Tag Archives: graphic novels

Comic Arts Festivals: Exterminator City (Dec 10-13, 2020)

Comic arts festivals are the backbone of a lot of indie comics activity. During Covid-19, we’ve seen many of these events converting to online versions. Welcome to Exterminator City (part of Push/Pull co-operative), the 10th edition of this Seattle indie and small press festival. Beginning on Thursday, December 10th, you can enjoy programming and events during this 4-day event.

Sample video: Julia Wald chats about  her new work, Suspension of Disbelief, with special guest Vladimir Verano of Vert Volta Press and Maxx Follis-Goodkind:

At 12:00 pm on December 10th all artist tables go live. Artist tables are pages on the Exterminator City website that include artist video introductions, their products, and information about them and how to follow them online. You can purchase directly off their tables – it is the next best thing to being with them in-person!

So, check it all out at Exterminator City right here.

There will be a wide selection of video content from online tutorials to interview panels. Here is the full lineup:

December 10th, Thursday – all events are live at 6pm PST

David Lasky speaks with John Porcellino of King-Cat Comics about making the King-Cat series for 30 years, the political nature of zines, and creating in 2020.

Maxx Follis-Goodkind interviews Craig van den Bosch and Marty Gordon of Microverse Press – a conversation about collage & collaboration.

Sarah Maloney teaches you how to make a mini zine of your own!

December 11th, Friday: 

7:30pm– Catch special events over at VeraTVveratv.org Friday only.

Featured events include:

Abridged interviews with Julia Wald and Jose Alaniz about their 2020 book releases.

A panel of zine experts – Maxx FGAnne Bean, and Sarah Maloney  will be giving you their best tips for zine newbies

Plus a tutorial from Maxx FG explaining what is saddle stitch and showing you two ways to do it

December 12th, Saturday – all events are live at 6pm PST

Sarah Maloney interviews Nicole Georges of Invincible Summer about changes and creating during the covid-19 pandemic

Plus! a full interview with Julia Wald about her latest release Suspension of Disbelief, with special guest Vladimir Verano of Vert Volta Press

And zine experts – Maxx FGAnne Bean (Emerald Comics Distro), and Sarah Maloney – are back with their full list of things you should know before making your first zine.

December 13th, Sunday – all events are live at 6pm PST

A full interview with Jose Alaniz about his latest release, The Phantom Zone, a collection of works from the 90s through recent creations.

Seth Goodkind gets a lesson on the history of Seattle’s underground comics with artist Pat Moriarity and discusses what Pat is up to now.

Cheryl Chudyk invites you to participate in her surrealist poetry zine. And T. Pratt teaches you the secrets behind his pop-up zines.

Exterminator City is about connecting our community to people self-publishing zines and comics. When we realized that the current pandemic meant all of the in-person shows for the year would be cancelled we felt it was our responsibility to step in. Our hope is that you learn about people creating, connect with someone new, and get some inside information from our panels and interviews. And of course enjoy yourself!”

Maxx FG

Visit the festival and explore December 10th – 13th at exterminatorcity.com

And visit Push/Pull, in Seattle, throughout the year.

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Review: MONGREL by Sayra Begum, published by Knockabout Comics

Mongrel by Sayra Begum

Mongrel. by Sayra Begum. Knockabout Comics. London. 2020, 264pp, $21.99

In Mongrel, Sayra Begum presents the reader an honest and in-depth look at a Muslim family from Bangladesh. Begum takes a very straightforward, blunt, and fresh approach to issues of race, gender, class, and religion. At the heart of her story is the conflict that the protagonist must navigate as she straddles two worlds coming from her mixed-heritage background: Bengal Muslim on her mother’s side; British-Anglo on her father’s side. In Islam, it is understood that a Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman. However, it is forbidden for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. And yet this is exactly what happens in Begum’s story. Shuna is the daughter of such a forbidden union. When history is set to repeat itself with Shuna determined to marry David, a non-Muslim man, it is Shuna’s mother who is at the center of the conflict, making unfair and impossible demands upon her daughter.

