December 10, 2018

BOOKS WE LIKED 2018: Rob Clough, Kim Jooha, Alex Hoffman, and Keith Silva

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That’s right -- it’s BEST OF season when comic sites large and small churn out their lists, anointing subjective BESTS and, thereby, relegating thousands upon thousands of unlisted comics to the long box of Misfit Toys.

We here at Your Chicken Enemy are uncomfortable with these implications of creating BEST OF lists. Instead, we focus on celebrating ALL that is good in small press/self-published comics. Our site is built on an appreciation for diversity, admiration of artists, respect for the craft, and, of course, sandwiches.  

So, in lieu of the traditional BEST OF list, Publisher and EiC of YCE, Daniel Elkin, has gathered his flock of (Chicken) Enemies and asked them for their contributions to Your Chicken Enemy’s inaugural
Today’s BOOKS WE LIKED 2018 features books liked by Rob Clough, Kim Jooha, Alex Hoffman, and Keith Silva.

Rob Clough:
Frontier #17: "Mother's Walk" 
by Lauren Weinstein 
Published by Youth In Decline 
Available HERE

This is a visceral, dense, and immersive journey into Weinstein's experience giving birth to her second child. It's funny and harrowing in equal measures, and there's a level of intimacy shared here that would be uncomfortable if it wasn't for Weinstein's disarming sense of humor. Weinstein mixes paint, intense scribbles, and traditional cartooning to create a visual space that approximates the way time and reality warped for her as she was ready to give birth. Weinstein's project has always been reconciling the personal with the cosmic. Our being embodied beings living in moments of time is a recapitulation of the mysteries of the cosmos, and there's no greater mystery than birth. The heart of the comic is her exploration of love: with her husband, with her children and most especially the love she saw develop in her daughter for her new sister. This comic is a powerful experience and a loving gift to readers, as Weinstein invited them to be witnesses to her memory.

Your Black Friend And Other Strangers
by Ben Passmore 
Published by Silver Sprocket 
Available HERE

The success of the titular story in this volume brought Passmore a great deal of attention, but the truth is that he's been at this for a long time. This volume establishes Passmore as a preeminent political cartoonist whose work is also intensely personal. "Your Black Friend" is an unnerving, uncomfortable work about the harmful assumptions even "woke" white people make in general, but it's also particular to Passmore's experience as a biracial person of color. Indeed, every story in the book is driven by Passmore's experience of feeling betwixt and between with regard to race, his status as an anarchist and punk, and his very ability to make meaningful connections with others. His grotesque, cartoonish character design and psychedelic and even lurid use of color allow him to emphasize his ideas while using restraint in talking about them. Passmore is also an incisive reporter and political commentator, offering cogent but hilariously scorched-earth analyses of topics related to white supremacy, capitalism, and respectability politics. This book is an eye-opener at both the conceptual and visual levels.

by Alex Graham 
Published by Kilgore Books
Available HERE

Comics about the life of an artist are more common these days, from Walter Scott's Wendy books to Matthew Thurber's searing Art Comic. Alex Graham's collection of short stories from her series Cosmic Be-Ing share much in common with Thurber's absurdity and Scott's account of the artist as hard living weirdo. Angloid explores a number of issues, including the concept of femininity, the worth of an artist in a capitalist system, androgyny, and body dysmorphia. The eponymous Angloid is a genuine hard-drinking weirdo and happy to be one, only the world doesn't seem very happy to see her. Graham has a talent for depicting the grotesque and is unsparing in depicting Angloid's antisocial tendencies, severe depression, and penchant for harmful excess. Angloid's success in getting a job and a boyfriend relied on her shedding her preferred androgynous look in favor of being a traditional sexpot, and this is a rather pointed commentary on Graham's part. Despite her self-loathing and fractious personality, the cosmic beings who manifest throughout the book love her unconditionally, and this is actually a powerful statement of self-love on Graham's part. Angloid has the qualities of a compelling fever dream from which one can never awaken, with shifting understandings of reality that all seem to make sense in the moment. It's also one long, hilarious existential howl at the very idea of being embodied and the seeming impossibility of creating meaningful art as an act of communication. 

