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Tag Archives: Independent Comics
If you earnestly wear a “Mean People Suck” t-shirt, then something is wrong with you and this comic is not for you. However, if you ironically wear a “Mean People Suck” trucker hat, then we’re in business. By the way, do mean people suck? Yes, and Tom Van Deusen should know as his main character, Tom (not literally Mr. Van Deusen, of course) is quite a mean-spirited cuss. Anyway, getting back to what I was saying, if you take things too seriously and too literally, then you will ruin an otherwise fine ole time reading the first two issues of “Scorched Earth.”
So, we follow the exploits of a sad sack character who is having a lot of trouble functioning in society, the work place, simple exchanges of just about any kind. You get the picture, right? Van Deusen sure does. He draws up quite a repulsive fellow. And he runs with that as far as he can for his aims at effective dark humor. Given that he’s a young horny guy, our sad sack repeatedly blunders in matters of mating. For this guy, an attractive young woman would be fine but he finds they sure aren’t as easy as ordering a pizza. Once he’s fed up with his date, he is just as likely to disappear as he is to hang on.
In one disturbing/hilarious scene, Tom’s date steps into a port-o-potty. The date has not gone well and, instead of spending another minute with her, he tips over the potty and walks away. The timing is impeccable and inspires a chuckle. The scene is shocking. And it shows that, for Tom, women are literally disposable. But, heck, all of humanity is compost as far as he’s concerned.
There’s an undeniable tension here as we have a cartoon Tom that can’t help but refer back on some level to the cartoonist Tom. You can break this down many ways: it’s an opportunity for the real Tom to behave badly and provoke the reader; it’s an opportunity for the real Tom to comment on such bad behavior; the cartoon Tom can stand-in for human frailty; and, at the end of the day, it’s simply a fiction referring back to its creator. Quite a lot to juggle for Van Deusen–and also be funny. These are dynamics that, no doubt, Crumb was masterful with. And Van Deusen appears to be up to the challenge.
There’s always room for another character that you love to hate. In this case, you have a classic fool. Van Deusen seems to be on the right track with balancing hateful actions with just the right level of humor. Crumb made a career out of stoking the fires of dark humor to the point where he brought the red hot blaze so close as to burn. Van Deusen has set up camp. We’ll see how far he takes his own fires.
Yes, you too can now own the first two issues of the comics I’ve just reviewed, “Scorched Earth.” Find each 24-page comic book and other fine items at Poochie Press right here.
“Richy Vegas Comics,” by Richard Alexander, are what you would consider very personal and decidedly out of the mainstream. It reminds me a little of the work of Daniel Johnston. Based upon reading numbers 8 and 9 of this ongoing comic, I get the picture of what he’s doing and I can offer up some comments. For those who follow my reviews, you know that, at times, I’ll expand upon the review and make some general observations. I also want to discuss here personal comics in general.
Comic Arts Los Angeles (CALA), a new comic arts festival in Los Angeles, took place this last Saturday, December 6, in a walk-up art gallery, Think Tank Gallery. This is the first major comic arts festival of its kind in the second largest city in the United States, taking its place alongside such notable comic arts festivals as MoCCA Comic Arts Festival in New York City, Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, and Short Run in Seattle, Washington.
Located in a part of the city tucked near Gallery Row and the Arts District, the actual site is amid a dazzling display of predominantly Mexican businesses, both storefront and street vendors. One banner atop the entrance and staff for the event lead you in. And so you climb the stairs and you are instantly transported to a world of indie comics. As Jen Wang, one of the founders of CALA, said in a panel discussion at the event, “When it comes to breaking into comics, you just make them and you’ve broken in.” In that spirit, you come to this event which is a mix of creators relatively new to breaking into comics along with many seasoned indie veterans attached to various publishers.
When it come to breaking into comics, while it may seem simple enough, there are a myriad of approaches, motivations, and sensibilities. I can tell you from my vantage point, as someone who has broken in, that there is and there is not a typical cartoonist profile. Referring back to this panel from the show, the last panel of the day in fact, Wang led a discussion on how to sustain a life in comics. Among the comments made, Ron Regé Jr. spoke to the fact that he never ever expected to make a dime off of his comics. And that pretty much says it all in one fell swoop because there are always cartoonists ready to make money from their work right along with others who don’t focus on demographics and the like.
