Matt MacFarland displays a disarming charm in how he presents himself, his family, and his father in particular in his latest book. This is a little comics memoir in the tradition of auto-bio alt-comics: a self-portrait of the cartoonist, warts-and-all.
It’s interesting to note that this story is told in segments, four panels per page, comic strip-sytle. MacFarland uses the comic strip format in order to contain the narrative. What I mean is that this isn’t a collection of previously serialized work. I see part of it on Matt’s Instagram but not as being posted in a deliberate way like a webcomic. He takes a more casual approach which I really dig. In fact, a lot of what he’s posting right now are pages from his Scenes from a Marriage series which is hilarious. Matt has found a method to keep things fresh and concise by using the comic strip format to tell his story. He’s also taking advantage of the fact that we’re so used to reading page after page of comic strips that have been collected to tell a bigger story. Matt’s new book features his father, told in a series of comic strip moments. This format echoes Art Spiegelman’s own recollections of his father albeit on a small compact scale. Matt has narrowed down the stage to the most essential: fleeting moments, heavy with meaning, tied together by the seasons. What emerges is a portrait of the artist’s father, a complicated guy, both difficult and lovable.
By keeping to this comic strip format, MacFarland provides us little windows into his father’s soul, one self-contained little story per page. MacFarland has a lean and crisp way of drawing and storytelling. This series of four-panel comic strips grows on you as one detail is revealed and builds upon the next. We begin with the fall. The first two strips set the tone depicting Matt’s father, Gary, as a less than sensitive guy, with an offbeat sense of humor. The opener shows Gary as a young boy obsessed with creating monster masks. The one after that has Gary describing a horror movie he especially liked to 6-year-old Matt. After Matt screams that he wants to see it, Gary shows him a particularly disturbing scene from it on tape that leaves little Matt in tears.
Truth be told, Gary is hardly a bad guy and Matt doesn’t pick him apart. He’s not digging for dirt but for understanding about his father–and his own life. As we progress, we come to find out that Gary is an alcoholic but that is only part of his story and it doesn’t derail the narrative as one might expect. Mixing up the chronology of events also helps in letting details emerge in a less than obvious way. In a natural course of presenting anecdotes, the reader gets to see Gary interact with an array of people and circumstances. MacFarland manages to navigate a series of challenging periods: the divorce of his parents; the start of his own family; and the death of his father. I especially like a moment Matt has crafted where he’s hiding in a bedroom crying over the news of his father’s death while also calculating in his mind when the dinner guest will finally leave. Of course, when he returns to the kitchen, she’s still seated at the dinner table. That’s classic Matt MacFarland, with a dash of dry and dark humor.
A Revolution in Three Acts: The Radical Vaudeville of Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay and Julian Eltinge. By David Hajdu and John Carey. Foreword by Michele Wallace. Columbia University Press, 2021. 166pp, $19.95
This is an extremely remarkable comic, at once a historical look at the great and hugely popular genre of vaudeville, and a treatment of the margins, racial and gender, that pushed closer to the surface than radio or films would reach before the 1950s. David Hajdu is a distinguished music critic and a professor at Columbia University. His artistic collaborator, John Carey, less well known, worked at Greater Media Newspapers for decades. Neither has produced a comic until now, but Hajdu wrote an insightful history of comics entitled The Ten Cent Plague, more than touching upon the condemned but lively elements of popular culture.
Bert Williams, “the son of laughter” in contemporary advertising of Vaudeville, was almost certainly the first native of the little island of Antigua, then still in the British West Indies, to make himself a major star in the US. He sang, danced, told jokes, charmed (white) audiences far and wide, and became himself a producer of shows starring himself. He exhausted himself and died young, just as he reached his apex of success.
Eva Tanguay is remembered for one phrase, “I Don’t Care!” hailed by Andre Breton and the surrealists as capturing the spirit and radical possibilities embedded within popular culture. Flagrantly transgressive, she challenged every limitation of the lingering Victorian culture, dressing outlandishly, for instance, wearing pennies glued to a revealing body suit at the moment when the Lincoln Penny was introduced and fleeing when the police arrived to arrest her. She joined Williams on stage and drove audiences wild.
