Here is one more comic that I picked up at Short Run over the weekend. This title, Exit, by Miles MacDiarmid, got my attention because the creator chose to include Pres. William Howard Taft on the cover of his work just like I did for a book collection of my own work, A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories. Taft! Taft! Taft! Was he a great American president? No, not great. But there’s something about him, right? Well, he figures in MacDiarmid’s comic in a similar way as it figures in mine, more of an absurd MacGuffin creature. So, a cartoonist with a offbeat and erudite sense of humor is a very good thing and so it goes with this book, Exit. I also see from MacDiarmid’s website that he does fine art. So do I. I think it’s an important distinction among cartoonists that I can relate to all too well. I think MacDiarmid is someone who loves to create work and is restless, always looking for something new to do. You can see that in this book. It’s just classic absurd fun, that’s really all you need to know. Seriously fun stuff!
Exit by Miles MacDiarmid
What goes on in Exit? How about What doesn’t go on in Exit? There’s a state of frenzy running throughout these pages where you fell anything is possible. You don’t get that with any work in comics. It’s hard to do and too many cartoonists sink down to something very predictable and easy. It is those rare artist-cartoonists who dig deeper and live and breathe their comics than have the potential to reach the level of, say, Simon Hanselmann. And that reminds me that I want to do a proper review of Simon’s latest book, even if it is rather late. I hope to do a proper interview with him too. We should both be dressed in drag for it too. And, no, I am NOT digressing. Simon’s work comes to mind because I see a similar energy in MacDiarmid’s work. The next big step would be to keep going, stay consistent, keep pushing and things will continue to come together as they already are!
Exit is published by the arts collective, Freak Comics. Everything there looks fresh and delicious so go check them out right here.
Here is something else that I picked up at Short Run over the weekend. My Brother the Dragon is written by Galen Goodwin Long, illustrated by Jonathan Hill, and published by Tugboat Press. I had a nice conversation with Galen. She said she was quite happy with the results. I certainly agree. This is something of a hybrid: a mini-comic and a children’s book. I am very impressed with the level of sophistication and understated grace. If you aspire to creating a children’s book of your own, this is an excellent example of what is possible within the indie community.
My Brother the Dragon
This is the story of a little boy who sure loves dragons. He loves them in every possible way. The story is told my his big sister who has a problem with her brother’s dragon obsession. The story is simple and easy to follow and the artwork is spot on and delightful. This book came out in 2016 and I’m happy to have stumbled upon it. Visit Tugboat Press right here.
If you were looking for Marc Bell at Short Run, you were out of luck.
Marc Bell was designated as a special guest this year at Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle and he is, no doubt, a wonderful representative of the indie zeitgeist. The problem was that he was nowhere to be found. Literally, he wasn’t there. He didn’t show up. Always the comics journalist, I was able to track down the publisher of Neoglyphic Media and he was very helpful and nice to talk to. He explained that border crossings from Canada to the United States have become very problematic and it left Marc Bell one very concerned Canadian. He had to bow out. And that’s totally understandable. It’s a shame that the cancellation wasn’t announced on the Short Run website. But there is a nice interview with Bell you can read here. I was really looking forward to talking to Marc Bell but, who knows, maybe I’ll cross that scary border myself and meet up with him sometime. And let’s look forward to less problematic and politicized borders in the future, whenever that is. With that said, I’m going to share with you some items that you can find over at the Neoglyphic Media website: Worn Tuff Elbow #2 by Marc Bell; Boutique Mag #4; and The Assignment #1.
Worn Tuff Elbow #2 by Marc Bell
For the most diehard fans of Marc Bell, it has been 14 long years since his comic book, Worn Tuff Elbow #1. Now, the wait is over and Bell has returned to the comics page his characters, Shrimpy, Stroppy, Paul and his friends. As they say, this new issue turns out to have been worth the wait. From the very first page, all the way to the last, this is quite the surreal treat harking back to the best in early 20th century comic strips and underground comix from the sixties. It is Bell’s unique take, channeling a bit of Philip Guston along the way. And it’s all very clean and precise work. Imitators will be stymied since they always rush their work. Nope, this kind of art requires skill, integrity and determination. I should mention that this book is published by No World Books and distributed by Drawn & Quarterly. It happens to also be available thru Neoglyphic Media.
