May 22, 2019

Death as a Political Mission: Matt Vadnais on FUTURE CORPSE by Eva Müller

In the Future, We are Dead, Eva Müller’s astonishingly morbid treatment of anxiety, artfully avoids narrative and conflict in an effort to thwart futurity and the certainty that any life lived as a linear progression of events must conclude with death. While her most recent comic Future Corpse bears a title that would suggest similar preoccupations and stalling tactics – and it is certainly marked by the same anxiety that permeates In the Future, We are Dead,  including a scene in which Müller graphically and painfully swallows a Japanese anxiety snake – the game has changed. Built from even smaller and increasingly narrative-resistant snippets than its thematic cousin, Future Corpse attempts to solve the problem of futurity by reconfiguring death in socio-economic terms, positioning death as the ultimate defeat of capitalism.
Part of this is punk rock, an aesthetic so woven into about a third of the art and subject matter of the book that there is a pierced-tongue-in-cheek quality to this suggestion. However, the assertion that we (those of us interested in escaping the surly hands of an economic system based on a zero-sum game) will finally win when we are dead also comes off as earnest, particularly in the context of Müller’s last book. If obfuscation, denial, and the meta-creation of a terrific comic weren’t enough to soften the blow of knowing that, eventually, the future is death, why not focus on the fact that the future at least promises an escape from menial labors and the slings and arrows of outrageous economic inequity? Clearly, given the snake swallowing that occupies a very important segment of the comic, this tactic isn’t a viable long term option, but it makes Future Corpse a satisfying coda to In the Future – one that displays a wider variety of art styles, ranging from poster layouts and something approaching one-point perspective realism to nostalgic figure drawing and even a black and white motion rendering of a Roomba vacuuming what may well be a deserted house – that offers an alternative to (or at least an alternative form of) denial.
            
The image of a Roomba vrooming about a house, passing in front of what appears to be a stone animal, is mostly unexplained; juxtaposed with a very funny series of panels in which Marx buys groceries, the Roomba page seems to represent robotic labor, particularly in the absence of humans on account of their inevitable death, as the end (or at least inevitable conclusion) of capitalism. Perhaps this is the real difference between this terrific comic and Müller’s last (very similarly titled and themed) terrific comic: the narrative bits composing In The Future were framed as thoughtful distractions where, here, even if they do some of the same work, they are taken seriously on their own merit. The threads that stitch these scenes together may look a lot like the anxiety snake she eventually swallows, but they are also the threads of an argument about labor.          
Both scenes – the snake and the Roomba – are depicted in black and white, drained of the brilliant colors that mark the sections depicting Müller becoming a better punk and Marx becoming a better consumer. The connection between anxiety and the image of the person-less labor might undermine my reading of the comic as thinking about that absence as an improvement. However, it’s worth considering anxiety as a generative process: the comic appears to be likening anxieties about a labor-less future and one that ends in death, not necessarily condemning either outcome. In any case, both scenes are united by more than color or the lack thereof: both are studies in motion and stillness.          
While Future Corpse is as occupied by anxiety and trepidation as Müller’s last book, that anxiety itself is reframed slightly here as anticipation. This book is framed by images as ideology including the aggressive and potentially naïve sloganeering of punk patches. However, some of the most exuberant pro-death rhetoric is featured on pages that are laid out to resemble Communist propaganda posters, drawing attention to the relationship between the word corpse and a corps. The comic configures our shared futurity as joining a force for the betterment of the world. Even if this doesn’t prevent – or perhaps induces or is akin to – the author swallowing the anxiety snake, the suggestion that we will do our most important work when we are no longer capable of working at all is one that lingers in the belly like an ingested serpent.
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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. 

May 20, 2019

A Sense of Life: Michael Bettendorf reviews DESOLATION WILDERNESS by Claire Scully

The Desolation Wilderness is a real place. It’s a massive hunk of federally preserved wilderness in El Dorado County, California. The crest of the Sierra Nevada runs through the Desolation Wilderness, west of Lake Tahoe. It is an amazingly beautiful piece of this earth we live on and the focal point of Claire Scully’s latest installment in a series she started with Internal Wilderness.

Desolation Wilderness by Claire Scully is a collection of notably wordless, full-page landscapes that invite readers to experience nature in a unique way. It’s a sort of symbiosis between our memories and our environment. The establishing page of Desolation Wilderness places readers at a vantage point that allows us to see an orange, rocky peak nestled in a grove of Alpine trees. Beyond, treeless hills off in the distance peek into our view under a monotone, expansive sky.

The geography is simply incredible. It represents a topography unique to the American West and is perfect for placing the reader into the setting of the story. It shows the reader glimpses of what’s to come, perhaps more so, what to expect. It’s an invitation.

