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Review: COSPLAYERS by Dash Shaw

COSPLAYERS by Dash Shaw

COSPLAYERS by Dash Shaw

Dash Shaw‘s work keeps moving the ball forward regarding comics as an art form. With his new graphic novel, “Cosplayers,” Shaw provides us with a delightful look at the clash between the real and the unreal. The book promises to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the world of cosplay. Ostensibly, this is a collection of stories that add up to a tableaux of geek life. All that can be taken with a grain of salt. A hallmark of Shaw’s work is that he keeps you on your toes wondering about everything: the characters, the plot, the theme, the comics medium.

Meet Verti and Annie. They are taking a year off between graduating high school and going off to college. During that year, they just want to do what they want to do which involves cosplay and making videos. Annie is white. Verti is black. Both girls see themselves as unconventional in every way: looks, goals, and attitude. Shaw wants you to know that these two are a couple of misfits. But you are not supposed to know too much about Annie and Verti beyond the basic fact that they’re callow and bratty. Shaw’s aim is to provide you with two main characters that are disconnected from everything, including the reader.

Annie and Verti ask that you keep your distance.

Annie and Verti ask that you keep your distance.

Shaw is one of our more intellectual cartoonists, always looking for a tripwire to the narrative flow. So, don’t expect him to provide a straightforward guide to the world of fandom and cosplay. He is mostly interested in playing with characters from one scene to the next and more evoking a way of life than following a story’s arc or presenting specific information. When he does focus on a character’s feelings it can fall a little flat, as when Verti is remorseful for the way she and Annie have been pranking people. That said, for the sake of balance, that is a pivotal moment since Annie has a high tolerance for being hateful.

Channeling Osamu Tezuka

Channeling Osamu Tezuka

But you’re not supposed to get too close to Annie or Verti–or any of these characters, right? Just when you think you might have found a sympathetic character who you can trust, Shaw will yank you awake. You’re getting soft on Baxter, the expert on Osamu Tezuka? Well, think again, he’s a fool! Now, hold on, you think the kind and gentle comic book store owner is someone to put on a pedestal? Nope, you can knock that pedestal to the ground. After this comic book nerd gives Annie some of his most prized comics, she goes home and cuts them up to shreds. Ouch, how’s that for a wake-up call?

In the spirit of French new wave cinema, led by the work of Jean-Luc Godard, you can see this comic as a ship of fools out to sea. Each character has their own agenda, their own axe to grind, but no one really seems to know what they’re doing. With these lost souls engaging in the make-believe world of cosplay, Shaw has set up a perfect vehicle to explore issues of identity and self-empowerment. By initially coming across as presenting a random set of acts (Annie and Verti engaged in endless video pranks) Shaw lures us into a deeper exploration. It all adds up to something quite fascinating, with a French vibe.

“Cosplayers” is a 116-page full color hardcover, published by Fantagraphics Books. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comic-Con, Comics, Cosplay, Dash Shaw, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Humor, Osamu Tezuka, Satire

Review: LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

Julia Gfrörer‘s ethereal comics are a perfect counterbalance to our world of memes and jittery nonsense. There are certainly a number of notable artists and writers who have carved out for themselves an intriguing landscape, an answer or a retreat from the everyday. Julia Gfrörer is one such person. What she does astonishes and resonates: those blank stares from eyes without pupils; all the delicious longing and despair; and that distinctive haunting feeling running throughout. Well, if you dig that, then you are going to be head over heels for her latest work, “Laid Waste,” published by Fantagraphics Books.

Like many a great cartoonist, Gfrörer takes what she does seriously, takes it to heart. I dare say that we see her inhabit her own comics more often than not. And that’s perfectly fine. When one undertakes a longer work, even a short piece, one needs to establish some hooks. Nothing is more natural than to include one’s self. So, that said, I suspect that Gfrörer is Agnès, our main character, a young woman at odds with circumstance and fate. She is in a medieval hamlet as she watches everyone around her succumb to the plague. She has supernatural powers but seems at a loss as to what to do with them.