Drawn is a style that evokes a dream-like sketchbook come to life, the reader is swept up into the immersive world of Mongrel. What strikes me about this graphic novel, what makes it remarkable, is its authenticity, commitment, and vision. It is not often that we, as general readers, have an opportunity to become privy to the everyday life of a Muslim family in such an accessible format as a graphic novel–even though there are well over a billion followers of Islam. With all the heated talk about diversity and inclusion on the table, it’s ironic. That said, we can all be grateful for this insightful work.

Now, let’s allow the book to speak for itself with some samples and quotes from the pages of Mongrel

“The front door of Shuna’s family home acted as a gateway to Bangladesh. Nothing haram passed through this door, this was a devout house. When Shuna walked through this door, she switched her rebellious face to her pious face, which eagerly absorbed the teaching of the Prophet, striving to be a good Muslim girl. The switching between these two faces became increasingly difficult as they grew further and further apart.”

“‘Yes, yes, yes I’ll marry you!’ I said to David. Although, after the celestial shock wore off and dull reality set in, I realised there was a slight problem. I would have to tell my very traditional parents that I was going to marry a non-Muslim and confess my secret life.”

“It’s my wedding day. My parents are absent.  I’m not surprised. Why would my parents want to celebrate their daughter being damned to an eternity in hell fire?”

Ultimately, Begum keeps it real. People are not saints. They can be very contradictory and self-destructive. They can also find a way out and to a healthy place for self-reflection. We are embarking upon a new cycle of calling out authority and demanding all sorts of change. What we mustn’t forget is to dig deeper and calmly remove the obstacles that lead to someone being seen as the Other or as the mongrel. Sayra Begum’s graphic novel is a step in the right direction. As I stated earlier, we don’t often have such a window specifically into the Muslim world. But you can also say that these kind of gems only come around every so often. I think of such landmark works as Blankets, by Craig Thompson, which dissects a Christian upbringing; and I think of Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, the last great work to take an idiosyncratic look at any religion in a significant graphic format. These gems take time and they come along it their due time. Now is a perfect time for Mongrel.

A note, especially to readers in the United States: you can find Mongrel at Amazon right here.

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Use My Voice | The Revolution of Cassandra | Eric D. Howell

Cassandra is on the rise. Viva la Revolution!

The Revolution of Cassandra

Go check out The Revolution of Cassandra for an unusual new work in comics. Here is a quirky story covering some serious subject matter. It reminds you of the fundamental need of making your voice heard. We can take that too much for granted in the United States. Just imagine what it’s like in parts of the world where the government is actively involved in keeping its citizens docile. Filmmaker Eric D. Howell is a fascinating storyteller dude–just the sort of creative person to lead the way with this audacious graphic novel, with Hollywood flair. Howell got into the entertainment business as a stuntman and, through determination, has risen up the ranks to movie director. You may know him from the 2017 Emilia Clarke movie, Voice from the Stone. By any measure, Howell’s career path is an impressive one.

USE MY VOICE by Amy Lee of Evanescence

Enter The Revolution of Cassandra, Howell’s new tale of adventure and idealism about two very different sisters, Moira and Cassie, and how they stumble into a civil war and perhaps lead a revolution. As I say, Howell’s new graphic novel has a very cool Hollywood connection. For starters, Howell is a well-liked and well-connected person. One of his friends is a very cool musician you may know. The Revolution of Cassandra served as an inspiration for Howell’s friend and Grammy Award-winning musician, Amy Lee of Evanescence, as she was writing her band’s new song, “Use My Voice.” The song’s video, directed by Howell, has been viewed more than two million times on YouTube since its premiere in late August.

Cassandra’s toes know the earth.

A few more words about this graphic novel. If you’re looking for an immersive work with a true cinematic look and feel, then The Revolution of Cassandra is for you. It is a mature work in the sense that adults will enjoy it for its more adult and sophisticated sensibility. It’s not for kids, per se. Let’s go with teens and up. This is set, after all, in a very gritty backdrop. There are rough men wandering about who are prone to pushing around women, if they can. That is, unless they’re confronting Moira and Cassie. Overall, there’s an earthy and authentic vibe running through. Moira is more reckless. Cassie is more the Earth Mother with her bare feet, or in Birkenstocks, solemnly gauging the environment.