As readers continue to venture into Desolation Wilderness, there is an immediate sense of place, but also of a loss of self as readers are immersed in the landscapes and join together not only with other readers, but with the physical environment itself. Desolation Wilderness is presented to readers as, “A sequence of events occurring over a period of time in the search for a location in space.” It is a blending of the relationship between people and place — and how we move through that space. While each landscape depicted on the pages of this comic is unique, they remain familiar — memories of previous pages — vestiges on the periphery of the readers’ mind. Scully creates a sort of meditative state of being, simply being. While readers know they are adventuring through the Desolation Wilderness, there is no indication of a specific location. It’s a sense of wonder. A sense of life. An elusive journey through familiar, yet fresh images.
This is made most apparent by Scully’s consistent use of her color palette: primarily hues of green/blue, yellow/orange, and cream/tan. The reader is continually enveloped in these tones, reminding him or her that while he or she may venture to new surroundings, we’re still in the Desolation Wilderness — continually blending the familiar with the unfamiliar, challenging memories in new environments. It’s a natural state of being for humans. Memories blur as time passes, yet the core of memories remain authentic. Memories change, slightly, develop as we form new ones. New memories tend to fuse to old ones as they’re created and experienced. Bits of the familiar bond to the unfamiliar.

There are a couple of exceptions to this, though, primarily when scenes change from day to night or night to day. Even still, the green alpines, the orange rock formations, and wide-open skies settle the reader in a place that’s recognizable. We’re still in the Desolation Wilderness.
A common thread throughout Desolation Wilderness are the marks on nature by humanity and society. This is first noticeable in the second and third landscapes. Scully shows us a lone house among the hills and as she continues venturing, a small village appears in the distance. The village landscape is unique in that the reader is greeted by a vibrant blue lizard in the foreground resting on a rock. The lizard is in profile, as if it’s showcasing the village like a tour guide. While its vibrant color contrasts with the rock it’s resting on and the rocks of the village’s structures, the lizard’s natural color is at home with the vibrancy of the foliage surrounding it. The lizard belongs as the village belongs. A coexistence displayed beautifully. In Desolation Wilderness, Scully always shows the images of homes and villages at a distance. Humanity is present, but always just out of reach, whereas the flora and fauna, calm lakes and rivers, are always within the reader’s grasp.
The best example of a shared space between humanity and nature is a three-landscape sequence that features detailed patterns inscribed on rocks. The patterns vary, from abstract geometric shapes and swirls to more commonly recognizable patterns like stars, trees, human figures, and the sun. It’s a perfect representation of humans interacting with their environment and leaving their mark. They are reminiscent of prehistoric petroglyphs, perhaps representing the idea that humans and nature have shared their environment since the dawn of human existence. Maybe it’s an inevitability, that humans stake a claim and make their mark on the environment in which they reside because humans can only exist within their environments. They’re dependent upon it, while the environment simply is — with or without humans.
The final landscape is a moonlit scene, viewed from a distance. Readers gaze upon the river valley, full of trees, surrounded by mountains. The peak of the mountain is visible through a band of clouds, with the moon hovering above. A river winds down the middle of the wooded area, but we cannot see the beginning nor the end of it, for the trees and mountains. It’s a beautiful representation of our journey through the Desolation Wilderness, a journey through this massive piece of earth that doesn’t really have a starting or ending point. It’s reflective of memory and is telling of readers’ time spent in the Desolation Wilderness. The memories made will blur into new ones, creating the familiar out of the unfamiliar.
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Michael Bettendorf is a freelance writer, editor, and educator based in Nebraska - a place he will vehemently argue is not a flyover state. You can find some of his previous comics criticism at Comics Bulletin and his current ramblings on Twitter @BeardedBetts

May 19, 2019

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/13/19 to 5/17/19

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

COMICS CRITICISM

* Liam Conlon on Annie Mok's ORGASM ADDICT which "exists in the space between the dreamy, spellbinding lyrics of our favorite songs and the hurried bustle of a life pulled in many directions."

* Alex Hoffman reviews PTSD by French cartoonist Guillaume Singelin which he finds "frustratingly hollow."

* Ryan Carey writes about Tana Oshima's FILTHY which "represents the purest distillation of her ongoing artistic project to date and is not to be missed under any circumstances."

* Caitlin Rosberg reviews ISLAND BOOK by Evan Dahm who "deftly leaves many questions still open by the end of the book, but far from feeling unsatisfactory, the ambiguity is comforting and authentic."

* John Seven on A SHINING BEACON by James Albon which "embraces the idea of the fantasyland of authoritarianism, of countries under suppression as a kind-of nightmarish wonderland that any Alice could wander through. But to its credit, it doesn’t simplify any of its conclusions, and it draws parallels well beyond the specific mode of government it portrays."

* Daniel Elkin reviews VISION PART ONE by Julia Gfrörer, writing "Gfrörer seems to suggest there is some sort of evil energy at the heart of eroticism -- that a woman’s unbridled sexuality is a gateway to powerful forces that can and should upend the status quo."

* Tony Esmond writes about MARBLE CAKE by Scott Jason Smith.

