Crisis Zone depicts the catastrophe for our time, almost 300 pages of collective debacle for the crew of caricatured cute animals (and the classic witch) brought up to date. They find themselves amid the crisis we now all seem to expect: an urban something causes all functions to break down, a sort of end of civilization as we know it. It might seem these animal-humans barely deserve to survive. They produce television shows, Youtube-style dramas, nearly all anal jokes in one sense or another, while they attempt to go on in the old ways of pointless consumption. A high point is reached when a distinctly human character appears, telling them he has tickets for Hamillton, the banality that currently passes for high culture.
Artist Simon Hanselmann escaped the ostensible eco-paradise of Tasmania, found to be boring, and intolerable with a troubled, single mother. Self-taught and obviously scorning the usual tricks of comic art, Hanselmann created a menagerie of characters engrossed in daily meandering; all in all, captivated by their own fascinations.
The most interesting part of this large-format, detail-heavy volume can be found in the last pages where Hanselman offers, in tiny hand-lettered detail, an overview of this particular comics process. Perhaps nothing so obsessive as this has ever been done in comic art? It is a hugely curious accomplishment.
Chickaloonies: Book 01 – First Frost. by Dimi Macheras and Casey Silver. 80 Percent Studios. Seattle. 2021. 100pp. $25.00
Keeping cultures alive.
Welcome to Chickaloonies, the new Alaskan adventures by Dimi Macheras and Casey Silver, published by 80 Percent Studios. These are comics with roots going back to tribal stories handed down to the kids by the village elder. This all-ages tribal adventure follows two Alaskan Native kids as they set out on a quest to become world-famous storytellers. But not so fast. First, there are a lot of misadventures along the way. After all, these guys are gathering up material and so they’re living it as it makes it way into tales to tell.
Sasquatch E. Moji
Our main characters are an unlikely but lovable pair. Sasquatch E. Moji, age 13, is big and quiet, communicating only through symbols. Mister Yelly, age 12, is small and outspoken, often leaping into action before looking at the consequences. Between the two, they’re not exactly formidable but they make up for it with great spirit. And, when all else fails, they can always turn to their grandmother for advice. But that changes soon enough once these two are off on their long-term quest: to learn about other cultures; and to help spread the world about their own culture. Along the way, the boys will confront all sorts of monsters and villains but that just goes with the territory. Also, along the way, the reader will learn about Ahtna/Athabascan symbols, language and culture.
Drawn is a highly energetic style, any reader will be delighted and engaged right from the start. This first graphic novel in a series collects some really fun tall tales. These stories have their roots in the stories that Dimi Machera grew up with, first from his grandmother and then retold by his mother, who presented live events based on tribal stories to local schools and other gatherings. All along, during that first creative phase, Dimi was creating comics based on what he heard. And that would ultimately lead to this book, the first of an exciting series that shares the rich, Ahtna/Athabascan culture.
The power of storytelling!
Our story begins with the Chickaloon village trapped in perpetual darkness with everyone wondering if they will ever get some sunshine. That’s where our friends step in. Sasquatch E. Moji and Mister Yelly are going to give it all they’ve got to let the sunshine in–and it looks like they’ve got more than a good chance of doing that and a whole lot more. Chickaloonies is just the kind of storytelling we need today as we rise out of darkness and toward hope and understanding. The good-natured, and often zany, antics here will keep readers of any age entertained and inspired.
Manifesto Items #10. by David Lasky. self-published. Seattle, 2020. 60pp. $10.
When I find a worthy subject, I’ll add a dash or two of me into the mix. In this case, I present to you an ongoing series by cartoonist David Lasky. What I like about it is that I see some of my own passions. I guess, off and on, I’ve been following Lasky’s work for over twenty years. He’s a dedicated guy and he’s created some wonderful moments in comics through his various comic books and mini-comics. Where Lasky has trodded, so have I. The indie landscape is a very rocky road where you keep on truckin’ and, maybe with a little help from your friends, see what you can get.
Paul Gauguin used to ask, “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” These are the sort of big questions that pepper a lot of indie comics and done well a la Lasky. The Lasky universe is one that nibbles at a vast array of mystery and wonder and then finds a spot or two to feast upon and then dutifully report back to the hive. It’s a groovy gentle world of observations, hearty calls to action, and melancholic ruminations. Of course, we want to see more of this in comics but maybe some readers don’t even know what they’re missing until they stumble upon a Lasky gem. Well, with all that said, this latest Lasky work collects a bunch of quirky and offbeat content, as I’ve just suggested.
