February 25, 2015

Books in Bites: Three Comics Worth Your Attention

I've been bogged down by both the obligations of teaching as well as this tendon issue in my elbow, so I haven't been writing reviews of late (that, and I've been questioning why I'm even doing it). I do want to take a few moments, though, to point to a few books that I wanted to give some positive press to.

Honey #1
(Celine Loup)

Honey #1 was not what I expected it to be at all, and it's so much the better for that. It's an anthropomorphic bee story, sort of, in which the honey bees all look like cover models for Vogue in the 1920's and one or two of them suffer from existential ennui. Like I said, it was not what I expected (although, to be honest, I'm not really sure what my expectations were).

Celine Loup does some amazing things with her art in this book, most notably with her use of color to accentuate mood and add dynamism to her pages. In terms of storytelling, just when I thought the book might be teetering on ham-fisted melodrama, Loup throws another curve into her narrative which kept me eagerly turning pages a'plenty.

After reading Honey #1, I will never look at butterflies in the same way again. Also, Loup has exponentially added to my fear of wasps. Thanks for that.

You can purchase a copy of Honey #1 here.

Herman the Hot Dog #2
(Haleigh Buck, Hey Boy! Comics)

When the cover of your book sports both a nervous looking hot dog wearing sneakers and knee socks and it's emblazoned with a “Mature Audiences ONLY!” admonition, you're already playing the hype game at a top-shelf level. The problem with this kind of hype, though, is it usually masks something unworthy of that kind of sonorousness. NOT SO with Herman the Hot Dog #2.

Right out of the gate, Buck spares no decorum or sensibilities with a story called “Jeers of a Clown” that starts off as a story about trying to increase a television station's ratings but then veers off into places that I just can't even talk about – it's offensive, it's wrong on so many levels – but it's tear-inducing funny. It's not often that I find myself sitting alone in my house with a book in my hands and laughing so loudly that I scare my dog. I mean, I seriously let loose a thundering guffaw. When was the last time you let loose one of those?

February 16, 2015

Trying To Make Sense of Things: Why Four Comics Critics Are Just About Done With Comics Criticism

Much to my chagrin, a number of important voices in comics criticism have started to move away from writing about comics. The reasons for this move are many. In the case of some, they've taken on other positions within the medium (working for publishers, creating their own comics, etc...), in other cases they've been harassed by the internet for having unpopular views (most recently Zainab Akhtar from the great site Comics and Cola who is scaling back her posts), and in still other cases, they've just hit burnout. I recently contacted three of my favorite critics and writing partners who have all publicly stated they are moving away from criticism or have begun to question its worth, and I asked them to write a short piece on why they have come to this point in their “careers”. My hope is that this discussion may lead to something. What that something is, though, I have no idea.

My concern is that as more erudite and thoughtful critics leave comics, what will become of comics themselves?

It started when I put out the following e-mail to Taylor Lilly, Justin Giampaoli, and Keith Silva:

“Gentlemen –

I'm thinking about putting together a little writing piece called “When Good Reviewers Burn Out” or “Writin' About Comics Blues” or “When Love Ain't Enough” or “Fuck You, There's No Money In This Shit” or something like that.

I figure it this way – we're all kinda wondering what the hell we are doing when we are doing this writing about comics thing. As you know, I've been thinking about this a lot lately – not necessarily what is the role of the critic (although I'm still working that shit out, see my interview with Colin Smith), but why write about comics at all.”

What follows is their responses (followed by my own sense of things):

Taylor Lilley (No Cape No Mask): Why write about comics at all? Why write at all? Why do anything of soft value in a world where actions of hard value are so desperately needed?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to actually try to answer all those questions. I too have looked at the header of an article, seen the double digit read-time, and thought “Not today”.

Elkin, you wrote the above italics in an email to a small group of people who routinely invest their time, gratis, in considering the work-for-money of people who make art for a living. Then, a couple weeks later, you wrote this. I’m not going to label it a review, or an article. It just is.

