I am a great supporter of alternative comics and the pursuit of excellence in the comics medium. That means sometimes taking a ruler and wrapping the knuckles of a cartoonist during a bit of constructive criticism. And it means celebrating a work when everything goes right as it does in Hobo Mom, by Charles Forsman and Max de Radiguès, published by Fantagraphics. Hobo Mom gets it right by pursuing a line of specificity to its logical conclusion. Just like a finely-executed novel or painting, all the elements fit into place at a resounding level of precision.
This is the story of a woman who can’t settle down. The open road is in her blood and she is willing to pay the price for her unconventional freedom. Charles Forsman presents his most disciplined artwork to date in seamless collaboration with the script by Max de Radiguès. The pacing is impeccable as you follow one extended scene after another. It’s magical how Forsman and de Radiguès balance so much in a relatively short work. At 62 pages, you need to be prepared to pare down to the essentials in order to give the narrative a natural flow. This is undoubtedly achieved as the reader gets a rich experience within a tight framework. Everything needs to count, down to every panel, ever facial expression, every pause. You need to know what to linger on and when to move on.
Page excerpt from HOBO MOM
Take the first four pages. The first page begins with a big panel that depicts an inviting breakfast being prepared on a skillet taking up half the available space. The next four panels convey a happy relationship between father and daughter, a stable domestic scene. With that established, the next three pages have the luxury of lingering over this happy home: dad goes off to work; daughter tidies up; daughter begins her day; daughter finds comfort in the company of a family pet. Now, we’re ready to move on to what is going on with the absent mother. A rhythm has been set up allowing for the alternating of scenes and characters. Will the hobo mom reconnect with her family or is it just not possible? Here is a book that asks the right questions and lets the reader step in. This book is a prime example of what it possible in the comics medium.
Hobo Mom is a 64-page duotone hardcover, published by Fantagraphics.
This is a very meta thing to be doing but here’s a review of a magazine that features reviews. Dating back to 1977, in its heyday, The Comics Journal was a monthly source of comics news and reviews, a trailblazer for the burgeoning field of comics journalism and criticism. It has always maintained a certain quirky attitude, consisting of a mix of features and topped off by a expansive soul-searching interview a la Playboy magazine. It mainly attracts those who consider themselves comics aficionados. In 2013, it ceased its print version, staying online, but now it makes its return to print with Issue 303. TCJ returns this month with new editors RJ Casey and Kristy Valenti.
Now, I go pretty far back. I have fond memories of picking up this magazine at Tower Records back in the day (circa 1995), usually with a recent release from Sub Pop Records. I also fondly recall a special dynamic, or synergy, at play between the magazine and its online counterpart that led many of us to the forums section that let you interact with subgroups within subgroups of people in the comics community. This was long before Facebook or social media as we know it today. I think the monthly magazine, as we knew it back then, is still sorely missed. Towards the end of its print run, it came out less often and each issue covered a big theme and came out in different sizes. The consistency of a monthly had been lost. I think, in a perfect world, this latest return to print would do well to go back to that monthly format. Alas, with this latest #303, we’re seeing the start of a twice-a-year format. You might argue that TCJ is simply working with today’s print reality and is offering up a taste to a new generation of what is possible.
The showcase item in this issue is, of course, TCJ founder Gary Groth’s interview with a legendary firebrand, the satirist and children’s book author, Tomi Ungerer. For those of you unaware of Mr. Ungerer’s impressive career, I highly recommend that you read this interview and, before or afterward, check out the 2013 documentary, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough,” directed by Brad Bernstein. The title is one of Ungerer’s sayings, along with “Don’t Hope, Cope” and “Expect The Unexpected.” I interviewed the documentary’s director and its writer and the fact that Ungerer is a true force of nature was the overriding theme. So, it makes perfect sense for someone as outspoken as Groth to sit down and talk it out with someone as outspoken as Ungerer! It’s a match made in heaven.
From Ben Passmore’s story in Now: The New Comics Anthology #3, published by Fantagraphics
Among the various features to be found here, you’ll find them under such titles as “From the Trenches” and “Fair Warning.” For example, under the former is a think piece by cartoonist Ben Passmore, who shares his insights on the alt-comics scene from an African American perspective. And, under the latter, you will find an interview by RJ Casey with emerging comics talent, Fifi Martinez. The thing to always remember about TCJ is that its focus is a serious look at comics as an art form. That leaves little room, if any, for superhero comics, per se. What you’ll mostly find here is a focus on the independent artist-cartoonist. It does a heart good to see cartoonists like Passmore and Martinez provided with a platform.
