May 29, 2015

Looking into the Inscrutable: A review of THE MOTHERLESS OVEN by Rob Davis

Over on Comics Bulletin, Jason Sacks and I peer into THE MOTHERLESS OVEN by Rob Davis, published by SelfMadeHero Books.

This is a truly original graphic novel that raises more questions then it answers and, according to Sacks, may be "purposefully inscrutable".

It's the kind of book that leads me to write things like:
"Once could say that this is Davis commenting on how, in our world, the breakdown of the family, the drive for standardization of public education, the militarization of our police force, and the consumerism of our news have all contributed to a disillusioned youth culture that needs an even stronger authoritarian hand to keep it from spiraling into anarchy (thus perpetuating the cycle and feeding itself its own tail). I think there is plenty in this book to make this sort of political argument, but I’d rather not distort this book through a singular critical lens.
The argument could also be made that Davis is pushing the edges of an existential theme. The inhabitants of this world are creators of their self, yet they operate in a world where their lives are proscribed, they know when they are to die, and are then expected to still be productive members of the social order. This strikes me as the ultimate fermentation formula for ennui. And yet, it takes the brave individual to see through the situation, react, and escape."

May 20, 2015

Good Things In Comics Looking For Your Support

There's a couple of projects out there right now that are looking for your support.

Billed as:
Over 250 full color pages. More than 40 incredibly talented creators27 amazing stories, 1 beautifully designed over-sized hardcover. But above all: a comic book experience you won't find anywhere else!All wrapped in a stunning cover by Spider-Gwen’s Robbi Rodriguez, the Broken Frontier Anthology is beautifully designed and assembled with the highest production value. Larger than a standard graphic novel, the book’s 11.2''x7.6'' format allows the amazing artwork and stories to leap off the page.
This book is bound to be as beautiful as it will be fascinating, and the line-up of creators it will contain will be worth your attention.

Comix Experience is San Francisco's oldest and most diverse comic book and graphic novel store and an amazing place to shop. Owner Brian Hibbs is a leader in the industry and a profound and often controversial voice for the retailing end of the comic book business.

In response to what is going on in San Francisco, Hibbs has put the following on his website:
San Francisco is about to raise minimum wage to the nation’s highest at $15/hour over the next three years – a 43% hike. While we at Comix Experience absolutely support a living wage, this unprecedented increase will put a huge pressure on small businesses like ours. To put it into raw numbers, given our current staffing (and we run very tight), we will soon have to generate an additional $80,000 a year in sales just to meet the rise.  Click here to learn more about how the minimum wage impacts small businesses.
We think we've found a way to generate those sales while adding significant value for our customers.  We invite you to join our Graphic Novel Club and be part of the solution. 
Beginning in July 2015, every month the staff and I will use our passion and experience to choose the single best brand new graphic novel to give you. This book will always be either a stand-alone experience, or the first volume of a new series. As a member of the club, you’ll also be entitled to unique benefits that won’t be offered to anyone else:
● A curated selection of the best new graphic novel each month● An invitation to a monthly live book club meeting and social event to discuss that book. We will record and stream the in-store meeting so club members all over the world can also participate.
● We will regularly have the writers and artists of each of our picks participate in our monthly club meetings, (e.g. in person, speaking and doing a live event, or a video chat to answer questions).
● For select in-person appearances at the store, you’ll receive an exclusive club-only invitation to attend a private after-hours event with the guest.
● We will create a social media group for members to discuss the book internationally
● Finally, we will provide you with nice swag (like posters or bookmarks) for the selected book wherever possible
This is an innovative way to deal with the repercussions of an issue we can all support. If you support a higher minimum wage AND small business, this is something you should get behind.
If you are a fan of the medium and are looking to support it on different levels, please consider throwing some cash at either or both of these projects.

May 19, 2015

My Continuing Crisis: Writing on CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS #4


As some sort of "self-flagellation psychological experiment", I agreed to take part in Comics Bulletin's celebration of the 30th anniversary of DC Comics' FIRST MAJOR CROSSOVER EVENT, Crisis on Infinite Earths.

"Crisis #4 is certainly a turning point in my understanding of why these books resonate with so many fans of these sorts of comics. I mean, dig that five panel scene with Wonder Woman in which Wolfman kind of explores the complex nature of the relationship between a mother and her daughter. And then there are the last three pages of this book which are as beautiful as they are powerful. Wolfman steps out of the way and lets Perez do the storytelling as we bear witness to the annihilation of universes on a cosmic scale.

I found myself raising my glass at the end, not so I could suck it dry in a desperate attempt to drown my horror, but rather as a toast to something grand and something compelling. "

May 18, 2015

Big in New Zealand -- Reviewing Jillian Tamaki's SEX COVEN in Youth in Decline's Frontier #7

Once again, I had the pleasure of writing with New Zealand comic book writer Kelly Sheehan. This time we review Jillian Tamaki's SEX COVEN in Youth in Decline's Frontier #7.

