Category Archives: Alterna Comics

Review: ‘The Best American Comics 2017,’ Editor, Ben Katchor; Series Editor, Bill Kartalopoulos

“The Best American Comics 2017”

Comics can be discussed in any number of ways. You can try to include everything from comic strips to superhero comics to the latest graphic novels. What the annual anthology Best American Comics does is focus on comics that rise to the level of art that are already coming from some sort of artistic background: boutique publishers, arthouse anthologies, cultural websites, self-published work, and any other art outlets including galleries. The Best American series began with a short stories yearly anthology in 1915. The addition of an annual focusing on comics began in 2006. This was perfect timing as consensus in varied circles had reached a fever pitch that American comics had reached the level of art. And so, here we are with another long look at the comics medium with The Best American Comics 2017.

“Generous Bosom Part 2,” by Conor Stechschulte

When you focus solely on alt-comics (alternative as opposed to mainstream) as representing all the best American comics, that creates an interesting challenge. But, all in all, it ends up being very helpful in sorting out where comics are headed as an art form. It is essential to avoid pitfalls: giving a pass to work that is weak from being self-indulgent, ill-conceived, poorly crafted, or heavy-handed. But we’re looking for the best, right? Comics cannot be held by the hand and protected. It is made of stronger stuff. To try to shield its creators from the harsh realities of life only hurts the very thing you may think, it your position of authority, you are helping. You wouldn’t provide a painter with free room and board and simply expect masterpieces in return, right? That’s not how life works. Anyway, the best work will win out in the end and the best work has got to have some kind of “wow factor.” This collection has plenty of that.

From “Frieze, No. 181,” by Gary Panter

First, be sure to read the introductions by series editor Bill Kartalopoulos and guest editor Ben Katchor, a master cartoonist. To be fair, this is a very dry nutshell of what they have to say but, basically: Kartalopoulos advocates for artist-cartoonists to not hold back at all since their odds of fame and fortune are nil; Katchor, in a series of hilarious satirical pieces, reveals a sensitivity to the marginalized role of cartoonists. To be egalitarian and invite everyone to try their hand at creating comics does, as I suggest, create interesting challenges. Another example: you would not assemble an annual collection of the best American illustration and really spend too much time considering nonprofessionals–nor would you concern yourself over the status of a person in the illustration profession. So, what makes the artist-cartoonist (plus those who aspire to be) so special? You could say that is what makes this book so special since it devotes itself, as well as logic and space can accommodate, to the current state of independent American comics.

From “Communications Workers of America,” by Dan Zettwoch

We begin with a piece by Gary Panter. Here is someone who, by all rights, openly defies any professional standards to the comics profession. Panter’s work is messy: from the clumsy depiction of figures and composition down to the often hard to read hand-drawn lettering. A lot of people do not like a “clumsy” work. However, a lot of people who attempt such a style, don’t nearly come close to the spark and originality in Panter’s work. In “Frieze, No. 181,” Panter has his characters prattle about the current state of art. It’s funny, unique, and totally Panter. In comparison, the next work in this collection is by Dan Zettwoch. Now, here you have a cartoonist who has mastered all those aspects of traditional cartooning: crisp and dynamic depiction of figures and composition right down to intricate highly-polished/professional-grade use of hand-drawn lettering. In his case, if he tried to be too casual and expressive, his creations might become too hard to follow. So, there you have two examples of contemporary indie comics, among a myriad of possibilities.

From “John Wilcock, New York Years, 1954-1971,” by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

If I were to point to only one item in this collection, I would be satisfied with the excerpt from “John Wilcock, New York Years, 1954-1971,” by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall. I believe this satisfies the desire of Kartalopoulos to highlight work that pushes boundaries; and it also satisfies a similar inclination in Katchor, to seek out offbeat and unusual work. I find this excerpt especially timely as it focuses on the origins of The Village Voice, which recently had to give up its print edition. In this piece, we follow the misadventures of writer John Wilcock, who actually succeeds by not only skill and talent but by a formidable force of will. He finds himself at the right time and place as one of the founders of the Voice, first published in October of 1955. Wilcock manages to hold his own with tough guy co-founder Norman Mailer. And, among the dazzling people he gets to interview is none other than Marilyn Monroe. This is a very lively work of comics. You can follow it as a webcomic right here.

