July 30, 2014

Daytripper, A Life Examined Part One: Introduction

Welcome to Comics Bulletin’s team review of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá's Daytripper. This is the first part of an ambitious twelve-part series of articles on this powerful and much-loved series, which was published in the U.S. by Vertigo. As you can see, we’ve assembled an all-star group of Comics Bulletin writers for this series: Daniel Elkin, Chase Magnett, Paul Brian McCoy, Jason Sacks and Keith Silva. Each of our esteemed writers will be analyzing one chapter at a time from this series, with each chapter hand-chosen by the writer, and will be collaborating on “bookend” articles at the beginning and end of this series.

July 27, 2014

Review -- FACTION 3

Faction 3

(Tim Gibson / Cory Mathis / Katie O'Neill / Jonathan King / Michael Brown / Mat Tait / Tom Williamson / Li Chen / Toby Morris)
4 stars
Some addictions can be glorious things. It's been nearly six months since last I had my Kiwi comics fix (http://www.comicsbulletin.com/reviews/6399/tiny-pages-made-of-ashes-122713-his-back-pages/) and I've been jonesing hard. Thankfully, editors Damon Keen and Amie Maxwell are back with their amazing New Zealand Comic Anthology, Faction, and issue three continues to “show off the diverse range of comic talent that exists in New Zealand and celebrate the extraordinary new direction that comics have been taking in the past years.
The heft of issue three is provided by Tim Gibson's 27 page “The Reservoir”. I'd first been introduced to this piece when it ran in its digital incarnation, but for inclusion in Faction, Gibson has retooled the story, format, and (obviously) presentation to make it altogether something new. The addition of color pulled from a palette of beiges and gray-blues adds another texture to the emotional intensity with which this story is infused. Here, outside its original kinetic presentation and onto the static page, the pacing is different, more intense, thick with the moral relativity of its tale.
Also of note in Faction 3 is Katie O'Neill's “Don't Let Go”, a post-apocalyptic short about love, humanity, conflict, devotion, and acceptance. In this, O'Neill uses time shifts to add tension and resonance. In eight sparsely worded pages, O'Neill is able to make powerful commentary on the cost of war and the divisiveness of “the other”, while creating a deeply affecting story of faithfulness and kindness. It's potent in its brevity, expansive by being controlled.

July 26, 2014


Cringe: An Anthology of Embarrassment

(Cara Bean / Box Brown / Jeffrey Brown / Elijah Brubker / Chris Carlier / Peter S. Conrad / Chad Essley / Andrew Farago / Shaenon Garrity / Delaine Derry Green / Julia Gfrörer / Sam Henderson / Victor Kerlow / Steve Lafler / Lizz Lunney / Fred Noland / Stephen Notley / Adam Pasion / Sam Spina / Gabby Schultz / Noah Van Sciver / Geoff Vasile / Jamie Vayda and Alan King / Chad Woody / Jess Worby / J.T. Yost)
4 stars

We all have that one really embarrassing story that we carry around with us like a soggy sandwich in the shame pit of our heart. Sometimes these stories define us, sometimes they remind us of our fallibility, sometimes we use them as a source of wisdom, other times we use them to confirm our self-loathing.
Our relationship with our embarrassment is, perhaps, one of our defining characteristics as humans. I mean, look, my dog never suffers from the crippling effects of being embarrassed. He's bounding into walls, eating cat crap, and throwing up on shoes with abandon if not glee. Hell, he'll even poop in the middle of the street as cars try to make their way through traffic.
Embarrassment is a social construct as much as an emotional reaction. What some individuals following one set of social rules may find discommodious, others may find perfectly normal. It arises out of the sense of drawing attention to ourselves for breaking expectations, being caught human, wanting too much.