We begin with, well, it’s a little hard to say. It’s more like one little thing happens that leads to another slightly bigger little thing: a collage poem starts off with Bela Logosi and then gives way to a homage to comics and a tribute to the late great Tom Spurgeon; one exquisite corpse bends to another; tributes to cats lead to tributes to The Beatles; and, as we move along, some diehard fans might spot items that have appeared elsewhere like a page from an anthology about the US border patrol or comics from a workshop at Seattle’s Hugo House.
Walt Whitman a la Lasky
And then we’re hit with something special, like Lasky’s ode to Walt Whitman. Some of Lasky’s favorite, and best, work is literary adaption. For this collection, he provides a generous stretch of comics from Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”
A saucer in search of a cup.
Taken in as a whole, the slow rhythm of alternating images, the searching quality of it all, disparate items, enigmatic and uncanny, it all adds up to a David Lasky experience. It’s like mashing up sleepy Garrison Keillor with a touch of sly David Lynch. Case in point: A Lasky comic that depicts someone looking amused upon seeing flying saucers but actually more disturbed when they beam up her cup of coffee. I suspect that Lasky was zoning into a stream-of-consciousness experiment–his mind zeroed in on saucers and couldn’t resist matching it up with a cup. I’ll have to ask David about it the next chance I get or he is more than welcome to leave an answer in the comments section. Your observations are also most welcome.
So, as I say, this is weird art for art’s sake, good ole fashioned unapologetically offbeat stuff. The humor is so dry that a slight wind could knock it over. But that’s what makes it so distinctive. That is what I am attracted to since my humor can veer off into very dry territory. Maybe David and I have that in common. We’re both rather sensitive souls I’ll have you know. Maybe it’s something in the Pacific Northwest air that we’ve been breathing into our lungs all of these overcast years. Something about it that compels a cartoonist to match a flying saucer with a cup of coffee.
I ask that you keep going on this journey with me. I have been carving this niche for years and I feel like I’ve got it at quite a cozy level with just the right content and pacing. That said, it’s time for another thoughtful interview. For my video interviews, I add here a few notes and observations. Traditional journalism, like hard news reportage, will take an interview and create a concise summation. Some magazines are known for their long sprawling interviews where everything is transcribed. Of course, we also have a long tradition of various talk show formats, some thoughtful and some that are so casual as to blur right in with a dance segment on Tik Tok. Hey, I have nothing against fun and entertainment and I’ll engage in that when it makes sense. But, for interviews, I take them seriously, prepare for them, take off my Joe Cool hat and don’t engage in any dancing. Although, in a metaphorical sense, a good interview is sort of like a dance. The person conducting the interview leads while the person who is the subject of the interview goes about picking up one cue after another and making something out of it.
A bus driver finds solace through the suspension of disbelief.
Anyway, I say all this because it’s particularly relevant to this interview. Essentially, this is an interview about interviews: how to conduct one, what it means, what you attempt to get out of it. I interviewed Julia Wald about her new book, The Suspension of Disbelief (review), an illustrated collection of interviews she conducted about life and work during Covid-19. In the course of the interview, we ended up talking about what it means when you’re working at a restaurant during a world-wide pandemic and suddenly it’s like all the lights are out and then, just as suddenly, you are out of a job, your source of income. We discuss who might have stepped in to help and who didn’t.
A disadvantaged man finds hope through knowledge.
And, finally, once an artistic and talented person is inspired to create a book about Covid-19, what responsibility, if any, does she have to the vulnerable people she has interviewed? Well, part of the answer goes back to the dance. If the dance partners have established a sense of trust, then there’s a very good chance that something worthwhile will result that everyone can be proud of. We focus in a bit on American journalist Studs Terkel (1912-2008), the icon of what came to be known as “literary journalism.” Terkel was most active from the 1950s to 1990s, creating his seminal collection of interviews, Working, in 1974. He was part of that old-fashioned gumshoe journalist/creative tradition: loyal to his readers and listeners, to his Chicago, and to the art and craft of journalism. Julia says that Terkel inspired her on her Covid-19 project and it shows and, ultimately, it demonstrates that she did right by all who she interviewed. Julia did it the right way, the old-fashioned way that involves hard work and integrity. It’s the best way. And it’s what inspires me to keep going on this journey.
It seems ages ago that I posted a drawing early last year about the developing “new normal” living conditions during this pandemic. Well, as much as things have changed with vaccines on the way, we still have a journey ahead of us. Perhaps it’s safe to say we’re at the halfway point, or better. Let us hope so! For now, we keep doing all the safe things we’ve been doing and, when it’s our turn, we get vaccinated. 2021 is now here. Let’s all make the most of it as best we can.
