April 30, 2016

Review: MEAN GIRLS CLUB by Ryan Heshka

Wrote about Ryan Heshka's MEAN GIRLS CLUB 
from Nobrow Press 
for Wink Books.

In a nod to the pulps and pin-ups of the past and rendered in fluorescent pinks and inky blacks, Heskha upends the conventional idea of the B-movie Vixen by adding a layer of such over-the-top brutality and vehemence that it transcends the possible, bringing the trope into the post-ironic age where we have lost the ability to discern what we are meant to take seriously.

April 26, 2016

Abbreviating the Moment: A Review of Simon Moreton’s MINOR LEAGUES #1

Much of our life is spent trying to recapture that which we missed: moments lived but not appreciated, instances of importance we misunderstood, people we loved but didn’t understand, places we inhabited but never called home. Such is the stuff that infuses the work of Simon Moreton and is the focus of his latest zine, Minor Leagues #1.

Minor Leagues seems to be the next step in Moreton’s development as an artist. It is the spiritual successor to his long-running zine Smoo, combining short prose and poetry with his beautiful abbreviations of comic panels. Moreton’s art is as much about conveying the movement of moments as it is a paring down to the essentials of form necessary to convey both meaning and heart. A wisp of an inked gesture in Moreton’s hands is enough to convey the unremitting sense of time passing and what it leaves in its wake. There is a profound isolation to his art, and its limited line-work only serves to carry the weight of this sensibility -- as if the page would buckle if he were to apply any more. What he leaves out, the reader can only help but to fill in and, in that moment of connection, understand instinctively that which Moreton feels as well.

Adding ballast to the mood of this zine is Moreton’s prose, short pieces that contribute poignancy in their realization of how junctures in one’s life elicit insight into the past. Lovers are far away. Friendships were formative. Life is fleeting. Change is inevitable. Through Moreton’s lens, we are reminded of how much we understand where we are when we finally understand what we have been through.

Sometimes the indelible mark of experience is only seen in reflection.

But it is the silence within which Moreton frames his work that makes the gravity of this truth so welcoming. There is no hand-wringing or wailing into the night sky in Minor Leagues #1. Rather, herein there is a quietness of acceptance, an affirmation and acquiescence to what is, not so much a longing for what could have been. The scarcity of his drawing and the precision of his prose emphasize the present while looking to the past, and in all of Moreton’s restraint, a particular beauty is uncovered.

It is affirmation through understanding, a concise picture of an artist in his life, in the landscape in which he lives.

At the end of last year, I picked Moreton’s Plans We Made from Uncivilized Books as one of the best comics published in 2015. Minor Leagues #1 clearly indicates that Moreton continues to grow as an artist in his facility to convey the universal through the personal. His ability to hush the cacophony in order to abbreviate the importance of reflection is extraordinary.

In an age where we are given less and less time and quiet in order to process and comprehend, Minor Leagues #1 serves as an important reminder of what we have begun to lose in our haste to move forward. The opportunity to pause, to reconsider, to celebrate, and to appreciate is, perhaps, the most valuable commodity there is. It is a richness available to us all, and yet so often we forget we own it in the first place. Simon Moreton helps us cash that check.

For more on the work of Simon Moreton visit his site here. You can also follow him on Twitter here.

To purchase Minor Leagues #1, visit his online store here.

April 23, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 4/18/16 to 4/24/16

Highlighting some great comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.


* Zainab Akhtar closes down her site, COMICS & COLA, which is both a loss to the industry and a clarion call for greater diversity and tolerance. Her critical voice will be sorely missed.
* Andy Oliver on Simon Moreton's SMOO COMICS #10
* Annie Mok on Mike Dawson's RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER
* Shea Hennum on Austin English's GULAG CASUAL
* James Kaplan on Matt and Charlene Kindt's DEPT. H #1


* Katie Skelly draws a page from AGENT 10
* Austin Lanari interviews KENDRA JOSIE KIRKPATRICK
* Jonah Weiland interviews BILL SIENKIEWICZ
* Tom Spurgeon has the best list of EISNER NOMINEES
* A short review/interview with Okla Elliott about his translation of Jurgen Becker's BLACKBIRDS IN SEPTEMBER
* Jon Ronson interviews MONICA LEWINSKY

April 20, 2016


Nearly a month ago, a group of great writers got together at Women Write About Comics and had a wonderful roundtable discussion about WHAT BRAND LOYALTY MEANS IN COMICS. Go read that first. It's worth your time (especially the one-act play by Ray Sonne).

