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Comics Shop Focus: Orbital Comics in London, England

ORBITAL COMICS!

While they stock all kinds of comics, Orbital Comics in London has quite an impressive collection of small press comics. Will Humberstone, Orbital Comics indie comics expert, assisted me in tracking down some of the store’s best titles currently in stock. I include here all the titles that he suggested. While I was in the store, I was impressed with a very tidy and organized shop. I found an upbeat environment with first-rate customer service. By all means, while in London, do make sure to visit Orbital Comics! I begin with some photos of the shop. This includes staff members who worked on some of the titles reviewed here: Ryan Jenkyns on Forged #1, and Valentina Sannais on Starfall #1.

Orbital Comics

Orbital Comics

Orbital Comics

Orbital Comics

Ryan Jenkyns and Valentina Sannais

Small Press Reviews

Forged #1 by Michael Eckett and Ryan Jenkyns

Forged #1, written by Michael Eckett and illustrated by Ryan Jenkyns, is a sweet all-ages ongoing series that proves to be a rather nice showcase of talent. I can see big things ahead for this series mostly geared toward younger readers. A boy off on big adventures! Stay tuned.

Starfall #1 by Adam Blackhat and Valentina Sannais

Starfall #1, written by Adam Blackhat and illustrated by Valentina Sannais, is an action adventure story with quite a lot to unpack. It seems that we are picking up the story right in the middle of momentous events with characters dealing with a lot of issues. Oh, and they also happen to have superpowers! Much to enjoy here and we’re only getting started. Visit the webcomic here.

Barky and the Bootmaker by Jasmine Parker

Barky and the Bootmaker, by Jasmine Parker, raises the bar high as this is a professional illustrator so maybe it’s a little unfair for someone with finely-honed artistic chops to blast into the slower-paced world of indie comics–or is it? It’s debatable, I suppose, but I really truly favor those comics creators who do work hard at their craft, keep polishing it, and demand a high level of excellence in their work. And then you have to ask, When is a work too slick? Ah, now there’s the rub–when to know you’ve got just the right vibe in your comics! I guess you have to sniff it out. In this case, Ms. Parker does a fine job with a very silly story that will have the tikes rolling in the aisles.

The Blade of Arozone by J. Edward Scott

The Blade of Arozone, by J. Edward Scott, is one of those little books where maybe I’m just not connecting with it all the way even though I really want to. If you enjoy a bit of sword and sorcery, then this might work for you. I think the best thing going here is the artwork. There’s a lot of promise here. For such a short work, you need to wow your reader with something really tasty. Not too busy either. So, keep on truckin’ and really have fun. Maybe I’m not seeing quite enough fun in these opening pages while I do see that elsewhere from this artist online.

Stutter by Joe Stone

Stutter, by Joe Stone, almost lost me with the cover. But, once I leafed through it, I knew that here was a serious cartoonist that I would need to focus on and give him his due. I can see that care has been put into character development, composition and pacing. Yes, it is an autobiographical story about one man’s struggle with stuttering. It has a nice crisp clarity to it. The style is a confident clean line, a cartoony semi-realistic approach that a lot of cartoonists use today. Stone is among one of the better examples I’ve come across. It’s an impressive and sharp mini-comic.

Shivers in London, Part 1 by Niki S. Banados

Shivers in London, Part 1, by Niki S. Banados, is another all too brief work that leaves me wanting more. Again, lots of promise here just like in Mr. Scott’s The Blade of Arozone. The art does have a nice ethereal quality to it but I’d just have to see a lot more of it. If this is an opener meant to entice the reader, then I need more of a wow factor. That said, I’m intrigued and look forward to more.

Cat Disco by Rebecca K. Jones

Cat Disco, by Rebecca K. Jones, is a work that has come to the party prepared to rock out. Now, fair warning, Ms. Jones is a seasoned illustrator so she has a lot more toys to play with and a lot more experience. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun read or anyone interested in becoming a better cartoonist. This story is told with sly wit and great confidence. It’s not easy to pull off but this is the sort of work that can carry the reader away. It’s a story about a house cat who decides to take a walk on the wild side and see what the street cats do at night–and then it goes on to deliver! You too will believe that cats love to disco! Bravo!

Heads by Ed Stockham

Heads, by Ed Stockham, seemed at first glance to be one of those classic twee mini-comics that tries one’s patience. However, years of mini-comic reading have taught me to not rush to judgment. Now, the art is very simple and raw but there’s a confidence running throughout that won me over. I think Mr. Stockham’s work, based on this little book plus what I see on his website, has just the right combination of a good sense of timing, artistic sensibility, and joie de vivre.

