June 27, 2016

Don't Do What Dini Does: A Reactionary Review to DARK NIGHT: A TRUE BATMAN STORY

So. Over on Comics Bulletin, I wrote a review of Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso's new autobiographical comic out of Vertigo books called DARK NIGHT: A TRUE BATMAN STORY.

It is one of the first reviews where I felt it necessary to organize around a thesis statement.

Dark Night: A True Batman Story lionizes the fragile masculinity behind old guard comics fandom and perpetuates all that is wrong in the closed world of corporate comics culture.

June 26, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 6/19/16 to 6/25/16

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


* If you read nothing else on this list, read Claire Napier's MANIPULATION OF MANHOOD: JULIA GFRÖRER'S COMIC BOOK MISANDRY 
* Rob Kirby on Luke Howard's TALK DIRTY TO ME 
* Nick Hanover on Rich Tommaso's SHE WOLF #1 
* John Seven on Patrick Kyle's DON'T COME IN HERE 
* The Trash Twins (Katie Skelly and Sarah Horrocks) talk about Frank Miller's SIN CITY 
* Alex Hoffman on Daishu Ma's LEAF


* Julia Wright interviews GINA WYNBRANDT 
* Alex Dueben interviews SIMON HANSELMANN 
* Alexander Lu interviews ULISES FARINAS
* Samantha Maldonado profiles ANDREA TSURUMI 
* Jake Marmer on the new documentary about poet BOB KAUFMAN, And When I Die, I Won't Stay Dead

June 20, 2016

Battling With The Asshole Brain: A Review of I FEEL WEIRD by Haleigh Buck

By Haleigh Buck
Published by Hey Boy! Press
Available Here
Haleigh Buck makes comics I like to read. Raw, confessional, naked, powerful, oftentimes funny, poignant, and full of truth, Buck’s comics maneuver through her own understanding of herself in her world and, in her furtive gestures, end up touching upon the universal. Her thick-inked pages belie the smudges and obfuscation we shroud ourselves in on our bad days. Her cartooning is damp with the desperate sweat stench that pervades our bedsheets after having swaddled us during dark days when our depression won’t let us leave our rooms. Her panels and lettering are jagged with the electricity of anxiety and the charge of panic attacks.

Nobody draws a thick grove of trees as ominous and inviting as Haleigh Buck.

Her latest book is I Feel Weird, a thirty-two page collection of diary comics she says were “written on (her) ‘good days’ after a mental breakdown in late 2015,” and which chronicle “the beginning to a long, looonnggg story of trying to recover from mental illness.”
This is a visceral, confessional, and ultimately healing comic book. In panel after panel, Buck captures her despair and her struggles. From a dog-interrupted suicide attempt (“Once you’ve accepted death as an option, it’s always the first place your mind goes to when you have really hit rock bottom”), to the unbelievable harassment she receives at the hands of an emergency room staff, to the healing safe space of her friend’s folk’s house, to her time working at Atomic Books in Baltimore, to her struggles with medication, all of it is here, presented fervently and unembellished. Buck places the reader beside her as she feels, reflects, and recounts. It would be almost overwhelming were it not what it is, a testament to an artist compulsively using her skills to understand.

And it is this that transforms I Feel Weird from diary to art -- that liminal space between experience and transmutation -- from immediacy to contemplation in the moment of creation. By the very existence of these pages, the reader carries through, confronted with the emotional crotch-kick of Buck’s narrative, knowing that through her art she has put distance to her inner horror and has reconstructed it into something for us all.
At the end of the book, Buck writes, “My hope is that this comic will help someone. Mental health is not a fun battle. It’s even less fun fighting it alone.” By publishing I Feel Weird, Buck uses her struggles as a rallying cry. It’s the open hand of a friend stretched out to help the rest of us get off the ground. It reminds us that, even in the depths, there’s still “shit to do” and that it is only us who can do it.

