December 31, 2014

Five Moments in Comics That Left an Impression in 2014 -- Part 3 -- Talking with The Sheehan Brothers

I don't need to tell you that life is complicated. The amount of data we pull in over the course of a year is staggering. Reflection is more of a guessing game than a science. Still, some things linger, events gain significance in hindsight, and the prick of a moment can fester or bloom. Here's 5 moments from 2014 that left an impression.

Talking with The Sheehan Brothers

For me, first there was their six-page short “A Day At The Races” in the New Zealand comic anthology Faction #2. Then there was their precursor work, a graphic novel told in four parts called The Inhabitants. Finally, there was their longer work Into The Dark Woods. Having had exposure to the archetype of comfortable discomfort that the Sheehan Brothers were working with made me have to know more.

In my 2014 interview with these two New Zealand comic book creators, we explored the concept of “The Anxiety of Influences” – how we are bombarded with pop-culture references which causes us to be perpetually in a state of trying on new personalities, calling into question matters of identity, which then makes it harder and harder for us to connect to others on a fundamental level.

Both Kelly and Darren acknowledged that sampling influences is part of their process --- not a reaction to, but a synthesis of, which then adds up to “something unique and your own … a story guided by (your) vision.” In a way, they stress the primacy of the individual as the creator, in their choices and understandings.

December 30, 2014

Five Moments in Comics That Left an Impression in 2014 -- Part 2 -- Stumbling Into the World of Theo Ellsworth

I don't need to tell you that life is complicated. The amount of data we pull in over the course of a year is staggering. Reflection is more of a guessing game than a science. Still, some things linger, events gain significance in hindsight, and the prick of a moment can fester or bloom. Here's 5 moments from 2014 that left an impression.

Stumbling Into the World of Theo Ellsworth

There's that weird moment when you stumble upon a work of art that just grabs you by your thought senses and tumbles you into that gelatinous place where you lose contact with the person you thought you were only moments before. It becomes even weirder when you start pursuing other works from that artist and all of it seems to be specifically talking to you – directly – face to face, over drinks at your kitchen table.

Such was my experience “finding” the work of Theo Ellsworth late in 2014.

And I can't even tell you how it happened. Somehow I ended up with Ellsworth's book Capacity #8 in my ever expanding “To Read” pile a few months ago. I don't remember buying it. I don't remember it getting sent to me in the mail. It was just there, having made its own way to me – because it was what I needed without even knowing it.

Trying to talk about an Ellsworth comic is almost impossible as our available lexicon breaks down quickly. It's like what James Ryerson wrote in his introduction to David Foster Wallace: Fate, Time, and Language about Wittgenstein's response to solipsism, “language is seen as a messy human phenomenon, part of social reality – a rich variety of everyday practices that you figure out the way a child does.” When you encounter something so wildly outside of that “social reality” then, by their very nature, words fail.

December 29, 2014

Five Moments in Comics That Left an Impression in 2014 -- Part 1 -- Leslie Stein's Diary Comics

I don't need to tell you that life is complicated. The amount of data we pull in over the course of a year is staggering. Reflection is more of a guessing game than a science. Still, some things linger, events gain significance in hindsight, and the prick of a moment can fester or bloom. Here's 5 moments from 2014 that left an impression.

Leslie Stein's Diary Comics

Leslie Stein is best known as the artist behind the Eyeof the Majestic Creature series and playing in the band Prince Rupert's Drops, but in 2014 I got to know her as a creator of a poignant pastiche of diary comics. As creator of Eye of the Majestic Creature, Leslie Stein is a voice for a certain aspect of her generation, the ones you see feigning ironic detachment while inside they are either all honest excitement or vast empathy. While it's just so much easier and cooler not to get emotionally involved, for people like Stein, that's just really not possible. As a detached observer full of heart, it is interesting to see what happens when she observes herself directly.

Stein's diary comics are imbued with an openness of experience, as they are awash in the colors of particular moments. They are also confessional in that they record in that same detached, yet intimate way Stein cannot help but create. Diary comics can often bog down in a need for meaning, but Stein works from the heart, poignancy without pedantry, making statements in the midst of a deceptively simple quiet, full of an innocence that could easily be mislabeled “cute” were it not for the depth of feeling they possess.

I want to call these comics “moments that emote,” but I worry that could easily be mislabeled “cute” too.

