October 30, 2018

A Garden More Cyclical Than Linear: John James Dudek reviews ROAMING FOLIAGE by Patrick Kyle

Profound and silly, abstract yet story-driven, Roaming Foliage encompasses all of the nuances of the wildly talented Canadian comics artist Patrick Kyle. His newest book is a marriage of the different types of abstract, fine art, and narrative-led comics work he’s done over the last several years. Following in the footsteps of 2016’s Don’t Come In Here, this book also delves into untamable and ever-shifting landscapes and individual change. While it certainly maintains a lot of the experimentation that Kyle is so well known for, this book is a return to a more recognizable narrative form. The story isn’t linear, nor is it particularly easy to follow. Nonetheless, this is Kyle at his finest, using abstract imagery alongside goofball character antics to tell a larger story about friendship and the importance of community.

Roaming Foliage follows a handful of characters as they traverse a wild and magical garden, each trying to find something they’re missing: acceptance, the ability to better oneself, a new suit, a battery-like fungus… the narratives shift, cross paths, and split up, making it feel like a cohesive world. While set in the garden, the location is also a functional character in relation to its seeming autonomy. As its “maze-like and chaotic” nature is affected directly by the emotional state of Rotodraw, a humanoid robot who has lived for hundreds of years, its shifting and changing affect the paths of other characters, who cannot control it. Kyle’s penchant for crafting physical spaces shines here. The world itself is as important to the story as any other aspect and the experimental layout of the book is right at home because of it.

Within this world, there are two main groups making the journey. The first group consists of two boys in search of a fungus that powers Rotodraw. They help one another push their way through the garden as it becomes increasingly unstable, facing unexpected adversaries like a gigantic elf and a conscious fungus. It’s classic Patrick Kyle, a romp seemingly unbound by time and space; the kind of rambling, fun adventure he excels at in his short stories, expertly woven into this larger narrative.
The other main arc of the book, in which a girl and a small head without a body traverse the garden together, is profoundly beautiful and rife with the pro-community and friendship themes that Kyle sneaks into much of his work. The two work together for most of the book as one body is stacked two heads high and the narration and dialogue don’t hold back from exploring their newfound partnership. “Look at us, unification of two friends into one perfect person,” the girl says. “Power and influence through team-work.” Their conversation is almost heavy-handed at times, but it’s beautiful and soft in a year that really needs more friendliness in the comics space. 

Even more poignantly is when the bodiless head is given limbs, and, thus, independence from being carried everywhere. Without batting an eye, the girl states, “I’m so proud of you! You were so brave!” The head’s independence only strengthens their friendship bond as they move forward on their journey. In a book somewhat cluttered with multiple storylines and unrelenting visuals, one can almost gloss over the sweetness the characters exhibit toward one another. There is almost no malice or cruel action in the entire book, and the characters openly praise and encourage characteristics they find admirable in one another. Community is praised and characters who help one another are rewarded.

Kyle’s writing style is enviable here in that he effortlessly shows off his ability to create dense blocks of narration and over-simplified dialogue which is captivating, serious, and funny all at the same time while still allowing the story to progress. Exposition and dialogue are interwoven with narrative seamlessly in a way that in a weaker writer’s hands might feel clunky and forced. The writing often tells what’s happening instead of letting the visuals simply show the reader, but in the end, words service the art, which is able to constantly shift and change to craft a unique tone.

If it suffers from anything, Roaming Foliage can be hard to follow as Kyle seamlessly shifts point of view around in a physically inconsistent world. This doesn’t necessarily drag the story, it just requires more of the reader’s attention. The density of more cluttered pages requires the book to be read carefully and one cannot simply skim the dialogue boxes and understand the plot of the book. There is more to it than an illustrated conversation and the book challenges you to find out what it’s all about.
In fact, where Roaming Foliage really excels is in its experimental use of the comics medium itself. It’s the kind of comic that can only really exist as a comic, yet, even with this, it eschews classical page layouts and paneling schemes allowing each page to become a piece of art in its own right. Kyle is as much a cartoonist as he is a fine artist and illustrator and it’s here he uses those skills to masterfully construct each page. Panels are only used when necessary, full bleed backgrounds run elements off the edges to emphasize the wild and endless state of the environment, and often a page is used to set a tone as much as it is used to advance the story. As an example, Kyle includes a page purely focused on a handful of items that the characters do not have. The page doesn’t need to be there as it doesn’t change the relationships between the characters and their space, but it sets an undeniably unique tone.

