November 28, 2014

Dispatches from CAB Part Two: Miss What?

Welcome to part the second of Comics Bulletin’s coverage of Comic Arts Brooklyn 2014. To find out how our two provincials, Daniel Elkin and Keith Silva, got to this point in their story there’s this. If you’re immune to the crushing weight of continuity or if you’re slumming and fancy yourself a bit of a post-modernist, than by all means read on!

KEITH SILVA: For the last eighteen months, Daniel Elkin and I have been like a couple of Boswell’s to cartoonist Derek Van Gieson’s Johnson … something seems off about that, lemme give it another go …
Since March of 2013, Daniel Elkin and I have been writing about the series Eel Mansions by cartoonist Derek Van Gieson. (Less punchy, but O.K.) Between the two of us I bet we’ve written ten thousand words on this idiosyncratic comic about Satanists, dipsomaniac cartoonists and veiled (and not so veiled) references to English rock stars. Eel Mansions has become our Life of Johnson and we its Boswells.
Back in early September, back when the phrase, ‘Kansas City Royals play for MLB crown’ rang as arbitrary and somewhat of a pipe dream there was similar talk Eel Mansions: Volume One would debut at CAB. For the first time all six Eel Mansions mini-comics — the ‘lost’ Eel Mansions, a rumored-to- be one-pager called ‘Smile My Ass, Muthafucka’ which was surreptitiously printed in SuperValu holiday circulars in 2011 remains at large and, as yet, uncollected — would be available in one collection and with French flaps no less. It also includes an introduction by Messrs. Elkin and Silva.
So when Elkin floats this idea about meeting in Brooklyn to attend CAB there was a glimmer on the periphery we would also be there for the Eel book’s debut and the opportunity to meet Van Gieson. Now, publishing (from my limited experience) is both a stern master and a harsh mistress. In other words, shit undoubtedly happens. The Eel book wasn’t done in time for CAB 2014. It’s cool, good things come to those who wait, no fine wine … etcetera, etcetera. The book may have slipped away (see what I did there?) but Van Gieson didn’t, the ink made flesh.
To meet someone one admires is often to be either disappointed or shortchanged. A grip and grin at a public event like a book signing or con or even a random encounter with a person known to you only from a distance is odd; and I can’t imagine how it feels for the other guy or girl. So when I got to shake hands with Van Gieson, a creator I admire and someone I’ve corresponded with on everything from movies to music to life in general, it felt less like admiration and more like friendship.
The Corruption of Youth: Janet Meets Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants (commission by Derek Van Gieson)
Derek Van Gieson is tall, six one or so. He’s quiet, unassuming and Daddy-o cool. He’s a guy you want to hang out with and talk with. And so we did. Without a book to promote, Van Gieson suggested we retire to quieter environs with fewer comics and more alcohol. And so we did. I’m sure some sage has said, ‘never go with a cartoonist to a second location let alone a bar!’ Neither Elkin nor I heeded this advice.

November 27, 2014

(Torpid Mass Hysteria): a review of Roman Muradov’s (In a Sense) Lost and Found

John Keats begins his 1818 poem Endymion with the line, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” The Jazz Butcher took up this theme again in their song “Forever” from their 1986 EP Conspiracy. I bring this up because Roman Muradov’s first graphic novella, (In A Sense) Lost and Found, is a thing of beauty. Therefore, assuming that Keats and The Jazz Butcher are correct, it’s going to be a joy forever.
And ever.

Many reviewers have already lauded this book with far more erudite praise than I could ever conjure. They use big words and long sentences to wax lyrical about Muradov’s art, design, and storytelling. The term “Kafkaesque” appears often in these reviews, as well as comparisons to the likes of Miró and Borges. They have even called (In A Sense) Lost And Found “a challenging and surreal journey steeped in hypnagogic imagery” – though to be honest, I’m not really sure what that means.
As so many beautiful words have already been written about this beautiful book, there is little left for me to do than expand on something Muradov said about the creation of (In A Sense). In an interview with Edwin Turner for the website Biblioklept, Muradov says, “… a great deal of (In A Sense) was inspired by the sudden widespread acceptance and commodification of banal nostalgia, self-expression & personal experience, which I see as a kind of torpid mass hysteria.”