Panels from LAID WASTE

Panels from LAID WASTE

Gfrörer has established herself over a relatively short time as a masterful storyteller with a distinctive gothic style. I have followed her work with great admiration. She is following in the footsteps of a select group of cartoonists with similar sensibilities. Edward Gorey comes to mind. A contemporary for Gfrörer would be the equally bookish visionary, Kate Beaton.

Along with a gothic vision, Gfrörer is quick to emphasize the theme of pain. In her new book, Agnès suffers greatly. She only sees gloom ahead. Only a brief sexual respite provides some relief. It is one of the more compelling unions I’ve seen in a good while. It is not explicit, per se. We only see the tip of a penis. There is room to explore and she strikes the right balance: a heady mix of passion and angst. For that moment, all the surrounding darkness can just go to hell. Afterwards, once alone again, the pain returns.

This book has been categorized as a “graphic novella.” Sure, you can call it that. The page count of about 80 pages would safely keep it within the range of a proper “graphic novel,” especially by European standards. What takes place within this story might have it qualify more as a vignette than a full-bodied narrative. It is certainly possible to pull together decades of activity, bring in generations of characters, from far-flung locales–all within 80 pages–and have that more in line with the idea of a graphic novel. In the case of this story, we are concentrating on a very special character with remarkable traits in a severe and desolate place with questions of life and death before her. Sounds like a great story no matter what category you place it in. For my money, go ahead and call it a graphic novel, for God’s sake.

Page from LAID WASTE

Page from LAID WASTE

Julia Gfrörer has poised Agnès, who I am suggesting is her alter-ego, in the position of a saint, or at least a heroine. It’s a gutsy move. But the risk is worth taking. As a cartoonist myself, I can fully appreciate the desire to take control of the hero’s journey. Let the cartoonist be the hero! Why not? I see it as a totally organic process. If it works, you go with it. In this story, while seeming to be modest in scope, we find a main character engaged in a full arc of growth. It is, at times cryptic, and, to be sure, heroic.

There is a relentless energy to Gfrörer’s light line work. It is delicate, determined and well-balanced. She keeps to a steady pace. She aspires to poetic heights and reaches them. The narrative does well within a four panel grid per page. This consistent framework complements the story and has a way of catching subtle shifts. There are moments like an abrupt appearance by Death that get a extra magical pop from taking place within this four panel system that can act as a stage. Gfrörer’s work can be called dramatic but it is never merely theatrical. That said, I would surely welcome a play, or maybe a set design, by Julia Gfrörer.

“Laid Waste” is an 80-page trade paperback, published by Fantagraphics Books, available as of November 1st. You can pre-order now at Fantagraphics Books right here. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Julia Gfrörer

Review: THE COMPLETE WIMMEN’S COMIX

The Complete Wimmen's Comix

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix

The sexual revolution. The war between the sexes. Just plain sex. It can get complicated, confusing, messy. In 1968, Robert Crumb and his merry men staked their claim to uninhibited expression in underground comix. Yeah, these guys had a few things to say. From their point of view, the establishment was totally out of whack and they had the antidote. Crumb would show us all, in his opinion, just how wild the id could run, no matter how offensive. A couple of years later, along comes Trina Robbins with another view, the view of the opposite sex, which proved a great counterbalance and reality check. For the first time, this groundbreaking work, from 1972 to 1992, is collected in “The Complete Wimmen’s Comix,” published by Fantagraphics Books.

The Complete Wimmen's Comix, published by Fantagraphics Books

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix, published by Fantagraphics Books

The topic of sex is endlessly fascinating, to be sure. What men like Robert Crumb seemed to envision was a “telling it like it is” approach. In similar fashion, Trina Robbins and her female compatriots were showing sex and related themes from a very different point of view, that of the opposite sex. Yes, there was more than one point of view! Who knew, right? Issues of abortion, male performance, and abandonment, had a voice within the pages of Wimmen’s Comix. While the groovy hippie guys may have thought they had it figured out, cartoonists like Lee Marrs demonstrated with great humor and insight that the groovy guys were just as likely to be ugly pigs as their buttoned-down mainstream male counterparts.