Further experimentation can be found in almost every page element. Sometimes hand-drawn, but more often set in type, the lettering is integral to the collage-like tone of the comic. Words litter the page, handwritten dialogue overlaps with typed dialogue, some words are even hidden within blocks of ink, only visible when the light catches the page just right. It’s ambitiously hectic and gives the book an improvisational feeling that lends to the ever-changing nature of the magical garden setting.

The heavily-experimental page layouts and intermittently drawn-out pacing require more from the reader than a casual afternoon read… and yet it somehow all works. Despite being visually cluttered, the characters still move through the pages in a way that unconsciously guides the eye and is marvelous to look at. It’s a delightful adventure comic rife with detail that plays with readers expectations in a way that most other artists aren’t quite doing.

Through it all, friends work together and grow closer, a community is strengthened, the world proves itself to be a cyclical more than linear, and, when it’s all over, the reader finds themselves back where they started, and eager to read through a second time.
John James Dudek is a comics artist and a graduate of the IPRC Comics & Publishing Program. He cares a lot about worldbuilding and how people develop stories. If you like these things too, please talk to him about it! He can be found around the internet @funwithjohnjames. He makes art in Portland, Oregon with the Soft Skills Comics Collective. He is friendly.

October 29, 2018

Comics Reading as Voyeurism and the Illusion of Continuity and Narrative: Kim Jooha on CHRISTMAS IN PRISON by Conor Stechschulte

Exploiting the form and the mechanism of comics, Conor Stechschulte interrogates the most rooted assumption of comics reading in Christmas in Prison

In Christmas in Prison, there are three sets of a dozen short comics distributed in seemingly random order, in that the same set of comics are not next to each other. 

The first set has a panel on a page that features a character speaking directly to the reader. The overall page image is the same within the story, and only the words change. The characters talks and asks about peeking, mirrors, light, windows, shadows, silhouettes, dreams, memories, and perception. 

The second set is comprised of six-panel wordless comics. It explicitly manifests that it is a surveillance video. We see the character unnerved and conscious of the invasive camera. We see the shadow of the cameraman. A character tries to stop the cameraman. We see the video “noise” of a VCR.

Another set of wordless comics has two panels on a page. It is more abstract in that it doesn’t show a character’s action. Several motifs that appeared in other stories also show up here: books, (reading) hands, water and clouds, trees, houses, windows, (street and desk) lights, shadows, and silhouettes. 

An intruding gaze permeates Christmas in Prison as the second set of comics directly shows. The first set implies this gaze through its use of dialogue. The third set implicitly displays it.

It is natural for the reader to look for the theme of the entire book across the three sets since they are structured together within this book. Moreover, it is tempting and feels logical to do so because each set of comics seem to share the aforementioned motives of gaze, perception, reading, light, etc. However, under close scrutiny, these motives/images are indeed different. They are similar but not the same. 

For example, the postman on the yellow page of the character talking on page 34 and in the second surveillance video on page 45 look incredibly similar. But the former is wearing glasses and short sleeves, while the latter is wearing a long-sleeves.

 A silhouette of and the image of the house appear several times. But sometimes it does have a window so that we can see the shadow of a person living in it (as in the first wordless comics), but sometimes it does not (as on the yellow pages).

A watchtower on the cover is not in the forest, although the woman in the water says so. There is a fire at the end of the book, but it’s not on the prairie as she saw in her dream. 

