Tag Archives: Humor

Director Interview: Animated Short THE CLEARING

A marriage on the rocks about to implode.

The Clearing is an animated short that recently achieved Oscar nomination eligibility. It is the brainchild of Daniel Robert Hope who wrote, directed, and animated this devilishly good character study. If you are a fan of Wallace & Gromit, then you’ll enjoy this dark and spooky character study. It was my pleasure to chat with him for a bit about this intriguing new short work.

You will be able to see The Clearing for yourself beginning on December 9th as part of The New Yorker Screening Room series.

Bill is a wildly delusional sad case. He thinks of himself at the head honcho of the family but he neglects his wife and son at every turn. It’s only a matter of time before he gets his comeuppance and then some. Deb is his partner and she’s pretty much had it. Perhaps some unexpected development will set things straight.

Bill and Deb are played by legendary comedy talents, the husband and wife team of Julian Barratt and Julia Davis. Hope conjures up a riveting morality play spiked with wonderful dry wit that is fully brought to life by the voices of Barratt and Davis.

Silly and sad in equal measure, Hope’s surreal comedy would fit right into a vintage episode of The Twilight Zone. Hope was joined in his efforts by producer Johannes Schubert, who was named Austria’s Producer on the Move at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022 and was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

The Clearing is the latest of a host of outstanding animations to come out of the U.K.’s prestigious National Film and Television School, including Wallace & Gromit, The Hill Farm, Head Over Heels, The Bigger Picture, and many more.

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Anna Haifisch: Comix and the Art World

Anna Haifisch is one of our great artist-cartoonists with an impressive portfolio already in her young career. You may know her from The Artist comic strip series that appeared on Vice.com. In this interview, we chat about her latest book, Schappi, published by Fantagraphics. It was a pleasure to review this book recently for The Comics Journal. You can read my review here.

An artist out for a light snack.

So, the goal here was simply to have a pleasant conversation and perhaps scratch the surface a bit on the whole subject of comics as fine art. At this point, I believe there can be little doubt over comics being a true art form, just as entitled as paintings to be displayed in a museum. The fact is that the comics medium fits right in with other established forms and uniquely inhabits the art world space. Comics, as an artwork, can be shown in original form; is easily blown up to cover a wall space; and is tailor-made for any kind of book or digital format. The future is indeed very bright for comics in galleries and museums.

That said, it is a nice treat to be able to discuss this subject with a cartoonist of the caliber of Haifisch, who can lay claim to her own show of her work at a major museum, the MdbK in Leipzig. As Haifisch pointed out during our talk, museums are still coming around to comics. Unless you’re a figure of the magnitude of an R. Crumb or a Chris Ware, cartoonists are still edging their way into the higher strata of the art world. Well, that is steadily changing.

Comicfestival Hamburg, MOM Art Space, 2021

That steady change will quicken each time that cartoonists manage to take control of the narrative. All one needs to do is observe the work that Art Spiegelman has done on behalf of cartoonists, including himself, in making inroads into academic and museum circles. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen. In the case of Haifisch, she is making strides in a very natural way. The whole idea of dedicating time and effort on the museum catalog is utterly priceless! We discuss at length Chez Schnabel, the publication that resulted from the art show at MdbK. There’s your key to progress: a book about the artistic process with content made exclusively for the book. Talk about controlling the narrative! It’s quite informative and a delight to read. For example, I had to ask Haifisch about the drawings she did in connection with The Peabody Hotel. Did she go to Memphis and draw the famous ducks on parade? Well, no. As it turns out the idea of creating illustrations about hotel ducks was just too hard to resist and so she used that to add some color to a relatively dry interview with some museum dignitaries discussing Haifisch’s work. And it did the job just fine.

Happiness, Where Are You?

Learn more about Anna Haifisch by visiting her website right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Interviews, Museums

THE PAINTED TREE — Shopper’s Paradise

The Painted Tree, The Shops at Hilltop, Virginia Beach

The Painted Tree is truly a one-stop-shop experience, perfect for the holidays. I’ve been meaning to share this unique shopping experience with you and now’s the time. As an artist and all-around “DIY maker,” this appeals to me. The focus here is specialty gift items, home decor and boutique clothing–which covers quite a lot of options. What began as one vintage market in Bryant, Arkansas in 2015 has grown into a network of superstores in over a dozen locations across the country bringing together indie artisans and businesses. I’m thrilled to share with you what I’ve found at the location in The Shops at Hilltop, Virginia Beach. And, of local note, The Shops at Hilltop will be celebrating with an Open House extravaganza this weekend, December 1, 2 and 3.

