I have interviewed Steve Lafler and I’m letting that sink in. The man is a walking encyclopedia of experiences and knowledge. I do hope we can chat again sometime. For a first interview, we covered a lot of ground. I was intrigued and delighted and I’m sure you will be too with this most provocative cartoonist.
Steve Lafler is a very cool cat–and, as promised, we’re about to take a deep dive into all things Lafler. Long before Zoom interviews, I’ve been taking notes and chatting with a good many talented folks. I think we cartoonists, at least a certain subgroup, are compelled to express ourselves in numerous ways. You’ll find, for instance, that comics and journalism have been entwined since the American colonies. In Mr. Lafler’s case, he has devoted a lot of energy in two directions, the love of comics and the love of music. In my interview, I try to focus on how Lafler has lovingly included music, especially jazz, into his comics.
1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona is Lafler’s latest title and we enjoy talking about it. The subtext is pretty much in the forefront: our main character, Ramon, seems to be most happy when he gets to be Ramona. Or, if not most happy, then it’s definitely a sweet joy to dress up and be a woman for the night. That said, the comics pretty much speak for themselves. Lafler, himself, has provided a few clues over the years that he enjoys indulging in some gender-bending dressing up. One must follow their muse! I think, with 1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona, Lafler beautifully expresses that most basic and primal human need to be true to one’s self.
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.
The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski. By Noah Van Sciver. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2020. 452 pp. $39.99.
Noah Van Sciver is an interesting cartoonist. He’s long graduated from being one of “those to watch” to an artist with a substanital track record. As a cartoonist myself, I admire and appreciate what he’s doing. He is best known for his lovable loudmouth character, Fante Bukowski, a confused mashup of Charles Bukowski and John Fante. The ongoing joke here is that Fante Bukowski is a perpetually aspiring writer, both artless and clueless. If you haven’t jumped on the Fante Bukowski bandwagon yet, now is the time with the release of The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski, which collects every mishap and stumble all the way on a crazed quest for fame and fortune.
Fante dreams big.
I think that Fante is a very successful character. Van Sciver has developed something that people can easily relate to. Despite the fact that Fante is associated with the literary crowd, there’s nothing highbrow about him. If nothing else, Fante is accessible. You can think of him as the Homer Simpson of lost souls. In a higher sense, Fante is a perfect vehicle for Van Sciver to skewer any lofty notions about art. But even suggesting this may only make Van Sciver laugh. For something really serious and dark, he’d direct you to his graphic novella, Saint Cole. There’s definitely loads of irony and irreverence attached to Fante. On a more basic level, you can replace any literary stuff in here (replace it with general office culture, academia or even indie comics culture) and enjoy this as a story about a guy who is not much more than a professional wedding crasher, a latter day Groucho Marx out to expose hypocrisy and pretentiousness in all its many forms even if he’s not aware of it. The character is funny, gets into silly situations, and will make you laugh. But there’s more.
Fante Bukowski demands to be taken seriously as a writer. Van Sciver presents us with the journey of a misguided young man who really has no great talent, skill or genuine passion. Fante simply feels entitled to be a success. Fante will make some effort, just the bare minimum, towards his dreams, and expect instant results. His bare minimum efforts are garbage but he refuses to take no for an answer. All in all, this is very funny stuff. Imagine Steve Martin, in his prime, in the role of Fante. Or Ricky Gervais. However, given all the work it took to set up the premise of Fante, it would have been interesting if the satirical aim was a bit more precise if that were possible. As it is, Fante does indeed have hilarious moments like when he’s courting favor with a “literary journal” he’d like to have his work in, the Firewarter Journal, with such a perfectly pompous name and a circulation of a dozen to match. These are the sort of pleasant jabs that you might expect from the comic strip, Doonesbury, but more generic. Ultimately, Van Sciver succeeds by keeping his humor broad.
A romantic but stupid idea of being a writer.
Van Sciver seems to root for irreverence more than anything as a way to move things along. He doesn’t want anything to be taken too seriously, including his own work. He’s not trying to be Dash Shaw. And he doesn’t seem to aspire to write a true comedy of manners like cartoonist Posy Simmonds although he does a fine job with the social commentary he does end up doing. More importantly, he has definitely invested quite a lot in the idea that Fante Bukowski is a clueless young loudmouth who is completely absorbed with entitlement. That alone is key. A lot of other tidbits up for satire can be lightly played with. The big takeaway is that Fante Bukowski is a young empty suit. He feels he is owed something with apparently nothing to show for his outrageous demands. If, in spite of this fact, Fante did find his fame and fortune, then the joke would truly be on us.
