever fanfic on paper, but what sells it is the execution of the cartooning by Lora Root
The writer/artist is able to avoid many of the common pitfalls of entry-level comics professionals. Root's ability to capture lively facial expressions and crystal clear panel transitions provides a foundation from which to operate. From there, she fills the swift-moving 50-page story with generous background details and an ornate fine line, is careful to use a variety of panel layouts that range from full-page splashes to double-page spreads, panels sans borders, use of negative space, skewed panels to emphasize something awry, to all manner of horizontal and vertical panel compositions. 
Perhaps my favorite skill that Root displays in her efforts is the ability to consistently alter the figure scale. There an old adage I heard from one comics artist that "at least once per page, you should be able to see a character's feet." This guideline will help ensure figure scale variation engaging the eye to zoom in and out, and avoid a monotonous series of talking heads. I'm not sure how much of this skill is an innate ability on Root's part, or the result of her studies at Michigan State University under the mentorship of Assistant Professor Ryan Claytor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design.

For more than a decade, Claytor has been a presence at MSU, offering comics studio courses that build toward a minor in the field, helming the annual MSU Comics Forum, offering deep-dive interviews of award-winning creators via the MSU Comic Art & Graphic Novel Podcast, all in addition to his steady self-published output at Elephant Eater Comics. Claytor teaches the fundamentals of the comics making craft, but also provides tutelage concerning the business end of comics, from the economics of printing, to organizing signing tours and tabling at shows, to basic marketing and self-promotion. There's an entire generation of young cartoonists passing through this corner of the comics world with a very clear and distinct ethos. It leaves me wondering if future comics historians will be able to look back and identify a discernible style or movement in the vein of RISD's fabled "Fort Thunder" aesthetic. 

Digression aside, Hamlet is Okay playfully alters the structure of the original play, while maintaining critical elements like the ghost of Hamlet's father. We're left wondering if the ghost is an actual apparition, or exists only in Hamlet's mind's eye as a mental manifestation of loss, grief, or regret. We question if it's real or simply a coping mechanism pushing Hamlet toward vengeance as a shortcut to right a perceived wrong and make sense of the lack of control he feels in a world filled with seemingly random senseless acts.
Root also emphasizes the thematic takeaway of the simple importance of friendship. When we're dealing with the loss of a loved one, there's a human inclination to withdraw as a means of self-defense. Yet this is paradoxically when we need people the most. It's the realization that sometimes being strong means asking for help. It's the knowledge that we shouldn't fear hurting as a component of the human experience. It's also the knowledge that if you see someone hurting, an earnest offer of help, even if it requires repeating - to the point of insistence, can make all the difference in someone else's life. 
Justin Giampaoli grew up on 1970s Bruce Springsteen tracks and Green Lantern comics by Len Wein and Dave Gibbons. The first movie he saw in a theatre was The Black Hole. The first mini-comic he ever read was Henry by Tim Goody

Monday, January 14, 2019

Everything, Nothing, And All Points In Between: Ryan Carey Reviews IN CHRIST THERE IS NO EAST OR WEST by Mike Taylor

Navigating the present social, political, and economic reality is tough enough --- how are you supposed to get your own head together in the midst of all this chaos?

Cartoonist Mike Taylor's stand-in/protagonist Adam (and, yes, eventually that's revealed to be as obvious a choice of name as you're already imagining it to be), our one and only point of reference in and, in a very real sense, entry into, the metaphysical realms beyond and within detailed in the new graphic novel In Christ There Is No East Or West, is tasked with such a challenge and has the added burden of having been conscripted into this impromptu bit of soul-searching by none other than God himself --- but not until after he discards his ever-present "smart" phone at The Almighty's insistence.

Taylor has, of course, long been on a very public journey of self-discovery in the pages of his justly-legendary Late Era Clash self-published comics 'zine, but whereas that publication generally eschews anything approaching the lofty status of a "grand unifying theory of everything," this book seems to be every bit as much about the destination as it is about the circuitous paths that lead there. It's a heady, thought-provoking experience, to be sure, but to Taylor's great credit it's also a highly and entertainingly accessible one, and while it might come off as too inherently dismissive to call this "metaphysics for the masses," that's exactly what it is --- and that's meant as a compliment.
Gary Groth's "street cred" imprint, Fantagraphics Underground, has pulled out all the stops in terms of production values here and the fold-out poster that slips around the cover is not only jaw-droppingly gorgeous but sets the tone for the deeply personal, yet undeniably universal, explorations that play out on the book's generously over-sized pages. Taylor obviously had complete freedom to follow his creative impulses wherever they led him here --- not to mention however they did so --- and, to that end, expect a wide, at times even breathtaking, array of art styles that range from the near-abstract to the "scratchy" to the detailed to the downright lush, as well as transitions from black and white to rich, vibrant color and back again depending on where Adam finds himself. A great deal of flexibility is required on the part of the reader to absorb all these transitions, but it's actually easy enough to go with the flow Taylor establishes here given the organic fluidity of his sparse, borderline-poetic scripting. Words aren't plentiful, but they're chosen with care and employed with precise intent, as necessary tools to guide along a process that absolutely must be handled with utmost care.

