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Review: MONKEY vs. ROBOT: THE COMPLETE EPIC by James Kochalka

Monkey vs Robot: The Complete Epic

Monkey vs Robot: The Complete Epic. James Kochalka. Top Shelf Productions. 432 pp, $29.99.

There’s a scene in The Big Chill, the landmark 1983 movie about the sighs and regrets of the Baby Boom generation, when the Kevin Kline character says, “They don’t make music like that anymore.” The Boomer group of friends have been reunited and they’re listening to Motown hits. In fact, The Big Chill soundtrack led to a big revival of interest in some great classics from the ’60s. Well, the comics of James Kochalka could be one of the beloved artifacts to Generation X, a generation smart about a lot of things, like nuance and understatement. So, the legend goes, James Kochalka walked into the offices of Top Shelf Productions stark naked and screamed that he was an elf and began scrawling a series of simple but compelling drawings on the walls with his own excrement. After the Top Shelf top guns, Chris Staros and Brett Warnock, had subdued him, they surveyed the damage and concluded they had a wild genius on their hands. Well, maybe I just made that up but, no doubt, Top Shelf and Kochalka did form a very tight bond and you can argue that the very best results were comics dealing with an epic battle between monkeys and robots. It was, to be sure, in sync with a zeitgeist and something that has stood the test of time.

An epic battle between monkey and robot.

Monkeys and robots do not mix. Monkeys are real. Robots are artificial. When robots and monkeys collide, blood will shed. Cartoonist James Kochalka was thinking about monkeys and robots and collisions during a house party some twenty years ago. As he puts it, he was just having fun when he was struck by the idea to take his monkey and robot thoughts over to a drawing board. The first collection of Monkey vs. Robot comics was Published by Top Shelf Productions in 2000. The rest, as they say, is history: indeed, the book had a huge impact on the indie culture of the time. This was well after the game changer boom of The Simpsons; well within the era of the alternative comics boom; and well before the expansion of the twee attitude in youth culture we’ve seen in such places as Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. For a golden span of time, if you were looking for a comic with a cute aesthetic but also packed a nice punch, then the go-to comics were coming from Kochalka.

Simian vs. Mother

Now you can own the Monkey vs. Robot collection which includes the original graphic novel with its sequels. Having just read the whole book, I am pleased to revisit the original and compare it with the whole vision. It strikes me how the whole Monkey vs. Robot saga reads like a true epic! These comics are far too sophisticated to be considered only to be storyboards for some amazing animated feature. Instead, while the comics do make me wonder about an animated version, the quality of movement and pacing keeps me moving along from panel to panel in the unique way that only the comics medium can provide.

Boom! Boom! Boom!

James Kochalka rose from the ranks of the indie crowd to follow through on his specific vision. While there have been many imitators, his comics are the real deal, authentic and resonant, like his sharing something personal with the reader. Kochalka tapped into a way of drawing that reads as something unique to that artist, like his own handwriting. Many aspiring cartoonists put the cart before the horse, feel entitled to be recognized as cartoonists, but forget to create anything compelling. The secret to how Kolchalka makes his deceivingly simple artwork come to life is the fact that he’s invested the time and effort to bring his comics to life. So, you end up with elves you care about as well as monkeys, and even robots, you care about! That said, this 20th anniversary collection is truly epic!

Monkey vs Robot: The Complete Epic is available as of October 27, 2020. For more details, visit Top Shelf Productions right here.

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Interview: Kim A. Munson and COMIC ART IN MUSEUMS

Women in Comics: Looking Forward and Back at the Society of Illustrators, March 11, 2020 to October 24, 2020. Photo by Steve Compton.

Comics on a gallery wall are no longer a novelty as in years past. In fact, comics are now seen by more people, from all walks of life, as a legitimate art form. In Comic Art in Museums, Kim A. Munson explores the role of comics in the greater world of art. I had the distinct honor of interviewing Munson last week. We begin our conversation with a classic work on the study of comics, an essay by the noted scholar, Albert Boime, that is included in Munson’s anthology. It is from Boime’s 1972 essay that we get such a clear and in depth definition of the comics medium. I place a number of images here from the new show, Women in Comics: Looking Forward and Back, at the Society of Illustrators (128 East 63rd Street in NYC), March 11 – October 24, 2020. See the Women in Comics page for contextual information and artist bios. Exhibition curated by Kim Munson and Trina Robbins with special thanks to Karen Green and John Lind.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: I think there’s one essay that might do the best job of explaining how comics fit in the greater world of art. And that’s the 1972 essay by noted UCLA professor Albert Boime. I love how he lines up so many facts and examples and really connects the dots from the early days of graphic journalism to the American Civil War reportage, the Ash Can School and so on. Could you speak to what’s going on in that essay?

KIM A. MUNSON: One of the things that really inspired me was this essay that I originally found in grad school. As an art historian, I’ve always recognized the value of theory but that’s never really been my thing. It’s like another tool in the toolbox. I’m very much a social art history person who wants to write about movements and art, and everything, in the context of its era–how everything interconnects. Albert Boime does a masterful job of that talking about how all of the artists moved in and out of commercial illustration and fine art. He didn’t box the artists in. He also speaks well to all of the artists in relation to all of the art movements. And he even ties in all in with the Vietnam War which was a hot topic when he wrote the essay. When Boime wrote this essay, it was during all the Pop Art survey shows, and shows presenting comics as art. Boime passed away some years back. His son specializes in Pop Art and teaches in San Diego. We were to speak on a panel but that’s had to be postponed until next year.