While much care has been taken, Van Sciver has also made sure to leave a certain amount of a raw quality to what he does–and there is a long-standing tradition for that in indie comics and in art in general. You want to avoid getting too polished, too slick. You want to look the opposite of “corporate.” So, you’ll see the artwork is only refined up to a certain point. Some cartoonists, for example, will deliberately misuse digital coloring to subvert the idea of making things look too pretty. Van Sciver, for example, could have easily chosen a way to seamlessly clean up any mistakes in his text but he wants you to be aware of them. He has pasted over by hand every correction to his text and made it so that you clearly notice it. Whatever the reason, it reads as a style choice.
Unlucky in love.
Following this subversive impulse, Van Sciver does the same for the actual story. Nothing is supposed to be taken too seriously–and that does make sense when you’re poking fun at all those “highbrows” who take themselves too seriously, right? That notion is where you might find some subtext. Van Sciver peppers his comics with all sorts of quotes from various famous writers and artists and, within this loopy context, even the best lines from Hemingway or Fitzgerald all sound like sayings from fortune cookies. For a book that seems to be in it just for laughs, taking a blowtorch to the old masters has some bite to it. But no one really wants to topple truly great writers, do they? Maybe so but going down that rabbit hole is a pretty tall order. In the end, it seems that we’re supposed to turn our gaze back to Fante Bukowski and maybe pity the poor fool.
Noah Van Sciver is an Ignatz award-winning cartoonist who first came to comic readers’ attention with his critically acclaimed comic book series Blammo. His work has appeared in the Best American Comics and the Fantagraphics anthology series NOW. Van Sciver is a regular contributor to Mad magazine and has created many graphic novels including The Hypo and Saint Cole. His latest, The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski, collects all three volumes of the Fante Bukowski series in an expanded hardcover edition with extra features and special material. His follow up, Please Don’t Step on My JNCO Jeans, will be published in December.
A true curiosity shop is something to behold. Certain things are a given. Antiques. Vintage. Oddities. The magic comes in when you feel that you’ve entered into another world. If you are in Seattle, then you have to go to Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop. I’ve been thinking about doing a post on this shop for a while now. What I’ve always enjoyed about Ballyhoo is its funhouse experience coupled with its orderly presentation. Ballyhoo invites you to discover new and weird stuff while also making it easy to gain access to it. So, see for yourself in person. For now, enjoy my video tour. I welcome your comments, likes, and subscribing:
It’s human nature to want to wander around and explore. Some people take it farther than others. Some people find a particular itch to scratch. What are you in the mood for? Something old with character or something that pushes the envelope? You can satisfy your cravings in so many ways– and with a touch of strange.
Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop
Ryan Robbins, owner of Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop, is a gracious beacon of light. The key to success in any endeavor is passion. That is exactly what Ryan has to share with all of his customers. With palpable enthusiasm, Ryan described his vision for Ballyhoo as evoking the feeling of being in another world, one where anything is possible. Maybe something out of the movie, “Gremlins,” or “Indiana Jones,” or a haunted house in New Orleans.
Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop
Enter Ballyhoo’s wonderland and you’ve entered a tidy collection of stores within a larger framework: nautical, ethnographic, fossils and minerals. The quirky alongside the esoteric. You’ve entered a museum and funhouse.
We want to be taken out of our comfort zone, at least those of us that like to meet at curiosity shops. We want to slip into the unexpected. And we’re smart, very smart, about it. Maybe we get a tattoo at midnight, but it’s something that we’ve been planning on for months, maybe years.
Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop
Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop
Whatever you may end up purchasing at a curiosity shop comes with a certain level of commitment. Are you ready to own a significant piece of taxidermy? Or how about a gem, a print, or a t-shirt? Some of the oddest items get snatched up by bar owners and tattoo shop owners. Other items find homes as much from tourists as from local shoppers. Yes, Ballyhoo has its share of regulars. So, rest assured, whatever your tastes, there’s something for you at Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop, in Seattle’s Ballard Avenue Historic District.