* Chris Gavaler on the new release from Abrams ComicArts LIVE OAK, WITH MOSS, a poem by Walt Whitman that features illustrations by Brian Selznick. In it, "Selznick responds to Whitman's numbered but non-narratively ordered cluster by developing its verbal imagery into tightly sequenced and linked visual progressions."

WHATNOT

* Alec Berry has the latest update on the CODY PICKRODT LAWSUIT. Good news!

* Koyama Press announces its FALL 2019/WINTER 2020 SEASON! So many great books!

* Andrea Shockling has a powerful new comic up on her Subjective Line Weight site called ANDREA'S BARIATRIC DIARY.

* Alex Dueben interviews MARIKO TAMAKI about her new book with artist Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me.

* Brian Hibbs takes his annual look at numbers from BOOKSCAN. Always a fascinating inside look at comics publishing.

* Michael Cella talks to and explores the taxidermy/ceramic art of HOLLIE DILLEY.


May 17, 2019

Justin Giampaoli reviews MY BODY FEELS AMAZING by Elevator Teeth

MY BODY FEELS AMAZING by ELEVATOR TEETH
Published by TINY SPLENDOR 2019 
26 pages, 7.5" x 10.5"
Risograph w/ clear coated cover 
Purchase: https://hardcoreambient.storenvy.com/products/26518209-my-body-feels-amazing

My Body Feels Amazing is the latest offering by the enigmatic Elevator Teeth. To my knowledge, this is the largest physical object published by the creator to date, confidently charging into your consciousness at near-standard-sized comic proportions. The paper stock is immediately noticeable, thick with a coarse sheen and overall heft lending a workmanlike quality to the whole affair.

Although rendered in old-school 2D, My Body Feels Amazing, like many Elevator Teeth projects, feels like a fully-enveloping 3D sensory experience that washes over you. It seems to vibrate off the page with energy, pulsing with rhythmic sexuality, as organic forms ebb and flow, geometric patterns repeat and recede, bright pops of color punctuate emotional responses, and carefully chosen phrases sear themselves into your brain. 

"I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO DISAPPEAR" is an early example of words juxtaposed against a symbolic crimson horizon that seems to simultaneously communicate sorrowful resignation with a hint of the exciting unknown that awaits us. Elevator Teeth has never followed traditional comic book craft, eschewing common construction, distribution, and narrative methods, perhaps reflecting a similar rejection of personal social expectations. 
To wit, much of the book culminates in a double page spread intentionally placed at the exact mid-point of the book, which is a daring mental billboard of slightly off-kilter thought-graffiti. "NOT BEING WHAT THEY SEE" functions as an ethos, perhaps for this creator, and perhaps for those that the sentiment will surely resonate with, a continual exercise in reconciling the heartfelt dichotomy between our self-image and acquired public perception, a dynamic endemic to the human experience.
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Justin Giampaoli grew up on 1970s Bruce Springsteen tracks and Green Lantern comics by Len Wein and Dave Gibbons. The first movie he saw in a theatre was The Black Hole. The first mini-comic he ever read was Henry by Tim Goody

May 15, 2019

Somewhere in the Wreckage: Sara L. Jewell Interviews CAROLYN NOWAK

Carolyn C. Nowak is an Ignatz-award winning and Eisner-nominated cartoonist based on Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her work explores horror, sex, science fiction, and fantasy. You can check out her website and buy her books here and follow her work on Patreon here
Sara L. Jewell for YCE: For those who might not be familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Carolyn C. Nowak: Oh, um...ha! I have a hard time summarizing. It's...magical realism? Genre stuff? Short weird things? I have no manifesto to draw from.

Jewell: What’s your comic-making process like?

Nowak: It changes a lot in the minutiae but it always starts with like 4 or 5 google docs that are just clusters of ideas. Then I go hard on one and inevitably abandon it because it gets stiff. Then I find a new thing, somewhere, in the wreckage. The drawing part changes all the time, the only consistency there is that I am always late and panicked and I never get to do the job I want. And I never will, because the thing I want to do is perfect.
Jewell: Girl Town, your comics collection published by Top Shelf last year, centers - as the title suggests - stories about women and their complex relationships with one other; stories that cartoonist Carta Monir characterizes in the introduction as being about “women whose friendships with other women are their lifeline”. What other through-lines do you feel hold these stories together?

Nowak: Fear of intimacy, I guess. A fear of life in general. Fear! It's hard to think about at this point because I didn't intend them all as a collection, so any answer I give you is going to probably be something someone else projected upon the work.

Jewell: One of the first things I read by you (and adored) was Diana’s Electric Tongue which I picked up at SPX after it won an Ignatz in 2017 before I’d even heard of Zainab Akhtar’s incredible ShortBox publications. How did you initially get involved with Shortbox?

Nowak: Zainab saw fit to invite me to participate! (Prayer hands emoji) I think she first saw my work when I did something for hourly comic day in like...2015.

Jewell: Of the many things that blew me away about Diana’s Electric Tongue, one was the proliferation of small futuristic details you included in an offhand way, from Diana’s underwater hotel to Blue’s laughter onions. What, if anything, did you take inspiration from in realizing this world that’s ahead of or apart from our own in all of these sorts of idiosyncratic ways?

