Pixels of You. written by Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota, art by J.R. Doyle. Amulet/Abrams. New York. 2022. 176pp. $16.99
How many times do we experience a true inflection point in our lives, something that significantly changes our attitude and approach to life? This is a story of such a change: a story about two polar opposites who must confront the challenges posed by each other. Set in a future when AI androids are co-existing with humans, this graphic novel provides a delightful slice-of-life series of exchanges between Indira, a young human, and Fawn, a “young” robot. Both are creative types struggling to establish careers. It’s an intriguing premise that steadily builds and beautifully plays with coming-of-age tropes: uncertainty; a sense of adventure.
So, Fawn is a robot caught in the same rat race as human Indira. For this story, we don’t need a deep dive explanation as to why that is. Part of the charm of this book is the natural and light approach it takes. You just accept the tech and go from there. It seems, for the purpose of this story, that robots and humans have reached a point of co-existence where they treat each other as equals. Thus, we have the evolving relationship between Fawn and Indira. They are rivals. They are friends. And maybe more.
The writing team of Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota provide a very tender exploration of what motivates these two characters: what may cause friction; and what may stimulate attraction between them. The artwork by J.R. Doyle is right in step with this easy-going vibe. The characters and settings are rendered in a loose semi-realistic style that evokes the spontaneity of a sketchbook. It all adds up to a pleasing glimpse into the lives of two complicated characters, one human, one android, sometime in the future.
This vest-pocket size story-and-comic arrives to a world without…vests! But it is the same size, more or less, as those once-famous Little Blue Books, printed by the millions in Girard, Kansas, at the former office of the Appeal to Reason, aka Temple of the Revolution. That hoped-for revolution had been quashed by the repressive blows of the Woodrow Wilson government against antiwar socialists. The print revolution of Little Blue Books, if it may be called so, is actually part of a larger saga about comics as an art form and its connections with Modernism-become-Post and Post-Post Modernism.
Art Spiegelman and Robert Coover. From Street Cop.
Readers of Comics Grinder need not hear much about Spiegelman. Maus won a Pulitzer and has circled the world dozens of times. It may be said to have validated comics as art, at least in the US, where that designation had lagged. But actually the advance was twice-over, because Art and his wife Francoise Mouly had created, via their RAW Magazine of the 1980s-90s, an avant garde sensation. A collaborator, Ben Katchor, caught the flavor best by suggesting that RAW positioned or marketed itself as the organ of comics seen anew, a child of obscure or forgotten avant-garde French poetry and art. It was perhaps an extended reach if not actually a dubious claim, but never mind. The occasionally-appearing RAW was unlike any comic ever produced, more global, more arty, and in a curious way, the uneasy cousin of Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky’s Weirdo, which was just plain…weird.
Novelist and lit prof Robert Coover is nothing if not the ungrateful, bastard grandchild of modernism, or possibly in his own world of categories. In novel after novel, story after story, Coover manages to lambaste the disordered society, indeed the disordered world, that we live in. Here, in a Manhattan of the future, neighborhoods are manufactured anew through computer printing, and they are never quite solid. The notoriously corrupt as well as brutal NYPD is put into a situation at once hopeless (cops chasing robbers into buildings disapper entirely) and favorably permissive toward ever higher levels of brutality. Actually, we seem well on our way to parts of this dreaded future already.
Coover’s protagonist is the cop of title, an ex-criminal badly paid, but without any other definition to his life, and true to noir traditions, he continues on what could only be called existential grounds.
I do not object in the least to flying cars, low-down characters of all kinds, to say nothing of a collapsing city-scape. This part actually seems closest to current reality, although the destruction of historic architecture is part of Capital’s plan. When our cop steps into a ghoulish pet shop with very ghoulist pets, I stop to object. My own work environment has avians walking and flying around me through the day. Ghoulishness is not in their remit. Or perhaps we are in a worse version of The Birds, where the animals are wreaking revenge upon the wrong-doing humans?
The story seems to dissolve somewhere around here, but the illustrations by Spiegelman remain wonderfully strange in their shape and colors. The artist who once did bubble gum cards, mixing the mundane with the more or less fantastic, delves popular culture imagery again and again here. The cop himself looks remarkably, sometimes, like Sluggo. This is a hell that is, at least, pretty funny.
