Friday, 28 November 2014

Il Mio Lavoro: a new Gipi artbook

I'm not sure if it's the holiday season that's proving the benefactor of these great art-books we're getting, but I'm not complaining.  My copy of this is already on the way, and I'll attempt to report back at some point, but for now here's a quick look at what to expect from Il Mio Lavoro ('my work')  the new art-book from contemporary Italian comics master, Gipi (Garage Band, Notes on a War Story, The Innocents, They Found the Car). From what I can gather, Il Mio Lavoro is the first in a new series of international bilingual (Italian and English), art-books from publishers Comic Out, under the subheading of 'art of comics,' which will spotlight the work of several artists working in the medium, and what better way to kick off than with Gipi, who is appreciated and acclaimed by audiences around the world. The book, edited by Laura Scarpa, promises to offer new illustrations, sketches, project designs, and preparatory drawings, as well as comments on his art and watercolor technique from Gipi himself.

Running to 160 pages and 21 by 29.5 in size, as with the Kerascoët's Paper Dolls, one of the aspects that appealed to me -apart from it being a book collating Gipi's art!- is that it is largely pictorial, which may sound rather daft, but some art-books do contain essays and so forth, which I find frustrating if they're in a language I can't read. However, Comic Out have designed this series with an eye towards international accessibility which apparently means that the accompanying inscriptions are reproduced in both Italian and English. You can buy it from the Comic Out website, and if that's not an option available to you for whatever reason, it's also stocked by Amazon. I imagine it would make a pretty neat gift, too. 

Out now: Satoshi Kon's final manga, Opus [preview]

I make my weekly Friday visit to the comic book shop after work, and this week I'll have Satoshi Kon's Opus waiting for me (I know this because Jared already tweeted me about it). Released on Wednesday, Opus is Kon's last long-form manga, originally serialised in the bi-monthly Comic Guys between 1995-96, but left uncompleted after the magazine was discontinued. However, in 2010 Tokuma Shoten released a 2 volume collection, collating the story for the first time, including a previously unseen ending, and additional extras. Translated by Zack Davisson (Shigeru Mizuki's Showa: A History of Japan), Dark Horse's English edition collates all the material in one 380-page volume. Kon's only other available English-language comic is Tropic of the Sea, with Dark Horse also due to publish Seraphim early next year.

Dark Horse's manga editor, Carl Horn, describes Opus as 'a metafictional journey...a funny and ironic look at the manga industry as well as a serious meditation on the limits and responsibilities of a creator, trademark themes of reality, fantasy, perception, and the role of the creator.' Kon was an acclaimed and highly regarded film-maker, helming animated movies Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika, although he began working on comics before his film career took off, serving as an assistant artist to Kastuhiro Otomo on Akira. It's nice to see his work being given wider language editions, and this certainly looks worth your time. Here's more from Horn on the book:

'The OPUS manga begins with what is seemingly another manga entirely, entitled Resonance, about a mind-reading cop named Satoko in a showdown with a telekinetic cult leader called The Masque. The manga is presented the way it would look in a Japanese magazine, with intro pages in color and sidebars explaining the characters and asking for reader feedback. But Resonance soon breaks down to black-and-white pages, and then rough pencil layouts…and then we see a guy showing the layouts to an editor, and realize Resonance is just a manga that exists within the actual story of OPUS—a story about Resonance’s creator, Chikara Nagai, who’s struggling to finish the final chapter by the magazine’s deadline. Unfortunately for Nagai, it turns out that Resonance isn’t “just a manga,” and “it exists” for real—and before he knows it, he’s drawn into Resonance, where he discovers the characters in the manga think of it as their world, and aren’t too pleased (or impressed) to meet their creator!' 

One Percent Press sale: fill your boots

Just a quick note to point out that the excellent One Percent Press are having a 20% off everything sale running from now through until the end of Monday, and as always it's worth taking advantage of. I've ordered the two newer titles offered by the distributor: Max de Radiguès' Rough Age, and Alexis Frederik Frost's The Aeronaut. De Radiguès' book is the 128-page English language translation of the Belgian artist's L'Age Dur, about a group of friends growing up at school- their intertwining lives: the awkwardness, apathy, sweet moments, acute feelings. De Radiguès has published comics with Oily previously- Moose and now Bastard. I really enjoyed Alexis Frederik Frost's Courtship of Mrs Smith (which is still available in the shop), so happy to pick up that new title. If you're after further recommendations, this is a good opportunity to get your hands on  Joe Lambert's Layaway and Emily Churco's Present Tense, both of which are very good. One Percent Press are one of the smaller comics publishers and distributors, with quality products, so the chance to support them whilst gaining new comics is a bit of a n-brainer. 