Seller on the Threshold by Claude T.C.

Seller on the Threshold, by Claude T.C., is a masterful little work by someone who spends a lot of time drawing and loves it. I see here a wacky sense of humor and the creative discipline to back it up. Is this the work of an inspired amateur who works at a professional level? Or is this the work of a professional who works at the level of an inspired amateur? You see what I mean, don’t you?! It’s polished, but not so slick that the life has been sucked out of it. This is the good stuff.

Some Short Stories by Knifeson Yu

Some Short Stories, by Knifeson Yu, is a collection of light vignettes where very, very little happens. This is an all too brief wisp of a sampler. But I like the wee bits of teaser found here. Seems like the work of an animator who is happy to just dabble in comics for now. We shall see.

Cindy and Biscuit: Sundays by Dan White

Cindy and Biscuit: Sundays, by Dan White, is another impressive work by a professional illustrator. This is A-game work. The story is a lot of silly fun, reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes but very much its own thing. Cindy keeps seeing all sorts of amazing creatures and going off of all these larger-than-life adventures. Okay, maybe it’s a lot like Calvin Hobbes but it’s still very much its own thing! Five stars and lots of glitter!

Endswell by Peter Morey

Endswell, by Peter Morey, pay perhaps be the most ambitious work of the whole lot here in its own way. I mean, it has an ambiguous and quirky cover. You can only hazard a guess as to what it’s about. And, even once in, you don’t know for sure where it’s heading but you’re hooked. The opening pages have that ideal crisp and clear quality that is so crucial to bring the reader in. The characters are really saying things that are interesting and advancing the plot. You know the main character has got some problems and he’s taking part in some sort of therapy, whether he really wants to or not. All very intriguing. This gets an A-plus and whatever else I can say that is upbeat and supportive. Seriously, really good stuff!

Archie vs. Orbital by Joe Jinks and Will Humberstone

Archie vs. Orbital, art by Joe Jinks and script by Will Humberstone, is a fun little book that pits the Archie gang against the Orbital Comics staff! This is lighthearted fun as you might expect. That said, it is far more involved than you might expect too! The pacing is spot on and it has a tasty factor about it. Archie and the gang are not very nice in this comic. Think horror, scary horror. I recommend you pick it up.

Orbital Comics

When in London, visit Orbital Comics!

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Review: Ben Katchor: Conversations (Conversations with Comic Artists Series)

Ben Katchor: Conversations (Conversations with Comic Artists Series)

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

Ben Katchor: Conversations. Edited by Ian Gordon. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2019. 220pp, $25 paperback.

The scholarship of comic art is booming, so far as “booming” means well-attended university classes on comics and the identification of icons among the artists, a la literary theory and teaching. This is not an altogether agreeable development for understanding the history of comic art, first of all because the iconic identification tends to push at least 95% of the artists into the background, also because the background itself, the historical context, can slip dangerously away. Never mind: we take what we can get, often tasty and nourishing tid-bits of a larger, still mostly hidden history.

Katchor is definitely sui genesis, a considerable thinker, In a field where better- and lesser-known artists are inclined to explain themselves through their drawing, and when pushed, to talk about their lives or their own work rather than the comic art of the age, let alone comic history, he is rare. Is it perhaps his being personally soaked in the history of diasporic Jewry, of which his Yiddish-speaking father, survivor of the Holocaust, was a prime example? Or just as likely the boyhood in Brooklyn that he talks about, the now-vanished world of mulit-purpose candy and cigar shops with racks of dime comics?

Whatever the case, Katchor has often said that he identifies not at all with the mainstream Superhero genres and lost interest in them fairly early. He explains that he owes more to his experience in the small-scale, typesetting experience in New York of the 1970s, in another world that has faded so completely that it seems archaic as the once-booming garment trade in downtown Manhattan. This experience offered him, we can guess, a way to orient himself toward the physical presence of older buildings, neighborhood vernaculars of older people in particular, things to keep in memory and rework in his art. His maiden voyage into the book world. Julius Knipl—begun as a newspaper strip in 1988—is a tour through an imagined but not wholly imagined city, reality stretched out and reworked in art and dialogue.

The source of this volume is another key because Katchor was serializing, in at least a few of the alternative weeklies and then more and more. He sometimes shared a page with Lynda Barry (recent MacArthur winner) or the later best-selling Alison Bechdel.  He had the steadiness of a schedule to meet, ideas to cook up with art.

