Here is one more comic that I picked up at Short Run over the weekend. This title, Exit, by Miles MacDiarmid, got my attention because the creator chose to include Pres. William Howard Taft on the cover of his work just like I did for a book collection of my own work, A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories. Taft! Taft! Taft! Was he a great American president? No, not great. But there’s something about him, right? Well, he figures in MacDiarmid’s comic in a similar way as it figures in mine, more of an absurd MacGuffin creature. So, a cartoonist with a offbeat and erudite sense of humor is a very good thing and so it goes with this book, Exit. I also see from MacDiarmid’s website that he does fine art. So do I. I think it’s an important distinction among cartoonists that I can relate to all too well. I think MacDiarmid is someone who loves to create work and is restless, always looking for something new to do. You can see that in this book. It’s just classic absurd fun, that’s really all you need to know. Seriously fun stuff!
Exit by Miles MacDiarmid
What goes on in Exit? How about What doesn’t go on in Exit? There’s a state of frenzy running throughout these pages where you fell anything is possible. You don’t get that with any work in comics. It’s hard to do and too many cartoonists sink down to something very predictable and easy. It is those rare artist-cartoonists who dig deeper and live and breathe their comics than have the potential to reach the level of, say, Simon Hanselmann. And that reminds me that I want to do a proper review of Simon’s latest book, even if it is rather late. I hope to do a proper interview with him too. We should both be dressed in drag for it too. And, no, I am NOT digressing. Simon’s work comes to mind because I see a similar energy in MacDiarmid’s work. The next big step would be to keep going, stay consistent, keep pushing and things will continue to come together as they already are!
Exit is published by the arts collective, Freak Comics. Everything there looks fresh and delicious so go check them out right here.
If you were looking for Marc Bell at Short Run, you were out of luck.
Marc Bell was designated as a special guest this year at Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle and he is, no doubt, a wonderful representative of the indie zeitgeist. The problem was that he was nowhere to be found. Literally, he wasn’t there. He didn’t show up. Always the comics journalist, I was able to track down the publisher of Neoglyphic Media and he was very helpful and nice to talk to. He explained that border crossings from Canada to the United States have become very problematic and it left Marc Bell one very concerned Canadian. He had to bow out. And that’s totally understandable. It’s a shame that the cancellation wasn’t announced on the Short Run website. But there is a nice interview with Bell you can read here. I was really looking forward to talking to Marc Bell but, who knows, maybe I’ll cross that scary border myself and meet up with him sometime. And let’s look forward to less problematic and politicized borders in the future, whenever that is. With that said, I’m going to share with you some items that you can find over at the Neoglyphic Media website: Worn Tuff Elbow #2 by Marc Bell; Boutique Mag #4; and The Assignment #1.
Worn Tuff Elbow #2 by Marc Bell
For the most diehard fans of Marc Bell, it has been 14 long years since his comic book, Worn Tuff Elbow #1. Now, the wait is over and Bell has returned to the comics page his characters, Shrimpy, Stroppy, Paul and his friends. As they say, this new issue turns out to have been worth the wait. From the very first page, all the way to the last, this is quite the surreal treat harking back to the best in early 20th century comic strips and underground comix from the sixties. It is Bell’s unique take, channeling a bit of Philip Guston along the way. And it’s all very clean and precise work. Imitators will be stymied since they always rush their work. Nope, this kind of art requires skill, integrity and determination. I should mention that this book is published by No World Books and distributed by Drawn & Quarterly. It happens to also be available thru Neoglyphic Media.
Boutique Mag #4
Okay, this next publication is co-published by No World Books and Neoglyphic Media. Great, hope that’s clear. This is Boutique Mag #4 and it features the work of Marc Bell. This one is a fun little book clocking in at 12 pages for $5, as opposed to the previous book with 36 pages for only $8. If you are a completist and enjoy little extras, then you may want to get the latest issue of Boutique Mag.