July 25, 2014


Suspect Device #4

(Josh Bayer / Jason Little / Benjamin Marra / Pat Moriarity / Emma Louthan / Pat Aulisio / Corrine Halbert / Alex Rothman / Andrea Tsurumi / JTW / Jude Killory / Jimmy Giegerich / Jacob Hamrick / Elizabeth Bethea / Matt Crabbe / Mark Burt / Muriel Bellin / Noah Van Sciver / Keren Keller / Eric Reynolds / Jeff Ladouceur / Sabin Calvert / AEdward Nigma / Kelly Larson / Sasha Steinberg / Liz Marra / Kevin Scalzo / Joel Rich / Coco Roy / Sophia Wiededman / Emily Yao / Jason T Miles)
4 stars
Josh Bayer's Suspect Device anthologies revolve around a simple conceit: an artist takes panels from someone else's comics and then uses these to create their own. It's as if cartoonists are given panels as slices of bread, and, in between, they provide the richness of the sandwich.
For 2011's Suspect Device #1, the bread came in the form of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy strips. For issue #2, early Garfield comics were added.  Issue #3 used Little Orphan Annie and Popeye comics. For this current issue, cartoonists got to use panels from Lee Falk and Ray Moore's The Phantom, an issue of Dell Comics' Ally Oop #1 from 1962, and some of the most fucked up images imaginable from The Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia.
Needless to say, the collision between all these influences in the hands of great cartoonists unleashes some amazingly depraved, complex, bizarre, and/or wonderful creations.
This is a disturbing collection on many levels, but, as it unhinges, it unmasks and unearths.
Something about the perceived innocence of characters like The Phantom, Little Orphan Annie, and Popeye and the milieu from which they sprang seems to impregnate the cartoonists featured in Suspect Device #4 with a wickedness, a licentiousness, and an almost palatable viciousness. It's as if the supposed incorruptibility of these iconic figures forces their hand. It's like the only modern reaction to these icons and their sensibility is to corrupt and debase, that commentary is to contaminate, that the heart of those lost times needs a big, fat dick stuck through it. Through this, Suspect Device eats itself and, through that, reverberates across the ages.

July 24, 2014


Convenient Truths: Dear Mr. Watterson

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 Dear Mr. Watterson by director Joel Allen Schroeder.

Elkin: Let's face facts, Sacks, there are very few absolutes in this life. One is that the sandwich represents the pinnacle of culinary arts, and another ... another is that almost everyone likes the comic stripCalvin and Hobbes. A matter of fact, it has been said by learned folk that if you can't connect to Calvin and Hobbes, you cannot connect to humanity. Such is the universal nature of the strip. Somehow, in the ten years or so that Bill Watterson wrote and drew this comic, he was able to tap into the collective unconscious and create something all-embracing; something about the adventures and misadventures of a six-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger reflected back upon ourselves, made us laugh and made us think.
Though Watterson ended the strip on December 31, 1995, its popularity remains undiminished and the characters he created have become iconic.
The film Dear Mr. Watterson is kind of a love letter to Calvin and Hobbes. It is a small documentary that, according to the press release, “is not a quest to find Bill Watterson, or to invade his privacy. It is an exploration to discover why his 'simple' comic strip made such an impact on so many readers in the 80s and 90s, and why it still means so much to us today.” As a descriptor of the film, this does a pretty good job. As a documentary, the movie succeeds by allowing people to talk about their relationship with the strip and what it has meant to and for them over the years, while also providing both a historical perspective of the development of Calvin and Hobbes and some essential biographical information about Bill Watterson. The film also does a fine job of featuring the strip itself, which, of course, is a tremendous asset, as well as allow for a small discussion of the characters' place in pop culture.
Where the film falls is when director, Joel Allen Schroeder, inserts himself into the film. There's kind of a creepiness to him that, at least for me, was off-putting and undermined his intent to some degree.
That all being said, though, what I most enjoyed about Dear Mr. Watterson was some of the bigger questions it almost haphazardly elicited. In the course of viewing this documentary I found myself confronted by two larger issues. The first being the distinction between “high” and “low” art, and the second being the idea of creating for commerce vs. art for art's sake (i.e. personal expression).
Aside from reminiscing about reading Calvin and Hobbes at the breakfast table, remarking on how the film succeeds or fails as a documentary, discussing the ramifications of the demise of the newspaper comic strip, and/or delving into the idea of what makes pop culture figures iconic (though I'm sure we will touch on all of these), I'd like to direct our conversation about this film towards these larger ideas, if that's okay with you.
Sacks: Elkin, how can I disagree with a man who is so committed to his love of the sandwich? Your passion for breaded brilliance may only be matched by my love for comics literature and my endless navel-gazing about the interesting questions that you just asked me.
I've been fascinated for years with the question of what makes "high art" and "low art." As a strong advocate for the greatness of comic art, which for decades has been treated like the lowest possible form of human communication (as this documentary adroitly points out), I think you can guess that I'll fall on the side that doesn't make a distinction between those two planes of art, that finds that transcendent and important art can be created that is both high and low.