Boutique Mag #4
Okay, this next publication is co-published by No World Books and Neoglyphic Media. Great, hope that’s clear. This is Boutique Mag #4 and it features the work of Marc Bell. This one is a fun little book clocking in at 12 pages for $5, as opposed to the previous book with 36 pages for only $8. If you are a completist and enjoy little extras, then you may want to get the latest issue of Boutique Mag.
The Assignment #1 by Stathis Tsemberlidis
Finally, there’s The Assignment #1, which is published by Decadence Comics. This is 28 pages for $12. It is by Stathis Tsemberlidis, a cartoonist based out of London. It is well worth the relatively high price point. That’s just how it is with indie publications that seem to be in it more for the art than for anything else. The price for such a publication simply needs to be bumped up to help make up for the costs involved. I’m very pleased with it. I wish I could have interviewed Tsemberlidis while I was recently in London. Perhaps next time. It makes me think of what David Bowie, during his Major Tom phase, might have done if he created comics. This book is distributed by Neoglyphic Media.
Alright, well that’s it. I need to get a bunch of reviews, and other goodies, including a British indie comics roundup, out the door before the end of the year so I hate to cut this one short but I must. You can expect another post really soon. In fact, there’s so much really yummy stuff that I could potentially present to you that, no matter what I do, stuff is going to inevitably spill over into next year–but so it goes. And you are welcome to reach out, comment and support my efforts however you can. Next year will see a lot more of the same quality content while also shifting towards balancing out what I’m doing behind the scenes, showing you more original artwork and just getting on with various projects. Well, there’s always tracking down Marc Bell. Yeah, that would be quite a fun and intriguing project all to itself, don’t you think?
Be sure to keep up with Short Run as they do all sorts of fun and interesting things during the year.
No one does the dance with death, and life, on the page as well as French cartoonist Blutch. He has influenced a generation of cartoonists, including such big names as Paul Pope and Craig Thompson. You can see it in how they create in ink, how they attack the page. But neither Pope nor Thompson can really match the master. The way Blutch brings his pages to life is more mysterious, even dangerous, truly like a tightrope walker without a net. It’s not only ink, for Blutch. It’s one’s own life’s blood. Blutch is well known in France in sort of similar fashion to, say, Robert Crumb is known in the United States. By that, I mean that Blutch has a reputation for artful and provocative work. When the reissue of Peplum first came out a while ago, I was deep in the process of a lot of things, including a big move and so I do a revisit of this book now, Blutch’s first book translated into English. It began as a serialized comic in the magazine, A Suivre, and established Blutch as a serious artist back in 1996, at the age of 28. And it is the book that New York Review Books chose as part of their entry into publishing reprints of classic work in graphic novels.
Give me a reason to create art!
This is really the sort of work in comics that appeals to me the most: work created by someone who is masterfully pushing the limits of the art form. Peplum is ambitious in scope and highly inventive and original in execution. Having become bored with conventional comics tropes, Blutch needed to pursue comics more as would a painter, filmmaker or novelist. He chose the ancient Roman fable, The Satyricon, as his jumping off point. As this is a satire of Nero’s court, Blutch essentially wished to associate himself with satire on a grand scale. He marries that refined ambition with a low brow reference. Peplum refers to the peplum film genre, the sword-and-sandal Italian B-movie epics of the ’50s and ’60s. With all that in place, Blutch can work as a painter, having created the wash upon which he can structure his canvas.