Unlike the pap that pervades some small press autobio comics, I Feel Weird is neither pedantic nor pathetic. It never speaks down nor stands on a soapbox. It’s not look-at-me, it’s look-at-us. It’s truth and it’s important because it exists. It reminds us that no matter what our asshole brains tell us, we are capable of spectacular things, things that will remain undone until we do them, and that we are the only ones who can make them a reality.

Do this. Go buy I Feel Weird here.

Other reviews of books by Haleigh Buck:

You can also follow Haleigh Buck:
On her BLOG
(someone needs to tell her to get on Twitter -- or maybe not -- it can be a terrible place sometimes)

June 19, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 6/12/16 to 6/18/16

Highlighting some great comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week. 
Before getting into Criticism and Whatnot, I'd just like to extend a Happy Father's Day to all those Dads out there (especially mine) who are out there being spectacular and teaching their children to be warm, empathetic, thoughtful, and kind. 

You're all Daddy Cool.


* Nicole Rudick on Julie Doucet's CARPET SWEEPER TALES
* Rob Clough's survey of almost every release by RETROFIT COMICS
* Emma Houxbois on CLEAN ROOM #9
* Bob Levin on Austin English's GULAG CASUAL
* Alex Hoffman on Kevin Budnik's HANDBOOK 
* Jason Wilkins on GMB Chomichuck's MIDNIGHT CITY: CORPSE BLOSSOM


* INK BRICK #5a curated and beautiful comics poetry anthology, is available for pre-order. 
* Andy Oliver on this year's ELCAF
* Tom Spurgeon's COLLECTIVE MEMORY: CAKE 2016
* Chase Magnett (again) interviews TOM KING
* Sean T. Collins interviews LISA HANAWALT

June 14, 2016

Books in Bites 16: Two Comics by Sarah Horrocks

Quick Reviews of Two Books by Sarah Horrocks

Sarah Horrocks is seriously talented and sometimes divisive cartoonist, critic, and commentator. She has created a number of self-published comics and has done critical writing about the medium for Fantagraphics, ComicsAlliance, Study Group Magazine, and The Comics Journal. She also co-hosts the podcast Trash Twins with artist Katie Skelly.

The following are reviews of two of her recent comics.

Available HERE
Goatlord is a brutal 5 page book featuring Horrocks’ black scratchy lines and open backgrounds. Starting from its lurid pink cover featuring a young woman with her brains spilling out onto her pillow, to the last blood-tracked firey page, this book lives up to what was its subtitle at one point, Asphyxiated Death Cum. It is, narratively, a slow build to an ejaculation of senseless, brutal, brutal violence.

Nightmarish in conception, it stands as a lyrical ode to the random aspect of life.The kind we all fear. The horror that comes out of nowhere. It’s like the lines in Karl Shapiro’s poem “Auto Wreck”:
But this invites the occult mind,
Cancels our physics with a sneer,
And spatters all we knew denouement
Across the expedient and wicked stones.

There is no rationale operating in Goatlord. Nothing is foreshadowed. One event doesn’t lead to another. There is no cause behind this effect.

And this is where the heft of this book lies. In Goatlord, Horrocks seems to be reminding us that any idea we have of control over our lives is but a thin veneer holding back the chaos that churns around us.

In the absence of explanation, we are forced to confront the abyss; therein lies the greatest terror of them all. This confrontation explains the necessity of faith, it explains why we rubberneck as we pass the most horrific scenes, it explains that undulating inscrutable and insoluble stress that is a constant in our lizard brains.
Goatlord, as a comic, is Dylann Roof, James Eagan Holmes, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (so many young white men with guns). It is the hail of bullets striking 103 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. It is the arbitrary and indiscriminate abomination that we desperately bury as we try to make sense of the world, the monstrosity that we court within the safe spaces of slasher films and cage fights and the music of bands like Darkthrone whose album lends this comic its name.

But try as we may, there are no real safe spaces. Not in our cities or our suburbs or our rural areas. No matter how much we try to isolate ourselves, we live among humans, the beast capable of the most horrific cruelty imaginable.

Ultimately, there really is no refuge or protection from the reality of the adventitiousness of life. Horrocks hammers this home in a tight five page book.

