Monday, 30 June 2014

5 favourite... Landscape comics

I'm a bit of a sucker for comics that do anything different format/production-wise; even something as simple as a landscape book- as long as the actual comic within is good. You generally find landscapes formats are used for newspaper comics and strip collections: Calvin & Hobbes, Mrs Weber's Omnibus, You're All Just Jealous of My Backpack, Barnaby, Liberty Meadows, etc.  But that's not always the case, and when there is one of those longer books sticking out on the bookshelf in the shop, I like to take a look at it to see what it's doing. I guess at this point, the format is still used by so few, that it stands out. Anyway, for the sake of it, here are five of my favourite landscape format comics. Note favourite, as in personal and subjective, and not 'best!'

Ralph Azham vol 1: Why Would You Lie To Someone You Love? by Lewis Trondheim, Fantagraphics: I have a confession to make: I'm a bit hot and cold on Lewis Trondheim's work. I really like his style and his mad-cap fantasy bent, but Approximate Continuum Comics, the Little Nothing series while fine,  I can't quite connect with,  as deprecating as Trondheim is about himself and his life. Harum Scarum and McConey is similarly more about 3 blokish mates blundering about together than anything else. I like his kids stuff a lot better- the Monster series, and I love Dungeon- the meatiness of the layered world building there. But my personal favourite, the one in which Trondehim's writing clicked for me is Ralph Azham.

Fantagraphics released this sole translated volume of the series at the end of 2012, and I believe have the rights to more, although production was sadly stalled due to the passing of Kim Thompson who presided over (and translated) much of the foreign rights acquisitions. It's just so fucking funny and sad at the same time; Trondheim nails the measurements of humour, pathos, drama- all of it, perfectly here. Ralph was supposed to be the chosen one, the one who would lead his people out of trouble, but instead he's become the village loser whose only power seems to be telling when people are pregnant and how many children they've had (note: not an endearing power to have). Naturally everyone in the village resents him for it, but there's more going on than they're aware of. I find it interesting that this landscape format seems to be specific to the English language edition- wonder what led to that choice. It works fine, though.

Kinky and Cosy by Nix, NBM: I always come short when trying to articulate what is so special about things I really, really loved (which makes me wonder why I even do this) but Nix's Kinky and Cosy is one of my all-time favourite comics. The strips revolve around the fearsome, awesome twins in red, who alternate between being thick as hell, caustic, beadily-eyed sharp, gross, and childlike, as their long-suffering mother tests a range of vibrators in an attempt to relive some of the stress of having such special children. Between the strips of the gloriously sociopath twins wreaking havoc, you get photo comics of Nix and friends doing prank gags, some of which riff on the inanity of craft and how-to-make programs, while others are simply completely, utterly nonsensical, coupled with dead-pan, black humour brainteaser puzzles which also function as part of the narrative. And there's also title pages featuring a disturbing photograph of Nix in which he dresses up as each of the characters in turn. It sounds like a blathering hot mess, but it works spectacularly. I'm not a fan of puerile humour but even that, when enforced, is so genuinely odd that it plays to the strengths of the book. I think they key to Kinky and Cosy is despite all the utter mad-cap and bizarre antics, it retains a naivety and charm because it feels so sincere with what it's doing, So, so brilliant. I desperately want someone to release an English language translation of his Billy Bob comic. 

Batman: Nine Lives by Michael Lark and Dean Motter, DC: Nine Lives is an Elseworlds story, which essentially mean shifting characters, roles, time, place and setting- re-imaging them elsewhere- in this case moving the Bat-verse to 1940's Gotham and shooting for a film noir, hard-boiled crime feature. Batman/Bruce Wayne remains as constant as ever, but Dick Grayson takes up the PI role, with Barbara Gordon as his secretary, while the murder of popular crime moll and prostitute Selina Kyle throws light upon a familiar litany of mob bosses and criminal underworld types (though the substitution of Kyle's empowered white, powerful Catwoman to a black woman who is depicted as basically sleeping with anyone and everyone for money is shady as hell). To be honest, it doesn't work- the mystery is weak and uninteresting, and the changes in charcterisation aren't strong or compelling enough to make you care, but Michael Lark does a beautiful job with the art, all shadows and ink, and as a Batman fan, I have a soft spot for Dick's narration and the way he views Bruce here from an outside perspective, coming to know him for who he actually is. There's an amazing car chase-sequence in it, too. It's a shame it's poor because Lark and the format are singing here.

Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart, Jonathan Cape: Bagnold is a very British book: it follows a mother and her teenage son over the six-week summer holiday period, which they're forced to spend together after his plans to go visit his father fall through. It's to Winterhart's immense credit that in quietly celebrating the everyday, he never pities or puffs up his characters; in looks, in personality, in the choices they make: presenting them as close to unvarnished as possible. The series of vignettes is in chronological order, each given a little headed title, as the holiday stretches on and Sue worries about how to better understand and bond with her son, even as he lays in bed thinking up rubbish music lyrics. It could be the most mundane boring comic ever, as nothing much happens, and yet it's sweet and weirdly comforting to see them both sit on the sofa watching crap reality TV shows companionably, or semi-awkwardly eating out. Probably one of the realest, honest books I've read and yet it manages to be hopeful and warm. You can read a full review here.

The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks, Dark Horse: I believe Faith Erin Hicks drew these strips as a black and white online comic initially, which were then coloured and collected into a single volume by Dark Horse in 2013. Superhero Girl has moved away from her super family to get some breathing space and decide how best to go about the cape life in a way that suits her. It's a really gentle, fun take and ribbing on the genre, as the realities of heroing are faced: what if there's just not a lot of crime in your area? What if there's a dearth of arch-nemesis? What if your friend wants you to go out to a party and socialise with people? Hicks' comic is smart and funny and suitable for all-ages and the book itself has top-notch production: glossy full-colour pages, with a sketches/bits'n'bobs section in the back. I can see a few people rolling their eyes at a skewy, affectionate capes parody, but when it's done this well, who cares. 

The cool reminder: Unfabulous Five

I'm just about to read this, and have realised I've not written about it at all. Humanoids have a string of solid, exciting looking releases out and upcoming, one of which is Unfabulous Five, published just last week. Illustrated by French artist, Bill,  and written by Belgian author Jerry (Thierry) Frissen. My book selection process is as simple as this: *scrolls through various catalogues of impending releases, scroll, scroll, scro- 'Unfabulous Five? That sounds interesting, wonder what it's about?' clicks on title, sees cover and amazing preview art- 'I WANT ONE.' * So essentially, before I get down to reading, here's an exclusive 7 page preview (made the images extra large so you can see how good the art and colours are) of the book courtesy of a breathless email sent to the Humanoids guys, and a little blurb:

'Lucha Libre, the Mexican art of wrestling, has made its way to Southern California in the form of the Luchadores Five, a gang unlike any other. Their mission is to clean up the East Los Angeles community they live in. But despite their best attempts to get rid of crime in their hometown, "The Unfabulous 5," as they are sometimes known, are regularly arrested by the police, roughed up by a myriad of other gangs, including Werewolves and angry Frenchmen, and ridiculed by the public and their loved ones. It is within this rich Lucha Libre universe, with all its eccentric yet lovable characters, that the social issues of today are addressed in imaginative and hysterical ways.'

As you may know I'm not anywhere close to being a fan of digital reading, but I actually do like the Humanoids reader, it's easier to use than most digital readers I've used and doesn't give me a headache, although I obviously prefer print always. This looks like so much attractive fun- I will report back. If you're after a copy, it should be in stores now (and Amazon), as well as the digital format being available via the Humanoids site.

Update: Ian Culbard tells me this was released in issue format by Image back in 2007, but I can't seem to find much information on it- I know this is the full collected omnibus that collates 3 volumes, so I'm assuming it's the first time all the material has been put together and that some it has not previously been published. Either way, I've never come across it before, and I'm still excited about it.