You can find the One Percent site here- remember to type in the code '20 percent' in the discount code box before checkout. 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Indianapolis Star publishes, edits, removes 'racist' Gary Varvel cartoon

The Indianapolis Star published a cartoon by Gary Vavel in the online edition of the newspaper last Friday, as a commentary on US president Barack Obama's signing of two executive actions that would delay deportation for illegal immigrants. The original cartoon, as shown above, depicts a white family sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner as 3 black-haired, brown skinned people prepare to climb into their home through the window. After a number of complaints and criticism from readers pointing out the racist overtones of the piece, the Star posted an edited version of the cartoon which saw the man entering the window now missing a moustache, before withdrawing it entirely. Executive editor of the Star, Jeff Taylor, addressed the issue and explained the newspaper's decision to remove the cartoon in a statement on Saturday:

'We posted a Gary Varvel cartoon at that offended a wide group of readers. Many of them labeled it as racist. Gary did not intend to be racially insensitive in his attempt to express his strong views about President Barack Obama's decision to temporarily prevent the deportation of millions of immigrants living and working illegally in the United States.
But we erred in publishing it.
We initially decided to leave the cartoon posted to allow readers to comment and because material can never truly be eliminated once it is circulating on the web. But we are removing the cartoon from the opinion section of our website, as well as an earlier version posted on Facebook that showed one character with a mustache.
This action is not a comment on the issue of illegal immigration or a statement about Gary's right to express his opinions strongly. We encourage and support diverse opinion. But the depictions in this case were inappropriate; his point could have been expressed in other ways.'

I think that last paragraph is key: this isn't about censorship or even intent, to a point. It's about judging what the text is conveying and how it's going to be interpreted. There seem to have been a few instances like this -and no doubt there will be more-, where there has been one, strong, overt reading of a cartoon by audiences: Hem King Song's Indian space mission cartoon for the New York Times comes to mind -even the Spider-Woman cover by Milo Manara- and where, it seems editorial has been remiss in gauging the tone of a cartoon/art, or anticipating the reaction towards it. It's an editorial/political cartoonist's role to produce pieces that act as a catalyst for commentary and discussion, just as it as editor's role to act as a buffer, as a fresh pair of eyes with the benefit of greater distance than the creator, and to suggest modifications that would better serve the text. 

There's a balance to be gleaned in creating images that evoke responses whilst not losing or twisting the message in the measures taken to do so. Giving artists the benefit of doubt and divorcing personal stances and intent can still leave you with work which is inherently problematic and will be read as such. As we saw with James Sturm's The Sponsor, if a reading is present, it's present, despite artistic intent. In Varvel's case it read as 'brown free-loading immigrants stealing from good, white traditional American family.' I appreciate the Star's quick handling of this, -that edited version aside- and Taylor's statement, in particular that Varvel could have expressed his point in a different, non-offensive manner. I don't think we should sacrifice nuance and context for the sake of being 'edgy' or 'controversial.' And I'm glad no-one called satire.

Comics Shelfie: Sophia Foster-Dimino

New comics shelfie time. I was going to post my own shelves and books today, but luckily you have all been spared that fate because the excellent Sophia Foster-Dimino is here to share her collection and it's an infinitely better experience. You may know her work from the Google doodles, where she worked until late this year before leaving to focus on comics and illustration full time (yay!). Her style is sort of an amalgamation of formalist and ligne claire, her work smart and thoughtful, and she is frankly one of my favourite artists working right now: case in point- see the superb poster she created for the Comic Arts Los Angelese festival, above. I love seeing people's shelves and storage and books and comics and art, but it also gives me major envy, and that's especially true today after seeing Sophia's Beaute prints folio by Kerascoët. But over to Sophia:

'Roman (Muradov) and I share a 300 square foot studio apartment in a basement in San Francisco. We do not have much room... but we still have a lot of comics. We're constantly at max capacity, even after selling tons of old books earlier this year. I dunno what to do. Probably nothing – after reading through everyone else's shelfies I feel pretty validated in my hoarding so I guess I will never change.

Here's shelf #1, near the bed. The bedside table to the left (with the lamp as bright as the sun) has our "currently reading" stack, which for me includes Megahex, Sunny, and some CAB zines. Notable on this shelf: at the very top, a pizza box designed by the wonderful Mickey Zacchilli. Grabbed this from Nice Slice in Providence when I was maybe a junior at RISD, in 2009 I think?

Forgive the crude photocollage. Stuff on top of the case is unsorted, top shelf is like food/cooking books and some kids' books (AND MOOMIN!!! the most important comic book), followed by an egregious vanity shelf filled with my earrings and garbage... then there's some French (and Québécois) stuff, plus Picturebox, Koyama, Nobrow... even D&Q DeForge books go in the Koyama section! Bottom shelf is periodicals – mostly a million McSweeney's I haven't even read 'cause I'm a fraud. I got into McSweeney's from being a Ware completionist when I was 19 or 20 and then I had a subscription for a few years but I cancelled when I realized I would never have time to read them all.

That pile on the floor is stuff from CAB that may never find a dignified home because we have too many dang books!!

Folks who have been to comics shows on the west coast have probably seen Steve Oliff and his Akira color guides. Ryan Sands wrote a Same Hat post about them once upon a time. I bought this one at APE many years ago, I was rifling through a stack alongside some guy and he was trying to decide between this page and another page, and I was like, hovering breathlessly over his shoulder praying he'd go for the other one so I could grab this one. And he did. And I did. So... good! Despite it being one of my most prized possessions I have not gotten my life together enough to hang it on the wall.