Available HERE
Whereas Goatlord immersed itself in the random horror that undermines our lives, Leviathan is about control. Specifically, it is about how seemingly powerless people take whatever power they can grasp and use it to create legitimacy. Sometimes this grasping provides a momentary validity, sometimes it fills a void, sometimes it becomes dangerous at the expense of either the self or of others.

Recently, Sarah Horrocks took an old CBR interview with Kurtis Wiebe and transformed it into an interview with herself. In this she writes about Leviathan as being an encapsulation of “the pitiless void at the center of being ... the gazed at refraction of the death beauty turn from oppressed object, to abject subject”.  This is a book that asks questions. What is the price of being an object of desire? What is the power structure inherent in the gaze, especially given the structures surrounding who’s gazing and who is being gazed upon?

Leviathan pushes out as it explores, working in the spaces between eroticism and control that express that which is within, without. It seems as if a part of it fundamentally asks how much degradation the self can endure before it must lash out at either the outside world or on itself?

Horrocks is also probing artifice in Leviathan. In that same “interview” she writes, “while a lot of work has been done to use camp glamour to parody and ridicule status–I was interested in the vile structures that prop it up–and more, actually, I’m interested in unpacking glamour as a visage of the sublime–it’s a manifestation, but it has its particular attributes”. There is a baseness at the heart of beauty and power that allows for a separate type of morality than that with which the rest of us enshroud ourselves. Actions have much different consequences for those of privilege, and Leviathan asks what is the price to be paid, and, more importantly, who ends up paying it?

Leviathan is dense and hard to parse. At times, Horrocks’ layouts and lettering require a squint and/or assumption in order to comprehend. It’s not an easy read, requiring a number of passes to put it all together and, even then, you are left unsure of your understanding.

But it is a challenge that pays off in the questions it raises more than the answers it gives, and maybe that is what gives it the most value.

June 12, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 6/5/16 to 6/11/16

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


* Ramona Williams on Julia Gfrorer's DARK AGE
* Monica Friedman on Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault's JANE, THE FOX, AND ME
* Nick Hanover on Howard Chaykin's MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL
* Andy Oliver on Kim Clements I TOLD YOU IT WAS SUMMER
* Rachel Davies on Aidan Koch's AFTER NOTHING COMES
* Austin Lanari on ISLAND #8
* Rob Clough on Liz Suburbia's SACRED HEART 
* RJ Casey on Ben Sears' NIGHT AIR
* Scott Cederlund on CASANOVA: ACEDIA #5


* Chase Magnett answers the question WHY SO MANY IMAGE COMICS READ LIKE TV SHOWS
* Roman Muradov interviews TIM HENSLEY 
* Peter Bagge interviews CHESTER BROWN 
* Steve Morris interviews TYLER PAGE 
* Three Poems by RODNEY KOENEKE 

June 3, 2016

The Man Who Sold The Blackstar: Trying To Come To Terms With CASANOVA: ACEDIA #5 And The Loss Of David Bowie (And Probably Failing At Both)

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I'm a blackstar, I'm a blackstar)
 -- David Bowie “Blackstar”

“Surely this was the man who would burn the world.”
 -- Matt Fraction Casanova: Acedia #5

I’ve been kinda dreading this moment since January 10, 2016.

Normally, upon the release of a new issue of Matt Fraction and Fábio Moon’s Casanova: Acedia, I would be all up in the clouds spit-screaming hallelujah and getting dog dirty rolling around on the carpet in glee. But the world has changed in the last six months and I’ve become a much more broken man in the interim.

Bowie died.

The reason this is important to my unpacking of Casanova: Acedia #5 is that, from the beginning, way back on January 27, 2015 when Keith Silva, Jason Sacks, and I reviewed issue #1, I’ve been comparing this arc of Fraction’s psychedelic, dimension-hopping, bonkers super-spy romp to the permutations and performance and poetry of David Bowie.

