Tuesday, 22 December 2015

2015 in comics: a reading guide

Two end-of-year lists for you (largely because the opportunity to flag up some excellent comics is too much to resist): a brief compilation of 10 of my favourite pieces that I wrote this year; selected on the basis of how the writing turned out rather than anything to do with what was being discussed. And following that, a list of 25 (didn't set a specific number, but came to this organically, which was nice) comics that stood out for me in 2015: in terms of enjoyment, interest, and quality. 

Writing -especially on a day-to-day, nose-to-the-page basis- can be incredibly frustrating, but looking back at the past 12 month's output has helped, in that some degree of improvement seems to have actually taken place! Which is encouraging. As this is most likely my final piece of 2015, I'd like to sincerely and deeply thank everyone who supports, and has supported, Comics & Cola on Patreon. I'm currently using the money to hire Kim O'Connor to write a monthly column, and am super excited to announce that Sloane Leong will be serialising a new comic, Maps to the Suns, exclusively here in 2016.  A new chapter of the comic will be published on the blog each month, and be available to Patreon supporters a week early. I don't know if it's an achievable goal, but I'd love to harness greater support and be able to do more of these things on the blog -gather excellent writers and cartoonists and make this a home for a focused range of comics and criticism. Having autonomy is the most important thing to me, and money definitely helps with that. Thank you so much.

I've bunched in everything together on the comics list in no particular order- webcomics, ongoings, collected editions, translations, whatever! I want it to serve as a reading guide/list more than anything; I like that function and it's what I've always used these kind of lists for. The majority of the comics here I have either reviewed/written in depth about- so if you'd like to know more about a specific one, simply click on the title and it should lead you through to the associated piece (a number of these were published for The AV Club, and will take you there). In some cases, I've linked to the comic itself (if it's been posted online), or a place that can provide you with further information. See you in the new year.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Kyle Baker's and Kevin McCarthy's 'Circuit Breaker' gets March 2016 release date

Originally announced back in 2012, Kyle Baker's and Kevin McCarthy's Circuit Breaker has popped up on Image's March 2016 solicitations as a 5-issue mini-series, the first installment of which will be published on March 16th. Circuit Breaker sounds largely comedic in tone, which tends to serve Baker's abilities very well: 'When the heroic robots that saved Japan during World War IV are outlawed, they turn against mankind, waging a campaign of terror across the last city on Earth. Their creator builds one more soldier—disguised as his teenaged granddaughter—and tasks her with dismantling the marauding mechanical militia. But as she begins to question her programming, will she be the last hope for humanity, or the final nail in our coffin?' This old blogpost from Baker details the Tezuka and various manga and anime work and styles he's been referencing and playing around with, as well as showcasing some a number of pages and illustrations. It'll be interesting to see what the final book looks like, but there's always a vim and freshness to Baker's art that makes it irresistible.

While that story blurb isn't totally hooking me in, I'm excited for this simply to see Kyle Baker working on a full-colour, print comic again. I didn't come across his work until a couple of years ago when I read Why I Hate Saturn, You Are Here (which I could look at forever), I Die At Midnight, The Cowboy Wally Show, Nat Turner, King David, -all of which affirm him as one of the greats. His 20-issue run on Plastic Man is unequivocally regarded as superb, and was recently made available digitally on Comixology (the two trades, On the Lam, and Rubber Bandits, are sadly out of print). There's often discussion within comics of 'pushing the boundaries of the medium' and innovation, but Baker's name is hardly ever discussed in relation to doing exactly that. The things he was doing in comics still feel fresh, and the way he took and blended from other mediums to create comics that were still comics but provided such a different experience, still hasn't really been caught up to today. If Circuit Breaker results in more people being aware of who Baker is, and moving to seek out his work, then that's a win.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

On Drawn & Quarterly’s Feminist Legacy

By Kim O'Connor

Earlier this year, the New York Times extolled the feminist legacy of the legendary alt-comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly. Hailing D&Q as a “Champion of Female Cartoonists” in the headline, the article envisions a sort of feminist utopia where the “well-regarded publisher of graphic novels is inextricably intertwined with the advance of women in independent comics.” On the surface, it all sounds plausible enough.

Much caught my eye about that piece, starting with the fact that the only cartoonists the author chose to quote were men. (Julie Doucet, Lynda Barry, and Kate Beaton were each interviewed about their own work—not the alt-comics publishing milieu—in separate mini-profiles.) First the author checks in with James Sturm, who isn’t exactly known for his feminist cred. She then inexplicably turns to the cartoonist Seth for his thoughts regarding the publisher’s “encouragement of women.” According to him, D&Q is “a nonmasculine, noncompetitive environment that reflects how art comics have become much more of a women’s world.”

This quote took me aback—not because Seth was speaking as a man (though JFC), but because his description seems entirely at odds with that of Julie Docuet, who has interviewed elsewhere about her frustration with comics as a boys’ club. Indeed, more than once I’ve seen her cite that very boys’ club as one of the main reasons she quit comics 15 years ago.

Because, hey, remember that? JULIE DOUCET QUIT COMICS, a fact that’s conveniently omitted from both the NYT article and D&Q’s seven-zillion page celebration of itself, which we’ll get to soon enough.

Another thing about the NYT piece I noticed was its weird sexist remarks from Peggy Burns—a woman I admire. “Women just naturally gravitate toward our list,” she said, as though female readers aren’t also gravitating toward, say, superhero comics or manga. “We [D&Q] like personal, sincere storytelling. When you boil it down to that, you’re going to have more female authors.”

(So, she’s saying…women like stories? And also women make the best storytellers? I’m reminded of the time I asked my mom to help me plan the menu for a co-ed baby shower. “Make cookies,” my mom told me. “Men like cookies.” I was like, mom, everyone likes cookies. Cookies are so delicious! “Trust me. Men like cookies.”)

But the thing in that article that really really caught my eye was the brief appearance of a totally fabricated statistic: that D&Q’s “list tends to be 50-50, male-female.” I don’t know if the author got those numbers from Burns, feminist spokesman Seth, or elsewhere, but I can tell you that she didn’t get them from the gender breakdown of D&Q’s actual catalog, which looks much more like 75-25.

I think if you know anything about this industry, “tends to be 50-50” sounds sort of dubious. But as it happened, when I saw those numbers in the NYT article, I didn’t feel doubt; I simply knew them to be false. Just days before, I’d had a long conversation about D&Q with my friend Tahneer Oksman, who is a comics scholar. In preparing a review of their anniversary tome for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Tahneer had taken it upon herself to do a straightforward tally of D&Q’s contributors, who are listed in the index. She had shared with me her as-of-then unpublished findings: only 25 percent of D&Q’s contributors were women.

