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Review: ‘COVID Chronicles’ published by Graphic Mundi

COVID Chronicles. edited by Kendra Boileau and Rich Johnson. Graphic Mundi. 2021. 296pp. $21.95

COVID Chronicles is a unique comics anthology, a testament to the collective response to COVID-19. The comics medium is exceptionally well-suited to convey, evoke and process the massive tangle of information and expression involved. We often say that comics is known for superheroes. However, on an even grander scale, comics is known for being a communication and educational tool able to make it possible to see the forest for the trees. This remarkable anthology was put together during the first half of 2020. We were lost amid the trees then and we’re still finding our way today. As a comics creator, I fully appreciate the challenges for a book like this to stay on point. I have seen countless comics anthologies and the biggest stumbling block for such an endeavor is a lack of consistency and vision. And then we have those gems that prosper because of a clear and compelling purpose. This is such a collection.

“The Right to Breathe” by Maureen Burdock with Joanna Regulska

Here are some examples that demonstrate the broad spectrum of expression found in this book of more than 60 short comics from a diverse set of creators: indie powerhouses, mainstream artists, Ignatz and Eisner Award winners, and various other talent. This represents a whole new comics movement! These are all comics invested in a new wave of informational comics. It is the result of an iterative and explanatory process imbued with passion. This is work looking inward and outward. Inward to family and the self. Outward to the relentless news and the chaos to be confronted.

“Ring the Bells” by Emily Steinberg

“Lessons Learned” by Tim E. Ogline

“Sort of Together & Mostly Apart” by Brenna Thummler

“State of Emergency” by Sarah Firth

“Seasons of the City” by Stephanie Nina Pitsirilos and Aaron Guzman

“Shelter-in-Place Sing” by Lee Marrs

By all counts, this is a significant and monumental work. We see where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re headed. Each story here has something important to share and the book adds up to an authentic and valuable response to one of the greatest challenges of our lives.

BINC Foundation

Special Note: The comics in this collection have been generously donated by their creators. A portion of the the proceeds from the sale of this volume are being donated by the publisher to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) in support of comics shops, bookstores, and their employees who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

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Review: HELEM by Stanley Wany

Helem. Stanley Wany. Conundrum Press. Wolfville, Canada. 2021. 240pp. $20

A work of comics will sometimes go from one form to another and such is the case with a couple of titles by Stanley Wany. Agalma (2015) and Sequences (2017) were both published by Trip which have recently been combined, with added material, into Helem, published by Conundrum Press. So, two works have been combined into one which is fascinating given what seemed to me to be open-ended options in two mostly wordless comics. However, there’s a narrative running its way through both titles, and now more emphasized in the final version, Helem.

We will first take a look at one of  Wany’s previous titles, Sequences, as a way into the new book, Helem. As the title to the older book suggests, we are dealing with sequences, one page at a time, and in connection with each other. If you were to view this as a show in an art gallery, you might accept each page as just a set of four small drawings. As the reader takes in more pages, something sequential emerges. What follows are three pairs of sequences.

Pages 22 – 23 from Sequences

In this first pairing, Wany offers us a look into the inner life of a call center, complete with its peculiar hum of activity. It’s hard to say if there is any hint of irony on display and maybe that’s the point. People working in call centers is so common that it’s most likely you have worked in one or know at least one person who has. It’s a strange and highly artificial world but, when you are in it, it’s the only world you know.

Pages 36 – 37 from Sequences

Our pairings become progressively more surreal moving forward. We start off with two friends chatting on a walk in the city. But what exactly happens next is anybody’s guess and best to chalk it up to dream logic. Mr. Death appears to be in a foul mood and not to be ignored. And then there’s a crack in the system, a sign of greater concerns ahead.

Pages 106 – 107 from Sequences

Finally, our last pairing of pages takes us to a higher plane of existence. Our protagonist appears to be lost but soon finds a potential ally, a queen no less. Who is this queen? Does she possess supernatural powers? Our friend will soon find out.