Stein's art in these comics is light and airy, so much more than her work in Eye of the Majestic Creature. Adding depth, her color work swirls in a tight manner reflecting the unavoidable chaos inherent in daily life. In these she eschews panel borders to allow each flash to flow into the next with the fluidity of time passing. Causation and comment mix effortlessly. But the most effective artistic choice Stein makes is reducing her portrayal of herself to an iconic openness – registering as nothing more than two wide eyes for her face – thus universalizing her experience, giving us all access, making her experiences ours as much as hers. Indeed, “All this I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes mine,” as Walt Whitman wrote a century ago.

December 23, 2014

Writing More Blurbs About EEL MANSIONS for More Top Ten Lists

eel mansions table 470x715 Erotic Agents, Multiverses and Pop Assassins: 10 Comics We Loved This Year
Eel Mansions
by Derek van Gieson
Derek Van Gieson’s Eel Mansions is the journal entry you feverishly write down upon awakening from  dreams that seemingly border between the three point intersection of nightmarish moments filled with spittle-dripping demons, your most turgid and undulating dance party romances, and the ones where you’re sharing a delicious sandwich with Edvard Munch in a dive bar along the Akerselven. It’s a series that is reminiscent of the hell-gate Porter at Inverness Castle who tells you about drink and lechery, it makes you stand to and not stand to, all accompanied by The Hit Pack singing “Never Say No To My Baby”. It is collision. It is unfathomable. It is the Eggman and the Walrus. And it is you as much as it is me. Koo-koo-kachoo.
2014 marked the end of this initial six issue series salvo, and Van Gieson concluded it with beginnings, possibilities, left-turns, right-turns, and, above all else, a kiss. He’s an artist who, with his creation, masters the art of equivocation and goes thick groove whirling down the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire while sticking his thumbs under his overalls with the confidence of the man winking in the dark. Here, it is the creator who commands the landing, and you approach it understanding that without faith there is no real art. Eel Mansions is that trust exercise waiting to catch you as you fall. It may not be gentle, but you’ll be safe in its arms.

December 17, 2014

Peter Pan Collars Don't Lie: The Deceptive Simplicity of Operation Margarine (A Review by Keith Silva)

Keith Silva's Review Originally Ran on INTERESTED IN SOPHISTICATED FUN

Cartoonist: Katie Skelly
Publisher: AdHouse Books

Katie Skelly knows her way around exploitation: what to show, who not to cover up, where to put the accents, when to be bold and how much of each. Her 2012 debut graphic novel,Nurse Nurse, was a tease in all the best ways, a goofy nitrous high of see through strips held together by a barely there narrative, but the charm, oh, the charm. Skelly’s characters possess all the pathos of Shultz’s Peanuts with the charisma of a Daniel Clowes or a James Kochalka oddball. Operation Margarine sees Skelly pin the needle to the right and give a throaty roar of a creator in full.  

The lives of bad good girl Margarine (sounds like bombazine or aubergine) and bad ass Bon-Bon have become dead ends, or worse, cul-de-sacs. Margarine is a society gal (Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night wearing Mia Farrow’s pixie cut from Rosemary’s Baby) fresh from a recent breakout from a psych ward, Bellefrew. Bon-Bon bears the scars of too many bad relationships with other women’s men, she steals, favors black leather biker jackets and alcohol. Margarine and Bon-Bon want the same thing: escape. Their problem is neither one knows where nor what they’re escaping to.

Operation Margarine plays like Skelly’s riff on truth or dare, expect ‘dare’ is the only option. For Margarine and Bon-Bon, truth (especially the past) is a fink, painful, messy and best put in the rearview mirror. When Margarine asks Bon-Bon, "So, where you from?" the response she gets says a lot, "Marge, I have an idea. Let's skip this part. Let's just be ... new people." In other words, 'nuff said. The motorcycles they ride, the clothes they wear and cigarettes they smoke act as signifiers, these girls are bad, sure, but they’re not drawn that way; those peter pan collars don’t lie.

Skelly’s work is a study in deceptive simplicity. From her line to her writing and from her character development to her panel composition, all of it aims to exploit the reader’s expectations, to write off a lack of realism for a lack of depth. To read a Katie Skelly comic is to pay attention to small details. As austere as each panel may be each one contains all the information the reader needs and nothing less. Skelly’s neatness and orderliness is her tell. Like her characters, Skelly seems to say, ‘go on, underestimate me, I dare you.’ Like the man sez, “the sweetest kittens have the sharpest claws.”

December 10, 2014

Top 10 Comics (I reviewed) of 2014

Click on the titles to read the full reviews.

