February 26, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 2/19/18 to 2/25/18

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


* Tracy Boehm on Blutch's DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, which "feels like a very personal story about a creative man having a midlife crisis..."

* Rachel Davies reviews Annelli Furmark's RED WINTER, wherein "love is something that doesn't merely exist in a vacuum shared by two people, but subtly adjusts the course of everyone even on the outskirts of the emotion."

Robin Enrico on BY MONDAY I'LL BE FLOATING IN THE HUDSON WITH THE OTHER GARBAGE by Laura Lannes, "a revealing portrait of a young woman trying to navigate modern romance that showcases Lannes' distinct voice and unique stylization."

* Megan N. Liberty looks at Nicole Claveloux' THE GREEN HAND AND OTHER STORIES where "the emphasis is on the voyage through the lush visuals and not on the specific plot points. In an aimless dream-like state we wander through her wonderfully twisted worlds, after which who knows what we will become."

* Alex Hoffman reviews A THOUSAND COLORED CASTLES by Gareth Brookes and writes, "Brookes has created a story of disability and personal strength that is amplified by his formal experimentation."

* Tegan O'Neil on SAIGON CALLING by Marcelino Truong, writing "Every memoir elides as much as it reveals. It's a form where any imposition of narrative really is just that: an imposition."

* Rob Clough has mixed feelings about Joseph Remnant's CARTOON CLOUDS, calling it "a story that feels all-too-familiar: young, white twentysomethings moping around, trying to find meaning."

* Philippe LeBlanc on Maya Lemaitre's FOUND wherein "Lemaitre understands something about memory and how we live traumatizing experiences, and then we move on."

* Andy Oliver reviews MANTRA by Andy Barron and writes, "What Barron has created here is a world that embraces its contradictions. It has characters that initially appear enchanting and whimsical and yet are capable of the most terrifying brutality and cruelty; on that is wordless and yet needs no exposition to speak volumes."

* Ryan C. does a sort of round-up review of all the latest offers in the MINI KUS! line.

* Austin English continues his WHERE I'M COMING FROM column over on TCJ specifically talking about some amazing zines and their influence.


* Simon Moreton's MINOR LEAGUES #5 is out now! "It's about spring, ghosts, the family that lived in our house in 1901, getting stoned near a power station, life and death; a walk in the woods, thinking about bodies, thermos flasks and childhood tumbles; readers' letters, weird adverts; comics, drawing, writing and photographs."

* MariNaomi draws COMICS ARE FOR WHITE MEN, an illustrated backstory for her pet projects: the Cartoonists of Color and Queer Cartoonists databases. After you check it out, make sure to join her Patreon.

* Glen Downey has posted THE TOP 10 COMICS FOR TEACHING SOCIAL JUSTICE AND GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE Prezi on the Comics In Education site.



* And, finally, you probably want to get your hands on THIS.

February 23, 2018

Exploding The Senses: Rae Epstein reviews CRAWL SPACE by Jesse Jacobs

I still remember the grass shivering, like we lived within a waking dream. We could see the plants sprouting, the sky’s womb-like curve, and how, maybe, if we reached out in just the right way the air would smear onto our palms like fresh paint off a canvas. I danced in that dream, trying to merge with it while simultaneously knowing it already possessed me within its physical dimension. The Earth was motherly. Beauty was within everything. I was a toddler again. 

This is how I felt while tripping on mushrooms with a close friend of mine in a local park just a few months ago. Mushrooms smooth out your consciousness, making the simple things the grandest you’ve ever seen, transporting you to a mindset long forgotten thanks to age. Providing that the trip goes well, most people report lifted moods. Some say they feel like they visited or saw other dimensions. Many never want to leave. 
In Jesse JacobsCrawl Space, published by Koyama Press, these other dimensions exist inside of a washing machine belonging to his protagonist’s house. Crawl Space opens up as Daisy, the said teenaged protagonist, takes a new friend named Jeanne-Claude out for a trip across this rip in cosmic fabric. There they experience a number of incredible things, such as creatures shaped like teapots and color transferring into sensation. 