Bande Dessinee et Figuration Narrative show from 1967.

In my review of the book, I focused on the American contribution and connection to comics. Would you like to talk about comics on a global stage from the material in the book?

For myself, as an American and a Californian, my emphasis is on the U.S., that’s true. Seeing things from a U.S. lens. But I really did try to incorporate other viewpoints. And give people credit for breakthroughs they had in other countries. John Lent wrote this incredible article on the Cartoon Art Gallery in Dubai, the challenges they had and the community they built there. Jaqueline Berndt is a manga scholar who has been teaching all over Europe, who just completed a fellowship at the Tokyo Manga Museum. She wrote an incredible piece on manga exhibitions in Japan evolving from being very library-like to more of an appreciation of the actual artwork. And there are longer pieces, like an essay on the 1967 show, Bande Dessinee et Figuration Narrative. It kick started comics getting back into museums again. It was a real reply to Pop Art. There’s an essay on the first international comic art show and conference in Brazil in 1951 put together by this group of radical intellectuals.

That Paris show in 1967 was pivotal, of course. Some of these shows went on to be extended and toured for years. This same thing happened in the United States.

The Paris show from 1967 was at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which is part of a wing at the Louvre. That show’s original run was a month and then it extended and toured to six other cities in Europe. The National Cartoonist Society, in the U.S., had extended runs that toured that actually went on for a couple of decades. It’s pretty incredible.

From Women in Comics show: Ethel Hays

There are arguments to be made about comics as an art form, the purpose and mechanics of comics, and then there’s specific arguments about content, like the portrayal of race and gender. Could you speak to that from the essays in the book?

First, I have to say, this is such a rich topic. I have at least another book in me about this. Once the canon was re-established in the 1970s, people were able to open up and focus on specific topics, whether it was race or gender, whatever the topic. I was going over essays related to the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. There’s this one essay, which is in the book, from 1992, by Dwayne McDuffie, on one of the first shows of African American art in the U.S. He was writing about his discovery of the comic book character, Black Panther; the representation of the world of Wakanda, where anything is possible; and how that affected him as a kid.

She Draws Comics: 100 Years of America’s Women Cartoonists, May 20-November 2006.

Regarding women in comics, I have Trina Robbins. I just co-curated a show with her in New York, which no one can see at the moment. When the Masters of Comics show came out in 2005, it was controversial for only having male artists. Trina immediately called their bluff and started doing counter-programming about it. She spoke at the Hammer and the Jewish Museum. And she curated a show of her own, an all-women show (She Draws Comics), at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York at the same time as Masters of Comics. I include the text of her presentation in the book that demonstrates that women cartoonists did exist and were popular.

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York had a nice run on its own.

I think it was in 2012 that they were absorbed by the Society of Illustrators.

Society of Illustrators 128 East 63rd St, NY

There’s plenty of stories of museums that run out of funds or something happens and they move on and maybe become something else.

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art was on Lower Broadway for a number of years. It was a third floor walk-up. It put on great shows but, without a lot of money coming in, it finally cratered. The Society of Illustrators absorbed their collection. They have a five-story building in New York City. They have a second floor gallery dedicated to comic art. And, a couple times of year, they usually have other big comic art shows aside from that.

From Women in Comics show: Trina Robbins

I’ve been to the Society of Illustrators and, I’ve got to say, that is a place anyone will enjoy, whether you’re big into comics or not. It’s a beautiful space and the top floor is just gorgeous, a great place for lunch.

The restaurant is wonderful. I’ll take the opportunity to mention to everyone that the current show at Society of Illustrators in the main gallery, which is two floors, is Women in Comics. The first floor is from the collection of Trina Robbins, about 90 pieces covering everything from Nell Brinkley in the Flapper era all the way to the underground comics in the 1970s. And then, on the lower floor, I have 20 contemporary women artists, including five Eisner winners. It’s a great show. Just this morning, I saw that New York is going to allow the Met, and some other museums, to re-open on August 24. I’m hoping that will include Society of Illustrators. The show is scheduled up to October 24.

From METAMAUS

Then there is the whole process of one artist establishing their position within the context of an art movement. Mainly, that ties in with comics establishing its own position. Could you speak on that from the material in the book? I know that’s a lot to talk about. What comes to mind when you think of  Art Spiegelman?

Art Spiegelman is a very interesting case. He’s a person who is interested in exhibitions and someone who was interested in cultural legitimization for comics really early on. I remember that he was in early shows, going back to 1969. He had a very real passion about being included in shows. I interviewed him about Masters of Comics when I was working on my thesis. And he was the one who told me about the 1951 comic art show at the Met. He’s been sort of on the forefront of trying to figure out how comics are best seen: how to show them and still have narrative. You’re showing them as artwork without dumbing them down or something. I have a piece in the book about his touring show that originated in France. And there’s another piece on Art Spiegelman’s own private comic art museum. It was about his collection and his mentors and inspirations, the artist as curator.