10. Eternal Warrior#8 by Greg Pak, Robert Gill, Mark Pennington, Guy Major, John Rauch, Dave Sharpe, and Valiant Comics

Eternal Warrior #8 is the kind of comic that you can give to your friends and say, “This. This is how comics can be great.”

9. PoopOffice from Naked Grape Comics 

What could be easily dismissed as simple gag comics easily refract under scrutiny into social commentary of the highest order. By casting the everyman as shit, Poop Office goes swiftly Swiftian in its satire.

Through page after page of diatribe disguised as one-liners, Poop Office dissects the modern world better than any social commentator or political pundit. You have to be open to this shit to let it seep in, and once it does, the stink of its message will bring you to tears.”

8. Loud Comix written by a group of leading lights from the Southern Punk Rock scene and illustrated by Jamie Vayda 

These are Comix, after all, and Comix don’t take no crap. Comix ain’t for the sensitive or the dainty or the social justice advocate; they are all about tits and booze and cocks and drugs and fucking and shitting and screaming. And Loud Comix is hollering all this louder than anything else you got going on right now. A matter of fact, it’s got its own PA system and they’ve turned those volume knobs all the way up.

7. SafariHoneymoon by Jesse Jacobs

The mid-twentieth century Italian writer and translator Cesare Pavese once wrote,“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky - all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” Jesse Jacobs' new graphic novel, Safari Honeymoon, from Koyama Press upends Pavese's idea to a certain extent. In Safari Honeymoon even the things we hope to see as eternal have become almost unrecognizable, beyond perhaps what we can understand. Part jungle adventure, part “psychedelic sojourn”, part biblical allegory, part gender study, part contemporary commentary, Safari Honeymoon is much more than the sum of its parts; it becomes its own thing by being unlike almost anything else.

December 8, 2014

An Audacity of Authenticity -- Convenient Truths: SETH'S DOMINION

Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life.  That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining.  Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human.  Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friends Eric Hoffman and Jason Sacks bypass Netflix entirely and talk about an opportunity they had to view 2014’s Seth’s Dominion by director Luc Chamberland.
Daniel Elkin: We live in a golden age, Hoffman and Sacks, where there are people who want to make quality crafted documentaries about odd-ball Canadian cartoonists and then share these films with the world.A
Seth’s Dominion is such a film. Ostensibly it is a documentary about the artist Seth, who’s the creator of one of my favorite books, the semi-autobiographical comic It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken. The film spends much of its running time allowing Seth to talk about his process and the themes most important to his work. It also features interviews with a number of Seth’s contemporaries, as well as beautiful animations of some of Seth’s stories. The film is one of those documentaries that satisfies all my criteria for a great film, insomuch as it allows the subject to tell his own story, puts him in context with his times through examples of his work and discussions with others, and provides an objective view through its editing.  Seth’s Dominion is a great introduction to the man and his art.
But, more importantly, it’s a film about quiet moments of creation and how memories shape us.
The film opens with Seth saying “There is something very lovely about the stillness of a comic book page… the little people trapped in time.” This Keatsian view of comics as a “a flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme” brings up not only the beauty/truth conundrum, but harks as well to the silent mockery of the “still unravish’d bride of quietness” – that which remains, a repository of the past, “in the midst of other woe.” There is that permanence that putting images to paper ensures. The past and the present collide over and over again.
An exploration of memory is Seth’s world – it is part of his dominion as much as comics. Most of it is a response to the loss that is inevitable onslaught of time. His art forces questions. As experiences fade from our faces, what do we hold on to in our minds? Why do we become enmeshed in the process? How does memory define us? In all of his work, in comics, in illustration, in his models and puppets, Seth tries to answer these questions for himself. Whatever answers he arrives upon for himself he is able to communicate, and it turns out that as we become his audience, they may just be the answers we are looking for ourselves.
Eric Hoffman: Near the beginning of this charming documentary, comic artist Seth – perhaps not surprisingly, given his rather inclusive defense of comic art within the larger spectrum of classical arts – includes among his influences (which, incidentally, also count among forebears as diverse as Canadian landscape artist Thoreau MacDonald, Jack Kirby and Charles Schulz) the French Impressionists, as these artists prized “feeling” above “detail.” Looking at Seth’s art, both in the three dimensional comics page and in its sumptuous two-dimensional evocation in the animated segments of this film, the viewer is at once struck by the degree of emotional resonance Seth manages to evoke while utilizing minimal visual components. Seth defends this impressionistic cartooning by describing them as “memory drawings.” The description is an apt one, I think, as one’s memory is defined in large part by those details that are forgotten. What remains, therefore, must be brought into sharper focus if it is to fill in the blanks of those lost details. These rescued images then become, in Seth’s description, “iconic,” in much the same way that Snoopy’s doghouse, the baseball mound and the wall in Schulz’s Peanuts are iconic. These rescued images – for Seth a “flash of captured experience,” become for Seth a “shorthand for language” – and therefore a shorthand for a shorthand – a frame-by-frame, page-by-page recording comprised of a limited palette of action.

