Category Archives: Indie

Interview: Matt MacFarland and DARK PANTS

Matt McFarland's DARK PANTS comics series

Matt McFarland’s DARK PANTS comics series

Matt MacFarland is an interesting artist working in various mediums including comics. He is one of those hybrid artists who make for the best cartoonists. I am impressed with his comics and that initial interest led to this interview. Matt is a kindred spirit. That has a lot to do with us being a couple of cartoonists in the same boat, navigating still unchartered waters, which can often get pretty choppy.

Silkscreen print adapted from DARK PANTS #1 by Matt McFarland and Maggie Lomeli

Silkscreen print adapted from DARK PANTS #1 by Matt McFarland and Maggie Lomeli

Interviews can be organic and creative things in their own right. Sometimes they require the right balance. As I mentioned to Matt, I have done more interviews than I care to count but I always strive for them to be fun and insightful. I’m always hopeful of what may result. In the case of a young cartoonist finding his way like Matt, who already demonstrates a seasoned approach to his work, it’s really good to gather up some observations from him and add to our general understanding of where we are headed with the comics medium.

The focus here is a cartoonist as a fine artist and that usually means someone who does the whole thing alone just as you would if you were a painter. Matt is in a very good place as someone who has a traditional art education. I say this because Matt’s ongoing series, DARK PANTS, seems to me a fine example of going through the rigors of art critiques. I sense that the recurring theme of those dark pants is a hard-won motif. It is through these mysterious pants that various displaced characters in Matt’s story find some clarity and, most significantly, a sexual awakening.

What you will find instructive here is listening to a particular breed of cartoonist describe how he goes about building his particular work. This is the work of an alternative comics/indie cartoonist. This type of cartoonist often does not care for superhero or genre comics. And, as I say, they usually work alone. Alternative cartoonists do not concern themselves so much with whether or not their comics are legitimate art. They already know they are creating art. The ones that have taken their work in comics past a certain point, they most certainly know since they are employing the same methodology used with other art mediums. This is the sort of work I do. This is the sort of work Matt does.

Check out our conversation right below:

And be sure to visit Matt McFarland and keep up with DARK PANTS right here.

You can find DARK PANTS at these fine establishments:

Los Angeles, CA
MELTDOWN COMICS! (Hollywood)
Bookshow (Highland Park)
Cool Cats Comics and Cards (Culver City)
Comics vs. Toys (Eagle Rock, CA)
Los Angeles County Store (Silver Lake)
Mega City One (Hollywood)
The Pop Hop (Highland Park)
Stories Books and Cafe (Echo Park)

Austin, TX
Farewell Books
Tribe Comics

Seattle, WA
Zanadu Comics

Pittsburgh, PA
Copacetic Comics

And you can pick up a print and t-shirt right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Art, Comics, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, Interviews, Los Angeles, Matt MacFarland, Meltdown Comics, Minicomics

Review: DARK PANTS #1 and #2

I find artist Matt MacFarland quite the kindred spirit as he makes comics coming from a fine arts background. Think of it this way, most of us out there love a David Lynch movie because it has all those extra layers of ambiguity. Well, that’s Lynch’s fine arts background at play. Some of us cartoonists began as painters and/or hybrid artists working in various forms of expression: writing, drawing, film, acting, photography, and so on. When you take all that activity and bring it into comics, it can result in some mind-blowing art like MacFarland’s ongoing comics series, “Dark Pants.”

Reading DARK PANTS at Canter's Deli

Reading DARK PANTS at Canter’s Deli

What sets apart one alternative comic from another is this fine art sensibility. You don’t necessarily have to go to art school for it–but it helps. Imagine that, art school actually does have value! I kid you not. It is what you make of it. Here’s another comparison. Try to achieve the comedic chops of Tina Fey without ever joining an improv comedy troupe. It ain’t gonna happen. You need to flex comedic muscles you don’t even know you have–and you need to be around like-minded people in order to really stretch yourself. In time, with the help of others, you’ll realize how much you suck and what you need to do to improve. And so we find ourselves with this comic which unabashedly displays its motif, those dark pants.

