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Category Archives: Alternative Comics
If you earnestly wear a “Mean People Suck” t-shirt, then something is wrong with you and this comic is not for you. However, if you ironically wear a “Mean People Suck” trucker hat, then we’re in business. By the way, do mean people suck? Yes, and Tom Van Deusen should know as his main character, Tom (not literally Mr. Van Deusen, of course) is quite a mean-spirited cuss. Anyway, getting back to what I was saying, if you take things too seriously and too literally, then you will ruin an otherwise fine ole time reading the first two issues of “Scorched Earth.”
So, we follow the exploits of a sad sack character who is having a lot of trouble functioning in society, the work place, simple exchanges of just about any kind. You get the picture, right? Van Deusen sure does. He draws up quite a repulsive fellow. And he runs with that as far as he can for his aims at effective dark humor. Given that he’s a young horny guy, our sad sack repeatedly blunders in matters of mating. For this guy, an attractive young woman would be fine but he finds they sure aren’t as easy as ordering a pizza. Once he’s fed up with his date, he is just as likely to disappear as he is to hang on.
In one disturbing/hilarious scene, Tom’s date steps into a port-o-potty. The date has not gone well and, instead of spending another minute with her, he tips over the potty and walks away. The timing is impeccable and inspires a chuckle. The scene is shocking. And it shows that, for Tom, women are literally disposable. But, heck, all of humanity is compost as far as he’s concerned.
There’s an undeniable tension here as we have a cartoon Tom that can’t help but refer back on some level to the cartoonist Tom. You can break this down many ways: it’s an opportunity for the real Tom to behave badly and provoke the reader; it’s an opportunity for the real Tom to comment on such bad behavior; the cartoon Tom can stand-in for human frailty; and, at the end of the day, it’s simply a fiction referring back to its creator. Quite a lot to juggle for Van Deusen–and also be funny. These are dynamics that, no doubt, Crumb was masterful with. And Van Deusen appears to be up to the challenge.
There’s always room for another character that you love to hate. In this case, you have a classic fool. Van Deusen seems to be on the right track with balancing hateful actions with just the right level of humor. Crumb made a career out of stoking the fires of dark humor to the point where he brought the red hot blaze so close as to burn. Van Deusen has set up camp. We’ll see how far he takes his own fires.
Yes, you too can now own the first two issues of the comics I’ve just reviewed, “Scorched Earth.” Find each 24-page comic book and other fine items at Poochie Press right here.
“Eat Eat Eat” is a very funny comic by cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. That may not be readily apparent for some readers, I suppose. If you haven’t (or have?) been exposed to Robert Crumb, for instance. But, you know, for a lot of folks, this is going to be a laugh riot. Let me delve into this one further because it merits close attention. As I began to say, the content is, well, weird.
So, yeah, some people could potentially think they’re in for some typical gross out session. But, no, no, it’s not that. This is well-timed wry humor with a touch of the poet. That is to say that it does not collapse under the weight of heavily-used underground comix tropes. Many a cartoonist, and comics reviewer, have allowed themselves to get too caught up in what is thought to be fashionable scat. But you show some restraint and respect for craft and you end up moving forward.
Van Deusen knows how to make the most of the little details. He knows how to draw bared teeth to maximum effect. Each instance is mercilessly depicted with precision and gusto. And elicits a giggle. He also knows how to wring out humor from lettering for all it’s worth. Who knew how funny it could be to read his various hand-written renderings of “Later.” You know, a brief break in the action similar to “Meanwhile.” He loves to devote a full panel for each of his uses of “Later.”
Okay, I think we know where we stand now. It’s not so much gross out humor as absurdist humor that we find in this comic. Our hero is just a sad sack looking to get lucky. In this case, lucky in love. Lucky with the ladies. Our sad sack is NOT a ladies’ man but that doesn’t stop him. And when he does land a date with a cutie, he proves to her and all the world how underserving he is to have set foot outdoors in the first place.
Turns out, push comes to shove, forget the ladies, he’d much rather make out with a giant bag of popcorn. Wonderful surreal humor. Is it any wonder that I was reading this as I waited to see some improv comedy? It’s good stuff–and good for you. I read the rest during my visit to the chiropractor. I highly recommend that you read this as they crack you back into shape.
I had the treat of reading the collected webcomic work to EAT EAT EAT that makes for a powerful work in comics, all in one neat 24-page book. You really need to get yourself a copy, even if you’ve already read the webcomic. You can find out how to get your copy here. Ah, and there’s more comics by Tom Van Deusen, all part of his Poochie Press. We’ll cover another title in another post.