My first visit to The Painted Tree was at The Shops at Hilltop here in Virginia Beach. You can literally spend the whole day at this amazing complex of top-of-the-line boutiques and restaurants. And, as I say, you can find just about anything for every kind of taste at The Painted Tree: fashion, pop culture, art, antiques and so much more. I’ll provide here some samples of items that caught my eye and top it off with a video tour.

Crow!

Crabs!

Compass!

Selfies to Canvas

One of the vendors here, Nancy Harrington, gave me the scoop on what The Painted Tree has to offer. Her business, for example, Selfies to Canvas, will convert pictures from your cell phone and turn them into works on stretched canvas. Nancy spoke about the community of vendors she is so happy to be a part of. In fact, she took me around to point out a few highlights, like Church Mouse fine woodworking as well as K Courage artisan jewelry and fiber art.

“This is the perfect home for an entrepreneur.   The Painted Tree is worry-free and so much fun.  For the guests coming to shop, we are not just a shopping trip, but a whole shopping experience.  Maybe kind of corny, but to coin a phrase, ‘We are Etsy on steroids.’  All the best in one place.  You are supporting the small business person and finding treasures you didn’t even know existed! I offer a one-of-a-kind gift for your loved ones, friends or yourself.  Any picture on your cell phone can be perfected and transferred to canvas while you shop.”

— Nancy Harrington, Selfies to Canvas

Art Cat

Happy Holidays!

Catwoman by Mark Winslow, Your New Best Friend

Church Mouse Woodworking by Al Cain

Art by Mabelle Lansdell

K Courage artisan jewelry and fiber art.

Shore Drive Farm Market, Lynnhaven Coffee Shop.

Crystals!

Coffee!

I’m thrilled to know about this amazing shopper’s paradise and look forward to getting to know the whole scene better. I am amazed by all of the talented folks, including artists Isa Sofia Monell, J Glynn Winters, Rachel Jennings and Summer Paradiso, among many others. I’ve already noticed that items get snatched up pretty quickly, making room for new merchandise. Oh, well, I thought I had more time to consider buying that antique phonograph!

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Filed under Art, Comics, Gifts, The Painted Tree, Virginia Beach

Short Run Comix Festival (11/05/2022)Debut: WOMP WOMP #3

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for many indie comics fans making their way to Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle. This Saturday it’s the place to be to meet up with old friends, survey recent comix offerings and nab some items making their debut, like Brandon Lehmann’s WOMP WOMP #3. Are you already a Brandon Lehmann fan, or have you been waiting for a friendly nudge? Well, here goes. Let’s take a peek at this new title, a fine example of what you can find at Short Run.

WOMP WOMP #3 is Brandon Lehman’s new 28-page full color book debuting at Short Run.

What happens in the pages of WOMP WOMP stays in WOMP WOMP. All the more reason to seek it out. Seriously, these kind of books don’t read themselves. But if this book could, it would have hilarious tales to tell like the first story in this collection, “The Time Machine.” Yeah, you read that right. Lehmann goes on an all-out time travel trope bender to give the reader masterfully crafted satire. Lehmann keeps perfecting what he does to the point of it being just a sheer joy to read. I think he’s developed a highly original universe of deadpan humor that, like Frankenstein’s monster, is a beast moving under its own power. Ah, but don’t aim a pitchfork at this guy. Read. Enjoy. I think Lehmann is having a great time with his work and that’s a reward onto itself. And yet, it’s not too much to ask for more. With each year, more fans emerge, more ideas take shape for more comics. I see that Lehmann has some amazing prints of stand-alone art to sell along with his comics. I hope to maybe even see some animation down the road. Whatever he does, it’s finely-crafted and worth your attention.