Wany is a master of manipulating the quotidian and transmogrifying it. With Helem, the final and complete version to his two previous books of art-comics, he takes the reader into the heads of two lost souls. The two main characters, both relatively young, are adrift, in an existential crisis. This is Wany’s landscape of the inner world and welcome to it. In both stories, the reader first experiences the world through the eyes of each protagonist and it is only towards the end that we get some closure through actual remarks. In the second story, originally from Sequences, it turns out we have a man wondering where some of the best years of his life have gone. He loops in and out of reality to discover that some of his most compelling moments are in his nightmares.

Stanley Wany is in that select group of artists who are diligently creating comics as art or art that is also comics. A cartoonist who makes art. An artist who makes comics. Wany’s linework is exquisite. The lines dance upon the page and seem quite capable of anything–and telling more than one story all at once. Wany delights the reader on many levels with his flights of fancy; he offers gifts for both the eye and the mind. It really would be no surprise to me if these same pages were to be sliced and diced yet again to tell a completely different story! Isn’t the comics medium malleable by its very nature? Of course it is! Any work by Wany is a delight and I look forward to seeing more from this exciting artist.

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Review: ‘The Domesticated Afterlife’ by Scott Finch

The Domesticated Afterlife. Scott Finch. Antenna Works. New Orleans. (available thru Domino Books) 200pp. $18

There are certain things I love and respect: compelling art like finely-crafted comics; and places that can make your heart sing like Louisiana. So, it’s a double-pleasure to feast upon this work of comics by Baton Rouge artist Scott Finch. He is the real deal: an artist who can make art-making look easy, as natural as breathing, because of all the work that he does to reach that level of grace and ease.  Too many artists can fall into a perpetual trap of producing slapdash work which is lifeless to say the least. The more that I’ve seen of Finch’s work, the more that I appreciate his level of commitment. Finch treats the comics medium with a genuine artistic sensibility. What Finch does is precisely what I aim for with my own work so I know of what I speak. If you’ve spun a comics narrative about animals in some domesticated afterlife, and you’re an artist with a consistent vision like Finch, then expect to find your very essence deep in that world.

We are decades away from a true metaverse, a complete virtual reality landscape where we are totally sucked into another world. That’s a good thing so enjoy reality while you still can before everyone has drunk the Kool-aid. What we’ll experience now with such entities as Facebook lurching into the future should be bad enough. That said, the metaverse is alive and well in fiction and comics is especially adept at evoking such a loopy terrain in the right hands. Finch is just the kind of artist to tap into the potential of the comics medium. This is both a philosophical and mythological work on a grand scale; a grand opera about a metaverse of humanoid animals, mostly dogs and cats, at the mercy of chicken-like creatures. The dogs and cats fend for themselves as best they can in this virtual world. Their minds, their psyches, have been tampered with to such an extent that all they know is that something isn’t quite right and maybe they want to reach for a portal to the outer darkness, what they assume is the real world.

Finch’s arcane sense of humor informs this comic’s cryptic sense of logic–which is totally cool. It’s difficult enough losing yourself in a work of comics given that a lot of comics doesn’t even try to challenge or engage the reader. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of the good stuff out there but you need to look. This comic delivers with page after page of striking imagery and a whipsmart narrative. Finch is a painter and that special insight shows here as you’ll delight upon one panel after another that could easily be worked into a stand-alone drawing or painting. As I’ve always maintained, it takes someone with a well-cultivated sensibility, part novelist, part painter, to truly make the most of comics as an art form and Finch proves he’s up to the task.

