Thursday, November 29, 2018

Four New Books from Avery Hill Publishing for 2019 Announced

Avery Hill Publishing has announced news about four publications for 2019!

Desolation Wilderness
By Claire Scully
32 pages, full color
Release date: June 13, 2019

Desolation Wilderness is part of an ongoing project looking at landscape and memory – our relationship with the environment, effects we have on the world and space around us, and, in turn, its profound effect on our own memory and emotions. Each of these landscapes is a starting point to a much bigger adventure that strives to answer the question of what lays beyond the horizon.

This book is the second part of a series that began in Internal Wilderness, Scully's piece from 2016 that examined memory and imagination through visual ideas and explored the idea that within the space on each sheet of paper, a world can be created either from a distant memory of a childhood holiday or from the desire to see parts of the world that for now are only dreamed about.



Sennen
By Shanti Rai
100 pages, full color
Release date: June 13, 2019

Sennen’s life is mostly perfect – spending her days tending the fields in her idyllic village and her evenings with her beloved family, all tucked into the crook of a green and beautiful valley. And if it wasn’t for the masked figures descending from the hills with increasingly regularity to take their harvested food to deliver to their Gods, she’d have no worries at all. But when the demands for tribute strike closer to home, Sennen is forced to flee the paradise of her valley and venture into the home of the Gods to save her family and their way of life – only to discover that those we worship are not always what they seem, and the lives we lead are not always so simplistic after all.

Sennen, the debut graphic novel from British author and artist Shanti Rai, tells a timeless tale of adventure and the discoveries we make as we explore beyond the boundaries of our childhood into the uncertainty of the adult world.


Marble Cake
By Scott Jason Smith
108 pages, full color
Release date: June 13, 2019

Have you ever wished you could glimpse into the lives of strangers – those anonymous faces passed in the produce aisle of the local supermarket, those shadows lurking behind the closed curtains of their homes? Would you be surprised by the rich mixture of personalities, strange habits, and unexpected insecurities? Perhaps, like you, they’re also baking blind, with no recipe to follow. You might produce a perfect cake, or you might end up throwing the mix in the trash and starting again. And again. And again.

Marble Cake, the debut graphic novel from British author and artist Scott Jason Smith, cuts a slice through everyday life and takes a bite out of the layers concealed beneath the icing, all told with the acerbic wit and keen eye.


Internet Crusader
By George Wylesol
100 pages, full color
Release date: September 2019

Ever have one of those days where you're talking to a "smokin' hot chick" online and she turns out to be a robot working for an evil cult... and that "hot chick" sends a computer virus masked as dirty pictures... and that computer virus allows Satan to come through everyone's computers and hypnotize them... but the family computer has parental locks on it so you don't get the virus... and then God messages you to say you're the only person on earth who can save human existence? Anyway, that's the set up for this part art book, part graphic novel, and 100% true deep dive into early internet culture from the creator of Ghosts, Etc., George Wylesol!


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sifting Through Fiction and Truth: Scott Cederlund reviews FIELDER #1 by Kevin Huizenga

Have you ever sat at the edge of your bed in the morning, half awake and far more than half stuck in a dream?  Maybe you didn’t sleep well the night before and your brain and muscles just did not want to work. They got you into a sitting up position but the rest was up to you without the energy to do anything but fall back down into your bed. Your mind was trying to will you up as it tries to organize the sensations around you. Even at that time in the morning, a nagging feeling that the day was already shot and you may just as well give up crept into the back of your mind. For the last number of years, Kevin Huizenga has been fascinated by sleep or, more precisely, the lack of sleep. His multi-year, six-issue series Ganges simulated all the jumbled thoughts that run through your head when you can’t sleep.  But for every sleepless night, there’s the morning when you need to get up and for that, Huizenga’s newest comic Fielder #1 is the cold dose of reality that reminds you that a peaceful sleep is still hours away as you have to get through a very real day.