As always, I welcome your likes, comments, and following. Be sure to like and comment at the Comics Grinder Facebook page too. You help make Comics Grinder special.
“Geek Ink: The World’s Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists, and Intellectuals”
GEEK INK is much more than just a book about tattoos or a collection of way cool tattoos. This is truly exceptional first-rate work from some of the best talent working today around the world. GEEK INK is a book that showcases tattoos artists from Inkstinct, the world’s largest online tattoo studio directory and app. GEEK INK is published by Race Point Publishing, an imprint of The Quarto Group.
New York City tattoo artist Emrah Ozhan
Here you will find exquisite work like that of Emrah Ozhan, an artist from Istanbul, based in New York City. Ozhan is a multidisciplinary artist celebrated for his tattoo work. His portfolio includes tattoo work, graphic and fashion design, music, collaborations, and fine art.
L.A. tattoo artist Lustandconsume aka Phil Tworavens
Way across to the U.S. west coast, you can find L.A. tattoo artist Lustandconsume aka Phil Tworavens. This is very trippy and very impressive work. No wonder he’s a legend of blackwork tattooing.
The book is split into two sections. The first section covers profiles of tattoo master artists while the second provides galleries of work divided into categories. Every artist here is part of Inkstinct. There are twenty-five artists featured in lengthy features which are, I kid you not, like chatting with master tattoo artists and having them share tips and secrets. I have done a lot of research on tattoos. I am a huge fan. I simply adore tattoos and embrace the community. This book will fit right in for those new to tattoos and for longtime connoisseurs.
Examples of Fantasy Tattoo Art
The second half of the book takes just as meticulous care as the previous profiles and presents tattoo artwork in sixteen categories. This includes work in the fantasy category that includes the above example: from clockwise: Maleficent-inspired tattoo by Maria Fernandez; City in The Clouds by Jessica Svartvit; and Unicorn tattoo by Rob Carvalho, inspired by My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
For me, tattoos have been on my radar for quite a long time and I’m always on the lookout for resource material. I am gradually getting inked and, who knows, I may need to actually pursue being a tattoo artist myself down the road. There are a ton of books on tattoos but GEEK INK truly stands out for its high quality presentation and genuine insight. You won’t learn how to tattoo from this book. This is the sort of book that people turn to for gems of insight and inspiration. For casual observers too, this will prove a handy all-in-one guidebook on what’s hot today in tattoos.
“Geek Ink: The World’s Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists, and Intellectuals” is a 224-page hardcover in full color and is available now. For more details, visit The Quarto Group.
Look in the About section to his website and M. Jacob Alvarez says of himself: “M. Jacob Alvarez is a cartoonist, comedian, and chemical engineer (seriously dude, silly drawings and conspiracy theory jokes don’t pay many bills…)” How true! Well, being a chemical engineer is an astonishingly good place to be if you want to create a graphic novel. Less to worry about or more room to worry about other things–since there’s always something. How about if you’re young and vulnerable? That is exactly the subject matter Alvarez tackles in his new graphic novel, “Chinatown Bus.” It is a heart-felt exploration of hipsterdom–and Alvarez’s irreverence serves him well here.
There’s a certain time in your life when you will not only tolerate, but even revel, in drinking cheap beer from a Solo plastic cup, sold to you at a premium price since you’re in a chic nightclub (which ain’t so chic). There you are under a low ceiling packed in a little sweatbox with a bunch of other scenesters pretending to like a really bad band. So intense! The aim of Alvarez’s 84-page graphic novel is not so much to satirize. More like to bear witness. While not an autobio comic, Alvarez admits in his forward to being very familiar with the struggles of his young characters.
“Chinatown Bus” by M. Jacob Alvarez
Alvarez has a wonderfully energetic and cartoony style that is accessible and inspires empathy with his characters. Lyn is a guy from Philly taking the Chinatown Bus to New York City. He is in a long distance relationship and is sort of feeling stuck. All it takes is a text miscommunication from Kelly, his girlfriend, and Lyn is ready to call it quits. To his credit, Lyn is certain that Kelly has just dumped him. There is a cute passenger he’s been eying and so he decides to confide in her. Jane, flattered to have Lyn open up to her, invites him to hang out with her.