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus: a new comics show

This was first announced on Monday, I believe; a new comics show put together by Jeff Smith, Lucy Caswell, Vijaya Iyer and Tom Spurgeon, who will together serve as a four-person executive committee for the show. Cartoon Crossroads Columbus -CXC- The Columbus, will be a four-day, yearly comics festival beginning in autumn 2016, although a launch event show will be held over October 2-3 next year. The CXC launch event will be a two-day show split between the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (October 2nd) and the Columbus Cultural Arts Center (October 3rd), with the second day hosting a one-day comics expo featuring up to 35 exhibitors.

Probably the most familiar names on the board to most people are Smith, who is well-known for his award-winning comics -most obviously the Bone series-, and Spurgeon who edits and publishes The Comics Reporter. Caswell is the founder of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum and Iyer the president and co-publisher of Cartoon Books, an imprint which publishes Smith's works.  Smith will act as president and artistic director while Spurgeon will serve as the festival director, and will also be relocating to Columbus in early 2015 -this is the big upcoming news he was referring to on the Comics Reporter earlier in the month. That's a pretty tight ship- I can't imagine that anything other than a lot of thought has gone into this, so it will be interesting to learn more details and see how it develops and distinguishes itself. There's an ever increasing number of comic events, shows and festivals to attend now, and no real data on whether there's a growth in audience and demand that will help sustain them- but the involvement of institutions such as the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum and the Columbus Cultural Arts Center should go some way to bridge any gap.

Further information regarding exhibitor applications, sponsorship, plans and programming is due to be released in early 2015.

'We're extremely excited to try and bring a first-class comics festival to Columbus, Ohio. I've attended and enjoyed so many great shows over the years, and hope that CXC can take its place alongside them.' -Jeff Smith

'I share with the council members a belief in the comics art form and a love for the American Midwest as a great place for comics. We also share a passion for the professional development and infrastructure issues facing so many cartoonists. We hope that CXC can become a positive force for a better community and more effective industry.' -Tom Spurgeon

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Man Next Door: komaga and the early Japanese alternative

Folly to attempt to write about a book so eloquently and recently discussed by both Joe McCulloch and Ryan Holmberg, but it's one I have an interest in and a few dusty thoughts about, so here goes. Please note my knowledge and understanding of Japanese comics is superficial at best, so mistakes may be made in placing historical context and subsequent discussion. 

When I first started reading Japanese comics, one of the elements I couldn't get past was the intense dramatic bombast of it all. Not only were the visual aspects of say, people, exaggerated, but more often than not, the scenarios were simply left utterly loose to run with fantastical, absurd narratives.  It was like going from watching a grim British soap in Coronation Street and then switching to a Pakistani TV serial where the emotional 'background' music was relentlessly at crescendo and the speed of cuts and emphatic zoom-ins gave you vertigo. It was a matter of adjusting to cultural cues, but what helped me ease in to that vast arena was the work of Yoshihiro Tatsumi. In books such as Abandon the Old in Tokyo, The Push Man and Other Stories, Good-Bye and more, his realistic, unflinching depictions of the working class, the issues they faced, and even his own life, helped win my attention and a foothold into manga. Tatsumi is often attributed as the forefather of the 'gekiga' (literally translating to 'moving pictures' but associated with a brevity not found in the more widespread 'whimsical manga' of the time) movement, and a key figure in pushing forward the alternative comics school in Japan, which saw an embracing of greater realism in both subject and style. That standing (or perhaps due to it) has been aided by D&Q publishing much of his work in English.

This book contains four stories by Masahiko Matsumoto, an artist Tatsumi repeatedly stated he was inspired by, and whom broadly speaking, had already embarked on creating a thematic and stylistic change of direction before Tatsumi published Black Blizzard in 1956, which is viewed as an instrumental text in helping propel the gekiga movement forwards. Matsumoto called his approach 'komaga,' translating as 'panel pictures,' which explored the notion of directing action, moving the story forward via the panels, and giving import to the placement of panels next to one another to indicate time, context, emotion, significance. This collection marks the first of Matsumoto's works to be given an English language edition and Breakdown Press have done a fine job with the printing of it- the cover is beautiful- that white strip with the author and title credits is actually a belly-band, and each story is printed in a different colour: green, purple, brown and blue. I'm an uncultured oaf, so I tend to get bored quickly, but there's a short essay by Ryan Holmberg and a piece by Matsumoto (translated from 2004) both of which are illuminating and easy to understand.

The first two stories here, The Man Next Door and Thick Fog, are rather straightforward, simple narratives that run rote and quietly subvert the expected dramatic turn or end. In The Man Next Door, the familiar frustrated young manga artist vents his feelings about his horrible neighbours through his art, killing one off, and having the other carted away for his murder. When events in real-life begin to ape his penned imaginations, he begins to wonder as to the extent of his powers. But it turns out there's a reasonable, mundane explanation for it all. Thick Fog operates similarly: a man taking a walk at night in heavy, foggy weather assumes his scissors have killed the man he sees lying on the pavement with blood oozing out from under him. Upon returning home, ready to flee at the sight of police sirens, he discovers the prone man is actually alive and well, despite having slipped and fell, shattering the bottle of red ink in his pocket. Both stories offer situations which are often used as preliminary, instigating factors in manga, from which a grand, histrionic tale is spun, but Matsumoto caps each quickly, sensibly.