In these pre-waking moments, our minds are capable of playing odd tricks on us.  For Huizenga, that odd trick is recreating an old Sam Glanzman comic in spirit if not in reality.  “Bona” riffs on old 1960s comics and sci-fi, telling the story of a modern scientific family trapped in the ancient past of Neanderthals and dinosaurs.  In a lot of his comics, Huizenga is fascinated with the language of comics, but in this opening story he seems far more interested in the straight out adventure of comics than any of his previous work has hinted at.  Glanzman’s Kona debuted in early 1962, three years later than the 1959 that Huizenga credits “Bona” as being from. While an easy detail to overlook in Fielder #1, that date discrepancy hints strongly at the cartoonist’s lack of desire to create a history of comics as opposed to cartooning a comic that explores what comics can do with history and the past.  All through this issue, Huizenga rewrites the history of comics, including his own history as a cartoonist in a later piece. As a storyteller, Huizenga is his own unreliable narrator. These are comics; they’re made up.  They draw inspiration from life, games, and other comics, but these aren’t life, games, or other comics. Huizenga synthesizes all of those, taking them in and working out his own neuroses on the comic page.

Alternating with the “Bona” stories, Huizenga returns to his Everyman character, Glenn Ganges.  Starting a new story, “Fielder, Michiana,” Huizenga seemingly picks up from where his last series, Ganges, left off and explores the disorientation of waking up after a troubled night of sleep.  For much of the story, Glenn sits at the edge of his bed, trying to will himself to stand up before his brain can even fully function.  The narrator turns our intrusion into Glenn’s morning into a Wild Kingdom episode, providing order for the reader and even encouragement to Glenn, as Huizenga’s drawings map out the disorientation and heaviness that come along with that waking tiredness.  Huizenga’s prose offers stability even as his drawings keep us as disoriented as the character. As we hear the calming, orderly words of the unseen narrator, Huizenga’s cartooning diagrams the restless heaviness and uncertainty that comes with waking up in the morning.  

But Fielder #1 isn’t history, nor is it autobiography, but at times Huizenga cartoons with such a personal voice that it’s hard not to imagine his long-time character Glenn Ganges as a slightly altered version of himself.  Part of that is a lingering effect from past Glenn Ganges comics, where Huizenga transferred some elements of his own life to the comic character. Glenn has never been Huizenga, but there are more than a few similarities between the cartoon and the cartoonist. It is easy to get mixed up between reality and fiction in parts of this comic as Huizenga draws from a personal perspective. But when you get beyond the need to classify parts of this as fiction and nonfiction (especially when it’s all fiction), you can start to see these stories not so much in the terms of comic narratives but as comic forms.  The “Bona” stories, a remixing of older comics, are one example of that form; the more personal Glenn Ganges stories are another example of the comic form. The “Fight and Run” stories, a game-logic type of story, are a third type.

“My Career in Comics,” the final story in this issue, blurs the lines the most between the forms of story.  Told by Glenn Ganges quite literally ruminating from his own grave, Glenn comes maybe the closest he is in this whole issue to being Huizenga himself.  “I started out drawing ‘minicomics’ in high school, inspired by the work of John Porcellino and Adrian Tomine…,” Glenn declares, echoing sentiments that Huizenga has expressed in some interviews of his own history.  The story starts out as the cartoonist looking back at his career, but it turns strange when Glenn recounts how, when remastering his old work in Photoshop, he became obsessed with drawing hair and how hair was depicted in comics.  The story recounts how the cartoonist, in the latter half of his career, found a new world of storytelling possibilities in his characters’ hairlines. It doesn’t really seem that far-fetched; maybe this really is Huizenga and maybe he is just way too much into drawing different types of hairstyles.  But eventually, Huizenga tips his hand. “... and the resource wars began.  Everything changed. Comics grew popular again as cheap, light entertainment for the soldier-citizens.  I still had old friends in the industry who threw fill-in work my way.”  The fiction of the story intrudes on our desire for this to be a story about Huizenga and his own life.

Huizenga knows just how much his Glenn Ganges stories are mistaken for autobiography, so now he is just messing with his readers’ minds.  Even earlier in the comic, in Glenn’s waking morning during “Fielder, Michiana,” Huizenga tosses off the line, “Sometimes people talk about him, what do they say?  Sometimes Glenn talks about himself and repeats certain words.  When I talk about Glenn, or— am I Glenn?”  As a cartoonist, Huizenga is an untrustworthy source of truth.  There was never a Bona comic, as he’s reworking a later comic by Sam Glanzman and twisting it.  Glenn Ganges isn’t Huizenga, or is he? Is there any truth to the cartoonist’s fascination with drawing hair?  In Huizenga’s comics, is there any need for or value to the truth?