Issues 1 and 2 of DARK PANTS

Issues 1 and 2 of DARK PANTS

Like Cinderella slipping her bare feet into glass slippers and transmogrifying into a regal beauty, there is something enthralling about a story of transformation. This is certainly not lost on MacFarland as he has one hard luck character after another in his series find a break from their routine when they happen upon a mysterious pair of tight black jeans. In the first issue of this comic, Diego, a drab little guy, becomes a hot lover when he buys these jeans at a thrift store and puts them on. But he soon finds that his newfound sex appeal is far more than he bargained for. By our second issue, the jeans have found their way into the hands of Milena, a lonely virgin who writes a sex column for her college paper. Once those jeans are on, she too is over her head.

Diego's story set on Miracle Mile, 1992

Diego’s story set on Miracle Mile, 1992

It’s interesting that both Diego and Milena were already struggling with their lives before they crossed paths with the sexy jeans. It just stands to reason that these jeans were just as likely to wreck, instead of enhance, their existence. But, who knows, maybe the right sort of loser, like the sort portrayed by Don Knotts or Jerry Lewis, would make the most of a cosmic makeover. So far, MacFarland’s characters are doomed, with or without sex, and that’s just as well for this humorous noir. This is a rare treat. I love MacFarland’s wit and vision.

Milena's story set in Glendale, 2002

Milena’s story set in Glendale, 2002

MacFarland has a very accessible style which goes well with his less commercial, and darker, vision. That said, the darker stuff is not always the less marketable. Overall, I see MacFarland’s work as assured with a refreshing approach and zest. It is a cartoony style that makes me think of ironic cartoonists from the ’90s like Ward Sutton and Michael Dugan. It is a sturdy yet elastic style that makes you think you could poke at the characters and reshape them a bit. With that in mind, it is a style that lends itself well to laughs and/or drifting in and out of reality. Our next victim of the traveling tight dark pants will be a kid named Philip in the upcoming third issue. I look forward to how things develop there.

To learn more, and to purchase comics, visit Matt MacFarlnd right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Humor, Independent Comics, Indie, Matt MacFarland, Minicomics, Noir

Review: A WIND FROM NOWHERE by Kara Queen

Harper and Madelyn

Harper and Madelyn

From the first page of Kara Queen’s new comic, “A Wind From Nowhere,” I felt as if I had been invited into a quiet space where secrets were revealed through whispers. There is 11-year-old Madelyn sitting on the rooftop of her apartment building talking to Ichabod, a one-legged crow. Then, one day at school, her world is rocked by a boy named, Harper.

Kara Queen has a solid way of evoking the vulnerability of youth. She takes her two main characters, inevitably lacking in self-awareness, and places them on a treacherous journey that both are unlikely to survive. This is a study of a crisis that just keeps getting further out of control. Perhaps Madelyn and Harper should never have met but, despite the cloud that hangs over them, they seem to be meant for each other.

A WIND FROM NOWHERE by Kara Queen

A WIND FROM NOWHERE by Kara Queen

The ill-fated relationship has everything to do with their instability. Neither one has much of a foothold on reality. At least Madelyn’s offbeat perspective leans to the whimsical. Harper’s view of the world veers towards homicidal.

Madelyn, Harper, and the crows

Madelyn, Harper, and the crows

There’s a lot of heart to this comic. You really believe in the characters and their struggles. Queen has an energetic and compassionate drawing style. As you might have suspected, there isn’t much in the way of healthy parental support for these kids. But Queen is careful not to paint them as monsters. Instead, she manages to evoke that murky world of dysfunction where things just aren’t working the way they should be.

“A Wind from Nowhere” is a 50-page full-color comic, priced at $12, and available right here. And be sure to visit Kara Queen right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, Kara Queen, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival

Short Run 2015: Debut of GEORGE’S RUN #1

First issue of George's Run to debut at Short Run

First issue of George’s Run to debut at Short Run

For all of us in the comics community, whether creators or fans, it is time once again for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. There’s a nice write-up about it in the local alt-weekly, The Stranger, that you can check out here. Among a splendid array of comics that you will have a chance to choose from, I humbly add something I am working on. This is the first installment to a full-length work. It’s called, “George’s Run,” and it’s about the life and times of science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. I am still in the process of weaving the narrative but this is a perfect time to share some of what I’ve put together thus far. If you happen to go to Short Run, you’ll have a chance to buy a copy of this 24-page comic. You can find me at the Short Run tables under the name, Comics Grinder Press.

Short Run Comix & Arts Festival takes place this Halloween: Saturday, October 31, in Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center from 11 am to 6 pm.