The two longer comics, Incident at Shiranui Village and The Cat and the Locomotive are more interesting. Where in the introductory short comics Matsumoto ties off a particular approach, here he provides an alternative. Shiranui is a murder mystery which doesn't result in a grand unmasking, but watchful eyes and a quiet conversation on a hillside. It features a murderer who is forced to kill out of a desire to protect, and one who is found out, but allowed to walk away as the burden of living with his actions is considered a greater punishment. There's a lot to unpack there: the fact that he's gauged and recognised as someone who isn't dangerous and won't kill again, and that that judgement is made by one person alone, who won't use it to manipulate him. The realism here is derived from this personal, human interaction, the unshowy reveal and the mature manner with which it's dealt.

The Cat and the Locomotive is the meatiest fare in this volume, and seems the most accomplished; a grim tale that incorporates the psychological relationship between man and the self-worth he finds in his job. Again, it starts off in quasi superstitious territory- a tale of a dead woman and a black cat who were killed by a train, before veering off into obsession, guilt and suicide. Matsumoto's stylistic approach is most obvious in these longer comics- he's not as worried about figures and proportions as much as expression and composition, and it's rather fascinating to see the way he uses images in a very base, fundamental manner; a series of dominoing, narrative juxtapositions that is most apparent in The Cat and the Locomotive, perhaps because there is a lot of action and motion and time to convey. So you get panels of the train coming closer and closer, a view of the tracks from above, the lights, the rain, the signal markers: the bringing together of all the elements to produce a collective effect in relation to one another. The same message could be told within 3 panels: train, woman, tracks, but the effect wouldn't be anywhere near as impactful: the breaking down adds time and investment, emotion and energy, movement. It works very well here but I found it a bit confusing in The Incident at Shiranui Village where planted poisoning is occurring in a busy festival celebration and the number of panels showing who is doing what and which drinking bottle belongs to whom gets a bit lost. It's incredibly interesting to look at though, and see what Matsumoto's striving to do; with the benefit of retrospect, it's easy to understand Tatsumi's engagement and curiosity.

I would also like to make a note of my appreciation that these are ostensibly, supposed to be 'detective' stories. I really enjoyed this collection, not only for the stories themselves all of which present a degree of interest, but also for the first time, more for the context and in my rough understanding of where Matsumoto and his work sit in the evolution of the Japanese alternative.

Gatignol's and Hubert's 'Petit' looks absolutely stunning [preview]

There's nothing like some spectacular art to ease the Monday blues (or blues of any other kind). As if there aren't enough comics in English to get through, I like to torture myself by looking at beautiful things I don't understand. And there's something spectacular looking on its way to French language audiences next month, courtesy of Hubert (Miss Don't Touch Me, Beauty) and Bertrand Gatignol, and publishers Soleil. Petit ('little')  is the name and story of the youngest and smallest of ogres, son of King Ogre. Barely larger than a human, he carries with him the sign of degeneration that, due to inbreeding within the ogres, makes each generation of new ogres smaller than the previous one. His father wants him dead, but his mother sees him as the potential source of renewal for the ogres, thinking he could mate with a human as the founder of the ogre lineage once did. She confides her feelings to Desdée, the oldest of all the ogres, who has been dishonored and banished to a secluded part of the castle due to his love for humans.

And so Petit is raised learning conflicted lessons: torn between the violent impulses he inherited and the humanistic education he received from Desdée, amidst a family who would rather see him dead. Described as a beautiful gothic tale about family determinism, the book promises to regale the whole history of a family and its members, their customs and traditions. As fun and interesting as it sounds, one look at these stunningly gorgeous  black and white pages and that cover by Gatignol are enough to sell it to anyone. Gatignol works in directing, TV, animation, illustration and comics- perhaps most notably in Le Petit Prince for the latter- and his art, layouts and composition here is as on point as you'll get. A very grandiose and simultaneously ferociousness feeling, a bridled, proud savagery, that he's managed to capture here, which befits the material. I always feel better having seen something as lovely, as alive as this.

You can find a lengthier preview here. On an aside, that synopsis may be a bit off, as I put it through a language converter and then proceeded to wrangle with it myself, too.

Uncivilized Books announce Borb, Robot Investigator, second True Swamp collection

Uncivilized Books have released details of the three books that will be making up their Spring 2015 slate- all  three are collections of strips that have previously been published online or in mini-comics format. I'm particularly excited to see Jason Little's Borb on there- that's a fantastic comic, and I hope this book will bring more readers to it. As usual, Uncivilized have their subscription offer available, for which you can get all 3 books, 3 additional free, mini-comics and free shipping -within the US only (Canada and international orders are exempt)- for the price of $50, and that deal will stay open until mid February. More details of each book and their projected release dates below.