Maybe the most honest Huizenga stories are his “Fight or Run” comics, usually featuring two characters who either fight or run.  The game-like simplicity to these rely purely on action and consequence, but that doesn’t stop Huizenga from using moving the characters McSkulls and Chopper around the pages like chess pieces, working within the constraints of the comic strip even as the strip becomes just another element of the story.  This “Fight or Run” comic turns into an experiment to break the panel-to-panel progression of a comic free from the restraints of plot to become a stream of conscious narrative. These comics are Huizenga cartooning without restraint. They feel like they’re crafted without the safety net of a plot and exist purely on an instinctual level for both the cartoonist and the reader.  As he does throughout the whole book, these stories are about the language of comics and how that language can distort our own perceptions until we’re wondering if we’re reading about something real or something purely made up.

Fielder #1 is a comic full of alternative facts as Huizenga reshifts the history of comics and his own history in comics to examine just how malleable the truth is in comics.  It’s not that the truth does not matter; it’s just that it doesn’t matter here. History and autobiography are just starting points for Huizenga. They are jumping off points for the act of creating stories, seeing how far you can push images to create fiction.  Kevin Huizenga’s Glenn Ganges stories begin in situations that are pulled from life, but instead of making simple autobio stories, Huizenga uses images to draw the essence of the experiences. He’s not simply reporting on an event that happened but is recreating the impression of the experience with words and pictures.  The stories in this comic work in your brain the same way that the same ways that dreams do; they feel so real at the moment, but when you look back on them you can see how the creative mind imposes its will on these impressions of reality.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott Cederlund is a recovering English literature major, spending the past 10 years writing about comics. Truthfully, he just doesn't know what to do with his time other than writing about comics. It's a sickness. He currently writes for Panel Patter. Scott can be found on Twitter.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Anxiety as Timelessness: Matt Vadnais reviews IN THE FUTURE, WE ARE DEAD by Eva Müller

In Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise, college professor J.A.K. Gladney adopts a simple but radical philosophy in response to his profound fear of death: because all plots end in death, he strives for a life free from such literary entanglements. For the first twenty chapters of the book, the strategy works. Nothing that Gladney reports or observes in one chapter creates tension that follows him or his makeshift family into the next. Though the episodes are numbered, they resist the consequentialism of chapters; the days pass but they do not accrue. In the second section of the book, however, DeLillo disrupts Gladney’s routines and defense mechanisms by introducing an airborne toxic event that demands a single, extended chapter. Even after the weather changes, the threat passes, emergency management teams leave, the college town returns to its normal state of affairs, and DeLillo returns to shorter chapters, Gladney is no longer capable of seeing or describing his life in disconnected, isolated moments freed from causation; despite his best intentions, Gladney cannot help but acknowledge the passing of time as a narrative. He begins to plan and scheme, like any other protagonist, as he finds himself at the center of a more traditional story complete with a rising action, climax, and dénouement. Gladney seeks a means of actively confronting his fear of death at precisely the same pace that DeLillo succumbs to the conventions of the novel as a literary genre. 

Eva Müller’s fabulous poltergeist of a book, In the Future, We are Dead, makes no such concessions. Featuring an ostensibly autobiographical character who is every bit as anxious about and obsessed with death as DeLillo’s protagonist, Müller’s collection of nine “stories” – linked in rumination and obsession but neither by chronological nor narrative logic – successfully walls itself off from her own actual death by housing the inevitable in a prison of syntax that ensures it will never arrive: though the title understands that we, all of us, are dead, we are only dead in the future.
Like Gladney, Müller realizes that the real enemy facing someone obsessed with the finality of death is linear time; however, where Gladney is helpless to DeLillo’s authorial needs, Müller functions both as creator and character.  Müller, creator of the artifact that is In the Future, We are Dead, kindly accommodates her own needs as a character by disrupting, suspending, and otherwise thwarting temporality in a number of ways that also subvert the sequential and generic logic typically central to the creation of a comic book. Part of this disruption has to do with a use of form and structure not dissimilar from White Noise; Müller creates nine distinct sections but only numbers four of them, rendering the notion of “chapter” as ineffectual or at least incomplete. Likewise, Müller creates vignettes that, like DeLillo’s first twenty chapters, resist readers’ attempts to create a single story. However, by alternating between “chapters” that are black and white and “chapters” that feature five carefully controlled colors, Müller takes advantages of an element unavailable to DeLillo to draw attention to cycles and patterns of repetition while managing to do what DeLillo could not, fending off plot completely.

