Tag Archives: Underground Comics

SPX 2018: Time for Small Press Expo, September 15-16!

SPX illustration by Molly Ostertag

Time for Small Press Expo, September 15-16! SPX, created in 1994, is the cornerstone to the comics community. It is at the forefront in promoting and providing support. Each year, more than 4,000 cartoonists and comics enthusiasts gather in Bethesda Maryland for North America’s premiere independent cartooning and comic arts festival. Let the latest news speak for itself. This is from a press release that just came out:

“Small Press Expo announced that it will immediately make available $20,000 and also launch a legal aid fundraising vehicle to support members of the SPX community who are currently facing a defamation lawsuit. The fundraising vehicle, administered by SPX, and created in consultation with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, will be established for the purposes of defraying the cost of legal representation for the eleven members of the independent comics community named as defendants in the ongoing lawsuit.”

So, yeah, it’s September and that can only mean one thing for die-hard indie comics fans: Small Press Expo! Yes, indeed, each year Bethesda Maryland suddenly becomes, for one weekend, the lightning rod for some of the most cutting-edge comics. If you’re in the area the weekend of September 15-16, then come out to this event and check out some awesome alt-comics.

Now, I must admit that, although I’ve gone and I’ve participated in numerous comics festivals and events as a journalist and as a comics creator, I have never gone to Small Press Expo. Some folks there will have heard of me and some know me from years back. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m new to SPX. So, I hope to do my best to provide some stellar coverage to this most venerable and respected gathering. Small Press Expo is where much of the indie comics scene gained traction and it remains the jewel in the crown.

So, say hello if you see me and we make eye contact or somehow slip into conversation. We’ll figure it out. Or say hello here at Comics Grinder. If you’re a creator, let me know what you’re up to and maybe we can set up an interview or I can plan to review your work. I don’t exactly expect an avalanche of responses– but I always end up making a decent number of connections at these events. I understand that things will get hectic and maybe you’re shy to begin with. I understand– and I can only focus on so much myself. The main thing is to have fun and to always strive for authenticity. The rest works itself out.

The full press release on the Legal Aid Fund for Cartoonists follows:

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Independent Comics, Indie, Millennials, mini comics, mini-comics, Minicomics, Self-Published, Small Press, Small Press Expo, SPX

Book Review: WHY COMICS? by Hillary Chute

WHY COMICS? by Hillary Chute

“Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere,” by Hillary Chute, published by HarperCollins, is a highly informative, accessible, and delightful look at the evolution of comics, with the primary focus on American comics. As the title suggests, what used to be strictly an underground thing has now emerged virtually everywhere. Chute’s goal is to unpack that phenomenon. She goes about it with great enthusiasm and clearly makes a significant contribution to the ongoing writing about comics. This is a must-read for anyone interested in pop culture, comics, and art in general.

Zap Comix #1, 1968

Okay, so comics are everywhere. Who, for instance, are the characters gracing the cover to this book? Chute, a natural teacher, is so glad you asked. She will come right out and tell you who and then explain the interconnections. First of all, this is Maggie and Hopey, lead characters in what is understood by many to be the greatest ongoing comic of them all, “Love and Rockets,” by the Hernandez Brothers. Where did this comic come from? How does it fit in with other comics? Why is this comic significant? Ah, for that matter, you may shout out, “Why Comics?!” Chute is happy to answer all your questions and much more. Well, this comic is part of a second wave of underground comics in the ’80s. And this comic is a response to a lot of things, including a lack of diversity in mainstream comics. But, before that, there was the original wave of underground comics in the Sixties led by R. Crumb and his Zap Comix. And, as many a conversation on the comics convention floor on zines and mini-comics will attest, even today’s superhero comics genre all began as indie comics by two teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Page excerpt from Art Spiegelman’s MAUS