Carol Tyler: Pages and Progress, January-March 2016, University of Cincinnati.

So, we come back to the whole idea of comics displayed upon a gallery wall. Boy, if I were to write a book on this: discussing the purpose of comics on display, comparing comics in book format and on the wall. Comics certainly function in more than one format. Would you speak on that? 

Narrative is such an important topic. And exhibitions. It’s kind of a conflict in a way. People can only read so much standing there in the gallery. Obviously, comics is a narrative format. So, you want to give enough of the story so that people get the gist of what the artist is saying. Obviously, you’re taking pages out of context. The book presents essays that look at this from different ways. Andrei Molotiu, the art historian, asks whether it’s an act of violence or an act of contextualization when taking work out of its context. Molotiu talks about how your eye is led to different parts of the drawing if you’re seeing the work on the wall or reading it in a book. And there’s a sequence of articles that mention Crumb’s Genesis, which toured all over the place, presenting all 200 pages from the book–and how overwhelming that is. Even Spiegelman said that his Maus has been shown in its entirety and that’s not the way to go.

It’s interesting how curators decide how to show the work. Carol Tyler presented much of the work in one of her books on a clothesline because she’s a Midwestern girl and that spoke to her. Denis Kitchen gets around this by showing short story arcs of just a couple of pages or focusing on cover art. It’s an important thing for curators to deal with since narrative is such an important part of comic art.

We’re an excerpt culture, a sound-bite culture. I don’t believe people would have difficulty seeing something out of context or more concise. People simply read so much faster, process information so much faster.

You can do a lot with wall labels too. You can show a couple of pages of something and contextualize what the rest of the story is. It’s also important that some of the places that have the space will have some kind of reading area. One thing that Spiegelman and I discussed was showing every page of Maus for a show on this huge lightbox. I saw the show in Toronto and it had the lightbox display with a long bench with a print copy of Maus at both ends. So, you could go back and forth between the lightbox display and the actual book.

One reason that I included Charles Hatfield’s essay on Crumb’s Genesis was his talking about the exhaustion of trying to look at the whole thing.

The Bible Illustrated: R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. October 24, 2009-February 7, 2010.

I did get to see that show when it was at SAM (Seattle Art Museum) and I recall enjoying it, getting to study one page at a time and then briskly walking by many pages only to come back later. Maybe, as a cartoonist myself, I was processing it a little differently from a casual viewer.

Actually, I wish I had caught that show. Robert Salkowitz provides a great essay in the book about the show. That show (Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb) not only displayed Crumb’s Genesis but it also included work from Goya and Albrecht Dürer, placing them as ancestors to Crumb’s work.

There’s a special edition that Art Spiegelman put together for Maus. It’s called, MetaMaus. So, there’s an example of a multi-media presentation to compliment the original work. It’s on a CD-ROM so it’s a bit dated now but still very useful. I guess it just depends on what might work to give things a little oomph. A lot times, you just want to read the book or see the originals on the wall and that’s it. Not everything needs that oomph.

There’s a place for that. Charles Hatfield’s essay talks about the Jack Kirby show (California State University) and how it included iPads. There’s one gallery that has one whole issue of Kamandi. So, on an iPad, you could see sketches right along with the finished pages in the gallery.

Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby, August 24 – October 10, 2015, California State University.

The original idea for Masters of Comics was to create some sort of hub and spoke display where you would show a key creator and then have all the spokes of the creators who were influenced by that key person. That would make for a great interactive display where you could pick an artist and see the branches that grew out from that key person. I think that would make for an incredible multi-media show.

Lynda Barry comes to mind. She’s a born cartoonist and born instructor. She seems always be on. She makes me think of what can be done beyond the page. She loves to draw on glass, in the spirit of Picasso.

Oh, yeah. I’m happy to say she is one of the artists in Women in Comics right now at Society of Illustrators. When Masters of Comics first came out, I remember so many people asking why Lynda Barry wasn’t included. So, when Women in Comics came around, Lynda Barry was the first person I needed to get for the show!

From Women in Comics: Illustration from Sex is a Funny Word (Fiona Smyth)

It’s a case by case situation on comic art as to questions of narrative and exhibition. Some comic art work could originate as an installation. I can certainly see Lynda Barry doing this–work that is first, maybe only, seen as a mural.

Actually, Gary Panter does a lot of work like this. There’s a experimental form of work known as “gallery comics,” and I include an essay by Paul Gravett, a UK curator who has experiments a lot with this. The idea is that you have a series of alternative narratives as you walk through the gallery space. There’s a lot of multi-media involved with some of these. It’s very interesting to take the sequential nature of comics and play with it.

The youngest cartoonists coming on board I guess may still need to wait a bit to be fully represented at this point. Maybe for another book. I think of someone like Dash Shaw and I believe he could do very well with a gallery comics format.

I was just on a panel at San Diego Comics Fest with Bill Sienkiewicz and Liam Sharp. The two of them are good examples. Their work has so much detail. It looks great on the printed page and displayed on the gallery wall. Liam’s original work is drawn over-sized to begin with. And, of course, Bill’s work is just amazing.

