September 27, 2013


CYMATICS from Susi Sie on Vimeo.
All scenes were filmed by using lycopodium powder, 50 Hz, a Canon 5D and a 100mm macro lens.

September 26, 2013


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Autobiographical Conversations

(Ryan Claytor)
4 stars
A few months back I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Claytor about his Indiegogo project, Autobiographical Conversations, and I had the temerity to ask him, “What the heck is autobiographical theory anyway, and how does it relate to the medium of comics?” He answered, “Basically we’re exploring questions like, how and why does the artist portray themselves in a particular manner in autobiographical comics, why don’t more theoreticians present their work in comics form, and does autobiography need to be truthful?” He went on to tell me that the whole comic is basically a record of a series of conversations he had with Dr. Harry Polkinhorn, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University.
When I heard all this my first thought was, “Wow, that sounds utterly fascinating.” My second thought, though, was, “Hmmmmm, how the hell is this going to transfer to an engaging comic without being overly pedantic and plodding?”
The answer to my second thought is this book –  this delightful, engaging, thoughtful, quiet little book.
Autobiographical Conversations
Autobiographical Conversations, while a “read” due to the heft of its subject matter and the back and forth conversational nature of its dialogue, is also a “view” as Claytor's cartooning style and choices add a level of humanness and mundanity to this otherwise cerebral exploration. Some of my favorite moments in this book are the quiet ones, like when Claytor and Polkinhorn are discussing ideas of how being emotionally honest can co-exist with being objectively dishonest in autobiography, while at the same time they are getting their lunch, choosing sodas out of a full refrigerator case, and paying at the register without breaking stride.

September 25, 2013


This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin

Keith Silva: 4 stars 
Justin Giampaoli: 4 stars
Daniel Elkin: 4 stars
Jason Sacks: 

Keith Silva: ''Bump Ba Bump.'' From the very first frame, Paul Pope's Battling Boy taps into some semiconductor of memory and invites the reader to follow the bouncing ball. 
Battling Boy
When we wrote about The Invincible Haggard West #101, I admit to being too anxious and too caught up in my own expectations to appreciate the elegance and playfulness of this simple image. Hell, given the context, it might as well be an apple 'Ba-Bumping' its way off of the tree of knowledge, for there is great intelligence and greater temptation of all kinds within this story.
On a recent reread of Batman: Year 100, I was struck with the idea of Pope as a conduit of anti-continuity, a Lord of Misrule for comics -- the difference between comic book history and the history of comic books. Pope is old master of the latter and, I think, cares a fuck-all for the former. Creators like Pope are why the Frenchies of Cahiers du Cinémahad to invent the auteur theory. Like Melville with Le Samouraï or Army of Shadows, Pope is the kind of iconoclast who takes the bits that most interest him and uses these elements in a way most creators have never considered.
There is such a strong strain of subversiveness in his work, a Pope-ish prestidigitation, to take the familiar, say a culture icon -- Batman or in the case of Battling Boy, the superhero -- strip it down to its very engine, its essence, the spark of its creation and build out from there. Pope don't reboot.
So what. Why Battling Boy and why now?

September 20, 2013

Real Talk -- MIXTAPE #3

Some comics are too big, hypeworthy or insane for one reviewer to cover. Which is why we have Real Talk, an outlet for a group of reviewers to tackle a comic together and either come to a consensus or verbally arm wrestle until there's nothing left to say.

