Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A skinny skinny: Graham Chafee's Good Dog

I'd been hearing a bit on the whisper-sphere about Graham Chafee's Good Dog, so in a moment of academic task avoidance I hit Fantagraphic's site to see what the skinny was (forgive me my trespasses okay? I've always wanted to say that). I have a weird habit where I only like to read a few lines of blurb or summary and that's enough to gauge interest; I like to  leave as much of the discovery to the actual reading of a book as I can.

Anyway, the skinny: I pre-ordered it. I have a feeling it's a book that will make you cry. If you want a longer skinny, there's the full preview complete with pages below.

'Ivan, who is plagued by terrible nightmares about chickens and rabbits, is a good dog — if only someone would notice. Readers accompany the stray as he navigates dog society, weathers pack politics, and surveys canine-human interactions.

Good Dog's story and pen-and-ink art are deceptively simple, but Chaffee uses the approachability of the subject matter as a device to explore topics such as independence, security, assimilation, loyalty, and violence. Preteen-and-up dog fanciers, especially, will warm to the well-meaning Ivan and his exploits with a motley assortment of Scotties, Bulldogs, and mutts. Chaffee combines illustrative gravitas with cartooning verve and creates a richly textured, dog’s-eye view of the world. The story is a rousing Jack London-esque adventure as well as a moral parable.'

Inside Philippa Rice's fantastic sketchbooks

Philippa Rice has been posting scans of her sketchbooks on her Tumblr blog and they're pretty damn great: you should go have a look at them all. Rice is probably most well-know for her online webcomic, My Cardboard Life, done in a collage style, and also for Soppy, featuring her and Luke Pearson doing little couple-y things, but I love her 'drawn' illustration from what I've seen in various contributions to anthologies -Nobrow, Bimba, and the mini-comics she's done: Longboy, Looking Out. Hope she gets to do a longer form comic in that kind of style because she's so bloody talented!  

Here are some of my favourite sketchbook pages:

Nobrow 8 Hysteria: all shook up

Nobrow 8 Hysteria edited by Alex Spiro and Sam Arthur

Here we go then: the lovely smelling eighth volume of Nobrow’s titular anthology, packed this time with comics and illustration spreads of a hysterical nature, hotly anticipated by myself due to the lofty standards set by its Eisner-nominated predecessor.
One of the complaints I hear most often about Nobrow is that it tries to do too much: the illustration, the comics, the theme which ties it all together; it can be bitty and abstract, and that is sometimes true. I’ve never found it to be a problem: it’s always stuffed with interesting, quality work and while contributions are linked together by an umbrella theme, it’s not really the kind of text that’s supposed to read as an overarching narrative.
But themes schmemes. The thing that I find irresistible about it is the sheer volume and variety of material on offer: a kaleidoscope of art styles, ideas and approaches: I understand how that could be seen as a weakness or overwhelming, but I think it gives it depth, making it one of the few publications that truly lends itself to multiple readings. Yes, sometimes it feels more cohesive than others, but it’s only ever let down when the ration of bad contributions to good contributions is skewed. Generally, it WORKS.
Hysteria works.
The illustrations are more visceral and indelible than the comics, perhaps because the concept of hysteria is more associated with a snapshot of a single, extreme moment, which better befits interpretive illustration. It’s there in Emannuelle Walker’s crazily neon patterned elephants, it’s there in Markus Farber’s overly stuffed, pill-swigging, innard-exposing, geometric shard totem man, it’s there in Rebecca Dart’s intensely focused, frenetic pile of warrior women, it’s there in the incessant zealous chatter of Vincent Mahe’s religious figureheads. The illustrations have one shot to grab attention and convey their message, and boy, do they take it: succeeding in eliciting an instant emotive response from the reader.