Pet Human. Written by David Guy Levy with Steffan Schlachtenhaufen. Illustrated by Alex Heywood. Periscope Entertainment. 2021. 131pp.
The sooner you know this, the better. I love dogs but I see way too many of them in my Seattle suburban neighborhood of Ballard. It’s like nearly everyone is paired up with a dog, or more than one dog. Sometimes small. Often big. But also quite fascinating. I recall an old friend of mine lamenting how he’d succumbed to the Seattle blues, that funky feeling we natives blame on the generally overcast gloomy Pacific Northwest weather (and very poorly planned high-destiny living). He may have said this with his signature smirk but, the next time I saw him, he had taken upon himself to become the proud owner of four dogs! So, fast forward to now, I’m quite intrigued with this new graphic novel that explores a pet’s life…but from a highly irregular point of view. This time around, it’s the big furry creatures who are at the top of the food chain and it’s those puny hairless little apes, the humans, who make for the perfect malleable and docile pets. This wonderfully inventive book provides a rather sobering, and very entertaining, portrait of human as pet. This books originates from the mind of film director/producer David Guy Levy (Would You Rather, The Mandela Effect,Banking on Bitcoin among many others). The book was inspired by his late dog Buster.
Resigned to a pet’s life.
When you stop and think about it, we humans are pretty darn lucky in our overall place in the world. But what about life in some alternate reality? Even if you are in prime health and super fit, you’re simply no match for a high-functioning Sasquatch! And, even if you are highly intelligent and alert, you are still no match for any Sasquatch! Like it or not, humans defer to the big hairy ones in charge in this scenario. And, let’s face it, your typical human, given the chance to lounge around all day, will not put up a fight and simply give in. There are certainly exceptions. But Buster, our human hero, is not exceptional by any means. He is very typical. He gives in without so much as a whimper of resistance, albeit an occasional meek complaint.
Walking a human pet.
Illustrator Alex Heywood breathes life into this scenario with stunning results. It took him two and a half years to illustrate Pet Human. “I was excited when David reached out and asked me to illustrate his story, and bring the Pet Human world to life,” said Heywood in a press release. “It was my first long-term project as an artist and it fit perfectly with my style of drawing. I create dense, imaginative wildlife scenes in my art all the time, just for fun.” It is Heywood’s uninhibited depiction of lush natural, yet otherworldly, terrain that keeps the reader riveted to this wonderfully subversive story. Readers will cheer on Buster as he must navigate life with his alien family of Pruni and Blorg.
Pet Human is quite an unusual story that somehow manages to gently trod over a number of issues. Buster is a human being with a heart and soul who happens to live the life of a pet with two Sasquatch-like creatures. What could be more normal? Buster doesn’t seem to mind his lot in life very much but, of course, he lacks the capacity to see beyond his circumstances. Suffice it to say, there is plenty to unpack here. The creative team have set up a world as compelling and engaging as looking into the eyes of your favorite pug. As of this writing, a Kickstarter campagin in support of this book is just about to wrap up in a few days. Go check it out. And, for further details, check out Periscope Entertainment.
I love this still from the upcoming animated feature, Arco. I have to hand it to the French as this looks like something very weird and wonderful–and will live up to its promise. All the little details, so delicate and precise, speak to the dedication of a true graphic novelist, which Ugo surely is as he has a fine and consistent track record of actually creating numerous graphic novels. You really can’t call yourself a graphic novelist without actually being one! So, here is a bona fide bande dessinee artist!
Here is the news on Arco which appeared in Variety last month:
From Henry Chamberlain’s graphic novel, George’s Run
William F. Nolan was one of the grand old men from the golden age of science fiction and horror spanning pulp fiction, television and the movies. Starting out as an illustrator in Kansas City, Nolan ultimately made his way to Hollywood and became part of a group of writers within the orbit of Ray Bradbury, and subsequently Charles Beaumont, all trying to break into television. As part of the inner circle of writers, casually known as, “The Group,” little by little, Nolan gained some ground.
GEORGE’S RUN is now ready for your digital reading pleasure at comiXology. Just follow the link right here. And now, for those unfamiliar with this graphic novel, here are a few words. And, for those loyal true believers who know what I’m talking about, I hope you get to enjoy the book. A print run is coming soon too. This is a book about a bunch of hungry writers all seeking that elusive touch of strange!