Casey Silver is an astute member of the comics industry. He is in a very good place these days with his coloring and lettering work gracing the pages of such notable titles as the limited series, Gunning For Hits and the ongoing series Rat Queens, both from Image Comics.
The now famous sold-out issue of RAT QUEENS #22.
In this conversation, we talk about comic book shops, working in the comics industry, and being co-owner of the comic book company, 80 Percent Studios, based here in Seattle. Casey managed the downtown Zanadu comics shop and we would often chat a bit about comics when I would stop by. Zanadu is now gone and part of history but it’s not forgotten.
Lately, Casey is knocking it out of the park. Fortunate to team up with the artist Moritat, Casey’s career has taken off with his first working on Gunning For Hits and then following Moritat on to the next project, a run at Rat Queens. Moritat is a true maverick of an artist. Look him up and you’ll find exceptional work. When the comics cognescenti learned that Moritat was jumping on board to Rat Queens, that opening issue immediately sold out. So, yeah, all of this is a very big deal for Casey and for those who follow comics closely.
Chickaloonies, by Dimi Macheras and Casey Silver, 80 Percent Studios.
The life of a freelance creative, whatever the medium, has its bumps in the road. There are no guarantees. You are always scrambling for gigs. Casey has a confident way about him that should inspire many interested in entering the world of comics. The big takeaway from this interview is that Casey is a great creative in the biz with a lot of insight to share. I find the Zoom video interview format to be very fascinating–and revealing for both the guest and the host. You are juggling far more information than just a text-centric interview, whether by email or phone. It’s not just the written or verbal content we’re dealing with. It’s not totally an in-person interview either and, at the same time, it’s more. It’s a myriad of visual and body language elements. One way or another, a video interview manages to cut through more than you might ever expect. But if you’re in the moment and sincere, then things tend to work out just fine. Here is another example of just that! We end up covering some good shop talk and, overall, as I say, it’s a great conversation, whatever your interest.
Visit the GUNNING FOR HITS site here. And keep up with RAT QUEENS right here.
Suspension of Disbelief: Covid-19 Stories. By Julia Wald. Seattle. Available at Push/Pull. 77pp, $23.
Exercising a “suspension of disbelief.”
Oral history has itself a brief but interesting history in comics. As a former teacher and field worker in the field, as co-editor of an adaptation of Studs Terkel’s totemic Working, and as a collaborator of the late Harvey Pekar, himself a Studs Terkel type, I hope to claim a little authority on this matter.
But not too much. Oral history is born and reborn regularly, as the voices are heard and recorded, archived and used. Every interviewee and every interviewer has a unique experience. When the then-new field of oral history passed from the 1950s recording the lives of famous white men lacking memoirs to the civil rights and peace movements recorded by fellow participants, something changed in the nature of the field. Oral history eventually gained a shaky presence in academia. Its participants are, as they had already become a few generations ago, a peaceful army of under-appreciated activist-scholars, some in the classroom, more of them outside.
We can hope for a better future.
Comics, the adaptation of oral history as comics, has added a new dimension. Stan Mack, in the Village Voice of the 1960s-70s, captured the language and ideas of random people on the street, and opened up a path to a popular audience. One could call Art Spiegelman’s Maus, his father’s harrowing story, the comic that raised the level of respect and even made comics an accepted “art.” Individual artists have found human subjects and explored them through oral histories, disguised as fiction. Still, the straight story-telling mode, minus fiction, remains an art undeveloped.
Julia Wald, a young artist from Buffalo and a graduate of degrees in art and chemistry there, moved to Seattle to become an artist and….works a day job, as nearly all young artists do and must. She responded instinctively, then determinedly, to the coming of the Virus. The men and women her age, working in restaurants and such, were suddenly underemployed if not unemployed, she wanted to tell their stories.
Thus Suspension of Disbelief. It is well drawn and extremely charming. Her subjects are young and youngish people, a little more than half of them Latinx. They are working the kind of jobs, living the kind of lives that they would have chosen in the post-2000 world of the deteriorated middle class, except that the life they chose has become very difficult for rent, food and other necessities, not to mention the threat of Covid close at hand.
Grateful for the stability you have.
They are depressed but not totally depressed. “I hope that maybe this will change the way we look at capitalism and we will realize that certain social programs are important especially for fellow artists. As artists having the freedom to create work without the pressure of having to make a living from art could be a way of looking at the world.” That is, “it’s never going to be like it used to be—so letting go is important.” So says Marcy, a videographer with a lot of charm, and no matter that her restaurant job and video gigs are gone. “Now we are all in this together.,” Or drag queen Butylene O’Kipple, “Do I have enough? how much do I need? What even are my actual needs What have I been brainwashed into thinking I couldn’t live without? What can I let go of?”