I’ve since taken a closer look at that index and I’d like to give you a sense of what I found. (Disclaimer: I’m a math-phobic person with a phone calculator and a case of the flu, not Nate Fucking Silver, so I inevitably screwed something up along the way. The raw data is available to anyone with a copy of the book.) I didn’t doubt Tahneer, but I wanted to make sure the “one in four” statistic held true whichever way you sliced it—e.g., whether or not you factored in anthologies, or looked at the number of titles (or even page counts) instead of the number of creators. I also wanted to make sure that the stat hadn’t changed drastically over time (starting slow and steadily building to 50-50 over the 25 years, or something like that).

Haha, nope. The flat truth is there have never been very many women creators at Drawn & Quarterly. Looking at their catalog as a whole (not counting anthologies), 73 percent of its creators are men. If you analyze the gender breakdown by number of titles or page output, that number creeps even higher; men’s titles account for 78 percent of both D&Q’s catalog and total page count.

Together, Chester Brown, Seth, Joe Matt, and Adrian Tomine have more titles to their names than all women, ever, who’ve been published by Drawn & Quarterly. If you add the works of Shigeru Mizuki, the total number of pages from just those five dudes is nearly equal to the output of all women, ever, who’ve been published by D&Q. And so on.

(A quick note on methodology: titles with more than one creator were counted once for each creator. Also, though I didn't factor it in, it's perhaps worth noting that at least 15 percent of female creators' total page output wasn't comics-related [e.g.,  hefty volumes like The WORN Archive and Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie books].)

If you look at the breakdown by year, D&Q has achieved gender parity just three times in its 25-year history: at the beginning in 1991 (50 percent), and at the end in 2013 (47 percent) and 2014 (53 percent). There were three additional years when they achieved 30 percent or higher—1992 (30 percent), 1993 (38 percent) and 2012 (37 percent).

Otherwise, the numbers are pretty abysmal. As recently as 2011, D&Q’s list was just 7 percent women—two of the 27 titles they published that year. For an 11-year stretch from 1996 to 2006, they published no more than four women per year. For five of those years (2000-2004), they published just one woman. In 2005, they published zero.

Sadly, in the landscape of comics publishing, that’s enough to put D&Q ahead of pretty much everyone else, at least among publishers of similar or larger size. To return to my pal's original finding: at Drawn & Quarterly, one cartoonist in every four is a woman. That's certainly a far better showing than we get from the Big Two, where that number is something like one in six or seven (a ratio that becomes way worse if you consider their catalogs holistically instead of as a present-day snapshot). And if I may hazard a guess, it is also a much better showing than D&Q’s alt-comics counterpart, Fantagraphics. By a lot.

On the other hand, one in four is still very poor—and it's hardly a "list [that] tends to be 50-50, male-female." That anyone would perceive an average of 25 percent as a history of equality speaks to the extent of the problem of gender disparity in comics.

So how does a publisher with a roster like that get labeled as a “Champion of Female Cartoonists” by a newspaper of record? Since the piece was about the publisher’s legacy, it doesn’t strike me as another example of mainstream media packaging fraught conversations about diversity in comics as a trend. Instead, it is a myth that started (so far as I can tell) in the pages of the D&Q anthology itself, and has since been ratified by industry publications that have heaped praise upon it. Having  now appeared in an “objective” source like the NYT, that myth looks a lot more like history.

You could argue, as some have, that the anthology is a glorified product catalog, and such bias is understandable and to be expected. But you could also argue—sorry, I will argue—that the opening essay has Jeet Heer’s name on it as a researcher. I don’t know the writer, Sean Rogers, from Adam (no disrespect intended), but Heer is a trained historian, which to me sets an expectation that what I’m about to read is not straight publicity. Squint at the introduction to their anniversary book and you might get the impression that D&Q single-handedly invented graphic novels, feminist cartoonists, and autobiographical comics. Why? Their real accomplishments would have been impressive enough.

Opening that beautiful brick of a book, I was fascinated to learn about the feminist agenda laid out by founder Chris Oliveros  in his “defiant editorial” from D&Q no. 1. The introductory essay describes how Oliveros “lament[ed] the fact that the world of comics was ‘a private boys’ club’ producing work that ‘very few women actually read.’”

Presumably, the boys’ club that Oliveros so despised was the same one that Julie Doucet would later reference as one of the reasons she decided to quit comics. It seems to me, then, that Oliveros’ so-called feminist agenda failed by his own standard, but you’d never know that from reading the anthology. “D&Q was dedicated to making inroads against the gender imbalance in comics,” Rogers writes. “In the years to come, that effort would only redouble.”

Like…how, exactly? Doucet was the closest that D&Q ever had to a totem woman, and she wasn’t there all that long. Meanwhile, Seth has published nigh on a thousand Palookavilles, Chester Brown has nearly half as many titles to his name as ALL the women of D&Q combined, and Adrian Tomine just farted out the most acclaimed graphic novel of 2015.

Not for nothing, those three men aren’t D&Q’s top sellers. The publisher’s moneymakers, according to the NYT piece, are all women—Lynda Barry, Kate Beaton, and Tove Jansson. Those three careers look very different than Seth’s, Brown’s, and Tomine’s. I’m delighted that Lynda Barry found a home at D&Q (and I haven’t given them enough credit for the vision they’ve shown in reviving her career), but the fact is she came to them fully formed as an artist. So did Kate Beaton, who came to D&Q having already established a huge audience with her web comics. Poor old Tove Jansson was literally dead when D&Q started (re)publishing her Moomin books. Those working relationships are each valuable and important in their own way, but they’re not quite the same thing as nurturing a cartoonist across a career. Why hasn’t D&Q formed any long-term relationships with female cartoonists that resemble the ones they have with Seth or Brown or Tomine…or Anders Nilsen or Guy Delisle? Shouldn’t a Champion of Female Cartoonists be doing stuff like that?

Back when the NYT article ran in June, I (respectfully) raised some of these questions on Twitter. I was immediately delisted by Drawn & Quarterly, which means they no longer mail me any advance copies of their books.

With interest, I have noted that both industry and mainstream outlets' coverage of D&Q in this, their anniversary year, reads a lot like a press release. (The aforementioned LARB piece and this review by Rob Clough are notable exceptions.) I was surprised when the only commentary I saw on that piece in the NYT came from Heidi MacDonald, writing at The Beat. “It makes a ton o’ sense,” she declared, before going on to make what could have been an interesting comparison between the photo from the article (a grid featuring four women and two men) and a 2004 NYT Magazine cover that featured five male cartoonists (who were all contributors to D&Q.) Her conclusion? “The above photo from the article also kind of pulls the blanket for naptime over this story from 11 years ago.” Like this whole gender imbalance thing was just a problem that comics has overcome in its maturity.