Kim Jooha:

Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. The Patriarchy
by Liv Strömquist
Published by Fantagraphics Books
Available HERE

I had arrogantly looked down on recent "graphic nonfiction"s as a generic, shallow, and money-grabbing fad, as I skim through their wordy pages, talking heads, and mere illustrations of words.

Reading Fruit of Knowledge, I realized that I had been wrong. Comics, having both words and image, help the reader understand the matter effortlessly compared to either word or image alone. That is why every biology textbook is covered with hundreds of diagrams. I had mistaken one of the most fundamental strengths of the medium as a weakness. I was so pretentious in the tiny avant comics world that I misinterpreted the "being easily read" as conforming.

Fruit of Knowledge is far from conforming. It made me realize my mistake by being sharp and smart both in the contents and delivery. I had thought I would have known most of the contents, but I had not and I assume you do not too. It is not another generic feminist comic (although we do need thousands of such comics).  It is required reading for 2018 and later until every page of the book becomes common sense (which is actually how the world should be).
by Mushbuh
Contact Mushbuh HERE

Mushbuh is the most critical webcomic artist working today. Mushbuh's comics depict the late capitalist online culture. People live in shipping containers and Amazon Prime boxes together with drones. They drink Soylent and eat instant ramen. The exchange of value happens via Paypal and cryptocurrency. The human interaction occurs via YouTube live streaming. People are sad and lonely. Just as the outside (physical) world means little, their actual shapes (representations) are falling apart. But Mushbuh's comics are not grim. They are incredibly funny, just as "Humans of Late Capitalism" memes are. Without any grandiose pretention, Mushbuh renders the contemporary society more impeccably than anyone, completing it by demolishing the representation.

Tal-co Ilgi [Talco Diary]
Available HERE

Tal-co Diary depicts a South Korean woman rebelling against the strict standard of female beauty in South Korea by shaving her hair and refusing to wear "girl clothes" and the misogynist society against her. Tal-co, an abbreviation of Tal-corset, is such act of contemporary South Korean feminist movement.

While being the most educated in the world, South Korean women suffer the enormous sexism. South Korea is most misogynic country among industrially developed country (its neighbor Japan is the next). Its gender pay gap is the biggest, violence against women is the most common, and political power of women is the least among OECD countries. Abortion is illegal. Spy-cam is everywhere, especially in public washrooms. Just as its K-beauty and K-pop are enormously popular worldwide (especially in Asia), its impossible beauty standard is enforced to women. If you do not fit the specific female beauty standard, you are ugly and thus you cannot get a job. You need to get plastic surgeries to get a job, only to get fired after pregnancy.

For the last few years, similar to the West, South Korea saw the reemergence of the feminist movement mostly through social media. Because comics, especially webcomics (called Webtoon), are one of the most popular entertainment in South Korea, the new feminist movement influences many artists and audiences. Sadly mainstream publishers (Line, Kakao, or Lezhin) are male-centric and slow to adapt to social change, but thanks to the development of the crowd-funding tools like Kickstarter, influential and popular feminist-themed comics by women artists can make money. The Tal-co Diary crowd-funder reached 150K USD only about a week after the launch and became the most funded project ever.
South Korean misogyny is deep and systemic. However, our passion for equality is only stronger.

Alex Hoffman:
I Love You: Stories and Cartoons 
by Sara Lautman
Published by Retrofit Comics
Available HERE

For this “Books We Liked” series, I decided to write about books I haven’t already reviewed at Sequential State, so please forgive that small discretion. My first choice is I Love You: Stories and Cartoons by Sara Lautman, a recent release from Retrofit. Lautman is a cartoonist for the New Yorker, among other places, and this collection of short stories collects some recent and vital work of hers. Lautman’s cartooning is scratchy and ink-dense, messy in the soothing way that messy can sometimes be. The collection has a variety of pieces, most of them funny, some political. My favorite of the book “Our Platform” is a series of collected vignettes that all happen inside the same subway platform. Lautman says goodbye to someone, possibly a lover, at the end of their relationship. Swirling around this final goodbye, people swear at each other, hug and make out, meditate on the strangeness of their lives, and make amends. It’s a subtle story, but messy in a very human way. At its best, I Love You expresses a human connectedness so intense and visceral that it hurts; Lautman’s stories dig into the heart of you. Her comics make me want to make comics.

