December 25, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 12/18/17 to 12/24/17

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


* Jenny Robins reviews PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa, writing, "The pages of the book are an absolute joy to enter, despite the ennui of the protagonist, light dances across each page, colours saturated with southern sunshine change in the blink of a panel to eerie starlight."

* Sam Ombiri on Aidan Koch's THE BLONDE WOMAN. "As readers we can circle this emotional space, and we see familiar structures and there's so much information to derive from them. It's not just information, because despite the efficiency of the images there's too much beauty and sincerity coming from the images to refer to what's in the images as 'information'."

* Robin Enrico writes a recap heavy review of FUNERAL PARLOR by Robert Young, and says Young "is able to transcend the trap of a simple nostalgic all back and tap into that deeper moment we all have as children when the story we are being told becomes too scary or too real and we need to be comforted."

* After making a plug for Sequential State's Patreon (which you, like me, should sponsor), Alex Hoffman has a quick post about APARTMENT NUMBER THREE by Pascal Girard.

* Ryan C. on William Cardini's TALES FROM THE HYPERVERSE, "a cosmos-shredding series of interlocked (at least thematically) stories that reduces Kirby-esque interplanetary/interdimensional clashes of absolutes to its barest elements, shakes them up kaleidoscopically, and dares you to figure out exactly what comes out the other end."

* Ryan C. ALSO writes this really great review of TONGUES by Anders Nilsen, who "is doing something supremely confident and just as gutsy here -- filling in very little by way of actual details and trusting entirely in his craft to both inform and mystify us every step of the way, to establish the framework of our expectations and subvert them in equal measure."

* Tegan O'Neil on David Collier's MORTON: A CROSS-COUNTRY RAIL JOURNEY, writing, "The virtues of Collier's work -- the attention to detail, the excoriating honesty, the use of the device of literary regionalism to ground narrative -- are virtues that arose out of a defiance both to mainstream commercial norms (Superman and Donald Duck and the like) as well the hedonism of the Underground scene in which many of the early cartoonists who work in this style cut their teeth."

* Meg Lemke presents Australian cartoonist Sam Wallman's comic IF THEY COULD PAY US LESS, THEY WOULD, "about the world's wealth inequality and how the notion of minimum wage is being contested in the modern era."


* Alex Dueben interviews ANNIE KOYAMA in honor of ten years of Koyama Press.

* Austin Lanari calls out the new wave of comics criticism that relies exclusively on "pointing at something that's happening on a page, regurgitating it uncritically in plain english, and packaging it in a tone and format that makes it seem critical or illuminating" in his piece called COMIC-SPLAINING. This piece led to some great back and forth on Twitter when it came out, and, while I agree with Lanari's basic idea here (though its execution left me a little confused), what I appreciated more was the dialogue that it fostered. Go Read It and let me know what you think.


December 22, 2017

Top 13 Small Press Comics (I Reviewed) of 2017

I don’t know about you guys, but for me, 2017 shot by like a rocket. Maybe it was the product of getting older, maybe it was a product of having to muster so much fucking outrage for 365 days in a row, maybe time is actually accelerating as the world comes undone. Whatever. It’s almost over, so I guess it’s time to put together another one of these lists. 

For a myriad of reasons (none of which should reflect the overall quality of books being published by the vibrant small press comics community), I reviewed a lot fewer comics this year, so putting this together was by far a more simple task than previously. So …. YAY for that, I guess. 

As in previous years, this list is only drawn from books published in 2017 that I reviewed. Rest assured, there were a number of outstanding books that I just couldn’t muster the energy to write about. Many of them have appeared on other people’s “Best Of…” lists. I’ll trust you to track them down on your own. I’m tired. 

To read my full reviews of each book, just click on the titles: 

Edited by Dan Stafford
Published by Kilgore Books
Dan Stafford has collected all these “orphans” and has given them a home in Kilgore Quarterly #7. They become a family by the proximity they share.” 

By Rozi Hathaway
Published by Good Comics 
More like comics-poetry than a straight narrative, this book demonstrates Hathaway’s evocative use of color and pacing to capture mood, tone, and theme.” 