Drawn & Quarterly is one of the best publishers of comics in the world—my favorite, in fact. In writing this, I don’t wish to detract from its importance to comics, which is huge, or its feminist legacy, which is real (even if it doesn’t much resemble the one it has claimed). I’m just weary of this pervasive and damaging myth that we’ve achieved gender parity in alt comics. Sure, D&Q has published more women than its counterparts, but that bar is very low.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

With pound in hand: December comic and graphic novel releases

Picking out the cream of this month's releases, in graphic novels, collected editions and anything else notable (please note- release dates are subject to change).

PICK OF THE MONTH: Assassination Classroom 7 by Yusei Matsui, Viz: December can be a sparse month for new releases - everything's usually out pre-holiday rush to ensure maximum visibility and availability- but there are still quite a few treasures to be sought in the comics-sphere. For an indication of how highly I regard Assassination Classroom, I read the first 6 books on a borrowed basis and then went out and purchased them for myself. Japanese comics are unsurpassed when it comes to taking a ridiculous premise and anchoring it with emotion and depth. The premise here is that a strange, yellow octopus-like being has blown up most of the moon and is threatening to do the same to Earth. There's a chance for reprieve, however, as the smiley-faced mischief-maker has set the governments of Earth a challenge: if for one year he is allowed to teach the students of class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High School, they will be free to try and assassinate him within that time-frame, thus saving the Earth. Of course, much of all this is secret, so as not to cause world-wide panic, making those best-placed to assassinate 'Koro-sensei' the students of 3-E themselves, their motivations bolstered by a promised reward of ¥10 billion from the Ministry of Defense. Only, class 3-E is the 'loser/misfit' class, and their new teacher is one of the first to pay them any real attention and genuinely care about them as individuals. Under his tutelage they're learning more, developing as people, and even coming together as a class. 

It's a funny, entertaining, and reassuringly affirming series that's been a highlight of my year, and I'm really looking forward to this 7th installment. If you haven't come on board yet, now is probably a great time to ask for the first 2 or 3 books for Christmas.

Punks Git Cut by Jay Howell, Last Gasp: I'm a big fan of Jay Howell's (he's best known for designing the Bob's Burgers characters and working on Sanjay and Craig), but have never had the opportunity to own any of his zines or work. So this collection from Last Gasp is very welcome indeed. It contains reprints of his zines 'Punks Git Cut', 'The Dark Wave', 'Let Me Tell You Where/ Where Not To Stick It', 'Dogs and Dog Information', 'Pages from Books Vol. 1', 'Wicked Wendy,' a shedload of drawings, and lots more.

The Hero book 2 by David Rubin, Dark Horse: The concluding volume in David Rubin's diptych retelling of the life of Hercules: 'In ancient Greece the first superhero was born. Heracles, the son of Zeus, came into the world with strength, charm, and a fighting spirit. The Hero Book Two continues David Rubín's epic tale of Heracles in a postmodern look at the Twelve Labors and the champion's fateful doom. The story delves deep into his life, revealing those who would wish him harm on his meteoric rise to stardom, his tumultuous love affairs, and his incredibly heroic feats.' I found the first book interesting in many ways, particularly in how Rubin aligns the mythic with the contemporary: the inclusion of modernity (fast cars, technology), and blending god-like 'powers' with sci-fi; the almost ironic deconstruction of the hero as celebrity, and more. And it all comes packaged in this colourful, cartoony-cool sheen. It's definitely worth checking out, and I'm curious to see how the story goes, and what more it has to say.

Ariol book 7 Top Dog by Marc Boutavant and Emmanuel Guibert, Papercutz: Simply too charming to resist, thanks to Marc Boutavant's absolutely delightful cartooning. The great thing about the Ariol books is that they can be enjoyed in any order: each volume consists of roughly 10 short comic stories, each of which are generally self-standing. Ariol is a young donkey, who hangs around with his pig-friend Romano, and dreams of classmate, pretty cow Petula -all in between school, visits to the dentist, and going away with his grandparents. It's always a pleasure when there's a new Ariol out to savour. 'Ariol’s schoolteacher Mr. Blunt is top dog. A big spaniel with glasses, he never shaves very well but he’s never boring. He always has some nice, little story or game to suggest to make his lessons understandable. In fact, open your notebooks and grab a pencil, you’ll see.'

Steven Universe: Too Cool for School by Jeremy Sorese and Coleman Engle, KaBoom: The trade paperback of the first Steven Universe comic sold like  hotcakes at the comic-book shop at which I worked, and no doubt this new original graphic novel (it's not been serialised like the other), 'Too Cool for School,' will follow suit.  Written by Jeremy Sorese and illustrated by Coleman Engle it promises dodgeball, teachers, and food fights, as it takes a closer look at the friendship between Steven and Connie, and what happens when Steven tags along with Connie to school one day (there's a reason Steven doesn't regularly attend school with humans.) Rebecca Sugar has created a show, characters and universe that truly resonates with many thanks to its optimistic, yet head-on approach to many contemporary issues, and these comics do a great job of capturing that core essence. An all-new Steven Universe book is not to be sniffed at!

Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente, Image: Launched in 2013 as pay-what-you-want digital comic, Brian K. Vaughan's, Marcos Martin's and Muntsa Vincente's story is now finished and collected in a hefty landscape hardback, courtesy of Image Comics. I'm notoriously rubbish at keeping up with digital comics, although the first couple of issues that I did buy of this -about an investigator being set up for murder- I liked well enough. It seems much of the noise around The Private Eye was more to do with the format and manner of its release and publication, and I've read little about the actual comic -which is fine with me. Interested to get around to it. 'Set in an inevitable future of where everyone has a secret identity, The Private Eye is an eerily prescient sci-fi mystery about an unlicensed private investigator who stumbles onto the most important case of his life. The series is set in 2076, a time after "the cloud has burst", revealing everyone's secrets. As a result, there is no more Internet, and people are excessively guarded about their identity, to the point of appearing only masked in public.'