And boy is it sensational. 
Jacobs not only uses all the colors of the rainbow to evoke this otherworldly dimension’s beauty, but also builds within it a kaleidoscope-like movement. These colors wind and swell and burst, creating an effect so powerful that one cannot help but become absorbed by their intensity. Reading Crawl Space is too akin to hallucinating; it takes over the mind as much as any illicit substance. As long as one reads, one trips

But Crawl Space doesn’t entirely take place in this awestriking dimension. The comparatively dull physical realm, which Jacobs positions in the suburbs, is depicted in black and white. The suffocation of these suburbs — as indistinguishable from any other that Daisy, new in town, has surely already lived within — is further evoked by the blockiness of Jacobs’ depictions of Daisy’s house and the schoolyard. When in their normal states, as opposed to the unique rainbow forms they each take when visiting the other dimension, all of the kids have heads that are precisely geometrically shaped. Within the physical realm, you see, there are rules. There are rules in how matter is shaped, the rules set by your parents, and also there are the unspoken rules that link together relationships and create the valuable currency of reputation. 

One can control and manipulate these rules to an extent, which Daisy attempts to do. “Hey, can you not tell any of the kids in school about all of this? I’m still trying to fit in,” she asks of Jeanne-Claude, trying to set the parameters so that she can blend into her new home. In the past, her fellow students have spent time with her only for the experiences she can offer them, not because of who she is as a person. Like any other teenager, she wants to be just another house in a suburban lane rather than draw attention as a novelty. 
Unfortunately, Jeanne-Claude isn’t so dissimilar to the people who have used Daisy in the past. She almost immediately betrays her, and soon all of the kids at school learn about the magical washing machine. 


Like people who trip on mushrooms, there’s some disagreement between the kids in Crawl Space about the other dimension and whether or not its effects take place internally or externally. “It’s just chemicals in the brain,” says one of the more cynical individuals in a two-page spread of kids — most still covered in the other dimension’s abstract rainbows —  contributing their opinions on the other world. On the other side of the spectrum reveals something striking: the grid of human inventions is missing representation in one area. 
I’m not normally a spiritual person, but it changed something inside of me in a very profound and permanent way.” 

We never see who says this, which is surprising given that they hit upon one of Crawl Space’s main elements. Jacobs, via expository narrative, states the other world’s source and form quite factually, as how Genesis explains the Hebrew God creating the world in seven days. Of course, the concept itself of there existing “several known worlds beyond the physical,” is more akin to other religions and spiritualities, such as Buddhism’s Ten Realms. What the kids experience in the main storyline is typically “reserved for highly enlightened beings.” With panic, we witness Daisy going so deep into the other world that she reaches some form of nirvana. This allows her to carry the world inside of herself even as the entrance to the cosmic rip is removed. 

(Religion makes sense! I shouted at my friend at some point in the beginning of our trip, uncouth and overwhelmed.) 

What defines spirituality? While the rules of the physical plane betray us as Jeanne-Claude betrays Daisy, spirituality — much like Crawl Space’s other world — contains no limitations. It twists and brightens you into something unique from all others around you, freeing you from the confines of the mere external. As surely as Thich Quang Duc burned and the Jews survived centuries of persecution, spirituality has reigned in times and places where literacy, science, and math have not. 

The rules of the physical plane do not work for Daisy. She doesn’t belong where she lives. Her parents are strict. She has no true friends. But when she finds the other world, she understands her place in the universe. 

That thing will never survive out here in the suburbs!” she says while chasing a rainbow worm that Jeanne-Claude stole from the other world. In truth, that “thing” is herself. Jacobs highlights this via aerial shots of the streets, fenced in by neat rows of houses that are each indistinguishable from its neighbors. Crawl Space admits that we are all unique in our own way via Jacobs’ painstakingly individual rainbow designs for each kid, but most are not in tune with higher concepts that define how we’re unique. After all, when you grow up in a black and white world, without even a shade of gray in sight, it can be hard to see how the rules of that world can be different. How you can be different, both as an individual entity and how you connect to others. 

However, Daisy is already different. She converts herself so far into the other world that she does not, and cannot, come out again. 