Finally, almost at the end of the book, we see the window of the bookstore. There is a book opened. With two panels on a page and a silhouette of a house, a person, and the water, it looks like the book refers to the book we are holding right now. But there are no such pages in Christmas in Prison.

With the extra-fictional hands and characters talking directly to the reader, Christmas in Prison invokes self-reflexibility for the reader and encourages us to think about the act we are doing right now: seeing and reading traces of characters and their behaviors and, thereby, inferring their lives. The reader is not only seeing, but they are forced to gaze intensively to spot the differences in the images. Stechschulte forces the reader to contemplate the meaning of the lives of these characters who are the object of reader's gaze. Thus the reader becomes a peeping tom. The act of reading (seeing, understanding, and inferring) comics is another form of surveillance. Our voyeuristic desire makes us read and think about comics. 

However, our attempt does not succeed. We expect the comic to have a theme, message, and narrative that unites the discrete parts. But Christmas In Prison refuses to have a unified story. It has a dozen different alternative titles. It defies the presumption of readers to read similar motives as Stechschulte relates them and, instead, emphasize their differences, just as individual stories are printed in different printing methods.

Comics consist of discrete units (panels), and we assume that these separate units (panels) are related to each other. We suppose that the similar image that appears in the later or previous panel refers to the same object. This is the principle of comics reading as the dialectic of repetition and difference as Thierry Groensteen argued in The System of Comics (1999). The reader creates a continuous story out of the discrete units. Christmas in Prison, with its aforementioned self-reflexive instruments, questions this principal assumption of comics. Our habit of finding sameness among different images as a comics reader deludes us to look for the sameness that does not exist, just as the book at the end of Christmas in Prison is not Christmas in Prison. It is an illusion.  

Christmas in Prison, therefore, asks if the narrative of comics is an illusion that the voyeuristic reader looks for and carves out of manufactured memories of discrete images. An illusion which is a dream. 

The disturbing feeling that occurs after the reading Christmas in Prison is both from confronting the truth of our voyeuristic desire and a yearning for the illusion of comics narrative. 

ReferencesJean-Louis Baudry, Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematic Apparatus (1970)
                      Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975)
Kim Jooha lives in Toronto, Canada. She was Associate Publisher at 2dcloud. You can find her writings at goodcomicsbykim.tumblr.com and @realasianfriend on Instagram.

October 27, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 10/20/18 to 10/26/18

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 on LIVE/WORK #1 and #2 by Pat Palermo writing, "While the story is an Altman-esque caper centered around the lives of a small group of twenty-somethings on the periphery of the New York fine art scene, it is Palermo’s ability to capture all the tiny points of verisimilitude of that time, that place, and those roles, that make it shine."

* Chris Gavaler reviews DIRTY PLOTTE: THE COMPLETE JULIE DOUCET published by Drawn and Quarterly, "a startling body of work that further deepens Doucet's place in the comics cannon."

* Ryan Carey on FEARLESS COLORS by Samplerman in which "there’s a unique and entirely-accidentally-arrived-at rhythm and flow to this work, both within the individual selections themselves, as well as in their overall assemblage, that mimics something akin to storytelling in the same way that the images mimic, and distort, the pages they’re 'sampled' from. The overall effect is not unlike what one would probably achieve if they tore (or, better yet, cut) up some old comics to tiny shreds and dropped them into the business end of a kaleidoscope."

* Rob Clough reviews PETEY AND PUSSY: PUPPY LOVE by John Kerschbaum of which he writes, "What Kerschbaum does in this book is less like a traditional narrative and more like a juggling act that gets more and more complex and dangerous-looking, but it all resolves neatly in the end."

* John Seven on ALT-LIFE by Thomas Cadene and Joseph Flazon.

* Austin Price doesn't like A HOUSE IN THE JUNGLE by Nathan Gelgud very much, writing "A story this seemingly abstract seems like it must have something to say; when it’s revealed it does not the brain flails, desperate to ascribe importance where there is none. If the experience feels frustrating that’s because it is. A House in the Jungle is counterfeit weirdness, cargo cult surrealism that cobbles together an illusion of the enigmatic the better to impart a sense of significance and awe to its pipsqueak epiphanies."

