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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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Review: BALLAD FOR SOPHIE

Ballad for Sophie

Ballad for Sophie. by Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia. Top Shelf Productions. 2021. 320pp. $24.99

Editor’s Note: This book is ready for pre-order purchases. Available as of 11/02/21.

Ballad for Sophie is a gorgeous graphic novel. It delights the eye and not in any obvious way. We are often led to think that what we want is a perfect smooth finish but this work shows us that we can have it all: a crunchy complexity to the rendering guiding a vision. There are what appear to be, at closer look, a lot of preparatory lines that are kept in. These type of lines usually act as marks towards the final work. Here they act as another layer of texture, vibrancy and energy. It is quite fitting for a work dealing with music! This is a very special book created by a very special creative team who have been working together for nearly two decades. Filipe Melo is a Portuguese musician, award-winning film director, and author. Juan Cavia has worked as an art director and illustrator since 2004. (A sidenote: Melo has composed a theme song to accompany this graphic novel which you can find here.)

An old legend takes account of his life.

A graphic novel with an added layer of squiggly lines is not  really a part of any comics publisher’s reliable house style plans. And yet here it is–and it’s most welcome. Often, a publisher wants to find just the right balance of getting out of the way even if a favored house style provides a nice security blanket. In this case, we have a work that already had a go elsewhere, originally published by Tinta da China, based in Lisbon, and now embarking upon an English translation edition with Top Shelf Productions. That said, this European graphic novel fits in well with the very best work (Blankets, Essex County trilogy, March trilogy)  from Top Shelf. In fact, all these titles share a hand-drawn expressive quality, whether loose or more lean and clean. Top Shelf is always mindful of a winning recipe and here we have a win-win.

Allowing the creative instinct to have its say.

I think it speaks to the distinctive quality of this book that I can write a whole review and only focus on the style. Some graphic novels are like that, as much, or more so, about finding an arena to draw as it is about telling a story. And that requires an artist with a masterful touch. You can’t expect a novice to really measure up like this. Even a master will have doubts when giving way to creative flourish. But Juan Cavia really lives and breathes linework and so he can afford to take some detours. In an interview with Top Shelf’s editor Leigh Walton, he describes his pursuit of quirky lines as a way to be true to the artist and to evoke a certain level of personality.

Balancing, and rendering, past and present.

This is a rivalry story, in the spirit of the great rivalry story, Amadeus. So, we have two prodigy piano players battling out over the course of their lives. The story is set in the small French village of Cressy-la-Valoise, framed around the trope of a young journalist interviewing a dying old legend. The cub reporter is the story’s namesake, Sophie, and the old legend is Julien Dubois, one of the two rivals. Julien comes from a wealthy family; his opponent, François Samson, is a janitor’s son.  The story goes back and forth between the conversation between Sophie, the youth, and Julien, the elder, and looking back to the past. For the scenes in the past, Cavia’s expressive style is emphasized with linework, halftones and a more muted color palette in order to evoke a more retro vibe.

This is comics at its higher levels.

And that’s really all you need to know. I’ve basically tried to keep my focus on the book’s style and it is a formidable one. This is easily the best rendered graphic novel for the year, or at least it should be on everyone’s end-of-year top ten lists.

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Art: Happy Halloween from Hurricane Nancy

From “Spirits Rising” limited edition series.

Happy Halloween from all of us at Comics Grinder. Here is a work by artist Hurricane Nancy!

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

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Interview: Desmond Reed, ‘The Cola Pop Creemees’ and ‘Apples’

APPLES!

Desmond Reed is a very talented cartoonist with a unique voice. If you enjoy quirky and weird comics, this is for you. I would describe the work as highly inventive and ambitious. Welcome to the world of the most unlikely band, The Cola Pop Creemees! These characters are young, energetic, and sometimes sad: think of it as a mashup of The Monkees and Bojack Horseman. It all began as fun posts on Instagram to cope with the pandemic and now Desmond Reed has a book on the way with a publisher and a 28-page comic book, Apples, thanks to a 2021 MICE Mini-Grant. You can purchase Apples through Radiator Comics (as well as other venues) as of November 1, 2021.

Wallace T.J. was born to party!

Laugh and cry as you experience the adventures of everyone’s least favorite band, The Cola Pop Creemees! These are the misadventures of a group of friends who form a band: Ralph Jonathan, Wallace T.J., Mona Gertrude, Gil Christopher, and Henrietta Susan. The names of an uncanny ring to them and are perfect for the mix of zany and bittersweet stories that follow.

Apples represents the best of the daily one-page comics posted on Desmond Reed’s Instagram from 2020 to 2021.