By Tim Bird
Published by Avery Hill Publishing 
Bird speaks to these issues through his art in these pages: characters abstracted, objects tight in their lines, everything awash in greys and blues and browns, punctuated (always punctuated) by a crimson red. His theme plays out like a poem, lyrical and rhythmic, each artistic choice carefully considered, each panel full and absolutely necessary to the rest of the piece.” 

By Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Published by ShortBox 
Such a thing forces an acknowledgement of “the other” -- and Valero-O’Connell understands the uniqueness of such a thing -- the jarring singularity of such an event -- and her choice to bathe it in periwinkle and pink does more to connect this to the reader than any narrative choice could ever do.” 

By Scott Roberts
Published by Ubutopia Press 
In his ravishing Risographed red and blue pages, Roberts celebrates that which is within and gives it the opportunity to be without. In the layers and swirls that make up the pages of body magik, there is freedom to express, trust among a group, and foundational declarations of possibility.” 

By Tara Booth
Published by Retrofit/Big Planet 
In no way could I ever begin to imagine what it is like to be Tara Booth, but through her art I can connect to her on a fundamental level. She’s got her thing going on while I’ve got mine, but both of us, by the nature of our existence, battle the mundane in a quest to keep moving forward. Sure, we have different reasons and foundational reactions to the minute war of expectation vs reality, but Booth’s work here forces the acknowledgement of being in that crusade together.” 

By Steven Tillotson
Published by Avery Hill Publishing
Tillotson’s art expands the surreal nature of this epic adventure. There is a casualness to his line and a warmth to his palette that functions like well-worn, naugahyde barcalounger; it envelops you, lulling you into the snug comfort of the familiar, the soft support of the easily recognizable. Then, suddenly, perspective heaves or there is a flurry of panels on a page or, seemingly out of nowhere, Tillotson evokes Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Each lurch in style jolts your reading, pulls you out of your idleness, as if someone, giggling, ran an electric current through your chair.” 

By Linnea Sterte
Published by Peow Studios 
Yet it is Sterte’s art that is the true focus of the experience. Vast landscapes breathe through her choices and the detailed minutiae of fauna and flora with which she populates this world fill it fully. World building is rarely this sumptuous. You linger as you read, breathing in each thinly inked brush stroke, immersed in the panorama, listening to the heartbeat of the ample life as it claws and floats, holding on to what it builds in the larger remains.” 

By Tommi Parrish
Published by 2dCloud 
Throughout Perfect Hair lingers ghosts, that vague feeling that something outside is looking in, adding to the voyeuristic sensibility inherent in a book of this type. Through the abstraction of the cartooning and the disjointed nature of the narrative, the reader is purposefully made to feel apart from what is happening, even as Parrish draws you in. Even moments of interior monologue allow for little access, even less connection. Yet somehow the book is still immersive, deeply engaging, recognizable in a deep-seated manner.” 

By Conor Stechschulte 
As if an eternal recurrence, each story follows a similar pattern, yet is sprung from a unique moment of aspiration. Still, Tintering is more meditation than narration, dealing with essence and objective rather than with storytelling. But even in this, through his choices, Stechschulte is telling a tale of himself as an artist.” 

By Freddy Carrasco
Published by Peow Studios 
As bildungsroman, Hot Summer Nights is that part of the story that occurs in the first act, right on the cusp between nescience and experience, fecund with that which comes next–the inevitable losses and heartbreaks and horrors that make up the rest of having to “grow up”. Hot Summer Nights is a moment encapsulated, throbbing and seething with the pregnancy of tomorrow. It’s comic book making at its best and a joy to read.” 

By Anders Brekhus Nilsen 
For my purposes, though, let me just say that this is a stage setting book -- world building, character creating, and plot pushing. It does everything a first issue should do, setting its hooks deep into a reader with a gorgeous and intricate visual style and pulling them onto the boat with unanswered question after unanswered question.” 