In addition to the formally innovative efforts to free her own story from temporality, Müller employs two strategies to cater to her anxieties concerning the way that all stories must end. First, the episodes recorded in In the Future, We are Dead all feature dreams, visions, memories, and other meditations that, like the book’s title, suspend events and happenings in a present-tense where everything is now and nothing can change. Even if Müller evolves throughout her life in order to eventually accept ways in which she, every day, is living with death, she creates the book in such a way that death is free to simultaneously accompany her as an idea or fact while never arriving as a material reality; thanks to the literary present, she is in these pages, forever now, always already with death but never headed toward the future where she is dead. Death functions as an obsessive train of thought and an omnipresent subject of obsession; conversely and poignantly though, this strategy comes with its own tyranny. The present-tense benefits of embracing her anxiety in such a way that renders the future moot also traps Müller in episodes – her life in punk rock, her brief relationship with a woman who wouldn’t leave her house, and her complicated experiences with Yoga – that depict a life nearly devoid of a life story.
The perils and advantages of a carefully designed but, in turn, inescapable present-tense through which the past and future are both available only as ideas is most evident in the second mechanism through which Müller attempts to conquer time and sequentialism: the full-page panel. Again and again, Müller creates full-page layouts that look like early modern woodcuttings or paintings; unlike conventional full-page comic layouts, these pages do not feature complex or revelatory actions so much as they serve to fossilize moments as a-temporal religious iconography or text-book illustrations. Such pages resemble early Christian depictions of the Catholic saints and dare the reader to question the difference between accommodating one’s fear of death and living a life of self-martyrdom. The results are compelling, disturbing, sad, and resolute-if-not-triumphant in equal measure. As a reader who experiences his own anxiety disorder as a kind of solipsism, I found the book to be one of the most honest representations of the disability I have ever encountered: anxiety is a problem that presents itself as a tool to solve the real problem.  

Returning to the color scheme, black and white sections – often associated with dissociation or depression – give way to and eventually reclaim sections that carefully introduce red, white, and blue. Though Müller wrote the book in German and it is never set in the United States, the book is hard to read, at least in her English translation, without thinking about the American flag. Thinking about existentialism as a genre and its premise that freedom is the real source of dread concerning life and its inevitable ending, the consistent and abstracted presence of these disembodied colors draw attention to the way that, both in creating the artifact of In the Future, We are Dead and in existing inside of it, every choice that Eva Müller makes is over-determined by her anxiety in order to resist the terror that is true freedom. 
If it feels like a stretch to read Müller’s use of red, white, and blue – and only red, white, and blue – as a conscious attempt to associate anxiety with freedom as it is purportedly exported by America, it is worth noting that, in White Noise, DeLillo similarly correlates anxiety with invasive Americana. The opening section – featuring the twenty chapters most stylistically similar to In the Future, We are Dead   is titled “Waves and Radiation.” In lieu of plot development, the reader gets extended litanies of product names and a series of musings about consumer detritus. In other words, anxiety is framed as a byproduct of late-stage capitalism that seeps into the natural world. While Müller may be doing something similar by featuring an American color scheme that threatens to encroach and overtake a black and white world, anxiety is depicted as much older post-modernity. For DeLillo, anxiety is generated, or at least heightened, by trends to understand capitalist consumption as a proxy for the pursuit of happiness. Müller, on the other hand, appears to understand anxiety as coterminous with the notion that happiness must or even can be pursued in the context of a finite lifespan. If DeLillo depicts anxiety as a man-made contagion produced by progress, Müeller sees it as a fundamental component of humanity endowed by a creator, the lack thereof, or even – if we take solipsism seriously – one’s own mind. What pollutes the world of White Noise creates and embodies the world of In the Future, We are Dead in which all objects, natural or otherwise, are haunted by an observer’s knowledge that nothing lasts forever.  
Throughout In the Future, We are Dead, anxiety is simultaneously an infliction that inhibits living and a mechanism by which one copes with having to be alive and eventually die. Seeing death everywhere, every day, as Müller does, is a product of anxiety, but it is also a way to endow the physical world with its own ghost in the off-chance that spirits are not subject to the laws of nature. 

Many books are haunted.

In the Future, We are Dead is haunted – stubbornly, completely – by design.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Matt Vadnais has taught college literature and creative writing classes for twenty years. He is the author of All I Can Truly Deliver and a contributor at covermesongs.com. For more comics coverage and the occasional tweet about Shakespeare, follow him @DoctorFanboi. For short takes on longboxes, subscribe to his channel of video essays. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 11/17/18 to 11/23/18

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

COMICS CRITICISM

* Laura Stump on NO BETTER WORDS by Carolyn Nowak, in which "Nowak embraces sexuality without sacrificing her character’s humanity.