Chute’s search for patterns in the making of comics leads her to some of the most celebrated trailblazers, notably Art Spiegelman. Chute was the associate editor of “MetaMaus,” the definitive companion to Spiegelman’s “Maus,” and she has a great deal of insight to share. Chute guides the reader from Spiegelman, in his youth in San Francisco to his subsequent work in earnest. It was in 1972 that Justin Green, author of the first autobio comic, “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” invited Spiegelman to contribute to a comics anthology. The only stipulation was that the work had to feature anthropomorphic animal characters. And so began Spiegelman’s first steps toward the work in comics most people are aware of, “Maus.” Chute then follows Spiegelman’s progress as he reaches great heights of creativity. Here below, Chute describes how Spiegelman plays with the fluidity of time:

“Spiegelman creates a physical connection between panels set in the past and panels set in the present, linking them, as in panels in which Art’s cigarette smoke is figured as the smoke coming out of an Auschwitz crematorium chimney directly below it on the page. But in others, he exploits the language of comics–the convention that each panel represents a distinct moment of time–to make two different time periods literally intertwine. We see this in the striking page in which Vladek, Art, and Françoise–herself a character in ‘Maus’–converse in the Catskills during a summer visit to Vladek’s bungalow. On their way to the supermarket in the car, Art changes the topic from his stepmother, Mala, to Auschwitz, asking his father about a prisoner revolt. The last panel of the page, in which Vladek describes its fallout, is its largest: as the family car weaves through dense rural roads, the legs of four Jewish girls hanged in Auschwitz after the revolt–witnessed firsthand by Vladek–suddenly appear dangling from the trees. The 1940s and the ’70s collapse, as Spiegelman shows, wordlessly, how the traumatic past lives on in the present.”

Page excerpt from Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS

Much in the same way that the 1951 landmark coming-of-age novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger, became the template for aspiring young novelists, so too did “Maus” serve as a guide for cartoonists on the rise. Observe how Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” first published in 2000, follows a similar format and technique as Spiegelman’s landmark work. Certainly, Satrapi’s work is wonderfully original. That said, it does follow certain style and content choices first established by leading artists such as Spiegelman. Chute is not making this particular argument but she does lay out the characteristics of what has become accepted in a work by an independent cartoonist: the work is honest, personal, and usually autobiographical; the work is all done by hand, including the borders and lettering, with a less polished finish than mainstream comics; and the work is usually done by one person. In that sense, Satrapi is following in a tradition begun by such artists as Crumb and Spiegelman.

Panel excerpt from Chris Ware’s BUILDING STORIES

Another cartoonist who looms larger in Chute’s book is Chris Ware–and for good reason. The history of American comics is essentially Winsor McCay leading the start and Chris Ware leading the current state of affairs. And it is both of these cartoonists, and so many others in between, who seem to share Ware’s tragicomic point of view of being “well-appointed and feeling lonely.” Cartoonists are something of exotic birds to begin with–whether or not the public notices. But to really make one’s mark in comics, to resonate with critics and fans alike, is quite an achievement. One achieved by such cartoonists as Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and Gary Panter–all of whom would get their big breaks by appearing in Raw magazine, a comics anthology led by Art Spiegelman.

Gary Panter cover for Raw #2.1, 1989

Chute organzies her narrative within categories such as “Why Disaster?” and “Why Sex?” Each chapter category acts as an umbrella that covers a certain facet of comics. In the chapter, “Why Punk?” Chute describes the rise of two friends deeply involved with the punk movement: Matt Groening and Gary Panter, along with other relevant artists like Raymond Pettibon. As for Groening and Panter, they held to their punk ideals while also driven to succeed–“The Simpsons” for Groening; “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” for Panter. Chute makes sure to point out that Bart Simpson–the cartoon character everyone thinks they know–is, in fact, a sly reference (right down to the jaggedy crewcut) to Panter’s underground hero, Jimbo, the antithesis of the mainstream. And, as Chute’s title declares, comics have gone from the underground to everywhere in more ways than one.

Matt Groening holds up Bart Simpson and Gary Panter’s Jimbo

“Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere” is a 464-page hardcover published by HarperCollins. For more details, visit HarperCollins right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Art Spiegelman, Book Reviews, Comics, graphic novels, Hillary Chute, Maus, mini-comics, pop culture, Underground Comics, Zines

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery Celebrates 9th Anniversary: Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and More! Dec 12-13, 2015

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, in Seattle, celebrates its 9th anniversary in wild style with the Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and more! A festive holiday gala takes place Saturday, December 12, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM marking the debut of Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me featuring a fabulous show of tributes to the alluring art of the late Vaughn Bodé and a rare reunion of his extended family.