December 5, 2014

Thick With Possibility -- A Review of Antoine Cosse's HAROLD from Retrofit/Big Planet

Antoine Cosse's newest book, Harold, published through Retrofit/Big Planet, is one of those books that requires multiple readings in order to … not so much understand really, but feel comfortable with. There is a preponderance of narratives weighing heavy in this book, each one somehow playing into and off of the other, but none of them are fully complete in terms of closure.

Which, of course, can be frustrating as much as it can fascinating. And that's the thing with a book like Harold. It makes you examine yourself as a reader as much as it makes you examine what you're reading.

Retrofit's solicitation for Harold doesn't help much in unpacking things. It reads:

As packs of wild dogs roam through a quiet city, a mysterious man and his hulking driver Harold wait outside a luxury hotel. When their car is surrounded by paparazzi looking for a princess staying at the hotel, Harold begins to tell the tale of the rebellion against the princess's father. Mysteries of the past slowly unfold against the strangeness of their present.

So yea... that.

Harold is the kind of book that forces questions of intent as much as it raises concerns about choices. Everything is thick with possibility in the book, yet resolution is only to be found in the pages Cosse hasn't drawn.

Here's a small sampling of the notes I took while reading through Harold the first time:

December 4, 2014

December 3, 2014

The Rawboned Line in Eddie Wright and Jesse Balmer's TYRANNY OF THE MUSE #2

In This Issue: Frank starts writing. It doesn't go well.

It's been awhile since issue 1 of Eddie Wright and Jesse Balmer's Tyranny of the Muse came out. Hell, I've moved twice since I last wrote a review of it at the end of August 2012. My, how far we've come.

So the premise behind Tyranny of the Muse is that inspiration can be used (and, of course, abused) like a drug. The story follows Frank Fisher, a wannabe writer, who hooks up with a “muse” named Bonnie. In her role as a muse, Bonnie injects inspiration into Frank's brain through a festering wound in his forehead. This gets Frank rolling, as it were.

I realize, writing it out like that, it kinda sounds hamfisted and thickly obvious in a cheap and easy sort of way. But it's not like that. Between Wright's words and Balmer's pictures, these boys are playing it cool and dirty. They know addicts like they know artists and understand the rawboned line that distinguishes each from the other.

And those of you who have hung out with either or both know that when he or she yells, “I'm writing the screenplay!” it's time to take stock or walk away or hide the knives.

December 1, 2014

WHAT IS THE PRICE OF DISTANCING THE SELF? A Review of Timothy Sinaguglia's CRAWLSPACE from So What? Press

Published by So What? Press, Timothy Sinaguglia's Crawlspace is an quietly complex little book that explores both burgeoning sexuality and the interior life of modern day ennui in two short vignettes.

Entering into the cluttered world of Autobio or Confessional Comix, the first story, “She Smiled Back” unpacks what, for all intents and purposes, is another artist coming to terms with his own libidinous awakening. For Sinaguglia, the process was one of exploration because, as he writes, “in the early nineteen eighties, nobody talked about sex all that much.” It is as much a harkening back to the days of pre-internet porn, as it is an expedition into how the discovery of one's own sexual consciousness can be a significant moment in understanding one's self. For Sinaguglia, it becomes a moment fraught with narcissistic overtones, yet also suffused with questions of gender identity. In “She Smiled Back”, sexuality is part performance, part imagination, part control, and an encapsulation of the concept of “division”. Who is the woman who smiles back, really? And why, out of all the things that Sinaguglia was discovering on his journey to understanding, was it this act that led to things finally falling “into place”?

Which begs larger questions for me. What form does fantasy take in the mind of an artist? What is he or she really creating and what is the price of distancing the self from the immediate?