And many more, waitresses to sex workers, filmmakers to bus drivers. Each has a unique story to tell, and each fits into the mosaic of today’s Seattle scene.
Julia Wald’s first comic outing is a small triumph. I hope it will be widely seen.
Paul Buhle is the rare leftwing scholar of comics. He is coeditor of the Paul Robeson comic, out this year, and drawn by Sharon Rudahl.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to visit Exterminator City (Dec 10-13) where you can purchase Suspension of Disbelief as well as other notable works. And you can always visit Pull/Pull anytime!
Comic arts festivals are the backbone of a lot of indie comics activity. During Covid-19, we’ve seen many of these events converting to online versions. Welcome to Exterminator City (part of Push/Pull co-operative), the 10th edition of this Seattle indie and small press festival. Beginning on Thursday, December 10th, you can enjoy programming and events during this 4-day event.
Sample video: Julia Wald chats about her new work, Suspension of Disbelief, with special guest Vladimir Verano of Vert Volta Press and Maxx Follis-Goodkind:
At 12:00 pm on December 10th all artist tables go live. Artist tables are pages on the Exterminator City website that include artist video introductions, their products, and information about them and how to follow them online. You can purchase directly off their tables – it is the next best thing to being with them in-person!
So, check it all out at Exterminator City right here.
There will be a wide selection of video content from online tutorials to interview panels. Here is the full lineup:
December 10th, Thursday – all events are live at 6pm PST
David Lasky speaks with John Porcellino of King-Cat Comics about making the King-Cat series for 30 years, the political nature of zines, and creating in 2020.
Maxx Follis-Goodkind interviews Craig van den Bosch and Marty Gordon of Microverse Press – a conversation about collage & collaboration.
Sarah Maloney teaches you how to make a mini zine of your own!
December 11th, Friday:
7:30pm– Catch special events over at VeraTV! veratv.org Friday only.
Featured events include:
Abridged interviews with Julia Wald and Jose Alaniz about their 2020 book releases.
A panel of zine experts – Maxx FG, Anne Bean, and Sarah Maloney will be giving you their best tips for zine newbies
Plus a tutorial from MaxxFG explaining what is saddle stitch and showing you two ways to do it
December 12th, Saturday – all events are live at 6pm PST
Sarah Maloney interviews Nicole Georges of Invincible Summer about changes and creating during the covid-19 pandemic
Plus! a full interview with Julia Wald about her latest release Suspension of Disbelief, with special guest Vladimir Verano of Vert Volta Press
And zine experts – Maxx FG, Anne Bean (Emerald Comics Distro), and Sarah Maloney – are back with their full list of things you should know before making your first zine.
December 13th, Sunday – all events are live at 6pm PST
A full interview with Jose Alaniz about his latest release, The Phantom Zone, a collection of works from the 90s through recent creations.
Seth Goodkind gets a lesson on the history of Seattle’s underground comics with artist Pat Moriarity and discusses what Pat is up to now.
Cheryl Chudyk invites you to participate in her surrealist poetry zine. And T. Pratt teaches you the secrets behind his pop-up zines.
“Exterminator City is about connecting our community to people self-publishing zines and comics. When we realized that the current pandemic meant all of the in-person shows for the year would be cancelled we felt it was our responsibility to step in. Our hope is that you learn about people creating, connect with someone new, and get some inside information from our panels and interviews. And of course enjoy yourself!”
Harvey Kurtzman is a god. Of course, you can’t please everyone. Panel excerpt from HATE by Peter Bagge, 1991.
Comedy is not pretty. Isn’t that what Steve Martin concluded oh so many years ago? Well, it’s true. If humor has anything to do with revealing the truth, then it’s gonna get ugly. Harvey Kurtzman knew something about this too and was revered by other cartoonists moving up the ranks, like Peter Bagge. And, if you study Peter Bagge’s work, you’ll see the Kurtzman influence, sometimes subtle and sometimes in a direct reference.
From “What’s in a Name?” Written by Peter Bagge. Drawn by Danny Hellman.
A sample of Harvey Kurtzman: Mad #4, 1953
One of the darkest and most hilarious bit of comics I’ve read is a collaboration between Bagge as writer and Danny Hellman as illustrator. The piece is about a meeting between young aspiring cartoonist Peter Bagge and the legendary cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman. With a cutting New York sense of humor, Kurtzman is brutally depicted as a bitter doddering old man. The punchline, as it were, states that Kurtzman’s erratic behavior may have been caused by the fact he was dying from cancer; and he did indeed die not long after this infamous meeting!