PEPLUM by Blutch
A good deal of this comic is wordless, so much the better to study Blutch’s work. Often, what you find is a hungry artist feasting upon creating work. He’s set himself up a glorious excuse to paint, as many a painter will tell you. Blutch proves with this early work that he is fully capable of evoking the mystery and energy found in the best work of comics or any other art form. Our story is set shortly after the assassination of Julius Caesar and the focus ends up on the sole survivor of an expedition en route back to Rome. He is a slave who takes on the identity of a nobleman, Publius Cimber. During their ill-fated journey, Cimber’s group had discovered a beautiful regal-like woman encased in a block of ice. What this supernatural entity might mean or be is beyond anyone’s wildest guess. Cimber only knows he must return to Rome with her–and he might be in love with her. Ah, this is a story only Blutch could tell!
You always need a really good MacGuffin.
Is the lady in ice that Cimber covets nothing more than a MacGuffin, an elaborate plot device? Sure, the reader senses that this is probably the case early on but no matter. It’s the journey that counts for everything. Poor Cimber is well over his head. He isn’t even really Cimber! He has pledged his heart over to the enigmatic frozen maiden but, aside from that, he’s a bit of a loose cannon and a tortured Hamlet. Cimber is a bit of all of us, climbing and grasping for something, not always sure of what he wants. Cimber makes for a perfectly fine present day hero even if his life and struggles take place in ancient Rome. What we find in Peplum are the first significant signs of what was ahead for Blutch as an artist. That same wry energy is found in other work such as the celebrated Mitchum, also from around 1996, and So Long, Silver Screen, from 2011. In Mitchum, among the players is none other than Hollywood legend Robert Mitchum who is there to stand on a young woman’s hair during a pivotal scene. Yet another perfectly surreal Blutch moment! And speaking of Mitchum, New York Review Books will be releasing an English translation of this most dazzling book, set to be released April 7, 2020. It will have an English translation by none other than cartoonist and comics scholar Matt Madden. Below, I present to you the cover to the original French version, published by Cornélius.
During a recent visit to Portland, Oregon, I interviewed Jason Leivian, who runs Floating World Comics, one of the best comic book shops you could hope for. This is a comic book shop taken up to the level of a curatorial experience with everything neatly organized in different categories.
Floating World Comics holds the distinction of being one of few comic book shops that also functions as a publisher. During this interview, my goal was to bring out all that is special about Floating World Comics, and Jason Leivian proved to be a most excellent host. I hope you enjoy the video interview below:
I’ve come back with some choice titles published by FWC and we will be taking a look at them in the coming days.
When in Portland, or whenever you wish to find something exceptional in comics online, be sure to visit Floating World Comics.
Unversed Comics is absolutely a beautiful showcase of comics talent on the rise. It was an honor to get to chat with the leading force behind this anthology, cartoonist Jonathan Hill. Be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign in support of the third and final edition of Unversed Comics, which ends on June 7, 2019, right here.
Postscript is the third and final book in the Unversed series, following the success of the original book Unversed and its sequel, No Refunds. It is a two-color, softcover comics anthology featuring 12 new artists from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, as well as 27 new and returning contributors from within the Unversed community.
Visit Kickstarter before this campaign reaches its own postscript and ends on June 7th!
Unversed Comics Anthology from Pacific Northwest College
It all began with a dream to put together an anthology as part of a comics course led by instructor Jonathan Hill of the Illustration Department at Pacific Northwest College. It would ultimately result in the Unversed Comics Anthology that you can find right here. And the timing could not be better as there is currently a Kickstarter campaign, until June 7th, in support of what looks to be the final collection ever. You can support Postscript right here. Ah, yes, my comics instinct never fails me! So, let’s take a look at the previous editions as we look forward to the next.