The Assignment #1 by Stathis Tsemberlidis
Finally, there’s The Assignment #1, which is published by Decadence Comics. This is 28 pages for $12. It is by Stathis Tsemberlidis, a cartoonist based out of London. It is well worth the relatively high price point. That’s just how it is with indie publications that seem to be in it more for the art than for anything else. The price for such a publication simply needs to be bumped up to help make up for the costs involved. I’m very pleased with it. I wish I could have interviewed Tsemberlidis while I was recently in London. Perhaps next time. It makes me think of what David Bowie, during his Major Tom phase, might have done if he created comics. This book is distributed by Neoglyphic Media.
Alright, well that’s it. I need to get a bunch of reviews, and other goodies, including a British indie comics roundup, out the door before the end of the year so I hate to cut this one short but I must. You can expect another post really soon. In fact, there’s so much really yummy stuff that I could potentially present to you that, no matter what I do, stuff is going to inevitably spill over into next year–but so it goes. And you are welcome to reach out, comment and support my efforts however you can. Next year will see a lot more of the same quality content while also shifting towards balancing out what I’m doing behind the scenes, showing you more original artwork and just getting on with various projects. Well, there’s always tracking down Marc Bell. Yeah, that would be quite a fun and intriguing project all to itself, don’t you think?
Be sure to keep up with Short Run as they do all sorts of fun and interesting things during the year.
This is a very meta thing to be doing but here’s a review of a magazine that features reviews. Dating back to 1977, in its heyday, The Comics Journal was a monthly source of comics news and reviews, a trailblazer for the burgeoning field of comics journalism and criticism. It has always maintained a certain quirky attitude, consisting of a mix of features and topped off by a expansive soul-searching interview a la Playboy magazine. It mainly attracts those who consider themselves comics aficionados. In 2013, it ceased its print version, staying online, but now it makes its return to print with Issue 303. TCJ returns this month with new editors RJ Casey and Kristy Valenti.
Now, I go pretty far back. I have fond memories of picking up this magazine at Tower Records back in the day (circa 1995), usually with a recent release from Sub Pop Records. I also fondly recall a special dynamic, or synergy, at play between the magazine and its online counterpart that led many of us to the forums section that let you interact with subgroups within subgroups of people in the comics community. This was long before Facebook or social media as we know it today. I think the monthly magazine, as we knew it back then, is still sorely missed. Towards the end of its print run, it came out less often and each issue covered a big theme and came out in different sizes. The consistency of a monthly had been lost. I think, in a perfect world, this latest return to print would do well to go back to that monthly format. Alas, with this latest #303, we’re seeing the start of a twice-a-year format. You might argue that TCJ is simply working with today’s print reality and is offering up a taste to a new generation of what is possible.
The showcase item in this issue is, of course, TCJ founder Gary Groth’s interview with a legendary firebrand, the satirist and children’s book author, Tomi Ungerer. For those of you unaware of Mr. Ungerer’s impressive career, I highly recommend that you read this interview and, before or afterward, check out the 2013 documentary, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough,” directed by Brad Bernstein. The title is one of Ungerer’s sayings, along with “Don’t Hope, Cope” and “Expect The Unexpected.” I interviewed the documentary’s director and its writer and the fact that Ungerer is a true force of nature was the overriding theme. So, it makes perfect sense for someone as outspoken as Groth to sit down and talk it out with someone as outspoken as Ungerer! It’s a match made in heaven.
From Ben Passmore’s story in Now: The New Comics Anthology #3, published by Fantagraphics
Among the various features to be found here, you’ll find them under such titles as “From the Trenches” and “Fair Warning.” For example, under the former is a think piece by cartoonist Ben Passmore, who shares his insights on the alt-comics scene from an African American perspective. And, under the latter, you will find an interview by RJ Casey with emerging comics talent, Fifi Martinez. The thing to always remember about TCJ is that its focus is a serious look at comics as an art form. That leaves little room, if any, for superhero comics, per se. What you’ll mostly find here is a focus on the independent artist-cartoonist. It does a heart good to see cartoonists like Passmore and Martinez provided with a platform.