* Annette Lapointe writes this plot-heavy review of BRAT by Michael Deforge.


* Liel Leibovitz writes this interesting take called IN THE NEW 'HALLOWEEN,' A PARABLE ABOUT JEWISH SURVIVAL which at one point features, "With violence against Jews everywhere on the rise, with terrorism growing more gruesome, and with the institutions designed to safeguard civil society too often insistent, like Haddonfield’s best and brightest, that the killers can somehow be converted, we realized—or, at least, most of us did—that if we want to survive, we have to take action." This may or may not be a hot take. I guess it all depends on how much shit you've had to swallow of late as a Jew.

* Scott Travis has a comic up on Vice called WALKING THE DOG AT THE HOSPITAL which has a dog in it (and, perhaps, an existential crisis).

* More sad comics! Check out Lydia Conklin's SAD YAK on Popula.

* Aude White has a comic on The Believer called NOTES ON A RELATIONSHIP.

* Whit Taylor asked cartoonist Katie Fricas to create an original comic for Illustrated PEN and the result was this comic called POSTPARTUM.

* Over on BookRiot, Christine Hoxmeier collates responses to Laura Bishop's Tweet and titles it #IAmNonbinary: A CELEBRATION OF NONBINARY CREATORS.

* Matt Giles writes this long-form reminiscence titled "THIS HALLOWEEN IS SOMETHING TO BE SURE" AN EXAMINATION OF LOU REED'S NEW YORK.

October 20, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 10/13/18 to 10/19/18

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


* Alex Hoffman reviews INCISION by HTMLflowers, writing "These diaries are horrifying and heart-breaking. But more importantly, they are necessary. They are a bright voice from a place we would rather stay dark."

* Robin Enrico on Coco Picard's THE CHRONICLES OF FORTUNE which "slowly but steadily build towards its climax and quiet denouement shows just how much clarity of vision Picard has a storyteller. She is an artist who fully grasps that sometimes it takes magical realism to fully express the magic and loss of real life."

* John Seven reviews ONE DIRTY TREE by Noah Van Sciver, which he describes as "Van Sciver working things out, and it’s gracious of him to share this level of introspection. Though he attempts to give the childhood stories some amount of joy, at least in regard to the moments he lived his own life, none of this can escape the saturating sadness of the book, and it’s all peppered with an understandable anger and frustration."

* Dominic Umile on ALL THE SAD SONGS by Summer Pierre, which "recounts ... the start of lasting friendships and lost loves over the years that shaped the person she’s become. But while everything here is connected to the records and songs that stopped her in her tracks, Pierre’s comic is increasingly concerned with discoveries that are larger than those made through mixtapes."

* Ryan Carey reviews August Lipp's LOTTA LIPP COMICS #1 which "is as inquisitive, as resonant, as smart as funny books get".

* Austin Lanari is back(?) writing about comics(?) penning this review(?) of THE PRINCE by Liam Cobb, calling it "the one with the guy shitting out hundreds of frog eggs before getting forked in his fucking EAR-FACE". Just read the review. You'll get it.

* Gregory Smith reviews SABRINA by Nick Drnaso, calling it "a thoughtful exploration of what many people in the United States are experiencing in 2018." 


* Robin McConnell interviews KEREN KATZ

* Ken Eppstein of Nix Comics breaks down the numbers regarding sales at "events" in a piece called SHOP TALK: FIVE YEARS OF GROSS SALES and it's kind of depressing.

* New Seo Kim comic on Vice! It's called CLEAN ROOM.

* New Tara Booth comic on Vice! It's called CLOGGED DRAIN.

* New Gabrielle Bell comic on Spiralbound! It's called MANIFESTATION.

* Lauren Weinstein has a comic on Popula called THE NIGHT MEN.