And yet, there's an underlying sense of playfulness in the midst of this thick phantasmagorical jungle of the mind and heart, a Zen-like calm at the center that lets you know that even if everything may not ultimately be okay, it's at the very least going to be whatever it is, and learning to accept that --- to accept anything, really --- is the key to something more than mere prosaic survival; it's the key to progress, to evolution, to becoming.

Of course, "Becoming what?" is the natural-enough question that follows on from that, and Taylor offers no easy answers to it, but then nothing about Adam's "vision quest" (or whatever we want to call it) is what anyone would call easy, from his night spent in a castle made of ice occupied by a grumpy and isolated old-timer who shits something very much like chess pieces (yes, you read that right) to transforming into a plant to attending the strangest dinner party perhaps ever committed to paper --- but it's all rewarding, enlightening, and very frequently quite funny. Even if you're one of those readers for whom challenging yourself is inherently off-putting, there's nothing on offer here that's actively going to put you off --- and plenty that will, inexorably, draw you in.
I'm not suggesting that everyone's "third eye" will open, mind you --- although it's an easily-available option should you wish it --- but when Adam meets a version of himself (I think?) that has been through that process, you won't question it. Taylor has a way of getting you to "buy in" to his idiosyncratic narrative style without a hint of force being applied, and while a lot of that is down to his virtuoso pacing (really, he puts on a veritable clinic in the art and science of it) that gets your toes wet before submerging your feet and going up from there, in truth there is a hidden element to the spell he casts right from page one that speaks to some sort of ability on his part to "tune in" to realms beyond to a far greater extent than he clearly feels he can. I'm loathed to invoke the supernatural as a matter of course --- art, for all its majesty, is still a thoroughly practical process, more often than not --- but dammit, I know magic when I see it, feel it, experience it, and this book positively oozes it from its paper pores.
If, at this point, it seems this critic is being too effusive in his praise, is frankly gushing a bit too much, rest assured: every superlative I freely offer is entirely earned by this bold, inquisitive, humane, beautifully-illustrated work. In Christ There Is No East Or West is everything I look for in comics: equal parts challenging and accepting, "far out" and grounded, mysterious and easy to relate to. It isn't "about" anything specifically, perhaps, but encompasses nearly everything within its expansive, but in no way intimidating, scope. And if calling it "magic" is a bridge too far for you sober rationalists out there, fair enough, I'm prepared to happily call it a work of undeniable genius and leave it at that.
Ryan Carey lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He writes about comics for Daily Grindhouse, Graphic Policy, and at his own blog. He also maintains a long-running film review blog, Trash Film Guru.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 1/7/19 to 1/11/19

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


* Alenka Figa looks at Yumi Sakugawa's FASHION FORECASTS, writing "The future Sakugawa envisions and offers through the clothing presented in Fashion Forecasts has gone beyond acceptance of difference and moved into a realm where personal identity and self-esteem are valued as part of the simple act of wearing clothing."

* H.W. Thurston has this mixed review of VANISHING ACT by Roman Muradov, writing "Ultimately, Vanishing Act is undeniably successful as both an object d’art and as something wrestling with some very big ideas in a thorough yet lighthearted way. It’s a testament to the work that there is far more to say about it than could fit in this space. Yet I had trouble getting excited about it. Perhaps because I kept asking myself: why? Why this work now? It adopts the aesthetic of “the avant-garde,” but is it actually doing anything new? It’s not that an artwork needs a reason to exist, or needs to be relevant to the present moment. If the artist wanted to make it, that’s reason enough. But the thing is that postmodernism has been around for a while, and by now is a bit of a true-but-boring insight. It’s nihilistic in a way that runs the risk of getting old. So for a work to dive off the deep end in engaging with it, especially in a way that is almost “retro,” it feels--fair or not--like there needs to be a reason."