Panel from “Chinatown Bus”
It turns out that Kelly did not really dump Lyn, at least not outright. Alvarez really enjoys setting things up and then lighting the fuse. A fine example is once all three of these characters meet. Jane ends up knocking Kelly out cold. Lyn explodes and unleashes his fury upon Jane. He chastises her. Turn the page and Jane is full-on outraged for being called a drama queen. Three more pages, and we see Lyn’s steady descent, completely alone and deflated.
Page from “Chinatown Bus”
Any reader will enjoy a gritty urban tale about young people trying to find themselves. These characters definitely have their flaws and are prone to hide behind caustic remarks but Alvarez presents it all with a human touch that will resonate with the reader. This is a great example of a cartoonist’s debut graphic novel. Alvarez has successfully followed through on a specific theme and vision.
“Chinatown Bus” is available at multiple comics shops including Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Columbus, Ohio. For more details, visit M. Jacob Alvarez right here.
A wretched staleness in the air. Lost souls strewn about. And it’s all played up for laughs! Welcome to the wonderful world of cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. I really admire Tom’s style, in person and in his comics. Tom is a very likable and professional gent. So, it’s a unique treat to then read his comics featuring Tom’s vile and hateful alter ego. I reviewed a couple of issues of his Scorched Earth comics. You can read that here. This new collection, published by Kilgore Books, that came out this year simply goes by the same running title and contains a fine mix of old and new material. You will want to seek this out.
Tom Van Deusen’s aim is to satirize the oily underbelly of hipsterdom with a neo-underground sensibility. His characters traffic in a Robert Crumb-like netherworld where hedonism and arrogance commingle. Like Crumb, Van Deusen is both fascinated and repulsed by the hipster zeitgeist. Van Deusen’s alter ego, Tom, struggles to connect with a woman who is willing to sleep with anyone…except him. She’ll even sleep with his doppelgänger but not the original. Tom can’t even get a handle on the e-cigarette craze that all the “cool kids” have latched onto. For Tom, vaping does not involve a slim little gadget delivering dramatic puffs of vapor. No, for Tom, it involves a monstrous contraption that looks like an iron lung.
Hanging out at Glo’s Diner
One of the best bits in the book takes place at Glo’s Diner, located in what is the Capitol Hill district of Seattle, a densely populated area and a counterculture mecca. I curated art shows at Glo’s Diner for five years and presented work from local cartoonists including David Lasky, Ellen Forney, Jennifer Daydreamer, Farel Dalrymple, and myself. It is a small space. The food is okay. But there is something about that peculiar little oily spoon that reads authentic. It’s great to see a cartoonist of Van Deusen’s caliber pick up on that. He takes his time to capture the place’s true dimensions and spirit.
Full page excerpt from SCORCHED EARTH
The not so sweet young things remain out of reach for sad sack Tom. He remains on the fringes of the fashionable fringe element. The beauty of it all is that Van Deusen dares to keep vigil, take notes, and then pile it all into a blender and create some very funny comics.
Visit Tom here, find his comics at Poochie Press right here and find this recent collection of SCORCHED EARTH at Kilgore Books & Comics right here.
Daniel Stope is a well-intentioned young man from the country who has dreams of becoming a professional artist. Of course, one of the best places to foster, as well as dash, such ambitions is going to an art school. In can be honey or vinegar, depending upon numerous factors. Jamie Coe explores the honey and vinegar of art school in his debut graphic novel, “Art Schooled,” published by Nobrow Press.
Welcome to Hipsterville: SUGAR SKULL by Charles Burns
Welcome to hipsterville. If there is something that is both scary and fascinating to observe (like a train wreck) it is the activity of a hipster. Charles Burns completes his ode to the lives of hipsters gone terribly wrong in the final part of his Nitnit trilogy, “Sugar Skull.” Outside of a Stephen King novel, this new book by Burns offers up plenty to be creeped out over. Think of it as “Carrie” for the Gen X set.
For those of you in Seattle, this is a very interesting weekend. For fans of rising cartoonist talent, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is the place to be this Sunday, July 13 from 3:00 to 5:00 PM. It will be your chance to meet Eleanor Davis and Esther Pearl Watson. This is part of Georgetown Art Attack weekend, July 12-13, 2014.