* Alex Hoffman writes this mixed review of ROLY POLY: PHANTA'S STORY by Daniel Semanas which "moves and breathes more like animation than a comic, and its pacing is such that getting through the book is quick, almost breezy. Juxtaposed against the book’s lush backgrounds and detailed illustration, the storytelling is minimal, at best a vehicle for Semanas to keep the action coming and not stop to take a breath."

* Hoffman also reviews I HATE YOU, YOU JUST DON'T KNOW IT YET by Nadine Redlich which "captures the moment that you figure out that your romantic partner is irreconcilable with you; that person is a mess, or you’re a mess, and no matter what happens, it’s just not going to work. "

* John Seven pens these short reviews of both TERRIBLE MEANS by B. Mure, "a fairy tale of resistance," and A CITY INSIDE by Tillie Walden, "Essentially an illustrated meditative poem."

* Ryan Carey looks at JOURNAL OF SMACK by Andrea Lukic.

WHATNOT

* Uncivilized Books has just announced its SPRING 2019 BOX featuring work by Kelsey Wroten, Peter Wartman, Kristin Tipping, Mardou, and Gabrielle Bell.

* Philippe LeBlanc interviews CARTA MONIR "about her comics career, her comic Secure Connect, her video game comics and her newly founded micro-publisher Diskette Press."

* Robin McConnell interviews JOHN HARRIS DUNNING about "his latest book, Tumult, created with artist Michael Kennedy."

* Leslie Stein has a comic on The New Yorker site called A BRIEF HISTORY OF APPLE-CIDER VINEGAR, NATURE'S CURE-ALL.

* Tara Booth has a new comic on Vice called COLD.

* Billie Muraben writes about photographer BUCK ELLISON whose "staged photographs capture the private lives of California WASPs."

* Joseph Nechvatal writes about THE MILK BOWL OF FEATHERS from New Directions Press which "shows how women’s contributions to the Surrealist literary canon captivatingly crack the wall of Surrealist phallocracy."

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Intimate Is The Universal: Ryan Carey Reviews FRONTIER #17: MOTHER’S WALK by Lauren Weinstein

We are where we come from, the saying goes --- and if that's the case, Lauren Weinstein's newborn daughter, Sylvia, needn't worry about being beautiful, because she comes from somewhere very beautiful indeed.

Something, it seems, of a "miracle baby" in that her parents were a bit older and largely (though not entirely) convinced their child-bearing years were behind them, Sylvia's birth changed everything for mother, father, and older sister in ways foreseen and less so, but no matter where the road ahead takes any and all of them --- and there are times when it gets rocky for all children, all families --- she comes into this world gifted (a term I flat-out despise and generally don't use, the transition of fluid, intransigent, interpretive verbs into hard, fixed, intractable nouns frequently a sign of once-dynamic languages atrophying ---but in this case, trust me, it really does apply) with an earnest and heartfelt love letter in the form of Mother's Walk, which marks issue #17 in Youth In Decline's long-running "rotating cartoonist spotlight" series, Frontier.
Fortunately for us all, though, Lauren's visual hymn to her daughter is hardly a love letter overflowing with cloying sentimentalism for its own sake, but instead it’s a non-linear, even elliptical, rumination on the days (hell, moments) before a new life enters the world, and the "ripple effect" such a momentous occasion --- to say nothing of such a momentous, limitless, freshly-birthed human being --- has on everyone touched by it; by them. On how seeing things from a hitherto-unforeseen perspective changes the way one views past, present, and future. On the practical, emotional, even spiritual ramifications of loving someone immediately and unconditionally upon their arrival into the world. The thematic breadth and scope of this work is truly astonishing, and it's a safe bet that even those who read Weinstein's celebrated recent New Yorker strip "Being An Artist And A Mother" would not have seen this coming.