Daniel Elkin: 4.5 stars!
Jason Sacks: 4 stars!
Daniel Elkin: So, let's talk about Brad Abraham's Mixtape #3.
Jason Sacks: Let's go back to the college town that seemed so exotic and try to recapture that freedom!
Elkin: Alas, Sacks, you can never go home again.
Sacks: Look homeward, angel. Don't you wish you could be that innocent again?
Elkin: I just wish I could muster up that kind of enthusiasm for things (other than spending time with my girlfriend) again. Oh, and then there is all that being carefree and stuff.
Sacks: You know I always have plenty of enthusiasm for things. I just wish I could be carefree. Now that I think about it, I actually think at times that I'm growing more carefree, but that may just be the gin talking.
Elkin: Heh. OK, Mixtape #3 from Brad Abraham with art by Marco Gervasio and Jok. The road trip from the small town to the city to see a show. Two friends, at the end of one thing, about to embark upon something else, joined by music, insecurity, and ummmm..... life?
Sacks: It was interesting how the boys literally went a long way from their small town to the college town. The story begins with them driving through the woods before hitting the city. How symbolic is that?
Elkin: Truly. It is in that journey that we understand character -- Terry and Noel reveal themselves through their words and actions, setting the stage for what is to come. We are (to use a phrase favored by our friend Justin Giampaoli) in a liminal space -- November 1990 -- a phone in the car -- a CD player instead of a tape deck. Change is coming.
Sacks: Nice observation. These boys are in all kinds of transition, though to be fair, that likely would have been the case in any time frame - technology marches on.
Elkin: Dare I say they are transitioning from Boyz to Men?

September 18, 2013

Convenient Truths -- ROBERT WILLIAMS, MR. BITCHIN'

Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friend Jason Sacks found 2013's Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin' directed by Mary C. Reese and Nancye Ferguson.
Daniel Elkin: “Purple is a very difficult color.” So begins the documentary Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin', a wonderful film tracing the rise of one the most important and iconoclastic artists of the later part of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. It is one of the best biographical documentaries I've seen in a long time, not only for the information it imparts, but also for the humanness of its central character and its singular message of empowerment.
The press release for this film does a great job by way of introduction:
Robert Williams was an artist in search of a movement. A prolific oil painter whose painstakingly detailed work often featured naked women, death, destruction, booze and clowns, he didn't quite fit the fine art mold. In the early 1960s he was confronted with trendy abstraction and superficial pop art. Schooled in the Hot Rod Culture of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Von Dutch, he emerged as a leader in the Underground Comic revolution along with R. Crumb, contributing regularly to Zap Comix. His antisocial paintings of an alternative reality were marginalized by the art world for decades although he became a hero of sorts for underground artists.
When he started Juxtapoz Magazine in 1994, his movement found him. Legions of artists looking for a place within the contemporary art world for their cartoonish realism identified with his “LowBrow” aesthetic.
And so we have this movie and thank goodness for that.
This is a film that documents the outsider who, by sticking to his vision and creating a movement of his own, was finally able to kick through the barriers of snobbery and boorishness with such force and intent that he could stride through the hole he created, raise his arms in the air triumphantly and shout “Look at this, I've got something to contribute!” That's MISTER Bitchin' to you, son.
As the documentary reveals, Williams is a man steeped in “oblique or abstract thought” who was born into an age of unmitigated conformity. Through a sheer force of will, he was able to identify himself as himself and become who he was, even though who he was was at odds with every societal influence encasing him. It was no act of rebellion, though; rather it was a keen insight into the truth of the self – and this understanding led him on a difficult road to acceptance. While there were times of community and influence in his life, Williams always understood and embraced his own vision. He worked at his craft and finally found the space where there was no choice but for everyone else to catch up and groove with him. As he says in the film, he finally reached “total freedom to do something really bitchin'.

September 16, 2013

Review -- WAIJIAO by Owen Tucker


(Owen Tucker)
3.5 stars
Waijiao is Owen Tucker's Kickstarter-funded graphic narrative/memoir about his time teaching English in China. Well, actually it's more about Tucker's understanding his experiences teaching English in China. Now that I think about it,Waijiao is really about Owen Tucker trying to figure out what his experiences teaching English in China finally amounted to. He calls his book a "graphic essay" and it is more of a rumination than a memoir. As such, Tucker ends up with more questions than answers by the end.
"Waijiao" means "foreign teacher" in Chinese. For four years, Tucker and his girlfriend (the photographer Lily Weed, whose photos are also used in this book) lived in three different cities in China and taught English to all grade levels both in schools and private lessons. During this, Tucker had time to try to come to terms with the character of modern China, how the West was viewed by the Chinese, and the implications of this understanding.
For Tucker, China is an "immutable contradiction" and "to 'understand' China is to accept its contradictory nature." As he thinks about it, though, he starts to wonder if this contradiction is really just "a way of avoiding something," that it is a resignation to the fact that things in China are moving so quickly and the state of things is in such flux that right now people are unsure of what their culture actually is. As modernization layers on top of presupposed social mores, things feel oddly disjointed. One thing that Tucker can say with certainty about his experience, though, is that "the bathroom is always funny."