Sinaguglia explores these final questions a little further in the second three-part story in Crawlspace, “Trudy”. “Trudy” follows the movement of the titular character as she goes... well … basically nowhere. Trudy wanders into the world in her white t-shirt and black skirt, observing the bare realities of her experience and making grand statements such as: “The sky is so black,” “God, it's sweltering,” “I have a nice window,” and such. She engages the world by commenting on it, but for the most part she draws no conclusions from the experiences.

November 28, 2014

Dispatches from CAB Part Two: Miss What?

Welcome to part the second of Comics Bulletin’s coverage of Comic Arts Brooklyn 2014. To find out how our two provincials, Daniel Elkin and Keith Silva, got to this point in their story there’s this. If you’re immune to the crushing weight of continuity or if you’re slumming and fancy yourself a bit of a post-modernist, than by all means read on!

KEITH SILVA: For the last eighteen months, Daniel Elkin and I have been like a couple of Boswell’s to cartoonist Derek Van Gieson’s Johnson … something seems off about that, lemme give it another go …
Since March of 2013, Daniel Elkin and I have been writing about the series Eel Mansions by cartoonist Derek Van Gieson. (Less punchy, but O.K.) Between the two of us I bet we’ve written ten thousand words on this idiosyncratic comic about Satanists, dipsomaniac cartoonists and veiled (and not so veiled) references to English rock stars. Eel Mansions has become our Life of Johnson and we its Boswells.
Back in early September, back when the phrase, ‘Kansas City Royals play for MLB crown’ rang as arbitrary and somewhat of a pipe dream there was similar talk Eel Mansions: Volume One would debut at CAB. For the first time all six Eel Mansions mini-comics — the ‘lost’ Eel Mansions, a rumored-to- be one-pager called ‘Smile My Ass, Muthafucka’ which was surreptitiously printed in SuperValu holiday circulars in 2011 remains at large and, as yet, uncollected — would be available in one collection and with French flaps no less. It also includes an introduction by Messrs. Elkin and Silva.
So when Elkin floats this idea about meeting in Brooklyn to attend CAB there was a glimmer on the periphery we would also be there for the Eel book’s debut and the opportunity to meet Van Gieson. Now, publishing (from my limited experience) is both a stern master and a harsh mistress. In other words, shit undoubtedly happens. The Eel book wasn’t done in time for CAB 2014. It’s cool, good things come to those who wait, no fine wine … etcetera, etcetera. The book may have slipped away (see what I did there?) but Van Gieson didn’t, the ink made flesh.
To meet someone one admires is often to be either disappointed or shortchanged. A grip and grin at a public event like a book signing or con or even a random encounter with a person known to you only from a distance is odd; and I can’t imagine how it feels for the other guy or girl. So when I got to shake hands with Van Gieson, a creator I admire and someone I’ve corresponded with on everything from movies to music to life in general, it felt less like admiration and more like friendship.
The Corruption of Youth: Janet Meets Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants (commission by Derek Van Gieson)
Derek Van Gieson is tall, six one or so. He’s quiet, unassuming and Daddy-o cool. He’s a guy you want to hang out with and talk with. And so we did. Without a book to promote, Van Gieson suggested we retire to quieter environs with fewer comics and more alcohol. And so we did. I’m sure some sage has said, ‘never go with a cartoonist to a second location let alone a bar!’ Neither Elkin nor I heeded this advice.

November 27, 2014

(Torpid Mass Hysteria): a review of Roman Muradov’s (In a Sense) Lost and Found

John Keats begins his 1818 poem Endymion with the line, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” The Jazz Butcher took up this theme again in their song “Forever” from their 1986 EP Conspiracy. I bring this up because Roman Muradov’s first graphic novella, (In A Sense) Lost and Found, is a thing of beauty. Therefore, assuming that Keats and The Jazz Butcher are correct, it’s going to be a joy forever.
And ever.

Many reviewers have already lauded this book with far more erudite praise than I could ever conjure. They use big words and long sentences to wax lyrical about Muradov’s art, design, and storytelling. The term “Kafkaesque” appears often in these reviews, as well as comparisons to the likes of Miró and Borges. They have even called (In A Sense) Lost And Found “a challenging and surreal journey steeped in hypnagogic imagery” – though to be honest, I’m not really sure what that means.
As so many beautiful words have already been written about this beautiful book, there is little left for me to do than expand on something Muradov said about the creation of (In A Sense). In an interview with Edwin Turner for the website Biblioklept, Muradov says, “… a great deal of (In A Sense) was inspired by the sudden widespread acceptance and commodification of banal nostalgia, self-expression & personal experience, which I see as a kind of torpid mass hysteria.”