Also releasing: Batman: The Doom that came to Gotham b Mike Mignola and Richard Pace, The Puma Blues by Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli, The Quest for the Time Bird  Serge Le Tendre and Régis Loisel

Monday, 30 November 2015

Snapshot thoughts: Holding together the Kingpin's humanity in patterned waistcoats

Published in 1986, Frank Miller's and Bill Sienkiewicz's Daredevil: Love and War is an often overlooked dissection of male pathology and power in superhero comics- most specifically with regards to the roles and treatment of women. Vanessa Fisk, wife of Kingpin Wilson Fisk, lies comatose, having suffered a psychological break that leaves her unable to speak. Having exhausted a variety of medical avenues, a desperate Kingpin orders the kidnapping of Cheryl Mondat, wife of prominent, specialist psychologist, Dr. Mondat, using her capture as the incentive in his forced treatment of Vanessa. Kristian Williams penned an illuminating essay on the book and its central themes last year, and that's not ground I wish to retread. Instead, this piece aims to examine Love and War in its function as a fundamental character study of the Kingpin as a sympathetic figure, and the manner in which Sienkiewicz uses the extremity of his size in tandem with his sartorial choices to bring about this distinctive portrayal. 

Clothes are regularly used as markers of personality, and a facet of identification. Clothes can be an extension of culture, of function, an expression of self (even in choosing not to), a response to external conditions such as weather, or occasion; a way of marking out position and responsibility. In superhero comics, this is enforced via the notion of costume. Villains and heroes are given costumes that denote their respective traits, the familiar repetition of which aligns suggested ideologies in the reader's mind, whilst also making them easy to pick out on the page. This usage of costume -as ostensibly a uniform -presents a delineation and safety in roles. The rules and utilisation of these psychologies and implications shifts from world to world. In Superman, the Man of Steel is clad in bright, clean primary colours: a bold blue and red. Solid, unambiguous colours: a beacon combination that can be seen from far, that has nothing to hide. Superman's main antagonist, Lex Luthor, is generally clad in suits of black, or sometimes green and purple. The green reflects the inherently jealous nature of his relationship with Superman, who he views as a usurper of his rightful 'favourite son' position, and the purple his delusions of regality and grandeur. When Luthor wears a black suit, we recognise him as representing the homogenised, relentless nature of a very human evil: the corrupt, corporate, capitalist kind.

As a basic cultural construct, suits are inherently establishment: symbolic of authority and respectability (the earliest iteration of the formal suit was introduced by King Charles II as a uniform for men of the English court). The status of the suit has morphed from aspirational item, the donning of which would lead to the attainment of a desirable social standing via job, home, car, etc.; to a more ambiguous -and negative- icon of imposed homogenisation and repressed individuality, equated to a an idealistic and literal selling out. It's not the objectives themselves that have fallen out of favour over the years, but a questioning of the game: the methods, the system, 'the man.' From natty dressing in con capers, to the ubiquitous black-suited hoarde in a martial arts movie, the suit today reflects a colour-wheel of criminal activity, from embezzlement, to murder, and everything in between. On an intrinsic level, a suit is suspicious; it hides true intent and meaning, even as it purports to convey it. To a more simplified degree, a suit serves as shorthand for bad or evil. So it lends Luthor a sheen of credibility as a businessman whilst simulatenously rendering him dubious for being a cog of the quo (the irony of subversion). The suit, too, is a costume. Interestingly, Bruce Wayne is able to manipulate the the facade and associations of being 'just another suit' (much as Clark Kent does, albeit on a different, 'grunt' level) as the bland anonymity behind which he hides his Batman identity. He's passed over as shallow and stupid, a clueless trust-fund playboy, another in the mould of many. Wayne's real 'black suit,' the 'bat suit,' is altogether more individual and defining.

There are a few determining facets that mark the Kingpin as a 'bad guy.' He's bald,  huge in size, and wears suits -or formal attire. Both the absence of head hair as a malevolent signifier, and the aligning of fat as grotesque, speak to the distrust and fear of anyone beyond the confines of conventional standards of appearance. Fundamentally, his being bald and incredibly fat is used to induce repulsion and menace. At the same time, he's afforded a singular, undeniable physical presence. Sienkiewicz makes little attempt at realistic proportions with the Kingpin: his girth is vast, looming, and impossible; his head floating somewhere within his body like an afterthought, his face moon-like. His features are close and barely scrutable; brow, eyes, a nose and mouth. The smooth dome curvature of his head and body bring to mind a writ-to-life  Humpty Dumpty: both the widely reinforced egg personification, and the cannon to which the rhyme originally refers, are an apt fit. The Kingpin's size is a constant, overt reminder and manifestation of his power and threat, but here it is largely tempered by a sense of poise, and grace, almost. His posture and carriage are similarly held. At no point does he seems weighed down or hindered by his flesh. It bothers other people, and he is aware of this effect; acting as a mirror to their ugliness; using it to intimidate, impose. Before he does anything, seeing the Kingpin is enough; half the job done. Every fold of flesh makes him him, and the Kingpin knows this better than anyone. 

For the vast majority of the story, Kingpin is shown seated. At Vanessa's bedside, at a desk, cross-legged on the floor. He's depicted in neutral repose: sat vigil, helpless; his arms in his lap, fingers laced. Head bowed. He stands to smooth Vanessa's hair and sits back down again. There are stretches where the reader is left with him, the prone, silent figure of Vanessa, and his internal monologue. He appears vulnerable; frustrated and angry at his wife's suffering and his inability to ease it. In these quiet passages in Vanessa's soft-hued bedroom, the eye is drawn to the focal point of visual interest: Kingpin's waistcoats. Throughout, his shirts are white, the trousers black, but the waistcoats are unique: brightly coloured and vividly patterned. Expected monotony is broken up by an implication of personal style that humanises him further. The patterns on his waistcoat aren't what would be considered fashionable or stylish in a contemporary sense: this is reinforced in a scene where the Kingpin's waistcoat throws down with a floridly-papered wall in a fight for the reader's attention. Both the wallpaper and the waistcoat emphasise a homely, familial aspect: the patterns are dad-ish, possibly chosen by Vanessa. In another sequence lilac curtains pick out the purple fan design on a waistcoast. He fits with the soft furnishings; this is where he belongs.

It's worth noting the association of  the terms 'pulled together' and 'put together.' 'Put together' refers to an outwardly presentable appearance: clean, tidy. The Kingpin is well put together, which indicates he's put some effort and consideration into what he's wearing. 'Pulling together' is an internal act: psychological; to clear and compose the mind. The Kingpin's suits denote the veneer of legitimacy encoded within his criminal/business empire, but the absence of a jacket show that that is not the capacity in which he's operating here. Here, his clothes work to hold and contain him. Emotionally, he is bereft, but he wakes up, selects his shirt, trousers, waistcoat, tie, a watch, and shoes and puts on each one by one. This is what he would do on a normal day were Vanessa not ill, and although it is not a normal day, it has the potential to be. There is solace in the ritual of assembly, an assembly of self; a proverbial buttoning up (again harking to a litany of pervasive Victorian sensibilities and respectability politics, as an extension of manners and psyche). It is a modicum of control in a mentally tumultuous landscape. 'I hope we showed that an immovable object could be reduced to rubble emotionally, internally by that from which his size affords no protection, ' said Sienkiewicz.