"All in a Day's Work" by Lee Marrs, 1972

“All in a Day’s Work” by Lee Marrs, 1972

From the first issue of Wimmen’s Comix, in 1972, there is “All in a Day’s Work” by Lee Marrs. A young woman enters the work force to find herself fending off abusive male co-workers and bosses. When she quits and starts a job at a co-op, the men turn out to be just as abusive. A few more twists and turns and the main character, an alter ego for Marrs, stands naked pleading, “What Can I Do?” In a piece nearly twenty years later, entitled, “Men & Women,” by Roberta Gregory, she sees a systemic problem. Gregory sees leading policy makers, both male and female, pollute the air with their own misinformation about men and women.

Roberta Gregory

“Men & Women” by Roberta Gregory, 1990

As Trina Robbins states in her introduction, the level of quality of comix from women steadily increased with the years. At first, there were only a few women cartoonists. Then, after the hiatus and subsequent return of the magazine in the ’80s, there were plenty of women cartoonists. And, now, it is a whole new world with more women cartoonists that ever before.

"Evolution" by Caryn Leschen, 1989

“Evolution” by Caryn Leschen, 1989

The roster of talent is breathtaking: Phoebe Gloeckner, Lynda Barry, Julie Doucet, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Caryn Leschen, Joyce Farmer, Alison Bechdel, Carol Tyler, Mary Fleener, and many more. In the end, these are great comics but they are also presenting a distinctive feminine viewpoint which makes all the difference. This collection is a must-read for students of the counterculture, women’s studies, and fans of great comix. It is a time capsule as well as a tribute to vital comics that retain their punch and relevance today.

"Mom Gets Sick" by Trina Robbins, 1991

“Mom Gets Sick” by Trina Robbins, 1991

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix is a two volume hardcover set, totaling 728 pages, black & white with some full color pages. For details, and how to purchase, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Fantagraphics Books, Sex, trina robbins, Women

LA Journal: Meltdown Comics & Collectibles

One thing I love in this life is an awesome comic book shop. Such is the case with Meltdown Comics & Collectibles. On the Sunset Strip, this is the place you want to make time for during a visit to Los Angeles. And, if you’re a native, then you likely know what I’m talking about. Okay, let’s say you’re a tourist and you have your list of places to go to while in LA, well, I am here to tell you that Meltdown is a landmark you’ll want to hit.

MELTDOWN 7522 Sunset Blvd

MELTDOWN 7522 Sunset Blvd

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was at Meltdown to promote my own ongoing comics series, GEORGE’S RUN, about the life and times of screenwriter George Clayton Johnson. However, as my regular readers know, and those of us in the industry fully appreciate, this is a labor of love, very interconnected, so I’m there just as much to embrace the scene and my fellow creators. Stay tuned because I will be posting reviews of some awesome comics that I picked up during my visit. If you are a creator, be sure to contact me about reviewing your work. For this post, I am providing you with a little guided tour that will whet your appetite.

ZINES & MINICOMICS

ZINES & MINICOMICS

As you can see from the photos and video, Meltdown is a fully stocked, and fully loved, place for comics and related items. Keep in mind, for those of you still unsure, that comics are not only part of the zeitgeist. Comics are definitely an art form in their own right. That’s been said many times and bears repeating. Comics provide an outlet, a platform, that is a highly specific form of expression. It attracts many stripes of folk including some of the brightest and whipsmart. The word “comics” means many things and, no doubt, is inextricably linked to the world of comedy, even when it’s far from funny. It’s no surprise then that the likes of comedy genius Patton Oswalt cannot help but love comics and write for comics too.