Ultimately, TCJ remains what it’s always been, a valuable resource that is most appreciated by those who take the comics medium seriously. It’s a niche audience but a fiercely loyal one. In the new more fragmented world we live in, it’s all about niches. That is actually a very positive thing. And niches are supposed to attract outside readers too, right? You can only calculate so much as to how strong a presence you can make on today’s newsstands. For some special readership out there, it will be a great treat to see TCJ on a shelf. Newsstands aren’t going away anytime soon from such places as Barnes & Noble, specialty shops, comic book shops, and even airports. TCJ might just want to make a real push into these venues and see how it goes. I asked about TCJ at my local B&N as well as the Pike Place Market newsstand, one of the granddaddies of newsstands. Neither place had ever heard of TCJ or had any plans to carry it. I asked around a couple of nearby comics shops. They heard of it but were not carrying it. This is TCJ’s return to print, right? Let’s see it out there in the real world.
The reality is that creating any kind of magazine, digital or print, is a big challenge. Everyone in the comics community is rooting for TCJ to make as big of an impact as it can. Those of us already in the choir, can keep singing its praises and wish it well. You can find your copy of TCJ #303 by visiting the Fantagraphics store right here.
James Burns is a very interesting cartoonist. It was a pleasure last year to review his work. A Life Half-Forgotten is an impressive piece of memoir comics, or “autobio,” as this work is commonly referred to within comics circles. Burns taps into his childhood with a confidence and curiosity that sets the bar high. It challenges and inspires each of us to reach back and take a closer look into the past.
Analyzing one’s childhood can be a daunting task. Where to begin? As an exercise in recovering memory alone, you have quite a job ahead of you. When did life truly begin for you? For Burns, life seems to have begun in preschool as he dutifully accepted a box of crayons at the start of the day. He goes on to write and draw his way to insightful observations. All the forgotten traumas come home to roost. Burns made it his goal to sift through the big and small details and see what mattered most. This is a childhood in a Central Ohio suburbia during the 60s and 70s. With great care, and a good dose of humor, Burns explores the high and low points: freedom and privilege as well as murder and divorce.
A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns
Burns plays with that special ambiguity inherent in comics as he casts himself in this first-person narrative. We have Burns at the beginning playing host followed by him appearing to walk back into his childhood past. He is now a child but he appears to remain an adult. His face retains the same mature features in many panels but also seems to shift to a softer and younger version in other panels. The results, for my tastes, give the scenes an added edge. These are all memories, after all, with a dream-like tone. The black & white with gray tones also helps to heighten the sense of searching into the past.
As Burns puts it, we are all dealing with fragments when it comes to our personal memory. One person paints a picture based on childhood while a sibling paints another. We are summoning up phantoms. We are asking our phantoms to dance again. Burns points out that his recollections seek a greater truth. He acknowledges that he wasn’t concentrating on capturing anyone’s likeness. Instead, he wanted to try to understand things better like the tragic death of a classmate.
Now, I’ll get back to this wonderful tension between the adult Burns seeking out his childhood self, with Burns depicting himself as a child but with an adult’s face. It makes for some very compelling passages. I think I like best where he looks back at how much he enjoyed wearing a Superman costume for Halloween when he was seven years-old. He loved it so much that he ended up wearing the costume on a regular basis underneath his street clothes, just like Clark Kent! It’s such a sweet and innocent recollection–and there’s a depiction of Burns, as a child in a Superman costume but with an adult’s face. It’s an scene filled with haunting melancholy and one of the more striking images I’ve seen in comics this year.
Actually, there are more scenes I could get into. I’ll also mention here the birthday party for Burns when he turned six. That’s another passage that I find very moving. The conflict between nostalgia and truth can take a rest here. For one moment of pure joy, Burns is having a grand time with friends in his backyard. He’s having cake and ice cream. And he gets to play with the most amazing toy fire engine, his featured birthday gift. You attach a garden hose to its side and it gushes out water through its tiny fire hose! I would have loved one of those toys!
