August 20, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 8/14/17 to 8/20/17

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


* John Seven on CRAWL SPACE by Jesse Jacobs, in which "Jacobs does a great job in walking the line between an emotionally realistic teenage drama and an abstract cautionary fable about the different things people want out of life." If you've never experienced a Jesse Jacobs book, you should correct that oversight as quickly as possible. This seems like a good place to start.

* Helen Chau Bradley reviews GETTING OUT OF HOPE by James Cadelli which she describes as "a romp, at once lighthearted and unexpectedly serious". This looks like an interesting book that was totally off of my radar. I'm also fascinated suddenly by the word "romp" and what all that actually entails. 

* Robert Kirby reviews GREEK DIARY by Glynnis Fawkes, "a work that's more vivid, immersive, and entertaining than any vacation slide show could ever be." Travel comics of this type seem to always unlock something in my brain that causes me to look around my apartment and think to myself, "I should get out more."

* Nola Pfau's dislike of FAILSAFE clearly demonstrates the idea that a negative review sometimes more fully reveals the positive aspects of the medium by pointing out how a particular work fails to deliver them. Pfau's takedown is on point and fully realized. It's also engaging as fuck.

* Lucy Bourton introduces us to the four-panel comics of PEPA PRIETO PUY that wordlessly translate haikus written by her grandfather, a fascinating concept which I would love to see more cartoonists take on if for no other reason than for the expanse it creates in the heads of the reader.

* Isaac Butler on Yeon-sik Hong's UNCOMFORTABLY UNHAPPILY. The tone of Butler's writing is all over the place in this one, but he constantly sticks ideas in here that land on their feet which add remarkable insight into Hong's cartooning. 

* Andy Oliver dives into EVERY HOUR IS SAVED by Chloe Elise Dennis, "a visual record of interviews she conducted with her grandmother." I especially admire the way Oliver deals with the nascent rawness of Dennis' talent, how he looks past its missteps and sees in them their potential. Oliver is a great flag-waver for burgeoning talent, and his critical eye is certainly one to be trusted.

* Rob Clough reviews IN-BETWEEN DAYS by Teva Harrison which he calls "bracing, powerful, and achingly honest." This review made me recall my fondness for Sharon Lintz's Pornhounds. Cancer fucking sucks, y'all.

* Just go read Carta Monir's LARA CROFT WAS MY FAMILY, and you'll understand why I put this link first.

* Alex Dueben talks to SHANNON WHEELER about his new book SH*T MY PRESIDENT SAYS and the idea of illustrating Presidential Tweets. I'm personally on the fence here, as I see a certain value in this (exploding the insanity, for instance), but I also see how this could be mildly dangerous, as if holding 45 up as an object of ridicule in some ways normalizes him and lessens the impact of the implications. Strange times bring their own set of responses, I guess.

* Alex Dueben also interviews SETH about the final chapter of Clyde Fans, "what he's working on next, and some thoughts on the film Seth's Dominion."

* Greg Hunter interviews KATIE SKELLY on the latest episode of Comic Book Decalogue.

* If you're a fan of small press comics, you probably already have seen the list of IGNATZ NOMINATIONS released this week. If not, click on the link as it will lead you to said list and a couple of comments by Heidi Macdonald.

* Kim O'Connor has three words for us: "HORNY CHRIS WARE". Here, O' Connor takes a solid gaze at Ware's representations of women in his comics, and how "he mistakes all human experience as interchangeable in a way that would only ever occur to white men." O' Connor has given us a lot to chew on here in this relatively short piece, and it's enough of a mouthful to make me second guess every time I start conceiving any aesthetic or thematic reaction I have as being "universal" and "speaking to us all".

* MUST READ OF THE MOMENT: Speaking of Kim O'Connor, once again she and Nick Hanover get together to have a DISCOURSE ABOUT DISCOURSE -- this time they focus on comics criticism. I'm certainly intrigued by Hanover's idea that the best critics demonstrate a "constant pursuit of understanding." As well, O'Connor's observation that "The spirit of real criticism requires doubt more than conviction or certainty" reframes much of my thinking in an enormously positive way.