Big-Book-of-Me-Vaughn-Bode

The very first comic strip of Cheech the Wizard was drawn by Vaughn Bodé on a series of notebook pages in 1957. As the legend goes, the famous underground character came to Bodé as he contemplated a can of chee-chee nuts. Cheech the Wizard would go on to become a big player in underground comix celebrating sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. He was a Pogo for a mature audience with a similar whimsical quality masking a subversive humor. Which leads us to Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me which collects the best work of Vaughn Bodé along with a cavalcade of extras. The forward is by his son, Mark, who has carried on the tradition with his own take on Cheech and his pals.

Laura Knetzger

And if the holiday gala weren’t enough on Saturday, you are welcome to return on Sunday for a book release party for Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys Volume I. That takes place from 1:00 to 3:00 PM.

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is located in Georgetown at 1201 S. Vale St. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Fantagraphics Books, Laura Knetzger, The Sixties, Underground Comics, Vaughn Bodē

Short Run 2015: WHAT A SHOW!

The Short Run comics haul compiled by Henry Chamberlain and Jennifer Daydreamer

The Short Run comics haul compiled by Henry Chamberlain and Jennifer Daydreamer

I am going to do a quick recap for you of the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival that took place this Halloween at Seattle Center. We had such a great time. Jen and I are so happy. This year I was an exhibitor and got to debut a couple of comics. One was the printed result to my annual 24-Hour Comics Day marathon, entitled, “Hello Hello Hotel Hotel,” and the other is the first part of what will be full-length graphic novel and this one is entitled, “George’s Run.” I want folks to know me as the “George’s Run” guy. Yes, this one is significant. And for many reasons. As I was saying in my review of Bill Griffith’s “Invisible Ink,” the past has a way of slipping away and that’s mostly because few people are working to gain it back. I’m working here to gain back a lot of stuff and celebrate it, explore it, and just be inspired from it.

Here I am debuting George's Run at Short Run!

Here I am debuting George’s Run at Short Run!

Anyway, back to the show. There is nothing quite like Short Run in Seattle. It is truly a treasure to be grateful for. Here you have gathered in one place such a wide and varied assembling of great talent in comics and zines coupled with the zesty and substantial accompanying events that Short Run puts together in October, and throughout the year. I’m just honored to be part of it. And I don’t take it lightly at all. Every participant at Short Run is vital and I know that each and every contributor takes the role quite seriously. We’re all sharing in some awesome mutual respect and love.

Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center, 31 October 2015

Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center, 31 October 2015

We all want to see underground comics make it more above ground and Short Run is leading the way. I found Short Run to have more of a broad audience as opposed to a niche audience that you would see at the Small Press Expo. This is just a general observation but I base it upon what I was observing and conversations I had at my table. I had folks who had never heard of “Logan’s Run,” or never seen an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” or never heard of “Adventure Time,” or never heard of 24-Hour Comics. That just tells me that we were seeing a pretty good amount of the general audience mixed in with the core audience–and that’s great.

A ghost from a Peanuts Halloween special checks out Short Run

A ghost from a Peanuts Halloween special checks out Short Run

You go to the Short Run main event at Seattle Center to make new discoveries. For someone like myself, it’s something of a reunion party as I get to catch up with a lot of old and new friends in the comics community. There is always something new, something just around the corner. I began with my tablemates for the day representing Section 8 magazine to the right of me and a compilation of the classic zine, Desperate Times, to the left of me. Here is a fun video just to give you a sense of the camaraderie that grows during an event like this. Here you will find Maire M. Masco, author of the zine compilation, “Desperate Times: The Summer of 1981,” and Tony Harris, owner/CEO, and Mike Peters, marketing/social media manager of Section 8 magazine:

Well, I have my haul of comics to go through. I see over twenty options for reviews. I will get to all of them one by one in the days, and weeks, ahead. There is much to cover as we make our way to end of the year. So, I will be reviewing a ton of stuff and keep coming back to titles that I picked up from Short Run.