Something this personal, this intimate, this unflinching is clearly something only one person could have created, of course, but perhaps the most impressive single thing about Mother's Walk (and I really must stress, that's a difficult thing to isolate, as every single facet of this comic literally sings from the page) is how absolutely commonplace the thoughts, feelings, sentiments expressed herein are for parents. Not every child is loved so completely as Sylvia is, mind you, but one would hope that most are, and I think we can agree that they all should be. But the rush of conflicting emotions and sensations attendant with bringing forth human life are so little discussed except among friends, family, intimates --- the public discourse on the subject tends to be either clinical, practical, or gushing with insulting levels of borderline, even flagrant, mysticism, either of the traditional (Christian, Jewish, etc.) or "New Age" variety. No thanks, this critic says, to these fundamentally limited approaches that all seem more concerned with patting their own back for being so wise and understanding than anything else.
To her eternal credit, Weinstein eschews all this in favor of a kind of "emotional exorcism" approach, her goal apparently to let it all out onto the page --- the good, the bad, and the ugly, of course, but also the conflicted, the confusing, the cosmic. The known and the utterly, ineffably unknown compete equally for dominance in the minds of all new parents, and Weinstein's deliberately loose narrative somehow exists in a self-created space between both of these in a way that illuminates each. It's a heady experience just to read it --- I can only imagine what it must have been like to make it.

I don't know how any swirling miasma of contradictions resolves itself in the human mind and heart, but Weinstein certainly has found a way to communicate this relentlessly joyous struggle by means of her incomparable (a word I invoke in its strictest, dictionary-definition sense) cartooning : thick, dark pencils, "smudged" linework and backgrounds, fluid and frequently border-free panels, intuitive page layouts, and starkly-chosen-but-muted (again with the contradictions!) colors not competing, as one might expect at first glance, but coalescing into a beautifully messy symphony that looks a whole lot like life in all its harried, un-managed magnificence. Comics readers, non-comics readers, and everyone in between will understand exactly what is happening here, even if none of them have ever seen a presentation precisely, maybe even remotely, like this before.
It's not all soul-deep stuff, of course (whose existence, whose story, ever is?), but even the small things --- the humorous vignettes, the tragedies (losing a beloved family pet), the uncomfortable stuff (at least for some of us, given that the book features an explicit and very human sex scene with Weinstein and her husband, a well-known figure in the comics world himself that many a critic is on a first-name basis with) --- are all imbued with a sense of import, of meaning beyond their or its boundaries, not by dint of force but by a naturalistic acknowledgement that everything in life matters because life itself does. We are in uncharted emotional territory for this medium, it seems to me, but we probably have the only "tour guide" up to the job, and while the superlatives for this work have been pouring in at a pretty steady clip, I almost wonder if any amount of praise is enough to thank Weinstein for the sheer amount of her soul she's poured into each and every page here.

We are all more than familiar with rote recitals of a parent's hopes and dreams for their children being committed to print, but those usually end up as the "end all, be all" of most "welcome, new baby" narratives. In Mother's Walk, they are just one factor among many in a journey that goes in any number of directions, often all at the same time, before all roads meet and acknowledge that none of them ever, really, ends. You can't write, draw, or even create a work this absolutely unique and infinitely wondrous --- Lauren Weinstein has brought it existence by the only means possible: by giving birth to it.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ryan Carey lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He writes about comics for Daily Grindhouse, Graphic Policy, and at his own blog. He also maintains a long-running film review blog, Trash Film Guru.


Monday, November 19, 2018

The Moment Eating Monster: Spencer Hicks reviews ONE DIRTY TREE by Noah Van Sciver

Childhoods are not shaped by design but by the random accumulation of thousands of moments. Moments form the childhood, the childhood forms the adult. This kind of moment: the discovery of dozens of dead cockroaches accompanied by the lingering scent of bug bombs. Those dead roaches may leave as large an imprint on the young mind as the living brothers and sisters he passes in the hall daily. More moments: digging for fossils in an empty riverbed, a bumpy drive to church, contemplating God in the ruins of an old cabin in the woods, cat pee on the laundry pile. The cumulative months a father spends in bed instead of providing for his family can have equal effect to the single moment; one of those days in bed, he casually dismisses a frivolous question about the Incredible Hulk from his curious son. That moment of dismissal doesn’t feel any different from any of the countless other mundane moments and was, in fact, different only because of the impression that it left.

In One Dirty Tree, Noah Van Sciver does more than catalog these meaningful childhood moments from his own life, he examines how they formed and haunt the adult recollecting them. Switching organically between the past and more recent present, often devoting whole pages to single quiet moments, Van Sciver visits the ways in which his troubled childhood continues to trouble his adult life. The childhood sections of One Dirty Tree are populated by his claustrophobically large Mormon family and the house they cohabit. The family and home are physically absent in the later sections, but psychically present in every alienating interaction Van Sciver has as an adult. A child always hungry for food, the adult later works at a restaurant. A child always hungry for the stability of normalcy, the adult later engages in a relationship with a traditional young woman who not only encourages normalcy but sometimes cruelly discourages abnormality. Before moving into a beautifully remodeled building with her, he was living in a cheap, run-down apartment—a miniature repeat of his childhood home. By all appearances, Van Sciver is successfully leaving his wretched past behind. But the effects of his childhood and the poverty that pervaded it cling to him. He can’t forget and neither can his girlfriend.