For more details, be sure to visit our friends at Short Run right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Comix, George Clayton Johnson, Independent Comics, Indie, mini-comics, Minicomics, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Seattle, Self-Published, Short Run

Review: TITAN #1 & #2

Phoebe at rest, one of the Titan masses.

Phoebe at rest, one of the Titan masses.

François Vigneault is an impressive cartoonist and I am so glad to share his work with you here at Comics Grinder. Phoebe and João come from two extremes on the class spectrum but they can’t help but be attracted to each other in François Vigneault’s TITAN, a new quirky sci-fi comics series published by Study Group Comics as a webcomic and as printed issues too.

Phoebe and João in François Vigneault's TITAN, published by Study Group Comics

Phoebe and João in François Vigneault’s TITAN, published by Study Group Comics

You’ve heard of the One Percenters, right? And all the economic disparity? Ha, of course you have. Ah, yes, the haves vs. the have-nots theme. In TITAN, the haves are Terrans and the have-nots are Titans. Vigneault brings us aboard Homestead Station on the moon of Titan where we follow Manager João da Silva as he attempts to lessen tensions between the geneticly-engineered Titan workers and the Terran management. It turns out that the key to his problems lies with one voluptuous Titan worker, Phoebe.

The dynamics on Homestead Station is a lot of fun to see unfold in these first two issues. Far, far, away, in some distant future, you’ll find that crass youth haven’t really changed much at all. Slang, for instance, reflects the latest level of rage. Communication in general, particularly amongst the working class, has undergone a further breakdown in literacy as everyone speaks in choppy sentences. It’s a grim world just waiting to explode! Vigneault keeps our eyes moving with just the right touches of futuristic background and engaging facial expressions and body language. TITAN proves to be a comic in the best sci-fi tradition: a compelling exploration of the human psyche.

Phoebe can't help but tower over Joao.

Phoebe can’t help but tower over João.

The relationship between Phoebe and João is very intriguing. Vigneault does a great job in expressing the divide between rich and poor, the vulnerabilities on each side. Vigneault engages the reader with a love story every bit unlikely and yet most compelling. Phoebe, who would seem to have the disadvantage as a member of the working class, cannot help but tower over her would-be master, João. And João seems to like it.

Study-Group-Comics-Titan-2105

If you’re heading out to the Small Press Expo, taking place this weekend in Bethesda, Maryland, you’ll be seeing some of the best independent comics around. SPX is turning 21 this year, by the way, which makes her legal. Anyway, TITAN #2 will debut at SPX and is surely a comic you’ll want to pick up. Be sure to visit François Vigneault at the Floating World Comics/Study Group table, J8-9.

Small-Press-Expo-2015

For more on the Small Press Expo, visit right here. And keep up with TITAN and Study Group Comics right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Independent Comics, Indie, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Small Press Expo, SPX, Study Group Comics

Joshua Boulet at Exterminator City, Push/Pull Gallery, Seattle

As any card-carrying local artist and cartoonist should do, I went down to check out the indie comic show Exterminator City, part of Push/Pull Studio & Gallery here in the Phinney-Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. Exterminator City is put together by Push/Pull member, Seth Goodkind, who is a local cartoonist and published illustrator.

Exterminator-City-comics

Plenty of stellar talent including Allen Gladfelter, Adam Lynn, Megan Noel, Noel Franklin, Scott Faulkner, and Eli Tripoli, to name a few. Coming off the heels of my awesome time at Hempfest last weekend, it was perfect timing to meet up with Joshua Boulet. He’s a fine example of how cannabis and comics mix quite well. In this video interview, Joshua is kind enough to share his sketchbook. BTW, I picked up his “Draw Occupy Wall Street” which I will review in a future post!

"I MET TOMMY CHONG!" by Joshua Boulet

“I MET TOMMY CHONG!” by Joshua Boulet

Here at Comics Grinder, we’ll keep exploring the interconnections between comics and cannabis as well as cannabis in general from time to time. You could say that both comics and cannabis remain somewhat misunderstood by the general public while also receiving a general thumbs up. That said, we can tackle both subjects thoughtfully and respectfully one post at a time.