Katie Skelly's Operation Margarine: bad girls do it well

Operation Margarine by Katie Skelly, published by AdHouse Books

On the surface, Operation Margarine is one of those pulpy, fun tales in the vein of The Adventures of Jodelle; the ones that have various elements of cliched cool randomly thrown together- motorbikes, beautiful women, danger- creating something entertaining, often a bit light and silly. Here we have Bon-Bon, in the role of the 'wild-child-' drugs, married men, getting into fights, and Margarine as the spoilt little rich girl- rich but unhappy, whose efforts to go looking for something to stimulate and interest her confuse and unsettle her family, who constantly check her into rehab clinics where she's kept and forcibly drugged and docile much of the time. Skelly flags up these archetypes on the very first page -trouble tufff girl' 'rich girl runaway.' The story begins after Margarine's broken out from another facility, bumping into Bon-Bon a few days later who comes to her defence by punching out a creepy, antagonistic man. When Bon-Bon suggests Margarine should leave with her to escape her life, Margarine agrees more due to a lack of options than anything else

And so you end up with this narrative of the two of them riding huge motorbikes around the desert, getting into trouble, getting drunk, chased down by old gang enemies of Bon-Bon. All the while Bon-Bon empowers Margarine by both caring about her and taking her under her wing, and also by simply being Bon-Bon: tough and uncompromising, but also kind.  Slowly Margarine begins to come out of her shell and trust herself and her new friend. Similarly Bon-Bon finds someone who looks up to her, and likes and accepts her for who she is, although there's an undercurrent of whether she's able to accept who she is to herself. Bon-Bon and Margarine are essentially both isolated from society for being who they are, for not conforming to expectations, the duly labelled 'bad girls' and so gradually discovering that they can be themselves around one another without judgement is precious.

Operation Margarine is an ode to those movies and tales of yester-year, in which seeing women have sex, smoke, drink, ride motorbikes, and generally be independent, self-thinking beings with needs and desires -'bad behaviour' - still offered shock and novelty value. Despite not being close to an ideal in the attitudal balance between men and women, presented in contemporary guise, that shock value is much diffused. So you're left with the looking cool, and the emotive depth Skelly's interposed in the relationship and journey of the two women. The difficulty is that these kind of stories aren't traditionally supposed to be overtly emotional, so it's a careful treading of weaving in those facets while not losing the inherent laissez-faire component of the narrative. It's a tricky balance that's not quite achieved here, that reconciliation not really connecting, but hovering reluctantly in between. 

The thing I loved most about this was Katie Skelly's art and cartooning, and the visual strength of the images. There's a real pop aesthetic present, the bold simplicity of a black and white ligne claire style (with the addition of huge bug eyes which makes it more dynamic), clear working with that means you can take almost any part of the comic and the individual illustrations and panels work as stand-alone 'pop' imagery with a 60's psychedelia slant: the 'please stop!' panel with the needle, panels of Bon-Bon smoking a cigarette in a fat curtain of rain, the bouncy bubbled sfx, a close panel of Bon-Bon's head and shoulders in which the background is those swirly thick lines, indicating a sudden heightened emotion, tightly spiralled backgrounds with a hungover Bon-Bon's head floating in the centre. Skelly has a really sure, but easily cursive line, and she's able to render things swiftly and thoroughly with the use of minimal lines and detail- although she can do intricate, too- there's a couple of great wide panels- one with Margarine walking down a city street, another in which the girls are in a motorcycle garage, that are wonderful.

This isn't the kind of book I'd normally pick up, but I'm glad I did because it's so refreshing in it's individuality.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Ryan Cecil-Smith's SFLPB space duck comic

I put in a pre-order for this yesterday: it's Ryan Cecil-Smith's new comic, S.F.L.P.B., a 48 page four-colour risographed tale following the adventures of Space Fleet Scientific Foundation Special Force member, Duke the Duck. I'm way overdue writing about Cecil-Smith's comics, but they're ridiculously good: both his excellent horror manga Two Eyes of the Beautiful (based on Umezu Kazuo's Blood Baptism, and his boy-in-space series, SF, an edition of which was recently published by Koyama Press. As an appreciator of good aesthetics, I also love the amount of attention he pays to their production and presentation, making it quite special- you really get a feeling of polished craft and care, even more so than normal with self-published work- even the packaging is screen-printed.