Later, Claire Napier tweeted that she wanted to hear other voices, other perspectives. I originally wrote the following to be part of a roundtable on Comics Bulletin, but the world works in the ways that it does and it has been languishing in the ether ever since. 

As I have no reviews running this week, I thought I would draw this out of the ether and throw it into the "world".

Please pardon my self-indulgence. Hopefully, if you make it to the end of the piece, you will understand why I wanted to post it.

My first experience with comics came when I was wee, old enough to read, yet young enough to be still unformatted; I was a sponge absorbing stimuli to tell me what was true. I have distinct memories of being in my maternal uncle’s house in White Plains, NY and discovering a thick, hardbound reprint collection of early Superman comics. I remember pouring over them, page by page, and being entranced and amused by the certainty of it. In this black and white world, Superman was a hero dogmatically, firmly, the protectorate of the downtrodden and powerless, capable of anything, indestructible and sure.
And yet, I also distinctly remember an arc that featured Mr. Mxyzptlk, who was a villain, and yet seemingly harbored no evil intent. He was the trickster, Coyotl, the Shakespearean Puck, and I, unnerved, had not the moral sensibilities to comprehend him as anything other than a clown. Why Superman saw him as an adversary was too ambiguous for my young conceptions. The simplicity of the 1940s morality stood at odds with what I had already sussed out about the world in the 70s. The liminal state engendered by this contradiction was formative, in a way, and my unease with the dogmatism and rectitude of the DC stable left me feeling inimical to their heroics.
Some of us are born rebels, I guess.
And so began my maturation and embrace of the Marvel line. Here were heroes who seemed as uncertain about notions of right or wrong as I. I devoured those early trades: Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, The Superhero Women, and my favorite, Bring on the Bad Guys, all of which I found in the bookstore in the mall. Then, in the late 1970s, I discovered Lone Star Comics (a comic shop!) and, therein, Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men. As with so many others of my generation, this became the flagship title of my sense of comics as a medium and cemented my “Make Mine Marvel” nerd swagger. I’d pick up a DC book now and again and scoffed at its simplicity, its naivete, its woodiness, and would argue for hours with my dad about how square “his” superheroes were.

By the mid-80s, though, concerns about being cool became far more the focus for me, and the lure of cars and girls and bands and booze overcame my interest in the trappings of the chintzy world of capes and tights.
When I finally became a father myself, though, I had a return to comics -- because I wanted my son to enjoy them as I had, or more likely because of the infantilism inherent in this realization of adulthood -- and of course my past loyalty to the House of Ideas guided my choices. But much like a young man comes to the point where he realizes that the lionized lyrics of Jim Morrison are, in fact, garbage, I started to see that even the exploits of my much cherished X-Men were actually vapid and inane. Struggling with this abdication of my youthful enthusiasm, I did the best I could, trying to justify what had once been so important, afraid that even this aspect of my childhood was ultimately insipid and plastic.
Hell, I even started WRITING about superhero comics, lauding as much praise as I could in order to stave off this untethering from my past. It had not been a lie, there was value and depth in these tales, aspirational and poignant.
But you can only polish a turd so much before your hands are covered in shit, and whatever loyalty I held to the Marvel brand had to be scrubbed from beneath my fingernails in order for me to finally face the truth of the man I had become.
When you keep getting punched in the throat by the brand to which you are loyal, who ultimately is the asshole in that relationship? 