Push-Pull-Gallery-Kickstarter-2015

Now, let’s focus on the venue for this comics event. Exterminator City was made possible by the Push/Pull Gallery. My heart goes out to them as both an artist and a curator. For many years, I curated art shows at Glo’s Diner with an emphasis on fringe art, specifically alternative comics. Well, Pull/Pull is ready to take things to a new level as they move toward a permanent home. With your help, Push/Pull will achieve its goal through its Kickstarter campaign, which closes on September 4, 2015, that you can visit right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Comix, Exterminator City, Independent Comics, Indie, Joshua Boulet, mini-comics, Minicomics, Push/Pull Studio & Gallery, Seattle, Underground Comics

Review: BASELINE BLVD by Emi Gennis

Emi-Gennis-Baseline-Blvd-2015

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.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Carrion Press, Comics, Emi Gennis, Independent Comics, Indie, mini-comics, Minicomics, Self-Published, Vancouver Comic Arts Festival

Interview: Bill Plympton and CHEATIN’

Ella and Jake in Bill Plympton's CHEATIN'

Ella and Jake in Bill Plympton’s CHEATIN’

Frank and Cora in 1946's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

Frank and Cora in 1946’s THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

Bill Plympton Animation Available on iTunes as of April 2015

CHEATIN’ is Bill Plimpton’s seventh full-length animated feature. It is for adults who like an All-American gritty noir story and fans of great storytelling from such greats at Terry Gilliam and Federico Fellini. Read my review here. On April 3, CHEATIN’ opens in New York and then to selected cities throughout the month. It is also available online! You can see it on Vimeo. And you can see other Plympton features on iTunes starting in April. Yes, if you’re a loyal fan or are new to his work, Bill Plympton is here! For details, and to see the movie, just go to the CHEATIN’ THE MOVIE website right here.

Bill-Plympton-Cheatin-2015

A Gritty Tale and a Sexual Odyssey

CHEATIN’ is visually stunning and immersive. It features the journey one woman must take in order to find what she wants. In the tradition of noir, characters must go through the yin and yang to find their true selves. Light into dark. And then dark into light. Truly, a perpetual swirl of desire and searching. And you throw into the bargain a magical soul-transfer machine, and you’ve got yourself a Bill Plympton animated feature.

Disney Can Give Bill Plympton A Call

It is always a pleasure to chat with Bill Plympton. For this interview, we cover a lot of ground on the storytelling process. We chat about how CHEATIN’ and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE would make for a perfect double bill. And I asked Bill, the king of independent animation, if he’d ever consider working with Disney if the right project came along. Yes. Bill would take the call.

What if Hitler Opened a Theme Park Called, “Naziland”?

And we discuss some upcoming projects. You’ll want to listen to that.

Below is the podcast interview. Enjoy:

Be sure to visit the CHEATIN’ website right here. And, if you’re in the New York metro area, be sure to go to Village East Cinema on Friday, April 3, and you’ll see Bill Plympton in person! He will create a drawing for anyone who asks for one.

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Filed under animation, Bill Plympton, cartoon, Filmmaking, Independent Film, Indie, Interviews

Comic Arts Los Angeles (CALA) Debuts a Comic Arts Festival

Comic Arts Los Angeles at Think Tank Gallery

Comic Arts Los Angeles at Think Tank Gallery

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.

CALA-Think-Tank-Gallery

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.

Comic Arts Los Angeles

Comic Arts Los Angeles

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.

Ellen T. Crenshaw and "Colonial Comics: New England, 1620 – 1750"

Ellen T. Crenshaw and “Colonial Comics: New England, 1620 – 1750”

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.

Farel Dalrymple and "The Wrenchies"

Farel Dalrymple and “The Wrenchies”

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.

MariNaomi and "Dragon's Breath"

MariNaomi and “Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories”

MariNaomi was there in support of “Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories,” published jointly by 2D Cloud and Uncivilized Books.

Yumi Sakugawa

Yumi Sakugawa and “Bird Girl and Fox Girl”

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.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, CALA, Comic Arts Festivals, Comic Arts Los Angeles, Comics, Independent Comics, Indie, Jen Wang, Los Angeles, Minicomics, Scott McCloud, Short Run

Movie Review: ‘Root Hog or Die: A Film About John Porcellino and King-Cat Comics’

Roothog-or-Die-John-Porcellino

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.”

Continue reading

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Documentaries, Drawn and Quarterly, Independent Comics, Indie, John Porecellino, King-Cat Comics and Stories, Movie Reviews, movies, Underground Comics