From “Test of Loyalty,” by Sam Alden

There is definitely something to be said for being completely inclusive about the act of creating comics. We have already reached the point where you can just as easily consider taking a cooking class, or a yoga workshop, or a comics-making workshop. Hey, you can also include improv comedy in that self-improvement list. Do comedians feel that their profession is somehow diminished by having so many amateurs getting into (or attempting to get into) the same game? Nope. Same goes for a whole bunch of other people: writers, actors, and various other artists. Fortunately, you can’t learn some of the basics of becoming a doctor on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The point is that the standards for comics are there and some people will do comics for a certain time while others will be compelled to delve deeper. What a book like Best American Comics does is provide both the practitioner and the reader with a wonderful roadmap and source of inspiration–and, by the way, entertainment and enrichment.

“The Best American Comics 2017,” editor Ben Katchor; series editor, Bill Kartalopoulos, is a 400-page hardcover, available as of October 3rd, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alterna Comics, Ben Katchor, Best American Comics, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, mini-comics, Minicomics

Kickstarter: Taking Graphic Novel THE CHAIR To The Screen

The-Chair-movie-Alterna-Comics

“The Chair” is a great example of the offbeat horror you can find at Alterna Comics. You can read my review of the graphic novel here. Both the book and the movie project have a rabid following. A lot of people want to see this movie become a reality but we’re not there yet. Check out the Kickstarter campagin in support of this movie project right here. The campaign ends on Saturday, June 28, 2014.

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Filed under Alterna Comics, Comics, Comics News, graphic novels, Horror, Kickstarter

Review: ALL MY GHOSTS by Jeremy Massie

All-My-Ghosts-Massie-Alterna-Comics

For a relatively young country, the United States holds a tremendous amount of history, with much of it leading back to Ole Virginny. “All My Ghosts,” a new comic from Alterna Comics, is set in a small town in Virginia, rife with history, and ghosts. Our main character is Joe Hale, the editor and owner of The Wise Progress. This is likely a nod to The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Given that this story takes place in Wise, a small college town up near the Appalachian Mountains, I believe I’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s a nice quirky setting that adds some extra flavor.

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Review: THE DOLRIDGE SACRAMENT #3 (of 4)

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“The Dolridge Sacrament” is a strange enough sounding title for a comic book. It is at once a little spooky and a little nerdy. That’s worked out pretty great for Stephen King, right? The more I looked, the more I wanted to look further. Alterna Comics has a decidedly offbeat vision and this comic fits right in.

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Graphic Novel Review: THE CHAIR

The-Chair-Alterna-Comics

“The Chair” is described on the back of the book as a “psychological thriller” and that’s exactly what it is. It’s pretty grim but it does not run off the rails into torture porn which it easily could have done so. All the elements are there: a creepy prison we always see in shadows, a series of disturbing events, a main character brought to the brink of insanity. But there is always more going on in this story than mere prison tropes. It’s an ambitious thing to attempt with such dark material but this story keeps us wondering all the way to the end.

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Filed under Alterna Comics, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror

Review: BILLY THE PYRO #1

Billy-the-Pyro-Alterna-Comics

There is something likable about Billy, even though he is pretty unlikable. “Billy the Pyro” is a new comic, published by Alterna Comics, that gives us a main character with an uncontrollable hunger for arson. Well, as he puts it, he just needs to see things burn. His psychiatrist can’t seem to break through. His dad would just as soon break his skull. No, it’s not good being Billy.

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Review: SOCK IT TO ME #1

Sean-Von-Gorman-Sock-comics

If you like your humor raw and uncooked, you may have found your match with this comic book, “Sock It To Me #1.” It’s about a sock. And this sock has an attitude. Von Gorman has an attitude. You should too if you really want to get into this.