Borb by Jason Little (April. 96 pages, hardback, black and white): This is the first collection of Little's Borb strips, about a severely alcoholic homeless man: 'Little’s story draws upon the long and complex tradition of the comic strip slapstick vagabond, and, concurrently, depicts the real horrors specific to present-day urban homelessness. At once hilarious and horrifying, Borb challenges the reader with every panel.' That sounds pretty depressing -and it is brutal, but Little's strip is excellent- it manages to be human and funny, present questions about the situations while never making assumptions or looking down at its subject. I'm really glad it's being collected. If you'd like a feel for the Borb strips, you can read them for free here.

Robot Investigator by Vincent Stall (July, 100 pages, hardback, black and white): I believe some of Stall's Robot Investigator comics were published by 2D Cloud in installments, and his gorgeously painted story finds a sole robot explorer landing on a mysterious planet, not unlike our own where he proceeds to cautiously investigate. 'Both sweet and melancholy, it’s arguably cartoonist and designer Vincent Stall’s masterpiece, showcasing his constant interest in environment and texture through the eyes of something innocent. The book also includes a sixteen-page ‘Robot Parts’ catalog designed by Stall.' I'm a nerd colossal, so that robot parts catalogue sounds pretty sweet to me, too. Again, you can read Robot Investigator online here.

True Swamp: Book 2 by Jon Lewis (June, 140 pages, hardback, black and white): This is the second volume of Jon Lewis’s True Swamp series Uncvilized are publishing, having released book 1 in 2012 in collected format for the first time. 'True Swamp: Book 2 continues the misadventures of Lenny the Frog, yet expands Lewis’s strange vision of the swamp to include the likes of inventor marmots, sculptors of social interaction, collectors of human relics and the swamp’s one true religion. The stories collected here were awarded best of the year by Time Magazine in 2000.'

Friday, 21 November 2014

Guillaume Singelin's spectacular space illustrations

I wanted to sign Friday off with nice art, and this seems the perfect way to do so. Hands down my favourite artist to follow on Tumblr currently is Guillaume Singelin. I've spoken about his character concept pieces, my admiration for the way in which he manages to render light, and his comics series The Grocery previously, but recently the work he's been sharing shows that he's tapped into an even richer vein of form. Not only is his style and technique great, but the foremost strength of his illustration is how much narrative it conveys and implies despite being wordless and largely in single images. I loved the immense piece he did for a Dragon Age exhibition recently, but the colours and light in his space series of illustrations has me completely in awe. I've included a few in this post below, but you can see the full set at his Tumblr. The spacecraft ones are just fantastic: the blue booster flames/lights against the fiery orange and yellow, and the way in which the line of green glow at the bottom of the second contrasts against the unexpected brown of  the sky. There's a sense of peaceful calm in them, too, which is nice.

Apart from the terrific art, Singelin's Tumblr blog is also the best place to visit to find out more about him and his artistic process- he's started answering a lot more asks and unlike his published work, it is all in English. He's based in Japan at the moment, and trying to work with publishers to get something released in English. Here he talks a little about some of the people and texts he's influenced by: 'Akira Toriyama, Otomo, Masamune Shirow, Tezuka and Taiyo Matsumoto for the mangaka. Mike Mignola and Jeff Smith for the US comics authors. And plenty of artists I discoverd on the internet/tumblr, like Corey Lewis, Brian O’Malley, Run, Valentin Seiche, Milo Giannis, Sam Bosma, Patrick Crotty, Hanna K, and many and many more I forget right now. But I am also very inspired by movies, like Alien, Blade Runner, all the movies starring Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. All Ghibli movies, especially Porco Rosso and Totoro.'

He has a sketchbook available for sale on Gumroad here- I can't imagine it being anything less than worth every cent. 

Bibi the witch, and the comfort of the small

Perhaps today it would be referred to as an aesthetic, or maybe there's a proper term for it, but I have always harboured a warm delight in narratives that depict tiny or small characters struggling to survive in an environment that is hostile to them due to the nature of their being (this, surprisingly, hasn't been ruined by Beautiful Darkness). It's that whole Borrowers, Land of the Giants, Wombles scenario, where they would salvage and re-purpose human junk and use it in innovative ways to make new and useful things. I was fascinated by the ingenious imagination and invention of it all as a child, and still love the concept of creating these cosy and safe spaces, burrowed away in nooks and crannies. Most things seem to appear cuter when miniaturised, maybe because they are more manageable and non-threatening in that way.  

Kris Mukai's wonderfully-titled The extremely small witch Bibi, who lives in Mrs. Sen's garden is a variation on that theme. Bibi is a tiny person (and witch- although no witchy occurrences take place in this installment) who lives with her brother Adi in -what is to them- the  huge jungle that is Mrs Sen's garden. It's Adi's 9th birthday, and a celebratory party is planned for later, but first Bibi must go and collect a package of cheese from Mrs Sen, who they have a good relationship with, and do some exchange and bartering with. Adi wants to go himself, but the ladder to Mrs Sen's window is very, very long and steep, and climbs out well beyond the tall plants, making them visible, and it even more dangerous. Adi's still too young to take the ladder, so Bibi goes herself, strapping on what looks like fresh sycamore seeds or similar, to parachute back down from the windowsill to home, but gets blown off-course by the wind and into a sticky situation.

