I juggle a lot of things. I read a lot of comics, I work on my own comics, and sometimes I’ll get into a zone as I read a comic and not even think of the intended readership. I kid you not, I will read comics that are probably most likely meant for a younger reader and think nothing of it as it fully resonates with me as an adult. That is the case with the current book on my radar, I Was Their American Dream, a graphic memoir by Malaka Gharib, published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House. This is a delightful read that falls neatly into an all ages category. I sincerely believe that an adult would enjoy this book just as much as a middle school student. With a sincere approach, this graphic memoir will bring to mind Persepolis but it is absolutely on its own quirky wavelength.
This is an immigrant’s story. And I don’t think we will ever have enough of these kind of stories as each is different and unique in its own way. In an ideal world, I think we would all tell our stories of growing up in some sort of graphic memoir. That said, a book like this does not write itself either. Ms. Gharib presents a wonderfully easygoing narrative that makes it all look easy: very conversational prose with an inviting simple and direct drawing style.
Page excerpt from I Was Their American Dream
We are invited to join Gharib in a tale that takes us to the Philippines (mom’s side of family), to Egypt (dad’s side of family), and then makes it way to California. But our journey has only begun. Malaka Gharib comes of age as a mixed race child in a strange land–but things don’t have to be so strange with a little bit of heart, courage, and a wonderful sense of humor. This absolutely speaks to me as a mixed race person. In my case: Anglo on my dad’s side; Mexican on my mom’s side. Gharib has so much to say that anyone can relate to. For example, Gharib brings up the classic question people like to ask someone of mixed race: “What Are You?” It is a question that depends so much on context and tone. It can come from legitimate heart-felt curiosity. It can also be perceived as adding up to an insult or slight. “What Are You?” Indeed. Now, there’s quite a loaded question.
Given the overall tone to this book, how Ms. Gharib is writing with an intended younger readership, I think it’s still valid to say this is fun for any age. As, I’m sure Gharib would agree, there’s something about the quirky content that fits in so well with alternative comics. It’s no surprise to me to find here in her book that Gharib shares numerous happy memories of being involved in the alt-comics/zine scene. That activity has led to Gharib becoming an artist and journalist at NPR. She is the founder of The Runcible Spoon food zine and the cofounder of the D.C. Art Book Fair. That DIY/indie community gets in your blood and can guide, encourage, and inform an artist’s work for a lifetime. It can result in compelling work like this book!
Page excerpt from I Was Their American Dream
I Was Their American Dream is a 160-page trade paperback, fully illustrated, published by Clarkson Potter and available as of April 30, 2019. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Penguin Random House here.
Editor’s Note: There is a crowdfunding campaign going on for this book thru Dec 14, 2018. For more details, go right here.
Cartoonists are instructed and encouraged by their mentors to construct comics that not only fill the page but interact with one page to the next. Few artists heed that sage advice so well as Zé Burnay. You can clearly see that he is playing off what’s going on one page onto another page. The forms, the compositions, the very structure, is interconnected from one panel to the next, from one page to the next. Every bit building into a beautiful fever dream byway of the dazzling tattoo parlor with a detour through an enchanted forest and a side trip into a magical castle. Zé Burnay knows comics and how to turn them into psychedelic entertainment. So, I’m telling you right now, the book to get is Andromeda by this groovy dude, Zé Burnay, an up and coming and most excellent illustrator and cartoonist from Sintra, Portugal.
Visual delights throughout.
I swear to God, my next major tattoo is going to be a three-headed snake by Zé Burnay! This is an artist who spends the required amount of time immersed in the stuff that dreams are made of. That’s good for him–and good for us. Andromeda collects three works that all share the same main character, a Christ-like figure who is wandering and searching. In the process, he comes across numerous symbolic creatures and numerous classic tropes. He battles an eagle, a lion, a bull, and so on. I begin to lose count but that’s okay. He enters an old Victorian mansion and becomes acquainted with its strange inhabitants. Every scene quickly becomes ethereal and hallucinatory. It’s a virtual Cornucopia of visual delights. Burnay keeps the fireworks going from one page to the next.
The energy from one page resonates onto the next.
A comic from a true visionary is something very special and Zé Burnay delivers a marvelous book with Andromeda. It is a wondrous visual feast inextricably linked to a haunting narrative. Burnay was born in 1991 in Portugal and grew up fascinated by the woods and castles of Sintra and its unique and mysterious aura. Clearly, that inspiration can be found on every page of his work. Burnay states on his website that his love of drawing was kindled from “inheriting my father’s extensive collection of Franco/ Belgian comics and by spending time on my Grandfather’s antique shop.” All of this has added up quite nicely. He goes on to say, “In between working on my own comics, I draw comics for other people, design logos, posters and cover art for numerous bands.” Burnay is definitely on the right course!