But then again, perhaps we all cannot come out again if exposed to something as marvelous as a drug trip or a good comic. Both explode the senses, translating one experience into another. As surely as mushrooms split the qualities of a miso eggplant into four thrashing stages in my mouth does Crawl Space assemble colors and shapes into something so ecstatic that it activates something deep inside the mind. 

As cheesy as it sounds, Crawl Space asks us to acknowledge our own internal rainbow forms, to open our minds and envision a world that goes beyond the rules we live within. And by having us follow Daisy’s story, it asks us to do so with empathy and pure intentions. While Jacobs’ brilliant art and vision breaks barriers for how color and abstraction can be used to weave a narrative, we can break barriers in our own lives. 

Rae Epstein is the writer of comics Gently Murder Me and Rubies, and has written criticism under the name Ray Sonne. You can find her previous work on The Guardian, Women Write About Comics, Loser City, and Comics Bulletin. Her bark is worse than her bite. Find Gently Murder Me and Rubies at gumroad.com/rebeccaepstein. Follow her on twitter @REpsteinWrites

February 16, 2018

New World in Her View: Kawai Shen reviews MOTHER by Celine Loup

Mother is the first volume of a comic by the award-winning illustrator and cartoonist, Celine Loup. It features the unnamed inhabitants of a gorgeous fantasy world that does not lend itself to an easy description, a place that is at turns plentiful, wondrous, and dangerous. Rather than providing her readers with explicit explanations, Loup allows the fantastic logic of this world to unfold organically. This immersive approach allows the world’s more unusual facets, including Loup’s refreshing approach to gender representation and gender relations, to surprise the reader throughout the story. 

The comic itself is rendered with a gestural lushness that Loup evokes effectively in black and white through her use light, texture, and tone. Even though you may not understand the history and workings of Mother's world, you are subsumed within its sensual beauty. 
Examples of Loup's use of light gives a sense of immediacy and grounding whether it's direct and graphic in the form of rays of light or dynamic and fluid, as we see on the characters' sun-dappled skin.

Her rendering of organic textures, with their dynamic, flowing contours, give the comic a tactile dimension. You can almost reach out and touch its foliage.

Like many of the comics I enjoy reading, Mother rewards an attentive reader. It is not a comic to be read by racing ahead, consuming plot. With Mother, you can enjoy the sensuality of place. 

Mother’s dynamic layouts with large panels means you could easily skim right through the comic but that would be like wolfing down an excellent patisserie. Why not slow down and savor it?

Mother’s world is reminiscent of earth, but it is also radically different. It is populated by giant birds and strange hybrid human-animals. Its people possess supernatural powers: they can float and soar, they walk on clouds, light emanates from their fingertips or foreheads. However, it is Mother's representations of gender that are perhaps the most striking and original aspect of the comic. 

We are introduced to Mother's male protagonist as someone concerned with beautifying his physical appearance with flowers but who shortly demonstrates his strength and aggression in a wrestling match. He is a refreshing character, unrestricted by gender roles. He expresses self-doubt, creativity, aggression, tears, tenderness. Gender relations are both familiar and unfamiliar. The female protagonist also displays a wide breadth of characteristics despite the brevity of the comic. She is at points sorrowful, nurturing, brave, demanding, vulnerable... 

Because of this break from traditional gender roles, Mother also presents one of most erotic passages I have ever read in indie comics in which our two leads engage in mutually pleasurable intercourse grounded in verbal consent. It challenges the belief our culture holds that talking about having sex before having sex is both awkward and decidedly unsexy. In the patriarchal imagination, negotiating consent verbally could only look like a legalistic dictate imposed upon us, a bloodless or socially uncomfortable exchange entirely devoid of play, sensuality, or spontaneity. This passage shows us an encounter that is nothing like that. It is realistic, unforced, fluid, and erotic.
We need more sex scenes like this in comics. We need more sex scenes like this, period.

But before I leave you with the erroneous impression that Mother is just an imaginative and pretty story with a good sex scene, I should mention that plot is an integral part of the comic. Loup’s characters hint at past conflicts and betrayals although the exact history of why certain relationships have become strained are never revealed. That Mother’s first volume only hints at a rich backstory that includes a radical vision of gender relations makes it all more unfortunate that Loup does not plan to continue the series. There is so much potential condensed into these few pages. Even if we accept the fantastical elements of the world, the first volume concludes with many unanswered questions. What happened in the past that has turned some inhabitants against each other? Why is one female character so much physically larger than the others? Are there others like her and why do the men wait for her? Although such questions may remain unanswered, I still think it’s worth picking up a copy of Mother because of its unique story and Loup's illustrative skills. 