Little Pieces
by Giulia Sagramola
Available HERE

Staying on theme, my second selection is Giulia Sagramola’s recent self-published release Little Pieces. Sagramola is an Italian cartoonist who recently exhibited at CAB - I got this book shortly afterward, and I was impressed by Sagramola’s wit and her lovely color blocking. The introductory piece in the collection, “Creative Process” is a wry and funny needling of artists. I found the collection emotionally generous, and Sagramola an observant cartoonist. While most of the comics are good, the book is truly driven by the last story in the collection, “The first time I traveled alone,” which is a period piece set in the late 90s about a teen girl named Silvia lying to her grandmother so that she can get on a train and meet a boy she has been flirting with online. Of course, this is the late 90s, so all this flirting has been going on via email. Silvia learns that expectations aren’t always reality, but the story is tender and written in a way that emphasizes both the strange sweetness of human connection and the era of pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter internet. Seeing earbuds plugged into a Sony Walkman will always take me back.

by Margot Ferrick
Published by Perfectly Acceptable Press
Available HERE

And finally for something different: Margot Ferrick’s Dognurse was a surprise delight - I wasn’t expecting to see something so soon after her book Yours was released by 2dcloud last year. In Dognurse, a child named Songy has a strange nose and a disease called mumble-mouth that makes her speech hard to understand. A nurse named Dognurse comes to her home to help care for her. This book gets Ferrick back to more traditional cartooning, but contains many of the same stylistic choices as her most recent work, especially around the way text is handled. The story of Dognurse is about parental neglect and the facade of care, but it’s an opaque comic and rewards close reading. Ferrick’s art throughout the book is beautiful, a lush mix of heavy colors, decadent linework, and a fullness of figure you won’t see in other comics. Something else to consider - Dognurse was published as a deluxe printed art object by small press Perfectly Acceptable earlier this year. The price point for the book was eyebrow-raising, but the book is a testament to thoughtful design, and how the book as a print object affects our perception of the contained work.

Keith Silva:
How to Make a Sandwich
by Vicky Leta
Available HERE

Vicky Leta’s How to Make a Sandwich hits like a craving: hard, fast and powerful. From the brio of the opening words, “First, you gotta assemble the shit,” to the rawness of the final image, Leta straight devastates.
All this over a sandwich? Yes. And no. Leta’s need to understand and to be understood doesn’t stop her from delivering on her word. Her recipe for a tomato and mozzarella sandwich brimming with basil and garlic on bread so fresh it barely needs toasting creates a powerful hunger, a mean hunger. It’s at this tipping point between the hot burn of desire and the cool detachment of logic—and the legions of other demons therein—where Leta et al. live all the damn time. There’s no “getting over” food, there’s only living with what we choose to eat and the awareness, that gut feeling, our harshest critic lies within.     

How to Make a Sandwich is an empathy delivery device, its judgments harsh and personal. So too are its sympathies and understanding. Leta means to wound, means to make her experience felt, but above all, she wants to heal, to live, because that’s how to make a sandwich.

That Box We Sit On 
by Richie Pope
Available HERE

 As humans, we’re well to give joy a pass, the side-eye, the high-hat. Comics imply delight; hell, it’s in the name, dammit. Instead, we deride, we attack and refuse to see the beam in our own eye while we nitpick others to dust. Enough.

That Box We Sit On by Richie Pope goes another way. Check that, it swaggers away and leaves fools in its wake.
Perhaps that’s what this year’s voters of the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Artist saw in Pope’s ninety-six panels of perfection, the joy in two boys with big imaginations and the box that provides more than a place to sit. What separates That Box We Sit On from near about everything is how open it is imagination and possibilities while keeping loose with its judgments. Pope passes on easy moralizing to celebrate the importance of being present in a shared experience.  

Every reader who comes to That Box We Sit On will find purchase for different ideas, interpretations, and meanings. That’s Pope’s point, in order to experience that joy you got to be there, on That Box We Sit On. So get up on it.      

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