Toward the end of the old century, he had a regular gig at a prestige architectural magazine, Metropolis, and he began his long stint of teaching. Within the classroom, he made yet more important observations. His students, uninterested in the Art Speculation market of gallery painting, were more interested in “comics” but not necessarily like any comic art yet in existence. They were entering a phase of publishing and self-publishing, with scant chance of making real money or even having much distribution, but ample opportunity to find themselves within their work.

His own work is so unique,  in a way cut off from the history of comics, newspaper comic strips as well as comic books, and yet it is impossible to look at any of his books—Hand-Drying in America, and other Stories is his most recent, until The Dairy Restaurant appears next Spring—and not see the kernel of comic art in what he prefers to call “picture stories.”  The German word Bildergeschichte, “combining pictures and stories” (p.77) is certainly workable, but to that general definition Katchor adds the unique notion “autographic writing,” a literary-visual tradition with the very handwriting of the artist inscribed in the work. Lynda Barry has often made a similar point about young fingers getting ready to draw anything: drawing is an extension of drawing around the fingers.

There is another angle of Katchor that I wish to pursue. Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium (2004) edited by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, offered a history of sorts, of criticism if not scholarship of comics. Its publisher, the University Press of Mississippi thereby made itself an early claim on scholarship in the field at large, and has continued to be one of the leading scholarly publishers on comic art. As in the title of the Heer-Worcester anthology, comics were for past generations seen as  a form of literature. To my mind, Katchor seems to defy rather than accept a “literary” slot for the drawing of a certain kind of comic, but then again, perhaps not.

It is memorable that Gilbert Seldes, whose Seven Lively Arts (1924) offered the first major defense of the popular culture distrusted when not ignored in the genteel culture of the day,  was also the first to point out that comics were actually destined to be “despised” in extremis.  Their very popularity among the unwashed and barely literate classes of Americans naturally placed comics at the bottom of the bin, most obviously with the most vulgar of pulp productions, i.e.,  pornography. They were wicked, corrupting literature.

(Not that this association was entirely mistaken. The comic book industry giants arising in the ‘thirties had indeed dabbled in pornography, and the “Tijuana Bibles” had a long and fruitful run until the breakdown of censorship rendered irrelevant.)

The quiet move from genteel rejection to ambivalence and a sort of acceptance tracks with the Depression years to the War years, most notably the Cold War to follow, and the post-Vietnam rethink of American culture at large. As Heer and Worcester note in their introduction to their volume, the largely aesthete Partisan Review, refining its cultural views while moving politically from an anti-capitalist perspective to a ferocious Cold War liberalism, already precipitated  by the later 1950s a degree of discomfort.  What was wrong here? The complaints against “conformity,” directed against popular culture as much as the manners and morals of suburbia, seemed to apply also to intellectuals steadily making their way upward in the expanding college scene.

Or perhaps it was a professorial search for newer subjects, newer angles of vision likely to be interesting to undergraduates and the publishers of high quality paperbacks. More interesting critics and mostly younger critics, in any case, began to look in new directions. They were for the moment swimming against the tide washing over the New York Times as well as the literary magazines.

Someone described Robert Warshow, a favorite writer of the PR and surrounding circles, as possessing a 1950s view of movies and comics much the same as the cop in his cruiser, assigned to policing the ghetto, “understands” the dangerous neighborhood. The “Free Enterprise art” (in Henry Luce’s memorable phrase) of the high culture alternative seemed to repudiate, in one fell swoop, the Popular Front art of the New Deal era, anti-fascist Hollywood, the WPA-funded post office murals and the 1930s-40s literature of social struggles. Not that all of the painter-abstractionists, by any means, agreed with existing Cold War politics. Some were committed anti-capitalists and a few, following Picasso, even remained Communists! But the trope held fast until—it broke.

After Vietnam,  even during the later years of the invasion and mass bombing of Southeast Asia, the older assumptions of Cold War liberalism, artistic quite as much as political could not be sustained. Surely nothing repudiated these assumptions quite as drastically as the Underground Comix, arising out of the equally rebellious Underground Press. Ferociously antiwar (if also, at times, noxiously sexist) and even ecological,  their very presence inspired youngish men and women to experiment with the familiar “vulgar,” genre, seeking to reinvent what a comic could be.