Kingpin's dress sense also serves to provide a contrast in character to the sure, unassailable red streak of Daredevil: the visual switch from one to the other is harsh. Daredevil's impulsive cock-sureness and general attitude is epitomised in his ineffectual 'rescue' of Cheryl Mondat, and subsequent reckless assault on Kingpin. He flips and bounds from one to the other, in a brash, too-pat display of heroism that renders him the interloper in Kingpin's story, ambivalent of his incongruousness. As Matt Murdock, his white, open-collar shirt suggests the type of unappealing naivete that crosses into ignorance. In a book where the women are pawns to be either saved or desired; where Daredevil repeatedly has to remind himself that Cheryl Mondat is 'a married woman' (as he imprisons her -fruitlessly- for her safety); in which Dr. Mondat views the woman suddenly under his care as his 'only weapon' - a tool to manipulate to ensure his own survival, it is the Kingpin who emerges as the person closest to possessing some degree of awareness and enlightenment, as he comes to the realisation that he has stretched Vanessa beyond her limits. He rages and grieves. But he understands. Amidst the expanse of marbled swirls and deco florals, Kingpin draws upon the vestiges of humanity; of love, and selflessness, and he lets Vanessa go. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Alone 4: The Red Cairns: upheaval and revelation ahead

Bruno Gazzotti's and Fabien Vehlmann's understated tale of a world in which all people inexplicably and simultaneously vanish, leaving behind only a scattered smattering of children, gets its big moment in this fourth volume via a cliffhanger ending. The core group of children, Dodzi, Ivan, Leila, Camille, and Terry, return to their hometown after exploring nearby towns to no avail, and settle into making more long-term plans for survival. Their party is now bolstered by children who defected from the Shark Clan, including Alexander and Selena, the strange, dead-eyed blonde siblings who know more about the mass disappearance and its cause than they're letting on. For the moment, attention is focused around building a secure site, sustenance, and continuing the investigation into what prompted the vanishing. The growth of the group, however, makes it difficult for the children to keep tabs on exactly what each person is doing.

Thus far, Alone has handled its more dramatic elements well: abandoned theme-parks with a captive great white shark, young Nazi's, a boy who dresses himself in knives, animals breaking free from zoos. Despite these, it has never really peaked beyond the hill of belief, even in its slightly idealised approach in the children being able to treat wounds and handle weapons with ease. In The Red Cairns, the use of  psychically-controlled(?) monkeys kidnapping a baby as a vehicle to demonstrate the increasing estrangement between the core group of children is a weak plot device, and stretches credulity in a book that has strove to depict a grounded angle on the children-surviving-in-a-post-apocalyptic-scenario. For adults, such a situation is often presented as either utopia or chaos, but the children are so young, that a huddle of uncertainty and spurts of activity to establish safety or acquire tools and food, is the best they can manage. For them, there is no new-found concept of freedom or relishing in it. They want things to return to normal. They want the grown-ups back. 

The children's banding together has been tentative and fragile, and the influx of more people to care for burdens designated leader Dodzi with further responsibility. In the absence of conventional authority and guiding figures, it is left to the oldest children -those who have had the most time to soak up social mores and learned behaviours- to herd and decide on a course of action. This evolving portrayal of the older children -Dodzi, Ivan, and Leila- is particularly interesting, as each child brings with them a newly-thrust position of power coupled with the specifics of their background, experiences, and teachings, and the exploration of how that fostering impacts on their individual response to the situation.

The juxtaposition of Ivan and Leila who are steadily growing up in a 'normal' way, with the still-vulnerable Dodzi, for whom a form of maturity was catalysed by abusive circumstances, is poignant. The other children only see -and look up to- Dodzi's strength, and not the well of hurt and abuse from which it was painstakingly drawn. It's no surprise, then, that Dodzi struggles to balance their expectations with what being strong again means to both him -and them (dealing with fear and trauma once does not mean you want to do it again, or that you are better placed to do so). Meanwhile, Ivan slowly discovers new aspects to himself, whilst Leila seems to be moving from a strong and determined mindset to one of impatience and less empathy: short and sharp to anyone she considers slow and stupid, even as she wants better for the good of the group. The trajectory of her well-meaning but rash personality leaves her poised for manipulation. This sophisticated, gradual unfurling charcaterisation is a pleasure to see, as Vehlmann and Gazzotti continue to poke around in the question of what qualities we are equipping our children with.

Vehlmann and Gazzotti have deftly built the mystery of the vanishing, adding to its complexities little by little. The final page sequence here is genuinely shocking, and marks the story's first real game-changer, indicating upheaval and revelation ahead. Alone is an exceptional comic series, and one you should be reading.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Humanoids present Naoki Urasawa, Taiyo Matsumoto, Boulet, Bastien Vivès, Frederik Peeters, and more, in international comics anthology, The Tipping Point

Humanoids have announced details of an upcoming comics anthology that brings together an indisputably excellent line-up of international comics talent. The Tipping Point will be published simultaneously in Japan, France, the UK, and the US, and features new work from Naoki Urasawa, Taiyo Matsumoto, Boulet, Bastien Vivès, Frederik Peeters, Paul Pope, Katsuya Terada, Eddie Campbell, John Cassaday, Bob Fingerman, Atsushi Kaneko, Keiichi Koike, and Emmanuel Lepage, with a cover by Enki Bilal. It's title is elicited from the thematic brief presented to each author: 'to explore the key moment when a clear-cut split occurs, a mutation, a personal revolt or a large-scale revolution that tips us from one world into another, from one life to an entirely new one: the tipping point.' The stories range from slice-of-life,science-fiction, adventure, amusing asides and fantastical fables, and promise to be 'humorous, moving, perplexing, horrifying, pensive, uplifting, and hopeful.'

The official press release has Humanoids' publisher, Fabrice Giger commenting, "Humanoids, since its very inception 40 years ago, has always had a leitmotif of building bridges between American comic books, Japanese manga, and European bande dessinée to help them inspire each other—or better yet, to cross-pollinate. The Tipping Point does just that, and features some of the medium's best creators working today. It's a very unique and special book that will land—like a shimmering UFO invasion—simultaneously in different languages around the planet, unifying global fans of the sequential art form."