What is evident from these books is that its editor, Jonathan Hill, got everyone to bring their A-game. It’s not all just a bunch of talk with these kids. These young cartoonists are all determined and follow through. One fine example of this spirit is the piece, “Of All the Mundane Things,” by Tandy Kunkle, from the first Unversed collection. We begin with a young couple, half dressed, about to start a new day, when the young woman learns that her father has died. Within ten pages, Tandy Kunkle vividly shares with the reader a young person’s loss. The artwork is very inviting, direct, and authentic. It’s one of those minimal styles that really wins you over with its specificity. Kunkle’s prose is equally spare and crisp. She keeps to her theme with confidence. Steadily, you see how the little things in life add up and resonate all the way to the last panel.
“Of All The Mundane Things,” by Tandy Kunkle
By the time of the second anthology, Jonathan Hill has learned quite a lot about putting together an anthology. Again, a stellar collection. Another example from this talented group: “Pins & Needles,” by Justice Geers which focuses on the theme of permanent change byway of a story on tattoos. We begin with Quin, a confident young woman willing to confront life’s challenges. As our story unfolds, Quin develops a passion for tattoos and soon enough has a tattoo sleeve down one arm and then the other. Before too long, she discovers a career path as a tattoo artist. Justice Geers gives the whole narrative an authentic vibe.
“Pins & Needles,” by Justice Geers
“Believe,” by Seaerra Miller has a bold and polished style that’s fun to follow. This is another powerful father/daughter story and comes to such a rewarding end. If a daughter believes in her dad, then that’s all that matters. Well, I do believe this is one of my favorite short works in comics I’ve read lately.
“Believe,” by Seaerra Miller
“Changeling,” by Sarah Hickey, has a nice organic vibe running throughout. All is not well in the community of Elm Bend. It’s common knowledge that magic can wreak havoc on a town. I love the matter-of-fact dialogue as Tania and Robin catch up. Tania has been away training with fairies. Robin, formerly Posey, has been processing the experience of transitioning. Both are at a crossroads. What a perfect moment for Tania to conjure up a constellation of chrysanthemums.
“Changeling,” by Sarah Hickey
“Ambition,” by Clive Hawken, is a whole lot of weird expressive goodness. Clearly, Hawken enjoys letting loose with his drawing and that carries over to his lettering. For this sci-fi piece, we have some pretty grim pilgrims biding their time on their doomed planet. And the a choice is made and nothing will be the same again.
“Ambition,” by Clive Hawken
I hope this review stirs your interest! The Unversed Comics Anthology series has proven to be a great showcase for exciting new comics talent. That says a lot. There can be a lot of pitfalls along the way in creating a comics anthology and this series has avoided them. You instantly can see the dedication and quality to this work.
The third and final Unversed Comics Anthology, going out bigger and bolder than ever before with 576 pages made up of 40 talented contributors, coming together to say goodbye for the last time.
Click the link below to pledge to the Kickstarter and get your hands on a copy of Postscript!
May 15th marks the return of Magdelene Visaggio & Jen Vaughn’s punk rock, magical grrrl comiXology Originals series, TeenageWasteland – the action-packed comic where after school activities include transforming into galactic heroes and fighting monsters. The all-new issue #2 is available to read now digitally for members of Prime Reading, Kindle Unlimited, and comiXology Unlimited, and for sale on comiXology and Kindle.
“Teenage Wasteland is working with a lot of elements that fantasy and superhero fans love: the boredom of high school mixed with the high adventure of monster slaying, the idea of becoming a hero when your teachers think you’re nothing, and much more,” — SYFY Wire.
Ellie Tweed is our main character and she’s quite the troublemaker. She’s the new girl and it looks like she’s already fallen in with the wrong crowd. And they’ve got quite a secret: they aren’t just teenage girls with attitude, they are the Earth’s secret defenders–and Ellie is their newest recruit! Turns out Ellie didn’t really fall in with the wrong crowd as much as find kindred spirits looking for a purpose in life. So, that can’t be bad, especially if you get to ride a Pegasus! Based upon these two stellar issues, we are off to a great start. This is a wonderful example of raising the action to an engaging level and having the characters at an accessible human scale.