Page excerpt from “The Time Machine”

So, in closing, I say, “Womp! Womp!” to all of you! “Womp! Womp!” Say it out loud. Fascinating how it instantly amuses. Well, it sounds like that sound you hear on game shows when the contestant gives the wrong answer, right? It’s a funny and weird sound and, hey, it can be a quick tonic for so much that we have to put up with in life. It sure is. I’m not gonna lie! I’m not gonna lie! Oh, how I hate that phrase. Have you ever heard anything more vacuous and phoney?! Well, . . . of  course, you have! We put up with so much. All the wretched counter-intuitive contortions we must endure. And for what? As a sign that we’re a team player and totally and utterly sane? No, it’s madness, I tell you. Sheer and total bonkers. So, yeah, you make some time for yourself. A little (or a lot!) of ME time and yell it out proudly, scream it out unabashedly, “Womp! Womp!”

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Filed under Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Seattle, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival

PUBLIC DOMAIN #5 comics review

Public Domain (#5) writer/artist Chip Zdarsky  Image Comics (19 Oct 2022 issue) $3.99

Chip Zdarsky is an exemplary, stupendous, and extraordinary comics creator, someone I’ve admired since his groundbreaking work with Matt Fraction on Sex Criminals. But, before I embarrass myself any further, let the following video create the right mood. Maybe you are already a fan but, if you’re new, let Chip Zdarsky speak for himself:

Okay, so, Sex Criminals was written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky. For Public Domain, Zdarsky is both the writer and artist. And that fact alone is worth the price of admission. We get full-on Chip Zdarsky, filled with whipsmart humor. People still use “whipsmart,” don’t they? Anyway, this is a love letter to the comic book from somebody who really gets it, and has seen it all from working on many of the biggest comic book franchises. Zdarsky knows where the bodies are buried or, in other words, how corporate comics are made. And, well, that’s not always to the satisfaction of comics purists or to anyone who appreciates a well-thought-out story. That’s the theme here: the little guy (Jack Kirby or Bill Finger, etc.) going against the suits who take the lion’s share of the profits and exploit the work created by the likes of a Kirby or a Finger. The little guys vs. the suits. And that’s not to say that little guys can’t be physically big and/or wear actual suits.

From #4: Let’s make some comics!

Issue Five is a great jumping on point as the stage is set for the old true blue creator of the iconic (and movie franchise) comic book character, The Domain, to get his chance to create his own new stories and own the rights to them. Syd Dallas never really cared about the business side to comics and allowed his employer, Singular media, to rob him blind. That all changed when a perfect storm of circumstances led to a legal fight. Now, suddenly, Syd Dallas is leading his own comic book company featuring the new adventures of The Domain. This is a far-fetched adventure even for Syd but his sons, both at loose ends, force him to find the will and the grit to give it a go. Add to the mix a young aspiring writer, Tanya, who used to work for Syd’s less than scrupulous creative partner, Jerry Jaspers.

From #4: Enter Tanya!

In this latest issue, it’s up to Syd to get on with creating comics. Along with his two wayward sons, Miles (the ex-reporter with a bad temper and gambling addiction) and David (the tattoo artist with the shit-eating grin). Some of the best moments involve Miles and David and are seemingly nothing moments of apprehension and ennui. One favorite line from the new issue: “S’all good, man. Just a bunch of unemployed people pretending to not be unemployed.”

From #4: We love comics!

All in all, the banter and social commentary adds up to a delicious dark satire on the less than innocent comics industry. But who among us is innocent, right? Ah, well, now that’s the frame of mind to be in for this snarky, yet heart-felt, tale. Getting back to the issue of creating quality work, it all comes back to it being well-thought-out work and that’s where Zdarsky has got you covered. He actually writes! Maybe that’s his big secret: to actually write with integrity and, heck, you just might create something worth reading. Who knew?

Public Domain is published by Image Comics. Issue Five comes out 19 October 2022. If I did any rating, I’d give this one 10/10.

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SOMEBODY FEED PHIL THE BOOK Review — The Must-Have Travel/CookBook

It’s the series come to life!