* Andy Warner and Jackie Roche present SOCIALISM: AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE.

* Liel Leibovitz dives into the archives of Tablet in order to address the issue of THE ALT-RIGHT AND THE JEWS.

August 13, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 8/7/17 to 8/13/17

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


* Andy Oliver reviews ENTITY REUNION by Alexander Tucker. From the images Oliver ran alongside the review, this book looks spectacularly bonkers (and I am a big proponent of things spectacularly bonkers). Of that, Oliver writes that it requires "an engagement from the readership that can deal with the non-linear and cope with sequential art that bends the very definition of that term to its own will." That alone should get your juices running. Then he calls it "esoteric, enigmatic and inscrutable" and I'm all in, baby. Often times the most profound aesthetic experiences are the ones for which you have to work. That's what makes Batman vs. Superman such a work of great cinema.

* Andy Oliver also reviews (who has this kind of time) SOUND OF SNOW FALLING by Maggie Umber. Umber's work is something to behold; its silence speaks loudly through her art -- or, as Oliver writes, it "emphasizes the reader's role as observer, always that one step back from a world we can never truly be a participant in." 

* Zainab Akhtar reviews Jillian Tamaki's BOUNDLESS, saying it "is many things -- contemplative, cynical, amusing, surreal -- but it mainly anchors Tamaki as a formidable essayist of modern life, and undeniably one of the finest cartoonists of this generation." I wish I could write like Akhtar, as she's pretty much spot on about most everything she turns her critical eye towards.

* Brian Nicholson on Keren Katz's THE ACADEMIC HOUR, a book I absolutely keep meaning to read but, for some reason, keep forgetting about (is this some sort of subliminal act my brain does in order to keep me in a state of depression?). It's hard to tell if Nicholson likes this book, as his review if full of adverbs and adjectives which indicate a profound befuddlement on his part. I often wonder why a critic would take on a work that they don't fundamentally understand (although, geez, how many words did we all write about Stray Toasters?), but part of the charm of this piece, I guess, is seeing Nicholson come to terms with his confusion.

* Katie Skelly reviews MY LESBIAN EXPERIENCE WITH LONELINESS by Kabi Nagata, a book where "satisfaction doesn't come from setting up equations or crossing off notches. It's the experience, and what it brings out, that counts." It's this sort of insight into theme and purpose that makes Skelly as great a critic as she is a cartoonist.

* Greg Hunter reviews GHOSTS, ETC. by George Wylesol, and, in the end, says: "readers may be unsettled by Wylesol's comics while delighting in their effects." Hunter picks up on much of the same ideas that Alex Mansfield did back in May (look at me plug work that I edited!!). This is one of those books that sticks, long after you put it down. I'm excited to finally meet the Avery Hill people (the publishers of this book) at this year's SPX because they deserve hugs for the spectacular books they publish.

* Greg Burgas (how many Greg's write comics criticism anyway?) takes a look at MISTAKEN IDENTITY by Gordon Harris. There's a lot of words in this review, but the ones that best suit the purpose of this column are: "Harris does a nice job showing how we invent ourselves and how we move from one section of our lives to another. He also casts a critical eye on the things that others think are important and want us to believe are important, even if we don't feel that way." Like I said, a lot of words. It's hard to tell if Burgas likes the book by his use of the words "nice" and "critical eye" -- but rest assured, he does.

* MariNaomi presents an excerpt from Nichole J. George's graphic memoir FETCH, which she recommends "for both animal lovers and those who hope to understand their animal-loving friends."

* John Seven reviews Yeon-Sik Hong's UNCOMFORTABLY HAPPY and really likes it for its optimism. As I just wrote that sentence, I realized how few times in life we completely admire someone for their optimism. Often times, we regard positivity in the face of challenges as either an act of denial or ignorance. And when you think about it, that's really pretty sad. It's too damn easy to be cynical, people. As Jackie DeShannon said, "Put a little love in your heart."