A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns
The murky world of memory is evoked quite well and Burns manages to snare some of his childhood ghosts. He manages to sit down with them, talk to them, play with them, and reach some sort of closure. This book invites the reader to do the same.
Visit James Burns right here. You can find A Life Half-Forgotten at Amazon right here.
For those of you who follow the independent comics scene, you know that comic arts festivals are its lifeblood. And Short Run is essential. If you are in Seattle, come down to see Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center on Halloween. The event is free and runs from 11 am -6 pm.
Be sure to keep up with Short Run as they will have other events planned beginning on Wednesday, October 28th. And, keep in mind that since this is taking place on Halloween, there will be plenty of treats for the kids.
I am thrilled to be a part of Short Run and I am excited to join in on all the fun. There will be more updates as we get closer to the main event and there will be a recap once the festivities have wrapped up for another year. For now, mark your calendar and plan on joining us at Short Run.
GUN is a new superhero crime noir comic, written and drawn by Jack Foster. Both the deadpan humor and light touch to the artwork remind me a bit of Matt Kindt. This is a story with its fair share of irreverence while still sticking to the reality that bullets and punches hurt, especially bullets. The premise here is that of a number of comics that take superheroes off the grid: in a world overflowing with superheroes, and super villains, is anybody just plain normal?
The search for normalcy hangs heavy over our super characters. Maybe one last bank heist, so to speak, would solve everything. Just run away with the loot and enjoy margaritas on the beach. I love the quiet grace to this comic. Our hero is not a hero. Actually, he’s technically a villain. To listen to his story, you’d think he’s just some mixed up kid with superpowers. You can call him, Twist. That’s what the media calls him. It wasn’t his idea. That’s just how he moves. He would have preferred “something cool like King Crimson or Doc Hangover.” Do you get a sense here of silly fun, of bubblegum superhero mythos? It is fun and it works.
I’ll tell you something, covering comics is built on one work of comics at a time. It can’t just be the big two publishers all the time, although there’s much to cover there as it is. And it is fun to see how iconic superheroes going back close to a hundred years still remain relevant. In fact, Foster is tapping into the swagger and pulpy goodness of yesteryear. Anyway, covering comics is very similar to covering any other art form. As a reviewer, I look for new talent right along with checking out established names. What’s great about Foster’s work is that he’s having a blast. His love for the old school approach is apparent in every hand-drawn and hand-colored panel. This is a character-driven narrative with room for subtilty and wry wit.
This is a beautiful comic, hands down! Rounding out the talent is the lettering of Greg Sorkin and the editing of Nolan Smith. This is the first issue of GUN, entitled, “Fighting is My Monday.” The next issue will be entitled, “Strange Bedfellows.” For more details, and to preview the first issue, visit our friends at Reckless Eyeballs right here.
Reviewing comics, particularly independent comics, is a labor of love that will thank you with sore eyes, a sore back, and a profound understanding of the road less travelled or some such malarkey. But find a good mini-comic, a really good one by some glorious weirdo, and all is forgiven and you’re good to go for another batch of reviews. And so it was said and so it was done. Christopher Green is one of those glorious weirdos. His mini-comic, “Real Work,” is a fine example of that.
Oh so many cartoonists of a certain ilk are toiling away with thoughts of perhaps making some sort of impact. They don’t dare to dream to be the next R. Crumb, or at least they tell their friends that. But, hey, some don’t have to dare to dream and just do it. Just doing it. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it?
There’s an effortless quality to what I see in this comic. Maybe it took him hours upon hours to create and then he redid the whole sucker all over again for good measure. Or maybe he cranked it out at one go. There are a number of choices that needed to be made, “problem-solving” tasks, if you will, that Green gets right, one way or another.