Charles Beaumont on the set of “The Howling Man.” Illustration by Henry Chamberlain
Imagine a book that checks off all the boxes: compelling main character, appealing to any age, and a meaningful story. This is a graphic novel about the life and times of George Clayton Johnson. You don’t need to know who he is. But you won’t forget him once you do. George is a gateway to a universe of storytelling. George came from nothing but went on to claim his rightful place among the Rat Pack of Science Fiction, in the heyday of a lot of creative energy, with icons like Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury.
George Clayton Johnson’s Cafe Frankenstein
I encourage you to look up professor Paul Buhle because he provided an essay for my book that really blows my mind! Mr. Buhle is a respected scholar who has worked with various cartoonists over the years. I have also received a testimonial from novelist Jerome Charyn, who you may be familiar with. I have received a testimonial from cartoonist Jeff Smith and cartoonist Craig Frank. I have received a testimonial from Disney writer Martin Olson. A lot of very cool and significant folks have given GEORGE’S RUN a thumb’s up. This is one of those books that is very special, I think, and part of the magic is that it’s offbeat and unusual. At the heart of the activities going on in this book are all the interconnections emanating from the original Twilight Zone. It’s like a mystery within a mystery. It’s like a favorite amusement park ride. I’m looking for an agent who, once she’s read the book, is thrilled by it and can’t wait to let people know about it.
George Clayton Johnson
George is like a Holy Grail of Insight who, Henry, the author of this book, seeks. Henry finds George and unlocks an enigma wrapped in a riddle. So much hiding in plain sight. Within a quirky and dream-like narrative, George and Henry embark upon an adventure in grand storytelling. In the process, the reader becomes immersed in fanciful and insightful observations recollected.
George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through The Twilight Zone is NOW available on @comiXology Submit!
Here is an interview with cartoonist, illustrator and designer François Vigneault. We chat about his graphic novel, TITAN, and related matters. The French edition of TITAN was nominated for multiple awards including the Prix des Libraires and the Joe Shuster Award, and now we finally have the English edition published by Oni Press and available as of November 10, 2020.
TITAN by François Vigneault
TITAN, a graphic novel set during a worker’s revolt has, like any good science fiction, a “torn from the headlines” relevance to it. Politics and protest are clearly on the forefront now. In the U.S., we have one of the most consequential presidential elections in history. It will be a brave new world, on so many levels, that we will all enter into later this year. So, an intriguing sci-fi thriller graphic novel will definitely fit right in. For this interview, I ask François about the book and, specifically about the two lovers caught in the middle. We also discuss the whole process of creating comics, moving up the ranks as an independent cartoonist, and the life of an artist in Montreal, Quebec.
Hope you enjoy the video interview. Here is some additional material exclusive to this post:
What authors did you turn to for guidance or inspiration for TITAN?
There were definitely a big mix of influences and inspirations over the years, but I will mention a few that pop out to me:
Grendel Tales: Devils and Deaths by Darko Macan and the late Edvin Biuković is a comic I first read as a teenager and it had a big influence on me, like TITAN it is a story of love during wartime and I think anyone who enjoys my book will appreciate this somewhat underrated gem… Biuković’s untimely death was a real loss to the world of comics.
Italo Calvino is one of my favorite authors; most of his work is very, very different from what I am doing, but one of my favorite volumes by him is Difficult Loves, which includes a range of tales ranging from “Wartime Stories” to “Stories of Love and Loneliness” which definitely had an influence on TITAN. I know I reread that book at least twice during the creation of TITAN.
Finally, I think probably the biggest influence on me for the last decade or so has been the late, great Ursula K. LeGuin; she somehow manages to surprise me again and again over the years. Every time I think I have her figured out, or know what to expect from her, she throws another curveball (or perhaps a right hook is a more appropriate metaphor) and I’m left pleasantly dazed by the experience. The singular way that LeGuin would mix interpersonal pain with cultural conflict has been and remains a tremendous influence on my work. I had the privilege of meeting her very briefly back when I lived in Portland, and I am so glad that I had that opportunity, even if all I did was gush about her work and get my ratty old copies of Earthsea signed.
What would you like to share about the writing, the subtext, to TITAN?