November 26, 2014

Messy Confusion (In a Good Way): Josh Bayer’s MR. INCOMPLETO

Title: Mr. Incompleto
Creator: Josh Bayer

Rating: 4.5 stars

Josh Bayer's comics are a mess – an intricate, muddied, thought-provoking, glorious mess – and I, for one, am on board with almost everything he does.

Bayer debuted his latest book, Mr. Incompleto, at CAB this year and, like Theth before it, it's a comic that requires you to scrape off some muck before you see its shine underneath.

In a note on the end page of Mr. Incompleto, Bayer writes, “This book made in part as a loving tribute to the comics of 1980, especially the writing of the late Mark Gruenwald.” Gruenwald, of course, was best known for his career at Marvel (including becoming Executive Editor in 1987), most notably for his work on the 12 issue miniseries Squadron Supreme in which a team of superheroes take it upon themselves to assume power and create a utopian world (to disastrous results, of course).

Bayer's book is certainly full of cosmic powers, time travel, and world saving, but homages to superheroics and team dynamics aside, Mr. Incompleto is a comic about identity and the formative relationships which structure our sense of self. At its heart, Mr. Incompleto is a story about fathers and sons, which, if you think about it, is pretty much what all superhero comics are about.

November 25, 2014

Dispatches from CAB Part One: It’s an Adventure

Every so often the editorial staff at Comics Bulletin asks to tag along (in abstentia, of course) with our writers as they visit various points on the map to attend conventions and festivals. Like SEAL training these brave souls are given nothing to survive save their wits. No private jets. No corporate cards. And absolutely no money for alcohol or even, yes, coffee. This time two provincials, Daniel Elkin and Keith Silva, both drew the short straw and were sent to Greenpoint, the northernmost neighborhood in the borough of Brooklyn, NYC to attend Comic Arts Brooklyn. Over the next four days Comics Bulletin will publish what Elkin and Silva are calling ‘Dispatches from CAB,’ a sandwich board of sorts that promises a travelogue, reviews of comics and tips for surviving the game called comic book criticism. Enjoy!

KEITH SILVA: As late autumn sunshine broke over the borough of Brooklyn and made the maples along Union St. into a riot of golds and aureolins, I knew my rumored-to-be interminable wait for the G would be tempered. On the burnt umber stoops of brownstones and between the curling wrought-iron fence spaces, jack-o-lanterns mouldered. I turned onto 6th Ave., headed towards Prospect St., on my way to meet my friend Daniel Elkin. We were bound for Greenpoint and Comic Arts Brooklyn.
I met Elkin, in-person, for the first time, the night before. Our time spent in conversation over beers at Dizzy’s confirmed for me what was obvious from the thousands of words he and I have written together for Comics Bulletin in the last two years; Elkin is a friend for life. If that sounds too squishy or sentimental, I agree, but it’s true. At forty-one, I’m still coming to terms with how it is I’ve developed deeply felt relationships with people whom I’ve never met in-person. Lennon was right, “strange days indeed, most peculiar mama.”
The G turned up sooner than expected (I guess?). As we rode the rails, we picked up our conversation where it had been left the night before, except now it was spiked with in-jokes like ‘user-narratives,’ ‘Matt Dillon,’ and ‘pal’ after a night spent on the West Side eating the best dumplings NYC has to offer (or so I was told) with a few F.O.Es or Friends of Elkin’s. I can confirm New York City apartments, even the ones with exclusive addresses, play small, which made getting to know my fellow F.O.Es easy. What’s up, pal?

November 21, 2014

Review -- UR by Eric Haven


(Eric Haven)
Sometimes you encounter works that wonk you hard, as if head smacked by a thick blackjack. You enter a dream space and therein what you have endured through your days flows free unfettered by rules of narrative. Storytelling undulates as ideas build off of ideas and all of your influences dance naked together, at last, as they should. Here comprehension is teased as all the ingredients and flavors make sense, but ultimately the sandwich cannot bear fruit and, though satiated, you remain hungry.
Such is the stuff of Eric Haven’s UR from AdHouse Books. This collection of 6 previously anthologized short comics reads like a quilt of tales told by thick-tongued, rapid-speaking eye-bulging, modern shamans after their meds have worn thin. It is beautiful to behold, but ultimately it unnerves and I cannot avouch for the warmth it provides.
Is this humor? Is this satire? Is this surrealism? Is this a further foothold to my own madness mountain, the one from which I am slowly trying to descend without causing the avalanche bound to destroy the hamlet situated so peacefully in the valley below, the place I call home, the hearth which I have been away from for far too long?