The Revolution of Cassandra

Now, imagine attempting to stand out at a truly significant comics convention, like Comic Con in San Diego. Well, this is where brand sharing helps. Howell has partnered with Republic Restoratives Distillery and Craft Cocktail Bar in Washington, D.C. to introduce Purpose Rye. Purpose is the first single barrel expression from Republic Restoratives Distillery and is a limited run of only 100 barrels. This 95% rye mash bill has been aged in American oak for nearly five years, imparting rich notes of caramel, spice, hints of smoke and cocoa nibs. Every bottle of Purpose Rye sends a donation directly to Fair Fight Action which protects free and fair elections around the country. Purpose Rye is available for order online via Schneider’s of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Twin Cities bartenders will be mixing Cassandra inspired cocktails this month to inspire customers to use their voice” to support the social causes that matter to them. For Cassandra cocktail recipes, follow @revolutionofcassandra on Instagram.

Under the right circumstances, and responsibly, alcohol and comics do mix.

It was a lot of fun chatting with Howell and you can check out our conversation by clicking below:

The first chapter of The Revolution of Cassandra is available now for you to view for free.

Eric D. Howell, storyteller

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‘George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through the Twilight Zone’ Now on ComiXology

GEORGE’S RUN by Henry Chamberlain

GEORGE’S RUN is now ready for your digital reading pleasure at comiXology. Just follow the link right here. And now, for those unfamiliar with this graphic novel, here are a few words. And, for those loyal true believers who know what I’m talking about, I hope you get to enjoy the book. A print run is coming soon too. This is a book about a bunch of hungry writers all seeking that elusive touch of strange!

Charles Beaumont on the set of “The Howling Man.” Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Imagine a book that checks off all the boxes: compelling main character, appealing to any age, and a meaningful story. This is a graphic novel about the life and times of George Clayton Johnson. You don’t need to know who he is. But you won’t forget him once you do. George is a gateway to a universe of storytelling. George came from nothing but went on to claim his rightful place among the Rat Pack of Science Fiction, in the heyday of a lot of creative energy, with icons like Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury.

George Clayton Johnson’s Cafe Frankenstein

I encourage you to look up professor Paul Buhle because he provided an essay for my book that really blows my mind! Mr. Buhle is a respected scholar who has worked with various cartoonists over the years. I have also received a testimonial from novelist Jerome Charyn, who you may be familiar with. I have received a testimonial from cartoonist Jeff Smith and cartoonist Craig Frank. I have received a testimonial from Disney writer Martin Olson. A lot of very cool and significant folks have given GEORGE’S RUN a thumb’s up. This is one of those books that is very special, I think, and part of the magic is that it’s offbeat and unusual. At the heart of the activities going on in this book are all the interconnections emanating from the original Twilight Zone. It’s like a mystery within a mystery. It’s like a favorite amusement park ride. I’m looking for an agent who, once she’s read the book, is thrilled by it and can’t wait to let people know about it.

George Clayton Johnson

George is like a Holy Grail of Insight who, Henry, the author of this book, seeks. Henry finds George and unlocks an enigma wrapped in a riddle. So much hiding in plain sight. Within a quirky and dream-like narrative, George and Henry embark upon an adventure in grand storytelling. In the process, the reader becomes immersed in fanciful and insightful observations recollected.

George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through The Twilight Zone is NOW available on @comiXology Submit!

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Interview: Peter Bagge and a Whole World of HATE

Harvey Kurtzman is a god. Of course, you can’t please everyone. Panel excerpt from HATE by Peter Bagge, 1991.

Comedy is not pretty. Isn’t that what Steve Martin concluded oh so many years ago? Well, it’s true. If humor has anything to do with revealing the truth, then it’s gonna get ugly. Harvey Kurtzman knew something about this too and was revered by other cartoonists moving up the ranks, like Peter Bagge. And, if you study Peter Bagge’s work, you’ll see the Kurtzman influence, sometimes subtle and sometimes in a direct reference.