November 26, 2014

Messy Confusion (In a Good Way): Josh Bayer’s MR. INCOMPLETO

Title: Mr. Incompleto
Creator: Josh Bayer

Rating: 4.5 stars

Josh Bayer's comics are a mess – an intricate, muddied, thought-provoking, glorious mess – and I, for one, am on board with almost everything he does.

Bayer debuted his latest book, Mr. Incompleto, at CAB this year and, like Theth before it, it's a comic that requires you to scrape off some muck before you see its shine underneath.

In a note on the end page of Mr. Incompleto, Bayer writes, “This book made in part as a loving tribute to the comics of 1980, especially the writing of the late Mark Gruenwald.” Gruenwald, of course, was best known for his career at Marvel (including becoming Executive Editor in 1987), most notably for his work on the 12 issue miniseries Squadron Supreme in which a team of superheroes take it upon themselves to assume power and create a utopian world (to disastrous results, of course).

Bayer's book is certainly full of cosmic powers, time travel, and world saving, but homages to superheroics and team dynamics aside, Mr. Incompleto is a comic about identity and the formative relationships which structure our sense of self. At its heart, Mr. Incompleto is a story about fathers and sons, which, if you think about it, is pretty much what all superhero comics are about.

November 25, 2014

Dispatches from CAB Part One: It’s an Adventure

Every so often the editorial staff at Comics Bulletin asks to tag along (in abstentia, of course) with our writers as they visit various points on the map to attend conventions and festivals. Like SEAL training these brave souls are given nothing to survive save their wits. No private jets. No corporate cards. And absolutely no money for alcohol or even, yes, coffee. This time two provincials, Daniel Elkin and Keith Silva, both drew the short straw and were sent to Greenpoint, the northernmost neighborhood in the borough of Brooklyn, NYC to attend Comic Arts Brooklyn. Over the next four days Comics Bulletin will publish what Elkin and Silva are calling ‘Dispatches from CAB,’ a sandwich board of sorts that promises a travelogue, reviews of comics and tips for surviving the game called comic book criticism. Enjoy!

KEITH SILVA: As late autumn sunshine broke over the borough of Brooklyn and made the maples along Union St. into a riot of golds and aureolins, I knew my rumored-to-be interminable wait for the G would be tempered. On the burnt umber stoops of brownstones and between the curling wrought-iron fence spaces, jack-o-lanterns mouldered. I turned onto 6th Ave., headed towards Prospect St., on my way to meet my friend Daniel Elkin. We were bound for Greenpoint and Comic Arts Brooklyn.
I met Elkin, in-person, for the first time, the night before. Our time spent in conversation over beers at Dizzy’s confirmed for me what was obvious from the thousands of words he and I have written together for Comics Bulletin in the last two years; Elkin is a friend for life. If that sounds too squishy or sentimental, I agree, but it’s true. At forty-one, I’m still coming to terms with how it is I’ve developed deeply felt relationships with people whom I’ve never met in-person. Lennon was right, “strange days indeed, most peculiar mama.”
The G turned up sooner than expected (I guess?). As we rode the rails, we picked up our conversation where it had been left the night before, except now it was spiked with in-jokes like ‘user-narratives,’ ‘Matt Dillon,’ and ‘pal’ after a night spent on the West Side eating the best dumplings NYC has to offer (or so I was told) with a few F.O.Es or Friends of Elkin’s. I can confirm New York City apartments, even the ones with exclusive addresses, play small, which made getting to know my fellow F.O.Es easy. What’s up, pal?

November 21, 2014

Review -- UR by Eric Haven


(Eric Haven)
Sometimes you encounter works that wonk you hard, as if head smacked by a thick blackjack. You enter a dream space and therein what you have endured through your days flows free unfettered by rules of narrative. Storytelling undulates as ideas build off of ideas and all of your influences dance naked together, at last, as they should. Here comprehension is teased as all the ingredients and flavors make sense, but ultimately the sandwich cannot bear fruit and, though satiated, you remain hungry.
Such is the stuff of Eric Haven’s UR from AdHouse Books. This collection of 6 previously anthologized short comics reads like a quilt of tales told by thick-tongued, rapid-speaking eye-bulging, modern shamans after their meds have worn thin. It is beautiful to behold, but ultimately it unnerves and I cannot avouch for the warmth it provides.
Is this humor? Is this satire? Is this surrealism? Is this a further foothold to my own madness mountain, the one from which I am slowly trying to descend without causing the avalanche bound to destroy the hamlet situated so peacefully in the valley below, the place I call home, the hearth which I have been away from for far too long?