November 19, 2014

Review -- FUGUE by Matt Sheean


(Matt Sheean)
It’s not often that I start a review of a comic with a dictionary definition, after all I’m no High School Freshman writing a tortured essay about Atticus Finch’s eroticism in To Kill A Mockingbird, but in order to write about Fugue,Matt Sheean’s 21 page black and white comic, it seems apt. So here it goes…
fugue cover
According to those pig-faced drunken bastards at Merriam-Webster, the word “fugue” means: “a musical composition in which one or two themes are repeated or imitated by successively entering voices and contrapuntally developed in a continuous interweaving of the voice parts.”  It has a second definition as well as: “a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected seems to perform acts in full awareness but upon recovery cannot recollect the acts performed.”
These definitions are important. They provide both access to understanding and a structural jumping off point from which to consider what Sheean is attempting with this book.

November 12, 2014

Convenient Truths: Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

For the latest Convenient Truths column on Comics Bulletin, Jason Sacks and I take a look at Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present and explore our reactions to to the film, performance art itself, and what it means to be "present".

Check it out, here.

November 10, 2014

Review -- D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer by Ted Intorcio

D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer

(Ted Intorcio)
Publisher: Tinto Press
Biography is a tricky game, especially when the facts surrounding a person’s life are, shall we say, murky. Layer onto that, especially in the matter of celebrity biography, the prior-knowledge and expectations of the audience. What you potentially might end up with is a thick and viscous broken narrative full of appeasements and speculation. Luckily, D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, Ted Intorcio’s latest release from his Tinto Press, navigates what is murky and those presumptions with a storyteller’s ease and an artist’s skills.
That’s right, this a comic about the death of Alfalfa.
My Dallas, Texas pre-cable/internet latchkey kid childhood was full of after-school television and Hostess Cupcakes.  As choice was limited, most of my 4 channel options were re-runs of things like The Rifleman with Chuck Conners, The Three Stooges, and the perennial favorite, Hal Roach’s Our Gang, better known as the Little Rascals.
Our Gang was kinda subversive shit, if I recall correctly. In it a group of kids created chaos, undermined authority, embraced and perverted (simultaneously) ideas of misogyny and racism, and played it hard for laughs. While “Spanky” was the leader of the group, and “Froggy” was spectacularly awesome, the Little Rascal people often think of was “Alfalfa” with his cowlick, freckles, ill-fitting suit, and squeaky singing voice.
As Intorcio writes in his introduction to this book, “(Alfalfa) embodied an ideal from a simpler time that we, as  culture, may have lost sight of. It was that what really mattered was not looks or money, physical strength or even above-average intelligence but guts, determination and a stalwart belief in one’s self. Despite all of our imperfections and the ever-present fear of a beating from the Butches of the world, we went after what we wanted and would mange to achieve some success in life, however meager.” Alfalfa was a hero. As awkward as he was, he always won our hearts.
Apparently, though, Carl Switzer, the young actor who played Alfalfa, was kind of an asshole. He was the kind of asshole who would supposedly drown a goat. He was the kind of asshole who pissed on the studio lights to get out of work. He was the kind of asshole who was gunned down in 1959, the events surrounding this event apparently being a bit nebulous.

November 7, 2014

Review -- š! #18 from kuš! Komiksi

š! #18

(Anete Melece / Inga Gaile, Anna Vaivare / Semyon Khanin, Davis Ozols / Ingmara Balode, Ingrida Pičukane / Sergej Timofejev, Klavs Loris / Anna Foma, Lote Vilma Vitina / Karlis Verdinš, Martinš Zutis / Arvis Viguls, Ruta Briede / Janis Rokpelnis from Latvia, and Alexander Rothman (USA), Andrej Štular (Slovenia), Dunja Janković (Croatia), Evie Cahir (Australia), Julie Doucet (Canada), König Lü.Q. (Switzerland), L.L. de Mars (France), Mari Ahokoivu (Finland), Nicolas Zouliamis (Belgium), Patrick Kyle (Canada), Sam Alden (USA), Theo Ellsworth (USA), Tiina Lehikoinen (Finland) and Tommi Musturi (Finland))

Art is what art does and its expression is myriad and unexpected. Sometimes, though, we delineate between forms and some creators define themselves exclusively by these boxes. Are they dancers and only dancers? Sculptors are not novelists, right? A film maker would never put a brush on a canvas. Talent is a cherished gift, it’s best not to spread it too thin.
k #18 1
And of course what is art without its audience. How often do our expectations calcify the potential of creators? The walls we put around our demarcations often become detention camps for artists.
What happens, though, when courageous creators take a chance on something new, some interaction and intersection between established mediums?
Well, sometimes something beautiful occurs.
š! #18 is one of those things, one of those beautiful, beautiful things.