* I know this is from last week, but I missed it then because I was probably drunk or asleep, but anytime Rob Clough writes about comics poetry, I want you all to read it. This time he reviews INKBRICK #3. Inkbrick is a comics poetry anthology curated by Alexander Rothman, Paul Tunnis, and others and is my go-to when people ask me about the genre. I've been writing extensively about comics poetry since I got my first issue of Inkbrick (it was my gateway piece), but I will never be able to write as well as Rob Clough.

* Oliver Sava reviews PANTHEON: THE TRUE STORY OF THE EGYPTIAN DEITIES by Hamish Steele which "spotlights just how strange mythology can be, adapting ancient Egyptian folklore in all of its absurd, grotesque glory." I like how Sava keeps reminding you that this is not a kid's book by using some pretty graphic examples of Steele's choices.

* Alenka Figa on NOT MY SMALL DIARY 19: UNEXPLAINED EVENTS, an anthology edited by Delaine Derry Green. Figa has a lot of great things to say about this book, and since I trust her taste, I imagine this is worth your time. My favorite thing about this review, though, is when, at the end, Figa acknowledges what is best about anthologies altogether by talking about her excitement seeing artists she knew alongside artists that were "entirely new" to her. Nothing helps a reader discover great new talent than a well-curated anthology. We need more of those. Get on that, everyone.

* Nick Hanover takes a long look at Rupert Everton's I ROVED OUT, a book which "showcases a beautiful world where problems are caused and just as often solved by immense amounts of fucking." There's a pitch you don't get every day. Or maybe you do? I guess it just depends on the circles in which you operate. Maybe I just need to get out more.


* Mike Dawson and Zack Soto talk to creator and critic DARRYL AYO on the latest Process Party. Ayo is someone you should listen to (unless he is shit-talking sandwiches, then fuck that guy) about comics. Follow Ayo on twitter @darrylayo. You'll be glad you did. Also, the whole conversation that Dawson and Soto have about being dads at the start of this episode makes me feel really, really old.

* Philippe LeBlanc interviews XIA GORDON about her new book from 2dCloud, Kindling, as well as her "use of colours (sic) and her upcoming comics." While the interview suffers from the lack of further development (and Canadian spelling) inherent in an interview that isn't conducted live, LeBlanc asks some good questions and, regardless, I'm really looking forward to this book.

* Joseph Schmidt talks to AUBREY PLAZA about dancing on Legion. I link this for a number of reasons. One, I like Legion a lot and Aubrey Plaza is probably the best thing in it, and two, I like Joe a lot and I like to watch him try to make this an actually interesting interview.

* Check out the CARTOONISTS OF COLOR DATABASE and the QUEER CARTOONISTS DATABASE, both a labor of love, created and maintained by MariNaomi. Then hire some of these amazing cartoonists.

* Cartoonist JULIA GFRÖRER went to the hospital after being ATTACKED BY A FERAL CAT. I realize that sentence sounds a bit sensational, which is a shame, as the story is rather mundane. All I can say about this whole story, though, is thank goodness for the Affordable Care Act.


* Finally, here's some really great news: 

August 6, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 7/31/17 to 8/6/17

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


* If you support Sarah Horrocks' Patreon (and really, you should) then you've already read her RANXEROX: HOLY FUCKS FOR THE PEOPLE. If not, she just made it available for everyone. Reading this made me buy these books. I regret nothing.

* Andy Oliver writes about Simon Moreton's MINOR LEAGUES #3. If you've been following my writing at all (and for fuck's sake, why would you be doing that?), you know that Moreton is one of my favorite cartoonists going presently (#8 on the list last year). What Oliver writes here, though, is the kind of writing that would make anyone want to read Moreton's work. This is personal and beautiful criticism at its best.