Apples is a recipient of a 2021 MICE Mini-Grant, and will be available for purchase through Radiator Comics (as well as other venues) on November 1, 2021.

radiatorcomics.com/creator/desmond-reed

etsy.com/shop/desmondtreed

From The Cola Pop Creemees

Desmond Reed is definitely a talent to keep your eyes on. I hope you enjoy this interview where we discuss the artistic process and discuss comics and the comics scene. I’ve set this interview to premiere on my YouTube channel for this Wednesday, October 27th at 9am PST – 12noon EST. Your Likes, Comments and Subscribing are always welcome.

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Comics: Say Hello to Hurricane Nancy! Some Samples to Start

Terrible Toys Totem Pole

Hello, dear friends, it is a great pleasure to have Hurricane Nancy (Nancy Burton), a true comics legend, join us here at Comics Grinder with occasional comics art. Now, some say Hurricane Nancy was the very first female underground comix artist and that may very well be true. Burton’s work goes back to the East Village Other, circa 1966. Trailblazer Trina Robbins names Burton as an inspiration to move forward with her wimmen’s comix movement. In fact, Burton was a founding member of Robbins’s all-women comic book series, It Ain’t Me, Babe, which began in 1970.

In order to secure her life’s work is enjoyed by fewer generations, Burton recently donated 65 pieces of her original underground comix art to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. The donated originals include early unpublished work; her art from the Gentles Tripout strip, which began in the East Village Other in 1966; and 1969’s Busy Boxes from Gothic Blimpworks. Writer Alex Dueben is editing a monograph about Burton set to be published by Fantagraphics, which collects work from throughout her career and includes an expansive interview detailing her life and artistic output. Dueben connected Burton and Associate Curator Caitlin McGurk, at Ohio State, after Burton expressed a desire for the material to be preserved.

“The Big Mermaid Wakes Up”

In more recent years, Nancy Burton has returned to creating artwork. It is an honor that Comics Grinder has been chosen as a venue to feature Hurricane Nancy! We begin with the artwork at the very top, Terrible Toys Totem Pole. We also have the first installment to an on-going comic strip, Making Changes, this one is entitled, “The Big Mermaid Wakes Up.”

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

To learn more about the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum and view the collections, visit cartoons.osu.edu.

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Review: APPLES by Desmond Reed

APPLES!

Apples. Desmond Reed. Radiator Comics, 2021, 28pp, $5.

These are the misadventures of a group of friends who form a band: Ralph Jonathan, Wallace T.J., Mona Gertrude, Gil Christopher, and Henrietta Susan. The names have an uncanny ring to them and are perfect for the mix of zany and bittersweet stories that follow. Welcome to the imagination of Desmond Reed and the world of the most unlikely pop band, The Cola Pop Creemees. I think I’ve stumbled upon one of the coolest and most fun comics currently available. Check it out before this limited edition is sold out. You can find your copy (there are only 100 in this first run) over at Radiator Comics starting on November 1, 2021. This comic was made possible by a MICE Mini-Grant. Let me go on now and share my observations on this work. And be sure to tune in for my interview with Desmond Reed. I’ve set it to premiere on my YouTube channel for this Wednesday, October 27th at 9am PST – 12noon EST. Your Likes, Comments and Subscribing are always welcome.

Say hello to The Cola Pop Creemees

Now, keep in mind that Desmond Reed is a very diligent artist, always moving forward. There are now two full length graphic novels under his belt–and he keeps drawing and challenging himself. The Apples comic collects mostly one-page moments. These are moments that became posts on his Instagram and helped to create his devoted fan base. Some of these moments spill over to a few more pages but the idea here is to focus in on something worth a pause, funny or poignant.

How to Treat Depression. Tattoos usually help!

One such moment features Henrietta Susan. We start off with an imposing title and then one lone figure just standing, looking at her tablet. Some conventional options emerge in response to dealing with depression. A short pause followed by the final verdict/punchline: maybe it’s time for a tattoo. The drawing is very simple and there are only two dots for a face, everything adding to the deadpan humor.

The Social Media Silent Treatment. Who Knew?

Another piece has the whole gang in some undetermined public space. Everyone is self-involved and nothing seems unusual save for the last panel. Finally, Gil Christopher can’t wait any longer and bursts out feelings of insecurity.

It’s more than okay to be weird!

One last example here maybe sums it up best. Mona Gertrude is walking along a street when a car of hooligans passes by and yells out, “Weirdo!” For a moment, Mona is shocked by the intense animosity but she quickly regains her cool and yells back, “I already knew that!” Think for a moment how beautiful that is and the fact it’s posted on Instagram and people are engaging with it, celebrating it. Hell yes! It’s more than okay to be weird! That’s what this comic is all about, at its heart and soul. Desmond Reed is creating just the kind of work we hunger for and need today more than ever: funny and silly; uplifting and bright; and reaching out with some soulful purpose.