By Jonathan Djob Nkondo
Published by Shortbox 
Parsing story into sequential static images, as Nkondo does here, makes that which could be a passive experience,the act of viewing an unfolding as told by another, into an active engagement -- the reader lingers as long as they feel necessary on panel or page, focusing on whatever element that draws, each creating cadence of an intrinsically personal reflection. Then, in that moment of closure only found in the experience of comics, the reader ends up having a unique interaction with the text, revealing in that, themselves.” 

Honorable Mention: Casanova IV: Acedia #8 
“It’s like a little gift that comes out of nowhere for no particular reason other than to make you smile.” 

POSTSCRIPT: One thing I was especially proud of in 2017 was launching Your Chicken Enemy as a platform to publish smart, original criticism of great writers. As this is a recent change, so far I’ve only had the pleasure of offering: 

I vow to do more of this in 2018. If you’re interested getting PAID for a 1,000 word review about that spectacular comic published by a small press publisher you just read, pitch me either at Twitter (@DanielElkin) or email me:

Personally, 2018 is going to be a time of continued activism: locally, nationally, globally. This may mean even less time for comics, but I’m running on limited energy and I gotta focus it where I hope it will do the most good. 

Thanks to all of you who have come to YCE, liked what you saw, and gave it some love on social media. Getting the word out about the amazing art arising out of the small press community is a pleasure. Getting money into the pockets of those artists is a priority, so if anything you read here sparks your interest, go buy a copy from the artist or publisher directly. Then tell your network to do the same. 

So, finally, in the end, I raise a glass to you. 

Here’s to 2018. 

Let’s get powerful together. 

And, as always, remember the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.

December 20, 2017

Softness and Statement: A Review of WHAT IS LEFT by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell

A ship that runs on the memories of one of its occupants malfunctions and collapses in on itself in the dead of space. One of its engineers survives the wreckage inside the reservoir of memories, alive but trapped, alone and stranded in a patchwork dream of someone else's life.” 

Daniel Elkin: There is a certain softness painted in periwinkle and pink. A wash of almost non-committal colors, neither this nor that, calling forth malleability and tenderness. It's the moment right before dawn. The cheeks of a newborn. All that possibility -- fecund with that which comes next -- suffused with potential. 

Such is the palette from which Rosemary Valero-O’Connell paints her 36-page comic from ShortBox, What is Left, coating it with an emotional tone that would otherwise elude her narrative. This choice is what gives this space-wreckage story its core. Here, the juxtaposition between thought and expression elevates and widens that which she hopes to convey. These colors saturate Valero-O’Connell’s undulating lines, tentacled and sinuous, adding movement and grace. The only straight lines in this book form the panels of her layouts, broken up and through, placed perfectly in a geometric rhythm that dance on the page. 

This is a book that transforms tragedy to beauty, and, by doing so, gives it a fundamental humanity that wraps around the reader with both delicacy and despondency.

Keith Silva: The word you want is "fluid." What is Left -- which is not a question, but a statement -- runs on memory. What you read as tenderness and possibility is a chimera. Possibility infers an as yet untapped potential, an unknown. This is the opposite, a reckoning, an accounting of what is lost and only what remains. Valero-O’Connell’s colors soften harsh realities: space, class, and death. Her choice of colors don’t convey "rosy-fingered Dawn," though, but reflect it. This is the "dying of the light." Same coin, different sides. 

“Slippery,” that’s the other word you want. It’s right there in the scene where Kelo plays with the cat and Isla reminds herself, warns herself, about the fragility of sanity in such situations of survival. She says, “keeping your head straight and your eyes clear is the most important thing,” She’s talking about a default, a preselected option when no other alternatives exist. Endurance means the rejection of sentiment. Kelo is a resource, a path she chose and trained for, yes, but she has become nothing more than the means of production, propulsion. Her existence, perhaps, even edges on the supernatural. She is a series of memories and is therefore no longer corporeal, human. Kelo says to the cat, “Aw sorry, bud. You’re slippery.” It’s true, cats are slippery, fluid and temperamental, like memories. 

What is Left is a cerebral story and not only because almost all of it takes place inside Kelo’s (Isla’s?) brain. What a giddy idea, memory as propulsion. Like all good fiction, What is Left forces the reader to confront the headiest of questions, the questions that matter most: Who are we? and What happens when we die? 