But I still have “brand loyalty” when it comes to comics. There are creators doing amazing things out there, and I will gamble on them anytime. There’s a new book by Derek Van Gieson? Noah Van Sciver? Julia Gfrörer? Theo Ellsworth? Emily Carroll? Sean Ford? Conor Stechschulte? Eleanor Davis? Simon Moreton? Roman Muradov? Jillian Tamaki? Jason Little? I’ll plunk down my sheckles. They have earned my trust.
Likewise I trust that if publishers like Uncivilized Books, Retrofit, 2dCloud, Youth in Decline, Nobrow, Birdcage Bottom, Kus!, InkBrick, and Tinto Press have something new to offer, I want to see what it is. I trust that the books they are publishing aren’t an exercise in cross platforming or IP shepherding, but are books they believe in for the merits of the art and the voice of the creator.
That’s my brand loyalty, earned through trust and understanding. In a way, small press publishers such as these are like a good friend who says to you, “Have you seen this? It’s spectacular!” Your real friends aren’t trying to milk you for money; they have something honest to share and they want to connect. They deserve our loyalty, our attention, our money, and our time. They continue to give back, share, and celebrate.

April 17, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 4/11/16 to 4/17/16

Highlighting some great comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.

* Charles Hatfield on Chester Brown's MARY WEPT OVER THE FEET OF JESUS
* Robert Kirby on MINI KUS! COMICS #38-41
* Chase Magnett on the YOUNG ANIMAL IMPRINT and Vertigo
* Tom Murphy on Manuele Fior's 5,000 KM PER SECOND
* Shea Hennum on Julia Gfrörer's DARK AGE (scroll down a bit to read it)
* John Seven on Frederik Peeters' AAMA


* Chris Gavaler and Carolyn Capps on COMICS COLLABORATION
* Alex Hoffman interviews SOPHIE GOLDSTEIN
* Miwa Messer interviews TOM HART about his book Rosalie Lightning
* Annie Mok interviews ELEANOR DAVIS

April 15, 2016

Writing Drunk About Crap Comics: CROCKED CRITICS on STAR WARS SPECIAL: C-3PO #1

Over on Comics Bulletin, Chase Magnett and I got drunk and wrote about 
STAR WARS SPECIAL: C-3PO  #1 from Marvel for our column on the site called 
Crocked Critics.

We waded into this thinking it was bound to be a tire fire, but it ended up being one of the most impressive books either of us have read.

Go figure.

C-3PO talks about their memories being in the hands of “their creators” later on. Omri talks about the necessity of protocol droids having “an extra degree of sentience”. And then, given that they have these “Phantom” memories of which you alluded to, Chase, he then wonders “How important have I been?
Which hits right to the core of all of us. Right? As we are essentially the summation of our experiences (sprinkled, as it were, with a fine dusting of genetics), it stands to reason that the ultimate human question is “How important have I been?” To have these words come out of a construct, a droid, throws so much sand in the eyes of philosophy that I kind of went weak in the knees when I read it.
What the hell is James Robinson’s end-game here? How much of this is pre-ordained by the corporate concerns of Marvel/Lucas Films/Disney — and how much of this is the expression of an artist who, given the simple task of explaining how C-3PO got his fucking red arm, takes that narrow conceit and shows his true artistry?

April 12, 2016

Enough Astronaut Blood To Last The Winter Promo

Murder Shoes songwriter and artist, Derek Van Gieson, delivers an absurd bit of whimsy and wonder for his debut Fantagraphics arts and fiction monograph..

If you missed it, I wrote about 
over on Wink Books. 
The Review is posted HERE

April 11, 2016

Books in Bites 13: Three Comics Worth Your Attention

Quick Reviews of Three Books you may be interested in.

By Matthew Dooley
Published by Throwaway Press
Available Here
So much of Matthew Dooley’s Meanderings, a compilation of his short comics published by Throwaway Press, is about the frustration and poignancy inherent in the failure of expectations. There’s an underlying sadness to his humorous vignettes that cuts to the quick even as we snicker at the joke. It’s not so much schadenfreude that you experience while reading this book, so much as it is the smile of recognition, the warm pat on the back in the company of failure.