That question is very open to interpretation! So I’ll just briefly say that despite the many dark elements to the plot, the corruption, violence, and inequality that is present throughout the book, I do think that TITAN is ultimately a hopeful story, a story about the capacity of human beings to connect with each other.
How do you think TITAN mirrors our society today and what is timeless in your work?
I do think so, though I will leave it to others to decide if the mirror that TITAN holds up to our world is interesting, useful, or just plain boring. Definitely the book is very much inspired by our world, and sometimes feels eerily prescient in how very closely it maps to events that are unfolding right now (keep in mind I finished writing TITAN back in 2017), it is disturbing, to tell the truth. ButI suppose that shows that some of TITAN’s themes of injustice, state-sanctioned violence, and the cruel indifference of capitalism to human suffering are certain to be with us for a long, long time. But as I mentioned earlier, there is also a theme of connection, love, and reconciliation that is present in the book as well, and I hope that those ideas are timeless as well.
Be sure to visit François Vigneault at his website right here.
Titan. by François Vigneault. Oni Press, Portland, OR, 2020. 202pp, $19.99.
François Vigneault is one of the most original and fun cartoonists out there today. If you have not checked out his Titan comics, this is the perfect time since Oni Press presents a new collection of the series coming out November 10, 2020. Consider this an advance review. I will follow up with another Titan-related post closer to the release date. It is often said that the best science fiction has a timeless quality as well as comments with precision on its own time. Titan certainly is relevant to our tumultuous times full of protest. Meet João da Silva and Phoebe Mackintosh: one is a member of the ruling elite; the other is a member of the exploited working class. It is the not-too-distant future, about a hundred years from now. The old mining colony of Homestead, on a moon of Titan, is steadily working its way to obsolescence. In order to try to salvage the situation, MGR First Class da Silva arrives on the scene from HQ, planet Terra. His liaison officer is one of the best workers, Phoebe. What could go wrong? For starters, João and Phoebe immediately sense some hot chemistry between them. Meanwhile, the entire order of things is coming apart at the seams.
Page from TITAN
Vigneault has a very vivid and direct drawing style. Whether he draws with a pen and paper or directly on a digital tablet, he has nailed quite a fluid and expressive line. This is a wonderfully cartoony style with an immediate impact that attracts the reader to the characters and action. Vigneault has a way of evoking emotion that holds its own with any other drawing style with its authenticity. I don’t feel a false note anywhere. Any reader will get hooked into what becomes of João and Phoebe and, by extension, the rest of Homestead, even the whole freaking solar system! In the grand science fiction tradition, the fate of worlds depends upon these two–but also with a touch of irony to boot. This isn’t your father’s sci-fi, after all.
I’ll tell you one thing. Vigneault manages to pull off one of the trickiest of metaphors. In lesser hands, I think this would have felt like a heavy-handed gambit. The ruling class from Terra appear tiny in comparison to the Titan workers, genetically modified for maximum efficiency. When João and Phoebe become lovers, the symbolism is totally brought home, and the stark contrast is pretty powerful, even beautiful. João and Phoebe, as different as they are, fit together. João is small and nimble. Phoebe is large and strong. João can’t help but bring up his concern over whether he is big enough for her to which Phoebe reassures him that “size doesn’t matter.” Over the course of their story, the reader comes to appreciate how right they are for each other.
Panel excerpt: Phoebe reassures João.
Comics and graphic novels share much in common. If a comic strip, for example, is done right, it will entice the reader to go through it more than one quick scan. A reader may not even be fully aware of it but it is likely that the comic strip is digested a number of times, as in a loop. The reader seeks the stimulation and goes for repeated rewards. And then it’s time to move on to something else. But, at that moment, a comics loop experience is enjoyed. And so it can, and does, happen with graphic novels. There are certain passages that must be re-visited. Pages to go back to, pages to compare. Some academics theorize that comics are read in an entirely different way when displayed on a gallery wall and perhaps that even hurts the comics experience. Well, I don’t buy it. I say all this because Vigneault has managed to find that sweet spot in making comics where his creation entices the reader to linger, to re-visit, and to revel in the work. Not all comics do that and perhaps some comics creators don’t even factor that in. But Vigneault does.