These are questions, What is Left is a statement. Valero-O’Connell chooses not to soften her story by asking a question in the title and therefore opens her story up to interpretation. She’s unsentimental in a story full of sentiment: parties, good food and “every first kiss, every scraped knee … everyone I’ve ever loved pulling us through the stars.” 

Delicacy? Despondency? No. Memories are delicate things and yet they shoulder so much of life’s burden. After death, memory is what is left, memories sustain life, lives, the same way Kelo’s memories sustain Isla. Get all gooey and sentimental if you like, you’d be wrong, but each to his own. 

Elkin: Try this on for size, then. In What is Left, right after things go wrong with The Memory Core on Isla’s Class C space vessel, one of the engineers says, “... but how’s a thing that runs on memories gonna be anything but temperamental?” Clearly, here is a statement of purpose, Silva -- one that reflects back on both of us, seeing as we both have approached What is Left from our own individual prior knowledge. You come at this story with your po-tA-to of darkness and fluidity, I read it with my po-TAT-toe of softness and delicacy. It’s the half-empty/half-full cistern of human experience, isn’t it? The old adage, “while you read a text, the text is reading you.” 

And yet I feel that we can both agree we were affected by the effect of this book. What that results in requires each of us to look to how we make sense of the world while considering what makes ourselves ... ourselves. It’s tricky and temperamental business, yes? Delicate AND fluid, perhaps? 

Still, the line that sticks out the most to me in What is Left is, “You’re all that exists in here. Every bit of it is you.” This is the rumination, the acknowledgment that we stomp and stumble our way through our duration, careening and spearheading, stretching and curling, and all of it is important to the creation of what we conceive ourselves to be. Every skinned knee and gold star, every first kiss and last good-bye, every smile and every tear -- ALL OF IT led to this moment, as much as all of it creates the story of our endurance and continuance, the epic tale of YOU, the epic tale of ME. The heroism and the cowardice of all our small moments coalesce the multitudes into personality, identity. 

You’re right, Silva. What is Left is not a question. What is Left is a statement, a declaration. And it is shouting your name. And in that it is beautiful. And in that it is delicate. And in that it is powerful. And in that it is potential. 

Just as you are. 

And, yes, just as I am, too. 

Silva: So we see this comic in the same way, but different -- two obliques in a room full of right angles -- because, according to you, I’m me and you’re you? 


But doesn’t that speak to what makes What is Left work? What makes it universal? Perhaps -- and I can only speak for myself, you’ll have to tell me if I’m wrong (hint: I’m not) -- what we’ve both been dancing around here is: 1) we both dig this comic, because 2) it provides what, I believe, “the kids” call, “the feels”? 

Memory is all feels, only feels. 

And now you’re probably dead out there,” Isla says to no one besides herself. Kelo is dead (or dying); it’s only her memories that survive. That’s Valero-O’Connell’s conceit, a riff on that old Latin chestnut, media vita in morte sumus, or “in the midst of life we are in death.” What is Left is Isla’s memento mori. Kelo’s memories power that Class C vessel and when it all goes to hell, Kelo’s memories form a life ring carrying Isla to safety. If the Latin is too much for you, how about if What is Left were given a shallow sounding Hollywood-style logline, it might read something like: “The Giving Tree … in space.” 

Talk about your feels. 

Too much? Okay. Here’s something less feels-driven: do you find it curious the worker in this story, Kelo, the human host or “donor” whose Theta waves fire the Core, “a combustion engine [that uses] the brainwave patterns of the host’s memories as fuel,” dies so Isla -- a graduate of the academy who’s, “from the Taino system, two planets past Mero” and says she’s “a biomechanic” (whatever that means) -- can live? Isla says (admits?), “I don’t think I said more than ten words to you when we were on the ship together. Just some hello’s [sic] over breakfast. Polite. Inconsequential.” Isla finds value in Kelo’s life only when it is her life (Isla’s) under threat. 