* Over on The Beat, Philippe LeBlanc also reviews Muradov's VANISHING ACT, but he doesn't care for it much. LeBlanc writes, "It’s rare that I dislike a book to the point of feeling like it’s an absolute slog to get through. It’s disheartening to see such an incredible display of artistry ultimately being about such a navel-gazing idea, a book about itself, its own importance and the artistic skill of the creator." Personally, I loved this book and even chose it as one of my THE BEST COMICS OF 2018 over on The Comics Journal. To each their own, I guess.

* Andy Oliver on MY FATHER WAS A FISHERMAN by Dáire Lawlor, "a most impressive first long-form sequential art offering." Oliver also reviews CHLORINE GARDENS by Keiler Roberts, writing "Roberts’ clear, uncomplicated visuals always have an expressive clarity and the most telling of visual characterisation, and Chlorine Gardens is another collection of incisive short strips from one of the finest autobio practitioners working in the medium."

* Caleb Orecchio on STRAY CATS by Ted Echterling which is "like a dream (a fever-dream of a young Doctor Moreau) that wakes you up to a feeling of nausea. It lingers in your mind and puts you into a funk for the rest of the day."

* Chris Gavaler reviews A HOUSE IN THE JUNGLE by Nathan Gelgud which "isn't just a story—it's a comics story exploring the comics form that contains it."

* John Seven looks at KINGDOM by Jon McNaught, writing "it’s not so much a criticism of the modern human world as a rectifying of the divide between it and the natural world. There’s an idea that pollution is part of nature because it is human-made and man is part of nature. Agree or disagree with the actual premise, it becomes a philosophical question about the nature of what belongs in the universe, of where humans stand. It is possible to tag one circumstance as good and one as bad, but when you move past the judgments and examine the situations, without passion, you find that the human experience and all its shallow technological clingings are as much a part of the world and an experience within the world as a bird hunting and killing a rodent."

* Ryan Carey on THE NEW WORLD: COMICS FROM MAURETENIA by Chris Reynolds, where "these stories are the closest thing to actual dreams on paper that I’ve ever seen. They play out in the exact same way that dreams do  — there are elements that can’t adequately be described; key events are tantalizingly hinted at but never directly followed up on; time moves entirely differently, more tethered to events that are happening than to an arbitrary and unforgiving clock; everything is oddly familiar but just a bit off. Nothing is as it should be in these comics, but that realization dawns upon you slowly and incrementally."

* Over on WWAC, they pick their FAVORITE SMALL PRESS COMICS OF 2018.

* Over on Sequential State, Alex Hoffman has just finished up his annual COMICS THAT CHALLENGED ME series for this year with a pretty amazing list of comics. Also, while checking out Sequential State, make sure you marvel at the new header for the site created by Xia Gordon.


* SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: Your Chicken Enemy is hoping to double the content offered weekly on the site, and, to that end, YCE has created a PATREON for you!

* There's a new Seo Kim comic on Vice called IT WASN'T THE CHAIR, IT WAS ME.

* Also on Vice, there's a new Tara Booth comic called DON'T BE AN ASSHOLE.

* Ellen Lindner is the featured cartoonist this week for A CARTOONIST'S DIARY over on TCJ.

* Michael Kupperman has this TALK at Google(?) about his book, All the Answers.

* One of the best sources of comics journalism, The MNT, has ANNOUNCED that it is moving from a newsletter format to publishing new content directly on its website. It's an interesting and understandable move, and I'll be interested to see how this develops and evolves.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Attraction Between Five Bodies: Rob Clough reviews GRAVITY’S PULL by MariNaomi

MariNaomi is best known for her confessional and revealing autobiographical comics that center around relationships, friendships, and personal identity. In her young adult, fictional series Life On Earth, she uses those themes to tell the stories of four teens in a small town. There's also a fifth teen who is the catalyst of the series; her disappearance in the first book was its central plot point and her return in the second book drives its narrative. MariNaomi strongly hints that her vanishing may have had something to do with aliens, but she does make it clear that something weird is going on, even if it's mostly in the background. The real story in the first two volumes is the way these teens interact with each other, and how they find themselves alternately attracted and repelled at various points.

In both books, we are first introduced to Nigel, an African-American guy who's a skater with a minimalist aesthetic. He has a crush on Emily in the first book (Losing The Girl) and develops one on the mysterious returning girl, Claudia. His arc in the first volume saw him maturing and learning how to be a friend instead of just a player, even as he was dealing with the pain of his parents separating and essentially leaving him to fend for himself. Emily was involved with Brett, a jock who was also a sensitive artist, but things went south with their relationship after she got pregnant and had an abortion. Emily's best friend was Paula, but Paula felt like she was constantly being taken advantage of by her. It didn't help that Paula had her own crush on Brett. Brett mostly refused to share his feelings as he was dealing with a mentally ill mother who was on her deathbed.