For Women in Comics, I was careful to show a wide range of talent going all the way up to the younger artists like Tillie Walden and Summer Pierre. It’s interesting to see younger artists working in a lot of media. It’s interesting to see how they pull it together through their process.

Things have evened out between traditional and digital. It can be anyone’s guess as to how some work is created. And then you have some younger artists who prefer to keep to the most traditional hand-made methods.

From Snow, Glass, Apples

Yes, or it’s a mix. Like Colleen Doran, who is in Women in Comics. She won the Eisner for Snow, Glass, Apples, the Neil Gaiman adaptation of the Snow White story. (2020 Eisner for Best Adaptation from Another Medium, Dark Horse Comics) It’s this incredible style evoking Art Deco and Art Nouveau. Her process involves scanning her art, drawing on it, then continues to scan and draw again. The final version is pen and ink. Some artists are totally digital. It’s fascinating to see how artists use technology and make it fit with their style.

Is there anything that I haven’t brought into our conversation that you’d like to talk about. Any essay that we may have missed?

One thing to mention from your review of the book. You talk about Alexi Worth. The article that I close with is Alexi Worth on the Charles Hatfield show of Jack Kirby. Worth is writing about Kirby in the context of Pop Art and other art movements. I think he did a good job of contextualizing Kirby’s artwork within the art of the time and also took into account the limitations of comics. Kirby was cranking stuff out. And you had the limitations of printing comics back then. My own essay on the interest of comic art in the ’30s and ’40s allowed me to create a sort of chronology of how comics have been represented since 1930. I had no idea that Milton Caniff was such a pioneer of comics exhibitions! That was a big revelation for me. I spent two weeks at the Billy Ireland library and came away with hundreds of photos of letters and files. It’s just incredible the stuff that they have.

Comics at Columbia University!

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum is on my list of places to go. I did, by being in the good graces of Karen Green, get to spend a significant amount of time with the comics and graphic novel collection at Columbia University.

Columbia is pretty amazing. Karen is a close friend of mine. I was very happy to collaborate with Karen Green on an essay on the artist Jonah Kinigstein and his sort of  “comics as art” criticism. That’s a very interesting area: artists that are criticizing art movements and artwork. In Jonah’s case, he was a traditional artist who was really pissed off with the Abstract Expressionist movement and their sort of dismissal of representational art. His cartoons are just absolutely caustic. They’re very satirical. So, Karen interviewed him. He’s 96. I’m glad we got his story in the book because he’s a fascinating character.

I hope to meet up with you at some point, within comics circles.

Yes. I’d love to go to the Museum of Pop Culture and we might meet up then.

Thank you, Kim.

Thank you.

COMIC ART IN MUSEUMS is a fascinating treasure trove of in depth information on the comics medium. You can find it here.

WOMEN IN COMICS is currently showing at Society of Illustrators. Keep checking for updates on when the exhibit will open to the public (possibly as soon as August 24th).

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Review: ‘The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski’ by Noah Van Sciver 

The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski

The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski. By Noah Van Sciver. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2020. 452 pp. $39.99.

Noah Van Sciver is an interesting cartoonist. He’s long graduated from being one of “those to watch” to an artist with a substanital track record. As a cartoonist myself, I admire and appreciate what he’s doing. He is best known for his lovable loudmouth character, Fante Bukowski, a confused mashup of Charles Bukowski and John Fante. The ongoing joke here is that Fante Bukowski is a perpetually aspiring writer, both artless and clueless. If you haven’t jumped on the Fante Bukowski bandwagon yet, now is the time with the release of The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski, which collects every mishap and stumble all the way on a crazed quest for fame and fortune.

Fante dreams big.

I think that Fante is a very successful character. Van Sciver has developed something that people can easily relate to. Despite the fact that Fante is associated with the literary crowd, there’s nothing highbrow about him. If nothing else, Fante is accessible. You can think of him as the Homer Simpson of lost souls. In a higher sense, Fante is a perfect vehicle for Van Sciver to skewer any lofty notions about art. But even suggesting this may only make Van Sciver laugh. For something really serious and dark, he’d direct you to his graphic novella, Saint Cole. There’s definitely loads of irony and irreverence attached to Fante. On a more basic level, you can replace any literary stuff in here (replace it with general office culture, academia or even indie comics culture) and enjoy this as a story about a guy who is not much more than a professional wedding crasher, a latter day Groucho Marx out to expose hypocrisy and pretentiousness in all its many forms even if he’s not aware of it. The character is funny, gets into silly situations, and will make you laugh. But there’s more.

Fante Bukowski demands to be taken seriously as a writer. Van Sciver presents us with the journey of a misguided young man who really has no great talent, skill or genuine passion. Fante simply feels entitled to be a success. Fante will make some effort, just the bare minimum, towards his dreams, and expect instant results. His bare minimum efforts are garbage but he refuses to take no for an answer. All in all, this is very funny stuff. Imagine Steve Martin, in his prime, in the role of Fante. Or Ricky Gervais. However, given all the work it took to set up the premise of Fante, it would have been interesting if the satirical aim was a bit more precise if that were possible. As it is, Fante does indeed have hilarious moments like when he’s courting favor with a “literary journal” he’d like to have his work in, the Firewarter Journal, with s perfectly pompous name and a circulation of a dozen to match. These are the sort of pleasant jabs that you might expect from the comic strip, Doonesbury, but more generic. Ultimately, Van Sciver succeeds by keeping his humor broad.