Cross-dressing Julian Eltinge completes this narrative. By way of Harvard and Hasty Pudding, he starred as a female performer, singing and dancing up a storm. Holding nothing back, he openly proclaimed his sexual passion for a black man (doublng the provocation), with himsef as “The Sambo Girl,” on stage and in the sheet music of the day. The very idea that Eltinge could publish a magazine under his own name offers a transgressive moment in time and in the rising pulp magazine craze.
The genius of the comic intertwines the stories, sharing the threats of the cops and other thuggish males. Tanguay and Williams were widely rumored to be lovers, but the rumor that she was to marry Eltinge inspired no limit of mean-spirited satire (“who will wear the breeches?”) and some good spirited as well. But movies, even without the severe restrictions to come later, were just too limited for this leap out of propriety. (Bert Williams was also in several film shorts, but these are lost.)
The Art of Revolution in Three Acts finds John Carey perfectly suited with a greyish, sketch-like style, offering a kind of fluidity suitable to the subject. He aspires neither to realism, in the ordinary sense, nor to the altogether imaginative comic-art style adopted or adapted in modern “art” comics. Rather, it is his own.
The high spirits of these three characters, the visions they had of themselves and the crushing reality of a world unsuited for them, comes home collectively as we follow their lives. Eltinge, an entrepreneur in his own mind, bought a large chunk of land in California’s Imperial Valley, with a vision of a resort and a theatrical complex. He was quickly overextended, when a film showed his female impersonation at a disadvantge: society was not ready, although in failure, he inspired other stage female impersonators across the US and Europe. Tanguay, perhaps the luckiest, had a series of prominent affairs, passing before she could complete a tell-all memoir.
Candy James is a husband-and-wife creative duo originally from Hong Kong and New Zealand, but now living on a thickly forested hill in Ballarat, Australia. They are toy, graphic, and garden designers who love to make funny books for children. You can learn more about all their fun creative activity on their Instagram and on their website. This is the perfect time to get to know Candy and James Robertson and their work since they have just launched two new books for early readers (ages 4-8), I Really Dig Pizza! and We Will Find Your Hat!, published by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Those are the first two titles of the Archie and Reddie series.
First two titles to the Archie and Reddie series.
Who is Archie and Reddie? Well, they’re a couple of foxes. A bit of an odd couple, you might say, with Reddie being small and outspoken; and Archie being big and unsure. Together, they make it work, sort of like Laurel & Hardy but different. These are two foxes we’re talking about after all. Maybe you’re familiar with the Elephant & Piggie books, by Mo Willems; or the Narwhal and Jelly books by Ben Clanton. Think quirky humor for kids and you’re on the right path.
A nimble use of comics to briefly explain a work of comics.
The first book in this series is all about pizza and…dirt. Archie stumbles upon a gift-wrapped pizza in the forest, and wonders who would possibly leave a perfectly good treat just lying around. So he does the only sensible thing and buries it so he can dig it up later for dinner! But with tummy rumbling, Archie discovers Reddie is trying to solve a mystery. It seems she’s found a pile of dirt and wants to get to the bottom of it! Mayhem ensues–along with funny word play, intriguing compositions and a heart-warming story to boot!
Both of these books will engage kids on many levels–not the least of which is hilarious good fun! This is outright uninhibited humor that resonates with young minds. Then add to that the Candy James magic touch, a multi-layered approach to design and storytelling. As you’ll discover during this video interview, both creators have numerous influences that they have masterfully distilled into their work, everything from Moomin to some of the great works of manga from their own childhood, like Dragon Ball. But, most essential to their vision in this series is all the fun they had telling bedtime stories to their daughter when she was an early reader herself. Fast forward to the present, and you’ll find that same child, Poppy, is now a teen and, in fact, loves to create her own comics. What both Candy and James wish to do is keep creating more stories and engaging with readers of all ages. “We hope,” says James, “that we’ve created characters that are strong enough to encourage readers to recite from the books and play as the characters themselves.”
I hope you enjoy the video interview. And for more on the Archie and Reddie series, be sure to visit Penguin Random House.