That's a lot of emotional and personal narrative to lay down, especially in a visual, talking-heads format. To do this, MariNaomi had to solve two problems: how to make these characters feel like something beyond tropes and how to present this information in a visually compelling manner. Her solution was to double down on the idea that everyone sees the world from their own distinct point of view. Thus, each chapter is not only focused on a specific character's narrative, and each chapter is done in a different visual style unique to that character. That aesthetic approach extends to lettering, line weights, shading, page format, and a variety of other choices that help each character stand out. This style is a clever metaphor for the way we think of others as part of our story, shaping them to fit into how we see the world.
In Gravity's Pull, MariNaomi continues to use this metaphor, with the new presence of Claudia affecting everyone else in visually arresting ways. Nigel kicks the book off once again, and the art continues to reflect his point of view. The art is minimalist, given some weight by the extensive use of shading. Nigel's own self-caricature often drops down to something as simple as dot eyes and a line mouth, with his dreadlocks drawn as bulbous protuberances. Visually, things change when he first spies Claudia: he's drawn to her for reasons he can't understand, and when he sees her, she's surrounded by a yellow glow in her eyes. It's a sudden use of spot color that instantly conveys his attraction and the way her weirdness makes him feel weird; it's fitting that the yellow is deliberately made to look eerie and alien. It also indicates something else for each of the characters: a surprising level of empathy and wisdom for the problems of others. Nigel ends the chapter comforting Paula's asshole ex-boyfriend, even as it's clear that he's surprised that he's doing it. He glows yellow when he's dispensing advice and his figure is even more cartoonish than in the rest of the chapter, which once again cleverly indicates what's happening without spelling it out.

Paula is drawn using open-page layouts, one image blending into the next as she drifts and dreams her way through her day. MariNaomi makes frequent use of extreme close-ups as visual metanyms, like a shot of Paula's lips representing her entire person as she shouts out the name of her crush. Throughout the course of this chapter, as Paula kisses her crush Johanna for the first time, MariNaomi keeps a lot of tight close-ups on the talking heads, stripping away all but the most essential elements of the feelings being expressed: eyes, mouth, nose. When she pulls back a bit, she's also pulling back emotionally for a second, as Paula (and the reader) take a moment to reflect. The thin quality of the line is representative of Paula's fragility. She can't let her crush on Brett go, and when she tells him she's with Johanna now (not knowing about Brett's own obsession with Johanna), Brett gets angry and tells her to leave. The final self-image of Paula is warped and ugly as she thinks “I am unlovable”.
Brett is the focus of the next chapter, and it's all dramatic grayscale shading, as his emotions simmer in a miasma of gloom. As little as he shares with others, his own internal monologue is morose and despondent. The scenes with his dying mother are heartbreaking, and MariNaomi draws Brett's mother as he sees her in the last scene: an almost mummified corpse.

Emily in many respects was the central character of the first book, and her narrative once again takes up a lot of space in Gravity's Pull. The visual approach here is the most conventional: standard grids, crisp black and white, bold line weights, and a mix of naturalist drawing (especially in close-ups) and more minimalist drawings. The story picks up with her at a party, bitching about Paula, and making out with a guy. When she doesn't want to have sex, he turns his attention to another friend, and Emily later finds her being raped by him. It's done subtly and without exploitative images; instead, the focus is on Emily's rage. Emily calls Brett and Nigel to help her drunk friend get out of there. The images here are stark and hard, but Claudia's influence is suddenly felt at the end of the chapter when Emily starts to boldly comfort Brett. Her figure is filled up with a warm red, and as she kindly tells him that there are people who want to help him, the glow surrounds them and their figures suddenly look like iconographic, blue alien figures with big red eyes. In the final panel of the chapter, we can see Claudia and her two mysterious companions looking at the house Emily's in.
In Claudia's chapter, nothing is really explained about her but much is revealed. She sees the world as a series of colored pencil drawings on graph paper: a beautiful, pixelated world where she can see the thoughts and emotions of others as clearly as anything else. When Emily comes over to talk to her on Nigel's behalf, Claudia effortlessly probes her mind and gets at her deepest flaws, an experience that momentarily puts Emily in a mild trance. The end result is Emily getting Claudia's phone number for Nigel so that she can tutor him. It's a nice cliffhanger that sets up the third and final volume of the series.