Somebody Feed Phil the Book. by Phil Rosenthal and Jenn Garbee. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2022. 352 pp. $32.50

What is not to like about Somebody Feed Phil the Book? It’s the series come to life! If you are a fan of the food and travel show, created and hosted by Phil Rosenthal, well, this is the essential companion piece. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve viewed all the episodes on Netflix and occasionally still go back to some of your favorites. Totally fine. I’m not judging. I’ll go you one better and confess that I was an early adopter to the series and got my better half hooked on it. After that, we went back and picked clean the original PBS series, also created by Phil. Finally, we went back to other stuff related to Phil, chiefly the comedy classic sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, the show that Phil Rosenthal created and wrote for and firmly established him in the first place. I wonder, does this not ring any bells for anyone? I sense there was a time when Phil was more under the radar and now it really seems that, dare I say, Everybody Loves Phil!

The wonders of Bangkok.

The first thing I did was go through the table of contents and see which cities made the cut. I was surprised not to see Paris or Florence. But I was happy to see that New York and London, among others, did make the cut. Here’s the thing, for fans of the show, this is really special and that sense of the special should carry over quite well to just about anyone. What you get is a genuinely delightful host, who cherishes and features his loved ones on the show, provides numerous heart-felt and useful bits of insights on travel and, last but not least, pays tribute to a favorite subject of mine, food. It’s like the whole show in your pocket, or your kitchen table. And you get all these recipes! I keep rediscovering my love for good cookbooks when I am presented with a book such as this that is following a theme (in this case, it is predominantly a theme of adventure and appreciation). Thanks to this book, I can honestly say, I’m seriously looking at traveling to Thailand. The first city featured in the series, and the book, is Bangkok and it’s Phil’s unbridled love for the food and culture that has completely won me over.

Yes, the recipes are solid. You could live off the recipes in this book.

And so I dove in and went for it. No, not the travel part yet. I dove in and followed the recipe for Khao Soi, which Phil admitted to being his favorite dish, or pretty darn close to it. So, yeah, I fired up the test kitchen and we had ourselves quite a feast. I learned so much from that experience. I think it comes down to always being mindful of how much you get back when you make that extra effort. Now, this dish did seem to require some patience but, overall, it’s so much fun to make, relatively easy and lends itself to so many variations. Basically, you need meat, noodles, some chili paste, coconut milk and the rest of the ingredients just fall into place. Yes, the recipes are solid. You could live off the recipes in this book.

A fantastic tribute to New York City.

Again, the ability to enjoy the series in a different format is priceless. Of course, it was inevitable that I’d go to my favorite episode, the one devoted to New York City. Hands down, this is a city made up of restaurant customers of one kind or another, whether nondescript or celebrated, from the most humble to the most fancy. Pizza, of course, gets a lot of attention. And then there is one quintessential delight in particular, the noble Egg Cream, an utterly simple drink made up of chocolate syrup, seltzer and milk. But there are essential details. Aim for about equal parts to each ingredient and serve in a chilled glass. The syrup needs to be Fox’s U-Bet. And the way the drink is mixed can cause great debate. It’s Phil’s intense interest in culture and food that inspired me to create my own tribute to the egg cream. Perhaps I digress a bit but it’s all worth noting and, from what I’ve seen, this is definitely Phil’s favorite treat.

A taste of New Orleans. It’s all about the food and the culture.

The whole point of the show is to celebrate your favorite foods but then go beyond your comfort zone. Travel! See the world. That’s what life is all about: mixing and mingling with folks from different cultures. Phil has proven time and time again to be an excellent host, an all-time great evangelist on adventurous eating and traveling. In many ways, this book is his life’s work. He’d laugh–but he’d also nod and give you one of his goofy, and worldly-wise, smiles.

Somebody Feed Phil the Book is available as of October 18, 2022. Find it at Simon & Schuster. For information on the book tour, go here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Food, New York City, Travel

☀️ NOAH VAN SCIVER | As a Cartoonist review 💬

As a Cartoonist. Noah Van Sciver. Fantagraphics. 2022. 104 pp. $19.99

One thing you need to get straight is that a bona fide cartoonist, in the truest sense of the word, is someone with a certain way of moving about in the world. I’m a cartoonist, so I should know. Just about every word I write is somehow connected to the fact that I’m one of those people. Word choice is everything. Well, maybe it’s more like every line of thought but it can get right down to the granular level. It’s absolutely a way of life, and that’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It is what it is–and those among us who are part of this tribe, made up of so many groups and subgroups, understand that this unique ability to write and draw comes at a price. No one is born with this ability, although some people are definitely more predisposed to creating  comics than others. Sorry, but it’s a skill that demands a number of factors to fall into place if you intend to reach a certain level of excellence. You don’t see a short person agonizing over the fact that they will never be an all-star basketball player. And, yes, I know about Spud Webb, but he’s the exception to the rule. Anyway, most people don’t give a hoot about whether or not they will ever create comics of any form, let alone win awards and accolades for their effort. This is the story about someone who really cares about all those things having to do with becoming a masterful cartoonist. We’re talking about Noah Van Sciver. And he’d be the first to tell you that being a cartoonist is no walk in the park–and yet, there isn’t anything he’d rather be more.