“I grew up watching Power Rangers and other toku imports, and when you’re a kid, that stuff is a power fantasy,” says Magdelene Visaggio, the comic book’s writer. “You get all these cool abilities and weapons and robots and fight evil. Who wouldn’t want that? But the older I got, the more I started to see it differently: it’s the weaponization of teenagers. And then you start seeing it everywhere, right up to classics like X-Men. So that seemed like a unique jumping-off point. How can you ever trust Zordon? What does it mean to make children fight your war for you? So that’s the heart of it for me: questioning the premise of stuff like MMPR and looking at the way conflict defines people — and shatters them.”
“Mags’ writing digs under your skin, she taps into the loneliness and hormone-fueled anxiety teens feel,” says Jen Vaughn, the comic book’s artist. “Most teens want to be noticed, to belong, to be special, to be a chosen one. What’s worse than being normal? Being an expendable in a long line of chosen ones.”
Teenage Wasteland #1 and #2 are available to read now at no additional cost for members of Amazon Prime, Kindle Unlimited, and comiXology Unlimited and purchasable on comiXology and Kindle for $2.99. Print collected edition will be available via Print-on-Demand exclusively on Amazon.com. Prime Reading offers Amazon Prime members a rotating selection of over a thousand top Kindle books, magazines, short works, comic books, children’s books, and more – all at no additional cost. Kindle Unlimited offers over 1 million titles, thousands of audiobooks, and select current issues of popular magazines for just $9.99 a month with a 30-day free trial at amazon.com/kindleunlimited. ComiXology Unlimited offers over 15,000 comics, graphic novels and manga for just $5.99 a month with a 30-day free trial at comixology.com/unlimited.
Magdalene Visaggio is the Eisner and GLAAD Media Award-nominated writer behind Kim & Kim, Eternity Girl, Dazzler: X Song, Transformers vs Visionaries, and Quantum Teens Are Go. In addition to her comics work, she’s blogged a bunch (now rightfully deleted) and is an occasional contributor at Paste Magazine, focusing on comics and culture.
Jen Vaughn is the cartoonist behind the writing of Goosebumps: Download and Die drawing Betty and Veronica’s Vixens, as well as drawing covers for the comic series My Little Pony, Pathfinder, The Wilds,
Hack/Slash vs Vampirella and more. She also plays a tiefling ranger, Riot Bonezerker, in the popular D&D podcast, d20 Dames.
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.
With all due respect to any comics scholars who might in the least have any problem with the term, “alternative comics,” let me direct you to a close reading of a new book that covers this very subject and then some, The Book of Weirdo, edited by Jon B. Cooke, and published by Last Gasp Books. Now, if I’d been a precocious and enterprising enough youngster, I might have very well have hopped on the Weirdo bandwagon early on and had my own comics appear within their pages but it was a little bit before my time. That said, what sprung, or solidified, from that time of production (1981 – 1993) is what has been, and continues to be and always will be, known as alternative comics. Alternative to what? Well, obviously, an alternative to the typical mainstream superhero genre just as underground comix was an alternative in the sixties and Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD magazine was an alternative in the early fifties. Today, to simply say, “alternative comics,” remains incredibly useful in navigating the vast comics landscape. Think of it as the distinction between a fine artist (indie cartoonist) and an illustrator (business-oriented/corporate). An artist can travel to both worlds but, don’t forget, that means there are two distinct worlds. Alright then, now let’s take a deep dive into the pages of The Book of Weirdo.