October 15, 2018

The Laughter Is On Her Side: Rob Clough reviews CHLORINE GARDENS by Keiler Roberts

On the face of things, little has changed in Keiler Roberts' work from her earliest days doing her Powdered Milk minicomics. Using an immediate, expressive, naturalistic style, Roberts emphasizes small moments in her life and tells them in brief, anecdotal bites. There's not much in the way of an overarching, personal narrative. She tells stories about her perfectly ordinary and reasonably comfortable life in the suburbs as part of a family of cartoonists, her young daughter, and her friends. Roberts also dives back into her memories to pluck out the occasional narrative. Throughout it all, Roberts maintains a comedic tone that is bone-dry. 

Of course, because Roberts' work is predicated upon small, subtle changes over time introduced with little fanfare, it requires a careful look at her comics in order to see precisely how she's evolved as an artist since her early days. The key to understanding her work is that though she talks about subjects that are sometimes quotidian and sometimes deeply personal and serious, Roberts always thinks like a performer. However deadpan she might be on a page, she tends to think of whether or not an audience might find this interesting or funny. I recently interviewed her as part of a panel at SPX on writing about having bipolar disorder, and when she really went off on a subject, she was hilarious. Her success as a humorist is a reflection of her overall wit and ability to think on her feet, combined with a sense later of how to capture moments like that on the page. She's not flashy as a performer or cartoonist and reminds me a great deal of Gabrielle Bell in that regard, only Roberts' perspective and subject matter is completely different. That said, they both seek to entertain their audiences.

That's why Roberts was initially reluctant to talk about having bipolar: she thought it might bore her audience. Powdered Milk was initially built on the wacky things that her young daughter Xia said and did, giving her an incredible amount of cute-kid material. However, Keiler's depression couldn't help but bleed through in her early work as she frequently drew herself crying without any context. Ultimately, she decided it was an important thing to share and naturally found ways to draw humor from depressive episodes later, as she was able to think about them from a different perspective. At that SPX panel, she joked that she made sure to develop a new disease or condition for each new book. Miseryland introduced bipolar, while Sunburning explored that further and introduced a host of neurological problems. Her new book, Chlorine Gardens (Koyama Press) introduced Multiple Sclerosis to the mix, and she joked that her next book will be about ringworm. 
Chlorine Gardens seems like more of the same at first. She does indeed explore what it means to possibly have MS. There are strips about her husband Scott, her daughter Xia, and her parents. However, this book represents a big shift in her work in that for the first time, Roberts makes herself the star of her own comic. Certainly, it's always been from her point of view and she was honest about her feelings and experiences, but she was often the straight woman in her own gag strip. The biggest difference is that Xia, who was the star of Miseryland and still a major character in Sunburning, is relegated to being more of a funny side character here. That's due in part to Roberts talking about stepping back from focusing on her as a gag machine because she's older and aware of what her mom is doing. Roberts replaces that void by talking much more and more directly about herself and positioning herself as the comedic star of the book. Roberts also uses a slightly more formal structure in creating longer, themed comedic stories instead of the loose flow of her other books.

For example, the book opens with nine pages devoted to her recollection of the birth of Xia. While there are wacky characters like her doctor, Roberts' own observations (and they are often withering) are far more important with her narrative captions than what the other characters do. Indeed, whereas in past books she tended to eschew first-person narrative captions, this book is dominated by that storytelling technique. There is still a great deal of fluidity in Roberts' storytelling in terms of how she lands on one idea or memory and then jumps to another, but the structure of the mini-chapter makes those connections more concrete. The first chapter ends with Roberts talking about her poor short-term memory and how it is a constant source of anxiety. She manages to play it for laughs, as per usual, but there's something about the anxiety she feels during unstructured time that feels familiar and disturbing. That sense where one knows something is wrong but can't quite remember what is wrong is agonizing, like an itch you can't quite reach or a sneeze that's trapped. 
A trademark of Roberts that is continued in this book is her utter deconstruction of anything involving sentimentality. Roberts loves animals, yet she loves depicting her (admittedly very strange) dog Crooky as frequently being a terrible pet. This idea of Roberts as an iconoclast is played up the most in the section where she explores that tendency of hers to want to be alone almost as much as she wants to make connections with others, expressed in the crankiest ways possible. It's not just that she wants to be alone, but that sometimes her entire aesthetic viewpoint is completely divorced from others. In the bit that kicks off this chapter, she laughs at a sign that says "This Thanksgiving, you don't want to be my pants" because she imagines it to be about someone shitting their pants. It's part of a magnificent page in a crowded mini-van where she goes on and on about this idea, laughing until she was crying while everyone around sat in stony silence. It's one of the few times Roberts has used a deliberately awkward but comedic set-up for laughs, as opposed to being relentlessly dry and deadpan. Of course, in the follow-up to this page, she sees the sign again and laughs till she cries once again, but notes that the physical act of crying actually makes her feel sad afterward. It's a brutally honest observation that acts as kind of a landmine for both herself and the reader. 