Mimi Pond was a queen for the night at the Eisner Awards this year as she was the winner in the Short Story category for her take on menopause. Yes, folks, you heard it right, a cartoonist won a prestigious industry award on a subject that has gotten little recognition over the years outside of a Joan Rivers comedy act. What’s more, Mimi’s story is part of the book that also won an Eisner Award–in the Best Anthology category! We all need to get over ourselves on so many levels more than ever. The truth is that we all have bodies (who knew?) and they go through changes as we steadily make our way to our final stop. There is no denying that a woman’s body goes through hell. But it’s not left just to me to say that. This book says it in a variety of ways, both vivid and hilarious.
Running off with the circus!
There is so much politics, a lot of it quite toxic, attached to everything about us, including our bodies. What’s refreshing about this book, in that regard, is that it’s engaged in some primal truth. That is what is so compelling about Mimi Pond’s short story as the main character must confront who she is at the most basic level. She’s mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore! This comic is one of those in-your-face show stoppers that takes you out of the page, out of the book, all the way to the Eisner Awards. In the story, a mother and adult daughter are wandering around an old-fashioned carnival when a carnie lures them into a show about empowerment. On stage, there is a troupe of naked middle-aged women doing a spoken word act. The mom is overcome and joins the group on stage, strips off her clothes, and vows to run away with the circus. The mom sees her mad dash as her last chance to shine, to live her life. Psychological road blocks can be every bit as real as anything else standing in the way of fulfillment. One is left with a universal urge to push one’s way through no matter what. And, if dad’s hot casserole gets cold, so be it!
Menopause: A Comic Treatment
With Mimi’s raucous story leading the way, this collection boasts an array of significant work from 28 contributors, explaining, and expressing their views, on the many aspects of menopause, from the general to the more specific and personal. This book is another partnership with Graphic Medicine, co-founded by MK Czerwiec, this book’s editor, as well as a contributor under the pen name, “Comic Nurse.” Menopause: A Comic Treatment is the nineteenth book in the Graphic Medicine Series published by Penn State University Press. The following are some more examples from the book. As I say, it’s a great range of work: some are more medically-focused, created by medical professionals, with simple drawings; and some are from seasoned professional cartoonists more invested in a slice-of-life perspective.
“A Slow Intermittent Leak,” by Jennifer Camper
Jennifer Camper’s “A Slow Intermittent Leak” cuts to the chase with a long hard look at the menstrual cycle, from first period to last. For many men, the reality of blood alone makes periods a highly taboo subject. Of course, those men need to get a grip. Camper is a professional cartoonist and it clearly shows. This is a highly organized and masterfully composed work. The combination of the artwork and engaging prose is a pleasure to read and guides the reader through with humor and grace.
“Burning Up,” by Comic Nurse (MK Czerwiec)
MK Czerwiec’s “Burning Up” is both highly informative and entertaining and is a great example of the power of visual storytelling. For these type of educational comics, art is only part of it and can be pretty simple as it is here. What matters most to the cartoonist is finding just the right balance of words and pictures to best convey the information. Czerwiec’s pen name is “Comic Nurse,” and this piece demonstrates what she is great at: taking challenging subjects and making them relatable. In this case, we follow our main character on a journey of self-discovery and an appreciation of “hot flashes.”
“Surgical Menopause–In Ten Postures,” by Susan Merrill Squier and Shelley Wall
My final sample demonstrates how truly powerful and practical comics can be. “Surgical Menopause–In Ten Postures,” is unique in its specificity as it greatly benefits from two experts in their fields. It is written by Susan Merrill Squier, a professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State. It is illustrated by Shelley Wall, a medical illustrator and assistant professor in the biomedical communications graduate program at the University of Toronto. The comics coming from the Graphic Medicine community, which this book is a prime example of, are said to provide insight to medical professionals that they typically do not get. It is through the combination of Squier’s eloquence and Wall’s precision that we get a window into the highly idiosyncratic individual. Too often it comes down to doctors vs. patients when, in fact, we’re all just humans. It takes a very sophisticated comic like this is prove a simple truth: we’re all vulnerable and we all need to be carefully listened to. Ironically, despite how articulate this comic is, it is speaking to how easy it is to not speak properly or to be listened to properly. The prime example in this comic: the doctor, in an all too matter-of-fact tone, asks the patient, “Do you want to keep your uterus if you’re having your ovaries removed?” The patient, in an all too defensive posture, replies, “I am not my uterus.” End of discussion. Uterus removed. Oh, but the patient didn’t really mean it, wishes the doctor had questioned her words and now regrets having her uterus removed.