Short Run pumpkins welcome visitors

Short Run pumpkins welcome visitors

Again, I cannot say enough how inspiring and joyful Short Run is for us creators and, surely, for everyone who stepped out and took in this jewel in the comics community. Visit our friends at Short Run right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Seattle, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, Underground Comics

Review: ‘Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist’ by Bill Griffith

Searching through the past: the true story of Barbara Griffith emerges

Searching through the past: the true story of Barbara Griffith emerges

As if drawn with invisible ink, there are mountains of comics from yesteryear that, even if popular in their day, will never be read again. But once upon a time, cartoonists were bona fide celebrities. Today, of course, everything has splintered off. But we still have some of the good stuff that harkens back to a golden age. We have Bill Griffith’s legendary comic strip, Zippy the Pinhead. Mr. Griffith is an expert on comics many times over and a masterful storyteller. He takes all that and gives us his first long-form graphic story, “Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist.”

Cartoonist Bill Griffith channels Cartoonist Lawrence Lariar

Cartoonist Bill Griffith channels Cartoonist Lawrence Lariar

Griffith navigates us through the often murky world of pop culture’s past and puts it into unique context. The past easily holds onto its secrets all too often because no one bothers to ever try to pry them open. This is a book about prying open the past and revealing the most intriguing secrets, family secrets. Much in the spirit of Griffith’s surreal Zippy the Pinhead, the mundane here collides with the supposedly more colorful world of mass media. Add to that, a decidedly offbeat look at the world. I swear, I found Zippy creeping up when you least expected it. For instance, there’s a scene in a diner between Bill and his uncle, Al, and Al says, “You know what’s coming back?” Bill asks, “Salisbury steak?” “No,” Al says, “morse code!”

The K & W Cafeteria in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The K & W Cafeteria in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Check out the page above that I just made reference to with the morse code comment. Ah, such a thing of beauty! A perfect example of the Bill Griffith sensibility and I’m sort of just picking a page at random. It speaks to the very best spirit of underground comix which Bill Griffith came from. It articulates a worldview of someone finely tuned in to his feelings and observations. It is a very relatable view since we all feel we’re tuned in to the world around us. The idea is to create an expression of what one sees that touches on all the details of the moment and evokes a stream-of-consciousness. We see Griffith reacting to a quaint world of yesteryear still alive in the here and now. It’s a world where you can expect to order three different kinds of macaroni & cheese. Of course, the actual K&W Cafeteria doesn’t think of itself as out-of-date. It offers free Wi-Fi, after all. But, from Griffith’s perspective, it is a strange world to marvel over and that’s what we’re looking for!

Invisible-Ink-Bill-Griffith

You can imagine that Bill Griffith’s mother might have pretended she was writing with invisible ink in order to be as revealing as she was in her journals and related work. Whatever the case, we hear her loud in clear in this exploration of her inner life. Griffith synthesizes various artifacts to find a greater truth. When you go hunting for answers like this, you’re liable to get lost in your own issues with your parents. Griffith is no different in this regard. He is just like any of us trying to deal with the past and that is an excellent hook for readers. What makes this story extraordinary is that Bill Griffith has definitely met his match with his mother who gives his storytelling skills a run for their money. If truth is stranger than fiction, then this must be one hell of an example of that. It boggled the mind of Bill Griffith, one of the great mind-bogglers in comics.

“Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist” is a 208-page black & white hardcover published by Fantagraphics Books. For more details, and to order, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Filed under Bill Griffith, Comics, Comix, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Underground Comics, Zippy the Pinhead

Joshua Boulet at Exterminator City, Push/Pull Gallery, Seattle

As any card-carrying local artist and cartoonist should do, I went down to check out the indie comic show Exterminator City, part of Push/Pull Studio & Gallery here in the Phinney-Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. Exterminator City is put together by Push/Pull member, Seth Goodkind, who is a local cartoonist and published illustrator.

