July 29, 2015

Come Out Of The Garden Baby, You’ll Catch Your Death In The Fog -- Reviewing CASANOVA: ACEDIA #3

Over on Comics Bulletin, I team up with Julia Walchuck and Jason Sacks 
to review issue three of Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon's 

Because there is a tight and quick game being played here and, while Fraction holds the outline in his back pocket, really it’s Moon who is sliding down the rope to the street below on this series. Every spatial and temporal anomaly is accounted for and they are all on full display in small gestures and those expressions on everybody’s face.

When I grow up I want to be as together as Casanova: Acedia #3.

July 28, 2015

My Continuing Crisis: Writing on CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS 9


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

Seriously everybody, there’s just so much that goes wrong in Crisis on Infinite Earths #9, isn’t there?
I mean … Wow
Before we start though, know that I get it. I’m no fool, I understand that this was a CROSSOVER EVENT from the mid 1980s, and, given that context, I can almost read the “can’t keep it in his pants” misogyny of Beast Boy, view the appearance of the Confederate Flag on the Haunted Tank, witness the inclusion of “the cosmic treadmill” (Come ON!), and be introduced to every fucking possible superhero and supervillain ever in this issue  — (why do I need to see Jack Ryder — heh — activate his “molecular transducer” — double heh — to become The Creeper and then never really see him again except to let us know that he “trusts no one,” especially the ladies?) — without setting this book on fire in some sort of desperate purgative plea to whatever higher power is punishing us for our past sins.

July 27, 2015

It Was Just Some Homeless Guy: Dealing with the Reality of Jason Little's BORB

It's a disposable place we inhabit, and, as the world opens up to us as never before, the bubbles we encase ourselves in grow smaller and thicker. It is as much of a choice to ignore that which we find distasteful as it is to lend a compassionate hand. How an individual chooses to act in the face of the uncomfortable speaks volumes about their character and their priorities.

Case in point: homelessness. Homelessness is a chronic problem in America and its continued existence demonstrates profound failures of our political system, our social system, and our medical system. A recent report from the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley indicates that in San Francisco, a city often mislabeled as a gleaming bastion of liberalism and social welfare, the homeless problem is only getting worse.

The 2013 San Francisco Homeless Count and Survey found 6,346 homeless people plus 914 homeless unaccompanied children. This Count, though, has been much maligned as being woefully inaccurate and missing so many more. For example, there is a clear discrepancy between how many students San Francisco Unified School District says are homeless (2,100) and how many homeless school-age children were found during the 2013 count (no more than the 679 people in families counted during the count, plus 134 unattended youths under 18 years old discovered on their own).

The 2015 Count was done on January, but that number have not been released. From casual observation of, and anecdotal evidence about what is going in San Francisco in the last two years, though, I expect that number to have risen.

Uncivilized Books has recently published Borb by Jason Little (Shutterbug Follies, Motel Art Improvement Service) According to their solicitation, Borb “is the story of a severely alcoholic homeless man, a downtrodden urban Candide whose misfortunes pile up at an alarming rate. The narrative is presented as a series of daily newspaper strips as the author pays homage to the depression-era imagery of Harold Gray (Little Orphan Annie) and Frank King (Gasoline Alley) and the long and complex tradition of the comic strip slapstick vagabond archetype. At once hilarious, horrifying, and full of heart, Borb depicts the real horrors specific to present-day urban homelessness.”

Borb is infinitely accessible and incredibly hard to swallow. It confronts the idea of homelessness full on, relentlessly, and, although presented in humor comic format, it doesn’t candy-coat. In fact, the choice of exploring an issue of such gravity in the style of something that evokes a light-hearted expectation is what gives Borb so much of its power.

Jason Little has subverted Marshall McLuhan’s phrase, “The medium is the message” in a profoundly fundamental way that breeds an emotional ferocity that otherwise might not have been available. Borb is unrelenting in its depiction of the truth of an aspect of the homeless issue from which so many of us turn our heads.

The system is broken. We are to blame. There are people, human beings, somebody’s son or daughter, dying daily on the streets of our country all because we would rather stare into our phones and think it is somebody else’s problem.

It’s not somebody else’s problem. 

As it has been said over and over again by much smarter people than I, what sort of society are we at heart when the most needy among us lie wasting away in pain on our streets?

Jason Little pulls no punches with Borb. He throws straight jabs into our complacent faces. Hopefully as our eyes swell up from this attack, we might actually begin to see things for what they really are.

You can buy Borb at Uncivilized Books’ online shop.

July 21, 2015

Who Am I To Say: A Review of BIG PUSSY by Gina Wynbrandt.

Big Pussy, by Chicago based cartoonist Gina Wynbrandt, is a 24 page, 5x7 saddle-stitched, BRIGHT PINK colored risograph comic published by 2D Cloud that is either completely bonkers or subtly condemning on various levels and I’m not sure if I’m the guy to decide.