Nowak: I thought a lot about the movie Ex Machina -- and when people ask me about the inspiration for DET I inevitably bring this movie up. It's got some nice futurism, ok, yeah, but Alex Garland thinks he's saying something big about the human condition and all I can hear is "I'm really horny for robots". And I was like, yeah bro, me too. The other specific sci-fi details..."underwater hotel"...I don't know! It's mostly random shit that sounded fun- and all that stuff, I don't know, it feels like you could swap it for almost anything, so you might as well plug in the fun thing.

Jewell: Are there any science/speculative fiction comics (or other media) that you really love and/or are inspired by?

Nowak: Star Trek...star TREK...sTaR TREK!! As far as comics go: Anti-Gone by Connor Willumsen and Alienation by Ines Estrada.
Jewell: In your adult comic from Silver Sprocket, No Better Words, (recently nominated for an Eisner!) your protagonist remarks on the inadequacy of language to express herself, though she narrates the story primarily through metaphor. Do you feel like comics are a more effective way of telling stories than prose?

Nowak: Not particularly. Comics just take so much time and they're so hard to edit and also almost nobody reads them. And, like...it's easy to get turned off by art, even art that's really effective. And people generally, maybe just in America, I don't know -- they don't know how to read art. Everyone takes English Lit in high school, you have to figure out why Catcher in the Rye is supposed to be great, but nobody's doing that for like, Barnett Newman paintings -- nobody seems to be doing that in a serious way for art that is even a little bit oblique. In order for a storytelling medium to be effective at all, the greater population has to have some base...like, literacy for the thing. I hope I don't sound shame-y, I don't mean it that way. It just seems true -- and it was certainly true for me for a long time. I wouldn't read a comic that didn't have "good" art -- and for me, and I think for a lot of people, that means a really specific thing. It means Alex Ross or James Jean. Good "draftsmanship", I guess!

Jewell: I *wish* I’d had an art literacy class in school! So, many of your stories, in Girl Town and otherwise, kind of make this ominous tonal shift near the conclusion that’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t read them. Can you speak on your purpose in ending some of your comics this way, and what goes into evoking a certain tone in your comics to begin with?

Nowak: Haha, not really. I'm just gimmicky, I guess. When I think of a story I have this image in my head of...all the elements of the story, in a bucket, on a rope, and I'm holding onto the other end of the rope and I start twirling really fast. And then I try to let go of the rope at exactly the right moment so that the bucket hits someone in the face, or goes off a cliff or something. I just don't know how to end a story otherwise... probably because I don't read much.

Jewell: Something I really enjoy about your work visually is the fluidity of your line, especially your figurative line when depicting the body – do you intentionally avoid hard or sharp angles?

Nowak: No, I just do whatever is easiest. Also, I think the last 3 stories in Girl Town were drawn with "Manga Studio debut"- a super shitty old drawing program with this specific pen I came to love that just happened to make really ugly straight lines. You just couldn't draw any kind of sharp angle without it looking like total dogshit.

Jewell: Many of your depictions of women have what I would describe as contempt for the male gaze, starting with your cover which references “truth coming out of her well”, a painting that apparently justifies its male-gazey nudity as a gesture towards the idiom “the naked truth”. What’s your intention, if any, in depicting naked women in Girl Town?

Nowak: Bleh, I was just drawing people. Everything being framed as this weird opposition to maleness kind of distracts from the actual content of the book -- don't you think? Sometimes I get fucked up and confused by people talking about the work this way -- like my brand is now anti-men. Especially after that Comics Journal review. Like, I went off a little, on how the book is for women and not men but honestly, there was no intention in either direction. And acting that way, unfortunately, sort of mirrored the expectations of the reviewer - like, "yeah, fuck you! boo, men!! It's a girl book!!" It's not a girl book, I know it's called Girl Town but it's just a book I made about being alive and I happen to have been assigned this particular gender and these are some stories that reflect that experience. Some of them explore relationships with men because I've been emotionally and physically intimate with some men. I don't care about alienating them with my work, but I'm not making it with that specific purpose.
Jewell: I don't really see your work as in opposition to maleness or men (some of it, to the contrary) - I just feel like work that presents naked women in a way that isn't about men's sexual gratification is unfortunately still pretty outside of the norm, and the titular story especially did that in a way that I really appreciated as a queer woman. That segues really well into my next question though: much was written about that infamous review of Girl Town which, among other things, subjected us to a man repeatedly using the word “gynocentric” to describe your work. In terms of people, usually white cis men, expecting art, which more often than not has historically centered people like them, to “universalize” experience when they feel it does not – do you think this is a fair expectation?

Nowak: Nope. And that shit gets in my head all the time, it’s impossible for it *not* to. Men are in power pretty much everywhere so...it’s hard to tell yourself that’s not just an inevitable fact of life. I’m desperate for their approval and love, honestly. I would love to make something that earned their praise and respect. But it’s just so fucking conditiona -l- I never get it right. And trying makes me completely crazy.