Other pages in the chapter feature her asking her husband Scott when he was planning to leave the room, being angry at a friend for moving away, Scott catching her being on-brand when she says "Our marriage has been an eternity" and promptly putting it on Facebook, and that misanthropy being reflected back at her when Xia simply grabs a blanket that Roberts was using and walking away with it. Roberts obviously plays it up to get laughs, but it was interesting to see her feature this aspect of her persona in such a concentrated dose. The chapter where she and her family travel to Ireland for a gallery show, only for Roberts to reveal how much she hates traveling, further plays this cranky aspect of her personality for laughs. At the same time, Roberts digs a little deeper beyond the punchlines to reveal genuine anxiety about being overwhelmed in new environments. Whereas before Roberts made a point of examining mental illness front and center and in short bursts, in Chlorine Gardens she's made it a secondary aspect of nearly every chapter. 
Though Roberts' drawing style is restrained and naturalistic, that's not to say that she doesn't choose specific images to draw a reaction. In a story about "favorite things", she talks about her disinterest in sports: "I've never had a favorite athlete or team. I don't understand the strategy, or even the rules of any sport." The image she used for this panel was that of fitness guru Richard Simmons, who not only has nothing to do with any sport but is the polar opposite of the macho sports mindset. Making that her choice as an avatar for all of sports was a hilarious, deadpan choice that both mocked her own ignorance and emphasized her total indifference. 

Roberts dips into a wide variety of subjects elsewhere in the book: the latest shenanigans from Xia (who is now exhibiting some pre-teen tendencies); funny things her parents and siblings do; grappling with the idea of being special and her creative process; the death of her grandfather; and an extended section on belief and prayer that of course winds up with her ass submerged in a bedpan. The indignities of life are something that greatly amuses Roberts because it's an easy thing to laugh at. That's opposed to, say, having an incurable neurological condition like MS. The chapter where she's getting all sorts of tests has some of her funniest work, starting with a panel where she got "out-deadpanned" by a friend, only it didn't count because Roberts was on valium after an MRI. Roberts integrated all of her usual elements into this chapter: her husband, her dog not comforting her ("you're a dis-service dog"), coping with a new set of symptoms and side-effects, and an experience with a friend at another hospital.
The final three pages recapitulate the whole book. There's a page about Crooky again being an annoying dog before Roberts realizes that her pet might be going deaf, and she says, "Oh Crooky. Are you going to be my next tragedy?" The next page was an MRI report that finally confirmed her MS diagnosis. That's a jet-black way of Roberts saying "womp womp", but she chose not to leave readers on that note. Instead, the last page is a sort of non sequitur of an exchange between Roberts and her mother, about a bunch of blueberries exploding in a freezer. It's a statement that reveals that no matter what health problem or life challenge she encounters, it won't alter Roberts' dedication to telling her story and entertaining her audience. It reminds me of the aphorism from Soren Kierkegaard, where he goes before the gods and is granted one wish. They offer him youth, beauty, power, sex, etc, but he responds that he only wants the laughter on his side. They laugh in response, which is how he knows he got his wish. In response to the question of what is your favorite thing, for Roberts, I think it might be the sublime ability to tell her story honestly and still have it be funny. Her wish has certainly been granted, many times over. 
Rob Clough has written about comics for Cicada, the Comics Journal, Sequential, tcj.com,
sequart.com, Savant, Foxing Quarterly, Studygroup Magazine, as well as for his own blog, High-Low (highlowcomics.blogspot.com).