Single Panel Excerpt from The Domesticated Afterlife

The story itself, with its byzantine subplots, provides so many delicious and thought-provoking moments that you are bound to get hooked. This is a world where animals act like humans: they don’t eat to live; they live to eat. They are utterly disconnected from the natural world–and what kind of life is that? It’s a twisted world where dogs and cats are outsmarted by chickens. Everyone is weak but just strong enough to claw at each other. We naked apes are so prone to folly that our own metaverse, with chickens ruling over us, could be our destiny. Finch’s book is one part cautionary tale and one part just good old-fashioned loopy fun.

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Comics: ‘Leaving Home Planet’ by Hurricane Nancy

Making Changes comic strip by Hurricane Nancy

Hello, friends, Hurricane Nancy graces the site with another Making Changes comic strip. This one is entitled, “Leaving Home Planet.” Here are some notes from Nancy on this comic strip:

“Leaving the Planet is the old story, your parent kicks you out to go to college some such thing and on the planet of the Teddy bears there is public transportation to the college planet (and others not in this strip). So our teddy goes. There are sentient beings from other places.

The teddy also hooks up with a gal from another planet at college and heads back  to teddy planet with her and their kid. By public interstellar transportation.”

Be sure to visit Hurricane Nancy at her website right here.

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Paul Buhle on Comics: ‘The Day the Klan Came to Town’

The Day the Klan Came to Town. Written by Bill Campbell, Art by Bizhan Khodavandeh, Foreword by P. Djeti Clark.  Oakland: PM Press, 2021. 128pp, $15.95.

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

This review begins with a personal revelation. I am more than comfortable to recall, privately and in public, the saga of my great great (maternal) grandfather, the farmer-abolitionist who marched with Sherman through Georgia. He lived long enough to spend time with my mother when I was a youngster and to regale her with stories of the Civil War. I am less comfortable contemplating my paternal grandfather, a pattern-maker and small shop-keeper who seems to have joined the KKK in Illinois shortly before he abandoned the family. Or was kicked out.

White folks by the millions have restless skeletons in their closets, of that there can be no convincing denial. How could it not be so in a deeply racist society? But some experiences are very different; and some involve real racial solidarity. The Day the Klan Came to Town offers us vivid details and precious insights. This story unfolds in African American comics writer Bill Campbell’s own home town in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, a town ironically and iconically named for one of the great cruel industrial tyrants of the American nineteenth century. (Admittedly, Andrew Carnegie was also the great benefactor of libraries and other public institutions.)

Clark reminds us immediately that the 1920s vintage KKK, perhaps as strong in parts of the North as of the South and largely in control of Indiana politics for at least a decade, could take shape as anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-black or all three, depending upon local circumstances. Campbell has taken pains to study the contemporary documents, maps and other records, of a conflict that really took place, one of many in the years shortly following the First World War. He reminds us that this is, importantly, often enough also an immigrant drama. Like many parts of Pennsylvania, industrial or mining, the conflict posed Irish, Cornish, Slav and several regions of Italians against each other as competitors for jobs, and against African Americans, in the schemes of rising capitalists to divert class resentments away from the strike waves of wartime.

Here we have, in Carnegie, Sicilian immigrants unlikely even to identify with a common national origin. They would not have been considered “white” until at least the 1930s in the US. Many a newly-erected KKK hall (as in my own hometown in Central Illinois)  of the 1920s bore the proud self-identification of “WHITE AND PROTESTANT,” marking Catholics clearly unwanted. Most Italian immigrants, especially those from Southern Italy had little political background in the Left or labor, but many responded to the appeals of the IWW and its working class militancy, likewise to unions organizing in the mine fields among other places. We count leading Italian-American leftists as some of the greatest organizers and poets, but they don’t seem to have got themselves to Carnegie, PA.

Here, in the first pages of the comic, Klan organizers present themselves as leaders of a respectable civic organization out to protect “American” cities from purported outsiders and non-whites. We soon flash across the seas to Racalmuto, Sicily of 1915, where young miners suddenly face the draft imposed upon them for cannon foder in the First World War.  They wisely choose migration.