For me, my answer to the italics is this: If I can’t be as emotionally involved and as philosophically provoked by what I’m writing as Elkin clearly was, and articulate it so effectively, well… why shout mediocrities into an already echoing well?

Defeatist? Extremist? Unrealistic?

At the core of generating any kind of readership is consistency. Every copy-and-pasted “How To” article you’ve ever superciliously browsed will confirm that. So will Seth Godin, so Hyperions and Satyrs both agree. And if we’re considering writing, we’re hoping to be read. Unfortunately, I’m rarely engaged to the extent that I feel my content deserves to be found. Rarely do I watch a film, read a comic, binge on a show, and find at the end of it that I have something to say about it so worthwhile, so insightful and otherwise unavailable, that I MUST deliver it to the people.

But if I don’t deliver something consistently, if I have no track record of entries to prove my dedication and credibility, how will anyone find these infrequent gems of mine? They won’t.

So to have a shot at discovery, I have to create and publish content that I don’t really believe deserves sharing, earning trust for when I drop the good stuff. That sounds too much like my day job, grinding through the shitty parts to get to the golden parts. Doing that pays my bills, buys me this computer so I can afford to indulge these navel-gazing quandaries of self-expression. But before the screen, fixed in its glow…

I just don’t care enough about being read to start grinding again.

Without that effort, though, I don’t get to exchange with brilliant folks like the other contributors to this piece. I don’t read as much of what they produce, either, because I’m less interested in receiving than in exchanging. So do we actually publish for the minds we’ll meet, rather than the effects our content will have?

I don’t know. I’m not publishing right now.

But once I’m engaged, there are two questions: “Will anyone find this?”, and “If nobody did, would their lives be worse for missing out?”. Double-positives do not abound.

Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions.

February 14, 2015

POP CULTURE FIRST LOVES -- Loser City Valentine

In honor of Valentine's Day, 
over on LOSER CITY 
a bunch of other nerds and I 
wrote about our 

I'll give you a hint regarding mine:

February 9, 2015

The Obligations of Brutality: Thoughts on Noah Van Sciver's SAINT COLE

I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different, when the masters of the science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand; but now the scene was changed. The ambition of the enquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those vision on which my interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.” – Mary Shelly, Frankenstein

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” – Romans 8:18

Life boils down to brutality. It's fucked. Life is brutal and fucked up.” – Noah Van Sciver, Saint Cole

Living ain't easy sometimes. Misery, mourning, heartbreak, and suffering continue to engulf the world despite our technological advances, oftentimes because of them. The darkness of sorrow is the constant shadow cast in the bright light of joy. It's thick. It blankets. It's universal.

There's this compulsion to utter some sort of statement like, “Ah, life...” and weasel the self into the comfortable confines of the community of despondency – that warm, liquid space we tend to float in when it all gets too much, you know, to keep on keeping on. Because, yeah, life can be fucking brutal sometimes.

Have you been reading about the spate of abandoned children being found in fecal smeared houses lately? Or those homeless people being doused in gasoline and set aflame? Have you heard of the massacres in Nigeria? Have you been following the waves of horror that passes itself off nightly as news?

Fuck. It's incredible what we do to each other. The pain that people bring to the lives of others is seemingly unending.

Then, of course, there's the pain we put upon ourselves, the sharpened sticks we poke into our own eyes out of guilt or shame or some sad dysmorphia. When you slam your head against the red brick walls, the blood that gushes covers you completely. When you spend two years of your life carefully planning on how to end it, your pain is whole, it is who you are.

And even though you keep turning your head, you always end up facing something.

It's pretty fucking amazing how many of us actually make it through.

Noah Van Sciver's new book from Fantagraphics, Saint Cole, has got me thinking about my relationship with misery. It's also got me thinking about the obligations of the artist to his or her art, and, maybe more importantly, to the audience.