October 13, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 10/6/18 to 10/12/18

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 SOMNAMBULANCE by Fiona Smyth, writing "Fascinating historically, vital thematically, gripping artistically, on all levels Somnambulance is a necessary and deeply rewarding read.

* Scott Cederlund on BERLIN by Jason Lutes, noting "His [Lutes] clean line and economical choices almost appear plain on the surface as Lutes doesn’t want to call attention to his style or storytelling. But when you get past that simplicity of the image, you can watch how he builds his sequences and uses the comic page to tell this story in ways that no other artistic medium could.

* Caitlin Rosberg looks at Tillie Walden's ON A SUNBEAM, writing "maturity in this world is measured by emotional competence and understanding consent and respect, which is a powerful message to act as the underpinning for an epic love story."

* Rob Clough on Summer Pierre's ALL THE SAD SONGS which "emphasizes that the experience of art, and music in particular, is an essential part of what it means to be human. Be it listening for that song that hears you or performing music as an expression of living in that joy, music has powerful, positive effects on us. What Pierre points out is that these effects are not the same thing as therapy, no matter how much we channel our emotions into it."

* Sarah Boslaugh on THE MENTAL LOAD: A FEMINIST COMIC by French cartoonist Emma, a book collection of 12 of her comics which cover "a wide variety of issues, from her experience of childbearing to the deaths of nonwhite French men in police custody to the very nature of capitalism."

* Ryan Carey reviews A LONE DEER AT THE END OF THE WORLD by D. Bradford Gambles, calling it "deeply moving, deeply stirring, deeply contemplative stuff." 

* John Seven looks at BASTARD by Belgian cartoonist Max de Radigues wherein "the crime element, though obviously a focal point of the plot, is also in some ways an aside, a device that brings the main characters into contact with people who may or may not be capable of changing their lives, but will almost certainly add to the context and meaning behind the actions of the two characters." 

* Tom Spurgeon has this quick review of FRONTIER #17 by Lauren Weinstein, "one of the two or three best comics [he's] read this year."

* Kevin Bramer draws your attention to Pat Aulisio's GHOSTED and you should be thankful for that?

* Tegan O'Neil on BALD KNOBBER by Robert Sergel, writing "The sense of rigid claustrophobia emanating from shabby circumstances saturated with ambient violence seems very much of the moment..."

* Simon Moreton has announced that he has a new zine, LITTLE LEAGUES #1, available for sale. "This is the sister zine to 'Minor Leagues', where smaller stories, little experiments, weird stuff, or things that just don't quite fit in 'Minor Leagues' can find a home. This one is a story told in prose, comics and photos about being in Japan, making chutney, and experiencing Autumn."

* Sara Jewell has this great interview with SHIVANA SOOKDEO over on The Beat.

* Alex Dueben interviews L. NICHOLS about Flocks, "Beethoven, engineering and religion"

* Hillary Brown interviews JASON LUTES about his epic Berlin.

* Sophie Yanow is serializing her new comic THE CONTRADICTIONS, updating daily, which is something you should be not only checking out daily, but celebrating hourly.

* There's a Margot Ferrick comic up on Vice this week called MY DAY that you should go read right now.

* Popula has a Ron Rege', Jr. comic up called THINKING OF DREAMING that you should go read right now.

Showcasing the talent and work of BME Artists and Writers, the MISSING PANELS ZINE collects 5 comics about experiences accessing healthcare in the UK. There's an event where you can come meet the artists, all of whom explore the racial or cultural barriers in the NHS in their work on November 10th, 2018 at 6.30pm at The Attenborough Arts Centre

Each year, in recognition of the self-publishing and DIY roots of independent comics, The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) celebrates the hard work and talents of our exhibitors with MICE MINI-GRANTS in order to complete or enhance the printing of their work. This is going to serve as my shopping list for the convention. Hope to see some of you there!