And be sure to check out the EAT EAT EAT webcomic at Studygroup right here.
“Richy Vegas Comics,” by Richard Alexander, are what you would consider very personal and decidedly out of the mainstream. It reminds me a little of the work of Daniel Johnston. Based upon reading numbers 8 and 9 of this ongoing comic, I get the picture of what he’s doing and I can offer up some comments. For those who follow my reviews, you know that, at times, I’ll expand upon the review and make some general observations. I also want to discuss here personal comics in general.
Emis Gennis is a cartoonist who I see as someone who likes to get down to business and create good comics. I admire that. Her work is clean and professional while also maintaining an organic energy to it. For her latest work, “Baseline Blvd,” she employs a precise and bold use of pencil to take us on quite a journey.
Gennis has a keen interest in sordid tales, as I’ve seen from her past work. For this one, we follow the emotional turmoil from an abusive relationship and the end results. We view this from various vantage points, often very quiet and nondescript.
A woman carries flowers in her car on a trip to find some resolution. We don’t know very much about her or any other details than are necessary. It’s as if the flotsam and jetsam of the urban sprawl the young woman sees on her way to her destination tries to compete for our attention. Faceless everyday detritus. A crow devouring roadside carrion.
Gennis is a born storyteller. “Baseline Blvd” shows us a cartoonist well on her way. This new comic just debuted at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival. For more details on work in general, visit Emi Gennis right here.
Comic Arts Los Angeles (CALA), a new comic arts festival in Los Angeles, took place this last Saturday, December 6, in a walk-up art gallery, Think Tank Gallery. This is the first major comic arts festival of its kind in the second largest city in the United States, taking its place alongside such notable comic arts festivals as MoCCA Comic Arts Festival in New York City, Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, and Short Run in Seattle, Washington.
Located in a part of the city tucked near Gallery Row and the Arts District, the actual site is amid a dazzling display of predominantly Mexican businesses, both storefront and street vendors. One banner atop the entrance and staff for the event lead you in. And so you climb the stairs and you are instantly transported to a world of indie comics. As Jen Wang, one of the founders of CALA, said in a panel discussion at the event, “When it comes to breaking into comics, you just make them and you’ve broken in.” In that spirit, you come to this event which is a mix of creators relatively new to breaking into comics along with many seasoned indie veterans attached to various publishers.
When it come to breaking into comics, while it may seem simple enough, there are a myriad of approaches, motivations, and sensibilities. I can tell you from my vantage point, as someone who has broken in, that there is and there is not a typical cartoonist profile. Referring back to this panel from the show, the last panel of the day in fact, Wang led a discussion on how to sustain a life in comics. Among the comments made, Ron Regé Jr. spoke to the fact that he never ever expected to make a dime off of his comics. And that pretty much says it all in one fell swoop because there are always cartoonists ready to make money from their work right along with others who don’t focus on demographics and the like.
A comic arts festival like CALA focuses on the more unusual and offbeat type of comics that are more prone to taking risks with the market. You will see table after table of minicomics and professionally bound books on a multitude of subjects and themes. There are no superhero comics, per se. In this context, a superhero theme is possible but most likely in a ironic tone. The overriding theme is personal and artistic. Of course, major publishers of comic books are hip to what the alternative comics crowd are up to and will collaborate with them from time to time. For some years now, major publishers have been publishing the best that emerges from self-published cartoonists. So, in a sense, the indie cartoonists are akin to stand-up comedians who may get picked up by a network. However, it’s complicated. Some cartoonists try to capitalize on trends, others follow their own muse. Ultimately, it’s quality work that wins out and transcends all these issues.
I was speaking with cartoonist Ellen T. Crenshaw who is a fitting example of a professional cartoonist/illustrator with an independent sensibility. Take a look at her work and you see an engaging style. She was pleased to see a great turn-out for CALA. In her experience with the Boston comics scene, it can be very rough for the first year of a comic arts festival. But CALA came out strong right out of the gate. Taking a closer look at Crenshaw’s work, it’s a successful combination of a clean and polished approach married to offbeat content. I picked up a hilarious and sweet minicomic of hers, “The Woodsman and the Bear,” that follows a bear who has fallen in love with a lumberjack. That will give you some indication of her vision. For something more challenging, there’s “Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750,” published by Fulcrum Publishing, that provides stories about Colonial America that you won’t find in the history books.