The underground generation and a somewhat younger cohort would create the feminist comic, rediscover the “wordless comic” (of the classic 1920s-30s woodcuts, along with older versions) and in Raw magazine, show proof that global art, global audiences had come to a new stage of defining comics, and just in time. Comics no longer occupied the center of attention in a newspaper trade that was dying, anyway. That painting genre that meanwhile survived and even flourished among the investors’ set actually disguised an important positive kernel: figurative art had made a comeback. Alice Neel an elderly leftwing counterpart, in her way, to the most artistic-minded of the younger comic artists, could stand for the ongoing artistic rebellion. Neel, too, Went Naked.

Here we may return comfortably to Ben Katchor, The lush color pages of Hand-Drying in America seemed to bring out something never hidden but never quite fully expressed in his previous work. He would say afterward that the imaginative depictions of an early Manhattan (and fictional offshoots, the re-imagined favorite vacation spots of lower middle class Jews generations ago), along with the inhabitants and their language, were in fact his own dreamscape. Hope is not quite lost, in the troubled real world around us, because anything is possible for the dreamer. “No one,” he commented to a critic after the volume was published, “has yet seen these strips as a dream critique of the waking world.” We could fairly call this observation “surrealist,” but in spite of a fondness for elements of the vernacular, surrealists were largely caught within a set of assumptions about what is revolutionary or not. Katchor evades the distinctions.

He does, however, share the harsh criticism of capitalism that marked the surrealists, now so many artistic generations ago.  He is not and cannot be a literalist in his work, but he has become an insightful as well as a ferocious observer about the direction the system is taking us.  Occupy Wall Street, centered in the very neighborhood where he practiced the small business of the typesetter, seems to have loosed something in his mind, awaiting a spark. And then there’s repression. “I feel like we’re replaying World War I, with the Espionage Act being revived and journalists being threatened for merely doing their jobs,” he tells an interviewer. “And on top of that, the ecosystem is collapsing. It’s a nightmare…”

He adds, in a note to the reviewer, that Julius Knipl was, after all, a critique of the world, “aligned with those people who were unhappy to see the gentrification” of yesterday’s New York, with the end of the street and cafe life that made it so interesting.  If his fellow art school students of the 1970s saw making comics a form of professional suicide, Katchor saw this as a political act. He quotes the formidable art critic Meyer Schapiro, writing under a pseudonym in the New Masses of the early 1930s on an art exhibit of the John Reed Clubs, as insisting that a good revolutionary picture “is not necessarily a cartoon, but it should have the legibility and pointedness of a cartoon, and like the cartoon it should reach the great masses of workers at little expense.”

Too soon, the John Reed Clubs were folded into the American Writers Congress and once again, the famed novelists drawn to anti-fascist politics were exalted, with their prestige and style far from comics (that the last phase of the Writers Congress, in Hollywood, would highlight scriptwriting for Hollywood is another contradiction too distant for consideration here). The Daily Worker itself had a couple of excellent comic strips for some years. It cannot be said that they were taken seriously as an art form.

Now, perhaps, after all this time, including the rise and fall of the wildly explosive and critical EC comics, followed by the rise and fall of the underground comix genre,  something is on the way again. If it happens, if it is actually happening, we can thank Ben Katchor for his insights as well as his own artistic contributions. He’s a deep thinker of a genre that has few, indeed.

Paul Buhle is actively producing radical comics.

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Comics Grinder Video Review Recap: The Otaku Box and Current Hot Titles including Little Bird, The Wrong Earth, and Invisible Kingdom

A recap of current cool stuff, posted 13 March 2019

When people find out that I’m a cartoonist and especially that I write about comics and pop culture, the first question that is asked is, What do you recommend? Here are some answers. Over the weekend, as I escaped the heat, I decided to make a dent in my already unwieldy stack of review material. In the video below, we take a look at The Otaku Box, a new crate box service focusing on anime and manga plus a recap on some current hot comics titles: Invisible Kingdom, Little Bird, Captain America, Man and Superman, and The Wrong Earth.

I hope you enjoy this video and I invite you to like, comment, and subscribe to my evolving YouTube channel. I feel pretty good about it and any additional motivation from you folks is always appreciated. I will continue to add videos as time permits.

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Ten Favorite Comics Published in 2018

THE BEST COMICS OF 2018

The Comics Journal is an essential source for reporting on and discussing the comics scene. I am honored to be included in its annual Best of The Year in Comics feature. You can see my list highlighted below. And you will be amazed at the vast selection of suggested reading from various notable critics, creators and publishers. Take a look at this year’s Comics Journal feature right here.

Amongst the Liberal Elite by Elly Lonon and Joan Reilly

1. AMONGST THE LIBERAL ELITE  by Elly Lonon and Joan Reilly (Powerhouse Books)

To be able to take a popular column made up of clever repartee and turn it into a graphic novel is quite remarkable.