About the Editor
MK Czerwiec, RN, MA, is the artist-in-residence at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the cocurator of GraphicMedicine.org. She has served as a Senior Fellow of the George Washington School of Nursing Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement and as an Applied Cartooning Fellow of the Center for Cartoon Studies. She is the creator of the graphic memoir Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 and coauthor of Graphic Medicine Manifesto, both published by Penn State University Press.
Bethesda, Maryland – The Small Press Expo (SPX), the preeminent showcase for the exhibition of independent comics, graphic novels and alternative political cartoons, is pleased to announce the 2021 nominees for the annual presentation of the Ignatz Awards, a celebration of outstanding achievement in comics and cartooning.
Presented virtually, SPX 2021 will feature a full slate of programming along with a livestream of the Ignatz Awards ceremony.
Once again the Ignatz jurors have selected an amazing slate of nominees that reflect the diverse voices comprising the SPX community. On behalf of the Executive Committee, we want to thank the jurors for all of their hard work, and to congratulate all of the creators for giving comics readers these incredible works during such trying times. Good luck to everyone!!!! – Warren Bernard Executive Director
The Ignatz Awards are a juried festival prize, the first of such in the United States comic book industry. Traditionally, the winners are determined by attendees of the in-person event. This year, as was the case in 2020, voting is open to all who register to receive a ballot.
Ignatz Awards nominees are determined by a panel of comics professionals. The 2021 Ignatz jurors are Sunmi, Nguyên Khôi Nguyễn, and Daniel Elkin.
The Ignatz Awards ceremony will be live-streamed via the SPX Youtube channel at 8PM on September 18.
Peter Morey and Rebecca K. Jones are two very inventive cartoonists. I chatted with the couple via Zoom. I’m in Seattle and they are at their home in London. It was great to chat with two creatives who so neatly compliment each other’s work. It’s a fair observation given that they manage to do so well with similar subject matter that each tackles in a unique way. Both Peter and Rebecca explore social commentary and the human condition (Endswell, Boomerang). Both Peter and Rebecca let loose with wild and whimsical tales involving animals (Animal Spirits, Cat Disco). And, it’s clear to me that they enjoy what they do. I first stumbled upon their work on a visit to Orbital Comics back in 2019.
ENDSWELL by Peter Morey
I recently reviewed Peter Morey’s Animal Spirits and Endswell so you can definitely get a good sense of what he’s doing from that. I will say here that what propels the narrative of Endswell is a freewheeling play with the eccentric dynamics of a specific family. That requires storytelling freedom thus the fact it’s called a “loosely-based autobiographical work.” Thinking about Peter’s work, and then comparing it with Rebecca’s work, led me to ask them to chat a bit about British humor in general, how it runs the gamut from droll and dry to crazy and absurd. Part of the answer is that this tradition is just baked right into what they perceive as funny. They embrace the strange and so do I. Anyway, far be it from me to put anyone on the spot. I basically see all good work in comics as feeding off some touch of strange.
BOOMERANG by Rebecca K. Jones
I’ll segue over to Rebecca’s work and a moment which speaks so well to this quirky understated quality I’m talking about. It’s a moment in Boomerang (the first part to a longer work-in-progress) when the characters are enjoying a little fair at a local park filled with various random performers and the like. One such person is there lecturing about his peregrine falcon. And just as he begins his talk, the bird seems to take that as a cue to fly away, perhaps never to return again! It’s a splendid poetic pause referring back the main character’s own dilemma.