Ultimately, TCJ remains what it’s always been, a valuable resource that is most appreciated by those who take the comics medium seriously. It’s a niche audience but a fiercely loyal one. In the new more fragmented world we live in, it’s all about niches. That is actually a very positive thing. And niches are supposed to attract outside readers too, right? You can only calculate so much as to how strong a presence you can make on today’s newsstands. For some special readership out there, it will be a great treat to see TCJ on a shelf. Newsstands aren’t going away anytime soon from such places as Barnes & Noble, specialty shops, comic book shops, and even airports. TCJ might just want to make a real push into these venues and see how it goes. I asked about TCJ at my local B&N as well as the Pike Place Market newsstand, one of the granddaddies of newsstands. Neither place had ever heard of TCJ or had any plans to carry it. I asked around a couple of nearby comics shops. They heard of it but were not carrying it. This is TCJ’s return to print, right? Let’s see it out there in the real world.
The reality is that creating any kind of magazine, digital or print, is a big challenge. Everyone in the comics community is rooting for TCJ to make as big of an impact as it can. Those of us already in the choir, can keep singing its praises and wish it well. You can find your copy of TCJ #303 by visiting the Fantagraphics store right here.
Charles Forsman is a wonderful independent cartoonist. I have had the privilege to review his work. Mr. Forsman creates work that is usually intended for a relatively small audience. That is the nature of comics, especially niche comics. But things can get turned on their heads. Just imagine, a highly obscure copy of an underground comic is sitting in a trash bin when it’s picked up by a movie director and he’s so thrilled by it that he’s compelled to move heaven and earth to turn it into a hit television series. That’s what happened with Forsman’s The End of the F***kingWorld, now available on Netflix. And it’s happened again. This time without any trash bin. The news it out that Forsman’s I Am Not Okay With This is coming to Netflix.
‘I Am Not Okay With This’ by Charles Forsman
There’s something about the fresh and quirky goodness of independent alt-comics that can catapult them from obscurity to crazy full-on stardom. It won’t happen to most of the self-published comix out there but it happens. So, don’t try this at home unless this is a labor of love first and foremost. Otherwise, it won’t work. Painfully honest stories have a greater than average chance of getting attention. That’s part of it. The rest is just the right mix of hard work and a bit of good luck. While you wait to enjoy I Am Not Okay With This, check out The End of the F***king World now on Netflix:
I Am Not Okay With This follows the misadventures of Sydney, an unassuming 15-year-old freshman with telekinetic powers. Be sure to visit Charles Forsman right here. I Am Not Okay With This is a 160-page graphic novel published by Fantagraphics Books.
Graphic novels that explore a particular passion can prove to be the most relatable for a wide audience. Consider the new graphic memoir by cartoonist Carol Tyler (Soldier’s Heart). Her new book is entitled, Fab4 Mania, published by Fantagrahics Books. Who doesn’t love the Beatles? Tyler’s book looks back at the Fab Four from her own point of view. The full title of this work is Fab4 Mania: A Beatles Obsession and the Concert of a Lifetime and therein lies our premise and plot.
Tyler’s experience is essentially the same thing that happened to countless young people, circa 1965, up to a point. Where it diverges is exceptional. One big distinction is that this kid got to go to a famous ’65 Beatles concert in Chicago. The greater distinction is that the reader is following Tyler’s journey full of personal recollections and idiosyncratic appeal. This is an 8th grade girl revealing her innermost thoughts. It all adds up to a wonderful coming-of-age read.
If you enjoy young adult themes, this book is definitely for you. Filled with over a hundred warm and inviting drawings in full color, this is a true tale that will sweep the reader away with its authentic flavor. Tyler has meticulously recreated the diary that she kept throughout that pivotal Beatles year of 1965 to create a treasure trove of insights and humor.
Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life, by Ellen Forney, is a unique guidebook to mental health. Anyone can find something insightful and useful here. This is cartoonist Ellen Forney’s latest book in a long line of outstanding work. Among that special group of artist-writers, Ellen Forney has done it all: a remarkable comic strip, illustrations, and various other distinguished work in the comics medium. I’ve known Ellen for many years. I was the curator for her first solo art show. With all that in mind, if you’re going to this weekend’s Small Press Expo in Bethesda, then be sure to see Ellen Forney, and one of the most original voices in comics. Here is a bio from Small Press Expo:
Ellen Forney is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Seattle, WA, with her partner. Forney illustrated Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007) and authored her 2012 graphic memoir, Marbles. She was the 2012 recipient of The Stranger Genius Award for Literature as well as the winner of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis 2013 Gradiva Award.
Ellen Forney will take part in the following SPX panel:
Writing About Bipolar
September 15, 2018
3:30 pm – 4:30 pm
White Flint Auditorium
As mental health is becoming a subject that’s more openly discussed than ever, comics narratives are emerging about personal experiences with mental illness. Moderator Rob Clough will discuss with Lawrence Lindell (Couldn’t Afford Therapy, So I Made This), Ellen Forney (Rock Steady), and Keiler Roberts (Chlorine Gardens) their struggles with Bipolar Disorder, the choices they make in writing about it, and how this process affects how they think about it.
And you can always visit Ellen Forney’s website right here.
Everything is always perfectly distilled in a work of comics by Richard Sala. Everything from a dramatically constricted pupil to a young woman’s dainty feet. Sala has a way of cutting to the chase: he knows that he wants thrilling motifs and pretty girls–and he does a beautiful job of it. Sala is in fine form with his latest graphic novel, “The Bloody Cardinal,” published by Fantagraphics.
This new Sala villain makes quite an entrance and certainly looks pretty menacing. The Bloody Cardinal is no slouch, either, when it comes to murder. Clara Clarette, a charming young woman who had just purchased a mysterious book, is killed by the bird fiend. Enter Inspector Coronet, and his trusty compatriot, Dr. Sun. The good doctor has a mystical quality about him. He senses a malevolent bird-like creature is responsible for this crime. Sala does not miss a beat and paves the way for the reader to be undeniably hooked.
If you’re new to Sala, you are definitely in for a treat, especially if you enjoy a devilishly good mystery. At its heart, this is a good tightly-wound mystery. The narrative keeps popping along at a brisk pace. Each panel is a wonderfully rendered watercolor. Some cartoonists, like Sala, also happen to be painters at an accomplished level. You can’t help but appreciate how Sala distills scenes and characters to their essence.
The evil eye.
“The Bloody Cardinal” is an online serial, which follows in the tradition of his early classics, “The Chuckling Whatsit” and “Mad Night.” Perhaps it was one of these previous titles that was your introduction to his work. Sala has enjoyed a career spanning over thirty years with no signs of letting up. He has perfected a vision that, inspired by Gahan Wilson, Edward Gorey, and Charles Addams, he can safely call his own.
There is an undeniably sexy aspect to Sala’s work, as evidenced by all the compelling and voluptuous female characters in this book. The key distinction is that these are sexy, but not sexist, depictions in the service of a bigger picture. You get a worldly sense of the world from Sala: a world of books, mystery, the supernatural, and compelling young women to keep one on one’s toes. It is sophisticated fare accessible to general readers much in the same way that Hitchcock provided that special kind of entertainment in film. You could indeed say that Richard Sala is to comics what Alfred Hitchcock is to film. All those little details add up: apprehensive rats, a demonic puppet hung from a string, obsessive note-taking. The journey we take with Hitchcock as well as with Sala, with its Mcguffins and moody atmosphere, is as important as the destination, even more so.
A harbinger of doom.
In an interview last year with Tim Hodler, for The Comics Journal, Sala provides a window into the motivation behind his work: “What has always appealed to me over everything else, beyond horror or comedy or whatever, is a sense of the absurd. I think I got that from reading Kafka in high school and feeling a shock of recognition. I felt a kinship with absurd humor and black humor. Having an appreciation of the absurd – along with my childhood love of monsters – helped me survive in what was a dysfunctional (that is, crazy) household. I was drawn to the surreal and the expressionistic and the unreal, which is where I felt at home.”
“The Bloody Cardinal” is a 96-page full color trade paperback. This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers: anyone, say, 13 and up. For more details, visit Fantagraphics right here.
I enjoy note-taking when I prepare reviews. It’s part of the process that usually remains behind the scenes but this review begs for it. For this book, I write things like, “on page 63 is a perfect example of how the stream of consciousness pays off: giant head of greyhound leading big beam from train headlight.” That is the image I need to highlight for my review of “Education” by John Hankiewicz, published by Fantagraphics, part of their imprint, Fantagraphics Underground.