The first story in the compilation sets the tone. A group of outcasts gathers together under the banner of The Intergalactic Alliance for Peace and Unity, and their leader, Mike, has predicted the end of the world. When the appointed time of armageddon comes and goes, the group packs up their picnic and justifies the event, spinning a positive out of disappointment. The final punch line in the last panel certainly adds levity to the tone, but it also reveals the senselessness of expectations as well.
Even inanimate objects serve to further Dooley’s sensibilities. Public art pieces, statues of politicians, even a park bench are all endowed with the inevitable disappointment between intent and time. Time carries on, and with it, so too does the world. What was important 10 years ago now is forgotten or reframed. The disillusion can be seen as absurd as it is tragic.
Meanderings is, first and foremost, full of laughs. Dooley clearly understands the concept of pacing as it works in the medium and uses it deftly to punctuate his jokes. The laughter he induces, though, comes from the recognition that this, too, is us, trapped as we are in the preposterous game that we play.

By Josh Simmons
With Tom Van Deusen, Eric Reynolds, and Ben Horak
Published by Oily Comics
Available Here
Coming on the heels of Habit #1, Josh Simmons is back tearing up the place, this time bringing along artists Tom Van Deusen, Eric Reynolds, and Ben Horak along with him on this wild ride. 

Habit #2 continues to confound. Its 52, black and white, saddle-stitched pages contain four comics of escalating bonkers, ending in a literal shit storm. It all begins with Simmons’ own “The Incident at Owl’s Head,” which starts off as a drifter coming to a new town and ends as a horrific, surreal morality tale about trust and kindness. There is one scene in particular, during breakfast, that defies all sense and sets such a nightmarish tone that the reader must disassociate from their reality making mechanisms in order to continue through. It’s these sorts of moments that Simmons does best, placing ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and marking them unfazed by the event. In Simmons work, the world is dangerous and weird and we should fucking wake up and realize that already.
“Late For The Show” features Tom Van Dusen’s story and pencils, with Simmons on layout and inks. This short tale is bookended in reality (sort of), but its middle spurns what we know of the world and plays commentary as much as it plays the prancing surrealist. It’s meaty in the true sense of the word, and is, of course, bonkers.
“Bertram” is all Simmons again with Eric Reynolds on inks. It’s about a big dog. Or a dysfunctional family. Or zombies. Or… fuck, I don’t even know. It’s wonderfully wack-a-doo and couldn’t ever exist in any place other than Simmons’ fertile mind.

The last story features Simmons on story and Ben Horak on art. It’s called “The Great Shitter” and while its name gives away pretty much the premise of the piece, you just need to read it yourself. It’s fetid and frightening and full of pathos and serves as the perfect ending to this collection.

Habit #2 isn’t for the comfortable or the staid, but it just might be for you.

Edited by Robert Kirby
Published by Ninth Art Press
Available Here
Astrology can be damn complicated. First, you gotta know your zodiac sign (or is called “Sun Sign”), then there’s your elements and your qualities and when your moon’s rising in which house. I mean, just take a look at this chart I just did on myself over at Astrolabe. It’s intimidating and confusing and, in a way, kinda deeming to think that everyone born on the same day and time and place as I all would get the same chart. Kinda kicks you in the teeth of feeling unique?

Free Birth Chart

Luckily, there’s What’s Your Sign, Girl, edited by Robert Kirby and published by Ninth Art Press. Here, Kirby and a constellation of contributors break down their signs for easy digestion, as well as provide intricate and varied responses to each of their relationships to the generalities of the specific sun sign, as well as, often, to the concept of astrology itself.
The list of cartoonists Kirby has brought together is stellar (see what I did there). Aries: Delaine Derry Green, Taurus: Kevin Budnik, Gemini: Whit Taylor, Cancer: Tyler Cohen, Leo: Cara Bean, Virgo: Robert Kirby, Libra: Rick Worley, Scorpio: Eric Kostiuk Williams, Sagittarius: Dan Mazur, Capricorn: Annie Murphy, Aquarius: Aron Nels Steinke, and Pisces: Marnie Galloway all contribute beautiful and personal pieces on the panoply of the zodiac.