November 5, 2014

Review -- DEBBIE'S INFERNO by Anne Emond

Debbie’s Inferno

(Anne Emond)

The journey/quest trope as an exploration of the self-induced garbage we suffuse our heads with to keep us from getting much accomplished is nothing new, nor is comparing our own mishigas to Dante's Circles of Hell, but somehow in Debbie's Inferno, Anne Emond's new book from Retrofit/Big Planet, what is old reads fresh. There's a child-like lure to this inner monologue that is a result of both Emond's art and wit. She is able to turn what could easily be a thick slog through the miasma of anxiety into something light, more meaningful, and perhaps, closer to the truth about the damage that we do to ourselves with our brains.

Ok, show of hands, when was the last time you holed up in bed, binge watching Netflix, covered in the the detritus of frozen pizzas and/or Baked Lays? It seemed like a good idea at the time, right, a “little me time”, a “respite from the day-to-day”? Then, as the minutes turn to hours and the sun sets and your lethargy increases and everything needing to be done remains undone still, you start to wonder what has become of your life. Depression, at times, can be self-perpetuating – we drown in the goo of our own loathing when we “wallow too long” in it.

November 3, 2014

Review -- NUMBER issue 2 by Box Brown

Daniel Elkin: Okay, Sacks, so Box Brown is back with the second issue of Number and since I missed issue 1, I’ll just take this one at face value and go from there, leaving you to fill in the gaps.
In its 54 black and white pages, Number Issue 2 contains two stories which Brown describes as, “… the storiesSk8rh8r about a skateboarding girl who gets White Castle and has a run in with a schizophrenic local and the cops andElroy Mirrors’ Big Score about a struggling documentary film maker.” So we got these two slice of life comics that seemingly have little to do with each other and whose narrative focus are more on individuals who live on the edges and are participants in other people’s stories.
The narrator of the first story, Sk8rh8r, stands (or skates, as it were) outside normal expectations being a 33 year old woman who’s drunk skateboarding home. Her story is less about her and her life and more about how others interact with her. Her reactions are numbed by alcohol, her experience in this narrative is mostly reactive, and the lens she provides us is unsure and unwilling to draw conclusions. Through Rose, Brown puts the reader in an awkward position, as our understandings of what is occurring here gets filtered through a slightly bored perspective.
When an observer observes an observer, what is he or she really watching? Where does consciousness stand and what is its relationship with “reality”?
Elroy Mirrors’ Big Score takes this concept of participating in the observation of observing one step further, focused as it is on a documentary film maker. Here is a gentleman who makes a living out of capturing the lives of others, filming their stories, allowing their experience to take precedence. A documentarian, though, takes the footage and frames it through his or her own perspective, thus manipulating the act of observation in order to tell a particular story. In Elroy Mirror’s Big Score, though, the documentarian is seemingly less concerned with his own vision and more about how others perceive him.
And yet still, even here, little seems to happen. Tension comes from possibility not actuality, and a dull hum seems to pervade the whole thing. Box Brown is working in quiet places, and Number Issue 2 shouts this into our heads with a firm lines and dark ink.

October 30, 2014


Whatever it Takes 1 470x268 Fiction: Whatever It TakesThere’s an ignored old sailing man in his great-granddaughter’s house who’s now too tattered to conquer the seas, too frail to even master the stairs, shut in this brand new brick Colonial-style house in the middle of Kansas.
How he came here, passing through a series of exasperated “I’ve got too much going on already” and guilt-lying “We really don’t have the room,” is another ordinary tale of lives moving forward – the steps of the young leaving little in their wake – culminating in an eventual lipstick-caked, soft-hearted “okay” overcoming a gruff, beer-sodden “no.”
Now, so much after the fact, he spends his days sneaking into the too clean kitchen when everyone is gone and running the dishwasher, no matter what it contains, over and over again. He sits on the linoleum like a gray wounded octopus huddled against a rock, his ear pressed firmly against the brown metal front of the pulsating machine, listening.