If you’re a dreamy cartoonist with a poetic bent, then you may already know about the comics anthology, INK BRICK. This is a journal dedicated to comics poetry. Issue 9, which debuts at Small Press Expo, features work by 26 creators using the visual language of comics to make poetry. But what is “poetry comics” within a community of alt-comics? Isn’t everything “poetic” at a gathering like Small Press Expo? Yes, it is! I suppose you could say that we’re talking about work at the farther reaches.
Like spoken word, I think there’s more poetry comics being made than some may realize. Essentially, you are already playing with words and images in one form or another if you’re an alt-cartoonist. But, one could say, if you focus on the poetry, then the results can potentially be even more interesting.
The important thing is to relax and not take yourself too seriously. That said, I like what I see in this collection. In that spirit of irreverence and thoughtful searching is work by Johnny Damm. I like his “Weird Comics” presented here. There are panels, word balloons, even superheros, all shifting around looking for something to do, or a way out.
INK BRICK contributors this year are:
Jenna Andersen, Jimmy Comey, Johnny Damm, Clotilde Deschamps-Prince, Zoe Drew, Jamaica Dyer, Oliver East, Kate Farquhar, Sophia Wiedeman Glock, Lauren Haldeman, John Hexer, Daria Komleva-Litvinova, David Lasky, Laurel Lynn Leake, Urbano Mata, Vernon Meidlinger-Chin, Josh O’neill, Lorenz Ohrmer, Alexander Rothman, Kawai Shen, Alexey Sokolin, Chaille Stovall, Deshan Tennekoon, Maria Tetzlaff, Noemi Charlotte Thieves, and Paul K. Tunis.
INK BRICK #9 will debut at Small Press Expo and it is well worth picking up. If you can’t make it out to SPX, be sure to visit Ink Brick right here.
Even in what would seem to be the carefree world of alt-comics, there is a creeping feeling of “self-publish or perish” that can nag at many a cartoonist. This can be a good thing as it helps to motivate many who must rely upon their own self-imposed deadlines. Despite all the interest that is supposed to be heaped upon the DIY world and a myriad of other endeavors conveniently labeled as “hipster,” “quirky,” or the grand ole workhorse, “geek,” there’s really no money, let alone a livelihood, to be expected from all the scribbling in notebooks and sketchbooks. Maybe, for some, there’s at least a real feeling of accomplishment from one’s efforts, not just a pat on the back. And, for a relative few who keep honing their craft, and especially at the alt level, each year brings a little more recognition. Each year makes the big picture more clear. This is certainly the case with cartoonist David Lasky. Here’s a look at a special annual publication that he’s been putting together to coincide with the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle.
David Lasky and I are of the same vintage. I consider him a good friend and a fellow cartoonist that I’ve always admired. We’re both in Seattle and share a certain sensibility. So, of all the people who take a moment to read what I have to say, he’s one of my readers who I will hope to especially resonate with. Let me put it this way: I appreciate what he’s doing on a deep level. I believe there’s this chasing after the brass ring that was drummed into folks from our Generation X. People like us will make good on the dreams we’ve envisioned since we were little kids, as corny as that sounds. I know that makes sense to David, and probably, I would hope, to everyone reading this.
What we find in “Manifesto Items #5” is special indeed. David Lasky highlights his creation of comics from the past year. It’s a fascinating window into the creative process. Like I say, there’s that “publish or perish” mantra that can dog cartoonists. If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s the challenge that many creators must contend with. They can certainly opt to work alone until a project is complete and many are just fine with that. But some want to keep stoking the fires in between significant work and so they need to hunt down viable options such as anthologies, local publications, and comics jams. In the case of Lasky, it is this short form work, with its room for experimentation, that he loves the most and that he can raise to the level of significant work. We get a nice sampling of all of that, notably a sci-fi satire that appeared in The Intruder.
Perhaps most revealing are a couple of things that feel very natural. One is a father and son comics memoir. David is visiting his dad. And his dad gives him some advice: Rid yourself of clutter! He then proceeds to unload a bunch of books and DVDs on his son who gladly accepts each and every one. I think that speaks to a particular Gen X mad love for all media.