A comic arts festival like CALA focuses on the more unusual and offbeat type of comics that are more prone to taking risks with the market. You will see table after table of minicomics and professionally bound books on a multitude of subjects and themes. There are no superhero comics, per se. In this context, a superhero theme is possible but most likely in a ironic tone. The overriding theme is personal and artistic. Of course, major publishers of comic books are hip to what the alternative comics crowd are up to and will collaborate with them from time to time. For some years now, major publishers have been publishing the best that emerges from self-published cartoonists. So, in a sense, the indie cartoonists are akin to stand-up comedians who may get picked up by a network. However, it’s complicated. Some cartoonists try to capitalize on trends, others follow their own muse. Ultimately, it’s quality work that wins out and transcends all these issues.
I was speaking with cartoonist Ellen T. Crenshaw who is a fitting example of a professional cartoonist/illustrator with an independent sensibility. Take a look at her work and you see an engaging style. She was pleased to see a great turn-out for CALA. In her experience with the Boston comics scene, it can be very rough for the first year of a comic arts festival. But CALA came out strong right out of the gate. Taking a closer look at Crenshaw’s work, it’s a successful combination of a clean and polished approach married to offbeat content. I picked up a hilarious and sweet minicomic of hers, “The Woodsman and the Bear,” that follows a bear who has fallen in love with a lumberjack. That will give you some indication of her vision. For something more challenging, there’s “Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750,” published by Fulcrum Publishing, that provides stories about Colonial America that you won’t find in the history books.
You could sense the energy in the crowds. I spoke with a number of friends in the comics community and everyone was all smiles. It’s just a matter of diving in and checking out various tables. Each creator is there in support of their most recent work along with their other titles. For instance, there was Farel Dalrymple in support of his graphic novel, “The Wrenchies,” published by First Second Books.
Another favorite is certainly Yumi Sakugawa and she was there in support of “Your Illustrated Guide To Becoming One With The Universe,” published by Adams Media and “Bird Girl and Fox Girl,” published by Sparkplug Books.
Rounding out my coverage of CALA, I spoke with Jen Wang, one of the organizers and the illustrator of one of my favorite recent graphic novels, “In Real Life,” published by First Second Books. She was definitely excited about how well CALA was doing.
And, just to top it all off, I spoke with cartoonist and renowned comics historian Scott McCloud and got his take on the event. He was quite pleased to say the least.
Think Tank Gallery proved to be a great venue for CALA. With about 70 creators, the space afforded enough room to mix and mingle. Around the corner, there were panel discussions throughout the event. In the end, the reader, the potential buyer of said comix, indie comics, alternative comics, had much to choose from in a delightful setting. We all look forward to this being the start of a new comics tradition in LA.
If you’re in Los Angeles and love comics, there’s only one place to be this Saturday, December 6, and that’s Comic Arts LA (CALA) at Think Tank Gallery, 939 Maple Avenue, from 10am to 6pm. Free to the public! This is one of those big moments as a significant comic arts festival launches in LA. Comics Grinder has the travel bug and will be there! Will you be there?
It was a hive of activity at Washington Hall in Seattle, on November 15, 2014 for the annual Short Run Seattle Comix & Art Festival. Comic arts festivals continue to gain ground as interest and demand grows for independent comics. Here in Seattle, Short Run has proven to be the leading venue to connect creators with the public. Now in its third year, the festival offers a dazzling selection of work by some of the best talents in the U.S. and beyond.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Short Run’s Guest of Honor, John Porcellino, and he was quite gracious. My partner, Jennifer Daydreamer, and I had gotten to see an advance copy of the documentary on his life and career, “Root Hog or Die.” Jennifer asked if it had been planned to have the documentary and John’s new book, “Hospital Suite,” come out at the same time. And John explained that the documentary had been years in the making and it was a wonderful coincidence to have these two separate projects join together into a tour. “The documentary is an extension of the book,” said John. I’d go farther to say it’s an extension of King-Cat Comics, as if it took on another life as a film. Well, more to talk about at a later date. I asked John for some recommendations from his Spit and a Half distribution catalog and I’ll be reviewing them shortly.
Among other friends we got to catch up with were Mark Campos and David Lasky, both longtime Seattle cartoonists. I have recent work by Mark that I’ll be sharing with you soon too.