In that first review I compared this version of Casanova Quinn to the sturm und drang of the Ziggy Stardust persona and suffused my review with lyrics from that album. Subsequently, in ensuing reviews, I started pulling songs and ideas from Low, then Diamond Dogs, then Aladdin Sane. For issue #5 I had every reason to plan and expect to work in Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, but in the ten months between the publication of issue #4 and issue #5, the unexpected happened and all plans and understandings were heaped into the tire fire that we know to be life.

Bowie died.

And I still haven’t come to terms with that yet.

As you know, right before he did, Bowie left us Blackstar which is eulogy and celebration, beautiful and dangerous, obtuse and open. A parting gift of an artist in command of his craft.

Somehow it is the perfect backdrop admixture soundtrack for reading and writing about Casanova: Acedia #5.

Because I want it to be.

Because I need it to be.

As Bowie sang in “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, “Seeing more and feeling less, saying no but meaning yes,” Casanova: Acedia #5 has the buttons sewn on the cloth blindfold pop off in whatever metaphor I am trying to cobble together (vainly, perhaps, but I persist), allowing us, the reader, to witness Quinn see through the veil and finally confront not only who his employer actually is, but also to begin to understand his own role in this puzzle.
But as with all things Casanova, there are dimensions to understand between. And everything is part of a larger story that consists in all the timelines. You can’t piece together interdimensional storytelling without a couple of drinks first.

I’m trying to. I’m dying to.

Decisions have to be made one way or the other, either in the heat of the “fwoo and kssss” monster moment or after a careful reading sit down contemplation (only later to set the file aflame). All quests to understand what has begun now seem much more imminent. Each demon gets stronger as new information is signified. That was patrol. This is the war.  We are to “assume he’s been playing you all along. Assume he knows everything you do.”
In the hallways by the lockers I’ve overheard you guys say, “Shit’s getting real.”

Fraction understands that as this random “shit” becomes what we mistake for “reality”, it’s gotta get weird. Bonkers. Off the rails and into cobwebbed recording studios and endless hospital rooms.

But the train that is Casanova constantly holds together. While Fraction may be putting the loco in this locomotive, the real engineer continues to be Fábio Moon. At the center of it all, at the center of it all. Art and colors. Dynamic. Fluid. Beat for beat. Beautiful.

There’s a moment, one of Moon’s panels, looking down into an infinite downstairs bookstore (AN INFINITE BOOKSTORE!) that is so put aside your M.C. Escher four point perspective dizzying to the point of mouth open drooling that you have to echo Ruby’s “Holy Shit” because it’s encapsulating and on target. Which is to say another perfect Casanova moment. Moon is sitting in the chestnut tree. Who the fuck’s gonna mess with him?

Sorry. These songs continue to gain weight with each listen.

It’s easier to keep talking about this book than it is to think about Bowie.

I can’t give everything away.

Yet this writing is therapy, and this is going to continue to be an uphill march.

So. Casanova: Acedia #5 opens up the next stage of this arc. As backup in the first five issues, Michael Chabon and Gabriel Bá have been winding some weirdness of their own with the omnidirectional story of “The Metanauts”. I don’t have the stamina to even begin parsing what has been going on there -- in a season of crime, none need atone, but it seems that the two story lines are headed for a collision shortly.
Though this could be wishful thinking on my part.

To think that Casanova has been going now for a full ten years only seems to make sense given all we’ve been through together, We’ve lost as much as we’ve found and it all points to the fact that no matter what songs we’ve listened to or sung along with or wish we had written, none of it makes apparent sense. Yet we get to be where we are. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen. I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen.

Is Casanova: Acedia #5 a solitary candle in the center of it all? Does it lie instead of talking tall? Eagles in my daydreams? Diamonds in my eyes? Pop star? Flam star? Black star? Your passport and shoes and your sedatives, boo?

I don’t know and I can’t imagine that you’re looking to me for answers. What Fraction and Moon are doing here is enough. It distracts and confounds and entertains. It’s wonderful and weird and well-formed. Last year I called this series one of my favorite books. It’s going to help me process what is gone as much as what it is.

Do it. Get it. Move on.

This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird

Now ain’t that just like me