September 15, 2013

Review -- Box Brown's SOFTCORE

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin.


(Box Brown)

4/5 stars

Those of you who have been following the Digital Ash column here on Comics Bulletin know that, as a group, we're pretty big fans of what Study Group is doing. When I found out that one of my favorite cartoonists, Box Brown, was going to have a new series on Study Group, needless to say it created a harmonic convergence of glee here in my Northern California home.
Softcore is Box Brown's latest offering. It's all presented in a jarring palate of yellow and a deep, dark purple. Of the series, Brown writes: “Enter the world of faux-amateur pornography, paranoia, e-cigarettes and blak magik.” If that's not a tag line to get you interested, you are probably dead to me already. The first issue (which is all that is up at the time of this writing) is basically set up. We meet our protagonist, the “faux-amateur pornographer”, who seems to be getting into this “business” because he is either scared or tired of prostitutes. His buddy Frank has turned him on to the idea of hiring models to “service” him, and our hero is, in the course of this comic, taking his first pictures.
Candy, the Russian(?) woman our hero photographs, shows up with another guy, Nikolai. The first issue ends with some kind of weird allusion to some other thing going on. I assume this is the “blak magik” Brown referenced in his solicitation.
There's a lot of set up here, this being the first issue and all, but Brown has put enough things into play to get my interest. His characters have room for growth, his plot could go anywhere at this point, and his cartooning is, as usual, a treat to behold.

September 14, 2013


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

It's Not About That

(Bartosz Sztybor/Piotr Nowacki)
2.5/5 stars
A few weeks ago, a number of Comics Bulletin writers got into a debate about why so many critical analyses of comics fail to talk about art. As we discussed this, Keith Silva brought up the so-called "silent issue", specifically Larry Hama's G.I. Joe #21, as an example of visual storytelling. Silva's observation made me think of Powers #31, the famous monkey fucking issue from Bendis and Oeming.  While this is not necessarily a "silent issue," as there are all sorts of Grunnk's and Hurugh's and whatnot, none of these "words" convey any meaning. Yet Powers #31, like G.I. Joe #21, is an intensive narrative. Panel to panel, it explores themes like the struggle for power, the intricacies of intimacy, and the nature of community. The reader makes the connections between art and idea through juxtaposition and closure.
The "silent issue" can be a powerful storytelling device as it engages readers on an even higher level in order to convey narrative. It trusts the reader to understand not only the conventions of the sequential art form, but also trust him or her to have enough background knowledge in order to put the pieces together. The emotional content of the story comes from the reader, as it were, it is the artists who provide the road map to those feelings.
But like any map, if it is poorly executed, the traveler will get terribly, terribly lost.
It's Not About That
I write all this as a lead in to a review of Polish creators Piotr Nowacki and Bartosz Sztybor's comic It's Not About That because it, too, is a silent narrative, and more importantly, because using it as a map I got a bit lost.
Ostensibly, this is a book about a robot, Robot 150186, who does the same thing every day. He makes meals for its "family", he waters the garden, cleans the house, trims the hedges, and fixes things when they break. Robot 150186 is, for all extents and purposes, the prototypical science-fiction trope, the robot maid/butler. The story focuses on the days before Robot 150186's retirement (he's planning on a tropical island location). I'll let the solicitation for this book fill in the rest:
"But if suddenly something changed, something went wrong, and everything else would turn out to be a lie? What then would 150186 do to save his boring everyday life?"
So yea, it's that kind of story.