A romantic but stupid idea of being a writer.

Van Sciver seems to root for irreverence more than anything as a way to move things along. He doesn’t want anything to be taken too seriously, including his own work. He’s not trying to be Dash Shaw. And he doesn’t seem to aspire to write a true comedy of manners like cartoonist Posy Simmonds although he does a fine job with the social commentary he does end up doing.  More importantly, he  has definitely invested quite a lot in the idea that Fante Bukowski is a clueless young loudmouth who is completely absorbed with entitlement. That alone is key. A lot of other tidbits up for satire can be lightly played with. The big takeaway is that Fante Bukowski is a young empty suit. He feels he is owed something with apparently nothing to show for his outrageous demands. If, in spite of this fact, Fante did find his fame and fortune, then the joke would truly be on us.

While much care has been taken, Van Sciver has also made sure to leave a certain amount of a raw quality to what he does–and there is a long-standing tradition for that in indie comics and in art in general. You want to avoid getting too polished, too slick. You want to look the opposite of “corporate.” So, you’ll see the artwork is only refined up to a certain point. Some cartoonists, for example, will deliberately misuse digital coloring to subvert the idea of making things look too pretty. Van Sciver, for example, could have easily chosen a way to seamlessly clean up any mistakes in his text but he wants you to be aware of them. He has pasted over by hand every correction to his text and made it so that you clearly notice it. Whatever the reason, it reads as a style choice.

Unlucky in love.

Following this subversive impulse, Van Sciver does the same for the actual story. Nothing is supposed to be taken too seriously–and that does make sense when you’re poking fun at all those “highbrows” who take themselves too seriously, right? That notion is where you might find some subtext. Van Sciver peppers his comics with all sorts of quotes from various famous writers and artists and, within this loopy context, even the best lines from Hemingway or Fitzgerald all sound like sayings from fortune cookies. For a book that seems to be in it just for laughs, taking a blowtorch to the old masters has some bite to it. But no one really wants to topple truly great writers. In the end, we’re supposed to turn our gaze back to Fante Bukowski and maybe pity the poor fool.

Noah Van Sciver is an Ignatz award-winning cartoonist who first came to comic readers’ attention with his critically acclaimed comic book series Blammo. His work has appeared in the Best American Comics and the Fantagraphics anthology series NOW. Van Sciver is a regular contributor to Mad magazine and has created many graphic novels including The Hypo and Saint Cole. His latest, The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski, collects all three volumes of the Fante Bukowski series in an expanded hardcover edition with extra features and special material. His follow up, Please Don’t Step on My JNCO Jeans, will be published in December.

Long live bohemians, great and small.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Noah Van Sciver

Comics Spotlight: James Lloyd 

The bits and pieces that make up the texture of everyday life.

James Lloyd is a fellow cartoonist who I consider a friend. Oh, but it’s been many years since I can say that I’ve seen Mr. Lloyd in person. James Lloyd is from Vancouver, BC. I’m from Seattle. So, we do need to properly meet up one of these days. Here’s a James Lloyd comic that was slated to debut at this year’s annual Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (VanCAF), which had to become a virtual event this year. It’s entitled, Black Sunday, and is a beautiful work full of local color, all the bits and pieces that add up to the texture of everyday life. But keep with it as this comic unfolds into a look back at the Fall of Saigon. Yes, that’s the Black Sunday that’s being referred to here. Keep going and you’ll discover a story of searching for family roots and confronting the gentrified Little Saigon in Vancouver. Lloyd makes a comparison between the South Vietnamese forced out of their homeland in 1975 and the more recent squeeze that the Vancouver South Vietnamese business community has experienced from developers.  How often can one be pushed out after doing everything to play by the rules?

From the Fall of Saigon to the gentrified Little Saigon.

James Lloyd is an excellent artist and he is not someone to sit on his hands and is ready to offer up praise and support to a colleague. Praise and support means everything within the comics community which is made up of a lot of loners who would love nothing more than to go back to their drawing board. Well, let’s hope we can all do our part to keep shedding some light on remarkable labors of love.

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Review: NOT MY SMALL DIARY #20

Not My Small Diary #20

A worthwhile comics anthology requires a lot of focus and dedication. One comics anthology series that has set a high standard is Not My Small Diary, edited by Delaine Derry Green. For Issue 20, Green chose the theme of music and the affect it has on our lives. This is a theme that is tailor-made for indie cartoonists since they already spend quite a lot of time creating auto-bio comics while listening to music. I should know. I am one of them and I salute the efforts of my fellow cartoonists included in this collection. If there is one thing we all seem to have an opinion on, and cuts deep, it’s music. We all operate under this illusion that we somehow own our all-time favorite bands, since they seem to speak directly to us. Nothing could be further from the truth but the power of music is unmistakable. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at Issue 20.