This comic, for example, comes with a new version of the SF pin/badge, a gorgeous, high-quality teal and gold brass and cloisonné pin (see it at the link) Cecil-Smith produced last year in limited qualities- the 'SF' stands for the elite 'Space Fleet' of the comics, which as Cecil-Smith states 'You can wear it to represent S.F. and all that it stands for. If you are a reader of S.F. you know that it stands for a LOT.' S.F.L.P.B. comes with a burgundy and gold edition of the badge, each of which will this time be signed and numbered along with the comic itself. So the book numbered #0005 will have a corresponding #0005 engraved in the back of the pin. I'm aware some people find this sort of thing gimmicky, but I feel it only falls on that side of the line if a) the work itself isn't strong enough- which here it is, and b) the 'gimmick' for want of a better word, enhances the work in some way and is of high quality. I've got the first pin and wear it on my coat and generally am as pleased you could be about that, so great comics + a new pin is a win/win for me.

Anyway, Ryan's taking pre-orders for 2 weeks for the book/pin at a special reduced price of $17 (I believe it'll go up later); you can order it here and I've spent the last of my money this month on it (I should point out the colors of the pages here won’t be the same as those in the printed book, as is the way with risographs). And yes, I know I sound like a bloody pushy advert saying 'buy this! buy that!' but I truly only try to highlight comics and projects that genuinely excite me, and I want to share. Choosing which ones to opt for is all down to you... :)

Something pretty: Frank Quitely's big book

I'll be glad when I've worked my last 2 weeks at the comic book shop simply because of the difference it'll have on my wallet: all this stuff comes through- half of which I'm not even ware of and I feel the need to buy it intensely (while I still have money, because who knows when circumstances could change). I tend to go a bit crazier in the build up to Ramadhan, which starts this Saturday, and start stockpiling books like a rabid squirrel approaching winter so I have a whole pile of material to keep my mind occupied and away from the calls of my stomach. One of the newer books I got last week was this mammoth collection of Frank Quitely's comics and art- specifically his DC work- mainly a lot of his Vertigo comics and a good chunk of his more recent Batman collaborations with Grant Morrison towards the end. I figured a Friday photo post would go down well with a few observations about the volume that may help anyone else who may be thinking over whether to purchase it or not.

I'm a newer fan of Quitely's work (he's been around for a while, but I never really feel like I've caught up on comics) and so for me, this is a good and quick way to get familiar with a substantial bulk of his career. He has that fine, clear line-work I find appealing, and a special distinctive way of  drawing people: crumpled, but alive- there's a very tangible sense of character that he presents. His art also has a calmness that I appreciate- it's not loud or obvious, like a distilling of photo-realism with a shade more gloss. DC have done a good job with this book aesthetically and in terms of quality and functionality: a nice glossy dust jacket with crotch Robin and weirdo Batman on the front, with the hardback cover underneath glossy too, featuring Dream and his siblings. It's well-bound, too, 368 pages, secure but not so tight that it eats into the gutters and you can't actually read the comic pages, which was a problem with the deluxe edition of Solo, for example. It's just wider than A4 in size, although about as tall in height with nice blue-tone endpapers of an identity line-up from Gangland:

I have to admit, when we were talking about this book prior to release, I wasn't that interested in it, thinking it to be an art book containing sketches, covers, process work- something for the more committed admirer of Quitely's work perhaps. When we got them in the shop and opened them up, I realised it was mainly simply comics, interposed with a very healthy and welcome dose of gorgeous covers and pin-ups and that immediately made it a more attractive prospect- a book full of comics I can work through and get a whole load more out of. At £30, I don't think it's unfairly priced, either, especially as so many shops and online stores offer some form of discount nowadays. Below I've taken some more pretty bad pictures (we should all agree I'm not going to improve on that front now and let it go), and listed all the comics the book contains- I thought that might be useful for anyone looking to fill gaps or sate curiosity. I haven't listed the covers or we'd be here forever. Overall a very worthwhile buy.