This book is about all the peculiar things about being a cartoonist. That’s really what it all boils down to. Being a cartoonist is peculiar. That, in and of itself, is a burden and yet it is also alluring. Essentially, it’s something special that envelopes the person seeking to master it. Just like any other creative endeavor, like starting up a band. Noah Van Sciver’s story is one of struggle, persistence, and ultimate accomplishment. This book, a collection of short works in comics, adds up to a portrait of the artist, perhaps his best set of portrait pieces to date. This is, you could say, an anthology all by one creator. In the world of indie comics, cartoonists are always scrambling to jump on board and join the latest collective effort, a way to promote each other and get one’s work out into the world. It’s all about getting people to read your work. A lot of Van Sciver’s auto-bio comics are about this ongoing pursuit of readers: courting them, wanting them, wondering where they are. For all the anti-social behavior that a cartoonist may engage in, at the end of the day, it’s all about the readers. Maybe the cartoonist isn’t exactly looking to spend too much time with any particular reader, but it’s nice to know that they’re still around.

Van Sciver wins over his readers without playing up to them. Far from it. In fact, he’s more than happy to speak the unvarnished truth byway of his social satire. He has a way of evoking authenticity. A real cartoonist, especially someone like Van Sciver who uses his own life for material, is always striving to be real and avoid any false notes. So, Van Sciver’s best work comes across as totally unfiltered. Of course, it’s a balance of artifice and reality. But a reader still ends up getting caught up in the moment as when Van Sciver is juggling an interview with a prominent reporter and his uncouth brother who has just crashed upon the scene. In this specific moment, a big event at an art museum featuring Van Sciver’s work, the hierarchy is easily hijacked. No sooner has Van Sciver begun to talk to the reporter than he’s put off by her obvious remarks. He even sympathizes with his train wreck of a sibling, if only for a moment.

In another more complex scene, Van Sciver is a visiting artist on campus and must find a way to tolerate those less fortunate but still quite annoying. A relatively young man, actually thirty and not so young, who loves to wear a top hat and read teen girl manga, is prime fodder for Van Sciver’s wrath. The guy in the top hat, it turns out, is easily triggered by what he sees as Van Sciver’s micro-agressions. Nevermind that Top Hat has a lot of arrested development to deal with. Now, Top Hat’s focus is to get Van Sciver into trouble by reporting him to a school administrator. There’s no winning for Van Sciver when he’s called in to explain himself. Later, he tries to turn the other cheek and be positive. But, ultimately, Van Sciver is right back to being underwhelmed by life on campus.

A wonderful companion piece to this collection is the 2018 graphic memoir, One Dirty Tree, looking  back on a childhood with eight other siblings in a less than ideal situation. This is a closer look at a ramshackle upbringing: living in squalor, an abusive and irresponsible father who is a Mormon zealot, and a young man with a very uncertain future–a young life miraculously held together by dreams of some day becoming a famous cartoonist! By force of will and determination, Noah Van Sciver turned his dreams into a reality beginning with his series of collected comics, Blammo. That would lead to his early masterpiece, his first graphic novel, 2012’s The Hypo. And, most recently, 2022’s Joseph Smith and the Mormons. This new book, As a Cartoonist, comes full circle with a collection of short works that feature comics from Blammo, among other sources.

In 1980, Woody Allen made Stardust Memories. He had already made two of his masterworks, Annie Hall and Manhattan, and he seemed to be at a crossroads: keep making funny movies or make more serious films. Perhaps there was a bit of a struggle. Just see Interiors. Anyway, a certain Woody Allen universe had been created and he was pretty much set and would go on to create a wonderful body of work. Van Sciver pays homage to that creative turning point in a moment in the book where he recreates Allen asking space aliens for advice. It’s a perfect opportunity for Van Sciver to insert himself and provide another take on the absurdity of it all.