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Paul Buhle on Comics: ‘Lugosi: The Rise & Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula’

LUGOSI!

Koren Shadmi, Lugosi: The Rise & Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula. Foreword by Jon R. Lansdale. Los Angeles: Life Drawn/Humanoids, 2021, 160pp. $29.95.

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

It is best to admit that we live in terrible times, while we struggle to keep things from getting markedly worse, as they surely will without the needed collective effort that a large number of Americans (among others) seem not actually to want. How does this gloomy reality affect the creation of comic art, one of the more interesting artistic developments of our time, all the more important for its popularity among young people?

Horror comics once occupied the center of social controversy, along with the supposed gay relationship of Batman and Robin and other such McCarthy Era nonsense. The Congressional hearings that broke the booming comic industry of the 1940s-50s, reducing its successors to smaller fields, hit paydirt in one real way: those horror comics were indeed bloody and grim. Harvey Kurtzman’s widow Adele insisted that she and Harvey never allowed the children to read them, not even the EC horror comics whose heavy sales made Mad possible.

Did the controversy around horror comics connect somehow with the huge cult of horror films going back to the Silent days, getting hugely bigger in the 1930s and turning upon themselves as parody in the 1940s? Without a doubt. Nothing was bigger, nothing in the future of horror films all the way into the twenty-first century, could be bigger than Dracula and Frankenstein, aka Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

We have no Karloff comic yet, and we can hope that it is more politically attuned than the volume at hand for Boris’ leading role in the early Screen Actors Union, his ardent antifascism and his insistence that children watching the classic Frankenstein (1931) knew the supposed monster was the real victim of the ignorant, vicious villagers. His literary lineage, of course, traced back to Mary Wollstonecraft and the big metaphor about the degradations of modern aka emerging capitalist society with the monster as metaphoric proletarian body, both product and victim.

Dracula comes from a different place, of course, but is historically wound around a surprisingly similar character. The careful tracing in this comic of Bela Lugosi’s Hungarian background, his meteoric rise to stardom, his floundering personal life, downfall and notorious final engagement with Ed Wood, is enlivening but misses a whole lot. Hungary had a red revolution in 1919 followed by a rightwing takeover that placed the nation in a similar spot, a natural alliance, with Mussolini taking power in Italy, followed by Hitler in Germany.

What could have been….

Lugosi was not exactly a union or community organizer. But the artistic giant of the large Hungarian-American Left, Hugo Gellert, would have been well known to Lugosi, politically and culturally. Lugosi, asked by revolutionary leader Bela Kun to be the leader of the national trade union movement before his departure, seems to have become a New Deal Democrat in the US, but played a key role in the Hungarian-American Counncil for Democracy, that is, working closely with Gellart and with that other  famed  antifascist Bela: Bela Bartok. As the rampage of Fascism threatened the world, from the middle 1930s onward, the “two Belas” could be counted upon for financial contributions and public appearances rallying the immigrant communities, in wartime to raise funds and support antifascism, in this case, Russian and Hungarian in particular.

Of all this, we see nothing in the comic.  Nor the ways in which the descending Cold War moods brought depression and a sense of panic among erstwhile antifacists. Hollywood, in Lugosi’s last years, was the home of the Blacklist. He escaped by not actually belonging to any Left organizations. Or perhaps because he was already too beaten to subpoena.

All that said, the personal drama of Lugosi’s life is well told here, and the drawing is impressive. Too much seems to be about the complicated romantic life, women won and lost, the over-extended ego that seemed to take over his creative power, with too little about the complications of his Hollywood career, let alone the unique artistry with which he approached his parts.

There goes a great star…

The Black Cat (1935), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, using a title from Edgar A. Poe’s work but bearing no other resemblance, was a masterpiece of horror and a brilliantly-wrought critique of the destruction brought upon humanity by the First World War. The two old military adverseries (the other is Boris Karloff) meet, and are seen with some of the staggeringly expessionist cinematography to that point in film-making anywhere. The subtle politics of the film are entirely lost to the comic artist, but the importance for Lugosi is clear. He was already a star, but now he became a super-star.

All too soon, the moment passed. By the time Robert Lees and his sreenwriting partner Fred Rinaldo delivered the script of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein to the studio in 1947 (sadly, Karloff had been replaced by Lon Chaney, Jr., and Lugosi is strictly camp), the cliches of monster films were already being turned inside out and played for laughs. Actually, with Bud and Lou offering up the best comedy around, Lugosi and Karloff were perfectly straight-faced and perfect.