Here's a list of all the comics the book includes:
The Physicist and the Flying Saucers written by Doug Moench (1995)
New Toys written by Grant Morrison (1997)
A Visit with the Hanging Judge written by Bronwyn Carlton (1995)
Salvador Dali written by Carl Posey (1995)
The Heroic Revenge Story written by Warren Ellis (2000)
The Elephant Man written by Gahan Wilson (1996)
Romancing the Stone written by Ilya (1999)
The Cottingsley Fairy Photos written by Paul M. Yellovic (1996)
Your Special Day written by Doselle Young (1998)
Ma Barker written by George Hagenauer (1996)
Immune written by Robert Rodi (1999)

Pavel Navrotsky's Pig Pen written by Paul Kirchner (1997)
Nice Neighbourhood written by Jen Van Meter (1999)
St Polycarp: The Cult of Saints written by John Wagner (1997)
Batman: Scottish Connection written by Alan Grant (1998)
Flexibility written by Mark Waid (1999)
Watching You written by Bruce Jones (2000)
Glitterdammerung! written by Grant Morrison (2000)
Destiny written by Neil Gaiman (2003)
Batman Reborn- parts 1, 2, and 3 written by Grant Morrison (2009)
Time and the Batman: Today written by Garnt Morrison (2010)
Snapshot: Revelation! written by Len Wein (20110

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Bookmark this: Night Physics

First things first: I don't know who is the author of this wonderful comic; the Tumblr theme is confusing (to me, at least) and I can't seem to find a credit, or 'about' page anywhere. If you do know, or are the artist of this amazing work, please get in touch and I will of course, happily name you. Going from the information on the Tumblr, Night Physics launched in January this year, updating 2 or 3 times a month- the updates are usually pretty lengthy and satisfying. It's a bit of a slow burner; 6 months in and only the very beginnings of a scenario are present with no indication of where it may be headed,  but what's there is supremely interesting.

It has a fantastic opening: a nose-ringed writer bear- Austin- banging out an essay (screed) on Charles Bukowski, his thoughts about his break-up with his boyfriend, and his fear of being alone slowly pushing out everything else. Austin is visited by his friend, Hoyt the bull, who has also recently broken up with his girlfriend and comes prepped with a bag of strange crystal/salt-salt like drugs for them to test out, with the narrative then branching out into the inside of Austin and Hoyt's 'trips' respectively. that may sound like so far, so standard, but the characters are so well fleshed out- Hoyt's trip parades before him all the people in his life, expressing their disappointment and feelings in various ways, where Austin is busy exploring a mythic Mignola-esqe universe- that the sense you get is one of amusement and a sympathy. Night Physics looks like an absolute dream- sublimely coloured in hues of pink, red and purple for the most part, but the trip sequences are something else to behold- kinetic, majestically lit and boldly drawn, with a lovely use of silhouetting blacks.

Although so far, Night Physics has focused mainly on Austin and Hoyt, and Alice to a lesser degree- we're introduced to a series of character via strips titled 'What do you dream about?' which presents the cast documentary style facing the reader, allowing them to unfurl their personalities via both their responses and their appearance/stance/clothing. I'm always intrigued by anthropomorphic designs and love the way it's been incorporated here- the attention to detail, especially hair- it's rare that anthropomorphic characters are given great thick thatches of hair and there's a nice usage of beards. I like the fashion too, and how it plays into what you read bout each character. It's a genuinely superior comic- smart- and it feels different, fun, caustic, raw in places where the emotion (the way it undergoes tonal shifts is so good) seems palpable- despite the deceptive opening 'bros hanging out doing drugs' narrative- with superb art, and one you should go read now and then immediately follow.

UPDATE: Night Physics is the creation of Australian artist, Austin Holcomb. Thanks to Starpaw for the information.

Talking comics, art, and life, with Tomer Hanuka and Asano/Matsumoto/Shinzo

I'm not a huge interviews person, but I wanted to point you towards two great ones I read recently that stayed with me, the first with Tomer Hanuka, in which he discusses his maiden New Yorker cover, illustration as career and vocation, the need to continually work, progression, choices and a lot more. The second interview is a mini-roundtable between highly regarded Japanese comic creators, Taiyo Matsumoto, Inio Asano, and Keigo Shinzo in another frank and open dialogue about their respective careers, who they consider as rivals, whether they consciously attempt to create something angled towards a certain direction or result, what it takes to consider a work successful, and much more; it's a really interesting talk. Interviews aren't my favourite thing to do, partly because I feel if I ask the questions I want to, people would probably be get offended, so I'm incredibly appreciative when artists are analytical and honest about their work life and decisions- it makes for great, insightful reading. Take the time to read both pieces.