Mother is available for purchase on Loup’s Etsy webstore; I bought my copy at The Beguiling.
Kawai Shen is a Canadian writer and cartoonist. You can find her at cutejuicecomics.com or on Twitter as @kawaishen.

February 12, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 2/5/18 to 2/11/18

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 Eva Muller's IN THE FUTURE, WE ARE DEAD, writing "In collecting these smaller meditations on death Muller is able to create a more thorough examination of the way in which the knowledge of our own mortality influences our life."

* Rachel Cooke on RED WINTER by Anneli Furmark, "a cold-eyed and occasionally chilling analysis of the ruthlessness, bullying and groupthink indulged in by a certain kind of small-time, small-town Marxist."

* Leonard Pierce has mixed feelings about THE LIE AND HOW WE TOLD IT by Tommi Parrish, "it's almost impossible not to notice its deeply 2000s-ish feel, and while it dresses up its relationships in the complexities of a genderqueer woman and a man in deep denial about his own conflicted sexuality, it's still that same old story of people who spend all their time not being able to say what's on their minds."

* Tegan O'Neil on IS THIS GUY FOR REAL by Box Brown, writing "the sprawling structure [of the book] works against Brown's instincts here. His minimal style comes close to wearing on the reader after 256 pages."

* Sam Ombiri on Nick Drnaso's BEVERLY, writing "all this -- the complexity of the stories and the characters that are drawn mysteriously, in a sparse way -- felt like it was done out of the necessity of being loyal to the ideas that Drnaso wanted to convey."

* Ryan C. reviews Nathan Cowdry's SHINER, writing "there's no arguing that Cowdry has created an almost singularly effective work here, one that is provocative, confrontational, and that instantly gains a foothold in your consciousness -- whether you want it hanging around there or not."

* Rob Clough on Jeremy Sorese's THE TAR PIT.


* Andy Oliver talks to the folks behind AVERY HILL BOOKS "about a year of growth, expansion, recognition and huge critical acclaim."

* Andrea Ayres interviews LAWRENCE LINDELL about his book, Couldn't Afford Therapy, So I Made This, his process, and about issues surrounding mental health.

* Brian Heater talks to JOSEPH REMNANT about Cartoon Clouds, Trader Joe's, and Harvey Pekar.

* Rosie Knight uses her interview with KATIE GREEN to talk about the power of autobiographical comics and her latest book, Lighter Than My Shadow, in which Green "chronicles her struggle with -- and recovery from -- eating disorders and sexual abuse."

* My buddy, cartoonist, Director of the MSU Comics Forum, and all-around good human Ryan Claytor reminded me that the MSU COMICS FORUM will be the last weekend of February, and will feature Keynote Speakers Lucy Knisley and Diana Schutz along with an amazing slate of panel discussions, an Artist Alley, and more. If you find yourself up in Michigan at the end of February, this event will probably take the sting out of that fact.

* Roman Muradov announced his first non-fiction book, ON DOING NOTHING, is available for pre-order. According to Muradov, it's "all about idleness, fictional and real ... lovingly illustrated and full of weird and inspiring stories -- borrowing from literature, hip-hop, sitcoms, avant-garde, eccentrics, comics, cows..."

* Kim O'Connor takes the time to put together this piece called LET'S FIX YOUR PROMOTIONAL PHOTOS: A SPECIAL GUIDE FOR MEN IN COMICS.

* If you haven't been following Andrea Shockling's comic ACCOUNTABLE, you should drop what you're doing right now and correct that oversight.

* Paige Mehrer's comic CAVIAR.

* Shane Burley discusses his new book, FASCISM TODAY: WHAT IT IS AND HOW WE END IT.

THIS is both spectacular and bonkers.