The comics operate a little differently; more ponderous and conversely not as immediately powerful. The ones that that work best are similarly sparsely worded: Karine Bernadou’s great opener, which manages to infuse the zany vibrance of the illustrative side, as Hysteria herself tries to take a a break from it all, Dustin Harbin’s interchangeable animal-head popping suit is delightful: beautifully drawn and executed- the pace of the switches, the gradual increasing hysteria and the perfect burst of the eventual punchline all just wonderfully done.

Zack Soto’s  sweet, overtly theatrical space opera is another highlight: I’m a real fan of his colouring- an almost light phosphorescence and neon, and I love the blend of translucence and cartoony he achieves in his art- it’s almost ethereal yet simultaneously dynamic. Jose Dominga’s contribution is word minimal and effective: the brash repetitiveness of the rude red  ’blah’ everywhere, crowding the page, until both reader and character find an eventual oasis of escape.

Dilraj Mann’s collaboration with Laura Halliwell is the undisputed comic pick here: perfectly nuanced in detail and tone- the blue tones and washes, the swollen, sullen lips and attitude, the suddenly awkward voluptuous bodies and the cruel  nature of teenage girls. Something in the way he draws faces and features here is strongly reminiscent of The Simpsons: small plump lips, tapering chins, quizzical eyes.
There are some mis-steps: Matteo Farinellas’ The Wandering Womb is as bad as it sounds: neither incisive or witty and Kyle Smart’s Hysteria Limited misses any sort of mark, but overall this is another brilliant effort from editors Sam Arthur and Alex Spiro, with simply too much goodness to list or miss: pick it up.

Comics: Karine Bernadou, Luke Pearson, Ross Phillips, Andrew Waugh, Nick Edwards, Bob Flynn, Zack Soto, Jose Domingo, Dustin Hrabin, Kyle Smart, Matteo Farinella, Marc Torices, Philippa Rice, Dilraj Mann with Laura Halliwell
Illustration: Emmanuelle Walker, Vincent Mahe, Shimrit Elkanati, Marta Monteiro, Bianca Bagnarelli, Tom Haugomat, Pawel Mildner, Nicolas Galkowski, Eirian Chapman, Sam Bosma, Ana Pez, Pierre Ferrero, Sam Chivers, David Lucas, You Byun, Andrea Kalfas, Claire De Gastold, Kenard Pak, Carmen Segovia, Masaka Kubo, Natasha Durley, Keith Negley, Robin Davey, Marta Monterio, Markus Farber, Puno, Gwendal Le Bec, Andrew R Maclean, Rebecca Dart, Jim Rugg, Wiliam Grill

Monday, 29 April 2013

Hey, Hey, YO.

Hello, I've decided the best time to pick up blogging again is here, right at this very moment, whilst I'm working 26 hour weeks, with 6 assignments and a group presentation due mid-May. But DON'T WORRY (you weren't). Fail or pass, I aim to do so as mediocrely as possible. To be honest, I just miss being able to take shitty pictures of what comics I'm reading slapped together with some sloppy writing and then shoving it in your face and going 'HERE'. It's an acquired taste and I have acquired it (along with pepperings of capitalistion for emphasis: blame John Allison- I ain't taking that bullet).

Jonathan Cape sent along two of my most anticipated releases of the year: The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins, and Drowntown, written by Robbie Morrison, and rather stupendously illustrated by Jim Murray. Neither book disappointed. Collins' book will go on to be a classic, I think. Two things: 1) it reminded very much of Raymond Briggs in its combination of surreal and real and social melancholia and 2) the sheer amount of different panel layouts, sizes, orientations, etc he uses is staggering and yet it reads like a dream, never feeling obtrusive or forcibly experimental. 

Drowntown could have been tailor written for me: bull-headed private eye, future set sci-fi with genetically altered talking animals living alongside humans, a steadily drowning world= I can't imagine a scenario in which I would dislike this book. But Jim Murray's art is everything here: I'm not even going to attempt to describe it (I'm going to give it a stab when I review it, so it's unfair I should butcher it twice), just trust me and buy this when it comes out in June.