Tiny people in enormous worlds is generally a literal manifestation of the 'big. bad world' notion, with everything becoming a very real danger that must be navigated: huge people stomping on you, insects eating you, the fear of getting easily lost or going unseen. The natural world becomes an attacking jungle, and everyday, familiar environments and objects are transposed into unknown strangeness; a negotiation of real fears explored in a place that is recognisable, albeit at a different angle. The shifting scale provides perspective, too: what is easily surmountable to one, is immensely daunting to another.

Mukai's comic is 6 by 8 1/2 inches and the decision to make make each page a large panel, so that sense of small and big, and scale, is conveyed incredibly effectively is perfect. One of the best aspects of Mukai's art is the expressions she gives to her characters- it never looks like much's going on, but if you look at the faces and the emotion, humour, and strain she teases out simply by drawing eyes at a certain angle, it's great. I like the different things she does with eyes: the characters eyes are big and buggy, taking up most of their face, while the flies stuck in the web look funny the way they're wrapped up tightly with their eyes all zonked out. Mukai's lines are loose, not about precision- there's a real sense of free-flowing instancy in her work. The green colour is an unexpected choice- it doesn't really fit with 'nature' as used here, but works as fresh and interesting enough to hold the gaze.

This was a fun, engaging, and attractive comic- as long as people keep making very good comic using risograph, I will continue to love it with all my heart. On an aside, I'm very much enjoying short, episodic comics like this, and Mathhew Petit's 26652 series at the moment- the affirming goodness and lightness of them- they're not out to be anything, they just are. I hope Bibi gets to continue her adventures.

Antoine Revoy discusses horror; announces new graphic novel 'The Playground'

Book announcements continue to come through thick and fast, and although there's no projected release date on this one -and it's from First Second who have announced books due in 2016, so it could be a way off- I'm covering it because I like the sound of it. The Playground, a story about two children who discover something haunting their stomping area, will be a debut comic book from French artist Antoine Revoy. Revoy's had somewhat of a nomadic life and career: born in Paris, he was raised in Japan, and moved to China in 1999 to pursue design, going on to work as a visual and interaction designer in Ireland and France, before returning to the US to work as an illustrator full time. I find it interesting when artists have travelled and lived in a number of different places, to see how much of that myriad of experiences and influences manifest themselves in their work. Revoy talked to Paste about his upcoming book:

'The Playground is a horror story with elements of detective fiction. A quiet Japanese neighborhood’s inhabitants slowly come to the realization that inauspicious, paranormal forces are surreptitiously at work in their town. Two friends, a young boy and girl, resolve to exorcise these evils. The tale explores themes and sensations that are dear to me, among which are death, fear, curiosity and companionship.'

Discussing horror and how it differs from country and culture: 'Slower, more mundane and contemplative in Japan, more exuberant and satirical in America, with Europe somewhere in between? I don’t know if this is very fair, there is a lot of cross-pollination in recent horror. There might be a higher degree of acceptable, visible violence for younger audiences in Japan. The level and nature of violence in shōnen manga such as Devilman, Violence Jack, Fist of the North Star or The Drifting Classroom would probably not have been deemed appropriate for French or American elementary school children.'

(via Paste)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Jillian Tamaki awarded Governor General literary prize for This One Summer

Another major triumph for Jillian Tamaki, and This One Summer, this time in the form of Canada's extremely prestigious Governor General award. The awards were founded in 1937, to mark excellence in various artistic, academic and social fields, and are presented by the Governor General of Canada -hence the name. While Jillian won the literary award for her illustration, cousin Mariko Tamaki was nominated separately in the children's text category for the writing of the book; a situation slightly reminiscent of 2008, in which the Tamaki's first comic collaboration, Skim, was nominated in the text category but not for illustrations. It's an awkward way in which to attempt to recognise comics and those who create them, as the medium is intrinsically collaborative in nature. Tamaki spoke to the Edmonton Journal about the separation of illustration and text:

'It’s the same strange divorce of text and image for this one as well. I think we are both creators of the book. You can’t read a comic without either component, it won’t make sense. It’s something I will always be addressing when talking about the award. But I am completely flattered by the honour and will be sharing the prize with my cousin.'

I'm really pleased to see This One Summer be recognised in this way- it's the only comic, along with Beautiful Darkness, that comes instantly to mind when recalling the standout entries in the medium this year. Jillian's art is always beautiful, but it seemed to step up to a whole other level in this book. When the Ignatz nominations were announced, I wrote that I expected This One Summer to win a number of awards, and it promptly went on to bag the Ignatz for outstanding graphic novel. With this award, I'm declaring the ball to be officially rolling. Many congratulations to the Tamakis on the honour.

Thought Bubble 2014: holistic comics therapy

I decided to take a different approach to Thought Bubble this year. Previously, I've tried to see and consume as much as I can; focusing on getting around to as many tables as possible, buying a LOT of comics, taking pictures, talking to people- generally feeling like I have to catch as much as possible in order to get the best experience and to better report back on how the festival went.  Last year, although I tabled with OK Comics, I wasn't there much- constantly leaving the table to go check something or the other out. So I made an intention that 2014 would be about the quality of experience. I saw Frank Santoro's CAB piece  on Friday, and the simple effectiveness of it reinforced my decision to be more laidback.