Barely “Americanized,” they face a racist mob clothed in KKK uniforms. The African Americans among the city dwellers, not a large but a significant portion, respond first because they recognize the Klan.  Sicilians, in turn, recall the Fascisti and the rise of Mussolini sponsored by the ruling classes to defeat labor’s claim on the government. The artist is especially adept at moving back and forth, continent to continent, language to language. They learn to fight back.

The author and artist strive to emphasize the multi-racial and multi-cultural, multi-lingual character of the fightback, and a more severe critic might say that they try too hard. The shifts, Irish and Jewish and Italian to East Indian and Latin American, not to mention women and men taking their own roles or battling hand in hand, can be jarring at times. But the fightback of the immigrant crowd against the Klan offers page after page of real comic action.

This is a tight, well-drawn work in the best of comic traditions.

Paul Buhle

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Review: ‘Teachable Moments’ by Freddy Funbuns

TEACHABLE MOMENTS!

Teachable Moments. Freddy Funbuns. on-going series. self-published. 80pp. $5

There’s a hint of the great alt-comics artist Steve Weissman in the work of emerging talent Freddy Funbuns. Okay, stick with me. If you know who Steve Weissman is then you earn extra bonus points and qualify for the coveted place of honor among the true comics cognoscenti. And, if not, that’s why I’m here! My point is that I want to stress that the cartoonist I’m about to share with you has a nice bag of tricks to play with. I don’t always enjoy gross-out comics but I see a method to the madness. In fact, I direct your attention to the Morbidly Beautiful site for a fine example of some other Funbuns comics laced with a hillbilly horror theme.

To say that Freddy Funbuns loves crude humor is putting it mildly. Where does it come from? Well, look around you: from South Park to your latest meme. Some will ignore it or dismiss it. Others will embrace it or at least appreciate it. In the spirit of the hillbilly horror genre, this comic chronicles the misadventures of a loser couple, Darvis, a 38-year-old morbidly obese man-child and his girlfriend, a 51-year-old woman he met on Tinder, known only as “Babe.” Between the two of them, it’s a glorious celebration of bodily functions, ill-advised sex acts, and food porn. It’s definitely not for everyone but this stuff has its fans because when Funbuns sees a red light, he instinctively floors it. For the record, what Funbuns is doing is brilliant whether or not you can stomach too much crude humor. And it’s not relentless either. Funbuns will take a relative pause here and there with more gentle weirdness.

It’s a dog’s life.

One example of a quieter moment has Darvis enjoying the sunshine and contemplating having more freedom while working from home. It allows him time to walk..the plant. Not the dog? No, not the dog who really needs to go outside! This joke could easily make it past any censor from any animated series. Maybe it’s a good example of Funbuns at a more restrained level. Your mileage may vary.

Can’t we all just have a little fun?

Yet another more quiet moment has Darvis and Babe just trying to act normal and have a nice day out. It almost happens. There’s a bit of tacky conversation. Then there’s the anticipation of getting to their fun destination. Finally, there’s the big let-down and time to blame someone for failed plans. We’ve all been there…and it’s very funny.

Amid all the weirdness, there’s the artist plotting his next move. I think the reference to Goya on the cover of Volume Three speaks to this artistic process going on behind the scenes. What will Funbuns do next? Time will tell! The intellect and the heart is in the right place. The crude humor wears thin over the long haul but sometimes you just can’t turn away. And sometimes everything lines up and the whole thing is spot on. Here is to more of those kind of teachable moments.

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Review: ‘A Study in Ink’ by Angela Krieg

A Study in Ink by Angela Krieg

“A Study in Ink” is a 32-page zine by artist Angela Krieg detailing the first six months of 2021, leading up to her first art show. This zine acts as a showcase for work; provides a window into a young person’s life struggles; and is a idiosyncratic document representing the COVID-19 era.