David Lasky, as many of you know, is the co-author, with Frank M. Young, of “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.” I saw that the book was part of a series of Short Run raffle items. Well, you don’t need to enter a raffle to get your copy of this unique history of the legendary country music icons. You can find it right here.
I also got a fun treat by another beloved Pacific Northwest cartoonist, Pat Moriarity. He had told me about a limited edition mini-comic he had created just for this year’s Short Run. In “Skulptura?” an artist attempts to find his muse. And I also got to chat with Eroyn Franklin, organizer of Short Run, with Kelly Froh and Janice Headley. She was a pleasure to talk with. I asked her about her upcoming comic, “Dirt Bag.” And it is coming along nicely. There was a preview at Short Run that I missed finding. I also should have gotten there early as the early birds got a goodie bag of comix. Well, maybe next year.
In closing, what can I say, Short Run was a rousing success. If you’re in Seattle this time next year, make plans to attend. It’s a comix and art festival and a whole lot more as you’ll see on their site.
SHORT RUN 2014: John Porcellino, Guest of Honor; Main Event is November 15 at Washington Hall in Seattle
Short Run, a showcase of small press cartoonists, is back for another year of festivities and a comix and arts festival, at Washington Hall on November 15 here in Seattle. On that date, nearly 200 cartoonists, publishers, zinesters, authors, and animators will be gathered to sell their works and celebrate the world of independent and emerging artists. The full schedule of events will include a mural painted in the Central District by South African artist Jean De Wet, art shows at Joe Bar and the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, and readings, screenings, and panels across Seattle.
John Porcellino, known for his self-published memoir comic, King-Cat Comics and Stories, will be the guest of honor. This year is special as it marks the 25th anniversary of King-Cat Comics and Stories as well as sees the release of a new book, “The Hospital Suite,” published by Drawn & Quarterly (read my review here). And there is a new documentary on his life and work, “Root Hog or Die” (read my review here). There will be a screening of this documentary with Porcellino and director Dan Stafford in attendance at Central Cinema on Sunday, November 16th.
The full schedule and press release follows:
We learn a lot from Dan Stafford’s documentary on cartoonist John Porcellino. “Root Hog or Die” provides us with some basic truths that resonate as we explore the life of someone both unique and, by his own account, just an average guy trying to make a life. The whole point here is to embrace the average. As Porcellino states at one point, he’s concerned to see an erosion of “the middle ground, when a person can live without an elaborate ambition and yet not be sleeping by some dumpster.”
Let the word go out, loud and clear, that the graphic novel, “A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories” has officially launched! There was an intimate gathering at the Sorrento Hotel in Seattle, this Saturday, November 8, to celebrate the launch of Henry Chamberlain’s new book, a collection of some of his best work in comics. Do you like scary stories? Apparently many of you out there do. Well, this book has got you covered. Perhaps you like humor? Or a tour de force coming-of-age tale. Again, you’re covered. Covered. Covered. Covered. This book is your best bet as a gift for the holidays! Get it here.
The Sorrento Hotel is truly a unique destination. If you’re staying the night, you are in for a treat. But, you can also stop by for an exceptional cocktail, fine dining, and some excellent pastimes, such as live music in the legendary Fireside Room. It was my pleasure to act as host as some friends gathered to help me launch my new book.
It is only fitting to have a book launch at the Sorrento Hotel as this is the setting for the title story in the book. I created this story when I stayed at the Sorrento Hotel to conduct one of my 24-hour comics experiments. The story that resulted is a spooky little gem involving a couple with supernatural abilities and a lot of issues to resolve. Since then, I have come to rely upon the Sorrento as an old friend that you can always trust to serve you well.
Truth be told, creating a work is only half the battle. The other half is promoting the work. Often, the biggest hurdle to jump is competing with all the distractions of life. And the most important thing to always remember is that the book’s creator must always remain that book’s most steadfast and loyal fan. People will come around. If the book is worth it, well, its creator will have never left its side.
Find out more here.
John Porcellino has a remarkable thing with his ongoing self-published zine, “King-Cat Comics and Stories.” This is a zine, and mini-comic, that has been around for 25 years. King-Cat dates back to 1989 and, in all that time, John P has shared his life with his readers. For his new book, “The Hospital Suite,” published by Drawn and Quarterly, he focuses on one aspect of his life and turns his personal journey into a universal one.