On Saturday, I tabled with OK again (that's Lizzy, Mark and I in the picture Jared took, above, in a rubbish attempt to get our posing faces on. Jared took a bunch of other photos which you can see here.). Got there for 9:30, said hello to everyone, Jared grabbed his coffee, I an Irn-Bru, and we went for a quick wander. We went into the Tee-Pee first- and it blew me away. I wasn't really sure what to expect when the festival announced they'd be putting up a large hard-shell tent for extra space- a gazebo?- but it was magnificent- it had windows and doors and bouncy carpet and ventilation (you can see a picture of it here when empty). Jared bought comics while I gaped at the marvel of it- really impressive design and construction (Robin McConnell pointed out it wasn't technically a teepee, but a super-tent, and I pointed out how un-fun TB Tent was to say). Perhaps most importantly, the 'big name' creators, people like Scott Snyder, Emma Rios, Tim Sale, etc that draw huge signing queues were all put in here, with cordons and signs as to where to queue and in which direction. Previously these have been located at the very back of New Dock Hall, so the only real option was for queues to then snake back down past other exhibitors tables, making it difficult for others to get to those tables- although I guess some of those queuing perused what was around them while waiting. This re-allocation was a smart decision- the Tee-Pee effectively became a designated area for the signings, whilst remaining spacious enough to house more exhibitors also. There was a marked improvement in terms of accessibility and flow in New Dock Hall, and yet it was still busy, too.

Steve reminded me that I'd wanted to buy some of Philippa Rice's ace hand-made toy figures, so I got in there early to get my pick. Philippa's book Soppy is released in the US in December, I believe and then in the UK in January. I always find it a little weird when publishers do this -and have found it usually tends to be when book publishers are involved- as anybody wanting to purchase at first flush will do so on the Internet if the book has been published, leaving comic retailers and fans in a bit of a quandary. I imagine a few people may be getting that for Christmas- it's a really nice smaller sized hardback.

Hand-made toy figures by Philippa Rice

Beautiful diorama by Philippa Rice

I spent the rest of the day at the OK table and it was fantastic- selling comics and chatting to people- lots of families: children in cosplay are the best-, getting to see customers who I hadn't met since I left the shop, seeing the amazing costumes, being behind the table with a group of really awesome people. We sold out of both The Wrenchies and Beautiful Darkness. I got to chat and hang with the cool Dilraj Mann a bit more as his table was to the back of ours, and he's still working away at his book with Nobrow- really can't wait for that one. It was the most time I'd spent in one place on a con floor, and it was a very different, concentrated, positive experience. I think what makes it such for me is that I don't really have family or friends who are into comics on any level, so joining OK last year and having Jared and Oliver be so welcoming and inclusive (and continuing to be so), and having the shop as a hub I can visit within my immediate vicinity has been a big deal for me. A lot of my time is spent writing about comics and interacting with people online who are (appear) lovely, but I don't get to meet, so OK and Thought Bubble are integral to my feeling less isolated and part of a real community. 

Thought Bubble is a dense enough festival with enough to offer that you can approach it in a variety of ways. I imagine ti may be overwhelming for new or first-time attendees -it is still somewhat overwhelming to me!- but the strength of it such is that you don't have to see or experience everything to have an excellent time. Holistically it was just what I needed; I've been chatting to David Brothers about how making active decisions to keep yourself happy and healthy and functioning extends to within comics as well. Craig Collins, for example was actually saying that he'd bought but not read Beautiful Darkness yet because he was a bit worried it would be dark and get him into a funk, and I think that's absolutely acceptable- gauging when you're in the mood to be able to ingest material that's going to lean one way or another. 

The undisputed best thing about Thought Bubble -superb curation and organisiation aside- is the people. I met Douglas Wolk, Laura Snapes, Robin McConnel, Emily Carroll, Emma Rios, John Allison, Joe Decie, Biz Stringer-Horne, Claire Napier, Clark and I had our annual-in-the-flesh-hello, Isaac Lenkiewicz, the family Bruton, Benjamin Wright, Jack Teagle, Donya Todd, Simon Gurr, Phillip 'Bucky' Buchan, Hannah Chapman, Louise  Evans, Jonathan Edwards, Mo Ali, and a number of people who came to tell me they enjoyed the blog. and had affirming interactions with each of them. The sheer, genuine niceness of other people made me think of myself and how I come across, and made me want to be as good, to be better. I don't think it was only me though- the whole vibe of the festival felt warmer and more encompassing, and like it stepped up another level.

Mo Ali and Andy Bloor with their new book, Midnight Man

One of the highlights of the weekend was finally getting to meet all 3 Peow! guys in person- I'd briefly met Patrick at ELCAF earlier in the year, but it was my first time seeing Olle Forsslöf and Elliot Alfredius in the flesh. They're incredibly friendly and approachable and very exacting in relation to their work, applying the same level of detail and attention seen in their books and production, to everything else they do. They went out and bought a lamp so that people would be able to better see the prints and books they had on display, as the corner they were in was casting a shadow when someone came close. Peow! have hit the festival circuit this year- they were at TCAF, ELCAF, Stockholm and CAB, but all 3 agreed this was the biggest festival they'd attended in terms of scale. It looks like next year they probably wont be doing many (if any) cons or festivals, as they concentrate on making and publishing new books as 'there's no point in going to festivals with the same books; people want to see what's new.'