The other is a prose essay recollection of David visiting the Hirshhorn Museum as a little boy to see a Saul Steinberg retrospective. David was fascinated by Steinberg on many levels not the least of which was his noncommercial approach to cartooning! Here you had Steinberg creating cartoon characters without a comic strip or any scent of franchise. Ah, that’s fodder for Gen X rebellion! And to make the point, David emulated Steinberg’s penchant for drawing cartoons directly onto the envelopes he sent off in the mail. How unconventional back then and even today.
Be sure to visit David Lasky right here. Find David at Etsy right here.
“Locomotive / IDEOLO,” published by Centrala, is one beautiful and simple idea brought to life for all its worth: take a beloved famous Polish poem for children and then adapt it for adults. The poem is “The Locomotive,” by Julian Tuwim (September 13, 1894 – December 27, 1953) who is remembered for his satirical and subversive poetry. Listen to “The Locomotive” in Polish and, even if you don’t speak the language, it evokes the strains and struggles of the mighty steam-powered monster. What designer Małgorzata Gurowska and journalist Joanna Ruszczyk have done with this book is provide a unique format upon which to meditate on Tuwim’s poem.
I found this book to be a great form of therapy as I lingered upon each page. Gurowska and Ruszczyk provide an intoxicating mix of light and dark content. We have animals that appear to be undergoing an organized exodus while other animals have been neatly packed as surplus. And the same goes for humans. On the train cars, as we begin, it seems that we have everything we would ever need for anything: a celebration, a riot, the next all-out war. As we proceed from train car to train car, the stakes grow higher, the urgency more crushing. Countless suitcases are stored away never to be reunited with their owners. Troops are deployed. War is imminent or already unleashed.
And amid all the mounting tension, there is a cry for change. The political commentary is sly and well-placed challenging the reader to face difficult questions about national identity, racism, anti-Semitism, and attitudes towards ecology and animals. The design is impeccable and does a great job of evoking a highly regimented state of alert. The clean and sharp silhouettes of rabbits, soccer players, and suitcases will hit you with their significance. Contemplate each page and then spread out the entire book, just like an accordion, to fully appreciate it.
From Julian Tuwim’s THE LOCOMOTIVE:
A big locomotive has pulled into town,
Heavy, humungus, with sweat rolling down,
A plump jumbo olive.
Huffing and puffing and panting and smelly.
Fire belches forth from her fat cast iron belly
“Locomotive / IDEOLO” is a 188-page hardcover and is appropriate for ages 9 and up. Visit our friends at Centrala right here.
From Meredith Clark’s “Residence,” a collection of poems:
The Inside pocket of his jacket.
Wool. The wind picked round
the owling boats. Found on the
wharf: a sheaf of black and white
landscapes, hand-tinted; flung in a
Meredith Clark enjoys working with small spaces, merging image to words, finding deeper meaning. In the above excerpt, we have an ambiguous image attached to a locale and to a poem. It is part of a collection of such arrangements on postcards creating a mysterious travelogue.
If you live in Seattle, you may have seen Meredith Clark at one of her street performances where she dutifully sits with a typewriter awaiting requests for a poem. That is one aspect of what she does and she finds these actions fascinating. She is always pleased to learn what the poem means to the recipient. She recounts one instance where the person had quite a palpable experience to the poem she wrote for him. It reminded him of something that was not literally in the poem but had managed to be drawn out nonetheless.
What resides between the said and the unsaid it what poetry can excavate.
Portrait of Meredith Clark during our conversation.
I met Meredith as a local coffee shop and we took the time to focus on the subject of creativity. What does it take to be creative? How can we all be creative? It was just a conversation with no expectations to find solutions.
For Meredith, creativity is a selective process, a matter of what to leave in and what to leave out. It was the study of photography that opened up the possibilities of writing. She had always seen herself as a writer but it wasn’t until graduate work that she truly saw how framing a subject for a photograph was analogous to the editing process in writing as well as finding a subject to write about in the first place. It is these considerations that have served her well ever since.
Conversation in a Café
So, you want to write but what do you write about? That’s where that photography analogy is so helpful. You concentrate on what is in the frame. You write about that. Well, not literally. But that’s what you can play off of. It frees you up. You are no longer attempting to write some stereotypical version of the Great American Novel. Instead, you’re getting to write in a deeper way. We chat about experimental writers that have helped pave the way to free up writers, going back to Donald Barthelme and his integrating words and images to the more recent trailblazing by Mark Z. Danielewski. Meredith recalls with delight a recent visit to Seattle by Danielewski. One member of the audience gleefully said that, since reading him, she feels she can now write anything!