Van Sciver is now at a point where he can look back and see significant milestones, including Fante Bukowski, which alone would thrill any cartoonist to call their own, and which Van Sciver can say confidently he brought into this world. Having recently become a father, Van Sciver honors his son, Remy, with a dedication and the final comic in the book. I think it’s safe to say that Noah Van Sciver is on the right path.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Noah Van Sciver

Comics: A Day at the Beach by Henry Chamberlain

Comics on the beach, right? In theory, at least, you could create comics on the beach. You could also read comics on the beach! As long as you’re not a comics collector, you don’t have much to worry about since that comic book is likely going to get trashed any number of ways: sun, wind, sand, maybe even a crab. . . or a shark. But something is going to happen. It’s the great outdoors! You’re at the beach! So, it’s going to be a challenge. As for creating a comic on the beach, well, that’s possible. Probably best to keep things simple, minimal. Anyway, here is a comic by yours truly.

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Comics: David’s Dad’s Movie by Doogie Horner

The comics in the spotlight this time around are by Doogie Horner, a great illustrator who I first took notice of for his book cover design (illustration by Jeremy Enecio) to the madcap fictional adventures of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Hope Never Dies.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

It was shortly after spotting that book that I noticed another one with Horner credited for both illustration and design, a comedy mashup of Jane Austen and zombies! Maybe you’ve seen both of these iconic covers.

This Might Hurt a Bit

But it hardly ends there for Doogie Horner. Along with an impressive creative portfolio of graphic design, illustration and comics, he is also an author and a stand-up comedian. The great thing about whatever Doogie Horner does is that he’s very dedicated. His young adult novel has been well received, This Might Hurt a Bit. And you’ll just have to see for yourself how he tamed a hostile crowd when he was a contestant on America’s Got Talent!

Alright then, I’m very happy to bring to your attention this comic, a sweet story of a boy trying to connect with his dad. Or maybe it has more to do with the kid’s curiosity getting the better of him and his forcing his way into seeing a movie he was told would be too scary for him at his age. Yeah, that’s definitely a big part of the story. Spoiler alert, the movie was scary but not too scary. It depends upon how scary you think The Terminator is for a kid around five years-old. Okay, definitely parental supervision is in order.

The point is that this comic manages to do a lot of things right. It’s funny and engaging for any age. But, most importantly, it flows very well. This is a gentle narrative, told by a child, while maintaining a hip and upbeat sense of humor. The drawing style has a child-like, as well as elegant, simplicity.

So, this is an easygoing look and feel–and that’s actually not easy to do. It takes time to get that natural vibe going. Just ask Doogie Horner. He made it look easy to win over a hostile audience, something easier said and done, but he knows what he needs to know. Part of it is dedication to craft; part of it is learning from past mistakes; and part of it is simply not taking no for an answer. I get a sense of that spirit in this father and son story. Check it out, along with a bunch of other wonderful comics on Doogie Horner’s website.

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Interview: Comics Artist Brandon Lehmann

Comics artist Brandon Lehmann

First off, I invite you to read the review I wrote for The Comics Journal to the book in question, G-G-G Ghost Stories. That will add to the enjoyment of the following interview with the creator.

There are details in Brandon Lehmann‘s comics that will come back and reveal themselves upon another reading. Look closely and you’ll see, tucked away amid the backdrop of a mega-bookstore, copies of Brandon Lehmann’s new book, the recently released, G-G-G Ghost Storiesin the panels to his story, “The Werewolf Expert.” Another reading will reveal a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capicorn, in the hand of a child, a secondary player in this finely-crafted farce. The key idea here is the subject of creating such a thing as a “finely-crafted farce,” and why quality will win out in the end. Lehmann’s sense of humor is an absurdist and existential sensibility. Lehmann has been making comics for about fifteen years featuring observational and satirical work. In this new book, he focuses in on playful use of horror tropes. For this interview, we met at Seattle’s Smith Tower, a favorite haunt of erudite cartoonists and, of course, ghosts. We begin this conversation just as I sit down to join Brandon. I notice pot stickers have already been ordered. (We staged a bit of a humorous intro. You’ll see what I mean if you view the video.)