Humanoids have quietly been working on digital distribution and translation (a number of their titles are listed on Amazon in Japanese language, digital formats) via the launch of their digital app earlier this year, and this book looks to continue that reaching out to audiences around the worlds major comics markets. Whilst I'm thrilled at the prospect of reading new, full-colour work from so many of my favourite artists -Naoki Uraswa! Taiyo Matsumoto! Bastien Vives!- and the prospect of this book leading people to discover work beyond what they might normally read, in this day and age, there is no excuse for putting together an anthology that purports to collate 'some of the medium's best creators working today' and for it to be an all-male list. Discount arguments of quotas and merit: there is no shortage of excellent female cartoonists *in the world* and to not include a single one in a project that aims to showcase and cross-pollinate (and one titled The Tipping Point!) reflects very poorly indeed.

The Tipping Point is due for publication in January 2016.

Naoki Urasawa

Taiyo Matsumoto

Paul Pope

Thought Bubble 2015: bring all the people

My con report process goes something like this: 1) pre-con: I'll do a photo-post this time. Simple, effective; time-efficient. 2) Con duration: get caught up in it all and take about 10 crap pictures in the last hour of the day. 3) Post con: Perhaps a few annotations here and there; bullet-points to give it some essence. 4) Oh good lord this piece is 3000 words long, shows no signs of ending, and is as boring as fuck; end-me-now. If you've been reading any of my con reportage this year, you'll know the sheen overall has been wearing off a bit for me. I've been wondering what attending various cons can offer to the comics fan (and more specifically, to myself), as perusal of the internet can provide a similar exploration with the option of convenient purchase at the end. This year I decided I enjoyed the 2 cons I attended regularly (Thought Bubble and ELCAF) so much I'd branch out and visit more, to see what else was on offer. I ended up going to 4 cons in 2015 and it felt like 2 too many. The experiences simply weren't differentiated enough to make the time and money spent worthwhile; seeing the same things presented over and over. Unless you have particular goals in mind, I'm not sure that going to a number of events is necessary or fulfilling. I'm sure people are sick of hearing my vague ruminations on the subject, but it's something I've been turning around in my head for a good part of the year, as more comic events pop up in the UK.

So this is probably my last 'traditional' con report. I liked these two pieces I did for ELCAF and may keep on trying different angles, but I've never quite grasped what exactly I'm supposed to be reporting on: the saw this/did that formula seems inadequate and repetitive. 

Which is to say I wasn't sure how Thought Bubble would go. It's always been my favourite con (and easily the best one in the UK), but it's been an odd year in comics and as it grew closer, I couldn't help but wonder if it, too, would be affected by the subdued apprehension that seems to have marked 2015 in many ways.

To be honest, it felt like the festival benefited from that calmer atmosphere; a toning down that was helped along by the rainy weather on Saturday. Thought Bubble has gotten so big and successful that the last few years have built up a sense of 'where do we go from here' a plateauing of expectation -even though it doesn't need to go anywhere. In its 9th year (and my 6th of attending) it seems redundant to reiterate how good the festival is, but that it continues to sustain and improve upon that level of excellence is the more remarkable and noteworthy achievement. Thought Bubble knows what it is: a comics festival that celebrates the medium and its associated arts; where you can find people like Scott Snyder, David Aja, Emma Rios, Bengal, alongside Kate Beaton, Farel Dalrymple, Noelle Stevenson, and Joan Cornella; with collectives like Comic Book Slumber Party, and British cartoonists galore: Lucie Ebrey, Dan Berry, Joe Decie, Becca Tobin, John Allison, and so many others. And that's where its strength lies: in presenting both the omnivorous comics fan and the more casual attendee with a smorgasbord of choice, whilst embracing and bringing together various areas of comics in a manner that's open and encompassing, and reflective of the breadth of contemporary comics today. It does this; it does it consistently, and it does it very, very well. Which is a testament to the superb job Martha Julian, Clark Burscough, Biz Stringer Horne, Lisa Wood et al. do in organising the festival.

On a personal level, what Thought Bubble brought home for me this year was how much cons are about people (I know this because I made a bullet-point list of con notes and one was 'people'). For all its problems, comics still does community unlike any other field: that at its best is affirming and reciprocal; nurturing and supportive. Comics is often an isolating job or passion for many, so to have that bedrock of immediate familiarity, of shared interest and understanding, is validating -and everyone needs a degree of validation beyond what you can provide yourself. I had an amazing time and that was just courtesy of talking to, and spending time with some great people.

I'm going to quickly spotlight the 3 artists/tables I came across that were new and interesting to me, and who you should follow and be aware of, and then a bullet-point list of random recollections with a jumble of pictures thrown in. I'd recommend reading unto the spotlights- the rest is waffle.

pic credit: Lucy Halsam's Twitter

Froglump: Froglump is an art collective made up of Seekan Hui, Lucy Haslam, Lizzie Houldsworth, and Hannah Jay. The four are all currently studying illustration at Falmouth University (which seems to be doing a very good job of turning out British cartoonists) and this was their first time tabling at Thought Bubble, although they've been making appearances at various art and zine fairs throughout the year. Thanks to Tom Oldham for pointing them out to me, because at the time on Sunday I was wandering glazedly, brain kaput, without actually taking in much. Their work just looks really fresh and inviting, attentively produced; it makes you want to pick it up. It's exciting to see young artists so passionate about comics and making  (and it makes me feel OLD). Seekan Hui's folding, cut-out comic, Me-Time, about a lady getting a facial was a highlight. You can find their online store here; I'm sad I missed out on those frog stickers.

Alessandra Cresio: All these spotlight tables are ones I came across on Sunday, which is when I spent most of my money. Laura and I were both incredibly enamoured with Alessandra Cresio's table, largely due to her amazing ceramics. I ended up buying these 2 pots, but the ceramic heads and that hamsa hand were giving me starry eyes (my purse was not). Memento Bento, her Japan travel diary, which I ended up circling back for, is frankly brilliant. Travel diaries are becoming a quietly popular genre within comics, and this one is a superior example; the quality of the illustrations, photo collages, paintings, sketches, colour, production. I really wanted the Ranma 1/2 zine to which she contributed a piece, but hard choices had to be made. When I go to cons I want to see and discover things and artists I won't find in shops, and this table was a perfect island of goodness.