September 13, 2013

I Forgot My Phone

Written by/Starring Charlene deGuzman
Directed by Miles Crawford

September 12, 2013


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Just Another Sheep #1

(Mat Heagerty / JD Smith / Jon Cairns / Ed Brisson)
2.5/5 stars
While at Image Expo 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting Mat Heagerty, an enthusiastic and eager young comics maker, who gave me a copy of the book he's writing, a five issue series called Just Another SheepJust Another Sheep is a Vietnam-era story about a young man, Banning, who can make people feel anything he has felt – like when he broke his arm or got food poisoning or got really drunk, for example.
Just Another Sheep
In this first issue, Banning is on a bus in Washington, D.C. on his way to Boston when a couple of fellows take umbrage with the peace sign on his bag (because rednecks hate hippies, you know). Banning uses his power, gets thrown off the bus, and ends up following this cute flower power gal to a anti-Vietnam rally where he smokes pot and parties with a group of political activists. From there, things get a little out of hand.

September 11, 2013

Convenient Truths -- DETROPIA

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin.
Sometimes, the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friend Jason Sacks found 2012's Detropia, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.

Sacks: The story of the first few decades of the 21st century can be seen as the rise of latter day serfdom. The world economy, combined with the power of incessant corporate greed, is creating a wider division than ever between the haves and have-nots. The rich are becoming fabulously richer, while the poor are sinking ever deeper into despair.
Detropia, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady tells the story of the city at the epicenter of that great divide: the once-great city of Detroit, which is now literally falling apart.
Industry has abandoned this city while services are being cut ruthlessly. Families take flight from the city at a record rate at the same time that city planners work to knock down houses in order to consolidate the far-flung populace of the city in a smaller and more focused area. Houses are being foreclosed on at record rates, property values are plummeting, and unemployment is sky-high. Once-great buildings are skeletons of the places that they used to be.
Yeah, Detropia is a real downer of a movie. 
This film is also a tremendously involving portrait of a city in decline, but filled with people who are valiantly fighting to keep the soul of the place alive. People are nothing if not adaptable – something that we also learned watching Happy, I might add! – and we see that attempt at adaptability on display in this documentary. There's something heroic about the men stripping an abandoned warehouse of its steel so they can earn some salvage fees. After all, in a post-apocalyptic world, we all do what we have to in order to survive.

September 9, 2013

The Great Sabre Interview Part Eight: To Not Lose that Larger Vision

In the final chapter of our monster interview with Don McGregor, Don talks about why we need you to support our Kickstarter project. C'mon, you knew the pitch would be coming at some point. Of course, the pitch is done in a classic Don McGregor way, which is to say that it's fun and intruguing and you learn more about the man and his project!
Read the introduction to the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part One of the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part Two of the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part Three of the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part Four of the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part Five of the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part Six of the Great Sabre Interview

Read Part Seven of the Great Sabre Interview
If you enjoy reading this interview, please consider supporting the Sabre: the Early Future Years Kickstarter project.
Support Sabre: the Early Future Years on Kickstarter!