Jewell: Any new or upcoming work that you’d like to share details about?

Nowak: Not really! Everything is sort of as nascent as it could possibly be, but I’m excited nonetheless. I’m getting better at comics all the time. I’m getting smarter and more ruthless and more efficient.

Jewell: I can’t wait to read whatever’s next! So, what’s in *your* to-read pile and what are you currently reading?

Nowak: I just read Gretchen Felker-Martin’s No End Will Be Found and I’m looking forward to reading her longer book, Ego Homini Lupus. Dark, delicious stuff.
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Sara L. Jewell is a freelance writer, artist, comic creator, and educator based in New Jersey. You can find her at saraljewell.com or rambling on twitter @1_saraluna. All email inquiries can be sent to 

May 13, 2019

Matt Vadnais on Gareth A. Hopkins’ PETRICHOR and the Trouble with New Ideas

One of the very first scenes we get in Gareth A. HopkinsPETRICHOR mentions spending an afternoon in a Modernist art gallery. Though we see many panels that appear to have been inspired by Modernist approaches to representation – which is to say close-ups and shapes and movement where we might expect identifiably things – we don’t get a rendering of the scene itself. This is not a surprise for readers familiar with Hopkins’s brand of abstract comics; in fact, mentioning the Modernists as an influence is more of a clue regarding what one is to do with the images than he often provides. Modernism, in the visual arts at least – though there were similar things happening in literature, philosophy, and even chess – got its name in the context of a supposed revolution of ideas, overturning classical notions of one-point perspective and a variety of other methods of artistic training and techniques of representation in the favor of, for example, Cubist attempts to record all of the images of an object being reflected by light in every direction at the same time.

According to one notion of Postmodernism, Modernist complications of the idea that art was to record the world as it looked from a single perspective gave way to post-modern skepticism that a single perspective could see the world at all. Even as Petrichor is rendered in a visual idiom frequently more in-touch with the moderns than much of Hopkins’s work, he still creates pages that feel skeptical of the notion that anyone can actually draw the world. Though the book often includes shapes suggestive of buildings and stairways, they are frequently fractured or otherwise fragmented to a point where any attempt to fit them together into a meaningful representation of something specific would be impossible.
            
And yet, the title of Petrichor refers to the specific smell immediately following the rain after a long period of intense heat. Few things are more personal or more closely linked to individual memory than the sense of smell. To create a book that draws on Modernist and post-modern apprehension regarding the relationship between art and the real world in service of a comic ostensibly defined by a hyper-specific smell is brilliantly paradoxical: the comic that refuses to even attempt to show us depictions of the scenes it narrates – the author in a meeting, the author receiving news that someone he was once close to has died, the author with his family on the first day holiday – draws its name from a word that suggests that everyone would experiences a similar moment in the same, deeply personal way.
As the art loops and meanders with images that involve spirals and what look potentially like stairs, it occasionally returns to a nearly identical page layout, adding an additional color with every loop. Identical sentences, hinting at the scenes described above, repeat. Hopkins tells us, multiple times that “there are no new ideas.” Unlike his art that attempts to evoke things through unlikely juxtaposition and the forwarding of a new or at least highly individualized notion of how comic panels and images work, his text suggests such novelty is impossible. Like petrichor, a smell that has been documented since the origin of the word thousands of years ago, no idea – no matter how personal – is new. In other words, Hopkins decries the existence of original cognition against a backdrop that provides evidence of what sure appears to be original cognition in the form of artistic composition.
            
One way that Hopkins utilizes this paradox, as the comic progresses and loops its way into more boldly colored pages, has to do with subjectivity itself. “It’s easy to forget how many times you’ve fallen in love,” he says multiple times; the statement colors the pseudo-scene in which he feels unexpected grief upon learning that someone he knew intensely, if briefly, has died, suggesting that he indeed fell in love with her. However, the sentence is also colored by the one that came on a previous page – “there are no new ideas” – suggesting that the supposedly unique experience of falling in love with a specific person is so fully framed by one’s previous experience with love that each iteration becomes impossible to remember. The suggestion that our experiences of individual moments are all derivative of previous experiences of previous moments applies to each of the specific emotional moments described by the narration – rendered in language that would appear to be describing a unique experience – that Hopkins uses to evoke the boredom of an office meeting and joy of a beach scene. No idea – not even the most surprising emotion or cognition – is new for a brain that is constantly understanding the new in the context of the previously experienced.            
And yet, as troubling as it is to suggest that the purest or most memorable moments of one’s life are rendered in a mental or emotional language that is derivative of previous experiences, the comic goes a step further in troubling the notion of newness. In addition to depicting the dissonance created by Modernist art supporting the idea that there are no new ideas as a dissonance that happens in one’s own brain, Hopkins suggests that the lack of new ideas extends to the world as a whole. By juxtaposing deeply personal moments, art drawing on techniques meant to undermine traditional ways of representing reality, and a very old word for a specific smell, Petrichor suggests that Modernism itself – and its supposed revolution of the foundations regarding art, literature, philosophy,  and even chess – was never new. Many of the objects described by the narration are distinctly modern: computers, traffic, offices. And yet, “there are no new ideas.”
            