A very cohesive and richly structured work.
Be sure to visit Zé Burnay at his website right here.
And visit the Indiegogo campaign for this book right here.
Mastering the “Uncomfortable Smile.” Who knew that was a thing. Apparently, it is a very big thing among cartoonist Sam Spina and his friends. Seriously, Spina is masterful at spinning gold from ephemera. It’s an art form that carries over to all kinds of storytelling. So, it makes total sense that Spina could transfer the skills he honed as a cartoonist and use them as a storyboard artist for Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show.” Spina has a golden touch which you can enjoy in his latest collection of diary comics, “Spinadoodles #8: Mooz Boosh,” available at Kilgore Books.
The whole page about uncomfortable smiles.
The whole page about uncomfortable smiles, entitled, “It’s My Sad Eyes,” is fun to read and indicative of what you’ll find here. Spina is recalling a moment from a trip to Arizona. The locale is mentioned simply to add a little flavor. The focus is on the interactions between friends. Spina uses a very casual approach which welcomes the reader. Everything feels like it is accessible and evoking an easy-going conversation. Nothing appears to be overworked. The characters are drawn, not in a slapdash manner as much as a slapdash style. That’s a huge difference. Less careful, less thoughtful, and less skilled cartoonists tend to lean too heavily upon an artistic sensibility that would embrace any mark on the page. In fact, any mark on a page is not golden. There are standards to this thing and cartoonists that create comics at the level of a six-year-old seeking praise from grandma are doing themselves a disservice. Just saying.
Diary comics actually have a long history, inextricably linked to independent comics. And it is John Porcellino’s ongoing zine, “King-Cat Comics and Stories” (May 1989 – present), that casts quite a long shadow. I think there is room for everyone under the comics tent–and I know a lot of cartoonists are influenced by John P’s approach, be it the pared-down artwork, the spare compositions, right down to the self-deprecating humor–but it often does not quite work in other hands. The best one can do is to honor what he’s established and add to it. I think Sam Spina falls within the group of cartoonists that are not just coasting along but creating compelling work.
SPINADOODLES 8: MOOZ BOOSH
Sam Spina is having fun and he has taken the time to give his comics a distinctive charm and sparkle. His humor is not particularly satirical as much as it is in keeping with the slice-of-life tradition of much of alt-comics. Within alt-comics circles, authenticity is highly regarded although not always followed through in practice. Spina’s work has a refreshing honesty and irreverence that, at its best, can rise above anything trendy and cute and just be plain ole good storytelling.
“Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere,” by Hillary Chute, published by HarperCollins, is a highly informative, accessible, and delightful look at the evolution of comics, with the primary focus on American comics. As the title suggests, what used to be strictly an underground thing has now emerged virtually everywhere. Chute’s goal is to unpack that phenomenon. She goes about it with great enthusiasm and clearly makes a significant contribution to the ongoing writing about comics. This is a must-read for anyone interested in pop culture, comics, and art in general.
Zap Comix #1, 1968
Okay, so comics are everywhere. Who, for instance, are the characters gracing the cover to this book? Chute, a natural teacher, is so glad you asked. She will come right out and tell you who and then explain the interconnections. First of all, this is Maggie and Hopey, lead characters in what is understood by many to be the greatest ongoing comic of them all, “Love and Rockets,” by the Hernandez Brothers. Where did this comic come from? How does it fit in with other comics? Why is this comic significant? Ah, for that matter, you may shout out, “Why Comics?!” Chute is happy to answer all your questions and much more. Well, this comic is part of a second wave of underground comics in the ’80s. And this comic is a response to a lot of things, including a lack of diversity in mainstream comics. But, before that, there was the original wave of underground comics in the Sixties led by R. Crumb and his Zap Comix. And, as many a conversation on the comics convention floor on zines and mini-comics will attest, even today’s superhero comics genre all began as indie comics by two teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Page excerpt from Art Spiegelman’s MAUS
Chute’s search for patterns in the making of comics leads her to some of the most celebrated trailblazers, notably Art Spiegelman. Chute was the associate editor of “MetaMaus,” the definitive companion to Spiegelman’s “Maus,” and she has a great deal of insight to share. Chute guides the reader from Spiegelman, in his youth in San Francisco to his subsequent work in earnest. It was in 1972 that Justin Green, author of the first autobio comic, “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” invited Spiegelman to contribute to a comics anthology. The only stipulation was that the work had to feature anthropomorphic animal characters. And so began Spiegelman’s first steps toward the work in comics most people are aware of, “Maus.” Chute then follows Spiegelman’s progress as he reaches great heights of creativity. Here below, Chute describes how Spiegelman plays with the fluidity of time:
“Spiegelman creates a physical connection between panels set in the past and panels set in the present, linking them, as in panels in which Art’s cigarette smoke is figured as the smoke coming out of an Auschwitz crematorium chimney directly below it on the page. But in others, he exploits the language of comics–the convention that each panel represents a distinct moment of time–to make two different time periods literally intertwine. We see this in the striking page in which Vladek, Art, and Françoise–herself a character in ‘Maus’–converse in the Catskills during a summer visit to Vladek’s bungalow. On their way to the supermarket in the car, Art changes the topic from his stepmother, Mala, to Auschwitz, asking his father about a prisoner revolt. The last panel of the page, in which Vladek describes its fallout, is its largest: as the family car weaves through dense rural roads, the legs of four Jewish girls hanged in Auschwitz after the revolt–witnessed firsthand by Vladek–suddenly appear dangling from the trees. The 1940s and the ’70s collapse, as Spiegelman shows, wordlessly, how the traumatic past lives on in the present.”