July 23, 2014

Tag Team Review -- MIXTAPE #5

Tag Team Review: 'Mixtape' #5 Gets Daniel and Jason Thinking About Mortality and Music

Brad Abraham, Marco Gevasio, and Jok have recently released Mixtape #5, the last issue of the first arc of this series. To mark this occasion, Jason Sacks and Daniel Elkin engage in another free wheeling conversation about the comic, the concept of identity, the fragility of life, and, most importantly, what song they want played at their funeral.
Read their previous reviews of this series:

Jason Sacks: Well, Daniel, here we find ourselves again, on the crux of yet another transition in the lives of our characters presented by our trusty guide Brad Abraham and his happy artistic companions Marco Gervasio and Jok. Our friends Jim, Lorelei, Noel, Terry and Siobhan, whose complicated search for identity and connection we've followed avidly in the previous four issues of this wonderful series, are forced to confront the worst thing any teenager can face: their own mortality. And in facing their own morality they illuminate some important insights into their own lives that also illuminate our own.
Daniel Elkin: Yeah, Sacks, the tone of issue five certainly was darker than the previous four, and Abraham, in his exploration of these characters, brings up some of the larger and more relevant philosophical questions in this book.
Sacks: That's certainly true, but before we get too deep into this story and its ideas, I wanted to ask you something I've been meaning to ask since we started reading this series: as a high school teacher, how well do you think Abraham captures the ways that adolescents think and act? The confusion and complex emotions that these kids express in this issue seem very typical to me of sensitive kids of that age, but that may be looking back over way too many years and imagining what my reactions would have been to an incident like this.
Elkin:You assume that I pay attention to how my students think...
But seriously, the characters in Mixtape are seniors in high school, that makes them, what, 17/18 years old? I spend 7 to 8 hours a day with 17/18 year olds. My experience is that these "kids" are on the cusp of their future and are totally aware of that fact. Like all of us, they can be enormously thoughtful, enormously cruel, enormously kind, and enormously complex. Only so much more so. Everything is intense, in the moment – full and rich and NOW!
Like you said, Sacks, we are far removed from that emotional intensity, what being old farts and all, but my experience with kids both as a teacher and a father still gives me some insight. I think Abraham has done a great job of capturing the "voice" of his characters.
Don't you remember, Sacks, when you were 17/18 years old -- everything was Gigantic (a big big love).  Let's have a ball.

July 10, 2014

Review -- Bear, Bird and Stag were Arguing in the Forest (and other stories)

Bear, Bird and Stag were Arguing in the Forest (and other stories)

(Madeleine Flores)
5 stars
So many small press comics tend toward the dour or the lonely or are suffused with a generational angst that is palpable to the point where it leaves an almost aluminum taste in your mouth. So many small press comics wallow in the pity puddle created out of missteps, mistakes, or miscommunication. So many are like this. But not all.
Madeleine Flores' Bear, Bird and Stag were Arguing in the Forest (and other stories) from Retrofit/Big Planet is kind of like the baby sloth photo of small press releases insomuch as it allows you pleasant pause from your day-to-day bringing a much needed joy break. It works those ill-used muscles in your dour face that tighten only when you smile.
Flores is a positive light here. The four stories contained in Bear, Bird and Stag were Arguing in the Forest (and other stories) are exulting, playful, deeply satisfying, and nearly perfect. Each piece demonstrates the extent of her artistic abilities, as they are stylistically rendered separate from each other, using the tone of the art to further the tone of her intention.