That head of a greyhound!
Yes, this is a very arty book but it avoids becoming an academic hot mess. Much to enjoy in simply accepting a greyhound head as a beam of light. Much to enjoy in a disjointed narrative if done right. There is certainly a long tradition of artists using text that doesn’t really seem to match the adjacent imagery. Think of Magritte and his play with text and image. Ever mindful of that, no doubt, Hankiewicz seems to relish his playing with text and image, and delightfully recontextualizing images, just like playing improvisational jazz.
Rest assured, it is not a spoiler to say that this book has no plot, at least not a conventional one. There is plenty of connective tissue here with heart and depth, especially the thing about the stars. We begin with stars signaling the return of someone’s father, and then stars getting caught on a young man’s shirt and other places. In fact, the stars force this same young man to later go naked for a while in order to better detach himself from these pesky stars. Of course, stars are very symbolic. It seems like a cruel joke to have all these stars descending upon our hero with no promise of love or treasure. Lots to enjoy with these pesky stars.
Education, by John Hankiewicz, is a 136-page trade paperback. For more details, visit Fantagraphics right here. And, when in Seattle, be sure to visit the Fantagraphics Bookstore And Gallery right here.
“My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” Vol 1 (of 2) by Emil Ferris
If you have not heard of this book yet, then let me introduce you to one of the new landmarks in graphic novels, “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,” by Emil Ferris, published by Fantagraphics. Maybe you have heard of it. Or maybe, like me, you weren’t sure what to make of it at first. Certainly, one quick look through its pages, and you can tell this is something weird and wonderful. And, at 386 pages, this ain’t a book you’re gonna miss sitting there on the shelf.
An enigma begging for resolution.
As a cartoonist myself, the book is also a bit intimidating. All this awesome stuff to process–that I didn’t write and draw! As a reviewer, this is the sort of book that everyone comes out of the woodwork to review. People who never read graphic novels now suddenly have an opinion to express on the next big thing. But, don’t get me wrong, it is exciting to see a book like this gain the spotlight. That said, a number of things make this book significant and worthy of a long life after the current buzz.
A bigger look: two-page spread.
The best way to enjoy this book is to find a cozy seat and explore the pages for a while. Then just settle into it. Ferris has an uncanny sense for narrative flow. In a comic that she did about promoting the book, she included an observation by comics legend Art Spiegelman. He declared that Ferris had tapped into a new rhythm for comics. To be sure, Ferris has a distinctive approach. She beautifully alternates among various possibilities: from full page drawings to panel sequences; from just a hint of color to full color; from lots of text to minimal text. This exquisite contrast propels the reader into worlds unknown.
Deeze, the bad boy older brother.
Our story begins in Chicago on Valentine’s Day, 1968. There’s been a murder, or maybe a suicide, or God only knows what. Something happened upstairs. 10-year-old Karen Reyes has lost her dear friend, her upstairs neighbor in the apartment right above her: the elegant and enigmatic Anka Silverberg. She was shot in the heart. But her apartment door was bolted shut from the inside. So, yes, it was a suicide, right? Well, that’s what the police say. But Karen senses that just can’t be right. And so begins Karen’s investigation. Karen, the little girl who thinks she’s a monster. Yes, she really believes she’s some werewolf girl. And the only thing more scary than that is the M.O.B., that’s short for people who are Mean, Ordinary, and Boring.
Having to answer to mama.
Ferris fuels her work of magical realism with magical kid logic. Karen’s quest to get to the bottom of the death of Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, becomes a multi-layered journey. Narrated by Karen, the reader becomes privy to a child’s inner world in a similar fashion to Jonathan Safran Foer’s celebrated novel, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” 10-year-old Karen ponders over the validity of monsters and concludes that they have as much right to exist as other unseen marvels like germs and electricity. Karen’s fanciful innocence clashes with harsh reality. Her older brother, Deeze is engrossed in various sexual conquests with little to no discretion as to whether Karen is around to hear it or see it. As a way to protect herself, Karen can always revert back to her own whimsical concerns, like whether or not tulips get homesick for Holland.
One of the many pulp magazine tributes.