Exterminator-City-comics

Plenty of stellar talent including Allen Gladfelter, Adam Lynn, Megan Noel, Noel Franklin, Scott Faulkner, and Eli Tripoli, to name a few. Coming off the heels of my awesome time at Hempfest last weekend, it was perfect timing to meet up with Joshua Boulet. He’s a fine example of how cannabis and comics mix quite well. In this video interview, Joshua is kind enough to share his sketchbook. BTW, I picked up his “Draw Occupy Wall Street” which I will review in a future post!

"I MET TOMMY CHONG!" by Joshua Boulet

“I MET TOMMY CHONG!” by Joshua Boulet

Here at Comics Grinder, we’ll keep exploring the interconnections between comics and cannabis as well as cannabis in general from time to time. You could say that both comics and cannabis remain somewhat misunderstood by the general public while also receiving a general thumbs up. That said, we can tackle both subjects thoughtfully and respectfully one post at a time.

Push-Pull-Gallery-Kickstarter-2015

Now, let’s focus on the venue for this comics event. Exterminator City was made possible by the Push/Pull Gallery. My heart goes out to them as both an artist and a curator. For many years, I curated art shows at Glo’s Diner with an emphasis on fringe art, specifically alternative comics. Well, Pull/Pull is ready to take things to a new level as they move toward a permanent home. With your help, Push/Pull will achieve its goal through its Kickstarter campaign, which closes on September 4, 2015, that you can visit right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Comix, Exterminator City, Independent Comics, Indie, Joshua Boulet, mini-comics, Minicomics, Push/Pull Studio & Gallery, Seattle, Underground Comics

Review: REAL WORK by Christopher Green

Christopher-Green-Real-Work-comics

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!

Christopher-Green-Sequential-Artists-Workshop-comics

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.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Independent Comics, Leela Corman, mini-comics, Minicomics, SAW, Sequential Artists Workshop, Tom Hart

Review: ‘Study Group Magazine #3D’

Study from "The Dupe," a comic by Pete Toms

From “The Dupe” by Pete Toms

Do not go gentle into that good night. Why should you? And don’t just rage. Get yourself a whole new body like in Pete Toms‘s comic, “The Dupe,” in the latest (special 3D) issue of Study Group Magazine. This piece certainly sets the tone and then some for a magazine full of ebullient work featuring in-depth essays, interviews, and a variety of work by talented cartoonists who tend toward the underground. Come in and sample everything and be sure not to miss the 3D because it is out of this world.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Study Group Comics, Underground Comics, Zack Soto

Movie Review: ‘Root Hog or Die: A Film About John Porcellino and King-Cat Comics’

Roothog-or-Die-John-Porcellino

We learn a lot from Dan Stafford’s documentary on cartoonist John Porcellino. “Root Hog or Die” provides us with some basic truths that resonate as we explore the life of someone both unique and, by his own account, just an average guy trying to make a life. The whole point here is to embrace the average. As Porcellino states at one point, he’s concerned to see an erosion of “the middle ground, when a person can live without an elaborate ambition and yet not be sleeping by some dumpster.”

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Documentaries, Drawn and Quarterly, Independent Comics, Indie, John Porecellino, King-Cat Comics and Stories, Movie Reviews, movies, Underground Comics

Review: ‘The Best American Comics 2014,’ Editor, Scott McCloud; Series Editor, Bill Kartalopoulos

The-Best-American-Comics-2014

Anyone who digs deeper already knows that comics are fully capable of being as elastic, ambiguous, and fluid as any other art medium. Just like fiction, film, and painting, the comics medium can reveal as much as it hides. There’s an annual anthology, “The Best American Comics,” that showcases a wide range of North American comics and addresses the familiar and peculiar in what amounts to a particular branch of contemporary comics. Or, perhaps the best way to put it is to say this book showcases the best in comics as an art form. The 2014 edition is now available. Let’s take a look.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Anthologies, Art, Art books, Best American Comics, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Comix, Education, graphic novels, Scott McCloud, Underground Comics