February 9, 2018

Celebrating Sincerity: Ben Pooped Reviews DRAGIS THE INVINCIBLE MAN #1

(Editors Note: While this is not about the type of book normally featured on YCE, the following review by Ben Pooped of Dragis the Invincible Man really tugs at my heart-strings. It reminds me a lot of the Cheap Thrills column I used to write for Comics Bulletin way back in 2011 to 2013, wherein I would find both joy and sorrow in books culled from the comic shop bargain bins. What I particularly enjoy about this review, though, is that Ben understands how a book like this represents the dreams and aspirations of those that created it. Celebrating Sincerity is something that more of us should practice in our lives. I hope you enjoy reading this review as much as I enjoyed working with Ben on it.)

It’s almost a novelty to find a self-published comic book for sale at a comic book convention these days. That market has pretty much moved either to small press conventions like SPX or online to Kickstarter and digital platforms like ComiXology. But as a frequent con-goer, I spend a lot of time in Small Press areas looking for those hidden gems in between all the pop culture mashup art prints and melty bead sculptures. It was at one of these trips in 2014 at the Baltimore Comic-Con that I discovered a precious gem of a comic called Dragis the Invincible Man

Before I get further into this review, I want to make one thing very clear. Dragis is not a “so bad it’s good” deal. It’s not a comic to be appreciated ironically. I know you’re going to scroll down and look at some of the panels and maybe think the whole point is to laugh at it. And yeah, if you read it, you’ll laugh quite a bit. But Dragis is a more effective work of art than you might think at first glance. In a world of comics-as-movie-pitches, this comic oozes sincerity. It’s anti-cynical. Jim Bell, the writer and artist behind the series, has created an entertaining mix of Silver Age superhero drama and modern serialized psychological thrillers. It’s a celebration, not only of the thrill-a-minute comics of the old days, but of the entire comic creation process. This is communicated through every single element of the book starting right at the beginning with this incredible cover. 
This wondrous thing practically smacked me in the face while posing some tantalizing questions. Who is this Dragis fellow? Why is he so angry? Is he really going to throw a car at those bank robbers? Or is he holding up his logo? And yeah, that logo, molded from elegant Algerian font, is not exactly a Todd Klein-level logo, but I can go buy something from the Big Two if that’s what I want! I noticed the sky behind it is blocked out strangely. Did Bell realize it would be hard to read the logo with the car parts underneath, so he just extended the sky over the car? And that © copyright symbol next to the logo -- that was meant to be a TM trademark symbol, right? 

The cover is awkward and a bit funny, but these aren’t mistakes. Mistakes can distract from a story or taint the intended experience of the reader. However, the choices made for this cover aren’t distractions, they’re advertisements. The cover tells you everything you need to know: (1) This is a comic book, (2) it’s about some crazy strong dude named Dragis, and (3) it was made by someone who loves making comics! And if you doubt that last one, just take a look at the adorable credits page. This is a family affair, and you can see from the dedication that this is truly a labor of love. 
Team Dragis highlights something that’s important about comic books and why I’m so interested in the self-published variety. I think comic creation is something that more people are able to pull off well than prose or film. For individuals like Bell that are desperate to get their stories out, great comics can be made with just a pencil and paper (and maybe a computer and some specialized software). That’s not to say that creating comics is easy, but a comic created by even the rankest of amateurs is going to be a hell of a lot more entertaining and coherent than a book of poetry or a web series on YouTube by the same creators. Bell and his team are far from amateurs, though, which is clear right from the start.