In other words, though a reader might be tempted to attribute the kind of emotional alienation of the self that Petrichor describes to the contemporary world and the particular ennui created by its social media and constant noise, Petrichor itself suggests that this is a mistake. Even our observations of the potentially redundant nature of experiencing individual moments of clarity or meaning or love aren’t new. Like the smell created by rain after a long stretch of heat, the awful realization “that it’s easy to forget how many times you’ve fallen in love” is one that has existed long before one personally experiences it.
The question for Petrichor, then, is whether or not newness matters in the face of something feeling undeniably present or meaningful. Does alienation from the self – the subject of so much art and music right now – mean any less if it also existed in the time of the Greeks? Do the ideas that drove Cubist attempts to depict an object from every direction simultaneously matter any less if they were little more than specific iterations of things previously experienced and contemplated? Is the smell right after the rain starts any less potent if it has already been named?
            
My personal – and, if we can believe Petrichor, definitely not new – experience of the comic suggests that the answer to each of the above questions is yes. When confronted with something as potent as the smell described by the titular word or a work like Petrichor, I find myself feeling and reveling in evidence that contradicts the work’s thesis statement. Even if the feeling of newness is itself something that can’t be new, it is a feeling.
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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. 

May 12, 2019

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/6/19 to 5/10/19

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

COMICS CRITICISM

* Ryan Carey reviews CASTLE OF THE BEAST: A THEORY OF TIME TRAVEL by Ariel Cooper, "a work of art that makes you feel your way toward a better, deeper, and yes, more accurate understanding of the ultimately undefinable force that governs every aspect of our reality. Prepare to be challenged, yes — but not simply on an intellectual level."

* Andy Oliver on Alice Urbino's BABYFACE, writing "The true beauty of an Alice Urbino comic is her ability to present work that is superficially dark and visually grotesque, yet so poignantly human and empathetic at the same time.

* Andy Oliver also reviews WHEN I ARRIVED AT THE CASTLE by Emily Carroll who "feeds the reader enough information to ensure their interaction with story and characters but also leaves enough room for their own interpretation of subtext and relationship, and it’s in that space that the true terror of When I Arrived at the Castle lies."

* Kim Jooha has a column on TCJ called THE MATERIALITY OF COMICS in which she looks at books by Warren Craghead, Alexis Beauclair, and Erin Curry.

* John Seven on SKIP by Molly Mendoza

* Elisabeth Woronzoff reviews BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE by Rina Ayuyang, a book whose "vigor is derived from its consideration of popular culture's role in an individual's life."

WHATNOT

* Drawn and Quarterly just announced that it will be publishing Sophie Yanow's Eisner Nominated Webcomic THE CONTRADICTIONS.

* And speaking of which, Annie Mok interviews SOPHIE YANOW for TCJ.

* Alex Dueben interviews MAGGIE UMBER "about her new book, what kinds of books 2d Cloud will be publishing this year and why they just couldn’t walk away from the company."

* Samantha Puc interviews CAITLIN MAJOR and KELLY BASTOW about their latest book, Manfried Saves The Day.

* Carolita Johnson has a comic up on Medium called MONSTERS IN LOVE: ONE WITH GAS.

May 6, 2019

The Future Is Unwritten: Ryan Carey Interviews RAIGHNE HOGAN of 2DCLOUD About The Publisher’s Recent Struggles And Their Plans Moving Forward

After a long period of silence and speculation, iconoclastic small-press mainstay publisher 2dcloud has re-emerged with their 2019 Kickstarter campaign. I recently spoke with co-publisher/founder Raighne Hogan about matters past, present, and future. Full disclosure: I’m rooting for their campaign to be successful and plan on contributing myself, but there are a number of people in the small-press community who feel that they’d like some more concrete answers as to what’s going on before they make the decision of whether or not to back the campaign themselves. His answers here may or may not satisfy, but after well over a year of shying away from anything resembling the “limelight,” it’s important, I feel, to give Hogan the chance to answer some questions so that people can make an informed decision on whether or not they wish to support his company’s efforts going forward. 


For more information on the 2019 2dcloud Kickstarter, check it out HERE 

Ryan Carey for YCE: 2dcloud has always been known for its unique sensibilities as a publisher, but along with that there's also been, right or wrong, a perception of insularity about your company. I recall, for instance, a general feeling in the Minneapolis cartooning community that you were off in your own corner, doing your own thing, which can be fine, even worthy of respect in a way --- mind you, I say that as a bit of a recluse myself. But lately, there has been a kind of "radio silence" on 2dcloud's part that has given rise to much speculation about the company's future. When word got out about the moving of your base of operations to Chicago, that speculation intensified. What can you tell us about the reasons for the move, your current financial footing, and status of publishing operations going forward?