Ah, and then there’s the R. Crumb influence–and that certainly makes sense, if you know anything about Peter Bagge’s work. My goal in this interview was simply to explore the process with a masterful cartoonist and hopefully end up having asked the right questions. I think what really stands out for me from our conversation is that Bagge’s outlook is that of a highly irreverent individual, as well as a sensitive and thoughtful person. So, basically, Bagge possesses a sensible mix of character traits that most of us can relate to. That is part of the magic of Hate’s main character. Everyone can relate to something about Buddy Bradley, the guy who wants to get along, but not too much!
A sample of Peter Bagge: Hate #16, 1994.
Well, that gives you an idea of Bagge’s offbeat sense of humor. Comedy, the very best and most cutting, is definitely not pretty. And so it was my goal to explore this subject with Bagge, and many other related matters! I hope you enjoy the video interview, which you can access by clicking to it down below. Peter Bagge’s work is most definitely adult fare and in the best spirit of the term. It is dark, sophisticated, and meant to elicit a world-weary cackle of recognition. Enjoy!
The Complete Hate from Fantagraphics is available November 24, 2020. Book One (HATE 1-15) focuses on young Buddy Bradley’s travails in early 1990s Seattle. Book Two (HATE 16-30) focuses on Buddy and his girlfriend Lisa Leavenworth’s move back to Buddy’s native New Jersey (and a switch from black-and-white to full color). Book Three (HATE Annuals 1-9) features the final arc of Bagge’s magnum opus, as Buddy and Lisa become parents (and buy a garbage dump). Each volume, along with the slipcase, contains new covers, endpapers, title pages, and other surprises by Bagge.
The Complete Hate Box Set. by Peter Bagge. Fantagraphics, Seattle. 938 pp, $119.99.
A great way to savor or discover the work of cartoonist Peter Bagge is the new collection, The Complete Hate Box Set, published by Fantagraphics Books. Peter Bagge is indeed a significant cartoonist, and one of the bright lights that led me to Seattle back in the early ’90s. Like so many, for me, a copy of Hate comics was a perfect companion while sipping a latte at Caffe Vita, downing a beer at the Comet Tavern, or anticipating a show at the Re-bar. It was a time to see and be seen and, no doubt, to mock your fellow hipster. And few, if any, did it quite as well as Peter Bagge in his ultra-satirical comic book series featuring the ultimate malcontent, Buddy Bradley.
HateBall tour poster by Peter Bagge and Daniel Clowes, 1993.
With hindsight, Hate seems like the perfect comic to encompass this whole grungy era. The title alone sounds like a timeless tribute to callow youth. But as Bagge explains in the introduction to this collection, nothing was so smoothly planned in advance, including the title, which only came about sort of by accident. It wasn’t as if Bagge had set out, without a care in the world, to be a successful satirist. First, Bagge slowly but surely developed Neat Stuff, a comic based upon his own family growing up. His main character, Buddy Bradley, was loosely based upon himself. And, as luck would have it, a somewhat older Buddy was right in step with a whole new zietgeist and would go on to take a prominent spot in the new wave of alternative comics of the 1990s.
HATE #1, 1990.
Hate has its own loopy specificity, a zany quality built from Archie Comics, MAD Magazine, and all manner of underground comix. It was to be Bagge’s answer to the hegemony of the ’60s counterculture. And it was to be more than just a comic from the halcyon days of Generation X. It has moved past that and entered a new phase where it can take a rightful place among the best in comics. It does this by simply being something exceptional in terms of style, consistency, and inventiveness.
The unreal meets the real in a run-down Seattle apartment.
You can say that Hate is a prime example of an excellent comic willed into existence by a very determined cartoonist. And the best test of that is how it grabs the reader. As I progress from one panel to the next, I am struck by the energy and vision on display. These are very loopy characters, out of reality in an uncanny way and yet what they say rings true and sounds like the sort of kooky youthful insights and outbursts going on in very real taverns, night clubs, and shanty apartments. In other words, Hate shares all the characteristics of some of the very best that comics have to offer. Hate lampooned Seattle hipsterdom while also being a part of it. Not an easy thing to do unless you’re focused and persistent. And, perhaps most important of all, don’t take any of it too seriously to begin with.
The Complete Hate Box Set is available as of December 1, 2020. For more details, visit Fantagraphics Books right here.