February 4, 2015

Retrofit Comics Announces 2015 Publishing Line and Subscription Drive

Philadelphia, PA – 4 February 2015

Acclaimed independent publisher Retrofit Comics is pleased to announce their official 2015 line of twelve comic books, graphic novels, an art book, and an anthology. Retrofit Comics  also officially launches their 2015 subscription drive, with a discount for early subscribers.

The line includes work by: 
Olivier Schrauwen http://ollieschrauwen.blogspot.com/
Matt Madden http://www.mattmadden.com/
Steven Weissman  http://sweetchubby.blogspot.com/  
Laura Lannes http://www.lauralannes.com/
Kate Leth http://kateordie.tumblr.com/
Laura Knetzger http://lauraknetzger.com/
Yumi Sakugawa http://www.yumisakugawa.com/
Sophie Franz http://www.sophiefranz.com
Maré Odomo http://mareodomo.com/
Andrew Lorenzi http://andrewmakescomics.tumblr.com/  
Future Shock anthology; edited by Josh Burggraf http://joshburggraf.tumblr.com/  
Box Brown http://boxbrown.com/

A subscription for all 12 books is $75 and available at the Retrofit Comics website: http://retrofit.storenvy.com/collections/29642-all-products/products/11887716-retrofit-2015-subscription-12-comics

A discounted subscription for $65 is available through Friday, February 20, 2015 with the use of the code: EARLYBIRD

Shipping is free within the United States and discounted shipping is available to Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and the UK, for only $12. Shipping internationally otherwise is $36.

Each subscription also includes a free copy of any title from Retrofit Comics 2014 publishing line, which can be sent to a friend as an outreach program.

A digital subscription is also available for $35. http://retrofit.storenvy.com/products/11894007-retrofit-2015-digital-only-pdf-subscription-12-comics

There's Nothing Wrong with Hating Something: An interview with COLIN SMITH about the role of comics criticism and critics themselves

It began with a tweet:
Still trying to write about a truly awful comic.There has to be a way of discussing work that’s terrible without seeming to be point-scoring.
– Colin Smith
To which I responded by writing, “Why write about it at all? Why not just spend your time championing things you love?”
And thus began my initial conversation with Colin Smith, writer for Q Magazine, NewStatesman.com, Sequart, CBR (Comic Book Resources), FPI (Foreign Policy Initiative), and his recently shuttered blog, Too Busy Thinking About My Comics, about the role of modern comics criticism.

Daniel Elkin for Comics Bulletin: First off, thanks again for agreeing to talk more about the role of the critic, criticism in general, and Modern Comics Criticism (MCC) in particular. We covered a broad range of ideas in our tweeting back and forth, but there is only so much you can say limited by 140 characters.
Let’s begin here: Your initial response to my tweet pointing to the use of criticism to champion things you love was something along the lines of that this is “not the critical tradition (you) come from.” Before we go any further in this discussion, I think it would be helpful to clarify and define exactly what that critical tradition is.
Colin Smith: I immediately felt uncomfortable about my use of ‘tradition’ in that tweet. It had seemed appropriate in the by-necessity pithy context of Twitter, but it seems to suggest an authority that I hadn’t meant to lay claim to. A far better way of making the same point would’ve been to say that the critics I most enjoy and admire would never have considered an approach that was exclusively about ‘championing things (they) love’.
If you’ll forgive me, the only way to explain my point is to fall back onto autobiography, and I can well imagine that that would make this too self-involved and long-winded a response to be of interest or use to you. So please do feel comfortable in just calling a halt to these proceedings. I would entirely understand, I promise you!
I never had any ambition to be a critic of any sort. (I certainly don’t think of myself as one.) It wasn’t on my list of things to do. Yet no matter how incredibly minor a critic I am, and I think we can agree I’m an incredibly minor critic, I have ended up writing a considerable amount of criticism. It was all an accident. I had been unexpectedly and protractedly ill. I had to retire from work, I became unavoidably isolated from the world and my mind become more and more distractible and rusty. So simply to get my brain turning again, I started a blog, and while it could have been about anything from theatre to the singles chart to football, I settled almost by chance on comics. It’s a medium I love, of course, but it was also a subject that seemed to promise anonymity. Who was going to read my thoughts on comics? As a discipline, it helped focus my thinking and served to mark off one day from another, but I never imagined that even one or two people would stumble across the blog, or return again after they did.TooBusyThinking was never a major player – it never had more than a quarter million hits in any year – but it was never meant to be. Accidentally emerging into the peripheries of pop cultural debate, it took a while for me to realise that I’d given no prior thought at all to any critical tradition. But to have done so would have been absurd.