Raighne Hogan: Have you seen Gattaca? It’s this dystopia, where the populace is split basically between designer babies and those born natural births. The designer babies get the best jobs, and those of natural birth get what’s left.

There’s this scene where these 2 brothers swim in the ocean. One is a designer baby, one is not. They have this regular challenge to see who can swim the furthest before turning back. They would swim in such a way as knowing that they had to conserve some energy for the swim back to shore. And in the film, the designer baby brother always wins. But one time, the brother born of natural birth beats him. And later on in the film, he explains how he did it — he didn’t save energy for the swim back to shore. He gave everything, put everything on the line for this challenge, to defy the fate he was given.

In some ways, that was kinda the model I pushed us to follow. Full of idealist zeal. I viewed my life in service to artists. When I was really young I had this idea that I wanted to help people, I wanted to save the world. But in my twenties and early thirties, I thought, well, if I could just help and support a small group of people, that would be enough.

But you know, that’s a movie. And life is not. Ideas can be powerful tools to motivate people. To give people something to unite behind. They can become totems to life goals, or even totems to life itself. But idealism can be dangerous.

When we were in Minneapolis we were workaholics, and our bandwidth was limited, so we didn’t get out much. Maybe what you are describing as radio silence is 2 people who felt utterly destroyed, completely gutted — after having survived a divorce and the near implosion of their company. Of friendships that broke down, hospitalizations, of being devastated by things that occurred within this community, and just not quite knowing how to navigate all of it.

I initially saw Chicago as a chance for something new, as hope. Full-on idealist vision — after living in my office, sleeping on a yoga mat, I would go on to describe my move to friends as Chicago being the center of the universe. While I love Minneapolis, and a lot of other cities, for the type of comics that excited me most at this stage in my life, Chicago felt like the beating heart of the universe. And I wanted to be there.

My life and the label continued to implode, but Maggie and I are rebuilding now. And this Kickstarter we’re running is a look at what that future looks like.  
Ryan: In response to credible accusations of untoward and highly unprofessional behavior from a former associate of 2dcloud, a new leadership structure for the company consisting of a number of artists from diverse backgrounds was put in place, but it appears the running of day-to-day operations is now being handled once more by yourself and Maggie Umber. Did the board/collective dissolve, did it never quite come together, or is it in place in some fashion the broader public may not be aware of?

Raighne: The structure put in place at that time was not stable, and as such, dissolved almost immediately. Publishing is hard and can be totally heartbreaking. But if anyone were to clean up the label and make things right, it should be Maggie and I doing that. Which is what we are doing. This is our baby.

Ryan: Concurrent with these other situations there have been issues raised in regard to non-payment of artists. Do you have a response to these, or a plan to address them?

Raighne: For the first 8+ years, we paid everyone on time. We’ve been getting caught up with that behind the scenes. It’s been a slow process. Our Kickstarter will get us caught up on these debts at a much quicker rate than if we just stick exclusively with day jobs.

In the interim, we’ve not been touring or publishing new works.
Ryan: How has your view of your publishing mission changed or evolved in light of these various circumstances already addressed?

Raighne: We built this company out of love, and to support the artists we worked with. We gave everything we had for it. But in doing so, we neglected to take better care of ourselves, which has had a pretty direct correlation to the health of the business. Maggie was hospitalized, which she recently wrote about, and I guess I’ve been going through a pretty existential depression. All life lost meaning for me for a good while. I became so delusional for parts of 2018 that I thought maybe I had already killed myself, and simply forgot, and that this was hell (wry laughter).

I recognize that we must go slower, that we have to take better care of our physical and mental health if we are to continue. Sometimes the impossible things we strive for are just survival.
Ryan: You've recently re-emerged from the metaphorical "bunker" with an ambitious 2019 Kickstarter campaign. What can you tell us about the books you intend to publish and the cartoonists you'll be working with?

Raighne: I’m really excited about the artists we’re working with for this Kickstarter. I like that it showcases our history and the artists we’ve worked with over the years, alongside our forthcoming Spring 2019 Box. I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished through our 12 years of running 2dcloud. And while ya, there are a lot of things I wish we could do differently, we can’t travel back in time. But we can learn from our mistakes.

Mirror Mirror 3 continues our flagship anthology series, where each volume gets new editors and a new vision. This one is edited by Plum Press [Haejin Park, Paige Mehrer, Sophie Page] and features only them inside of it. They are one of the most exciting new artist collectives and publishing labels. I love their work so much and am so excited for their future. They are totally going to blow up. Definitely check them out at TCAF this year and buy everything they publish.

Copy Kitty is by Kyung Me. We’ve really loved her work ever since we saw her Bad Korean, published by Space Face. I was super jealous that Space Face got to publish her first lol. She’s so brilliant. Copy Kitty is mournfully gorgeous. A beautiful beautiful, heartbreaking book by a brilliant artist.