It's revelatory, not only in terms of the information but also about the nature of the cartoonists themselves. Each one of these artists takes the gestalt of their sign and personalizes it to become idea in action. It humanizes the general, making it real, understandable -- all in the answer to the question of the ramifications of the hold astrology still has on so many of our lives. This is ultimately a quest for meaning, for understanding, for how larger forces may, in some way, help us understand ourselves. While What’s Your Sign, Girl is ostensibly about astrology, it is really about larger questions such as how patterns dictate personality, how expectations inform reality, and how, as social beings, we operate within the contextual frame.

And incidentally, Rob Kirby, I’m a Virgo too. You get me.

April 10, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 4/4/16 to 4/10/16

Highlighting some great comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.


* Zainab Akhtar on Ben Gijsemans and Jonathan Cape's HUBERT
* Claire Napier on MYSTERY GIRL and setting
* Gretchen Felker-Martin on Julia Gfrorer's DARK AGE
* Emma Houxbois on WONDER WOMAN: EARTH ONE
* This Roundtable Discussion about THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
* Ardo Omer on Ryan Heshka's MEAN GIRLS CLUB
* Chase Magnett on BLACK PANTHER #1
* Austin Lanari on THE FIX #1


* J.A. Micheline interviews TA-NEHISI COATES
* David Harper interviews RONALD WIMBERLY about The Prince of Cats!
* Robin McConnell interviews RYAN HESHKA
* Nick Hanover interviews JAMAICA DYER and EDDIE WRIGHT
* Vanessa Willoughby's THE PAINS OF BEING WOKE
* Tom Devlin picks his favorite PANELS from Chester Brown's new book.
* Adrian Chen on VIC BERGER

April 6, 2016

Writing Drunk About Crap Comics: CROCKED CRITICS on THE FIX #1

Over on Comics Bulletin, Chase Magnett and I got drunk and wrote about 
THE FIX #1 from Image Comics for our column on the site called 
Crocked Critics.

While Chase wanted to talk about the humor of this book, I just couldn't get past its tone-deaf premise and the slap-in-the-face nature of that.

To whit, I write:
Let me break it down. We live in a day and age of unprecedented coverage of the horrific things that people in power are constantly and consistently doing to those beneath them. How many more videos are we going to have to watch of unarmed black men being shot down by cops before something changes? How many more “trials” are we going to have to stomach in which NOTHING is done? How many more reports of things like organized prison fight clubs or racists/homophobic texts between officers or massive cover ups must we endure? This is the state of the world. We are living in it. It’s ugly and brutal and horrific and wrong.
For Leiber and Spencer to sit down in this environment and think, “Hey… wouldn’t it be funny if we cast a couple of crooked cops as heroes” is a fucking slap in the face to everyone who is a victim of police corruption and brutality.

April 4, 2016

Books in Bites 12: Four New Comics from Kilgore Books

Kilgore Books has released its Spring 2016 lineup, consisting of a diverse slate of four comics that run the gamut between thoughtful meditation, political satire, knife-sharp humor, and complete bonkers. Though arising out of a single publishing house, these releases show the variety of the possibilities inherent in the medium and further cements Kilgore’s place in the pantheon of small press publishers to follow.

The following are some quick reviews of these new books.

40 pages, full color, saddle-stitched
Available here
Such is the dawn of the age of Trump. Politics of late has become the ultimate ego game in which the face of America has grown orange and hard. The front runner projects a vaguely visceral viciousness tied up in monosyllabic sound-bites and pat assurances signifying nothing. The brand is tied to the man, but, given that the man wears many faces, we can only presume what that entails. So we suppose and given our propensity for predilections, the vacuous brand-man mirrors that which we want to see.