A couple of books from Turnaround: The Initiates by Etienne Davodeau and Julios' Day by Gibert Hernandez: not read either of these yet. The Initiates is about a wine-maker and a cartoonist swapping jobs for over a year and sounds lovely all round. Julio's Day has been roundly praised everywhere, but  I've still not been able to get into any of the Hernandez brother's work; we'll see how this one goes. 

First Second sent over a bunch of their releases, reviewed Lucy Knisley's Relish at The Beat and Odd Duck over at FPI: for me First are one of the best comics publishers out there at the moment in terms of quality comics, beautifully produced, with a wide appeal: you can tell a whole lot of hard work goes on in those offices, and it shows. Anyhow, Red Handed by Matt Kindt, is fantastic and really cinematic in feel. Featuring a mercurial detective with a 100% solve rate, a series of weird crimes in the city leave him suspecting a bigger play. Kindt does a very clever and unusual thing, where the detective is at the heart of this story, yet we never get to spend time with him, always seeing him through other's eyes, newspaper articles, TV clips. It's a great, great book.

  White Clay by Thomas Herpich and the third volume of Dungeon: finally picked up White Clay in Travelling Man- Adhouse books take a wee while to get to the UK- this was released late last summer, I think. Dungeon I nabbed for 70p in the TM sale, read the first, not read the second, but at that price it would have been offensive to leave it and I intend to get them all anyway.

The Half Men by Kevin Huzeinga, Oily Comics April package: which gives me issue 13 of Lou, so of course I'm going to have to buy all the previous ones- I see what you did there, Oily. Also contains my first Michael DeForge comic, Elizabeth of Canada #2.

Giant Fighters and Night of the Giants by Isaac Lenkiewicz : I love the amount of detail that Lenkiewicz puts into the production of these self-published comics: spot glossed(?) skulls and silhouettes and little drawings really makes it feel special. Also dude draws giants/goblins SO WELL: all gnarly and slow and ponderous (ponderous may be stretching it, they're pretty thick). Look, I don't know about brushes and pens and lines and things, but I'm gonna waffle on about these and Lenkiewics' art in another post:  I came to his work via his Broadbright story in Nobrow's 17x23 Showcase, but I love his minis the best: they're much more expressive and flowy and characterful. I like that people recognise his talent and he's busy with projects and books, but I'm just greedy and I want more comics like these. If you haven't checked out his stuff, you really, really should. Really.

Patch and illustration by Drew Millward: gonna give the drawing to Andy if he behaves himself. Maybe.

It's been rad: I'm off to write a bit more about prison libraries  but I've almost finished a write-up of the new Printed Papers magazine/journal from the dudes of It's Nice That, so if you're interested, it should be up by Wednesday at the latest.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Infinite Wait by Julia Wertz: bio, books and booze