Not everyone feels compelled to express themselves. Then you consider that we are not a nation, let alone a planet, of readers. Literacy rates are abysmal. The reading public is a relatively select group compared with everyone else. It’s a formidable minority with massive purchasing power but a minority all the same. Is it any surprise that most people are not in touch with their creative side? It is seen as a luxury, as something you shed away with childhood. It doesn’t have to be that way. In some respects, people like Meredith are role models even if she doesn’t seek that out.
We talk about how the internet has changed everything. That reminds Meredith of being a substitute teacher for a high school English class. She appreciated that the students were preparing for exams and suggested to them that they write out on paper an outline to help organize their thoughts. The class stared at her blankly. One student said that no one writes with a pen and paper anymore. What else do students not do anymore? Meredith believes that no one bothers to edit themselves anymore. “The internet,” she says, “takes away the ability to be deeply impressed by anything.”
You simply cannot appreciate one subject, while you have numerous others on a screen, in the same meaningful way when your attention isn’t compromised. And an image on a screen, of course, is never going to replace the real thing.
Those of us who are creative people are most sensitive to the pitfalls, distractions, and unforeseen factors that can derail a creative life. Meredith recalls an English professor relating his story of early success, being published in The Paris Review at age 18. It took him a decade to get over it, to recover his bearings and be able to write again. Just think of it, suddenly that aspiring writer has landed a major book deal, and he has no need for his day job. However, once he’s abruptly untethered himself from his routine, he finds he can’t write. No one said life would be easy, even when it seems to have done just that.
Meredith is at work on a memoir. You can find Meredith Clark’s “Residence” collection here. And you also read Meredith’s poem, “Land,” here.
“The Fifty Year Sword,” the novella by Mark Z. Danielewski, seems to be the stuff of urban legend. The book was first published on Halloween 2005, in the Netherlands, with only 1,000 copies printed in English. The following year, another 1,000 copies in English were printed and that was it. Sccores of fans have only heard of it but have not been able to easily get to read it. That changes with the wide release on October 16, 2012. For those familiar with Mr. Danielewski’s work, particularly his “House of Leaves,” they know to expect intriguing play with narrative, words and graphics. And that is exactly what they get with this novella.
Mr. Danielewski is definitely not a writer who just holds with tradition. We can also see that he deeply respects the art of visual storytelling. The elements he incorporates have a sacred quality to them. You’ll be swept up by the ethereal embroidery artwork that intermingles with the text. You’ll also be caught up by the spontaneity: words seem to bubble up and spit out at just the right moment. As a ghost story for adults, this novella feels like Edgar Alan Poe at a poetry slam, just to give you an idea.
The story begins with the adults gathering to do their duty and attend the fiftieth birthday party for cantankerous Belinda Kite, someone they don’t particularly care for. We then shift our focus to the children who will be in attendance, a spooky set of five orphans who are chaperoned by befuddled Chintana and someone only known as, The Social Worker. Finally, we turn our attention to the truly spooky character at the center of it all, The Storyteller, who is inextricably linked to the eponymous sword and to the fate of each partygoer.
Part of the magic here is the word play, from creative spelling down to how the words are presented on the page. The same spirit of “House of Leaves” is here where typography will literary follow what transpires within the story. For those new to Mr. Danielewski, there will be that satisfying “shock of the new.” Some enjoyable new words you’ll find are Chinata’s choices: indacitation, torpididor and annahiliation. Characters here don’t just speak, they “sputstuttersob” or have a “rumbidilling” voice. They don’t simply creep around. They “diminishide.” Here is an example of what can happens to words in this world:
“‘the w orld there w as
“‘con st antly
“‘sev er ed.
This is how it looks on its actual page:
This passage is describing The Forest of Falling Notes which is part of The Storyteller’s journey that he is retelling to the five orphans as they sit in a cramp little parlor. It is dimly lit by five candles that reveal a most curious box with five latches. What is or is not significant about The Storyteller and his story will remain unclear in this absorbing ghost tale that becomes more mysterious, and haunting, to the very end.
“The Fifty Year Sword” is published by Random House. Visit Random House and learn about the special limited edition of “The Fifty Year Sword.”