It was just a matter of time before I returned to the work of Peter Morey, which I had stumbled upon during a visit to Orbital Comics in London back in 2019. Even with a haul of comics to look over, I could quickly appreciate Morey’s distinctive and quirky work. Fast forward to the present, now I have three issues of Endswell compared to just the one a few years back. Reading over the first issue, and proceeding all the way through, I was treated to a fuller picture of this ongoing family saga. The first issue seems that much stronger now as it pulls together a number of dramatic bits all revolving around the misadventures of the granny of the clan, the matriarch in decline, who in recent years has brought in a suspicious character as her lover.
The family photo!
As with any sprawling comedy of manners, the first issue introduces the players and sets the tone. We begin with the main character of this loosely auto-biographical work, Peter Morey, as he relates to a therapist a series of events involving his grandmother. Things are a bit of a mess as it seems gran has reached a critical point where her well-being is a concern, not to mention her continued squandering of the family fortune for the sake of her vanity project. Plans must be made. Chickens are coming home to roost. Or, in this case, horses and dogs as gran runs an eccentric farm and kennel known as, Endswell. And then there’s Jim, the creepy ne’er-do-well she’s been living with. All of this is of concern to her now middle-aged children. And yet the worry has somehow spilled over onto Peter, part of the next generation. It’s not completely clear as to why Peter is so preoccupied by this drama other than it’s part of the neurotic goop that has overcome the whole family. Alright then, all very interesting family drama, as Chekhov would concur.
Morey does a fine job of giving a comedic shape to various family source material. In the end, we’ve got a nicely purring machine that sees us into the next couple of issues: one dedicated to the dogs at Endswell; and one dedicated to grandpa, which finds the clan reminiscing on the day of the grand old man’s funeral. So, all in all, this family comedy provides a neat platform upon which Morey can give the reader a bit of his take on the human condition. Morey’s droll sense of humor permeates his drawing style, which has an uncanny distant and ironic quality to it. The characters and settings, much like the narrative, are pared down to a mysterious enigma. Simple shapes and phrases leave much hidden, revealing only what’s needed and leaving the rest up to the reader’s imagination.
A poignant moment for Lady Foxhound.
Now, let’s move past Morey’s family saga to something more whimsical. This is more of Peter Morey’s droll humor but this time it’s animals–and not just any animals, these are power animals out to save the world. Animal Spirits is a deliciously over-the-top mash-up tribute to martial arts and violent manga, I would think. Actually, there’s only a few dollops of blood spilled, all things considered but you need to be mindful of the kiddos reading this, right? Morey’s light and lean line is nicely set off by his bold choice of colors. If you enjoy a cheeky adventure and root for animal rights, then this is for you.
This is a review about two outstanding comics. But it is first of all a review of a new comics publisher. A veteran of the book trade, founder and publisher Liz Frances, jumped into the fast-changing world of GNs a few years ago, after a considerable career in the publishing industry. She has explained to interviewers that she wants to create books that count, that have both passion and social value. Certainly so, but I see these two books rather differently. Not that I doubt her explanation for a minute. What I think I perceive is a glimpse at a new generation of comic artists and their art.
Neither of these books is particularly close to traditional comics styles, the kind that my older sisters lovingly employed, when I was six, to teach me how to read. I remember more or less precisely that moment in my life. Looking back from a distance of about seventy years, I can easily grasp the big change. Comics are now certain to be “read” in very different ways, sometimes on devices that do not look or act like printed books, although the books on review here are printed. The real change, however, reflects how artists themselves learn and come to see themselves. As Parsons comics teacher and comic artist Ben Katchor reflected in an interview book, a few years ago, the internal logic of the young artist is no longer the world of the drawing board nor any other fixed spot.
Crash Course author/artist Woodrow Phoenix, a British citizen, whose parents emigrated from Guyana, where the CIA overthrew a leftwing government in 1960 and perhaps arranged for the assassination of the rebellious Walter Rodney in 1980, is a very radical person in his own way. He delivers a powerful message to the heads of readers, certainly to mine, in pounding page after page.
Page from CRASH COURSE
How does he do it? Because he explores in words and expressionist-like drawings the things we know, but do not want to think very much about our cars and our driving. Despite being a key form of death and injury around the world, not even to speak of vast environmental damage, driving has dug itself into our brains. Even if we spend maximum time (as I do) either biking or walking, for most of us, the car is always there. It gets us to the grocery store or to a doctor’s appointment, or to “get out of the city” for a while to visit friends and relatives. Not to mention moving distances for major changes in our lives and work. All these could certainly be done without cars. Given contemporary arrangements, only with real difficulty.