I really good novel, or movie, or graphic novel, invites repeated consumption. It is built-in. That is going on here with Titan, a story of two star-crossed lovers caught up in events bigger than themselves. If the characters are compelling, the events in question can recede into the background and come up to the forefront as needed. Not all novels are created equal, of course! The point here is that Vigneault, in the driver’s seat as a auteur cartoonist (both writer and artist), fully understands how to drive a story forward. He is someone who would be fun to chat with over an interview. We would discuss process, storytelling in general, as well as social commentary and science fiction. In the end, what we would talk about would be the art of making comics. It’s not easy and, like the most complex of art forms, it seems to require a bit of magic. You will definitely find something magical about this graphic novel with its pacing, symbols, and daring.
The Eighth is a very impressive new comic book (now on Indiegogo) by Adam Lawson (writer/director of the YouTube Original series Escape The Night, and the gaming shows Tabletop and Spellslingers) and Lawson’s longtime collaborator, Jorin Evers. First, this is the premise: an epic adventure featuring twoteenagers, David Wells and Emma Adachi, who unlock a piece of ancient Sumerian armor, but mismanage its power and end up committing murder. Before they know it, they find themselves on a terrifying journey to change or destroy the world with no going back. Now, the goal of the current Indiegogo campaign is to collect all the issues of the comic book into a glorious 200-page glossy trade paperback. As Adam Lawson puts it:
For almost two years, Jorin and I have slaved away on the pages completing five of the eight issues and given away all of our free time. With your contributions, we can take this across the finish and deliver into your hands, in stunning glossy print, the 200-page story of David, the 8th and his misfit friends.
David & Emma
Taking a close look at the first issue in this series, I see a well-paced story that got my attention right from the start. Writer/creator Adam Lawson and artist Jorin Evers deliver a gritty story playing with teenage wasteland tropes that ring very true. David is the math whiz who is being raised by his mother and aunt. Emma is a teen who ran away from her foster family and lives in the same house with David. Things look pretty dire and bleak. But there’s something about both David and Emma that leaves the reader wondering. There’s that touch of strange that means everything. Infused with just the right doses of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy, this all adds up to a most unique and compelling story.
Out to save the world.
It will be up to David to see if he can rise to the challenge. As they say in scientific circles, the cat in the box is both alive and dead up until the box is opened. David makes the choice to open the box and find out. All along the way, the reader gets deeper into the action and more involved with the characters in unexpected ways. For instance, aloof and quiet Emma has got quite a steamy crush on David. The art by Jorin Evers brings it all to life with vivid energy. Lawson and Evers nicely set it up and then, bang, the reader is rewarded with a new twist on the superhero mythos. That twist is definitely there with just the right set of circumstances. Like any good thriller, it all comes down to being careful for what you wish for. But what’s the fun in being so careful, right? That’s the devil’s bargain that David and Emma will have to deal with. The promo material already alludes to a cosmic connection with Sumerian antiquity. Well, without spoiling anything, Lawson and Evers bring you a superhero story for a new generation, full of ugly truth and full of righteous fury. The Eighth truly feels like something new, a fresh take on superheroes, and that’s saying a lot.
THE EIGHTH has got just what you’re looking for in a story that’s not afraid to blast through the page. Check out the Indiegogo campaign right here. And you really need to check out the animated book trailer, only available by visiting the Indiegogo campaign.
Comics Grinder continues to seek out and support the best in indie comics like this gem coming out of Cincinnati entitled, MeSseD, which is the nickname for the Metropolitan Sewer District! And, yes, if you sense a theme emerging here, you are correct. The main character is sewer worker Lilliput, a sort of tour guide to the weird, wild and wet world beneath our feet. Who exactly is Lilliput and what kind of misadventures does she get into? Let’s find out.
Issues of MeSseD
What wows me about this comic series is that creator/writer Jay B. Kalagayan, and lead artist Dylan Speeg, are not afraid to play with sci-fi tropes and just have some fun. Our main character, Lilliput, has one main responsibility and that’s to keep the effluent (sewage) flowing freely. But what fun is that? Well, it’s not exactly meant to be fun, is it? But it’s essential, right? You don’t want a day with the effluent NOT flowing, am I right? And it takes a lot to keep that flow going. There are all sorts of monsters out there, like the Clew worms, that need to be confronted and taken down. That’s where Lilliput comes in. Of course, she’s not perfect. For instance, she goes against regulations and keeps a pet rat. There’s much to love here.
Keep up with MeSseD by visiting the website right here.