An excerpt from the Tomer Hanuka interview, which you can find here:
'I’ve been doing illustrations for The New Yorker for 15 years, but a cover is something else. In the world of illustrators it’s something like a unicorn that you pursue but will never get to see. For at least five successive years I thought about it every night, and on every long train trip, and while having lunch with friends. I was constantly coming up with ideas, looking at what happened this week and how it could be made into a New Yorker cover.
You were on a high?
For at least 20 minutes.
I don’t know why I always go to the place of monsters. Our life is very normative and very orderly, but even so, there is always also this pit. There is something black seething below, and to behave as though it’s not there is a lot worse than trying to cope with it...Yes, because to tell a story is to give meaning to a situation that is by its nature random. It shuts down the anxiety for a few seconds. The idea that I can take very stressful things and arrange them in a logical, aesthetic composition affords me a feeling of control. I am 40. The penny has dropped. I got the message. I understand that if I’m lucky I’ll do another four or five books. I’m working on a book now, and it’s very hard and is taking a long time, and I also have to make a living in the meantime. You can’t make a living from comics. You don’t see a shekel from it. So I’m trying to figure out how to put this Lego together.
So why this obsession to illustrate? I think it’s because I’m afraid to grow up to be the person I think I was supposed to be. Or at least what the army personnel officer and most of my high-school teachers promised I would be: no one.'

New Yorker cover by Tomer Hanuka

Here's that Asano/Matsumoto/Shinzo panel- again full thing here:

'Asano: Looking at the three of us here, I’d say that the two of you have some traceable lineage in common, whereas I’m sort of off somewhere else. The styles of one generation of artists tend not to be inherited by the next generation, because it’s too close to them. You’ve got to wait another ten years, say, for the pendulum to swing back that way.
Shinzo: Apparently my generation strikes some people as being a throwback to manga from a long time ago. 
Asano: Right. So the way I see it, the art and atmosphere in your manga is sort of like the antithesis of all these manga from the past few years that aim to be as realistic as possible.
Shinzo: The total opposite of your work. (laughter) 
Asano: That’s how this stuff goes, though. When I was in high school and reading Ping Pong as it ran in Big Comic Spirits, I was drawn to it, but I knew that I shouldn’t try to pull off something like that myself. You might admire someone who’s out there doing something really amazing, but you don’t want to follow them. I see that as being the dynamic here between the three of us. 
Editor: Inio, who do you admire from the generation before Taiyo’s? 
Asano: I guess it’d have to be Kyoko Okazaki. 
Shinzo: So it’s like you’ve got these realists like Katsuhiro Otomo, then you have cartoony artists like Taiyo, and then things get realistic again, then cartoony, then realistic, then cartoony, and it goes on and on like that. 
Asano: That’s how it always is — especially in terms of seinen magazines. 
Matsumoto: I guess the star for my generation was Katsuhiro Otomo. I remember when I was just starting out, feeling this pressure to come down on one side — do you like Otomo, or not?  He was just so influential. There were people who didn’t want to admit they’d even read him, they so hated the thought of being accused of his influence. So I decided that I for one would admit to liking his work.'

By Keigo Shinzo
'Matsumoto: Okay, when I was 27… Let’s see. Tekkon Kinkreet was a total flop, so I took my editor’s advice for my next work and went with a sports manga — Ping Pong. It was after finishing Ping Pong (at age 30) that I decided I wouldn’t do weekly magazine serializations anymore. I would wake up, sit at a desk stacked with CalorieMate bars, start drawing, and the next thing I knew it’d be evening. It was no way to live.
Asano: True.
Matsumoto: But it was around that point that I started hearing good things here and there about my work.