But there’s far, far more to it, and at the psychological core, cars have been ingeniously devised and stylized to make up for the insecurities and shortcomings of our individual lives. “Individual” is key here, as he explains, because each driver lives within a second skin, competing with others in the same circumstances for safety, speed, and psychological reinforcement. Merely reciting the names of models recalls the vicarious excitement, exoticism, and terribly real speed, made all the more attractive because the depictions in every media never show anyone in the real, constant traffic jam. In every hour of an average commute, twenty minutes is spent locked in very boring lines, rousing the desire to get ahead of every competing car and to cut corners by going ten or twenty miles per hour over the law or passing in the breakdown line.
All this, as Phoenix makes so vivid, is dramatized by the sheer eeriness of a vast but empty parking lot. And just as vividly by the violent use of cars to run down political demonstrators, acts now apparently made non-punishable. Cars have created non-spaces across the world, at the same time that they have become weapons, in many ways the weapons of daily use.
From POWER BORN OF DREAMS
Power Born of Dreams begins in prison, an Israeli prison, and that is the most fundamental fact of this book. The second most fundamental is the artist’s technique: linocuts, recalling a past era when leftwing artists of the 1920s struggled to make a living outside of the magazine world. As the artist says, “I was unable to carve my name onto the walls of my prison cell.” So, he chooses a kind of carving, to carve the stories of imprisoned Palestinians, on paper.
The lines are spare, the background black. Interrogation goes with confinement, and each reinforce the other. Israeli companies have made themselves world-famous with “crowd control” techniques, tried out mainly in the West Bank against Palestinians protesting the loss of their homes and their land. The artist’s road out of mental confinement is his art. He can see a tree outside and become a tree, for a moment. Then come back to his own reality behind bars.
He is, in real life, a citizen without a country. No Palestinian who lived in East Jerusalem can be allowed Israeli citizenship, not even marriage with an Israeli can make that happen. Leaving East Jerusalem can easily preclude returning, ever. And even remaining in your home means awaiting the dreaded moment when you will be driven out by a would-be Israeli settler insisting that not even a long family history in this spot, this house, entitles you to remain there.
A large part of the narrative is the deeply personal, deeply disturbing story of the artist himself. During the Second Intifada, he set himself on the task of drawing portraits of the dead, drawing the victim in the mortuary, then giving the portrait to the family the next day, at the funeral. A young boy, the brother of one of the victims, asks, “Can you make my portrait?” The artist says no, he only draws the dead, and this boy surely has a long life ahead of him, but learns days later that the boy, too, has become a martyr, trying to avenge his killing of his brother.
“They tore down the tree and destroyed the nest?” is his dialogue among two birds. “Imagine living without a home.” This leads, as it must, to an apparently tragic conclusion: the settlers slice up an imagined Palestinian homeland, in the geographical territory agreed to at Camp David, into slices smaller and smaller, divided from each other so that travel and work, not to mention emergency medical care, become almost impossible.
Things could change, at least theoretically. But a humane outcome could not alter the power of Mohammad Sabaaneh’s artistic descriptions, their capacity, we hope, to open hearts of readers everywhere.
Chickaloonies is an all-ages comic book that invites anyone, especially young readers, to explore cultures, ask questions, and get excited about all the diversity in the world. Here is a fun and informative interview with the creative team that have put together this ongoing series: Dimi Macheras and Casey Silver. This is a book packed with fun and adventure and you’ll also learn about indigenous art and culture along the way!
The power of storytelling!
During our interview, Dimi Macheras shares about his time growing up in the Chickaloon Village in Alaska and hearing these indigenous stories recited by his grandmother, the tribal elder. In time, Dimi would recreate the stories into comics. The storytelling tradition was passed down to Dimi’s mother and she created special slideshow presentations, which she did at local schools, that mixed together the tribal myths with artwork by Dimi. Fast forward to the present and you’ve got the Chickaloonies series of comic books.