The story opens with a splash page right out of 1960s Marvel with Stan Lee-style dialogue to match. Dragis defeats some would-be bank robbers when suddenly he phases out, waking up as a middle-aged, mustached man in pajamas named Stewart! This psychological twist adds depth to what could’ve been another run-of-the-mill indie superhero comic. Almost instantly you can see there’s a lot more going on here. Exposition is effortlessly woven through the dialogue, though perhaps it’s the cheesiness of that dialogue that makes it less noticeable. Laugh if you want, but it’s just fun. The worst you could say about it is that it’s inelegant or redundant (in the Stan Lee tradition of explaining through narration rather than letting the art do the work), but you won’t catch me saying it! 
Bell is ambitious, so there are several more twists and turns in these twenty-odd pages. Much of the fun of reading this comic comes from watching revelations stack one on top of the other until it reaches a beautiful climax. It’s worth stressing that, while you might be amused by the art, the storytelling is superb. There's no backtracking needed to understand what just happened. Whatever crazy thing you think you just read, it's real and it's spectacular, like the moment when Dragis grabs two bad guys and literally thunks their heads together. The narrative is crystal clear, and Bell’s art really shines in the fight choreography. In the major action set piece of the issue, Dragis’s epic battle with a creature named Quadroc, you could swear these characters spent months practicing. 
Dragis is also an incredibly re-readable comic, and I discover something new every time I revisit it. Take the panel below for example. Stewart’s doctor is trying to wake him up by snapping her fingers, and you can see the motion lines from the snap. But there’s also a snap sound effect contained within the dialogue balloon. Did her snapping fingers make a sound or, did she actually say, “Snap!” out loud? Is she some kind of weirdo that has to speak her onomatopoeias out loud? It’s not the kind of bizarre choice a Marvel or DC comic would let slip through, but this isn’t a comic produced by a huge corporation. It’s Jim Bell, and he made this comic on his own time with help from family and friends. He sells it himself at conventions and cold calls comic book stores to schedule in-store signings. 
Dragis the Invincible Man is not some cynical cash grab produced as a springboard to a big publisher. Bell’s not shooting for a Dragis Netflix series (but just imagine how great that would be!). This is a sincere effort on Bell’s part to tell an exciting story in a world full of ridiculous characters. It’s the kind of exciting story he likely grew up reading, the kind of story that showed many of us just how expressive and engaging comic books could be. And you don’t have to work for a huge publisher to do it. Creating comic books is something any of us can do. We may live most of our lives as Stewarts, but if we put in the time and the work, we can tell our own stories and show the world that there’s an Invincible Man in all of us. 


Ben Pooped is the creator of Poop Office and a Kickstarter Superbacker. He’s drawn thousands of talking poops, so he knows all about the importance of good art. He hopes this review will inspire some Dragis cosplay, maybe even live-action role-playing of the epic Dragis-Quadroc battle. You can find him and his poops at nakedgrapecomics.com, on Twitter @BenPooped, and at the Long Beach Comic Expo February 17-18. 

February 5, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 1/29/18 to 2/4/18

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 ON THE INSIDE by Ashley Robin Franklin, wherein Franklin "focuses all of the craft she has been honing in her illustration and illustrated diary work into a charming and grotesque tale of Halloween night hauntings and body horror."

* Sayalee Karkare on FETCH by Nicole J. Georges, writing, "The book is testament, not only to Georges' kinship with animals, but it is also a lesson in loving."

* Andy Oliver reviews Patt Kelley's SCOUT: CHAPTER 2, saying "This is a comic that quietly embraces its own peculiarity but, in amongst all the undeniable outlandishness, there's some very human drama at its heart..."

* Hillary Brown on Anneli Furmark's RED WINTER, calling it "the most Swedish book ever" -- read her review to find out why.

* Daphne Milner writes about Hector de la Vallee's new zine, BUNGALOW, which "illustrates the potentially grave consequences of unstoppable desire".

* Robert Kirby on Elizabeth Beier's THE BIG BOOK OF BISEXUAL TRIALS AND ERRORS in which she "lays bare her coming-of-age as a bisexual person, never shying away from the frequently embarrassing and often downright painful trials and errors of her journey."

* Rob Clough on Laura Lannes' intricately-assembled BY MONDAY I'LL BE FLOATING IN THE HUDSON WITH THE OTHER GARBAGE, writing "Lannes has an acute understanding of the fact that love, sex, and romance are all inherently ridiculous an that there's no dignity whatsoever to be found in their pursuit. At the same time, she has an acute understanding of the importance of intimacy, ocnnecting with someone on multiple levels, and grieving it when it's gone."

* Aug Stone on MISTER MORGEN by Igor Hofbauer.

* Oliver Sava's short piece on Fantagraphics' anthology, NOW #2.

* Whit Taylor presents an excerpt from Kurt Ankeny's IN PIECES: SOMEPLACE WHICH I CALL HOME about "his life and family in a small New England town."