STAFF PICKS

STAFF PICKS

The day I made my visit, a special Bernie Sanders event was being set up. There are all kinds of cool things going on here from music to comedy. And, of course, there are all sorts of special comics events. The next big one is a March 18th signing by Daniel Clowes in support of his latest masterpiece, “Patience,” published by Fantagraphics Books.

MIKE LE'S OPEN IP WALL

MIKE LE’S OPEN IP WALL

Here’s the deal, there is not, or should not be, a great divide between indie/alt comics and superhero comics. That’s a given for a lot of us. But it’s one of those things I feel compelled to repeat as often as necessary. I want readers out there who have not been around comics for a while to come back and see what’s been brewing. That just instantly comes to mind when I’m in such a fine place as Meltdown. The love and the knowledge is clearly here, each member of the staff is carrying the torch. You see it in the careful and thoughtful displays and staff picks. What Amoeba Music is to music, Meltdown is to comics. I rest my case. So, be sure to visit our dear friends at Meltdown right here.

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Filed under Comics, Daniel Clowes, Fantagraphics Books, LA Journal, Los Angeles, Media, Meltdown Comics, Patton Oswalt, pop culture

Review: ‘Fante Bukowski’ by Noah Van Sciver

Fante-Bukowski-Noah-Van-Sciver

I’d been meaning to read Noah Van Sciver’s latest graphic novel, “Fante Bukowski,” and I guess I was waiting for a good time to do it. I thought I had it figured out: a silly little satire about a ne’er-do-well. It is that, in a nutshell. But, after reading it, I wasn’t totally sure of what to say about it. Well, actually, I had some idea. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Steve Martin in his film debut, 1979’s “The Jerk.” It is both subversively offbeat and totally hilarious.

“Fante Bukowski,” is worthy of your attention in all its irreverent splendor. Part of the humor is that it is quite obvious that Van Sciver has no real axe to grind within the literary community and yet he seems to manage to provide some quite effective biting satire. The bite is not aimed at anyone in particular. It’s more like the Marx Brothers poking fun at the absurdity of life in general. And, it’s safe to say that the pomposity and pretentiousness that Groucho ridiculed a century ago has not changed much for Millennials.

And lest you think this book has anything meaningful to say about Charles Bukowski, think again! Our main character decided to have his name legally changed from Kelly Perkins to Fante Bukowski to honor his childhood idol. It’s, by far, the saddest thing, Audrey, another unpromising writer, has ever heard! Fante meets, or stumbles upon, Audrey during a reading Fante gives of an incredibly brief and ill-conceived bit of his so-called poetry. It is Fante’s dumb luck that Audrey finds him attractive and decides to spend the night with him. To her dismay, she discovers that Fante slaves away on an actual typewriter.

While Van Sciver seems to favor light humor, it also seems that he doesn’t suffer fools lightly either. The following scene can’t help but sound familiar to many an aspiring writer: there is much chit chat over a certain literary magazine at a party and it results in Fante pleading with the editor for the chance to submit some work. After some back and forth, the editor accepts Fante’s half-baked drivel. After more small talk, Fante asks how big the magazine’s circulation is. The editor, without a hint of irony, says it’s a dozen. Brilliant. That, and the fact that Fante is obsessed with using a typewriter does seem to say something about a new generation allowing itself to walk into walls it could have easily avoided.

Van Sciver’s latest subject, and what he does with it, is a prime example of a cartoonist who understands why he keeps going back to his drawing board to toil away. He has made certain choices like keeping the artwork within reasonable limits and cranking the humor just right. This is all in the service of telling the tale of a terribly delusional young man. It’s an absurd story. When it’s all said and done, it is a silly satire about a ne’er-do-well. But it’s an impressive silly little satire too.