“Fundamental humanity,” as you say, indeed. What’s the cost of life if it’s paid by memory? What would a Marxist (or an ol’ lefty like you with Marxist tendencies) make of this “condition” in What is Left

Valero-O’Connell’s title states a remainder (reminder?) which presupposes loss. Again, I’m reminded of the scene with the cat. It’s the only time Kelo and Isla share something, a word bubble. “Hah!” they both say. Maybe this gets to the “delicacy and despondency” you feel, Elkin. That color in the rainbow of the human condition, that we are together alone. 

Kelo and Isla share the same space (in space), but they don’t know one another. Isla was “polite” to her, Kelo was “inconsequential.” It’s not until she has to grasp onto Kelo’s memories for dear life that she acknowledges Kelo’s humanity, her existence, another being with a life different from her own. It reads like progress -- maturity maybe? -- perhaps that’s why you were thinking of “newborn cheeks,” Elkin. The birth of a child and the realization that you are now responsible for the care of another life sobers one up quick to the fact there is more to life than oneself -- a new life that will, hopefully, protect, honor and remember you when you are, once again, dust. 

Bring the feels.

Elkin: And in this, again, Silva, there is counterpoint to the palette of softness. Yes, Valero-O’Connell is wagging the finger at our casual, yet callous, self-absorption and the sticky business of mustering “thoughts and prayers” suddenly when another life lurches into our fore. 

We become most compassionate in the midst of tragedy, often through the acknowledgement of “There but for the grace of God go I” (or even, “Better them than me”) -- yet, that compulsion comes not from obligation, but perhaps from the satori of a common sense of condition. Blood and sinew, muscle and bone -- we are all of the same stuff. Truly, we are at our best when we look a stranger in the eye and say, “That could be me.” Sadly, we only tend to see this when we peer through our heart strings. 

And so it is in the wreckage of What is Left

Isla finally acknowledges the richness that was the life of Kelo because she cannot turn away. Her very survival is literally enmeshed in the life of another. Such a thing forces an acknowledgement of “the other” -- and Valero-O’Connell understands the uniqueness of such a thing -- the jarring singularity of such an event -- and her choice to bathe it in periwinkle and pink does more to connect this to the reader than any narrative choice could ever do. 

Yes, it elevates the feels. 

And in doing so, it hoists the key idea behind this throwaway sentimentality (and its untoward narcissism) into something more soft, more fluid, more real. What is Left is comment and precept as much as it is art. What is left in What is Left is the foundational truth of our reciprocal state -- we are all in this together in the end. 

Silva: To borrow from the glover’s son: “Adieu, sweet prince /And flights of class C vessels sing thee to thy rest!―“Do you copy 2679?”

Keith Silva's writing can be found at sites such as Loser City, Comics Bulletin, and especially at Interested in Sophisticated Fun. You can find him on Twitter @Keithpmsilva

December 18, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 12/11/17 to 12/17/17

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


* Robin Enrico reviews Hazel Newlevant's SUGAR TOWN, a book that "shows us a world in which a bi-sexual, openly polyamorous relationship is not only of benefit to the person in the center, but also enriching to all of the individual partners."

* Annie Blitzen also writes about SUGAR TOWN, calling it "a touching story of a woman and her sweetie and her other sweetie, struggling with her feelings regarding her sweeties' other sweeties."

* Austin Lanari on FENIX by Zane Zlemesa, which is "centered around things, how they're arranged, how people relate to them in mundane ways, and the just-beyond-the-pale impulses of the average person."

* Tom Baker reviews I'M NOT HERE by GG, saying it is "quiet, sad and often still, but not devoid of hope."

* Henry Chamberlain on DIARIO DE OAXACA by Peter Kuper, which "manages to capture both the light and the dark of Oaxaca in an extraordinary collection of dispatches."

* Whit Taylor presents Carta Monir's minicomic LARA CROFT WAS MY FAMILY, "which explores the evolution of Monir's family dynamic and how a video game series impacted their lives." 

* Alex Hoffman reviews TALES FROM THE HYPERVERSE by William Cardini, "likely Cardini's strongest work yet."

* Scott Cederlund reviews Larry Marder's BEANWORLD VOLUME 4, saying, "Marder is working in parable, using a simple story to reveal a larger truth. But as is ofthen the case when looking at parables, that larger truth isn't always self-evident."

