Category Archives: Karl Stevens

Comics Review: THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

A most engaging muse.

Karl Stevens is quite an impressive artist. Now, he does let himself get tripped up over labels. Stevens confides this with the reader, along with a bunch of other juicy and fun things, in his new autobiographical graphic novel, The Winner, published by Retrofit/Big Planet. Just who is Karl Stevens to think you, the reader, are going to care one way or another as to how he sees himself as an artist and/or cartoonist? Well, he’ll readily admit that he’s confronting the artist’s lot in life of fighting off overwhelming indifference but that’s just the thing. Mr. Stevens is engaging in the fine old tradition of presenting a portrait of the artist and having the reader take of it what they will. In this case, there is much to take and much to celebrate.

THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

I, for one, celebrate the work of Karl Stevens–and I’m sure you will too! I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing his work in the past. I really enjoyed, Failure. This new book carries on that same level of excellent auto-bio along with a foray into other themes. I see here an evolving sense of humor mixing sharp self-deprecation with the wildly absurd. It’s as if Stevens is still too close to the real world gripes that he needs to play with different genres in order to cut loose. Stevens inserts a few segments of sci-fi, fantasy, and even horror, into his auto-bio narrative. These segments are experimental compared to his far more measured and earnest social commentary. Taken as a whole, the reader seems to get to know Stevens through all these various samples of the artist’s life, working process, and work resulting from sources other than direct observation.

THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

Stevens plays up his anti-social and elitist tendencies for the reader. Whether or not the Stevens on the page is the same as the Stevens in private is one of those games that can make you crazy. It doesn’t help that Stevens has such a deliciously realistic style that lures the reader in. The writing is crisp, the dialogue is sharp and natural. So, sure, you can easily lose yourself in these wonderful scenes of Steven ranting about the mindless masses while his wife, Alex, nudges him into a reality check. I suspect that there’s more truth to these scenes than fiction and that’s totally okay, better than okay! Stevens knows how to kid. For someone who can so consistently conjure up such exquisite work, the man has earned himself the right to complain as much as he wants about the dire state of affairs and us less than noble humans.

Getting back to the genre-hopping going on here, I think Stevens is still figuring out what he wants from this. Right now, I see an artist/writer of high caliber flexing his muscles and testing things out. That said, his work can be quite visually appealing. And his humor is wry, dry, and often silly. As it stands right now, I think Stevens is heading in a very interesting direction. I am curious to see how Stevens continues to intertwine his real world with the supernatural.

THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

The Winner is a 104-page full cover trade paperback, now available. For more information and how to purchase, visit Retrofit/Big Planet right here.

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Filed under Big Planet Comics, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Karl Stevens, Retrofit Comics, Retrofit/Big Planet

Review: ‘Failure’ by Karl Stevens

Failure-Karl-Stevens-2013

I certainly hope that artist Karl Stevens never abandons what he’s accomplished in the pages of his latest collection, “Failure,” simply because he might feel compelled to rip apart what he’s done up until now and strike out fresh. He can do whatever he wants, for sure. But I hope he continues to build on what he’s accomplished so far. “Failure,” I dare say, is a success. This collection shows growth but it’s consistent growth. There isn’t a weak page in the whole lot. It’s more an evolving viewpoint: the angry young artist keeps pushing and pushing until he gets what he wants, a reaction; afterward, he finds he’s pushed his way into new terrain and he finds himself breaking new ground.

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There’s all that explaining for a couple of pages at the start of the book about how the Boston Phoenix yanked the comic strip in 2012, after an illustrious seven-year run. All because of a joke that maybe went too far. Well, does it really matter at this point? Nope. What matters is the artist and man, Karl Stevens, and his work. He’s had some success with critics with three previous books and, with “Failure,” we can observe an artist evolving with these final installments of his comic strip.

Failure-Batman-2013

It’s a process all of us artists most go through. There’s a time when you’re acutely sensitive to the fact only a few people will ever get you. They will never get art and so they will easily never get you. It’s a very real time that some artists never get over. This can lead to despair or, if all goes well, it can launch a career, likely to be mingled with despair too but you can’t have everything. Getting back to the point at hand, it is a time filled with one’s first overwhelming feeling of complete uncertainty that will stick with you (cause you never forget your first). You start to think that cats and dogs have a better shot at getting you than your fellow humans. Thus, we find a good share of eloquent cats and dogs in this strip.

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Then we get a little comfortable and settle into something but we don’t want it to become too easy, a phoned-in gimmick, something that has already been done in The New Yorker or observed by Douglas Coupland. The above strip is a good example of finding your way within the long history of social satire. The humor is broad and yet there’s a sense of the specific. The young woman claims she was “nerding out” to Chekov. This is an annoying, and perhaps disturbing, prospect to her older friend who wonders out loud about what has become to simply being “intellectual.” The artwork is a refined crosshatch that itself harks back a hundred years ago which just adds to the joke, the tension between the proper order of things and the brashly new.

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So, you do keep at it. Listen to your own special blend of neurosis. And it will come out. Stevens has mastered that play between the old and the new, the high and the low. “Failure” offers us a very funny look at an artist growing up. It’s a pleasure to see that evolution, that special blend of Karl Stevens come out.

Visit our friends at Alternative Comics. Visit Karl Stevens HERE. Purchase a print edition of “Failure” HERE. And, now, you can purchase a digital edition of “Failure” at ComiXology HERE.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Art, Comics, Comixology, graphic novels, Humor, Karl Stevens, Satire