Shinzo: Did you see Tekkon Kinkreet as a failure at the time, even after all that effort?
Matsumoto: I really did put a lot of effort into it. It’s hard to judge these things. I personally thought it was pretty good, but there wasn’t much of a reaction among the readers, so you start to think, “Huh? Maybe I failed.” '

Youth in Decline to debut Rav collection from Mickey Z, Nick Sumida's Snackies, at SPX

A quick post to bring two upcoming books to your attention. I know that's sort of one of the aims of this blog, and hopefully there's a wide enough range of material covered to suit different needs and tastes, but even I find the amount of good comics out there daunting- which to read, which to give time to?  As wonderful as it is being a comics fan in the midst of a variety of amazing work, it can also be overwhelming. However, these two books- the Rav collection by Mickey Z and Snackies by Nick Sumida are by two young, amazingly vibrant artists who have been self-publishing their work for a while, and I can guarantee that their work is fresher and more exciting than most of the things you will read. So if you're wondering where to lend your support, it would be here, with publishers Youth in Decline and the debut books of two excellent cartoonists. Here's a little more on each:

Mickey Z's (aka Michaela Zacchilli) Rav collection collates volumes 2 to 6 of her Ignatz-nominated, self-published series, following the wandering adventures of Juice, Sally, Edward the Snake Prince, Main Marian, and a sordid cast of dorks, punks, and domesticated animals. A mix of humor, fantasy, and romance, it's defined by Z's fast lines and dynamic visuals- she describes it thus:  'Right now RAV seems to be most about relationships and interactions between existing characters. It started out as a punching/adventure comic that sort of degenerated into an Alice in Wonderland-style conceptual wandering comic, and more recently it seems to also be an “underground romance comic” (which is my new favorite way to describe it).' The 276 page book will debut at SPX this year, with a second collection due soon afterwards.

If you want to know a bit more about Rav, Ryan Cecil-Smith write about it for the blog last year, in the best of year pieces. You can find Mickey Z's Tumblr here. Here's the cover and spine for the collection:

Nick Sumida's Snackies brings together Snackies #1 and ##2, Sumida's risographed mini-comics, as well as 24 pages of exclusive new strips to present an 88 page collection of 'gags and real talk... a hilarious and earnest look into the brain + heart + soul of Nick Sumida.' If you're a Tumblr user, chances are you've seen a Nick Sumida cartoon somewhere or the other, marked by his self-effacing humour and attendance to 'millenial' concerns, such as, um, Skittles. In seriousness, his work is fantastic- really relatable and all the more amusing and resonant because of it; if you've not come across his comics before, go have a gander at his Tumblr, in particular the gorgeous coloured and 2-coloured art pieces. If you need yet further convincing, here's the esteemed Rob Clough on Snackies #2: 'a killer collection of gags that manages to work loneliness, pathos and a sharp satirical eye into a single, attractive package. Sumida is a great writer who sloughs off the self-loathing one would expect from this kind of comic with a powerful wit that results in real laughs.' 

Both books will be available to order from the Youth in Decline online store, shortly after making their debut at SPX, one would assume.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Priyesh Trivedi's Adarsh Balak: subverting traditional iconography for contemporary amusement

Mumbai artist Priyesh Trivedi has recently blown up on the Internet with his painted comic series, Adarsh Balak, in which Trivedi takes the familiar icon of 80's Indian school-texts and educational charts and re-purposes him in a variety of subverted images and narratives: here he is offering a joint to his father as he works late into the night, here he sits curbside swigging beer from the bottle as his friends graffiti the wall besides them, here he is tricking his chemistry teacher into dropping some acid and giving him an 'A.' The 23-year old Trivedi has so far been pursuing animation as a career, but it's his new comic which has bought him to wider attention and acclaim; striking a chord with a generation of young adults like himself who have grown up with the neatly turned out schoolboy decorating their books, and take pleasure in seeing him turn against the lessons he once taught. It's the delight of seeing recognised associations in unexpected situations that shocks and amuses, and resonates- here, especially, the good boy gone bad, and the contemporary references -'swag' paired with something that represents traditional, conservative values.

Trivedi set up a Facebook page for Adarsh Balak just over a month ago: it has rapidly garnered over 30,000 likes and continues to grow.

One of the original Adarsh Balak strips 'an Ideal Boy' 

It began with one image: last year, Trivedi made a poster of a young boy rolling a joint with ‘T for Toke’ emblazoned across the top in Devanagari script that emulated the Barakhadi charts, which would depict a young boy undertaking various 'good' and 'correct' practices, used in many Indian schools. The image proved popular, spreading quickly thanks to the internet, and selling a number of prints. It was easily the most successful thing Trivedi had done, and he was encouraged by the response to create further and expand on the theme, which led to the production of the comics. In an interview with Visual Disobedience, he credits the swift popularity of the strips to 'the love for nostalgia and the archaic which most of us have that is partly responsible for the popularity. I always found the visual styling of the educational charts from the ‘80s and early ‘90s very amusing. Most of the people relate to this style because they probably went to school when these charts were widely prevalent.'