What first comes to mind about this book is the familiar format of a yearbook or an in depth documentary. The idea here is to collect and document and interview as much as possible. Cooke has extended interviews with all the major players including founder and editor Robert Crumb and his successor, Peter Bagge. Cooke also has profiles and interviews with just about everyone who ever contributed to the magazine with such notable figures as Dennis Eichhorn, Frank Stack, Pat Moriarity, and Michael Dougan. In fact, I am quite familiar with Mr. Cooke’s methods as I did get to contribute some comics to another of his projects, a tribute to Will Eisner for Comic Book Artist back in 2005. So, what you end up getting in one of these Jon B. Cooke tributes is a treasure trove of observations and a storehouse of information. That all proves essential as we track the journey of Weirdo from San Francisco to Seattle. Once Peter Bagge took over as editor, he took operations up to Seattle, which resulted in some extraordinary comics cross-polination that continues to reverberate to this very day. It has contributed to a hotbed of alt-comics activity in Seattle that connects everything from Fantagraphics to the Dune cartoonist gatherings to the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival.
Alternative Comics – The Seattle Connection
Ironically, given all the time and effort that Mr. Cooke has put into this tribute, he doesn’t always get the most fully cooperative interview subjects, with his main subject, Robert Crumb often proving to be the most contrarian person to interview. But that’s what everyone loves about Crumb, right? He’s not an easy person to pigeonhole. He’s not smooth as silk with slick answers. The beauty of what Cooke does is to keep asking questions and remain open to the answers. That brings me back to the notion of more fully understanding what alternative comics are about. I bring this subject up a lot and I find that, ultimately, alternative comics are alive and well and they emerged from what underground comix set in motion. This is clearly something that fascinates Cooke too and he goes about unpacking the subject as much as he can in this book. For example, he poses the question to Crumb. He asks, “Do you see Weirdo as having helped to launch the alternative comics that came after it?” To which Crumb, at first put off, ends up giving an interesting answer: “I don’t know. Again, it’s a rhetorical question. It’s hard to say whether that would have happened anyway. To me, it was going to happen one way or the other, whether I was there or not, alternative comics was an inevitable thing, y’know? It’s such a part of American culture and comics, and then, all these people who grew up with comics, they were bound to start producing some kind of…And also, as comics lost their importance as a kid’s medium, being replaced by electronic media like TV and video games and all that stuff, it became more of an art medium of self-expression. It was inevitable.”
So, to be clear, I am telling you that alternative comics are a very real thing. Anyone who is tentative about it is somehow missing the big picture. And, again, I say this with all due respect. Certain folks go into comics and graphic novels these days as more of a stripped-down strategy to succeed in a corporate career. Other folks go into comics and graphic novels solely to explore the possibility of the art form. Those are two very, very, very distinct worlds. And, yes, there is overlap. Some alternative cartoonists manage to crossover to mainstream work. But that certainly doesn’t negate the fact that they come from the alt-comics world. It’s a whole way of looking at comics as art. Now, Weirdo was definitely part of that in its own particular way. At the very same time that Weirdo was active, there was also RAW magazine run by Art Spiegelman and his wife, Françoise Mouly. Here’s where it gets very interesting and sort of funny. Crumb was like Groucho Marx or Woody Allen when it came to preferring straightforward plain speaking. For Crumb, RAW took itself way too seriously. Both Weirdo and RAW were covering similar ground and, in fact, shared some of the same cartoonists. While RAW positioned itself as an art journal, Weirdo was more unabashed and irreverent. A little behind-the-scenes feud was brewing after Spiegelman made some disparaging remark about Weirdo. Crumb had hoped to bring it out into the open and even pursue a mock feud but Speigelman would have nothing to do with it. Whatever their differences, both RAW and Weirdo contributed to the alternative comics scene that continues onward in numerous anthologies, more than at any other time, including Kramers Ergot. While Crumb, himself, might shrug it off, Weirdo can be included as one of the landmarks along the way to today’s alt-comics.
Ron Turner and Last Gasp
The Book of Weirdo is a stunningly beautiful book, an essential guide to understanding the various veins connecting underground comix and today’s burgeoning alternative comics.
The Book of Weirdo: A Retrospective of R. Crumb’s Legendary Humor Comics Anthology, is a beautiful 288-page hardcover, fully illustrated, available as of May 1, 2019, published by Last Gasp Books.