Page excerpt from Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS
Much in the same way that the 1951 landmark coming-of-age novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger, became the template for aspiring young novelists, so too did “Maus” serve as a guide for cartoonists on the rise. Observe how Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” first published in 2000, follows a similar format and technique as Spiegelman’s landmark work. Certainly, Satrapi’s work is wonderfully original. That said, it does follow certain style and content choices first established by leading artists such as Spiegelman. Chute is not making this particular argument but she does lay out the characteristics of what has become accepted in a work by an independent cartoonist: the work is honest, personal, and usually autobiographical; the work is all done by hand, including the borders and lettering, with a less polished finish than mainstream comics; and the work is usually done by one person. In that sense, Satrapi is following in a tradition begun by such artists as Crumb and Spiegelman.
Panel excerpt from Chris Ware’s BUILDING STORIES
Another cartoonist who looms larger in Chute’s book is Chris Ware–and for good reason. The history of American comics is essentially Winsor McCay leading the start and Chris Ware leading the current state of affairs. And it is both of these cartoonists, and so many others in between, who seem to share Ware’s tragicomic point of view of being “well-appointed and feeling lonely.” Cartoonists are something of exotic birds to begin with–whether or not the public notices. But to really make one’s mark in comics, to resonate with critics and fans alike, is quite an achievement. One achieved by such cartoonists as Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and Gary Panter–all of whom would get their big breaks by appearing in Raw magazine, a comics anthology led by Art Spiegelman.
Gary Panter cover for Raw #2.1, 1989
Chute organzies her narrative within categories such as “Why Disaster?” and “Why Sex?” Each chapter category acts as an umbrella that covers a certain facet of comics. In the chapter, “Why Punk?” Chute describes the rise of two friends deeply involved with the punk movement: Matt Groening and Gary Panter, along with other relevant artists like Raymond Pettibon. As for Groening and Panter, they held to their punk ideals while also driven to succeed–“The Simpsons” for Groening; “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” for Panter. Chute makes sure to point out that Bart Simpson–the cartoon character everyone thinks they know–is, in fact, a sly reference (right down to the jaggedy crewcut) to Panter’s underground hero, Jimbo, the antithesis of the mainstream. And, as Chute’s title declares, comics have gone from the underground to everywhere in more ways than one.
Matt Groening holds up Bart Simpson and Gary Panter’s Jimbo
“Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere” is a 464-page hardcover published by HarperCollins. For more details, visit HarperCollins right here.
A wretched staleness in the air. Lost souls strewn about. And it’s all played up for laughs! Welcome to the wonderful world of cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. I really admire Tom’s style, in person and in his comics. Tom is a very likable and professional gent. So, it’s a unique treat to then read his comics featuring Tom’s vile and hateful alter ego. I reviewed a couple of issues of his Scorched Earth comics. You can read that here. This new collection, published by Kilgore Books, that came out this year simply goes by the same running title and contains a fine mix of old and new material. You will want to seek this out.
Tom Van Deusen’s aim is to satirize the oily underbelly of hipsterdom with a neo-underground sensibility. His characters traffic in a Robert Crumb-like netherworld where hedonism and arrogance commingle. Like Crumb, Van Deusen is both fascinated and repulsed by the hipster zeitgeist. Van Deusen’s alter ego, Tom, struggles to connect with a woman who is willing to sleep with anyone…except him. She’ll even sleep with his doppelgänger but not the original. Tom can’t even get a handle on the e-cigarette craze that all the “cool kids” have latched onto. For Tom, vaping does not involve a slim little gadget delivering dramatic puffs of vapor. No, for Tom, it involves a monstrous contraption that looks like an iron lung.