February 2, 2015

A Tongue Twisting Storm That Comes To The Show Tonight: Review of Matt Fraction and Fábio Moon's CASANOVA: ACEDIA #1

Writer: Matt Fraction (“Nine Days Now”), Michael Chabon (“The Metanauts: Kawaii-Five O”)
Artist:  Fábio Moon (“Nine Days Now”), Gabriel Bá (“The Metanauts: Kawaii-Five O”)
Colors: Cris Peter
Letters: Dustin Harbin
Publisher: Image
KEITH SILVA: First came lust (Luxuria), followed by gluttony (Gula) and after, avarice (Avaritia) and now negligence/sloth (Acedia), so much divinity, so much comedy and so much love for sin(s). What precedes each of these funny-sounding Latin-y words — which, for those keeping score at home (nerds), are, truth be told, derived from a medieval regional Italian dialect, Tuscany to be specific — is … more Italian: Casanova. As both title and titular figure, each swings. Casanova Quinn is James Bond by another name; a character one might describe as “what every man would like to be and what every woman would like between her sheets” if such a phrase didn’t sound so outdated or reek of fifties sexism, but I digress.
Before Matt Fraction became a one man cottage industry for creator-owned passion projects (Sex Criminals,Satellite Sam and Ody-C) there was (there is) Casanova. Published by Image Comics in 2006, Casanova: Luxuria is where Fraction first slipped the shackles of his Marvel masters and their assembly-line of corporate cape comics to plant his own flag; to his credit, he brought along three inimitable artists — cartoonist Gabriel Bá, colorist Cris Peter and letterer Dustin Harbin — to give his espionage, sci-fi, adventure mash-up a cool factor of a cagillion and a sexiness that makes the most (and least) chaste, wet. Luxuria remains a masterpiece of wit, imagination and storytelling so tight as to appear painted on. Few comics are as fun, pure and uncut as Casanova: Luxuria.
The second and third chapters, Gula and Avaritia, respectively, never quite catch the first-time giddiness of theirpaterfamilias predecessor. How could they? Avaritia comes closest to the joy (the Fraction-y-ness) of its antecedent, a contact high, at best. As for Gula, well, frankly, it’s a mess of over-thinking, over-indulgence and smacks of trying-too-hard, a crystalline example of a sophomore slump. And … so … Acedia? … well, magic-eight-ball-wise, let’s say, ‘signs point to sexiness.’
Sitting in with Fraction et al. for Acedia is literary colossus and inveterate comic book fanboy, Michael Chabon who gets to punch below his weight class with Moon’s twin brother and the co-creator of Casanova, Gabriel Bá. Chabon and Bá (along with Peter and Harbin) contribute a back-up story about flashes of full frontal nudity, the rare bird known as the ‘rock critic’ and the power of rock-and-roll. Chabon, who until this point, gave good blurb on Casanovais the perfect foil for Fraction’s hyper-focused frippery. Chabon gets to pen the story of a member of the fierce female foursome, T.A.M.I. She brags about her on-stage turnout as no more than “three strands of black wire, two LED flashers and a titanium kotex,” so, yeah, Chabon gets it. As for Fraction …