"When you do the work to have an emotional response to art, you are the owner of that experience. Authentic emotions are precious in a world where we are so often sold how to think about things, where outrage is manufactured, enjoyment is a science, and attention an algorithm. And nobody latches on to this more than young people, especially when their peer group embraces it, especially when they see that their parents don't understand it, even more especially when their parents fear it or hate it.

Tamaki captures all of this in her book. The intensity of the reaction to the music and the ritual it inspires are all laid out with fervor and excitement. Tamaki knows the proper moment to abstract her art to convey this ardor, and when to focus on minutia in order to set context and further her story."

May 8, 2015

After The Fence We Find Each Other: A Review of Jen Lee's VACANCY

How cold the vacancy
When the phantoms are gone and the shaken realist
First sees reality.” – Wallace Stevens Esthétique du Mal.

Loneliness is drug. Powerful. Hallucinatory. Its psychoactive effects can lead you to underestimate the consequences of venturing into uncharted territory. To a place you don't belong. A place fraught with danger. “There” not “Here”. Outside. Through the hole in the fence. Into the woods.

But we are not built to be alone. The solitary man is no man at all. A life of quiet contemplation is no life really. Being alive requires us to step forth into the world of others. Shared experiences are more real somehow.

When I was 21, I made a road trip from New York to Texas. Along the way I stopped in Memphis and took the tour of Graceland. As I wandered around Elvis' mansion, my sense of self began to bend in ways it had never bent before. By the time I made it to the Jungle Room, my brain was so filled with an internal dialogue composed of a thick, viscous gibberish that I began to eye all the exit routes, convinced that I would need to flee before it got any worse. If only I had someone I could trust next to me, someone to whom I could have whispered, “Can you believe this?” I could have made sense of the experience, I could have reveled in the weirdness. Alone, I was bent. With a buddy, I would have been King.

Why am I telling this story?

Nobrow Press has just recently published Jen Lee's Vacancy as part of their 17x23 series, and this beautiful book has me thinking about solitude and experience. It's these ideas that provide the backdrop for an amazingly dense story told through character and inference.

The solicitation for Vacancy reads, “In a dishevelled and ransacked backyard, a dog named Simon has been forgotten by his owners. Simon contemplates breaking free and eventually partners up with a raccoon and a deer who take him into the woods. But Simon realizes he is not quite ready to live in the wild.

In Lee's telling, though, there is a larger background to this seemingly “grass is always greener” story that has to do with anthropomorphic animals, crashed planes, destroyed spaces, quarantine areas, and questions like “Don't you remember what happened to Randall?” Much like her webcomic, Thunderpaw, there is this sense that something apocalyptic has happened, leaving the animals changed, leaving them to fend for themselves, leaving them unsure of what the rules are now. And, like in Thunderpaw, Vacancy revolves around the need for companionship in navigating this new world.

It's a beautiful book both in terms of its storytelling and well as its craft. Lee's use of color is breathtaking, especially her use of sunset and sunrise soft reds and pinks to capture atmosphere, tone, and mood, especially when juxtaposed with the blue-greens of her nights and the momentary stark, flat white of her days. In the 24 pages of Vacancy, things crackle when they should, quiet when you need to hear the whispers, and bleed when something is after you. Lee's cartooning seduces you into one set of emotions – comfortable and familiar in a Saturday Morning sort of way – while the story itself murmurs something strange off to the side, almost hidden in the forest.

Lee's main character is hoodie wearing, bespectacled dog. Simon cannot function in isolation. Upon hearing howls from the woods outside his fenced yard, he dreams of marking “trees with you soon, my yote brothers.” But he just doesn't have the capacity or the wherewithal to venture forth alone from his enclosure, his home. He takes the random opportunity of strangers in his midst to step out into a new world; he needs guides to show him the ropes of this adventure.

But his pathfinders are seemingly little help when it comes to navigating the dangers of the woods. Rather, as the monomyth trope demands, they teach him the value of something more meaningful, the powerful sense-making systems of community, the understanding that we are all that much more capable when we stand together as one.

Lee's world-building is as dynamic a character as her anthropomorphic heroes. As her trio journeys, the environment they discover and cross through develops and, in doing so, tells a secondary story of destruction and despair. Through inference, reading the signposts that Lee has put up in this world, the audience begins to glean what may have happened to Simon's family and why these animals dress and behave as they do. And it is in these conjectures that the reader begins to unfurl a terrible backstory that they, themselves, own.

Which gives this comic its heft and its power. Which serves as a dialogue between artist and viewer. Which makes the reading of Vacancy such a pleasure and provides a small communal event therein.

The experience of Vacancy is one that fills the gap and suffuses the emptiness that its title suggests. It peers through the hole in our fence and fills our minds with the possibilities of what might be on the other side.