Kaska Gazdowna and Kaska Klas: One of the 3 books I definitely wanted to pick up -along with Dan White's new Cindy & Biscuit, and The World by Valentin Seiche- was Kupala by Polish duo Kaska Gazdowna and Kaska Klas, as I'd seen something on Tumblr about it prior to the festival. Steve patiently accompanied me as I stalked around the Teepee  on Saturday, convinced that's where they were situated, but had forgotten the name of their table and therefore couldn't locate them. Luckily, I found them on the Sunday (they were actually in the Armouries Hall) when I had a 5-year old on one hand and a 3-year old in sulky stand-off 10 yards away, and managed to snag the second to last copy of Kupala before it sold out, and was planing to come back (sans nephews) for their other book, but that too, was all gone when I returned. As far as I can tell, the stuff I'm more drawn to is by Klas, who's the artist of the book, and whose Tumblr is full of lovely work. They had an attractive table, mixed with their own original work -troll girls and woodsfolk- and fan-art stickers and prints, but the quality of the work across the board was of  a really high standard.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Eleanor Davis, Kelly Kwang, Richie Pope, Rebecca Sugar make up Youth in Decline's 2016 Frontier line-up

Youth in Decline have revealed the four cartoonists making up their Frontier line-up for 2016. Listed in order of scheduled release, they are:

Launched in 2013 from Ryan Sands, the Frontier series provides artists with a showcase for their comics or illustrations via the dedicated monograph platform. To date, it's featured some of the finest contemporary artists working in the comics and illustration fields today, including  Hellen Jo, Emily Carroll, Jillian Tamaki, Sam Alden, Becca Tobin, Michael DeForge, and more. The series is notable for its curation (via Sands) and the distinctly modern feel and outlook of both that, and the work contained within. My personal highlights have been Hellen Jo's ridiculously good collection of girl gang paintings, and Jillian Tamaki's Sex Coven; an internet mythology from earlier this year. I appreciate, too, how the books are the focus of the Youth in Decline imprint in a streamlined way, with a direct and effective marketing approach and little need for anything else.

It seems the line-up for Frontier gets stronger with each passing announcement; the pages above are excerpted from the first book due for release, Davis' adult-only comic, titled BDSM. It looks like that may see Davis continue her fun and affirming sex comics after her mini, Fuck Wizards, and several related illustrations. I'm especially pleased to see Richie Pope will be creating a new, full colour comic; his work is so thoughtful and considered in a way that feels organic and sophisticated. I wrote about him being one of my artistic highlights in 2014: 'It's always gratifying to come across work that is quite distinctive in style and positively so- not only does it set the artist apart, but the reader feels as if they're getting something new from the experience. In that vein, Pope's style feels at once timeless and fresh.' I hope this book will sic more people on to his talent. Kelly Kwang's name is new to me, but a visit of her Tumblr will most likely get people quickly on board. Rebecca Sugar is, of course, the creator of the hugely popular Steven Universe cartoon show; it's been a while since she's done a comic, and I imagine there'll be a lot of interest surrounding her return to the medium.

Youth in Decline will be running their annual subscription drive from Nov 23 - Jan 10, that offers people the opportunity to buy the bundle of all four books at a discounted price, in addition to receiving subscription-only extras such as stickers, patches and so forth. Otherwise all books will be listed online closer to their allocated release dates, and available to purchase in person at whichever show they're due to debut at.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Katsuhiro Otomo to attend Angouleme 2016 as festival president, with conference, tribute exhibition and book

Katsuhiro Otomo became the first Japanese author to be awarded the Grand Prix prize at French comics festival, Angouleme, earlier this year. The award, bestowed to an author for a body of work, functions as a life-time achievement/hall of fame prize of sorts, but is unique in that the winner is given duties of president for next year's festival, in addition to their work being the subject of a large exhibition. In addition, where the winner is an artist and cartoonist -and not solely a writer- they are also requested to produce artwork for the official festival poster; you may recall Bill Watterson designed this comic strip effort for the 2015 festival after wining the Grand Prix in 2014, although he did not attend the festival itself. Today sees the revealing of Otomo's poster (pictured above), a watercolor piece evoking classical Chinese paintings and dotted with comic iconography: a mountainous Tintin, Moebius' Arzach soaring on high, the immediately recognisable red splash of Kaneda's motorbike, and more. 

Most noteworthy is the news that Otomo will also deliver a 2-hour long talk discussing the development and creation of Akira, his work, and influences, in what will no doubt be a highly anticipated event.  French publishers Glénat, in partnership with Angouleme, are organising an exhibition in tribute to Otomo; tapping 40 international cartoonists to create original art inspired by the author an his work; and publishing a special exhibition book/album collecting all the tribute contributions. Whilst the tribute exhibition sounds nice (and the Angouleme website suggests more news yet to be announced), it would be fantastic to see a show -even one of a small size- of Otomo's own work, as a more rigorous, visible celebration for both his achievement and all those attending (the opportunity to see what makes him so good in a dedicated way) - although that's no doubt dependent on the status of his originals and negotiations surrounding their travel and display.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Things We Cannot See

By Kim O'Connor

One Saturday night not so long ago I thumbed through King-Cat #75, a comic that celebrates the 25th anniversary of a series I’ve never read and the life of a cat I never knew. Crashing in on a serialized work that late in the game, I wasn’t convinced it would (or even should) feel like a standalone work of art. I also thought there was a real chance it would be bad. It’s not that I’m skeptical of John Porcellino’s talent. (I liked The Hospital Suite.) But let’s be honest: the death of a pet is a shaky dramatic premise. It’s gutting, for sure, but at the same time it’s not quite a legitimate reason to miss work. When a subject carries weight, but not gravitas, there’s a lot of room for the story to skew maudlin or self-indulgent.

As it turns out, King-Cat #75 is deeply flawed, and it is also very good. What’s interesting is that it isn’t good in spite of its flaws. It’s good because of them.

The star of this comic is Porcellino’s cat, Maisie, and the artist does an incredible job of endearing her to readers straightaway.

Key to her characterization is not just her sweetness, but also her idiosyncratic relationship with Porcellino—their little routines and in-jokes.

He also provides a good mix of details about Maisie’s personality, describing peculiarities (her love of beans and pineapple) alongside traits (like volatility) that will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever had a cat. I think the formula is that cats are one part eccentric…

One part mystery…

And two parts Everycat.

Reading about Maisie, I thought about many cats I’ve known: Renzo, who guards the entrance of his IKEA play tent with the air of a warlord; Bosey, who spent his days chirping at birds through the French glass doors leading out to my mother’s patio; Monkey, who has burrowed like a ferret inside my friend Fran’s couch; and Eddie, who sits on top of other cats when he wants to steal their patch of sunlight. But mostly I thought about Tippy.

When I was a freshman in college, my old friend Wendy turned up at my dorm room with two kittens from the shelter in our hometown. One was for her, and one was Tippy. I can’t imagine why she thought a kitten would make a good present for a person whose home was half of a glorified storage closet. Milner Hall was strictly no-pets, and I couldn’t have cared less. Like a pony but less fancy, Tippy was an impractical fantasy gift in the best possible way. He fit in my palm and slept in my hair.

In his essay “The Youth in Asia,” David Sedaris observes our tendency to use the occasion of a pet’s passing to mourn the passage of time itself. “With the death of a pet, there’s always that urge to crowd the parentheses and string black crepe paper over an entire 10- or 20-year period,” he writes. “The end of my safe college life, the last of my 30-inch waist, my faltering relationship with my first real boyfriend. I cried for it all.”