The narrative conceit is sort of a biographical exploration of Wynbrandt coming to terms with the implications and expectations of becoming an adult on her twenty-fourth birthday after years of a mollycoddled life in her mom’s home. Her “To Do” list begins with “buy weed” and continues with “move out of mom’s house” and “pay off student loan” and “learn to drive”.  Instead of approaching these tasks head on, she instead turns to her anime hero Lunar Princess ™ and her feline mentor Nebula as role models and finds a bunch of alley cats to help her “become a lil tougher and more prepared for entering adulthood”.

What follows is an over-the-top drug, sex, and rage fueled adventure that ends with … well, you just have to read it to see because there is just no way I can describe the finish.

Just like I can’t really wrap my head around how to approach it critically because I remain unsure of what Wynbrandt is trying to do with this book. I’ve broken it down to four possibilities, none of which stick.

  1. Big Pussy is a comic that uses hyperbole to mock how older generations view the current generation of young people making their way in the world.
  2. Big Pussy is a comic that is a savage indictment of the infantilization of Wynbrandt’s own peer group.
  3. Big Pussy is a comic in which its creator mocks her own insecurities and, through this purgative act of creation, comes to terms with her current existence.
  4. Big Pussy is a comic that is bonkers just for the sake of being bonkers.

Regardless of the (or lack of) Big Theme of the book, Big Pussy is a book that understands that comics is the best medium to tell its story and Wynbrandt is a creator who uses all the tools to do just that.

You can pick up Big Pussy over at 2d Cloud’s online store.

July 15, 2015

So. I Went To Comic Con

Over on Comics Bulletin, I have an article running called 
If you're interested, go read that there.
Thought I would just post my pictures here:
The Comics Bulletin Crew.
Bottom Row (l to r): Paul McCoy, Jason Sacks, Ryan Claytor
Top Row (l to r): Chase Magnett, Justin Giampaoli, me

July 14, 2015

My Continuing Crisis: Writing on CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS 8


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

Now you’ve put me on the spot, when all I really wanted to write about in this issue was Darkseid’s use of air quotes… I really want to know more about his “certain precautions”, what it means to “cloak” instead of cloak, how his version of the “status quo” differs from mine, and what exactly is that “lesson” he means.
It’s cryptic stuff, and, by golly, I sure did want to write screeds about that.
Either that, or even take on the inclusion of a female character named Vixen — seriously — who is standing over a man she has shoved up against some console with her leg between his saying, “You’re in for the ride of your life!” — but I realize this aspect is fraught with gender politics and I’ve vowed to not enter into those debates anymore, but rather just listen to and support those who have a direct experience with such matters.
So air-quotes it was to be as A) I am a high school English teacher, so I know something about grammar and punctuation, and B) waaaaaaaaay more funny.
But now I feel robbed of this opportunity because Stack wants to raise the level of discourse and actually talk about comics criticism in general and Crisis in particular.

July 2, 2015

Those Types of Tales: Reviewing SHORT AND MERCILESS STORIES by Marco Taddei and Simone Angelini

The scariest stories are the ones we tell ourselves all the time. You know, the ones about how everything is going to be alright, how the universe makes sense, how life is worth living.

You know, those stories of hope. The lies. The one's that get us out of bed in the morning. Make us put on clothes.

It's rare that a book lives up to its title as well as Marco Taddei and Simone Angelini's Short and Merciless Stories does. In 110 black and white pages, Taddei and Angelini tell eight stories revolving around misery, isolation, insanity, philosophical ambiguity, and Facebook. Each one is brutal, savage, engaging, and, in the way that we laugh at other people's misery, funny.

In his introduction to this book, Noah Van Sciver says, “Sure, these stories are grim and dark, but they're also incredibly light.” Van Sciver owes much of this to Angelini's artwork, “skilled, uncluttered, and appealing”, and this is true to a great extent. But much of the credit should also go to Taddei's writing (not to mention Davide Gentile and Erin Dwight's translation from the original Italian). These are stories that rely heavily on timing and nuance as much as narrative, and if either one of these is off, the stories would veer into abnegation over the absurd celebration they are meant to be.

And as horrible as these stories are (and they are merciless as their title suggests), they are not off-putting in any way. Taddei and Angelini seem to have simpatico. Their interchange between words and pictures works to transcend horror and make their stories into what amounts to be a shiny gift for the pessimist, lifting the corners of the mouth into a smile while pummeling the paunch with the inanity and incongruity of life.

Bits like “The Story of the Marble”, in which a man has the power to transform people into knick knacks and how this rules his life but in death leads to nothing; “The Story of Oscar's Mother”, which tries to explain the unexplainable by providing no explanation at all; or “The Story of Enrico's Head”, which sets forth an unbelievable premise and then wraps it back upon itself, all echo the great parts of something like The Twilight Zone in that they are inexorable while being entertaining. At their core, these stories are profoundly negative, yet through the art of Taddei and Angelini, they are pleasant and engaging.