* As part of his Thirty Days of CCS series, Rob Clough writes about the comics of CHARLES FORSMAN, whose "comics have always been about the veil between civilization and total chaos on a micro level."

* Speaking of Forsman, Forrest Sayrs reviews Forsman's latest, I AM NOT OKAY WITH THIS, where "there are no solutions, no arguments, and, most depressingly, no hope."


* Rosie Knight interweaves her interview with TILLIE WALDEN into an exploration of the artist's craft and motivation and future in a way that makes for a great read.

* Giacomo Lee talks to a bunch of people about the proliferation of BOOTLEG SIMPSONS ZINES. There are some pretty fucking amazing things to be seen here.

* If you find yourself in a giving mood, perhaps a donation to CARTOON CROSSROADS FESTIVAL (CXC) -- Tom Spurgeon talks about it in his recent "Birthday Letter" linked here. This is seemingly becoming one of the major stops on the Small Press Comics Convention Circuit, and should be on your list both to attend and support when you can.

* Sarah Mirk and Alexandra Beguez comic on The Nib, MANSPLAINING, EXPLAINED.

* Rebecca Fulleylove introduces us to Simen Royseland's new zine, ENCHIRIDION, inspired by Stoicism.

* Liel Leibovitz's THE PROBLEM WITH 'THE PROBLEM WITH APU' has the subtitle, "What 'The Simpsons' can teach us about nationalism, identity, and the American Future."

* And finally, I've avoided linking to any "Best of 2017" lists because there are just too damn many of them and I don't really know what purpose they serve anymore (don't worry, I'll be posting my own later this week), but finally someone has come up with a list that I think may just be the definitive "Best Of" list ever: Sam Marx has compiled a list of THE BEST SANDWICHES HE ATE IN 2017.  

December 14, 2017

Books in Bites 18: TINTERING by Conor Stechschulte, TONGUES: CHAPTER ONE by Anders Brekhus Nilsen, and BUSYBODY #1 by Eli Bishop.

Quick Reviews of Three Books you may be interested in.

By Conor Stechschulte
Available HERE

Its title taken from a quote from Agnes Martin (“Artwork has only a tintering of what it attempts to represent to the artist or responsive observers”), Conor Stechschulte’s new book examines the question of the relationship between an artist and their art, and the obligations of observers of that art in perpetuity. It tells the story of five outsider artists who created public pieces to reflect their own particular vision, all of which were subsequently destroyed. Stechschulte does so through the means of broken objects, highlighting the transience of all things. The repetition of the word “Once” at the start of each of the five stories also echoes the permanence of the desire in the face of the impermanence of the act. As if an eternal recurrence, each story follows a similar pattern, yet is sprung from a unique moment of aspiration. Still, Tintering is more meditation than narration, dealing with essence and objective rather than with storytelling. But even in this, through his choices, Stechschulte is telling a tale of himself as an artist. Though tight in its presentation, Tintering offers something new with each subsequent reading, as if pieces to an ever-evolving puzzle that you are trying to put together during a power outage on a moonless night.

By Anders Brekhus Nilsen
Available HERE

So much good writing has been already written about this book. From Rob Clough’s review to Sam Ombiri’s thoughts about it, I’m not sure what else I can add to the conversation. Still, Anders Brekhus Nilsen’s Tongues: Chapter One will certainly be in contention for a spot on my personal “Best Of 2017” list (whenever I finally get around to putting that thing together). Go read Clough’s review if you want an understanding of both the history behind this book, as well as recap of what it entails. For my purposes, though, let me just say that this is a stage setting book -- world building, character creating, and plot pushing. It does everything a first issue should do, setting its hooks deep into a reader with a gorgeous and intricate visual style and pulling them onto the boat with unanswered question after unanswered question. Tongues: Chapter One is an itch that won’t stop. I’m in this one for the long haul and can’t wait to see where Nilsen takes me next.