Tridevi's strip is still in its fledgling stages, but it's generating a lot of clamour- with some comparing his work to that of Spanish cartoonist Joan Cornella. I can see why- the strong, bright painted visuals, and the superficially thematic similarities of a satirical social deviance, but Cornella is much more biting, more out there, more surreal, and also plays around with the notion of visual illusions. Either way, Tridevi's a fan: 'I love Joan’s work. He’s definitely an inspiration not just for this series but for me as an artist in general. In fact, quite a lot of people have told me that my work reminds them of Joan which I kind of take as a compliment since I look up to him. Stylistically we are very different but it’s because he has already created a niche for bizarre and unsettling stuff.'

You can read more about the young Indian artist in this interview, which is illuminating in itself with regards to the animation industry in India. I like what he has to say about constantly pushing yourself and experimenting with different styles and mediums:

'The style which I could relate to the most was surrealism and psychedelic art. Up until two years ago, I was really big on psychedelic art. That style of art was very intuitive for me. I didn't have to try, it just flowed from my head onto the canvas. But as an artist, I think it's very important not to settle on just one thing. Keep experimenting and see what works for you. I'm very afraid of belonging to any one niche. I dabbled with realism, I dabbled with abstract art, I dabbled with psychedelic art. I've even tried my hand at sculpting.'

Back this: Locus Moon's Little Nemo tribute anthology

You may remember I wrote about Locust Moon's hugely ambitious Little Nemo tribute anthology back in March earlier this year:

'Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, a tribute book dedicated to the creator of the Nemo newspaper strips, Windsor McCay. The project will see a dizzying range of comics creators author Nemo by creating their own interpretations of the strip- and when I say dizzying range, I mean over 100 cartoonists including the likes of Mike Allred, Paul Pope, Bill Sienkiewicz, Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, Neal Adams, J.H. Williams III, John Cassaday, J.G. Jones, Craig Thompson, David Mack, P. Craig Russell, Yuko Shimizu, Dean Haspiel, Paolo Rivera, Scott Morse, Denis Kitchen, Carla Speed McNei, Peter Bagge, Farel Dalrymple, Brandon Graham- and so many, many more. Locust Moon are aiming to publish the finished product as both a newspaper and a hardcover book at the original, full size format of the Little Nemo broadsheet pages (16″ x 21″), and it's really cool to see people take on something of this magnitude- and something that's a perfect canvas/showcase for print.'

Well, Locust Moon have now taken the project to Kickstarter- the campaign went live about half an hour prior to my writing this, and they're looking to raise $50,000 in order to get the book to print. I got the press release information for this a few days ago, but had been waiting for the Kickstarter to go live so I could link to it. I'm not going to lie- $150 for a copy of the book is a steep price- a lot of money, but one I've paid for two reasons. The first is- I think this is exactly the kind of projects and comics that are perfectly suited to crowd-funding, specialised: huge, over-sized, full colour, newsprint hardcover- and that roster of names is inarguable. It's the kind of book that just couldn't be replicated anywhere near as equally in a digital version, one that reminds you of the unique physicality of print. Second: I've been lucky enough to see most of this in PDF format and it took my breath away on screen- I can't image what it will look like in print, in that gorgeous large format. There's a preview of some of the art and comics on the campaign page, and if you keep an eye on it, I'm sure more will follow. Even if you're not after, or can't afford, the book, there's a variety of prints and other rewards also on offer that are worth a look.

'The contents of the book, assembled over the past two years, are now complete. The deal with the printer is in place, and the Kickstarter campaign, to be launched on 6/23/2014, will go directly to cover printing costs, for a limited release in the fall of 2014, and national distribution in the spring of 2015. Locust Moon is inviting fans of art, illustration, and beauty of all kinds to get involved in this literal and figurative dream project: a love song for Winsor McCay, Little Nemo, and the limitless possibilities of comics.'