Hey, Brandon, well, I see you’ve started without me, as usual. Nice to run into you this way.

I just hang out up here in Smith Tower and read my own comics.

G-G-G Ghost Stories by Brandon Lehmann

So, what have we here (picking up a copy of Brandon’s book). Is the proper pronunciation just as it reads, G-G-G Ghost Stories?

When I named it, I was hoping for some awkward interactions at the sales counter. “I’ll take, G-G-G Ghost Stories, please.”

That would be a Scooby-Doo influence, right?

Yeah.

Interesting that we’d find ourselves in Smith Tower since, as everyone knows, this place is haunted.

Yeah, we saw a couple of ghosts on the way in. I was like, “Ahhh, it’s a g-g-g ghost.”

Page excerpt from “The Lfyt”

I think of a lot of your work, like the “The Lfyt,” as being mini-masterpieces. Do you sometimes think in those terms, “I’m going to create something that’s so spot on that everything works perfectly.” Does that make sense to say that?

Yeah, I always feel that when you’re working on a book, especially, you can get into this mode where everything you do just works. And then, when you finish a book, I have this period where I just struggle and I can’t seem to draw anything. But when I’m making a book, I can set a schedule, everything works on the first try for some reason. If that makes sense.

Page excerpt from “The Werewolf Expert” story from G-G-G Ghost Stories

It does make sense. I’m a certified cartoonist myself, as you know. Now, tell us about “The Werewolf Expert,” the longest work in the book.

There’s a trope in horror movies and TV shows where someone needs to seek an expert on the occult and it’s always someone who it doesn’t make sense would be an expert. Like, you’ll have this guy who works at the bowling alley as a mechanic and, for some reason, he’s a vampire expert. In “The Werewolf Expert,” someone consults a Barnes & Noble bookstore employee, and it’s the employee’s first day. And they shouldn’t know anything about werewolf lore but part of the B&N orientation training is that they teach all about werewolf lore. That employee knows a lot but eventually he consults his supervisor and she knows even more about werewolves to a ridiculous degree. So, it just keeps building on that premise.

Desperately seeking werewolf advice.

How would you describe your humor?

It’s absurdist and existentialist. There’s a lot of gags in the book that you can repeat with a similar premise. For the story we’re discussing, there’s a gag that I use a lot. The story is progressing from one point to another and then I’ll throw a wrench into it. And it will spin off in an insane degree. For instance, the bookstore customer seeking advice has a daughter named, Shawnda. He begins yelling at her, she’s off camera. Later, we see her and there’s more of this yelling. That sort of silly exchange is something I like to do in my work.

Panel excerpt from Brandon Lehmann’s Instagram.

There’s a beauty to your work. The humor is consistent. The art is consistent. You must go through a slew of experimentation before you hit upon what works, what’s on point.

The whole concept of the book is classic ghost stories. So, that’s the anchor. We’re dealing here with stories everyone is familiar with in one form or another. The story, “The Lfyt,” we were just talking about, is based upon a popular ghost story about picking up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a ghost. Another good example is “The Viper,” another popular children’s ghost story. The tension builds as he keeps calling and announcing when he’ll arrive. In my story, it turns out that “The Viper” is a guy with a thick German accent, who is just an innocent window wiper.

I didn’t know about that children’s ghost story. The actual one, not your satire!

Yeah, it’s real. There’s also one entitled, “Okiku,” based on a popular Japanese ghost story about a woman who was murdered because she refused to become a samurai’s mistress. She had been thrown down a well and, each night, she appears to seek her revenge. That was actually the basis for the Ringu movies. There’s the books. It was also on stage, as kabuki theater. So, yeah, I gather up all these ghost stories and given them my own spin.

Well, I’m sure this will intrigue readers. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Where is a good place to find your work?

One good place is my own site for Bad Publisher Books. You can also find me on my Instagram: @brandon.lehmann. And you can find it at various bookstores. In Seattle, there’s Fantagraphics Bookstore, Elliot Bay Bookstore and Push/Pull. Lots of places on the net, like Birdcage Bottom Books.

Thanks, Brandon!

Thank you, Henry!

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Filed under Comedy, Comics, Ghosts, Interviews, Seattle