David Lasky

In Delaine Derry Green’s introduction she states that this edition includes 54 artists and writers. But one cartoonist, who had submitted work to every issue since the very start in 1996 was now gone. “We lost Mark Campos in 2018,” states Green, “and I know he would have loved the theme of this issue. This issue is dedicated to him!” Two cartoonists in this issue grapple with the loss. David Lasky presents an exploration of his feelings as he mourns the death of his friend and connects it to a better appreciation of the work of an older and wiser George Harrison. Noel Franklin presents a behind-the-scenes look at her relationship with Campos and their mutual admiration for the dark beauty in the work of Kristin Hersh. Each tribute approaches the subject from very different and idiosyncratic perspectives. In Noel Franklin’s piece, there’s a moment when Lasky introduces her to Campos.  Reading these two comics back-to-back, a reader can get a sense of the peculiar and the perennial within the creative mist and fog.

Noel Franklin

A good work of auto-bio comics must make efficient use of its allotted space, even if it’s only one page. When a cartoonist lacks discipline, one page can feel too long. But, if a cartoonist is mindful of their content, then a series of pages can leave the reader wanting more. Three or four pages is typically as long as one can expect for an extended piece. M. Jacob Alvarez brings the reader in with his honest and concise observations of growing up with music for his 3-page work entitled, Record Player. Peter Conrad makes good use of four pages with Hacklebarney, which also features coming-of-age musings over music. Both Alvarez and Conrad don’t claim any cosmic connection to music. On the contrary, it was always something in the background for them until further notice. It’s a refreshing take to have indie cartoonists downplay a situation as opposed to the traditional life-changing narrative.

M. Jacob Alvarez

Not My Small Diary #20 includes the work of Colleen Frakes, Joe Decie, Andrew Goldfarb, Androo Robinson, Aaron Brassea, John Porcellino, Rob Kirby, MariNaomi, Julia Wertz, Jenny Zervakis, Jonathan Baylis, T.J. Kirsch, Simon Mackie, David Lasky, Noel Franklin, Misun Oh, Danny Noble, Fafá Jaepelt, Billy McKay, Chad Woody, Max Clotfelter, J.T. Yost, Ben Snakepit, J.M. Hunter, Jason Marcy, Steve Wallet, Jesse Reklaw, Ken Bausert/Steven Anderson, Michael Kraiger, George Erling, Joseph Cotsirilos, Aimee Hagerty Johnson, Jason Martin, Kevin Van Hyning, Pete Wentzell, Josh Medsker, Roberta Gregory, James Burns, Brad W. Foster, M. Jacob Alvarez, Tom Scarecrow, David St. Albans, Peter Conrad, Maddie Fix, Joel Orff, Dave Kiersh, Donna Barr, Sally-Anne Hickman, Missy Kulik, Jim Siergey, J Gonzalez-Blitz, Jennifer Hayden, and Carrie McNinch. Cover Artist is Ben Snakepit.

Peter Conrad

Not My Small Diary #20 is a 136-page book well worth the $6.50 price point. I really appreciate the guitar pick included with every copy. But I appreciate even more the index at the back of the book that references all the bands mentioned! Considered one of the best showcase zines around, this is the book to explore some of the best in indie comics. Visit Not Small Diary right here.

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Lulu.com Relaunches New Site with Broad Range of Options

Lulu.com Supports Indie Authors!

EDITOR’S NOTE: WATCH FOR A SPECIAL COMICS GRINDER 20% OFF LULU.COM COUPON NEXT WEEK

Lulu.com is the top one-stop-shop destination for print-on-demand and now even more so. Over this weekend, Lulu.com is relaunching its site with a broad range of new options. This is great news for any type of book project, including comic books! There’s so much to choose from to meet the needs of authors, artists, educators, and even nonprofits.

Here is a quick look at what Lulu.com has to offer:

Authors

Fiction and non-fiction writers alike can create, print, and sell their books through all major retail channels.

CREATE YOUR BOOK

Educators

Easily publish textbooks, course materials, and research. Sell your work on Lulu.com or buy the books you need immediately.

CREATE YOUR BOOK

Artists

Showcase your work with our archive-quality, full color, hardcover & paperback options.

CREATE YOUR BOOK

Nonprofits

Easily create a book, calendar, or photo book to raise money and awareness for your organization.

CREATE YOUR BOOK

 

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Drawing: Lynda Barry

I love this video that features comic-drawing rebel professor Lynda Barry doing her own thing. Around the six minute mark, Lynda confides in the audience that she knows that most folks abandon drawing when they try to draw a nose! She proceeds to draw a bunch of fun noses. First, she begins by drawing what her cousin advised to be the proper way to draw a nose, circa 1962. Then, she riffs on the wonderful world of noses. Starting with the shape of a head, Lynda Barry, one of our all-time great cartoonists, guides the viewer into visual anarchy. If there is only one rule to follow, it is this: the drawing still needs to “read” as whatever it is you’re drawing.

Making Comics

Lynda Barry has worked as a painter, cartoonist, writer, illustrator, playwright, editor, commentator, and teacher and found that they are very much alike. She is the inimitable creator behind the seminal comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek as well as numerous comic books and graphic novels, and is the recipient of both the Eisner Award and the R. R. Donnelly Award. She lives in Wisconsin, where she is an associate professor of art and a Discovery Fellow at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her most book is Making Comics, published in 2019 by Drawn & Quarterly.