Poverty itself struck as many blows to young Van Sciver as the physical blows his father and brothers did. The shame of growing up poor and different manifests itself in adulthood as an inferiority complex that cripples his relationship and eventually renders him a literal monster. As his personality develops from childhood into adulthood, so too does this alter ego monster of his. There is a duality to Van Sciver’s growth and each moment experienced feeds one or both sides to this duality--his burgeoning yin and yang. On one side we have the budding artist, on the other, the tortured monster. From the beginning, young Van Sciver showed a talent for drawing and this act of creative expression comforted him during moments of strife. The consumption of art, in the form of his brothers’ comic books, was also a comfort. Drawing or reading, he fed the artist within. Looking over his shoulder to ensure nobody witnessed him entering his ramshackle house fed the young monster.

The monster is an interesting metaphor because while it ostensibly represents for readers Van Sciver’s internal feelings of inadequacy, it also reflects the way others see him. He cannot hide from the monster himself, nor can he hide it from others. While the book version of Van Sciver seems repulsed by his own monstrosity, one suspects the author Van Sciver recognizes his monster’s dual purpose as an asset—a representation of the benefit of his other-ness. The accumulation of childhood traumas damaged but also strengthened the individuality of the man. The monster and artist walk hand in hand. Although only visually rendered in those instances of self-doubt, it isn’t difficult to imagine the monster present at other times, like at the art opening. Here Van Sciver recognizes a difference between the popular art on the walls and his own art, the other artists and himself, but the recognition doesn’t seem to shake his inner resolve, this particular alienation needn’t cause shame. The same childhood embarrassment that fed the monster also fed an individual artistic drive. His youthful curiosity about the Incredible Hulk made perfect sense, coinciding with the development of his own inner Hulk and his start as a comic book artist (portrayed humorously with a recreation of his own childhood scribbled dinosaur comics).

Although the climactic end of his relationship (whoops, spoiler alert) once again evokes his monster-self, we recognize, perhaps at the same time as Van Sciver in the story, that the monster and the artist are inseparable, each strengthened by the presence of the other. Without the artist, the monster would have no humanity; without the monster, there would be no book.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Spencer Hicks made a couple of zine comic books that were well received by nearly a dozen people and has a really great idea for a new one that he got 3 pages into drawing several months ago that he'll probably never get back to because its too hard. He also paints. Check out his art at @shpensherhicksh on Instagram!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 11/3/18 to 11/9/18

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

COMICS CRITICISM

* Philippe LeBlanc reviews UPGRADE SOUL by Ezra Claytan Daniels, whose "only flaw might be that it is too hopeful about mankind, too hopeful about the potential silver lining, faint as it may be, that lies beyond the greed of people. It is a science fiction story in that, even as our elderly protagonists are abused by greedy, delusional and unethical scientists, movie producers and a love struck teenager, they manage to have a happy ending. In our world where elderly abuse is all too common, the culprits mostly go unpunished and the abused draw their last breath, isolated and lonely."

* Kim Jooha pens this amazing bit of introduction and exploration into FRENCH ABSTRACT FORMALIST COMICS (FRENCH STRUCTURAL COMICS): AN ARTISTIC MOVEMENT.

* Ryan Carey on TONGUES #2 by Anders Nilsen, "a work that bears all the hallmarks of being a high-water mark not only of his cartooning career, but perhaps even of the comics medium in general."

* John Seven reviews PIERO by Edmond Baudoin, writing "Art, as Baudoin’s memoir continues, becomes the lens through which the world unfolds, and certain encounters with certain art become expansive to his experience and also encourage analysis of what the representations mean, and how they relate to his own work. In this way, Baudoin’s recounting of growing up becomes a document about how he learned to look at the world and see beyond what was in front of him, all through art."

* Justine Jordan looks at CASSANDRA DARKE by Posy Simmonds, which "may be a sombre, wintry work, but the irresistible way Simmonds pins contemporary life to the page remains a thing of joy."