* Jacob Hill interviews DAVE BAKER about his work, especially Action Hospital, and "the things a comic artist needs to do to get by to his fervent views of creators' rights."

* Over on Inkstuds, Kit Brash talks to ERIC REYNOLDS, editor of the Fantagraphics anthology series NOW

* Alex Dueben interviews SOPHIA FOSTER-DIMINO.

* Andy Oliver interviews SABBA KHAN, one of Broken Frontier's "Six Small Press Creators to Watch for 2018", about "her architectural background, the cultural themes she explores in her narratives, and the inherent responsibilities in autobiographical material."

* Austin English's WHERE I'M COMING FROM column at TCJ highlights the minicomics and zines that shaped his aesthetics. IF you know English's work, this is a revealing read.

* Alabaster Pizzo's new Ralphie and Jeanie comic, POP UP.

* Philippe LeBlanc is still putting together his SMALL PRESS AND INDIE COMICS GALORE over on The Beat.

* Critic and friend of YCE Austin Lanari tries his hand at fiction in this deeply moving and laugh-out-loud funny short story called, IN SITU.

* Wesley Yang's MEME WARS: IS FEMINIST LEMONADE KOSER? is certainly fodder for further discussion.

* Also on Tablet, Marjorie Ingall writes an eye-opening and disturbing piece with the title ALT-RIGHT PUBLICATION ACCUSES JEWS OF ATTEMPTING TO INDOCTRINATE AMERICA'S YOUNG VIA SUBVERSIVE CHILDREN'S BOOKS.

February 2, 2018

The Scars Have Been Lasered Away: Sara Jewell reviews DIANA'S ELECTRIC TONGUE by Carolyn Nowak

(Editor's Note: This week I'm especially proud to publish Sara Jewell's review of Diana's Electric Tongue by Carolyn Nowak. When cartoonists investigate what makes a particular comic come alive for them, it opens up critical avenues that those of us who have little-to-no talent would otherwise miss. If you like how Sara writes, you should check out her own work and consider becoming a backer to her Patreon.)  

Lush, funny, and poignant in equal measure, Carolyn Nowak’s Ignatz award-winning comic Diana’s Electric Tongue was one of my favorite reads of 2017. Following up her award-winning minicomic Radishes, this full-color, longer form work cements Nowak as a formidable force in indie comics. From its visual style to its narrative, Diana’s Electric Tongue lingers like the taste of a thing bittersweet, like the memory of your childhood home.

Set in a future where humanoid companion robots are available - to those who can afford them - for a variety of purposes (mostly salacious), the story opens on Diana recovering from a difficult breakup. We find out immediately that this term is also figuratively apt. As she opens up his packaging, Diana explains to her insensible new “Harbor” model android that when she broke up with her famous boyfriend, Blue, she also got into a nasty motorcycle accident and bit off her own tongue. She opens her mouth to reveal the titular appendage, yellow and glittering.“…We both have robot tongues,” she tells him, and later in the book, when their relationship becomes physical, sparks literally fly between them as a result. 

But this isn’t a book about redemptive love so much as a book that draws a parallel between heartbreak and physical trauma, and which explores the driftlessness of burgeoning adulthood, a time of seeking and failing to find home and harbor in all the wrong places. The androids in this universe are unique in that they respond not only to commands but to “implicit desires”, as we later find out from another android that naturally became an excellent DJ in response to his owner’s unspoken needs. Diana’s roommate makes an early remark on her expensive purchase of Harbor, as Diana comes to call her android companion, that “I’d have bought a boat!” with the money, but Diana’s need to moor herself to something rather than be at the mercy of an aimless current becomes clear to the reader as well as to Harbor as the story progresses. Set adrift by Blue but unwilling to open herself up to another real person so soon, she confides in Harbor, who cannot hurt her the in the way that another person can. For Diana, he acts literally as a “safe harbor”, a place to dock. Nowak drives this home by showing Diana and Harbor lying side-by-side, Harbor’s body and Diana’s tongue both “docked” on the nightstand, charging, the moor-lines of their cords tying them down and together. 