July 9, 2014

Review -- Vreckless Vrestlers Interdimensional Championship #1

Vreckless Vrestlers Interdimensional Championship #1

(Łukasz Kowalczuk)
4.5 stars
When I reviewed the “Zero Issue” of Łukasz Kowalczuk's Vreckless Vrestlers Interdimensional Championshipway back in March my enthusiasm for it bordered on manic, having the audacity to “rate” it ALL THE STARS EVER. While my enjoyment of issue #1 of this series remains piqued, the fervor in which I express it needs to be tempered some. My doctor has warned me about these excesses. I have my health to think about.
Still – this thing is FUCKING AWESOME!
Issue #1 begins where the Zero issue left off and now the wrestling matches begin! This is a flip book, allowing for two different covers for two different fights. The first features Crimean Crab vs. The Eye, and it is bloody as much as it complex. What could easily just be a Bif-Baff-Blammo kind of smack around comic here is presented as a complex relationship story, full of heart and pathos. In a scant eight pages, Kowalczuk tells a story that, if made into a film, could easily last a good two hours. Such is the possibilities of comics – they rely on inference and embrace the abilities of its audience and, by doing so, are able to convey incredible stories in the reader's own imagination. Kowalczuk has this down; he is the Barton Fink of the wrestling comic.
Oh, I forgot to mention that this is a “silent comic” – Kowalczuk's art alone tells his stories. Let's see you pull that off, Fink.

July 8, 2014


The Rats Were Bad That Year

(Alan King / Jamie Vayda)
4 stars
Sometimes there ain't nothing as shuddersome as a good Southern rat tale. If you've never had the experience of dealing with a rat infestation, let me tell you, it's goddamn horrendous. Those black-eyed, pink-tailed, voracious little fuckers are just about the manifestation of all of the nightmares of the universe crawling across the floor hungry for peanut butter and brazenly leaving little seeds of their execrable excrement in their wake.
And they travel in packs.
And they don't give a shit about you or yours.
Alan King and Jamie Vayda's 20 page chapbook, The Rats Were Bad That Year, captures this horror perfectly. While it's more of an illustrated story than a comic book, in The Rats Were Bad That Year King and Vayda play off each other's strengths to impart the psychological damage a bunch of fucking rats can wreck on a family's psyche, as well as the lingering damage it imparts. A man can be shaped by the battle he wages against rodents, and, if he is a thinking man, many philosophical musings can arise from the pitch.
As demonstrated by their previous collaborations in Loud Comix, King is a masterful storyteller and Vayda's art consistently punctuates his narratives. While Deep South Punk rockers at heart, King and Vayda play like Jazz musicians in The Rats Were Bad That Year, each riffing off the song's theme with their own particular instruments, exploring the harmony between them.

July 7, 2014


Bound and Gagged

(Andrice Arp / Marc Bell / Elijah J. Brubaker / Shawn Cheng / Chris C. Cilla / Michael DeForge / Kim Deitch / J. T. Dockery / Theo Ellsworth / Austin English / Eamon Espey / Robert Goodin / Julia Gfrörer / Levon Jihanian / Juliacks / Kaz / David King / Tom Neely / Anders Nilsen / Scot Nobles / Jason Overby / John Porcellino / Jesse Reklaw / Tim Root / Zak Sally / Gabby Schulz / Josh Simmons / Ryan Standfest / Kaz Strzepek / Matthew Thurber / Noah Van Sciver / Dylan Williams / Chris Wright)
4 stars
The gag comic relies on the reader to connect a single cartoon and the words around it in a manner in which the absurdity of the situation provokes laughter. According to the Library of Congress: “They cover a wide range of humorous situations through an arsenal of approaches that include underscoring social discomfort over relations with members of the opposite sex, poking fun at awkward family moments, providing an outlet for laughing at social inhibitions, or conveying the perceptive and sharp observations of children.”
You've been surrounded by these things all your life, from Bil and Jeff Keane's The Family Circus in the daily newspaper to the subtle corner placements in the pages of Playboy and Esquire. These are often filler comics – quick chuckles to displace your attention from more ponderous work.
But there can be something subversive about these things.
Imagine if you will, that one bright and sunny day, Robert Mankoff, the current cartoon editor for The New Yorker, had, for a number or various and sordid reasons, a complete psychotic break. Imagine that this break allowed Mankoff to envision the world and his place in it in a completely alien way which them pushed him to approach his job as editor in a new light, where the gag comics he chose for inclusion in this storied magazine reflected his new understandings of life, humor and art. What comics would he choose? May I posit the idea that they would be almost entirely made up of the gags found in Tom Neely's curated 2010 collection Bound and Gagged from I Will Destroy You Press.