* Alex Hoffman writes about his experience at this year's CARTOON CROSSROADS COLUMBUS (CXC).

October 6, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 9/29/18 to 10/5/18

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


* Shea Hennum reviews THE WHISTLING FACTORY by Jesse McManus, a book that is "defined by its pockmarked discontinuities and disturbances, its absences, avoidances, and alienations. It is a book where something isn’t quite right, where things cannot be made whole."

* Andy Oliver on Lottie Pencheon's SUMMER BREAK, "one of the most important comics explorations of living with mental health issues that I’ve read in that time. A quietly powerful masterpiece of the purest of comics storytelling." Oliver also reviews Simon Moreton's MINOR LEAGUES #6 which "is about local legends and history, about memories and their complex relationship with location, how the places we live in shape us and how we too shape them, but at its heart, it’s about a son’s love for his father. Universal in theme but deeply personal in specificity it’s an outstanding and expansively structured piece of autobio work; a zine that underlines that within that particularly rich seam of UK small press practice Moreton remains its most innovative, important and, crucially, most relatable artist."

* Jazmine Joyner looks at THAT BOX WE SIT ON by Richie Pope, "a refreshing and well-written comic, that expertly captures the dynamic of the two main characters with relatable and funny moments sprinkled throughout."

* Joe McCulloch writes this amazing review of Lale Westvind's GRIP VOLUME 1, saying it "stands alone as a remarkable statement, one in which the artist's own hands seem to hold the entirety of American comic book history." 

* Chris Gavaler reviews CHLORINE GARDENS by Keiler Roberts, "a fractured chronicle of self-deprecatingly hilarious yet harrowingly moving vignettes from the edge of her private yet oh-so-familiar abyss." 

* John Seven on Nora Krug's BELONGING: A GERMAN RECKONS WITH HISTORY AND HOME, a book that is "as valuable as it is personable, a reminder that humans are the ones living through history and that their lives seldom live up to the binary demands of our right or wrong way of thinking."

* Alex Hoffman writes about MOTHER'S WALK by Lauren Weinstein which "celebrates the creation of new life and the beginning of a new story, but does so fully aware that one day we will either see that story end, or see our own story end."

* Alex Thomas reviews I FEEL MACHINE, a new anthology from SelfMadeHero, which "feels more like a collection of one shots than it does an anthology and with the calibration of creators on show this allows them to explore quite complex ideas in a very interesting way, without being ham strung by a short page count."

* Kevin Bramer on Dave Kiersh's LAST CHANCE FOR LOVE, "a collection of some of his selected drawings from 2015-2017."

* Ryan Carey reviews TINDERELLA by M.S. Harkness, writing "Harkness doesn’t shy away from honest depictions of her own superficiality or insecurity, but unlike a lot of the predominantly-male autobio cartoonists of my generation and the ones preceding it, she doesn’t wallow in her flaws, either."

* Tegan O'Neil on PASSING FOR HUMAN by Liana Finck, which "gains much power from the rhythm of recurring themes and figures. The structurally ambitious framing narrative of Finck’s own attempt to tell her family’s story give the book the momentum of an orange being slowly peeled apart, skin by slice by seed. "


* Bill Kartalopoulous has the run-down on what's included in THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2018.

* Anya Davidson has a new comic up on Popula called DOUBLE CROSSED?!.

* Gabrielle Bell has a new comic up on Spiralbound called THE STORY OF NO. 16, THE 43-YEAR-OLD SPIDER.

* J. A. Micheline writes this personal and celebratory CON DIARY: THOUGHT BUBBLE 2018.

* Billie Muraben on JONATHAN DJOB NKONDO's new animation for Uniqlo's Ultra Light Down called Comfort Zone.