On the surface, MariNaomi makes sure to include a number of topics that its YA audience can relate to: the fragile quality of friendships, the confusing nature of relationships, abortion, sexual assault, parties, family strife and the beautiful ache of love. She approaches each topic in a humane and kind manner, never reducing her characters to stereotypes or placeholders for narrative scaffolding. 
However, this book isn't a checklist of teens and their problems. Instead, its theme is that the essence of being human is creating connections with others. Isolation leads to depression, acting out against others, and an inability to express one's real needs. In Gravity's Pull, Claudia seems to be acting as a catalyst to make certain characters brave enough to let down their guard and act compassionately toward others. She is the impetus that helps bonds start to coalesce, easing through pain and vulnerability. The most masterfully executed aspect of the book is that MariNaomi is able to get across these themes purely through her use of visuals, from line to format to color. Her creative visual language changes shape and tone whenever needed in support of the dialogue and narrative. The warmth and love MariNaomi shows for each of her characters are palpable, as she allows them to be flawed while never judging them for being human. That warmth is extended in turn to the reader, who is reminded through her use of metaphorical imagery of the importance of human connection and empathy.

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, January 7, 2019

Embracing the Nonsense: Nick Hanover reviews AN ACTUAL GOBLIN by Pete Toms

Did you ever think the end of the world would feel so maladroit? We yuk it up on tiny interconnected supercomputers, but as the days press on it really does feel more and more like we’re in that final Sweeps Week push of some product placement drenched three-camera sitcom, cackling over how clumsy and stupid each joke life throws our way is. I could die tomorrow via a piano landing on my head and I wouldn’t express an ounce of shock to whoever came to collect my soul. I’d simply ask what took so long.

No one dies that way in Pete Toms An Actual Goblin, but I’d bet real money its main characters would have similar reactions if they did. The world of An Actual Goblin isn’t quite our own, but it’s close enough that the effect is like, to paraphrase one of its minor characters, watching someone on a phone screen on a sunny day while they’re standing right in the glare. It is a comic of mirrored and hazy images, its humans wobbly and sagging, its only sharpness coming in its ample brand signage and Toms’ wit. It makes no sense yet it makes all the sense in the world.
At the fuzzy center of it all is a “servtainer” at a Medieval Times-esque restaurant called The Dark Ages. She’s living with her mom at 45 and “still talks like a 30-year-old playing a 17-year-old on a one-hour teen drama.” In a drunken fit after getting fired, she releases The Dark Ages’ horses, causing her to lose a finger to one after asking it “why the long face” before it runs off with its herd to alternately terrorize the town’s residents and entrance them with equine majesty. 

On the way to a town hall meeting to discuss the problem of the rogue horses, our defeated protagonist hangs out with her fellow ex-employee Perc, who continues to wear his Dark Ages priest attire while quoting Lord Byron, gets into a one-sided dance-off with a fiscally conservative street gang, and maybe sees Jesus in some tree branches. There’s a whole lot of activity here but, by design, no actual momentum: our slacker lead is stuck in spiritual tar and paradoxically distraught and thrilled by that.
If there’s a specific message to be glommed from An Actual Goblin, it comes in the form of a Sartre quote hidden amongst all those horses and a shitload of fast food signs: “I confused things with their name. That is belief.” Toms’ figures are distinct but uniformly lumpy, like the modern reincarnation of the Bokonon mud people origin belief from Cat’s Cradle, but the brand names in the background are crisp, bold, and impossible to miss, drawing the actual reader’s eye as much as they define the environment and personalities of these doomed late capitalism serfs. No one knows what they’re doing or why, but they appreciate that the monotony of their existence is so structured, even if that structure comes from an endless array of brands and literally brain dead sitcoms.
And then unspeakable violence breaks out and the illusion is shattered, maybe forever. Blood sprays, heads roll, bodies are trampled. Here, Toms portrays the chaos in the half-legible shouts and screeches of the mob as much as he does in the visuals of the violent acts, a far more effective representation of mass confusion than the tilted cameras and bumpy blurs of found footage films. While you can see the incidents that cause the mob in relative clarity, the effects of the mob are less visible, perceived more in the suggestion of the cacophony than anything else.
Toms’ provides an ending just as confounding and inexplicable, pessimistically suggesting the only way to really survive humanity is to opt out of it altogether. Maybe An Actual Goblin isn’t the most uplifting text for Armageddon, there are certainly many other works that will instill at least some hope or possibility for perseverance. But there is a peace that can come from seeing the absurdity of modern existence laid out so bluntly, of seeing some other fuck up trying to make sense of everything before saying "fuck it" and embracing the nonsense. Because as the saying goes, why beat ‘em when you can join ‘em? Though in the case of An Actual Goblin, I guarantee the joining that happens is not what most of you have in mind.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Your Chicken Enemy as well as at Comicosity, Loser City and Ovrld, the latter of which focuses on the Austin music scene. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover

Saturday, December 15, 2018

BOOKS WE LIKED 2018: Special Saturday Edition

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That’s right -- it’s BEST OF season when comic sites large and small churn out their lists, anointing subjective BESTS and, thereby, relegating thousands upon thousands of unlisted comics to the long box of Misfit Toys.