Making Comics

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Review: THE DETECTION CLUB: PART 1 by Jean Harambat

The Detection Club: Part 1 by Jean Harambat

This is one of the most inspired scenarios for a comic that I’ve seen in a while. What if all the great mystery writers of the 193os formed a club–and had amazing adventures? That is exactly what is happening in this totally cool new graphic novel series, The Detection Club, script and art by Jean Harambat, published by Europe Comics. We’re talking about the golden age for mystery writers including G. K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, and Dorothy L. Sayers. This is from the same brilliant talent who created the spy thriller series graphic novels, Operation Copperhead. If you like crisp and witty humor, then this is for you. And, yes, this book is in English. That’s an essential component of Europe Comics, your home for comics from Europe, translated into English.

The Detection Club page excerpt

First off, you need to know that there really was a Detection Club and it must have been something! Just imagine all of these world-class writers meeting on a regular basis, helping each other out with their craft, and even writing books together under the name of the club itself! I don’t think I was aware of this and, if I was, I’d forgotten. So many years and beers ago, you know. But now I’m fully aware of this fact thanks to this wonderful graphic novel series. So, that is the basis in reality for this series but Harambat takes it much further and places a select bunch of our writer heroes in quite a madcap adventure involving a crime-solving robot who may or may not have just committed murder! So, lots of fun for all ages, even for much older kids at heart such as myself.

Panel excerpt: Our main characters all in row.

I really like to showcase panel art. There are so many reasons to do this. The main reason is to simply get a closer look! This makes sense, just as you would focus on a particular passage in any novel. It gives us a moment to savor the process. What is key about Harambat is that he loves to draw. This is quite evident in the above example. Too many young aspiring cartoonists believe that any scrawl that they produce is priceless. That wrongheaded thinking is much too ingrained in the indie comics community. Yes, there is a place for spontaneity and a loose and sketchy style can be quite legitimate. But look at the dazzling results you get from rigorous  care in the pursuit of refined essentials. Everything reads as very crisp and clear! You want that kind of clarity!

The Detection Club page excerpt

Harambat is an auteur cartoonist who truly loves to write and draw economically. It is a very functional approach that makes it easier to tackle such an ambitious project that involves characters with formidable back-stories. We’re talking about some of the greatest popular writers of all time–either intimately known by readers or at least recognized to some degree. There are expectations already in place. Many readers coming to this graphic novel already have some notion as to who Agatha Christie was and expect someone unusual and clever–and will expect the same from her contemporaries. Any reader attracted to this book is already curious about the world of mystery and crime fiction and related matters. Harambat is there to deliver on all counts: he fills in the blanks, connects the dots, and thoroughly entertains. All the characters are drawn in a direct and clear way, easy to keep track of, easy to relate with. Then you bring in the villain, an eccentric billionaire living on some secluded tropical island with a huge robot at the center of a murder mystery. Bingo! What a premise to kick off this series!

The Detection Club: Part 1 is an 86-page book, available in digital format on various platforms. For more details, visit Europe Comics, your home for all European comics, all digital, all in English.

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Review: THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2019

The Best American Comics 2019

The Best American Comics 2019, series editor Bill Kartalopoulos, editor Jillian Tamaki, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 400 pages, $25.00.

All in all, the goal of the annual Best American Comics is to represent the overriding impact of significant and notable comics during the last year and say something about comics that is fresh and new. Well, among the most fresh and new, is the work of 81-year-old Jerry Moriarty. In this new edition, you’ll find this example, an excerpt from Whatsa Paintoonist? published by Fantagraphics Books. We see the artist chatting as he goes about his day in his studio. The featured pages depict a wonderfully eccentric and talkative artist with his creations having come to life.

WHATSA PAINTOONIST? (excerpt)

Painting with acrylic and drawing with a Papermate pen, Moriarty epitomizes what is takes to cut through barriers and pretense and get on with creating art. You take a look at his paintings about sexual awakening and you see direct and incisive work. After graduating from Pratt, he went on to teach at the School of Visual Arts for fifty years. In 1984, his first comic, Jack Survives, was published by RAW. Put it all together and Moriarty’s artistic activity is genuine and authentic. Moriarty definitely fits into my criteria for what belongs in a collection of the best comics: work of quality; work that advances the comics medium; and work that speaks to the current state of comics. I have always maintained that the ideal cartoonist is the auteur cartoonist, a sole creator who treats comics as the art medium that it is. If such a person is so fortunate as to be able to build a career solely upon their comics and graphic novels, that’s great. But, all too often, you just do what you need to do because you’re compelled to create the work, in the same way that a genuine poet creates poetry. That is what Jerry Moriarty has done.

WHATSA PAINTOONIST? (excerpt)

The goal of Best American Comics is to feature the wide spectrum of the best work of the previous year. And while seeking out the best can become quite subjective, the goal is to overcome that. Honestly, if it’s not overcome, then you end up with more of a promotional book  of commercial artists or an overly self-indulgent exploration of experimental work. Neither extreme is welcome to carry a whole book. There are other venues for that. Of course, one needs to try to cover as much as possible. Best American Comics has a pretty good system in place where the series editor gathers up work throughout the year and hands it off to that year’s guest editor. In the end, you get a collection that includes industry leaders and quite a few intriguing discoveries. I think it’s fair to say that this is an imperfect process but one can keep striving to do better. The good news is that each year brings a collection with wonderful new work to discover or rediscover like the work of Jerry Moriarty, who has been in the business for well over fifty years. Nice to see that he made it into Best American Comics this year!