Porcellino’s frenetic attempt to “crowd the parentheses” is palpable in this comic. The pacing problem I noted in my review of The Hospital Suite is much, much worse in King-Cat #75—to great effect. Maisie bears witness to a lot of Porcellino’s life in these 48 pages. We watch him go through three major relationships (including the dissolution of at least one marriage), a near-fatal illness, the death of his father, and too many cross-country moves to count—and through it all, Maisie is by his side, or in his lap.

Watching Porcellino and his dad drive to Denver, I thought of the time my parents helped me move to Chicago. I was crammed in with the pet taxi in the tiny backseat of my father’s truck for the 11-hour drive. I had an unspeakable hangover, and Tippy cried the whole fucking way.

I’d been living in England until the software company where I worked laid off a third of us. Tippy and I had spent a few months home in Tennessee, and now he was coming with me to graduate school. I hadn’t yet met the guy I’d be sharing an apartment with, but when I’d sent him a picture of the cat, he joked that Tippy should pay rent. I was sad and worried about a lot of things at that time in my life, but in that moment I decided everything would be all right.

When I was a child I thought of adulthood as this static thing that involved wearing perfume and having the same flush-faced couple over for dinner every month or two. From that vantage I could not yet see how, in the fullness of time, things change. From real personal upheaval to the slow process of watching old friends turn into strangers, I spent many years of my adult life vaguely worried I was doing everything wrong. I’ve since come to realize that, much like the people in Jurassic Park build a precarious world around the lie that dinosaurs aren’t dangerous, part of adult life is a sort of low-grade pretending that humans aren’t fickle and fragile. They die or they marry or move; they have kids or drug problems or demanding jobs. Inevitably, there will be people you care about who will, without warning, peer out at you from photos like missing persons off the back of a milk carton. It’s not okay, but it’s fine. It’s part of it.

King-Cat #75 captures the secret transience of adulthood, particularly the period of personal upheaval and disorientation that is, for many of us, our twenties. It captures, too, the way in which a pet—a devoted sidekick that loves you unconditionally—helps smooth those rocky transitions. When Tippy died, I remember thinking how he’d vetted every boy I’d ever loved and remained, unlike them, a shared point of reference for all my friends from my hometown, college, and Chicago—the only creature who had straddled those three versions of my life.           

Maisie died in 2007, which means that King-Cat #75 was crafted with real emotional distance. This story’s lack of tidiness, then, seems like an aesthetic choice more than a byproduct of grief. Porcellino’s memories feel fresh, even raw, but they are not unconsidered. This combination is rare in autobio, where much work falls on either end of the spectrum between fussy and deliberately unrefined.

Even beyond autobio, the mechanics of memory is a concept in comics that’s easily over-or undercooked. I found Chris Ware's Building Stories to be a charming and elegiac reading experience. But I remain unconvinced by the assertions—by both critics and Ware himself—that it was a comic that replicates the experience of human memory. Building Stories works on a lot of levels, but exo-consciousness or whatever you wish to call it isn’t one of them. Our memories are dumb, sentimental, blunt-force instruments; they aren’t nuanced or bloodless, even if the “truth” behind them is.

There is a world of difference between exploring memory as an intellectual concept and the visceral experience of having one. A few artists—Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel—walk the line. For example, in Are You My Mother? and Fun Home, Bechdel used her penchant for cold analysis to forge an emotional connection with her parents. Years ago, during an interview, we had an exchange I often think about.

KO: Maybe what appears to someone else as distancing yourself from life is actually bringing you in closer?
AB: I think so. I feel like that’s kind of what this whole book [Are You My Mother?] is about, this very cerebral detached effort to get in touch with my feelings, to express love, which are things I can’t do easily in a direct way. I have to do them through these contortions of memoir.

Porcellino strikes me as Bechdel’s opposite; his expressions of love are plain and direct. Like Phoebe Gloeckner, he makes aggressively processed comics that come across as unmediated, almost untouched, because of the vivid way in which they convey lived experience. Often, autobio ends up being about process—all those layers of fraught consciousness about how to best convey an experience and the cost of putting it on the page. With Porcellino and Gloeckner, those struggles are invisible to us (which is not to say they don’t exist). These artists aren’t invested in their own cleverness; they don’t ask readers to think about their stories so much as to feel them.
That experience of “being” Porcellino carries all the way through the final design element of King-Cat #75, his hand-lettered note on the back cover.

There is no period, no resolution, no satisfaction of the full stop. Like the process of grief itself, the note is as open-ended. Though Maisie died some eight years before the comic was published, Porcellino still finds one of her hairs from time to time—a reminder that’s small, unexpected, and affecting, much like his note. 

Anyone in autobio worth their salt can show their story. I think John Porcellino’s work is about the things we cannot see. I know that sounds vague. Having ugly-cried one Saturday night not so long ago for the death of his Maisie and the Tipster and I guess the inevitable demise of every cat I’ve ever known, I can only tell you it’s real. The small earthly act of sitting on my couch with someone’s stapled-together comic. A feeling life is big enough to hold who we were, who we are now, and maybe who we’ve yet to be.

Comics shelfie: Yumi Sakugawa

A new month, a new comics shelfie entry. Today, the excellent Yumi Sakugawa (Never Forgets, I Thin I Am In Friend Love With You) talks us through her bookshelves and a selection of works that were of significance to her. Sakugawa is one of my favourite cartoonists (and yes, I have a lot of favourite cartoonists, because we live in a comics-talent rich time, and I have a lot of love to give), largely because of her ability to run a wide gamut in subject; discussing art, creativity, identity, the self, popular culture, relationships, and more, in a holistic manner that's both easily engaging and meaningful. I like how the form and style of her comics is a cleaner, refined iteration of a traditional alt-comics method, whilst the content remains distinctly contemporary. But over to Yumi for the main business:

'I just moved into a small apartment earlier this year so I had to let go of a lot of books. I don’t have the physical space of having a huge comic collection for the moment, so all of my comics need to fit within a few rows and share space with my art books, novels, nonfiction, self-help literature, travel books and other genres of books. In my home office, I also have this neglected to-read pile of comics I’ve accumulated from the last several comic festivals I’ve attended that I probably won’t have time to dive into until the end of this year. I’ve been reading Japanese manga since I was a kid, but I didn’t really get into indie comics until late high school. Over a decade later, I regret letting go of my complete Sailor Moon manga collection.

I honestly thought of cleaning up the bookshelf more properly before taking the photo, but then decided that that would be an inaccurate snapshot of my state of mind right now.