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Review: ‘Huck Finn’s Adventures in Underland’

Huck-Finn-in-Underland-Alterna-Comics-2013

Alterna Comics presents for your consideration, the mini-series, “Huck Finn’s Adventures in Underland.” It is written by Nikola Jajic, with art by Gabriel Peralta and Felipe Gaona, lettering by Peter Simeti, covers by Brian Level. It is 22 pages, full color, for all ages, issues are priced at $1.99. It is an excellent idea for a literary mashup. There is no need for prior reading of Mark Twain or Lewis Carroll or H.P. Lovecraft to enjoy this comic. For some readers, that may come as a disappoint but, for others, they will find this to meet expectations: you have here some weird and strange adventure.

This won’t blow your socks off if you were looking for stimulating literary comparisons. But maybe that’s not the point, really. It is meant for an all ages audience and, in that respect, it does well. And the comic is substantial enough where you can read into it whatever you like. For instance, you can say that Huck attracts the most foul and violent elements in an alternate world.

The inks and pencils by Gabriel Peralta are lively and keep things loose and moving right along. The colors by Felipe Gaona are nice and moody in places and more vibrant in others.

All things considered, this is fine little work and something you can enjoy as a mild amusement or share with the kids. When you think about it, this is a fine gateway to going on and reading works in literature. You can check it out at ComiXology here.

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Filed under Alice in Wonderland, Alterna Comics, Comics Reviews, Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Review: COMPLEX VOLUME ONE: WAYS OF LIFE

Complex-Malkin-Kay-2013

“Life is the biggest trap you’ll ever get caught in because it’s impossilbe to get out alive.”

— Gillian McBride

I have no idea who Gillian McBride is. I will have to ask Michael Malkin, the writer of this really spooky and engaging comic, “Complex,” published by Alterna Comics. Maybe the name is just a stand-in for an anonymous quote. How fitting for this work since everything in this story is a stand-in for something else! And it fits right in with what we here at Comics Grinder have been pondering over as of late. You know, the whole internet thing and reality vs. virtual reality. You just can’t shake that off now, can you? Gillian McBride. What are perfect avatar, if that is what she really is. Have her help in adding to your list of witty quotes to Twitter about. Alright, back to the subject at hand….

The cover to the first volume of “Complex” grabs your attention and makes you want to see more. It’s a dude screaming holding a crystal ball of a dude screaming ad infinitum. Intriguing, no? I say, yes. Just something about it. And definitely the same reaction, if not more so, to the VW van floating above the suburbs with a big moon in the background. There’s some “Twilight Zone” sort of pitch at the start about things being more complex than they appear and I’m cool with that. By the time we reach that bug in the sky, I am starting to be won over. That’s what the creators of “Complex,” ask for, just a little time to settle in and take off. There is a lot going on….

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Meet Zach King. He should be living the dream. He is a young man with a bright future. He just married Helen, an attractive young woman. He has a nice job. Together, they have a nice home. Why can’t he remember any of it? His life is a nightmare but if only he knew how much.

Malkin-Kay-Complex-Alterna-Comics

If you liked “Alias” or “Lost,” you’ll enjoy this. Hey, it really has that “Twilight Zone” vibe working for it. Things are not what they seem, right? Zach is a valued employee at Towne Power but he only thinks he is. The whole town of Towne doesn’t really exist. It’s all staged in the service of something far bigger, to big to even be spoken of lightly. As you’ll see from these samples, the art, by “Kay,” has an organic and expressive quality to it. The lettering, also by a one-name artist, “Dekara,” fits in well with the sketchy atmosphere. Vladimir Popov adds to the mix with color for the covers.

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The first time you see poor Zach engaged in his true, albeit forced, purpose in life, will definitely hook you. The eerie command of the group’s leader will stick with you: “Turn on the lights, Zachary!”

Alterna Comics have offices in Levittown, New York, which is the classic example of 1950s conformity, the mass-produced houses that Pete Seeger mocked in a 1962 song: “They’re all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same.” (Check out this version of “Little Boxes” here) Looking alike being the key problem. No African-Americans were welcome back then. Happy communities are not massed-produced and, even at best, take work. It’s an apt subtext to this clever comic.

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“Complex Volume One: Ways of Life,” is a 160-page, b&w, trade paperback, $11.99, collecting the first arc of the digital smash hit.

Vist our friends at Alterna Comics here.

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Filed under Alterna Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, graphic novels, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Twilight Zone