I have a complicated and knotty relationship with auto-bio comics, beset by apprehension and cynicism. There’s no doubt the genre produces some interesting material- Art Spiegelman, Seth, Robert Crumb, to name but a few, but more recently I’ve found a lot of it to be, quite frankly, boring. The popular sad-boy view where nothing much happens, the narrator questions his existence in a supposedly deep and meaningful manner, where banal routine events and turns are things into which the reader is expected to imbue STUFF.
It’s a viewpoint I’m much fatigued of, and one that I’ve observed to be pretty prevalent in male creators who go the introspective self-analysis route- there’s an emphasis on the seriousness of it all, perhaps because men are traditionally not expected to be tapped in to their emotions and feelings, so when they explore that plateau  there’s a need to present them in a valid way. Women, on the other hand, as we all know, are hysterical, wild, emotional wrecks, giving them -rather ironically- a greater freedom of expression and approach.
The boring, uneventful auto-bio comic reminds me of the trend (at least here in the UK) of ‘celebrity’ memoirs by pop stars/sports wonder kid foetuses- a 250 page book ‘written’ by a  17 year old on his experiences of kicking a ball around. Most of us, whilst happy with our lives, recognise that quite naturally, it’s of most interest to ourselves. Many creators recognise this too. So to overcome the boringness, there’s the incorporation of fictional elements and exaggeration for greater dramatic and humorous effect. That mediation can imbalance the text. Thus the auto-bio comic becomes a strange mixture of truth and fiction, leading to a remove, a dilution of essence, a loss of the honesty in the work. Not truth, necessarily  but honesty.
Truth is a concept I’m incredibly wary of, referring as it does to an actuality or universal consensus. What I do expect from auto-bio work is some form of honesty, which, as a more subjective notion, is trickier.  My criticism isn’t that often auto-bio comics don’t ring true, but that they seem to lack any kind of honesty. That’s not an accusation that you can level at Julia Wertz.
Whilst the ideals of truth and honesty are upheld as values to which we should all aspire, in actuality people are comfortable only with a certain level of honesty, which when surpassed becomes embarrassing and even impolite. Conversely, we’re pleased when we think we’ve been honest with ourselves, usually because it’s the facing or acknowledging of something unflattering, unattractive or negative. This small act of pseudo acceptance is enough to makes us feel inordinately pleased, giving a sense of superficial achievement that is deceptive in itself.
We are all, I think, prone or able to dissect other people in a scathing and thorough fashion, but find it difficult to reconcile truths about ourselves.This where Julia Wertz comes in. With an internal gaze that’s unflinching and unforgiving, Wertz  blows all comers out of the water. Her honesty is searing, caustic, strengthening and yet not without fear. Her truths are coated in an equally zingy humour, a cloak that makes them less scary and more manageable. Wertz’s honesty is the ultimate defense mechanism, you cant criticize her or say shit about her, because she’s going to get in there first and do it better than you.
There’s a lot of material in The Infinite Wait, enough to easily make 3 separate books; a point Wertz muses briefly on, but hey you get 226 pages of fantastic comicking so who’s complaining? Wait comprises of 3 stories, one which deals with Wertz’s lupus, one with her drinking and a short and lovely ode to libraries and books to close out.
Wertz’s documenting of her relationship with drink is portrayed terrifically. It’s a story of her life, of which drinking is a part. There’s no sympathy-baiting scene after scene  ’hey life crapped on me repeatedly which led me to become an alcoholic’ or repeated expositionary incidents of her staggering around caterwauling the streets at night, but instead she simply shows us her life and in between you get hints of a problem developing. Wertz too recognises it pretty early, but continues to drink anyway. Sometimes she doesn’t see it as much of a problem, sometimes she thinks she can handle it, sometimes she feels like the lowest of low.  The combination of as yet undiagnosed lupus and lack of direction and purpose do little to help.
Wertz appears to be a chronic hard-worker, needing to be in employment, needing to be doing something, needing to be tired at the end of the day with the blank, thoughtless release that provides. The party line is that acceptance of a problem is the first step to overcoming it, but Wertz accepts and acknowledges her problem with alcohol early on- and in Wertz-like fashion it’s a deflection, a covering of sorts- like saying ‘I know I’m a bitch, but I genuinely think…,’ while the first statement implies insight, the second cancels it out in a way. It’s not easy reading by any means; it’s relentless and  the pain lupus leaves her in is palpable, but it’s genuinely rewarding and entertaining. It’s funny and engaging, cringe-worthy and embarrassing, relate-able and interesting, painful to the point of self-flagellation, and very, very honest.
A quick and final mention for the library/books story that closes out the book, all the more surprising for it’s change of subject and tone, and also because it’s not what you expect after having been emotionally tumble dried for the past hour or so. If you have been a child of libraries and books, you will read this with a warm familiarity and love, the recognition of vast, wonderful worlds encased within unassuming pages of paper- that feeling of anticipation and discovery is conveyed beautifully here. I would encourage you to buy The Infinite Wait, it’s a book that is so much, and does so much, and one that I believe will manage to surprise you even after having read a 1000 word review on it.