From “What’s in a Name?” Written by Peter Bagge. Drawn by Danny Hellman.

A sample of Harvey Kurtzman: Mad #4, 1953

One of the darkest and most hilarious bit of comics I’ve read is a collaboration between Bagge as writer and Danny Hellman as illustrator. The piece is about a meeting between young aspiring cartoonist Peter Bagge and the legendary cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman. With a cutting New York sense of humor, Kurtzman is brutally depicted as a bitter doddering old man. The punchline, as it were, states that Kurtzman’s erratic behavior may have been caused by the fact he was dying from cancer; and he did indeed die not long after this infamous meeting!

Ah, and then there’s the R. Crumb influence–and that certainly makes sense, if you know anything about Peter Bagge’s work. My goal in this interview was simply to explore the process with a masterful cartoonist and hopefully end up having asked the right questions. I think what really stands out for me from our conversation is that Bagge’s outlook is that of a highly irreverent individual, as well as a sensitive and thoughtful person. So, basically, Bagge possesses a sensible mix of character traits that most of us can relate to. That is part of the magic of Hate’s main character. Everyone can relate to something about Buddy Bradley, the guy who wants to get along, but not too much!

A sample of Peter Bagge: Hate #16, 1994.

Well, that gives you an idea of Bagge’s offbeat sense of humor. Comedy, the very best and most cutting, is definitely not pretty. And so it was my goal to explore this subject with Bagge, and many other related matters! I hope you enjoy the video interview, which you can access by clicking to it down below. Peter Bagge’s work is most definitely adult fare and in the best spirit of the term. It is dark, sophisticated, and meant to elicit a world-weary cackle of recognition. Enjoy!

The Complete Hate from Fantagraphics is available November 24, 2020. Book One (HATE 1-15) focuses on young Buddy Bradley’s travails in early 1990s Seattle. Book Two (HATE 16-30) focuses on Buddy and his girlfriend Lisa Leavenworth’s move back to Buddy’s native New Jersey (and a switch from black-and-white to full color). Book Three (HATE Annuals 1-9) features the final arc of Bagge’s magnum opus, as Buddy and Lisa become parents (and buy a garbage dump). Each volume, along with the slipcase, contains new covers, endpapers, title pages, and other surprises by Bagge.

For more details, visit Fantagraphics right here.

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Review: THE COMPLETE HATE BOX SET, published by Fantagraphics

The Complete HATE!

The Complete Hate Box Set. by Peter Bagge. Fantagraphics, Seattle. 938 pp, $119.99.

A great way to savor or discover the work of cartoonist Peter Bagge is the new collection, The Complete Hate Box Set, published by Fantagraphics Books. Peter Bagge is indeed a significant cartoonist, and one of the bright lights that led me to Seattle back in the early ’90s. Like so many, for me, a copy of Hate comics was a perfect companion while sipping a latte at Caffe Vita, downing a beer at the Comet Tavern, or anticipating a show at the Re-bar. It was a time to see and be seen and, no doubt, to mock your fellow hipster. And few, if any, did it quite as well as Peter Bagge in his ultra-satirical comic book series featuring the ultimate malcontent, Buddy Bradley.

HateBall tour poster by Peter Bagge and Daniel Clowes, 1993.

With hindsight, Hate seems like the perfect comic to encompass this whole grungy era. The title alone sounds like a timeless tribute to callow youth. But as Bagge explains in the introduction to this collection, nothing was so smoothly planned in advance, including the title, which only came about sort of by accident. It wasn’t as if Bagge had set out, without a care in the world, to be a successful satirist. First, Bagge slowly but surely developed Neat Stuff, a comic based upon his own family growing up. His main character, Buddy Bradley, was loosely based upon himself. And, as luck would have it, a somewhat older Buddy was right in step with a whole new zietgeist and would go on to take a prominent spot in the new wave of alternative comics of the 1990s.

HATE #1, 1990.