Fante Bukowski

“Fante Bukowski” is an 80-page trade paperback published by Fantagraphics Books. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

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

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery Celebrates 9th Anniversary: Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and More! Dec 12-13, 2015

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, in Seattle, celebrates its 9th anniversary in wild style with the Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and more! A festive holiday gala takes place Saturday, December 12, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM marking the debut of Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me featuring a fabulous show of tributes to the alluring art of the late Vaughn Bodé and a rare reunion of his extended family.

Big-Book-of-Me-Vaughn-Bode

The very first comic strip of Cheech the Wizard was drawn by Vaughn Bodé on a series of notebook pages in 1957. As the legend goes, the famous underground character came to Bodé as he contemplated a can of chee-chee nuts. Cheech the Wizard would go on to become a big player in underground comix celebrating sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. He was a Pogo for a mature audience with a similar whimsical quality masking a subversive humor. Which leads us to Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me which collects the best work of Vaughn Bodé along with a cavalcade of extras. The forward is by his son, Mark, who has carried on the tradition with his own take on Cheech and his pals.

Laura Knetzger

And if the holiday gala weren’t enough on Saturday, you are welcome to return on Sunday for a book release party for Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys Volume I. That takes place from 1:00 to 3:00 PM.

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is located in Georgetown at 1201 S. Vale St. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Fantagraphics Books, Laura Knetzger, The Sixties, Underground Comics, Vaughn Bodē

Review: ‘Arsene Schrauwen’ by Olivier Schrauwen

Arsene Schrauwen Fantagraphics

What if I told you that there was this one graphic novel that seemed to slip by many a reviewer’s radar last year and it turns out to be one of the most beguiling works in years? Here it is, “Arsene Schrauwen” by Olivier Schrauwen, translated from the original Flemish and published by Fantagraphics Books.

We begin with the author, Olivier Schrauwen, introducing himself byway of his connection to his grandfather. And we are soon on a boat in December of 1947 as Arsene Schrauwen leaves behind his homeland of Belgium on his way to a tropical colony. Once there, Arsene is at the mercy of the hospitality of his eccentric cousin, Roger Desmet.

Arsene meets his cousin, Roger!

Arsene meets his cousin, Roger!

Arsene is far from a dashing figure. He looks to be in pudgy middle-age although he is actually still in his twenties. Arsene looks like your typical Chris Ware character: remarkable for being unremarkable. Arsene is all banality, a portrait of grotesque pathos. He falls in love with Marieke, Roger’s wife, also a poster child for sad people. And it all works splendidly since, again like Chris Ware, we have here a multi-layered narrative employing an assortment of visual treats.

This graphic novel brings to my mind Werner Herzog’s film, “Fitzcarraldo,” about a crazed man’s dream to build an opera house in the Peruvian jungle. As it turns out, Desmet gets Arsene caught up in his dream of building a shining city in the jungle that will require a caravan of workers navigating through rugged terrain that includes a roaring stream which ultimately leads to a valley situated between mountains.

Lippens and his obscenely thick lips.

Lippens and his obscenely thick lips.

Schrauwen appreciates that, if you can legitimately hold the reader’s attention, time and space recede into the background. In this way, Schrauwen can indulge in such involved scenes as, Lippens, a strange old man with thick lips who leaves Arsene feeling uneasy. As he does with other characters, Schrauwen reduces Lippens down to a cylindrical face with only thick lips. Schrauwen deftly focuses on what matters, blurring backgrounds and reducing people to basic shapes as needed.

Perhaps Marieke will save Arsene.

Perhaps Marieke will save Arsene.

With Schrauwen, you have definitely entered into an ideal example of the often cryptic and fascinating world of alternative comics. The air is thin at times in this rarefied environment. At intervals, you’ll get a notice requesting that you please wait a week before reading further. The very next page thanks you for waiting. But you cannot stop reading.

You read on about the constant threat of “elephant worms” that give Arsene nightmares about tiny elephants entering his body. Ostrich eggs appear regularly as you see Arsene preparing them for breakfast just as often as he’s throwing them against a wall. And then there’s the leopard men with insatiable sexual desires. Indeed. This is a tour de force of weird fiction full of the fantastical and an unabashed celebration of the human psyche and all bodily functions.