By Eli Bishop
Available HERE

San Francisco based artist Eli Bishop has created a wonderful and weird collection of short pieces all stapled together into his 32 page, magazine-sized zine, Busybody #1. From daft little one-pagers to experiments in form and function to a strange fantasy to the eventual longer piece, “ Shift Report”, Busybody #1 seems to reflect Bishop’s range as a cartoonist. He uses these comics to probe and measure the outlier ideas of the medium, peppering a more straightforward approach with asides and assaying convention. This collection appears as if to stand on a precipice of some future work, serving as an embarkation and an emergence, while still bearing the weight of its own nascence. If you want to catch a creator on the crux of something spectacular, this is as good a place as any to start.

December 12, 2017

Books in Bites 17: THRILL MOUTH #1 by Theo Ellsworth, MINOR LEAGUES FOUR by Simon Moreton, AFTER LAUGHTER by Jonathan Djob Nkondo, and LITTLE GODS by Leda Zawacki

Quick Reviews of 4 Books you may be interested in.

By Theo Ellsworth
Available HERE

Theo Ellsworth creates books that pivot and place you in spaces wildly psychotomimetic and yet deeply affecting. Drawn in mostly straight ballpoint pen, this 36-page black and white zine defies unloading in terms of narrative, and yet, as is typical of an Ellsworth book, seizes your attention, as if pleading with your subconscious to recognize limitless process as well as marking the path to some recognition of healing. As is also part and parcel of an Ellsworth book, there’s a tension towards resolution and an understanding of the importance of the unknowable self. Ellsworth provides guides to cosmic understanding. Thrill Mouth #1 sets the stage for something new, something important. As always, it is Ellsworth’s dense art that captures this perfectly.

By Simon Moreton
Available HERE

The draw of a Simon Moreton comic is his ability to reduce everything to its most basic elements and, in that, expose its emotional core. Like much of Moreton’s work, Minor Leagues Four is introspective, scrutinizing the past, breaking down that which was into those beats that linger, paring the entirety to gestures and capturing the lines that outline experience. Moreton seems to see summation as story, and his linework prunes the personal into universal tokens, allowing his readers to mirror encounters of their own existence, their self on top of his. Cartooning combined with short fiction and photographs, Minor Leagues Four is both zine and rhetoric, and once again proves that Simon Moreton is an artist of and for our times.

By Jonathan Djob Nkondo
Published by ShortBox
Available HERE

One of the best things about Zainab Akhtar’s quarterly curated ShortBox releases is she consistently introduces us to artists to whom we might not otherwise have access. French animator, designer, and artist Jonathan Djob Nkondo is one such creator. His book After Laughter is, perhaps, perfect. This wordless 44-page, black and white book reads as if it were a short film, reflecting movement and time, focusing attention and perspective in a manner not often found in comics. Parsing story into sequential static images, as Nkondo does here, makes that which could be a passive experience,the act of viewing an unfolding as told by another, into an active engagement -- the reader lingers as long as they feel necessary on panel or page, focusing on whatever element that draws, each creating cadence of an intrinsically personal reflection. Then, in that moment of closure only found in the experience of comics, the reader ends up having a unique interaction with the text, revealing in that, themselves. Nkondo’s use of negative and positive space adds to what he is seeking to convey. Here, solid truths, those of the agreed upon black and white variety, seem to fluctuate through the choices of the artist, and yet, even in this, an agreed upon reality is pushed to the forefront. This is an amazing book from an amazing talent, and it’s one that should be on the shelf of anyone who considers themselves a fan of the medium.

By Leda Zawacki
Published by Tinto Press
Available HERE

In order to talk about Leda Zawacki’s Little Gods, it may be best to just quote from the solicitation from Tinto Press. It was “originally inspired by the Northwest Native American creation mythology Mount Shasta and the Grizzly Bears. Sky Gods closely follows the Native American myth and uses much of the original text. With Little Gods, the story is diverted into an alternate, female-focused mythology while embracing some of the main themes and symbolism from the original story.” Zawacki’s art in this book is beautiful, taking full advantage of possibilities watercolors offer cartoonists. As well, framing the story to focus on love, acceptance, and empowerment adds a further dimension to a rich mythology. This is gentle comic, one to be enjoyed and shared with those needing a voice, a community, and a sense of purpose.