Perhaps the most appealing thing about a zine is that it is part of a DIY culture which sets no limitations and embraces authenticity over polish. Many a zine embraces typos and a more raw approach. Krieg’s zine has that kind of energy; it is more like a peek into a private sketchbook, warts and all, rather than a crafted finished work. That said, like many a sketchbook, there are certain gems that stand out. Some of the best examples here give the reader a taste of Krieg’s lean and direct style. It all adds up to a fun and interesting look at a small batch of artist notes and drawings.

A young artist’s life.

The very best example pares it all down to a bunch of words and one picture. At the bottom of the page is Krieg, eyes shut and appearing to hold it together. Atop her, various concerns loom overhead: mental health, motivation, COVID-19, taxes, cold, time and work. It’s a powerful image and a glimpse at what lies ahead for a promising new talent. You can find out how to purchase this zine, as well as review a variety of graphic artwork and services, at Krieg’s website.

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Paul Buhle on Comics: ‘Mutual Aid: an Illuminated Factor of Evolution’

Mutual Aid: an Illuminated Factor of Evolution. By Peter Kropotkin, illustrated by N.O. Bonzo, with an Introduction by David Graeber and Andrej Grubacic. PM Press, 317pp. $20.00

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

This large and beautiful book is so much like a comic that it cannot be described effectively in any other way. “Illustrated text” would not convey, especially for the younger readers of graphic novels, what has been accomplished here, and especially because 21st century readers “see” the pages differently from their predecessors and perhaps closer to ways that children have always “seen” favorite books—or at least the ways this reviewer saw them, literally learning to read by reading comics.

That said, we come immediately to David Graeber himself as a 21st century comet, rising into the sky and sinking again with his sudden, untimely death in 2021. His final text, an extended exploration of archeological history seeking the presence of largely peaceful, pre-state societies, has not convinced all readers by a long shot, but made his political points effectively. Class society seems to have been a fairly recent experience for Homo Sapiens, and its supremacy does not seem to have come from superior production of needed goods or any variant, such as organized agriculture. Yugoslavian-born Andrj Grabacic, a past collaborator with Staughton Lynd, obviously brings his own anarchistic fashion of political analysis into the mix.

Kropotkin, the Russian aristocrat, had a lot in common with other 19th century reformers including Marx: society, they believed, could be transformed by better, more scientific information and application. We had not yet entered the 20th century, where war became the decisive factor “for the West” that it had already been for the colonized world since the 17th century, at least. The choices for human society appeared to be more open and more peaceful until the First World War smashed so many illusions.

Mutual Aid, with its splendid subtitle, argues that society engages in communal relations at all times, making “capitalism” and “nationalism” the intruders. Marx saw the new society within the old in the sphere of socialized labor, no matter how brutal and alienated. Kropotkin looked outward.

The charm of this reprint, with splendid art, begins for today with the prince’s insistence upon “mutual aid among animals,” a powerful argument for its time, but more likely to be recognized now. Kropotkin insists, for instance, that a greedy sparrow seeking to monopolize nesting areas will be stopped by the flock. Contrary examples can certainly be found, but from scientific discoveries of “mother trees” to closer examination of interspecies collaboration, it seems science may be catching up with the prince who famously resigned his title.

Of course, Kropotkin’s main subject is human society, and if his arguments are somewhat familiar, the drawings of Bonzo are startling. I do not even recognize the name of this postmodern, feminist artisan, who lives in Portland and helped to create the Antifascist Coloring Book. Whatever the case, this is the closest to a reanimation of Williams Morris’s visions that I have seen in recent times. “Swipes,” in old comic book language, are taken freely from illustrations six generations past, but updated charmingly. We discover for instance with “harm reduction,” widespread enough to become a social movement in itself, that modern-day cooperators are re-learning how to help others through easing their bouts of addiction.