Hate has its own loopy specificity, a zany quality built from Archie Comics, MAD Magazine, and all manner of underground comix. It was to be Bagge’s answer to the hegemony of the ’60s counterculture. And it was to be more than just a comic from the halcyon days of Generation X. It has moved past that and entered a new phase where it can take a rightful place among the best in comics. It does this by simply being something exceptional in terms of style, consistency, and inventiveness.

The unreal meets the real in a run-down Seattle apartment.

You can say that Hate is a prime example of an excellent comic willed into existence by a very determined cartoonist. And the best test of that is how it grabs the reader. As I progress from one panel to the next, I am struck by the energy and vision on display. These are very loopy characters, out of reality in an uncanny way and yet what they say rings true and sounds like the sort of kooky youthful insights and outbursts going on in very real taverns, night clubs, and shanty apartments. In other words, Hate shares all the characteristics of some of the very best that comics have to offer. Hate lampooned Seattle hipsterdom while also being a part of it. Not an easy thing to do unless you’re focused and persistent. And, perhaps most important of all, don’t take any of it too seriously to begin with.

The Complete Hate Box Set is available as of December 1, 2020. For more details, visit Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Review: ONE STORY by Gipi, published by Fantagraphics Books

One Story by Gipi

One Story. by Gipi. Fantagraphics Books. Seattle. 128pp, $22.99

Gipi is one of the great cartoonists. His approach is to treat the page in a heroic fashion, as both canvas and stage, employing a variety of techniques and styles. In one work, he will typically shift from loose sketchbook line drawings to haunting panoramic watercolor panels. We see this kind of work in the States but we see even more of this in Europe. Gipi is part of that Italian breed of cartoonist who sings for his supper through fierce and daring visual storytelling. I was rifling through a stack of books and papers just the other day and Gipi’s The Innocents nearly hit me on the head. I took that as a sign. It is a story about lost youth and their comeuppance. That title was part of an amazing Ignatz collection published by Fantagraphics. A title that is currently on my radar is One Story, also published by Fantagraphics and one of the most ambitious works by Gipi that I’ve come across.

Gipi commands the page like a canvas or a stage.

Any artist, or magician worth his salt, is a master of illusion. Any given number of strokes of ink or paint on the page may seem marginal or of undetermined worth–and sometimes they don’t seem to quite add up! There are times when no one notices any of these potentially perceived mistakes or accidents that require further reflection. Or the culmination of all these marks does add up without much doubt but it still doesn’t seem to meet some fickle taste. Only a determined, persistent and consistent effort will ultimately win the day and that is what Gipi does. He’s the one who is constantly drawing. He is a cartoonist who unmistakably acts like any other artist, whatever the medium. And, in the process of all that problem-solving, a universe emerges. In the end, he can make it look easy. Ideally, and in general, you want all the elements on the page, even the splotches and rough gestures, to simply read as part of the narrative. Each mark belongs on the page. Gipi has the temperament and the confidence to pull that off.

Gipi, cartoonist as visionary artist.

Going hand in hand with a heroic attitude to mark-making is the actual script to which Gipi runs with as if his very life depends upon it. These sort of stories are the ones that need plenty of room to run, as they are larger-than-life stories about life! The reader can ease up on applying cold logic and allow the tale to cast its spell. For most readers, this will not be a problem at all. We begin in the present. Gipi charms the reader with his overwhelming sense of weltschmerz. Gipi shows us that the older you are, the less you can acknowledge your age when facing the mirror. An aging beauty can only see through a vintage lens. Cut to our main character, a former fiery rebel who is not aging into the perfect Lothario he intended to be.

Just drive off in a Maserati.

Next, our aging rebel finds a kindred spirit and they drive off in a Masareti. Remember, the plot is going to keep shifting. So, our main character is one Silvano Landi. It turns out that Mr. Landi is under heavy medication in a psych ward. He is drifting in and out of recollections, all very lucid and vibrant as hell. What Silvano sees, we see. A team of professionals are determined to keep Landi nicely sedated with increasing amounts of Bituprozan, in keeping with their standards, in order to address his “Schizophrenia with Monomaniacal Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors.”

“A bare tree. Why?”