Early mini-comic by Dimi Macheras based on the stories he grew up with passed down by his grandmother and his mother.
Casey Silver shared all kinds of process insights. Among them, Casey brought up some of the influences behind the book, especially the brightly colored and energetic ’90s style of Dragonball, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Samurai Jack. It’s all part of a tradition that Casey and Dimi incorporate into their comics. Dimi also mentioned how influential Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been to them, everything from the original black & white comics all the way down to the action figures. And Casey pointed out how important the French action thriller, Lastman, has been for that added crunchy goodness.
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT
In a time of perpetual darkness, two Alaskan Native kids go on a quest to become the greatest storytellers the world has ever seen! Using the teachings of their grandmother, the language of their tribe, and their imaginations, Mister Yelly and Sasquatch E. Moji will journey to foreign lands to learn from other cultures, share the knowledge of their own and maybe even save the village!
An all-ages, Alaskan tribal adventure about legends, language, magic and the journey of discovering one’s own story in our ever-changing world.
The magic of storytelling!
UPCOMING LIVE EVENTS
There will be a book signing for Free Comic Book Day on August 14th at Bosco’s Comics Cards & Games in Anchorage, Alaska. And, on August 21st, join Dimi Macheras and Casey Silver at the Loussac Public Library, in Anchorage, for the official CHICKALOONIES graphic novel release party!! This one-day-only event will see the debut of a new interactive storytelling experience that 80% Studios has been developing for the past few months! They will also have live drawing, a Q&A, book signing and more! Fun for the whole family!!
Chickaloonies is a full color 100-page graphic novel by Dimi Macheras and Casey Silver, better known as 80% Studios! Our goal is to bring awareness of the rich, Ahtna/Athabascan culture to the forefront of popular media through the magical power of comic books! This is the first of many volumes chronicling the misadventures of Mister Yelly and Sasquatch E. Moji, so don’t miss out on your chance to join the adventure!
The more one digs into the comics medium, the more it rewards you as an immersive world of the mind. You can lose yourself in it as much as any other art form. Christopher Sperandio has taken quite a deep dive into re-working vintage public domain comics just as you would any other kind of “found art.” Check out some of his work on his Instagram. He is genuinely mesmerized by it and respectful of all the souls, many truly unsung heroes, who created the work in the first place. That said, when Sperandio hit upon a cache of original Mexican comic book pages at a public market, he knew right away that this wasn’t just another canvas upon which to recontextualize. This was something special that needed to be called attention to. Sperandio’s long and distinguished career features work that explores the interconnections between mass and museum culture. Sperandio teaches at Rice University where he specializes in working with the comics medium. He recently put together at Rice an arts lab, the Comic Art Teaching and Study Workshop (CATS) and this book is part of that.
A typical copy of Micro Suspenso, #305, circa 1968, 4 1/2 x 3 inches.
A mysterious packet of ink drawings sitting in a stall in a public market in Mexico City. At that point, the fate of these drawings, half a century old, was utterly dependent upon who might take notice of them. So, it’s something of a miracle that this set of drawings would catch the interest of the most ideal buyer. This bundle of originals was created by Julio Camarena for the comic book series, Micro Suspenso. There was no cover but the comic book could be dated to circa, 1970. The story, oddly enough, is entitled, “The Last Buyer.” With Sperandio’s purchase, this little batch of comic book art had fallen into academic hands and, as it turned out, Sperandio was to be the last buyer of this work prior to his immortalizing it in this book. To add a touch of intrigue, the originals were stolen and probably destroyed.
Julio Camarena is plucked from obscurity and joins the world of academia.
And so Julio Camarena, an obscure Mexican cartoonist, finds his work the subject of an academic study. Well, that’s just the beginning. As I mentioned, Sperandio has a working method that involves linking popular media to museum culture. And that is precisely what this purchase of drawings set into motion. We come back to the idea of a playground for the mind. When you stop and think about it, comic books (particularly strange and offbeat comic books) and museums, are both prime venues for some deep thinking, the stuff that dreams are made of! Sperandio developed his project step by step, bringing together the people and resources he needed under the CATS arts lab. In time, he had what was needed for an installation as well as a book.