For a graphic novel weighing in at 257 pages, it makes sense to bring in some anchoring devices to keep things on track for the long haul. Schrauwen manages to keep to a steady pace by framing much of the story in a grid-like pattern: most pages hold six panels that oddly resemble playing cards. Ornate details are kept to a minimum. And we get a consistent pitter-patter of our many characters, much like you’d find in a classic comic strip or a silent movie. Arsene, after all, is supposed to be an enigmatic creature from a bygone era. It is in this story that, for a relatively brief time, you get to see him in all his glory, among the shadows and the ghosts, in his true element.

“Arsene Schrauwen” is a 257-page trade paperback. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Filed under Comics, European Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Interview: Cartoonist Tom Van Deusen and working with Dennis Eichborn

Real Good Stuff #1

Real Good Stuff #1

Tom Van Deusen is a cartoonist based in Seattle who, along with several other cartoonists, started up the quarterly comics newspaper, Intruder. His work includes the comics, “Eat Eat Eat,” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” He was instrumental in bringing back the comics anthology work associated with writer Dennis Eichhorn and “Real Stuff.” Tom’s Poochie Press brought out two issues of “Real Good Stuff.” Subsequently, Last Gasp published, “Extra Good Stuff.” This was an opportunity to revisit previous collaborations as well as new ones between Mr. Eichborn and cartoonists.

Real Good Stuff #2

Real Good Stuff #2

Dennis P. Eichhorn died October 8, 2015. He was one of the autobio genre’s best-known luminaries. Once nominated for three Eisner Awards for his work in Real Stuff comix, Eichhorn also authored the Real Smut comix series, and self-published The Amazing Adventures of Ace International, Real Schmuck, and Northwest Cartoon Cookery in collaboration with Starhead Comix. A former senior editor of Seattle’s now-defunct Rocket Magazine, Eichhorn distingished himself as the creator of one of America’s most notable art tabloids, the Northwest EXTRA!, by editing and publishing 16 issues in the late 1980s.

Tom Van Deusen's art on the cover of Seattle Weekly

Tom Van Deusen’s art on the cover of Seattle Weekly

Tom Van Deusen loves to create art: words, pictures, and words & pictures. He dose it quite well and seemingly effortlessly. That is part of the appeal, for me, as I see him as someone who simply loves what he does.

Tom Van Deusen's "Space Duck"

Tom Van Deusen’s “Space Duck”

The image above is a good example. I was looking through items he’s posted and thought I’d ask him about the duck on the moon. Tom laughed and, almost apologetically but not quite, said that it goes back to his just drawing for the sake of drawing.

Tom has taken the comics bull by the horns and accomplished a lot in these last four years that he’s focused on comics. Although, truth be told, he’s been creating art for longer than that. Most notable for him has been his work with writer Dennis Eichborn. We talk about Eichhorn, the world of comics, and the world of an indie cartoonist. Aspiring cartoonists will often ask cartoonist vets about how to break into comics, if there’s some secret handshake involved, and Tom is a shining example of what’s really involved: a simple love for the work.

Henry Chamberlain: Tell us about your connection with Dennis Eichborn.

Tom Van Deusen: I met Dennis Eichhorn through Pat Moriarity, who is a great cartoonist and worked with Eichhorn on the original run of Real Stuff. I’m a big fan of his work as is my friend and fellow cartoonist, Max Clotfelter, and a whole lot of other cartoonists. Max had been keeping up with a sort of football blog that Dennis was doing. Actually, it was more of a newsletter that he’d email to friends. It was mostly about college football but it also included a fair amount of autobio work. And Max contacted Denny about maybe working together on creating comics. At that point, Eichhorn hadn’t formally published anything in about twenty years.