This is a genuine must-read resonating with aficionados and the general public alike. Many of the pages in the book have become iconic, particularly the monster magazine portraits. This is a tale that intertwines the tumult of the 1930s and 1960s and ends up casting a mirror to our own very troubled era. The alternating formats that Ferris uses are the hallmark to this most innovative work. Ferris steadily modulates the narrative having the reader swim to the deep end and read passages suitable for a prose novel all the way to deceptively simple comic strip sequences. All the while, everything is held together cohesively with the consistent use of ball point pen rendered art on a background of notebook paper–that and one of the most compelling voices to grace the page.
As I say, in my video review, it is a hard thing to do in a graphic novel where a cartoonist creates something truly fresh that has the reader seeing things in a whole new way:
This is one of those rare books that can safely be called an instant classic. It is a long work in comics that truly makes good use of a high page count. In fact, a second volume is due out as early as Valentine’s Day of 2018. For more details, visit Emil Ferris right here. And visit Fantagraphics right here.
For those of you in Seattle this Saturday, October 22nd, come out to the Fantagraphics Bookstore And Gallery for a launch party for “Rock Is Not Dead,” an international anthology of comics and prose based on rock songs with an accompanying covers CD. Seattle cartoonist Noel Franklin pulled together an artist team to contribute. Fellow cartoonist Mark Campos and Franklin created a comic based on the Throwing Muses song, “Not Too Soon,” and Amy Denio recorded the cover for the CD.
Noel Franklin is a Seattle cartoonist who, like many of us in this region, is quite active. We locals know her for such beautiful work as her tribute to the OK Hotel. Franklin recently received grants from 4Culture and the Mayors Office in support of her first graphic novel.
Fantagraphics Bookstore And Gallery is located at 1201 S Vale Street. For more details, visit them right here.
Dash Shaw‘s work keeps moving the ball forward regarding comics as an art form. With his new graphic novel, “Cosplayers,” Shaw provides us with a delightful look at the clash between the real and the unreal. The book promises to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the world of cosplay. Ostensibly, this is a collection of stories that add up to a tableaux of geek life. All that can be taken with a grain of salt. A hallmark of Shaw’s work is that he keeps you on your toes wondering about everything: the characters, the plot, the theme, the comics medium.
Meet Verti and Annie. They are taking a year off between graduating high school and going off to college. During that year, they just want to do what they want to do which involves cosplay and making videos. Annie is white. Verti is black. Both girls see themselves as unconventional in every way: looks, goals, and attitude. Shaw wants you to know that these two are a couple of misfits. But you are not supposed to know too much about Annie and Verti beyond the basic fact that they’re callow and bratty. Shaw’s aim is to provide you with two main characters that are disconnected from everything, including the reader.
Annie and Verti ask that you keep your distance.
Shaw is one of our more intellectual cartoonists, always looking for a tripwire to the narrative flow. So, don’t expect him to provide a straightforward guide to the world of fandom and cosplay. He is mostly interested in playing with characters from one scene to the next and more evoking a way of life than following a story’s arc or presenting specific information. When he does focus on a character’s feelings it can fall a little flat, as when Verti is remorseful for the way she and Annie have been pranking people. That said, for the sake of balance, that is a pivotal moment since Annie has a high tolerance for being hateful.
Channeling Osamu Tezuka
But you’re not supposed to get too close to Annie or Verti–or any of these characters, right? Just when you think you might have found a sympathetic character who you can trust, Shaw will yank you awake. You’re getting soft on Baxter, the expert on Osamu Tezuka? Well, think again, he’s a fool! Now, hold on, you think the kind and gentle comic book store owner is someone to put on a pedestal? Nope, you can knock that pedestal to the ground. After this comic book nerd gives Annie some of his most prized comics, she goes home and cuts them up to shreds. Ouch, how’s that for a wake-up call?
In the spirit of French new wave cinema, led by the work of Jean-Luc Godard, you can see this comic as a ship of fools out to sea. Each character has their own agenda, their own axe to grind, but no one really seems to know what they’re doing. With these lost souls engaging in the make-believe world of cosplay, Shaw has set up a perfect vehicle to explore issues of identity and self-empowerment. By initially coming across as presenting a random set of acts (Annie and Verti engaged in endless video pranks) Shaw lures us into a deeper exploration. It all adds up to something quite fascinating, with a French vibe.
“Cosplayers” is a 116-page full color hardcover, published by Fantagraphics Books. You can also find it at Amazon right here.