We here at Your Chicken Enemy are uncomfortable with these implications of creating BEST OF lists. Instead, we focus on celebrating ALL that is good in small press/self-published comics. Our site is built on an appreciation for diversity, admiration of artists, respect for the craft, and, of course, sandwiches.  

So, in lieu of the traditional BEST OF list, Publisher and EiC of YCE, Daniel Elkin, has gathered his flock of (Chicken) Enemies and asked them for their contributions to Your Chicken Enemy’s inaugural
Today’s BOOKS WE LIKED 2018 features books that have yet to be reviewed by any of the Enemies 

Make sure you check out Friday's Favorites from Matt VadnaisJustin GiampaoliMichael Bettendorf, and Daniel Elkin

Thursday's Favorites from Francesca LynDavid FairbanksKawai Shen, and Josh Hicks

Wednesday's Favorites from Nick HanoverSara L. JewellJason Sacks, and Mark Stack

Tuesday's Favorites from Ryan CareyPhilippe LeBlancSteve Morris, and Austin Lanari.

And Monday's Favorites from Rob CloughKim JoohaAlex Hoffman, and Keith Silva.

Follow Me In
By Katriona Chapman
Published by Avery Hill
Available HERE

This is a beautiful book. In Follow Me In, Chapman uses the format of a travelogue to not only explore the beauty and history of Mexico but also examine her own growth as an artist and her agency as a woman. Through voyage, Chapman outlines how she moves forward by exploring the past, expertly weaving her personal journey into the context of traveling through a foreign land.

This is also a book about dealing with an alcoholic partner -- and Chapman uses all the tools of the medium to both convey the turmoil of participating in that relationship and make that struggle real to the reader.

Finally, Chapman may well be one of the best cartoonists working today when it comes to conveying an incredible range of human emotion through gesture, expression, layout, and color.

Vanishing Act
By Roman Muradov
Published by Fantagraphics Books
Available HERE

Vanishing Act breaks apart all concepts of narrative and, in doing so, overlays a close resemblance to direct experience. Muradov is seemingly not interested in telling a story as much as he is trying to approximate Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. All the moments of a moment are laid out in sections, even though they happen simultaneously, consecutively, or in dreams -- “a single evening under a sidestepped temporal constraint

With Vanishing Act, Muradov once again proves himself to be one of the most maddening, talented, humorous, and thoughtful creative forces working in comics. In his work, everything comes down to gesture, even intent.

Ink Brick: The Journal of Comics Poetry No. 9
Edited by Alexander Rothman, Paul K. Tunis, Alexey Sokolin, and Matthea Harvey
Available HERE

Everyone contributing and editing this journal are constantly and consistently trying to define the concept of comics poetry, while at the same time expanding the medium of comics. The ninth issue of this series continues this mandate. When abstract images are presented in conjunction with poetic expression, each side opens up and the reader grabs for handholds unique to their own understanding. Ink Brick has been providing space for this sort of exploration -- and doing so in a way that never allows anyone to become complacent in any sense they have made -- never resting on a single characterization or delimitation of what constitutes Comics Poetry

Also of Note:

By Rozi Hathaway
Available HERE

Based on a conversation with a four-year-old, Moon is an original comics story with plenty of imagination, a look at familial relationships, and a nod the Chinese legend of Chang-e and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

By Jean Wei
Published by Peow
Available HERE

Beautiful slice-of-life centered on a naked 8-foot fire demon and farm life with an old Aunt and grand-niece. Sounds pretty spicy if you ask me. And you know what they say about spicy. Spicy is HEAT.”

No Better Words
By Carolyn Nowak
Published by Silver Sprocket
Available HERE

This is a porn comic that beautiful and viscerally captures desire in a safe story filled with agency and consent.

Friday, December 14, 2018

BOOKS WE LIKED 2018: Matt Vadnais, Justin Giampaoli, Michael Bettendorf, and Daniel Elkin

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That’s right -- it’s BEST OF season when comic sites large and small churn out their lists, anointing subjective BESTS and, thereby, relegating thousands upon thousands of unlisted comics to the long box of Misfit Toys.