The team is both impressed and bewildered by a series of drawings Landi has done of a service station and a tree. They admit the work is dazzling but it is also so clearly out of the norm, and most disturbing. God help any artist at the mercy of psych bureaucrats! As for Landi’s request to go outside, well, the team won’t tolerate that at all. Silvano Landi is a famous writer, after all. He must get the most careful and strict of treatment.

Navigating a psych ward.

The story now takes a determined turn. We move over to Landi’s great-grandfather, Mauro, and the trenches of World War I. From here on out, we alternate between Landi, Mauro and all points beyond. As you’ve come to appreciate from this writing, this is all pure Gipi! Ah, and this is where the plot thickens as we venture off into geopolitics and so much more. It is absolutely not my intention to go over every plot point but, instead, to give you a good generous taste.

A tree grows at the end of the world.

My goal in a post like this, as always, is to provide you with a guided tour, part of my exploration of the most provocative and challenging works in comics. I happen to relish expressing myself in well-chosen words and this exceptional work inspires that effort. Keep in mind, Gipi is not exactly alone but he’s also definitely among the very best auteur cartoonists. If you had only one cartoonist to read, Gipi will win you over on many levels. None the least is, again, that deliciously melancholic sense of raw and jaded sophistication–and exhausted experience.

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Review: MAIDS by Katie Skelly

Maids

Maids. by Katie Skelly. Fantagraphics Books. Seattle. 112pp, $19.99.

An eyeball plops onto the floor, is picked up, and then turns into a doorknob. That is the best moment in comics for this year. 2020 has been a very spooky and sad year and so this little graphic novel is all the more made for this moment.

That eyeball!

There’s a lot of comics theory out there being tossed around. It’s very easy to start one of those erudite conversations about comics and ponder about what lies between the panels. Well, it’s a vast nothingness. It’s the gutter space. And, while you’re advised upon how you can manipulate the gutter space, slice it and dice it, the fact is that, in general, you don’t really want to call attention to it. No, it’s mostly the panels where the action is and that is what cartoonist Katie Skelly mindfully builds. Her gutter space is neutral. That’s where time passes. In fact, the panels could all be nothing more than a grid and we, as readers, would be satisfied. But a good variation in panels can do a lot of the heavy lifting in order to enhance the reading experience. Maids is Skelly’s latest graphic novel and it is quite an experience.

Beautiful narrative flow.

If you aware of this book, then you already know this is a stylish take on a true crime story, set in 1930s France, with the simple enough plot of two maids who murder the mansion’s inhabitants. For a story such as this, it is all in the telling–or showing. Skelly takes delight in presenting us the two culprits, two young women, Christine and Lea. These are two down-and-out girls who stumble upon working together for a rich family. By and by, we get to know the two girls, just barely out of their teens. What’s interesting is that they are far from likable. In fact, they are more likely to steal and loaf around than much of anything else. In turn, the rich family is not particularly villainous. They are more or less right to find the two girls to be repulsive. So, plenty of gray area to consider. No clear hero or villain. And yet, some may read a story here of a worker’s revolt. What is happening here is more open-ended than that. This is less a call for class warfare and more of a macabre journey we might enjoy on a cold winter’s night and, for that, Skelly has masterfully delivered.

Rise and shine!

For more details, visit Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Halloween Review: MY PRETTY VAMPIRE

My Pretty Vampire

My Pretty Vampire. by Katie Skelly. Fantagraphics Books. Seattle. softcover, 2018. 108pp, $16.99.

Katie Skelly is a cartoonist that I admire a lot. I was looking over my library of books and it occurrs to me that My Pretty Vampire is just the right book for Halloween. Of course, it’s right for any season, but the point is that Katie Skelly’s uncanny work is especially delicious at this time of year. If my web presence is helpful to you, well, then I find it most rewarding to share with you fellow cartoonists of this caliber. Basically, Skelly pulls together elements from many areas, both high and low culture. Her style is very smooth and clean. If you appreciate horror in its many forms, then you know that the good stuff can get pretty deep. Well, that is absolutely the case with this book. Even if you just give it a quick casual scan, you can’t help but sense there’s more than meets the eye. Skelly’s style defies easy categorization. I see hints of Edward Gorey or Dame Darcy or Richard Sala. Ultimately, Katie Skelly has put in the time, absorbed numerous influences, and emerged with a distinctive vision.