But of course, this suggested a drift downward. Where to go from self-satire? Lugosi’s life was turning bad in every way. As depicted, he was addicted to drugs, unable to make a living or a personal appearance in Hollywood’s clubs and restaurants in the old way. He died too late, if earlier would have meant avoiding Ed Wood.

Paul Buhle

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Interview: Artist Matt MacFarland and ‘More Seasons of Gary’

A Comics Chat with Matt MacFarland

Matt MacFarland is a talented artist who makes some very intriguing comics. In this conversation, we discuss Matt’s latest work, a book focusing on his father, More Seasons of Gary, published by Zines and Things. You can read my review of it here. And we also discuss his series, Dark Pants, and get a sneak peek at the next, and perhaps final, issue to that series.

MORE SEASONS OF GARY

There is quite a lot going on in Matt’s work with its explorations of relationships and social commentary. More Seasons of Gary is a great jumping off point if you’re new to Matt’s work. It is a little master course in how to tell family stories. With a light and balanced approach, MacFarland addresses the issue of alcohol addiction that his father struggled with. Bittersweet remembrances provide a complex and fair portrait.

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE

Scenes from a Marriage is another of Matt’s projects and this one is just as offbeat and subversive as the best of MacFarland’s humor although it might look more like a conventional family comic strip at first glance. There’s definitely an elegant air of mischief. You can find some samples of it on Matt’s Instagram.

DARK PANTS

Dark Pants is where it all began. You can read one of my reviews covering the first two issues here. This is a series of cautionary tales about a supernatural pair of skinny black jeans that take over whoever ends up wearing the pair. Whoever wears the jeans is empowered to seek out their darkest desires. It is an excellent example of the artist-cartoonist aspiring to the highest levels of his craft. I look forward to more of this kind of this quirky and engaging work.

This is a really fun interview and I’m so glad I got a chance to catch up with Matt, a dedicated artist without a doubt. We even discuss the legacy of R. Crumb! Be sure to visit Matt here. And seek out More Seasons of Gary, published by Zines and Things.

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Paul Buhle on Comics: CRISIS ZONE by Simon Hanselmann

You’ve entered the Crisis Zone!

Simon Hanselmann, Crisis Zone. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2021. 287pp, $29.95

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

Crisis Zone depicts the catastrophe for our time, almost 300 pages of collective debacle for the crew of caricatured cute animals (and the classic witch) brought up to date.  They find themselves amid the crisis we now all seem to expect: an urban something causes all functions to break down, a sort of end of civilization as we know it. It might seem these animal-humans barely deserve to survive. They produce television shows, Youtube-style dramas, nearly all anal jokes in one sense or another, while they attempt to go on in the old ways of pointless consumption. A high point is reached when a distinctly human character appears, telling them he has tickets for Hamillton, the banality that currently passes for high culture.

Artist Simon Hanselmann escaped the ostensible eco-paradise of Tasmania, found to be boring, and intolerable with a troubled, single mother. Self-taught and obviously scorning the usual tricks of comic art, Hanselmann created a menagerie of characters engrossed in daily meandering; all in all, captivated by their own fascinations.

The most interesting part of this large-format, detail-heavy volume can be found in the last pages where Hanselman offers, in tiny hand-lettered detail, an overview of this particular comics process. Perhaps nothing so obsessive as this has ever been done in comic art?  It is a hugely curious accomplishment.

Paul Buhle

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Interview and Review: Bob McMahon and the Cookie & Broccoli series

Cookie & Broccoli Play it Cool!

What can be more opposite than a cookie and a broccoli? And yet these two are best friends in the world of Bob McMahon‘s imagination and the latest in his series, Cookie & Broccoli Play it Cool, published by Penguin Random House. Some of our best comics are for early readers and Bob is definitely onto something with this series geared to readers around 5 to 8-years-old. That said, the timing, humor and charm can be enjoyed by anyone. In this latest book, the subject of self-esteem is covered with great care and humor. No one said it would be easy to achieve being “cool.” This book gives young readers some essential insight without sounding preachy at all.

It’s not easy trying to be cool.

Bob McMahon has been in the illustration business for over 30 years and has the chops to provide the artistry, word play, and an overall sense of integrity needed to create something in the comics medium that can truly resonate with most readers. It’s an honor to get a chance to chat with him a bit about his career and this exciting ongoing series featuring a cookie and a broccoli just trying to figure it all out one step at a time.

Cookie & Broccoli Play it Cool is a perfect gift to pick up this holiday season! For more details and how to purchase, be sure to visit Penguin Random House.

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