*Hillary Brown on Gary Panter's SONGY OF PARADISE which she seems to like (I guess?), but sounds kind of painful to me. I haven't read it, so I should probably do that before I make any more comments about it, right?

* Now I know Bob Levin has been doing this for years now, and his latest review of PURGATORY ("A REJECTS STORY") by Casanova Frankenstein is a quick dash-off, but give an old man his due. Even when he doesn't give a shit, he makes you BELIEVE he gives a shit. And that, my friend, is some good writing.

* Lucy Bourton introduces us to the FOUR PANEL COMICS of Paris-based illustrator Loïc Movellan. It's great to see an artist have so much fun within the constraints of this self-imposed dictate, as well as see how such an experiment lends itself to notions of expectation and perception.

* Irene Velentzas reviews THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS WRONG by Mimi Pond, a book that "explores the nature of how others' stories shape our own and forge our relationships ... [and] ... reminds us that what happens to us, how we remember a certain place, a certain time, who we were or are, is all a matter of perspective." These are good things.

* I'm always glad when I get great writers to write about interesting books by inundating them with cowboy emojis and Gifs. This time, I got Alex Mansfield to write about HEAVENLY BLUES by Ben Kahn and Diego Hidalgo. Mansfield peppers his criticism with a lot of unanswerable questions which is a style I am quite partial to, as it reveals the struggle of the critic to make sense of much larger issues.


* Alex Dueben talks with MAGGIE UMBER about her recent book, Sound of Snow Falling, as well as her deeply moving essay "Getting Divorced In Comics". While this interview is a bit stilted and suffers from what I assume is the constraints of an email interview, it is still worth a read. Maggie is one of the good people in comics, and her work is beautiful and meditative and undulating.

* Zack Soto and Mike Dawson talk to GINA WYNBRANDT over on Process Party this week. Wynbrandt's comics are great, and my review her book, Big Pussy, consistently gets hits on my blog (although I don't think it's because of my writing based on "Search Terms"). The conversation spans "a variety of topics including Justin Beiber, dating, getting derailed after finishing a book, her art style, and her writing process!"

* Zainab Akhtar is Kickstarting issue 2 of CRITICAL CHIPS packed full of comics essays and criticism! Some of the best writers writing their best writing. Kick it!

* Speaking of Kickstarter, the amazing folks at 2dCloud are funding their SUMMER 2017 collection which looks absolutely stunning. 2dCloud is one of those publishers that I trust absolutely and know that, if they are publishing it, I'll want to read it. Kick it!

* Philippe LeBlanc has once again upstaged me by putting out his much more comprehensive (though less regular and profanity strewn) SMALL PRESS AND INDIE COMICS ROUNDUP. I wish Philippe would make this more of a scheduled feature on The Beat so I could just point to it every week and say -- "Go look at this. It's good." Then again, he would have to add more profanity and/or references to sandwiches to make it really good. Also, maybe he'll link to one of my reviews once I start writing them again...

* I know there have been some issues with Oh Joy Sex Toy recently, but I gotta say that Jess Fink's SEXY DRAWING LESSONS is informative and funny.

* The specificity of the rules to this one are kinda bonkers, but what it might unearth creatively could be spectacular. Yes, I'm talking about THE COMICS WORKBOOK COMPOSITION COMPETITION 2017.

* Megan N. Liberty looks at THE AMME TALKS by Ulf Stolterfoht and Peter Dittmer in her piece called "How a Chatbot Became a Conceptual Poet" which features the sub-heading, "In a conversation with poet Ulf Stolterfht, a chatbot pushes language towards its breaking point in a way no human could." If that doesn't get your attention, then you're fucking dead to me.

* Sure, it's not small press related (then again, this is the "whatnot" section anyway, so go fuck yourself), but Brian Hibbs has some choice words about MARVEL LEGACY.

* Finally, you might want to read Simon Yisrael Feuerman's SEARCHING FOR ROMANCE -- but then again, who am I to tell you what to do.