Highbrow Meets Lowbrow.

I love the irreverent vibe running throughout this book. You aren’t suppose to take anything too seriously. At the same time, the comic casts its spell upon the reader. The reader becomes immersed in the strange and creepy narrative. The deeper one gets into the story, the reader discovers a far more esoteric world than expected in the typical horror genre.

More Than Meets The Eye.

My Pretty Vampire is a beautifully pared-down work in comics with a unique haunting quality. Take any page at random and you can hang it up on a gallery wall. That is not an easy thing to accomplish. Some comics just aren’t meant to show in a gallery while some work, like Skelly’s, infused with such a rich assortment of elements, has the substance it takes to hold up to closer scrutiny.

When Horror is More than Horror.

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out Katie Skelly’s most recent graphic novel, just out this month, Maids, published by Fantagraphics Books.

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Review: SPELLBOUND by Bishakh Som

Spellbound by Bishakh Som

Spellbound by Bishakh Som. Street Noise Books. New York. 160pp, $18.99.

Graphic memoir is my speciality and I completely embrace the new graphic memoir, Spellbound, by Bishakh Som. What a wonderful book. It’s fun, inspiring and insightful in so many ways. This is the kind of work that I enjoy creating and the kind of work that gains my attention the most. This is work by an auteur cartoonist who welcomes the reader into an inner life, ultimately dropping the veil: engaging, revealing, and sharing. This is an intricate act of self-expression which the reader follows usually without any expectations on how it all turns out. What the cartoonist has to say and how the story is told becomes as important as anything else. In this case, Bishakh Som has a theme we’ve all been reading more and more about, issues of gender fluidity; and this story is inextricably linked to a personal journey, a celebration of the self and self-expression.

Anjali became a way of sorting through issues and showing the world one’s true self.

But before one stands before the world naked, a veil of sorts can help with the process. This is part of what I believe led Som to create an alter ego. As Som proceeded upon his transition from male to female, I can see where he found it a source of comfort and insight to have his female alter ego grace the page. Thus, Som created comics that feature the character of Anjali who became a way of sorting through issues but, even more important, a way of showing the world the true self.

“I’ve always been this way.”

Our story begins with Anjali quitting her job and setting off on a new adventure. This is much like Som’s own story of quitting a focused career in architecture in order to make room for a life in the graphic arts, specifically creating graphic novels. Anjali has embarked upon uncharted waters but doesn’t seem too phased. At first, the biggest challenge seems to be just keeping her cat, Ampersand, at bay. The artwork is very crisp and engaging and certainly meets the biggest demands placed upon comics: clarity and entertainment. Anjali is the perfect metaphor for the determined soul who will not be beaten down by challenging circumstances.

Anjali relaxing and having fun.

When Anjali stumbles upon a family photo album, this triggers countless memories which take her back to growing up in Ethiopia. Anjali’s parents were born in India, both of them intellectuals working for the UN. Over the course of Anjali’s first six years, she grew as fond of Ethiopian culture as she did of American pop culture. When revolution broke out, Anjali’s parents resettled in New York. This led to Anjali going to the United Nations International School and destined to a most urban and erudite life.

One generation gives way to the next.

Over the course of this graphic novel, the reader is immersed in Anjali’s journey: a life rich in exploration and searching, one that beautifully mirrors the life of Bishakh Som. It is a life we see from various vantage points, from the banal and quotidian to moments of insight and epiphany. For instance, Anjali must come to terms with her demanding and conservative parents. In the end, she is witness to their decline and, from that, she gains some wisdom. And she continues to grow with the help of some friends.  For someone who prefers to avoid people, Anjali seems to find her best moments when she is around someone else. It is a lesson that Bishakh Som learned from well.

Spellbound is published by Street Noise Books. For more details, visit here.

 

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