Green’s 12-page collection of comics is loopy auto-bio, fantasy, and artful silliness. We begin with observations on the surface to body mass ratio regarding a squirrel’s crash landing. A few more pages in, and we’re in the thick of a war between Alaska and Canada. This also involves the teleporting of souls.
Green has the confidence and skill to pull this zany stuff off. It may seem simple but he’s actually putting his surface to body mass calculations to good use. Adroit placement of objects, thoughtful composition, pleasing contrast, it all adds up nicely. Take, for instance, his two boys on a whimsical crime spree. They may be relatively crude little figures, but they’re well-defined, distinct, and full of life. Katzenjammer Kids underground comix style!
Consider one last example above: a page on exploring pagan rituals. On just one page, Green evokes a doomed relationship, a universal struggle, and then gives it all a tidy absurdist ending with a hilarious grace note to boot.
Christopher Green’s “Real Work” mini-comic was printed at the Sequential Artists Workshop, or SAW, in Gainesville, Florida. This is a vital center for learning the art of comics founded and led by cartoonists Tom Hart and Leela Corman. It is, no doubt, thanks to the great care to craft at SAW that Christopher’s color cover, with gold no less, looks as nice as it does. Be sure to visit SAW right here. Be sure to visit Christopher Green right here. And visit his store, Wall of Balloons, 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.
Emis Gennis is a cartoonist who I see as someone who likes to get down to business and create good comics. I admire that. Her work is clean and professional while also maintaining an organic energy to it. For her latest work, “Baseline Blvd,” she employs a precise and bold use of pencil to take us on quite a journey.
Gennis has a keen interest in sordid tales, as I’ve seen from her past work. For this one, we follow the emotional turmoil from an abusive relationship and the end results. We view this from various vantage points, often very quiet and nondescript.
A woman carries flowers in her car on a trip to find some resolution. We don’t know very much about her or any other details than are necessary. It’s as if the flotsam and jetsam of the urban sprawl the young woman sees on her way to her destination tries to compete for our attention. Faceless everyday detritus. A crow devouring roadside carrion.
Gennis is a born storyteller. “Baseline Blvd” shows us a cartoonist well on her way. This new comic just debuted at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival. For more details on work in general, visit Emi Gennis right here.
Frank and Cora in 1946’s THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE
Bill Plympton Animation Available on iTunes as of April 2015
CHEATIN’ is Bill Plimpton’s seventh full-length animated feature. It is for adults who like an All-American gritty noir story and fans of great storytelling from such greats at Terry Gilliam and Federico Fellini. Read my review here. On April 3, CHEATIN’ opens in New York and then to selected cities throughout the month. It is also available online! You can see it on Vimeo. And you can see other Plympton features on iTunes starting in April. Yes, if you’re a loyal fan or are new to his work, Bill Plympton is here! For details, and to see the movie, just go to the CHEATIN’ THE MOVIE website right here.
A Gritty Tale and a Sexual Odyssey
CHEATIN’ is visually stunning and immersive. It features the journey one woman must take in order to find what she wants. In the tradition of noir, characters must go through the yin and yang to find their true selves. Light into dark. And then dark into light. Truly, a perpetual swirl of desire and searching. And you throw into the bargain a magical soul-transfer machine, and you’ve got yourself a Bill Plympton animated feature.
Disney Can Give Bill Plympton A Call
It is always a pleasure to chat with Bill Plympton. For this interview, we cover a lot of ground on the storytelling process. We chat about how CHEATIN’ and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE would make for a perfect double bill. And I asked Bill, the king of independent animation, if he’d ever consider working with Disney if the right project came along. Yes. Bill would take the call.
What if Hitler Opened a Theme Park Called, “Naziland”?
And we discuss some upcoming projects. You’ll want to listen to that.
Below is the podcast interview. Enjoy:
Be sure to visit the CHEATIN’ website right here. And, if you’re in the New York metro area, be sure to go to Village East Cinema on Friday, April 3, and you’ll see Bill Plympton in person! He will create a drawing for anyone who asks for one.