Hanging out at Glo’s Diner
One of the best bits in the book takes place at Glo’s Diner, located in what is the Capitol Hill district of Seattle, a densely populated area and a counterculture mecca. I curated art shows at Glo’s Diner for five years and presented work from local cartoonists including David Lasky, Ellen Forney, Jennifer Daydreamer, Farel Dalrymple, and myself. It is a small space. The food is okay. But there is something about that peculiar little oily spoon that reads authentic. It’s great to see a cartoonist of Van Deusen’s caliber pick up on that. He takes his time to capture the place’s true dimensions and spirit.
Full page excerpt from SCORCHED EARTH
The not so sweet young things remain out of reach for sad sack Tom. He remains on the fringes of the fashionable fringe element. The beauty of it all is that Van Deusen dares to keep vigil, take notes, and then pile it all into a blender and create some very funny comics.
Visit Tom here, find his comics at Poochie Press right here and find this recent collection of SCORCHED EARTH at Kilgore Books & Comics right here.
I love a good comix jam, either as a group, a pair, or solo. Each has its own dynamic. While the work could remain private, the comix jam is basically going on with the assumption that you are putting yourself out there. If I do a 24-hour comics jam all by myself, I do it with the incentive that I’m going to show it. When in a group, you have that added delicious tension of rivalry mixed with a sense of community. As a pair, it can be like a sexy game of chess, the back and forth motion exploding into an exquisite corpse.
Pages from Lady Beaver & Steve Waldinger (L) and Meesimo (R)
I’ve been looking over a recent issue of a groovy comix jam anthology, MELT-THOLOGY, that comes out monthly by Meltdown Comics. Here you will find a bit of everything: loopy stuff like the work of Austin James with his vulvic form sampling various phallic forms; or quirky domestic observation like the work of Joan Varitek with her hurried mom desperately trying to keep up with her baby’s progress through pics stored on a smartphone.
“Spider Bouncer” by Mike Levine & Evan Lewis
Basically, with this format, each participant gets one page and that can be used for a one-panel gag, an illustration, or a multi-panel. A one-panel gag can be the most daunting as the odds are against success. Matt Elkins does a good job with a cyclops wearing one eyeglass and being called a “two-eyes” by some callous fools. Cory Fuller‘s illustration of two kids hanging out has a nice fun vibe. And “Spider Bouncer,” by Mike Levine and Evan Lewis, is a tight, well-paced, and spot on multi-panel.
If you’re a local cartoonist, you’ll definitely want to check this out and give it a try. It is held on the third Tuesday of each month. For more details, visit our friends at Meltdown Comics right here.
Short Run, a showcase of small press cartoonists, is back for another year of festivities and a comix and arts festival, at Washington Hall on November 15 here in Seattle. On that date, nearly 200 cartoonists, publishers, zinesters, authors, and animators will be gathered to sell their works and celebrate the world of independent and emerging artists. The full schedule of events will include a mural painted in the Central District by South African artist Jean De Wet, art shows at Joe Bar and the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, and readings, screenings, and panels across Seattle.
John Porcellino, known for his self-published memoir comic, King-Cat Comics and Stories, will be the guest of honor. This year is special as it marks the 25th anniversary of King-Cat Comics and Stories as well as sees the release of a new book, “The Hospital Suite,” published by Drawn & Quarterly (read my review here). And there is a new documentary on his life and work, “Root Hog or Die” (read my review here). There will be a screening of this documentary with Porcellino and director Dan Stafford in attendance at Central Cinema on Sunday, November 16th.
John Porcellino has a remarkable thing with his ongoing self-published zine, “King-Cat Comics and Stories.” This is a zine, and mini-comic, that has been around for 25 years. King-Cat dates back to 1989 and, in all that time, John P has shared his life with his readers. For his new book, “The Hospital Suite,” published by Drawn and Quarterly, he focuses on one aspect of his life and turns his personal journey into a universal one.
Joel Craig loves a challenge. He is pursuing three of them: acting, nursing, and cartooning. Yes, if you’re serious about each of these professions, they can all take a lot out of you. And they can all definitely give back to you. WELCOME TO NURSING HELL0, Joel Craig’s recently released graphic memoir, is a very funny and insightful collection of comics. You can read my review here. He’s in the thick of it, living and working in Los Angeles and navigating a busy life.
How do we connect? We do it, or try to do it, in a variety a ways. It’s not always easy but it’s far better than its opposite, to disconnect. I aspire to connect with you. I make this preface because I am genuinely inspired by my latest subject for review, Joel Craig’s graphic memoir, WELCOME TO NURSING HELLo.