* Dan Schindel reviews Ali Fitzgerald's DRAWN TO BERLIN: COMICS WORKSHOPS IN REFUGEE SHELTERS AND OTHER STORIES FROM A NEW EUROPE which "avoids using its central story for cheap “inspiration” about the power of art or the human spirit. Most of the refugees Fitzgerald spotlights end up in no more certain a place than they are when we first meet them. And given the historical and contemporary political contexts she sprinkles into the book, no easy resolution or peace of mind about the future is proffered. The reader is left, then, to think about what they see happening around the world with a sharper sense of perspective. Whether that will prevent the worst, genocidal parts of the refugee cycle from repeating is up in the air."

* Tom Murphy on Summer Pierre's ALL THE SAD SONGS, writing "the book’s power goes far beyond the minutiae of chord changes and track listings to deliver an accessible and powerful meditation on the more universal power of creativity and culture to affect our lives."

* Alenka Figa writes about JOHN, DEAR by Laura Lannes, "a horror story, one many have lived and do live. It’s also a stunningly well-crafted comic that uses gorgeous grey shading, black inks (the holes on the narrator’s body) and depth to immerse its readers completely in the story."

* Chris Mautner reviews FRONTIER #17: MOTHER'S WALK by Lauren R. Weinstein, enthusiastically writing "We need more stories like this, told so thoughtfully, with such grace and acceptance of the messiness of life, and the profound joys that can come even when everything around you seems rotten. This book is a rare gem."

* H. W. Thurston takes a crack at reviewing THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2018, a Herculean task in and of itself, but, in doing so, reveals way more about his own biases then particularly commenting on the book itself. Which is, I guess, what "Best" books ultimately do ... but having this on TCJ makes me question the intent of choosing Thurston to write about this book more so then question the merits of the work itself. Then again, this may be MY bias showing.

* Chris Mautner on Julie Doucet's THE COMPLETE DIRTY PLOTTE, writing "While the world of indie and alternative comics was more welcoming to women than what passed for the mainstream in the 1990s, it was still a landscape largely dominated by men. The fact that Doucet was able to carve out such a unique place for herself is rather remarkable but the fact that she eventually looked around and decided it was time to leave, no regrets, isn’t. She was just too cool for the room."

* Keith Silva is up at TCJ writing about IT WILL BE HARD Hien Pham, writing "Pham raises a larger question he perhaps does not intend since he seems firmly set on being as non-confrontational as possible. What happens to art in an age of trigger warnings? It’s a political question as well as a question of political correctness. No artist (nor anyone for that matter) wants to willingly (re)induce trauma. Yet, Art risks, full stop. And Pham’s disclaimer at the start of It Will Be Hard isn’t a trigger warning unless the reader is triggered by experiencing a healthy relationship between two men that revolves around soup, mutual fellatio, and long conversations. Comics are interactive and are not made more interactive by asking the reader to choose when the choice is already made."

* Not really small press, but this bit of writing on WE3 by Chase Magnett is something you should all probably read. I mean, come on, it contains such amazing stuff such as: "The insistence in narrative media on anthropomorphizing animal companions and transforming stories about animals into stories about human beings goes even further than ignoring the value of animal life on its own; it reasserts the primacy of human life above all else. These narratives insist that the beings we should feel the most affection for are those that speak and think just like us, putting up dangerous barriers which can easily be pushed beyond speciesism to further limit the boundaries of whose life is valued."

WHATNOT

* Robin McConnell interviews NOAH VAN SCIVER about his new book, One Dirty Tree, and a slew of his other books that have just come out.

* November Garcia has a comic drawn for Illustrated PEN called BLIND FAITH. There's an introduction to it by Robert Kirby, too, in which he writes, "Readers still grappling with or reconciling religious upbringings will likely identify with this delightfully funny and perceptive story."

* Edith Pritchett has been named the winner in the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize for AN ARTISTIC ODYSSEY.

* Remember how bonkers comics were in the 90s? Remember Tundra Comics? Remember how it all collapsed? Echoes of that decade reverberate still in all aspects of the comics game, both in small and corporate presses, so Russ Burlingame interviews JASON SACKS about his book from TwoMorrows, American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1990s, "the most complete and accurate historical timeline of the '90s".

* The Festival Workers Association has published this piece which calls on Comics Arts Brooklyn to adopt a number of PRINCIPLES to ensure equity and parity. 

* There's just something about Sarah Miller's new post on Popula, titled HIBIKI JAPANESE HARMONY SUNTORY WHISKEY: CAN IT ACTUALLY FOSTER HARMONY? that kinda pulled at my heart-strings and made me want to link it here.