November 19, 2014

Review -- FUGUE by Matt Sheean


(Matt Sheean)
It’s not often that I start a review of a comic with a dictionary definition, after all I’m no High School Freshman writing a tortured essay about Atticus Finch’s eroticism in To Kill A Mockingbird, but in order to write about Fugue,Matt Sheean’s 21 page black and white comic, it seems apt. So here it goes…
fugue cover
According to those pig-faced drunken bastards at Merriam-Webster, the word “fugue” means: “a musical composition in which one or two themes are repeated or imitated by successively entering voices and contrapuntally developed in a continuous interweaving of the voice parts.”  It has a second definition as well as: “a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected seems to perform acts in full awareness but upon recovery cannot recollect the acts performed.”
These definitions are important. They provide both access to understanding and a structural jumping off point from which to consider what Sheean is attempting with this book.

November 12, 2014

Convenient Truths: Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

For the latest Convenient Truths column on Comics Bulletin, Jason Sacks and I take a look at Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present and explore our reactions to to the film, performance art itself, and what it means to be "present".

Check it out, here.

November 10, 2014

Review -- D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer by Ted Intorcio

D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer

(Ted Intorcio)
Publisher: Tinto Press
Biography is a tricky game, especially when the facts surrounding a person’s life are, shall we say, murky. Layer onto that, especially in the matter of celebrity biography, the prior-knowledge and expectations of the audience. What you potentially might end up with is a thick and viscous broken narrative full of appeasements and speculation. Luckily, D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, Ted Intorcio’s latest release from his Tinto Press, navigates what is murky and those presumptions with a storyteller’s ease and an artist’s skills.
That’s right, this a comic about the death of Alfalfa.
My Dallas, Texas pre-cable/internet latchkey kid childhood was full of after-school television and Hostess Cupcakes.  As choice was limited, most of my 4 channel options were re-runs of things like The Rifleman with Chuck Conners, The Three Stooges, and the perennial favorite, Hal Roach’s Our Gang, better known as the Little Rascals.
Our Gang was kinda subversive shit, if I recall correctly. In it a group of kids created chaos, undermined authority, embraced and perverted (simultaneously) ideas of misogyny and racism, and played it hard for laughs. While “Spanky” was the leader of the group, and “Froggy” was spectacularly awesome, the Little Rascal people often think of was “Alfalfa” with his cowlick, freckles, ill-fitting suit, and squeaky singing voice.
As Intorcio writes in his introduction to this book, “(Alfalfa) embodied an ideal from a simpler time that we, as  culture, may have lost sight of. It was that what really mattered was not looks or money, physical strength or even above-average intelligence but guts, determination and a stalwart belief in one’s self. Despite all of our imperfections and the ever-present fear of a beating from the Butches of the world, we went after what we wanted and would mange to achieve some success in life, however meager.” Alfalfa was a hero. As awkward as he was, he always won our hearts.
Apparently, though, Carl Switzer, the young actor who played Alfalfa, was kind of an asshole. He was the kind of asshole who would supposedly drown a goat. He was the kind of asshole who pissed on the studio lights to get out of work. He was the kind of asshole who was gunned down in 1959, the events surrounding this event apparently being a bit nebulous.