He had these great new stories and, from that, we asked him he’d be interested in working with a new generation of cartoonists. And Kaz knew him and wanted to work with him again as well. And he agreed. I had these ideas at the time of doing some small scale publishing work. I had self-published for a few years my own comics. So, we decided to do a Kickstarter. We drove over to Bremerton and met with Dennis. I think I only met with him four or five times. We had a very successful Kickstarter, almost doubled our goal.

We got to put out a 64-page double issue and worked with a lot of great cartoonists. Noah Van Sciver wanted to do one. We got cartoonist from the original Real Stuff, like John Hurley and Mary Fleener.

And from there, Dennis had all these other stories he hadn’t published and that led to a second collection that was picked up by Last Gasp. Distribution is really tough. And, for me with a full-time job and trying to create my own comics, getting this book published has been the hardest thing I’ve done so far. It was really lucky to get Last Gasp on board to publish the second volume.

HC: I loved that I got to pick up my copy of that second book at the Seattle ferry terminal, of all places.

TVD: Ha, what was it doing there?

HC: There’s a great story behind that. Dennis Eichhorn’s wife, Jane, let me know that she arranged to have it available at the newsstand there since that was her regular spot to pick up the Sunday New York Times for Dennis on her way back to Bremerton.

TVD: Oh, that’s great!

HC: I wanted to ask your take on underground comix.

TVD: Well, from the ’60s or ’70s, or more recent?

HC: Yes, it is era-based. Take your pick. How would you define it, overall, for people totally unfamiliar with this?

TVD: Anything that’s not mainstream. And mainstream usually means genre work. That’s work that’s never really interested me. Even growing up, I never read superhero comics. I was more into “Ren & Stimpy” and a bunch of other crazy cartoons coming out when I was a kid. When I finally started getting into alternative comics in college, I picked up Crumb and Chris Ware. I think that goes hand in hand. It’s work that isn’t genre…which is sort of a sad description since most things aren’t genre. Most things aren’t “superhero” and “action” outside of comics. But, for some reason, comics are so dominated by things that are more suitable for children. Underground comix are more suited for adults, although they don’t necessarily have to be.

Alternative comics can be anything. And, once I found that work, I was really excited that I’d found my calling. It took a long time. They’re kind of hard to find. Distribution is crumby. Unless you know about it, it’s kind of hard for people to stumble across. It deserves a wider audience. It shouldn’t have to be “underground.” In France, this is major media. It’s not something just for enthusiasts. In Japan, everyone reads comics.

HC: It’s good to hear you use the term “alternative comics,” which I find very useful. It’s “alternative” to market-driven mainstream comics.

TVD: Right.

HC: How would you describe the scene today? I mean, from your vantage point. You’ve got The Intruder.

TVD: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff coming out. It’s amazing. It seems that I meet a new cartoonist every day. With the internet, cartoonists are coming out of the woodwork quicker than ever. And there’s all these festivals. That’s what brought about The Intruder. We’d been reading Smoke Signal, which came out of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics. We want to create something for Seattle. There’s a great comics community in Seattle and always has been. I met Max Clotfelter, Marc Palm, Ian Fitzgerald, and other cartoonists. We hung out a lot. We all drew comics. From there, we did a lot of jam comics. We did a lot of silly, usually scatalogical, comics. We started out with a free newspaper and people seemed to like it.

The only problem is that there’s no money in doing any of this. The problem is distribution. There’s only one distributor, Diamond. They are pretty much closed doors for the sort of comics I enjoy. It’s a bottleneck for small publishers. They exist because of Marvel and DC Comics.

HC: Well, we won’t put too fine point on it. They do have a small press section in their catalog.

TVD: They do have that.

HC: You had mentioned a graphic novel that you really enjoyed in another interview you gave. That was last year’s sleeper hit, “Arsene Schrauwen,” by Olivier Schrauwen, published by Fantagraphics Books. I can see you doing something like that down the road.