We here at Your Chicken Enemy are uncomfortable with these implications of creating BEST OF lists. Instead, we focus on celebrating ALL that is good in small press/self-published comics. Our site is built on an appreciation for diversity, admiration of artists, respect for the craft, and, of course, sandwiches.  

So, in lieu of the traditional BEST OF list, Publisher and EiC of YCE, Daniel Elkin, has gathered his flock of (Chicken) Enemies and asked them for their contributions to Your Chicken Enemy’s inaugural
Today’s BOOKS WE LIKED 2018 features books liked by Matt Vadnais, Justin Giampaoli, Michael Bettendorf, and Daniel Elkin

Make sure to check out Thursday's Favorites from Francesca LynDavid FairbanksKawai Shen, and Josh Hicks

Wednesday's Favorites from Nick HanoverSara L. JewellJason Sacks, and Mark Stack

Tuesday's Favorites from Ryan CareyPhilippe LeBlancSteve Morris, and Austin Lanari.

And Monday's Favorites from Rob CloughKim JoohaAlex Hoffman, and Keith Silva.

Matt Vadnais:
Ruby Quartz Panic Room 
by Jay Edidin
Available HERE

In his TED talk, Jay Edidin describes ways in which his understanding of fictional forms and tropes has often been more developed than his ability to understand himself. Though challenges regarding self-reflexivity aren’t explicitly named in Edidin’s terrific short comic, Ruby Quartz Panic Room, his resolute commitment to write about the Marvel character Cyclops as a means of writing about himself functions to literally illustrate a thought process that amounts to self-reflection by proxy. For listeners of Jay’s podcast about granular obsession and the X-Men, nothing here will come as a surprise; there are familiar rants and lists that serve to codify Jay’s podcast work providing the very best bit of character analysis that Scott Summers could hope for.  And yet, the artifact itself is surprising, an astonishing prism of a prison refuge, refracting and reflecting a near-lifetime of obsession as a means of creating a present-tense status report of a living human who is more than his cognitive obsessions, even if he often relies on the latter to understand the former. Though he continues to imply struggles with self-reflection, this is probably my favorite confessional comic of the last decade. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also top notch comics criticism with a tremendous eye for page layout and intertextuality. 

Justin Giampaoli:
The Agency 
by Katie Skelly 
Published by Fantagraphics
Available HERE

I’m old enough to remember Nurse Nurse published as mini-comics by the great Dylan Williams at Sparkplug Books as my first exposure to Skelly’s work. If I had to describe her oeuvre in as few words as possible, I’d settle on “devilishly fun.” The Agency collects webcomics originally published at Slutist, taking somewhat disparate tales of Agents 8, 9, and 10, and swinging for cohesion. The Agency is sex-positive voyeurism into a secret agenthood that subverts and gender-flips the familiar 007 tropes. As Nurse Nurse wasn’t just about nurses in space on some great humanitarian crusade – but an exploration of personal sexual proclivities and drug-induced adventure -- The Agency too is more concerned with each agent’s approach to their consensual kink. Skelly’s wide-eyed lines have always relayed kinetic energy and the additional full-color amps up the vibrancy, helping liberate the sexual antics. Thematically, they telegraph the simple powerful message that whatever you’re into… is ok. The sexual freedom is right there in the title’s play on words. The Agency may refer to the organization the agents work for, but also reveals them each possessing their own degree of agency as women, which they gleefully ply against the world around them

A Perfect Failure: Fante Bukowski Three 
by Noah Van Sciver 
Published by Fantagraphics
Available HERE

A Perfect Failure is the final act in what I’d term Noah Van Sciver’s “Cipher Trilogy,” wherein he creates an alternate reality version of his id and runs that idea out to a conclusion. It’s part tongue-in-check take-down of the very industry he operates in, yet also an earnest semi-autobiographical examination of humanity’s fascination with fame. It’s not declarative, but process-oriented, showcasing a willingness to examine one’s own character in plain view. Van Sciver understands there’s no great revelation in admitting a fault’s existence, but there may be in inviting the audience in to learn why the fault exists. I’ve always maintained that NVS is the voice of his generation of cartoonists, awkwardly straddling a line between R. Crumb’s ability to reveal hidden truth in all its sweaty drippy uncomfortable glory, and the innocence lost in the Charles Schulzian dichotomy of kids trying to reconcile the way the world is vs. the way the world should be. A Perfect Failure wants to understand pretension as an aspect of the psyche, balanced with reality tamping down lofty expectations via the anti-climacticism of successfully landing gigs or tabling at shows. The fleeting nature of fame can be unfulfilling, mundane, or even ironically insignificant.