Prism Stalker by Sloane Leong

2. PRISM STALKER by Sloane Leong (Image)

For a comics critic who also both writes and draws comics, I am confident in sharing with you what sets Ms. Leong apart. If the cartoonist is particularly driven, the transition can be made from bohemian poet to career path. In this ideal case, the work retains that same idiosyncratic vibe and integrity.

Berlin by Jason Lutes

3. BERLIN by Jason Lutes (D&Q)

This is the omnibus we’ve been waiting for, the complete Berlin! It has been twenty years in the making and looks wonderful all in one place.

Art Comic by Matthew Thurber

4. ART COMIC by Matthew Thurber (D&Q)

Mr. Thurber actually works out his satirical narrative to such a precise degree that it reaches a peak of whimsical perfection.

Windowpane by Joe Kessler

5. WINDOWPANE by Joe Kessler (Breakdown)

In a fit of petulant bravado, Mr. Kessler will take a gob of primary colors and fling them like a bolt of lightning. A blast of these harsh basic colors will blow up some characters to bits. Others will be saved for a proper decapitation. All in a day’s work.

The Furnace by Prentis Rollins

6. THE FURNACE by Prentis Rollins (Tor Books)

This work does indeed compare favorably with the best of the original Twilight Zone. That’s a tall order but this is an exceptionally unique work. I don’t take such comparisons lightly and I have no problem striking down false claims that occur quite often. So, yes, this is the real deal with its finely modulated pace and attention to detail.

M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder

7. M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder (Insight Comics)

This is one of the most unusual and mysterious comics I’ve ever read.

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris by Bessora and Barroux

8. ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux (Bellevue Literary Press)

Alpha, our main character, while symbolic of all immigrants struggling against the odds, readily engages the reader with his own set of specifics. In this way, the creative team truly gives a face to a problem demanding our attention.

The Dead Eye and The Deep Blue Sea by Vannak Anan Prum

9. THE DEAD EYE AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Vannak Anan Prum (Seven Stories)

There are more slaves today, well over 40 million, than at any time in human history. A new book, a graphic memoir, by Vannak Anan Prum provides a most vivid and compelling testimony.

The Winner by Karl Stevens

10. THE WINNER by Karl Stevens (Retrofit)

Mr. Stevens is engaging in the fine old tradition of presenting a portrait of the artist and having the reader take of it what they will. In this case, there is much to take and much to celebrate.

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Henry Chamberlain’s Campaign To Support A Comics Reviewer and Creator

From Henry Chamberlain's "Ballard Comics"

From Henry Chamberlain’s “Ballard Comics”

I am heading out to Comic-Con International in San Diego this year and this is the year that we take things to a new level. With your support, we can do some exciting new things here at Comics Grinder and beyond. You can check out the new campaign, “Support A Comics Reviewer and Creator,” over at GoFundMe right here.

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The Geekie Awards and Comics Grinder

The-Geekie-Awards

Comics Grinder has submitted its entry in the Best Website/Blog category for this year’s THE GEEKIE AWARDS. Check it out right here.

We work best when we work together and support each other. That’s what The Geekie Awards are all about. I invite my readers to celebrate this move forward and feel free to join in support of Comics Grinder.

THINGS YOU CAN DO:

LIKE the Comics Grinder Facebook Page here.

LIKE the Comics Grinder page at The Geekie Awards here.

LIKE my entry in the Comics/Graphic Novel category here.

The Geekie Awards celebrate excellence in various fields of geeky activity. It’s a way to shine a spotlight on some of the best pop culture out there. Here’s The Geekie Awards mission statement:

The Geekie Awards® is an award show by geeks for geeks™, aimed at putting the true geek culture in the spotlight as a collection of valid, respected, award- winning genres for storytelling and creation. In an industry filled with award shows for established celebrities, we honor talented, independent creators and give them the opportunity to receive recognition in front of a worldwide audience and leaders in their respective industries. We inspire creativity and hope and foster cross-market innovation. Our mission is to create a fun, action-packed, unforgettable broadcast event tailored to all of the things we geeks love: entertainment, gaming, products and art—delivered via the latest digital technologies.

Pretty awesome. You can enter yourself or just find out more by visiting our friends at The Geekie Awards right here.

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COMICS GRINDER DEFINED

Comics Grinder

/ˈkämiks

ˈgrīndər/  noun.  A device used primarily to grind high and low culture to create curious miscellany including comics.

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