TVD: For now, I am focusing on short works. “EAT EAT EAT,” is my longest work at 25 pages and that took four years.

HC: And you enjoy doing comedy.

TVD: That’s how I got into comics, from doing these PowerPoint presentations.

HC: There was a group that did a lot of that some years back called, Slide Rule.

TVD: Oh, really, are they local?

HC: Yes, it was a group of cartoonists in Seattle. I was part of that scene. David Lasky was part of that scene. He could tell you about it.

TVD: I gravitate to that. I enjoy writing up skits. There’s a great comedy scene where I’m from, Buffalo, New York. Great friends of mine there: Matt Thompson, Pat Kewley, and Sarah Jane Barry.

HC: Well, I am impressed with all the things you’re doing. You may end up focusing on writing in the future. Who Knows. I wish you well. Thanks so much for your time.

TVD: Thank you, Henry

You can listen to the podcast below:

Be sure to visit Tom Van Deusen right here. And you can find Poochie Press Publications right here.

If you happen to be reading this on the same day it was posted, Halloween, and you’re in Seattle, go see Tom at Short Run.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Dennis Eichhorn, Fantagraphics Books, Interviews, The Intruder, Tom Van Deusen

Review: BLACK RIVER

Fantagraphics-Josh-Simmons

There is no Black River to be found in Josh Simmons’s graphic novel, “Black River,” but that’s besides the point. The characters are all post-apocalypse survivors with nary a need to know one river from another. Nihilism prevails. For such a bare bones story, there are plenty of compelling moments, both grim and poetic.

People can be pretty hostile and dangerous even in the best of times, so it is quite something to have a group of youth running wild into the wasteland. No zombies to contend with, if that’s any consolation. It’s more the drip, drip, drip, of too many lost and rough souls wandering. All this Simmons depicts well. It’s something any hip cartoonist can revel in, if he or she chooses, and he does a good job of it.

With all the jailhouse craziness that ensues, Simmons is a careful artist. He has a deft way of creating just the right amount of detail to evoke a landscape or a town that has been left in ruins. And I really enjoy his rendering of the Aurora Borealis. It comes up a number of times in panels, enough to add to the spacey energy that charges this work.

Much like a good old-fashioned horror movie, a comic such as this, to be any good, relies upon setting up an interesting mood and environment. Without a doubt, Simmons succeeds in this. He gives us some compelling characters among his ragtag group of hardened misfits. And we’re left wanting to turn the page as a morbid sense of curiosity sets in. Of course, things will get darker, as well as more disgusting. This is raw stuff, kids. Mature content. Those familiar with it, will not be disappointed.

Josh-Simmons-Black-River

And if you’re in Seattle, be sure to visit the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery this Saturday, April 25, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm for a reception for the publication of Josh Simmons’s new graphic novel, Black River, and the release of the latest issue of Intruder, #15. Simmons will be joined by his colleagues from the Intruder comix collective. Simmons contributes a story in the latest issue illustrated by Joe Garber. Festivities include a display of Simmons’s original drawings, a black light room, short film screening, a book signing, and complimentary refreshments.

Black River is a 112-page trade paperback, priced at $18.99. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, Josh Simmons

Le Cagibi and L.B. Cole at Fantagraphics Bookstore in Seattle, January 10, 2015

"Black Light: The World of L.B. Cole," published by Fantagraphics Books

“Black Light: The World of L.B. Cole,” published by Fantagraphics Books

If you are in Seattle this weekend, get yourself over to Georgetown and the monthly Art Attack. Then go right over to the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery. This Saturday, you have two special treats at Fantagraphics. You can enjoy a slide show lecture on L.B. Cole, the all-time great artist of proto-psychedelic comic book covers. And, there will be a workshop conducted by visiting artists from Le Cagibi, an engraving studio in Lilli, France. This all takes place on January 10, from 6 to 9 pm. Visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here. More details follow:

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Georgetown Art Attack, Seattle