Don McGregor: It was always a concentrated effort on the books, an intense focus and trying to really get the most out of a scene, but also, especially over the course of time, to keep the larger parameters of what the characters and book are, to not lose that larger vision. It can happen, more often when you go away from a project for awhile and then come back to it, to get your mind where it was when you were doing it, to find that voice again,
Scripting a comic book is far removed from writing a "Riding Shotgun" piece that appears on my website, and Comics Bulletin. The comics demand different kinds of writing. It's not just the tone of words the reader sees, but it's keeping the visuals in mind and the design, what the artist needs to know, in a way that's clear to him or her, what's needed and why.
Your idea, Jason, to do Sabre: The Early Future Years as a Kickstarter program set the possibility of the story reaching an audience into motion. After all these years of working on this series, from when it was first scripted, to working with different artists on it, from watching it go from active to stalled, it's difficult to keep your emotional balance, not to become too dispirited if it doesn't happen. And it can go that way. But life is going to on, and you've got to fight to find a way not to let it totally grind you to a halt.
As it goes along, the Kickstarter endeavor reveals how much needs to be done to help it succeed. It has nothing to do with the actual writing, it has to do with getting people aware that it can exist, getting it to people who might want it if they realized it was on a possible horizon.
And this is an emotional rollercoaster for me.
And if Sabre: The Early Future Years does get done, it may pave the way for the new Detectives Inc.: A Fear of Perverse Photos/A Repercussion of Violent Reprisal. This is thrilling. It really is. It's a jolting spark of life in me!
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: That makes me so happy and there are going to be so many people that are so thrilled to get to see this material again, or mostly for the first time.
McGregor: I know you told me that; I hope that's true. I hope they do finally get to read and experience Sabre: The Early Future Years. I think I have said to you at least once, maybe more, that when I came back to writing the series, one of my biggest, initial fears was that I hope the fans who love Sabre, and have loved my work over the years, don't read the book and think, "Damn, Don had it 17 years ago. He should have left it the fuck alone."
I guess that's part of the fear and challenge for me when I'm creating. I can recall it going all the way back. When there was so much response to "Panther's Rage" and "Killraven"for instance, and the mail kept increasing, and the letters were so in depth and detailing what the stories meant to them, I have used this analogy before, but it's like climbing this mountainside, getting higher and higher, and there were certainly times I was daunted. Despite the nickname title of "Dauntless Don". There was so much enthusiasm - which was great, don't get me wrong - but the other side of that, each time I sat down to write, there were those moments when I thought, "This is it! This issue will come out, and I'll have gone over the edge of the cliff." Or maybe that was just a residual of the kind of vibe I got every issue from editorial.

September 8, 2013

The Great Sabre Interview Part Seven: Values Askew, Artists Aplenty and Happy Sex

In the penultimate chapter of our monster interview with Don McGregor, Don talks about sex, his writing style, and breasts and why Americans have a hang-up about that topic. 
Read the introduction to the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part One of the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part Two of the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part Three of the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part Four of the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part Five of the Great Sabre Interview
Read Part Six of the Great Sabre Interview
If you enjoy reading this interview, please consider supporting the Sabre: the Early Future Years Kickstarter project!
Support Sabre: the Early Future Years on Kickstarter!

Daniel Elkin for Comics Bulletin: Earlier, Don, you talked about how important it was for you that Sabre and Melissa have a child together. Given that, I have to ask why you chose to give them twins?
Don McGregor: Ah, that's a simple question to answer. I have a daughter and a son and for a series that I was going to spend so much of life with, I wanted both of them to know they were loved. Since the children would be a permanent, important part of Sabre, this way it was just a simple way to say they were both loved equally.
Now Jason made a comment about the names being, I forget the word he used, "Awful," or something like that. I don't disagree with him. I had reasons for the names, but still and all, if I were the kids, when I got older I'd let Mom and Dad know how much the names were hated.
Sabre by Don McGregor
I'm really fond of the diaper changing sequence, because it's just never done in costumed heroic comics. Typically, the guy just has to be a bad-ass. We seldom see them as a dad.
Elkin: You also never see a nursing mother lactate into the mouth of the father of her children.
McGregor: Ah, now, see, we're getting down to the kinds of human scenes you don't often get to see in comics: men and women enjoying each other's company, and being playful and sexual. I had the splash page drawn by Jose Ortiz up on my Facebook page of Melissa feeding one of the babies. Someone had asked if breasts had ever been shown in comics being used for their natural function. If I recall right, I think the question came up because a woman doing cosplay at a Comic Con dressed as Supergirl had a photo taken of her breast feeding her baby. The Sabre splash-page was the only example, I guess, that got found of breast-feeding. It got yanked off Facebook. Apparently if there is one complaint, the image is gone. So some scum-sucking weasel, who should have just de-friended themselves, got it taken off. I haven't forgotten.