Diana works as a concierge by day, assisting people in the transient not-quite-living spaces of an underwater hotel that we never properly see. But the money for Harbor came from a different source. On the side, Diana paints what Harbor describes as “small houses”. Diana self-deprecatingly describes her windfall painting, espied by the buyer in the background of a selfie, as big and ugly, and maintains that the sale of a different painting to Blue “doesn’t count”, but Nowak gives us the sense that her self-consciousness around her art bespeaks its personal nature. This self-consciousness mirrors her unwillingness to open herself up to being hurt again by a real human being. The trauma of her accident and her breakup are both as raw as the identification Diana has with her art. 

Diana’s Electric Tongue, here, maybe veers into the meta, or the semi-autobiographical, as the book’s most striking visual motif are its beautiful page spreads of cross-sectioned living spaces, amply sprinkled throughout. These beautiful illustrations are the best examples of Nowak’s soft, luminous visual style, and through size, space, and room-divided activity they mark the passage of time. Her drawings are vehemently opposed to sharp edges and boast a gentle pastel contrast between the warm, fleshy interiors and the cool teal verdure without. Everything in Nowak’s world has a vaguely gelatinous quality, muted pinks, mauves, and blues that never quite stop quivering. Her lines are energetic, almost gestural, as they effortlessly describe the volume of each form on the page. 

The book’s charming color palette belies its more serious themes. Nowak asks us to consider the messy entanglement of sexual desire, art, taste, and speech. Her relationship with Blue, a child actor who voiced a cartoon mouse upon which Diana nurtured a childhood crush, is fraught with these considerations. Blue has left acting behind, Diana confides to Harbor, and now works as a geneticist, developing quaint if not always practical new configurations of food, like onions that make you laugh instead of cry. After Diana’s accident, she receives an anonymous bouquet which reminds her of the hotdog-flavored flowers that Blue would make for her as a joke. The moment she tries a petal, however, she has the realization that her tongue is gone. Her new electric tongue, she sheepishly laments later, is “not so good” at tasting, but near the end of the book she admits that she had begun losing her appetite around Blue before they broke up. Again, Nowak reinforces Diana’s driftlessness as a result of her romance, a detachment from the kind of identity that an artist’s personal sense of taste helps to bolster. 

In contrast, a sense of taste is something that needs to be nurtured in Harbor. Near the beginning of the book, Diana resists naming him because she feels uncomfortable “defining” him. A few pages later, however, she asks him if he likes art and is disappointed when he responds only that he has the capacity to, that he could. Diana does not yet know that her implicit desires will shape Harbor, will alter him and define his identity. “I am a little less than a day old,” he gently reminds her. “I will have to acquire an appreciation [for art].” Diana herself, with a sense of taste shaped and prodded into place during her time with Blue, is coming back into her own as she takes on a more authoritative role in her relationship with Harbor than she had with Blue. 

Through both the physical and emotional trauma of her breakup and accident, Diana herself has been irrevocably changed. Her idea of home and haven, we imagine, must also have transformed. Has she become more like Blue, who is able to toss careers and relationships aside when he doesn’t want them anymore? The book ends with Harbor composing a poem. Nowak masterfully juxtaposes images from Diana’s accident with Harbor’s simple, elegiac lines in the book’s most affecting set of panels. This sequence is powerful enough to elicit tears. It is the culmination of the book’s meditation on the things we tie ourselves to and build our selves upon, and the danger of building the foundations of our homes upon people. Harbor here acknowledges his own role as a conduit for Diana’s recovery, his whole being predicated upon her evanescent need for something – someone – to hold on to in an uncertain world. 

Diana’s Electric Tongue is a book that resists certainty, opting instead for an endearing complexity that feels organic and real. Nowak has managed, in a scant seventy pages, to craft a fully realized fictional world that is futuristic in the best way, but rejects easy answers. How do we define our own identities in the context of intense relationships? How much can we depend on other people, on loving and being loved, for our own sense of self? Diana’s Electric Tongue is less concerned with answering these questions than in creating a compelling narrative that raises and explores them. A highly recommended, visually sumptuous work of great emotional depth.

Sara L. Jewell is a freelance writer, artist, comic creator, and educator based in New Jersey. You can find her at saraljewell.com or rambling on twitter @1_saraluna. All email inquiries can be sent to