On the Sunday, I bought my 4 year old nephew along for his first comics convention, as there were several kids workshops and activities taking place and also because Abu had seen my Philippa Rice figures and declared he wanted his own 'cutie pie.' We did a quick circuit and nabbed out cutie pie and then hit the Jampires event with Sarah McIntyre and David O'Connell. Abu drew his own comic 'I'm stuck on the roof and somebody has to save me,' munched a jammie dodger, and then bought a copy of 'There's a Shark in the Bath,' for Sarah to draw and sign for him. He was fascinated to watch her draw, as you can see below. We hit up a story-telling session of Beowulf, and tried to convince Abu to make lantern, but he wasn't having any. The lanterns were being created throughout the week at free all-ages workshops, and then displayed at the festival as woodland light installation and looked lovely. 

Abu watches, entranced, as Sarah McIntyre draws inside his book
Lanterns at the Kodama Woods installation

I spent the next two hours working myself into a nervous wreck about moderating the 'Spotlight on Gotham Panel' with Becky Cloonan, Scott Snyder, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, and Cameron Stewart- it was at 2 o'clock and most of Sunday was spent cursing Clark for asking me to do it and myself for agreeing. If you're wondering why I was worried -or why I agreed to do it- it was the first panel I'd ever participated on in any capacity. I'm not being 'modest' or anything, but I'm not very good at either public speaking or thinking on my feet in terms of responding to questions, but I want to get better, and the only way to do that is to put yourself into uncomfortable situations and hope to improve. It started off a little rocky, but I think it went okay- all 5 were great guests to have, and I'll particularly remember Brenden Fletcher who really took the time out to speak to me before and after, which helped to reassure me somewhat.

I was so glad that was over, that by the time the Comics Journalism panel rolled around with Dan Berry, Laura Snapes and Douglas Wolk, I'm pretty sure I said some stupid stuff- just out of loose relief.  I also felt a little bit out of my depth with Douglas and Laura who are both amazing writers and very articulate, but very nice too, so it's difficult to hold it against them. It was an interesting panel, and it highlighted for me the differences in approach if you're writing professionally as a job and for someone, as opposed to a blog, like me. A guy at the end asked a great question as to why people need writers/critics/reviewers in the internet age of accessibility where artists can communicate directly with an audience, and I gave a stupid answer I'm still kicking myself over now. Laura was right- the more perspective you can get on anything, the better. I'm glad I did the panels, though; it boosted my confidence, and I feel I know what to expect should I do any further ones.

'Of course I'm prepared- look at this paper I have right here with questions on it'

I've been going to Thought Bubble for 4 years now and, while it has always been a welcoming and inclusive festival, it has been a pleasure to see the diversity of attendees significantly increase year by year. I don't keep a count of these things, but as many people of colour will tell you- I do look around to see the make-up of the audience, even more so in places where there tends to be a greater volume of white people (going to the theater is fab for this). I saw more people of colour than ever this year - a charming Arab father being pulled along by his son who stopped by to say hello, and there was an awesome Kate Bishop cosplay by a young girl in a headscarf-  enough that it felt close to 'mixed' to me for the first time. I take positive note from this, as I ascribe it more meaning considering Thought Bubble is an event you have to pay for, so a correlation between attendance and an interest in comics is likely. I hope that upward trend continues.

Going to wrap this up with a few traditional pictures of the haul, which is much smaller than normal, but I'm chuffed with- feels more manageable:

These are the 3 cuties I ended up taking home from Philippa Rice- it was SUCH a hard choice (technically, the little blue sweetie on the left is Abu's but he forgot to take it home, so she's staying with me for the time being).

Got all the 3 new Breakdown Press books: Generous Bosom by Conor Stechschulte, Sindicalismo 89 by  Inés Estrada, and Janus by Lala Albert. I am probably starting to sound like a broken record, but they are simply producing some of the best comics around at the moment, and if you're not reading at least some of them, you really are missing out.

Peow! stash: Mathilde Kitteh's MGCL_GRL, postcard and landscape prints, Devil's Slice of Life by Patrick Crotty, and a great Peow! tote the guys gave me 'to advertise' :-)

The new Comic Book Slumber Party anthology: Fairytales for Bad Bitches looks flat-out amazing, and Queue by Dilraj Mann, as well as a pack of 3 notebooks featuring covers printed with his illustrations.

Year of the Comics by Benjamin Wright, Lookout Bawang by Isaac Lenkiewicz, and a set of character cards for the Afterschool Brutes Club, who Lenkiewicz is planning to work into a comic at some point.

John Allison was kind enough to do me this little sketch (and a bottle of water when I needed it the most- thanks, John!)- I bought the nifty 2-part print edition of Expecting to Fly, for my friend Saad, who I gave it to as he was right there. Oh, and the best thing- a Blacksad sketch from Boulet (you can read the story behind the sketch here). An amazing weekend.