Dead Kings
by Steve Orlando, Matthew Dow Smith, Lauren Affe, and Thomas Mauer 
Published by Aftershock
Available HERE

This may not live up to Elkin’s parameters for small press, but labels are fluid, and I think Dead Kings qualifies as an indie comic not in the Venn Diagram of corporate capes, so may it suffice on its own more mainstream merits. The running gag among some friends is that I don’t like humor. I don’t like shiny. I like somber. I like it dark. It’s my penchant for the post-apocalyptic, and I admit there’s certainly great dramatic tension created when things break via dystopia. Dead Kings scratches an itch reminiscent of The Winter Men, which was a broken world inhabited by a failed superhero program. The world of Dead Kings uses post-war robotic husks littering the landscape as monoliths of a prior generation’s great cataclysm. The wreckage of Rus mirrors the old human soldiers scarred by their experiences, as they’re pulled into one last primal mission to save a family member and give their broken lives some measure of meaning. As small bands of decentralized secret police patrol fiefdoms, it’s easy to imagine this failed state occurring not on the streets of some quasi Eastern Bloc country, but overlaying that relevant paradigm on our own fractured political landscape. 

Michael Bettendorf:
The Great North Wood 
by Tim Bird
Published by Avery Hill Publishing
Available HERE

In our consumer-driven society, it’s easy to gorge ourselves on content without properly digesting and processing what we’ve ingested. There’s also a lot of forgettable content out there. Combine the two and we’re left stuffed on lukewarm appetizers long before the sandwiches get to the table. 

That’s why I loved the hell out of The Great North Wood by Tim Bird – it was stuck in my mind for weeks after I finished reading the book.

It tells the story of an ancient forest in Southern England and its constant state of flux throughout history. Guided by an eldritch, curious fox, readers are led through the forest and surrounding areas. We’re beckoned to slow down and become enveloped in the array of vibrant pastel hues Tim Bird uses to color The Great North Wood. It asks us to disconnect. Explore. Play. Experience.

It made a lasting impression on me, of being mindful of not just my surroundings, but how I interact with the world around me. To slow down and play a while.

Daniel Elkin:
by Tara Booth
Published by 2dCloud
Available HERE

When it’s all said and done, Tara Booth’s Nocturne is, at its heart, a dirty joke told in long form for 64 wordless pages of painted images that almost garishly swirl with undulating blues and reds that highlight Booth’s knack for self-mockery and heartfelt exploration of both the mundane and the surreal. In its telling, though, Nocturne touches upon issues of consent, sexual politics, gender norms, insomnia, pharmacology, and communal living. Even with all this, though, Booth has created a book that ultimately ends on a note of acceptance, joy, and positivity.

Your Mother’s Fox 
by Niv Sekar
Published by ShortBox
Available HERE

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. IT's meant for us all.

by Debbie Fong
Available HERE

Reading Brooklyn-based cartoonist Debbie Fong’s new risograph-printed mini-comic Greenhouse was a keenly visceral experience for me. In 24 pages of panels awash in black, white, gray, teal, and straw-colored art, Fong lays bare withdrawal and madness and delves deep into both obsession and botany with equal skill. In Greenhouse, Fong asks questions about the ramifications of a life steeped in a technology that allows us to disconnect from others as we connect to the world. When we no longer step outside, what becomes of our world within? If our inner self has collapsed in a world that asks little of us outside, where do we reach for help?

Greenhouse reminds the reader of the importance of connection, of the need to be seen, of the paramountcy of mattering to someone other than ourselves. It posits the truth that we grow best in the open among other flourishing things, not confined to a limited sphere, shut in, regulated, alone.

by Xia Gordon
Published by 2dCloud
Available HERE

Gordon’s art is gesticulation, indication. It allows just enough to appeal to the sense-making structures to operate as they do in order to make meaning, but its true impact is in the way it unwraps loose from the page as if almost to caress, to welcome, to enfold. Two-color risographed in a soft red and blue, Kindling at times hearkens to that 3D Anaglyph effect that requires those plastic glasses that you always end up losing at some point. This adds to the richness and depth of its communication, both upon thinking about and feeling through it. 

Kindling tells the story of journey. It tells a story of struggle. Ultimately, though, it tells a story of acceptance: acceptance of the self and acceptance that, even with this, the journey continues. Gordon makes the most of her title for this book. It serves as the building blocks to idea, to self, to community, and to affirmation.