In Powerman, cartoonist Box Brown peels back the rind and tries to figure out what has brought us to this moment, this man, this face. Brown’s subject here is a Trump stand-in named Gary Beesh. Beesh, completely self-deluded and pompous, starts off much as you would expect. The scion of a vast fortune, he operates in a world of his own making, disdainful of anyone’s criticism of him and assured of his acumen regardless of the reality of his own failures.
But Brown is not content with just satirically tearing into his creation in order to further a political point, rather he delves deeper, trying to understand, and then projecting some sort of salvation, perhaps, or mitigation. Beesh stands at the precipice, but it only exists as a stepping stone. It is at his end that others reflect on his journey. There, in the last few pages of Powerman, Brown hints at the inner life of this creation. Here, there is crudely drawn sympathy, as if that which was so plastic had, in the end, become flesh. No excuses.

44 pages, black and white, saddle-stiched
Available here
Amara Leipzig’s The Fifth Window reads like a Zen koan meditating on the nature of time and perception and the procreant urge of creativity and survival. Its premise concerns a solitary monk who fills the windows of a tower on an abandoned island with stained glass images capturing visions of the world outside. The fifth window looms unfinished; the monk is blocked from the muse that has heretofore been the spark of creativity.

In Leipzig’s pages, backgrounds are saturated with screentones, negative space, crosshatch, or thick ink, bringing the emotional weight of the moments to the fore. In construction, narrative becomes an exercise in unpacking or puzzle piecing. Process is intent and the reader feels almost like a dinghy adrift in a larger sea. All of which adds to the experience of connecting to Leipzig’s aim.
And yet there is a softness to this book, marking it as an encounter with the method of creating meaning, of the artistic impulse itself. There is within and without, as if the visions themselves are channeled through the reader simultaneously and the hard line between perception and formation bends or embraces. By the last page of The Fifth Window there is resolution that ends at the beginning, and, much like the monk, the reader creates their own insight into what the window becomes.

32 pages, black and white, saddle-stitched
Available here
Kilgore Books describes Cosmic Be-ing #2 as “a metaphysical journey on the merits of life. Beautiful, tender, and weird.” This collection of vignette comics highlights the sensibilities and understandings of its creator, Denver-based cartoonist Alex Graham.

The bulk of this book is the strangely fluid story “Angloid Part 1”. The titular character, Angloid, is a gender ambiguous “feral freak in Denver,” a city Graham calls the “dullest of cities…” who is a self-loathing artist visited by an alien. As dark and despairing as this story gets at times, there is a whimsy and lightness that, in a totally bonkers way, makes the repellent attractive as it cries incredulously that “pain is the source of everything beautiful.” Graham is universally affirming in the midst of tearing apart her constructs.
Peppered throughout the rest of Cosmic Be-ing #2 are vignettes of small cruelties, isolation, the sacrifices we make to connect, the destructive power of contempt for the self, and the creative power of acceptance. As a whole, the book itself operates almost as a polemic on the hegemony of the inner voice and how we all function as the artist in the creation of the self.

Although unsparing in its tussle with the concepts of identity, it’s hard not to feel comforted by Graham’s work here. It is the acknowledgment that you’re not alone in your daily struggles and that even in the depths of your layers, hope still exists.

72 pages, black and white, perfect bound
Available here
Okay. Lauren Barnett’s A Horse, a Crow, and a Hippo Walk into a Bar is bonkers. Obdurately and mulishly smug in her portrayal of diatribe-hurling anthropomorphic animal assholes, Barnett upends expectations like a battered and fetid drunkard careening into a carefully set, white cloth dining table in a five-star restaurant run by celebrity chefs.

I don’t know if I would call this a comic, though it is words and pictures working together. Barnett works in single images, one per page, as she unfolds her animal's self-absorption. Each one of these creatures, the horse, the crow, and the hippo named Nimples, knows that they are better than you and have no compulsion to adhere to the niceties of social intercourse. 

We constantly are telling each other to be proud of who we are. We always say we want to know what the others around us are really thinking.

More often than not, they think we’re “dickfucks”.
It’s unavoidable. The age of personal empowerment leads to insufferable assholes. Barnett puts this fact on full display, yet couches this message in totemic representations from the animal kingdom allowing for the distance necessary to laugh instead of cry. It’s a funny bit of business, that’s for sure, and I’d be laughing all that much harder if I wasn’t so depressed by the truth of the matter.