You can purchase a copy of Vacancy from Nobrow Press directly by clicking here

May 5, 2015

My Continuing Crisis: Writing on CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS #3


As some sort of "self-flagellation psychological experiment", I agreed to take part in Comics Bulletin's celebration of the 30th anniversary of DC Comics' FIRST MAJOR CROSSOVER EVENT, Crisis on Infinite Earths.

"It seems like this thing is just coming apart at the seams (which, in a way, makes it kinda seamy). Nobody seems to know what the hell is going on. From The Flash asking, “Wh-what the hell is that?” to Jackie from Easy Company saying, “Somethin’ crazy’s goin’ on here, Rock.” to the Monitor himself stating quite clearly, “There is no answer. Indeed, there can be none.” this book has gone so far off the rails that it’s flipping boxcars, boxcars, boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night…  Who’s Howling here now?

Still, what do you expect from a Crossover Event in which NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN?

Clarity? Pfffffffttttt."

May 4, 2015

Kickstarter Spotlight -- DOCTOR MUSCLES (a graphic novel)

It's been awhile since I wrote about DOCTOR MUSCLESNot sure if you remember. It was back in November of 2012 when I wrote: 

Every once in a while you come across a book that is so bug-fuck crazy that it fills the rest of your week with pure, unabashed, goofy, knee-twitching glee. Doctor Muscles: Journal One is one of those books. Reading Doctor Muscles is a wild ride: lurching suddenly, hurtling through ambiguity, dropping dangerously into gibberish then soaring into straightforward nutzo.


Now they have a Kickstarter to publish "a 450 page graphic novel collecting the entire 15 issue run of the sci-fi action adventure series. If you've already read DOCTOR MUSCLES: Volume One and Two, this omnibus will include Volume Three: 5 brand new issues (150 pages). "

Remember, this is the series I also called:

crap in your pants insanity that is the perfect antidote for dreary thinking and too tight shoes.

So consider backing this project.


May 1, 2015

Usual Brutishness: A short review of Emi Gennis' THE UNUSUAL DEATH OF GREGORY BIGGS

Death is an inevitability. All we can hope for when we die is to go with a certain level of dignity intact. What most often robs people of that opportunity is other people.

Other fucking people...

We're inundated and swaddled with horrific, undignified deaths on a daily basis thanks to a constant fecal stream emanating from a journalistic ethos more concerned with ratings than thoughtful, objective reporting. As a culture we become stupefied and callous as we find ourselves mixing up the name of the latest victim of brutality with one who died mere months ago because the list keeps getting longer.

Every. Goddam. Day.

But organized barbarism sometimes pales in the face of the individual act of savagery. Not only can people be horrible to other people, they can exhibit a brutishness and inhumanity that enters uncharted territory because they can, because they do, because they will.

Such is the foundation for Emi Gennis' 2013 mini-comic The Unusual Death of Gregory Biggs. Taken from the Wikipedia List of Unusual Deaths, this brief black and white comic details the horrific events surrounding the 2001 death of Gregory Biggs at the hands of Chante Jawan Mallard.

All fucked up on Ecstacy and other substances, Ms. Mallard smashed her speeding car into Mr. Biggs late one night on US 287, sending him careening half-way through her windshield. In Gennis' telling of the incident, Mallard then proceeded to drive home with Biggs still partly on her passenger seat, alive and asking for help. Parking her car in her garage, she proceeds have sex with her boyfriend, waiting until 9 AM the next morning to do anything about Biggs. Mallard then gets her boyfriend and his cousin to dispose of Biggs' body in a public park.

Three months later she jokingly refers to the incident at a party, and it is then that a someone finally informs the police and Mallard gets arrested for the crime.

While the crime itself is loathsome and beastly, in Gennis' graphic retelling, the images she creates of Biggs' last moments are what give this comic its full emotional gravity. In a comic of only twelve pages, devoting the entirety of one of those pages to this moment could, in the hands of lesser artist, be gratuitous and pandering. But Gennis' has a light touch with her heavy inks, and this page, as it slowly darkens to black, demonstrates the potential of using sequential art to tell a story. Each panel on the page flows ponderously from the previous, slowing time as light fades dimmer and dimmer, the crosshatching gets thicker, as Biggs' eyes are the last bit of white on the page until the final panel is engulfed in total darkness.

You feel this death while looking at this page, the pain of it, the slowness of it, but more importantly, the pointlessness of it.

Gennis does try to show the momentary remorse that Mallard feels at the time of the incident, but contrasted with Mallard's inaction and selfish focus, Gennis gives us Mallard's sad face punctuated by hollow eyes.

As a cartoonist, Gennis hits all the emotional beats in this story perfectly, her art echoes our own disgust with what we are seeing. The backmatter to this book informs us not only what ended up happening to Mallard and her co-conspirators, but also describes in detail many of the choices Gennis herself was faced with as an artist trying to tell this story.

The whole book is riveting because it is true, because of how its told, and because it reminds us that there will always be those among us who are boorish and savage and who think only of themselves no matter what that means for our lives.

Or for our deaths.

You can pick up a copy of The Unusual Death of Gregory Biggs here