You could sense the energy in the crowds. I spoke with a number of friends in the comics community and everyone was all smiles. It’s just a matter of diving in and checking out various tables. Each creator is there in support of their most recent work along with their other titles. For instance, there was Farel Dalrymple in support of his graphic novel, “The Wrenchies,” published by First Second Books.
Another favorite is certainly Yumi Sakugawa and she was there in support of “Your Illustrated Guide To Becoming One With The Universe,” published by Adams Media and “Bird Girl and Fox Girl,” published by Sparkplug Books.
Rounding out my coverage of CALA, I spoke with Jen Wang, one of the organizers and the illustrator of one of my favorite recent graphic novels, “In Real Life,” published by First Second Books. She was definitely excited about how well CALA was doing.
And, just to top it all off, I spoke with cartoonist and renowned comics historian Scott McCloud and got his take on the event. He was quite pleased to say the least.
Think Tank Gallery proved to be a great venue for CALA. With about 70 creators, the space afforded enough room to mix and mingle. Around the corner, there were panel discussions throughout the event. In the end, the reader, the potential buyer of said comix, indie comics, alternative comics, had much to choose from in a delightful setting. We all look forward to this being the start of a new comics tradition in LA.
If you’re in Los Angeles and love comics, there’s only one place to be this Saturday, December 6, and that’s Comic Arts LA (CALA) at Think Tank Gallery, 939 Maple Avenue, from 10am to 6pm. Free to the public! This is one of those big moments as a significant comic arts festival launches in LA. Comics Grinder has the travel bug and will be there! Will you be there?
It was a hive of activity at Washington Hall in Seattle, on November 15, 2014 for the annual Short Run Seattle Comix & Art Festival. Comic arts festivals continue to gain ground as interest and demand grows for independent comics. Here in Seattle, Short Run has proven to be the leading venue to connect creators with the public. Now in its third year, the festival offers a dazzling selection of work by some of the best talents in the U.S. and beyond.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Short Run’s Guest of Honor, John Porcellino, and he was quite gracious. My partner, Jennifer Daydreamer, and I had gotten to see an advance copy of the documentary on his life and career, “Root Hog or Die.” Jennifer asked if it had been planned to have the documentary and John’s new book, “Hospital Suite,” come out at the same time. And John explained that the documentary had been years in the making and it was a wonderful coincidence to have these two separate projects join together into a tour. “The documentary is an extension of the book,” said John. I’d go farther to say it’s an extension of King-Cat Comics, as if it took on another life as a film. Well, more to talk about at a later date. I asked John for some recommendations from his Spit and a Half distribution catalog and I’ll be reviewing them shortly.
Among other friends we got to catch up with were Mark Campos and David Lasky, both longtime Seattle cartoonists. I have recent work by Mark that I’ll be sharing with you soon too.
David Lasky, as many of you know, is the co-author, with Frank M. Young, of “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.” I saw that the book was part of a series of Short Run raffle items. Well, you don’t need to enter a raffle to get your copy of this unique history of the legendary country music icons. You can find it right here.
I also got a fun treat by another beloved Pacific Northwest cartoonist, Pat Moriarity. He had told me about a limited edition mini-comic he had created just for this year’s Short Run. In “Skulptura?” an artist attempts to find his muse. And I also got to chat with Eroyn Franklin, organizer of Short Run, with Kelly Froh and Janice Headley. She was a pleasure to talk with. I asked her about her upcoming comic, “Dirt Bag.” And it is coming along nicely. There was a preview at Short Run that I missed finding. I also should have gotten there early as the early birds got a goodie bag of comix. Well, maybe next year.
In closing, what can I say, Short Run was a rousing success. If you’re in Seattle this time next year, make plans to attend. It’s a comix and art festival and a whole lot more as you’ll see on their site.
Do not go gentle into that good night. Why should you? And don’t just rage. Get yourself a whole new body like in Pete Toms‘s comic, “The Dupe,” in the latest (special 3D) issue of Study Group Magazine. This piece certainly sets the tone and then some for a magazine full of ebullient work featuring in-depth essays, interviews, and a variety of work by talented cartoonists who tend toward the underground. Come in and sample everything and be sure not to miss the 3D because it is out of this world.
We learn a lot from Dan Stafford’s documentary on cartoonist John Porcellino. “Root Hog or Die” provides us with some basic truths that resonate as we explore the life of someone both unique and, by his own account, just an average guy trying to make a life. The whole point here is to embrace the average. As Porcellino states at one point, he’s concerned to see an erosion of “the middle ground, when a person can live without an elaborate ambition and yet not be sleeping by some dumpster.”