From the pages of a comic book…
…to the gallery walls of a museum.
As a work of comics, “The Last Buyer” is more than just competent; it’s a guilty pleasure in the best sense. Right away, I was intrigued by the characters and their hint of Mod style sense. And who doesn’t like a good horror story about a possessed car? I’m Mexican-American, and I do read Spanish but not without some effort. I mean, the words don’t just jump out at me as they do in a work of comics in English. That sense of words jumping out is magical and it’s not happening when I’ve got a work of comics in Spanish. For the Camarena stash to fully function as a work of comics for a now predominantly English-speaking audience, the darn thing would need to be properly translated within the comic itself with the Spanish text replaced by English. There are notes at the back of the book with an English translation but that’s just not the same. That said, it’s a fun read. It is masterfully worked out, especially considering the tiny format that was common for these “micro-comics,” pocket-sized comics meant to be read on the way to work or in some less than rarefied environment. That said, of course, this set of drawings has totally become a creature of rarefied environments.
Page excerpt from “The Last Buyer.”
So, what’s so special about this stash of original comic book art that has been taken out of its natural habitat, as it were, and placed under a microscope? First, it’s a learning opportunity, right? Sperandio gets to share some of the history of Mexican comics and he even, early on, gets a chance to demonstrate how unfairly maligned the comics medium has been. His quote from 1999 by noted art critic Rosalind Krauss is priceless. When asked at a public lecture at Princeton University for her opinion on the comics medium, Krauss said the form was “unredeemable.” Ouch! Well, that was over twenty years ago and, I dare say, the general sentiment has changed. As for this stash of Mexican comics in particular, Sperandio is making the case that, yes, this little bundle of obscure comics is a historic and artistic artifact. And, while the originals are now gone forever, the originals had been properly digitized and so can now live on in print, as they were always intended to do. Sperandio, “the last buyer,” managed to pass on a little treasure to all sorts of future buyers, those who buy into the comic medium’s hard-won fight for credibility.
Where all this gets most interesting is in tracking down the one and only Julio Camarena, the cartoonist behind these mysterious comics. Camarena is given his due. He is not presented as some exotic but as the creative professional he was, part of a tradition, part of history. This is the moment when, if you were binge-watching on Netflix, the payoff is finally delivered. Sperandio has gotten to comment on Camarena. A contemporary cartoonist has provided his observations. And a professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature has held court– and even quoted a scholarly report that concludes Mexico and Japan are the world’s only true comic book cultures. All very interesting but now Camarena speaks about Camarena! And, like any long-awaited moment, it’s a little poignant and also a little anticlimactic. Camarena loved his work, has no regrets, and has little patience with looking back. He was interviewed a couple of years ago by Mexican cartoonist Augusto Mora. It’s a wonderful exchange between the two creatives. Camarena sounds to be very savvy about the comics market. He simply doesn’t take himself too seriously or put his work upon a pedestal. He makes a comment towards the end that he regrets that Mexican publishers began to dabble in cheesecake pin-up comics in an attempt to boost sales. That went against their core family audience and so it was no surprise to Camarena when that phase of comics tanked. Ironically, the only photos of Camarena have him showing some of his pin-up work. It’s actually rendered quite well, in a classic tradition but, apparently, he didn’t have his heart in it. No, his heart was in the work he was a part of for most of his life, stories that enthralled readers across a wide spectrum. It was a magical time, a time for all kinds of stories whether historic, romantic, adventurous, or even supernatural.
Cartoonist Julio Camarena
So, did Sperandio’s examination of the Camarena stash of drawings stretch and pull it well past anyone’s intended purpose? Okay, sure, but it was all worth it! Indeed, this book is a ticket to play in the playground of the mind. Seriously, this is a most welcome addition to comics scholarship in general–and Mexican comics in particular. We can already find a number of books that gravitate to pretty familiar subjects like Los Bros Hernandez. Sperandio goes further and provides us with some much needed insight into the roots of Mexican comics and culture. This quirky book is a wonderful exploration of many things, not the least of which is the playground of the mind.