WHATSA PAINTOONIST? (excerpt)

The Best American Comics 2109 is a 400-page hardcover and is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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PARIS/LONDON: A FIRST LOOK, an art book by Henry Chamberlain and Jennifer Daydreamer

PARIS/LONDON: A FIRST LOOK

Paris/London: A First Look is an art book by Henry Chamberlain and Jennifer Daydreamer, published by Comics Grinder Productions. It is a tour of Paris and London through the eyes of two cartoonists. There are 24 drawings featured in this full color hardcover. You can buy it here.

Art by Henry Chamberlain

Henry and Jennifer set out to explore Europe together for the first time equipped with sketchbooks and eager to create art. This is their carnet de voyage to share with all those with a similar wanderlust.

Art by Jennifer Daydreamer

The idea for this book is simple: share one’s joie de vivre on a trip abroad. In this collection of drawings you’ll find a nice variety of subjects covered: culture, food, sightseeing, and the personal observations that you find in journal entries.

The Montparnasse neighborhood where we stayed for most of our visit to Paris.

What is it that compels someone to draw what they see? Well, that can be anyone for all sorts of reasons. One ideal scenario is when you’re completely out of your element. Say goodbye to the familiar routine. Set aside your regular obligations. Your only goal, really, is to be good to yourself. Of course, we can all do that right this minute right within our everyday life. But it never hurts to set out and explore something new, right? So, why not Paris? Why not London? Indeed!

Henry Chamberlain: “Sometimes, drawing in the rain is your best medicine.”

Let me give you a perfect example of how being out of the norm gives you that added boost. While Jennifer and I were visiting the Rodin Museum, it began to pour down rain like we hadn’t seen in a long time. It was nonstop and torrential. But we didn’t let that get in our way. In fact, I drew my portrait of Rodin’s Thinker while being pelted by rain. Would I have been so nonchalant about rain if I was trying to draw something in Seattle? Heck no, I would have just packed it up and walked away! But you draw from a special reserve inside you that is saved for moments like this. I told myself that I’d better concentrate and keep drawing since I didn’t know when I’d get this chance again! Sometimes, drawing in the rain is your best medicine. As it turned out, it all worked out rather well. The drawing I did was sealed with raindrops when I closed my sketchbook. The next time I opened it, I discovered that the ink had run onto the opposite page creating a perfect mirror image! Now, that sort of thing would not normally happen to me back in Seattle but I’m eager to be patient and see if it just might all the same. These trips abroad have a way of re-energizing you and giving you the added perspective you need once you’re back home.

Rules drawing by Jennifer Daydreamer

I’ll add a bit more here. I know that our trip did wonders for us. And we can’t wait to go back. This is our first book together. We have drawn mini-comics together but this is our first art book. I look forward to more collaborations and all sorts of other creative projects. And I look forward to visiting that venerable landmark in London, now one of our favorite places for a meal and a drink, Rules! Let me tell you about it. Established in 1798, Rules serves classic British food (especially game) in what we came to appreciate as, “Edwardian surrounds.” The restaurant is decorated primarily with an array of vintage artwork, especially old cartoons, which we really loved. For the more adventurous, after dinner, you can sneak up to the bar up two narrow flights of stairs. This is exactly where King Edward went to rendezvous with entertainer Lillie Langtry during the time of their affair. So, the place is a little dark, intimate, and filled with a sense of intrigue. It was perfect inspiration of Jennifer and she created one of her best drawings there. She gave it to the two bartenders that night. But I was quick to act and took a photo before it was on its way and added essential digital color once back in Seattle. Pretty cool, huh?

Around the Champs-Élysées

Alright, now that we’re quite settled in and I’m in a more chatty mood, I’ll continue along for some more. The photo above is another of many photos I took on the sly as we were briskly walking from one place to another. You wouldn’t know it but there’s a story here. We began our trip in London, then took the train to Paris, and ultimately took the train back to London. We found going through Heathtrow to be rather comforting. I recall Charles De Gaulle airport being very hectic from a trip many years ago. Anyway, the plan had been to have a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower from the table we’d reserved at Chez Francis. But, for some reason, we were having great difficulty finding Chez Francis! We just didn’t have it all together yet. Subsequently, on our way from some other event, we stumbled upon Chez Francis and finally had our dinner with a view. This is a goal of many a tourist and even the Chez Francis menu is dominated by the Eiffel Tower. Later on, the next day I think, Jennifer wanted to know how it was that we missed the Arc de Triomphe if we were already on the Champs-Élysées. Well, it was already getting late and pretty dark and it just wasn’t meant to be! But I managed to get the above photo which I still like very much. I’m looking forward to finding the movie that is advertised on that column. Looks like it’s probably a moody action thriller, doesn’t it? Yeah, leave it to the French to make great moody action thrillers.

Paris/London: A First Look is available at the Comics Grinder store.

Paris/London: A First Look

 

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