Which is no mean feat. This sort of art may actually be the hardest to create, but, when pulled off, is graceful and magnificent.

It is only fitting that this book ends with “The Story with Death” in which Death gives a press junket interview promoting his autobiography, Even Death Has A Heart,where he describes his exhaustion and how he frames his job as an artistic performance. Death gets the last lines in this story. After snorting drugs through a rolled up 20 euro note, he beams, “And we begin again!”

It is inevitable. Death is the final word. There's nothing anyone can do about it.

So you might as well smile.

Short and Merciless Stories is available through Tinto Press 

July 1, 2015

Transcendence is Beautiful: A Review of Ant Sang's DHARMA PUNKS

I saw the best minds of my Generation X destroyed.
-By over-indulgence.
-By desire.
-By fear.
-By too much passion about the workings of the world.

Much of the 1990s is pretty much a blur for me. I was a recent college graduate with an over-inflated ego, a labyrinthine relationship with sobriety, and a poorly scrawled map of where I was, where I was going, and I had a terrible sense of direction. All I was absolutely certain of was what I didn't want, and what I didn't want was what seemingly everybody else wanted. 

The 90s may have been the decade that punk actually died, but while it was in its death throes, I clung to its ethos as tightly as I could.

I was a younger then. I had the stamina for such a thing. There was strength still in my grip.

But nothing lasts forever.

The end of the 90s found me married, a father, a home owner, and on track to a career as a High School English teacher. Punk was dead; I had become a man.

As it says in Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

But am I a better person for such a thing?

Metaphysical questions. Identity. Perception. Reality.

Life is suffering. Life is an illusion. Attachment is the source of all woes. The Buddha says, “See all of this world as a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightening in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.”

I was just reminded of this in a comic. From 2001 to 2003, down there in New Zealand, a cartoonist named Ant Sang was releasing an eight issue series that addressed all this and more. This comic was called Dharma Punks and it was one of the most successful independent comics produced in New Zealand ever.

Then it went kinda out of print.

Now, thanks a successful Kickstarter, New Zealand's Earth's End Publishing has brought this series back to life. Right now the first four issues are available on Comixology with the remaining issues eventually coming out on a monthly basis. Also, Conundrum Press will have a trade paperback edition for the Canadian/American market coming out in September.

All of this is a blessing of sorts, because Ant Sang's Dharma Punks is a comic you should absolutely be reading.

The solicit for the book reads: “It's Auckland, New Zealand. October, 1994, and a group of anarchist punks have hatched a plan to sabotage the opening of a multinational - fast food restaurant (Bobo's), by blowing the building sky-high come opening time.” This is the framing device that encircles a book that looks deeply into the underpinnings of human relationships, how we communicate with each other, the intersections between the tenets of Buddhism and the spirit of punk rock, the concept of “the outsider” and “the other”, the influences of mass consumerism, and, ultimately, what it means to be human.

Yea. It's all that. 


And it's an impressive, to say the least. It's a book that deserves a wider audience.

A matter of fact, why the hell aren't you reading it RIGHT NOW?

As you can see from the images I've included in this review, Sang's style is kind of like Paul Pope's in execution, but, in a way, surpasses it in terms of minutia. There's so much in the slight details of Sang's lines and panels and layouts that a reader could spend many ticks of the clock enraptured and meditative on each page. It could be overwhelming were it not for Sang's deftness of narrative beats and timing.

While Sang is working deep within a philosophical construct, at its heart Dharma Punks is a character driven story. Sang uses all sorts of temporal tricks to not only tell his story, but also to unfold motivations and emotional ballast in each one of his characters. It pulls you in as it smacks of the way we actually learn about the people in our lives. Traditional “Origin Stories” are lazy, simplistic, and false – we get to know people through layers of time, we understand them in pieces and through that, formulate the whole. Sang breathes this sort of life into Dharma Punks and thus engages his audience on a level more true to experience than narrative convenience.

Dharma Punks is also punk as fuck. Sang gets it and through the power of his art he's able to convey so much of what made punk good, what made it transformative for the people who needed it, and how it fostered community while it idealized a hope of a better world. While so many saw punk as reactionary or nihilistic, really it was responsive to repression, hypocrisy, idiocy, and threats to the spirit. Punk was as much about hope as it was about anger -- the people in the community understood this, fostered it, and built upon it.

Sure, punk is dead now, but its beliefs and attitudes persist in all of today's struggles for social justice, equality, and the dignity of the individual. This is why books like Dharma Punks are still important and resonant, and artists like Ant Sang need to be fostered and celebrated.

Once again, you can pick up Dharma Punks on Comixology