The chapter called “Mutual Aid in the Medieval City” is bound to remain a personal favorite of mine, because here Kropotkin comes so close to Morris, drawing upon similar sources, such as the histories of the guilds. We see the words of the text, and around them the images of working men and women who believed deeply in what they did. We can see cooperation, in other words, in a new light.

Quite a book, quite a revival of Kropotkin.

Paul Buhle

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Interview: Terry Blas, Claudia Aguirre and LIFETIME PASSES

Terry Blas and Claudia Aguirre are the creative team behind Lifetime Passes. This is a graphic novel that I reviewed recently and I encourage you to check it out for yourself as well as give as a great holiday gift. In this interview, you can see that Blas and Aguirre are totally in sync for the sake of a good story. And this is quite a tale revolving around a group of teenagers wrapped up in the theme park lifestyle. They hatch a plan to snag lifetime passes to their local theme park, Kingdom Adventure. The kids discover that if someone in their party dies in the theme park that, in order to avoid any legal entanglements, the theme park issues out lifetime passes to everyone in the group. Our main character, Jackie Chavez, works at a senior living facility. Jackie charms her way into putting together a new theme park activity program at Valley Care Living retirement home. With that in place, it’s just a matter of time, Jackie and her friends think, before one of the seniors in their care ends up dead at the theme park–and so the group gets lifetime passes! So, you’ve got at least three genres working here: coming-of-age, humor, and horror!

Growing up is always hard to do.

Growing up is never easy. This wonderful graphic novel weaves a tale we can all relate to. The main character of Jackie Chavez proves to be an engaging character with a lot to learn. Helping her along the way to seeing what really matters in life is Phyllis, one of the seniors that Jackie and her friends have ensnared in their diabolical little plot. Will Jackie gain a lifetime’s worth of wisdom before too much more time passes and it’s all too late?

Just click the link above to see the video interview. LIFETIME PASSES is available as of November 23, 2021. For more details, just go to Abrams Books.

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Review: LIFETIME PASSES

Lifetime Passes. by Terry Blas and Claudia Aguirre. Abrams ComicArts, SURELY, New York. 2021. 160pp. $23.99

Editor’s Note: This book is ready for pre-order purchases. Available as of 11/23/21.

How we treat each other, and ourselves, is at the core of wellness. We all have some connection to care-giving, whether on a personal level or a professional level. My past work as a caregiver still inspires me and informs me. Lifetime Passes, is a wonderful new graphic novel that explores the interconnections between those providing care and those receiving care. It’s not as simple as some may think.

Writer Terry Blas and artist Claudia Aguirre together weave a story that speaks to the shared responsibilities of caregivers and those cared for. First of all, no one wants to feel like they’re being “cared for” so a delicate balance must be struck. It’s during a journey of self-discovery that Jackie Chavez comes to appreciate the nuances of respect and self-respect. It’s a process that takes Jackie from being a kid who just wants to blend in with everyone else to someone willing to take a stand and to lead.

Jackie Chavez is in a predicament that is going to take time to figure out. It’s a problem liable to spin out of control. But, oddly enough, it also seems like Jackie is having the time of her life. Blas and Aguirre are sensitive to a young person’s perspective and life struggles. This is a portrait of a Mexican teenager who has been separated from her parents due to the immigration laws currently in place and so it’s just her and her aunt Gina. Jackie helps her aunt at work at the Valley Care Living retirement home. Over the years, Jackie has relied upon visits to the Kingdom Adventure theme park in order to cope with the stress of feeling like an outsider. What she never expected was to have an elder care facility and a theme park collide in her life. It’s a nicely-paced story told with wit and heart.

Claudia Aguirre’s artwork is soulful and touched with a whimsical spark. All the characters, whether noble or less than noble, come to life. The reader will be engaged and immersed in this coming-of-age tale. Jackie Chavez is someone who, at first, wants nothing more than to be alone but is willing to compromise in order to fit in. She is set upon a misadventure that will demand she think differently and show her a whole new way to live.

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