Röhner by Max Baitinger, originally published in German by Rotopol. I love this man. He is hilarious and so charming. We met at a TCAF some years back. I knew that I loved his work and wanted to work with him for some time, but I didn’t know what or when that would be. Love love his dry humor and superb craftsmanship. Röhner is a riot, filled with dark and sometimes violent humor.

Tommi Parrish’s book, Yet Here We Are Dealing With The Things We Should Have Ignored is a deep and wide collection of a lot of their out of print works. It’s a mountain, they are such an epic and badass workaholic. Also, such a sweetheart. Love them. Definitely, support their GoFundMe so they can move to the states, be with their sweetheart, and make a living from their art.

Grand Electric Thought Power Mother, by Lale Westvind. I’ve wanted to work with Lale for a bajillion years and have been hustling them to that end for about just as long of a time. But it was Kim Jooha that was finally able to make that happen. At TCAF last year, Kim suggested the project at a brunch thing, and that she would edit it. Thank you, Kim!

Hotel Vibes by Chou Yi is another title edited by Kim Jooha. I think I first met Chou Yi at Short Run a number of years ago now. But this was a title solicited by Kim and we are so lucky to have it in our line up this season.

And lastly, Diary Comics by Tara Booth. Tara is such a brilliant and funny person. Her work ethic and speed of growth as an artist are so damn impressive. And she has such a wonderful laugh. This book charts Tara’s brief time in Chicago, and on the road, dealing with the struggles of sobriety. I’m still scanning her originals for the book — such a beast. Oof.

So, our Spring Box 2019, at the $99 level brings all 7 of these titles into one box. These are going to be astoundingly gorgeous books by artists at the top of their game.
Ryan: In what ways do your proposed 2019 publications carry on 2dcloud's aesthetic tradition and in what ways do they break from it?

Raighne: I really don’t see it as a break from our aesthetic. It’s more of a return to form. So, I guess to me, our 2019 slate is a bold announcement that we are back. It showcases a pretty wide range of colorful and exciting work that fits perfectly within the oeuvre of our label.

Ryan: In years past, your publishing slate has frequently shared thematic links ranging from the oblique to the direct. Are the 2019 books "in conversation" with each other in a similar fashion or otherwise part of a larger aesthetic or conceptual statement?

Raighne: Definitely. I mean, in my eyes, these works fit so well together. This looks like the future of comics.
Ryan: How have your criteria for selecting works to publish changed in light of the numerous changes your company itself has undergone?

Raighne: I wouldn’t say that it has changed exactly. We remain focused on a balance of bold new works by exciting artists. Some of them are maybe more established than others. But they’re all fantastic. We also still have a focus on supporting artists from a diverse set of backgrounds, subject matter, medium.

The main thing now is trying to have a better balance of commercial viability in a given season, being more careful with some of the riskier bets, and in general, to pursue less overall. We’re a smaller team now, and so we need to be more aware of the limits of our bandwidth so that we can do a better job of supporting the artists we work with.
Ryan: What goals do you have as a publisher that remain unmet? How do you see yourselves crossing the bridge from where things are to where you'd ideally like them to be?

Raighne: Well, right now we’re not quite financially sustainable. This Kickstarter will make great strides to that end. Should this work out, we have more modest, but just as exciting plans for the future.

Ryan: When propels you forward at those times when circumstances seem to be at their most insurmountable?

Raighne: Looking to our history, at all the beautiful books we’ve published, remembering the good times, of how we have brought people together. And knowing that we can do that again, we can learn from our mistakes and right this ship. We can continue to champion up and coming artists alongside spotlighting lesser known ones, and the established giants of this scene wishing to try something new.

Ryan: Having been in the business for over a decade now, what do you look back on and wish you'd done differently? Are there any mistakes you've made that prospective future publishers would do well to learn from, or that you've learned a great deal from yourself for having made them?

Raighne: Know your limits. I think taking risks will always be important, but that has to be balanced against some pretty obvious things like maintaining your own health and mental well being, having contingency plans should some of your risks not pay off when things go south.

I would also say choose who you work with wisely. Know what you are looking for in choosing who to work with. Also, life happens. Things come apart. I mean really, if you do anything long enough, you are bound to make a few mistakes. Don’t operate beyond your bandwidth. You will have a much easier time of recovering if you’re not already overloaded for years at a time.

Pay attention to other small businesses, observe their triumphs and failures. These can aid you in moving quicker to your own successes while avoiding common pitfalls.
Ryan: Innovation and evolution are never easy things to consistently keep going, yet if there's one thing your company is known for it's routinely defying and exceeding expectation almost as a matter of course, maybe even demolishing it all together on a conceptual level. Going forward, what can readers look forward to seeing from 2dcloud that they've never seen before?

Raighne: I could be wrong, but I don’t know if some of the books we publish would be possible at another label. At least not in the ways that we publish them. Also, Maggie and I are going to start making very small scale, short-run works once again.

The main thing is just maintaining a better work-life balance, and keeping the publishing schedule and workload itself balanced as a part of that. None of this will be easy, but I’m optimistic. It will feel good to move forward once again.
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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.