November 7, 2014

Review -- š! #18 from kuš! Komiksi

š! #18

(Anete Melece / Inga Gaile, Anna Vaivare / Semyon Khanin, Davis Ozols / Ingmara Balode, Ingrida Pičukane / Sergej Timofejev, Klavs Loris / Anna Foma, Lote Vilma Vitina / Karlis Verdinš, Martinš Zutis / Arvis Viguls, Ruta Briede / Janis Rokpelnis from Latvia, and Alexander Rothman (USA), Andrej Štular (Slovenia), Dunja Janković (Croatia), Evie Cahir (Australia), Julie Doucet (Canada), König Lü.Q. (Switzerland), L.L. de Mars (France), Mari Ahokoivu (Finland), Nicolas Zouliamis (Belgium), Patrick Kyle (Canada), Sam Alden (USA), Theo Ellsworth (USA), Tiina Lehikoinen (Finland) and Tommi Musturi (Finland))

Art is what art does and its expression is myriad and unexpected. Sometimes, though, we delineate between forms and some creators define themselves exclusively by these boxes. Are they dancers and only dancers? Sculptors are not novelists, right? A film maker would never put a brush on a canvas. Talent is a cherished gift, it’s best not to spread it too thin.
k #18 1
And of course what is art without its audience. How often do our expectations calcify the potential of creators? The walls we put around our demarcations often become detention camps for artists.
What happens, though, when courageous creators take a chance on something new, some interaction and intersection between established mediums?
Well, sometimes something beautiful occurs.
š! #18 is one of those things, one of those beautiful, beautiful things.

November 5, 2014

Review -- DEBBIE'S INFERNO by Anne Emond

Debbie’s Inferno

(Anne Emond)

The journey/quest trope as an exploration of the self-induced garbage we suffuse our heads with to keep us from getting much accomplished is nothing new, nor is comparing our own mishigas to Dante's Circles of Hell, but somehow in Debbie's Inferno, Anne Emond's new book from Retrofit/Big Planet, what is old reads fresh. There's a child-like lure to this inner monologue that is a result of both Emond's art and wit. She is able to turn what could easily be a thick slog through the miasma of anxiety into something light, more meaningful, and perhaps, closer to the truth about the damage that we do to ourselves with our brains.

Ok, show of hands, when was the last time you holed up in bed, binge watching Netflix, covered in the the detritus of frozen pizzas and/or Baked Lays? It seemed like a good idea at the time, right, a “little me time”, a “respite from the day-to-day”? Then, as the minutes turn to hours and the sun sets and your lethargy increases and everything needing to be done remains undone still, you start to wonder what has become of your life. Depression, at times, can be self-perpetuating – we drown in the goo of our own loathing when we “wallow too long” in it.

November 3, 2014

Review -- NUMBER issue 2 by Box Brown

Daniel Elkin: Okay, Sacks, so Box Brown is back with the second issue of Number and since I missed issue 1, I’ll just take this one at face value and go from there, leaving you to fill in the gaps.
In its 54 black and white pages, Number Issue 2 contains two stories which Brown describes as, “… the storiesSk8rh8r about a skateboarding girl who gets White Castle and has a run in with a schizophrenic local and the cops andElroy Mirrors’ Big Score about a struggling documentary film maker.” So we got these two slice of life comics that seemingly have little to do with each other and whose narrative focus are more on individuals who live on the edges and are participants in other people’s stories.
The narrator of the first story, Sk8rh8r, stands (or skates, as it were) outside normal expectations being a 33 year old woman who’s drunk skateboarding home. Her story is less about her and her life and more about how others interact with her. Her reactions are numbed by alcohol, her experience in this narrative is mostly reactive, and the lens she provides us is unsure and unwilling to draw conclusions. Through Rose, Brown puts the reader in an awkward position, as our understandings of what is occurring here gets filtered through a slightly bored perspective.
When an observer observes an observer, what is he or she really watching? Where does consciousness stand and what is its relationship with “reality”?
Elroy Mirrors’ Big Score takes this concept of participating in the observation of observing one step further, focused as it is on a documentary film maker. Here is a gentleman who makes a living out of capturing the lives of others, filming their stories, allowing their experience to take precedence. A documentarian, though, takes the footage and frames it through his or her own perspective, thus manipulating the act of observation in order to tell a particular story. In Elroy Mirror’s Big Score, though, the documentarian is seemingly less concerned with his own vision and more about how others perceive him.
And yet still, even here, little seems to happen. Tension comes from possibility not actuality, and a dull hum seems to pervade the whole thing. Box Brown is working in quiet places, and Number Issue 2 shouts this into our heads with a firm lines and dark ink.