Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Zine watch: fashion, style, magical girls, coffee, feathers: dreams all

Ryan Cecil Smith self-publishes the bulk of his work, and what I like most about it is that he pays as much attention to the comic/zine as a product in and of itself; print as an object,  as well as how that interacts with the material and content within. It means that by now he's become an expert at crafting each individual work, and it's in a class of it's own at the moment. Comics and zines are ingrained in DIY culture, and while on the one hand that equates to accessibility in making, it's not always to be conflated with cheap, or a lack of thought and care with regards to design and aesthetic. Style and Fashion Zine, the first in what Smith intends to be a monthly zine, is another gorgeous production with a navy, gold-embossed half-cut protective cover (under which the full cover lies), and special needle-and-thread binding. 

In his introduction, Smith talks about how he's been inspired by people-watching in Japan where he lives; observing the effort and care which people pay in presenting themselves, and appreciating getting to see this kaleidoscope of clothes and fashions and colours. There's something unique in style and clothes in that they can serve as an extension or facet of identity and personality, as a means of identifying yourself with groups or subcultures or professions- you can construct an deconstruct something via clothes. Here, Smith and Graeme McNee record some of the many people, fashions and trends they see around them, almost as an homage to street fashion, and those who make you look twice.

I love this zine so much: I enjoy looking at clothes and styles anyway, but here the alternative presentation from commercial fashion is nice- it's not telling you what to wear or avoid, what you should buy, but revelling in those who take the time to put themselves together in a specific way. There's lots of detail and annotations to pore over: materials, patterns, cuts, accessories, shoes, and Cecil Smith is really good at incorporating environment and place which he sees as intrinsically linked with Japanese expression by way of fashion. It gives you a greater feel for the people and the spaces in which these observations are taking place; the people are part of the place and vice versa, and that's reflected in  their clothes somewhat. So you've got coffee shop interiors on which little figures are walking, double page architectural spreads of buildings- I'm not sure but those minimal lines may be McNee, whose simple outline shapes (seen above) are reminiscent of cutout cardboard 'dress up' dolls, and offset and balance Smith's more energetic, loose textures really well. 

I like too, that all ages are represented, not just a specific spectrum. There's a 'what's trending' section: chester coats, chelsea boots, overalls, rucksacks, black wide brimmed hats, wearing your knit cap on the tippy top of your head, collar bling. There's a style spotlight feature on a man who works at a clothes store which focuses on how friendly and welcoming he always is. Most of all I like that other people's creativity and pleasure in their clothes has led to more creativity and obvious enjoyment on Smith and McNee's behalf, which trickles down to the reader. 

Your interest level in this probably correlates with your interest in fashion (otherwise buy something called fashion and style zine); I definitely enjoy looking at what other people and sometimes attempting to translate it to something I could perhaps emulate in my own way. I used to pay a lot more attention to what I wear -I was more into prettier things at one pint- lace, floral, embellishments- and it definitely helped make me feel more confident about myself, and still does when I put in the time and effort; paying attention to yourself in any way generally makes you feel good, it's that simple. Today I'm less about pretty, but more about slouchy or boxy shapes or clean lines (which is hard to achieve when you've got an arse stubbornly disproportionate to the rest of you). In the mornings I just want to pull on things and be at work.  I  think if you wear a hijab, outfits can be that much trickier to pull together- it's one more colour, or one more pattern to incorporate, and you'r losing the advantage of how a lot of colours would look against your colouring. so where pink looks and purples and reds look good against black hair, when it's covered the colours have only my face to bounce off of, which brings out all the wrong, unflattering tones. Clothes are something I've  been wanting to get back to again this year, and this has helped me along; I really hope Smith can continue with the zine-a-month idea. 

Steven Weismann's Mutiny on the Mousey is simply a perfectly conceived and executed little idea. Charming and tongue-in-cheek, the story of a young cat who excitedly embarks on a his very first voyage with Captain Joe the mouse (a distant cousin of his mother's, hmm) to see the world and make a better cat out of himself, only to find himself exploited and bullied at every turn. These events are narrated in epistolary/diary form, as cat finds himself subjected to further despair and hardship. The bright orange/turquoise/black colours are jaunty and eye-catching, while the little sketchy doodles accompanying the diary entries are expressively amusing.  The design and art is bold, the inscriptions in elaborate, fancy typeface adding comedic punch : 'rats' 'bottoms up!'. And all the while you wait for cat to realise that Captain Joe is actually much, much smaller than him (even though, to be honest, you have to admire Captain Joe's chutzpah)... So much fun, and the manner in which Weismann manages to pack in a whole, robust experience into a shorter format is superb.

What I love about Evah Fan's work is that its intensely visual, not in that there's a lot to look at in terms of hyper-detail or so forth, but that it relies solely on looking and absorbing: so in Seesaw Fidgets you have to work out what word the doodle represents, sort of like Pictionary. Her zines are often silent, or with one or two words that will play around with puns and visual connectivity and space, for which the reader has to fill in the blanks. Herring Fro Plum II is a mini-zine, small enough to sit in the palm of your hand -again the smallness of the physical object mirrors the quite whisper of the subject- which illustrates a chain of what in bigoted Britain is referred to as Chinese Whispers, but in the US, is, I believe called 'telephone' as a phrase gets contorted and misheard as it's passed on. Fan draws an image for each incarnation, often amusing and odd, as we journey from 'hearing problem' to 'surf jump mama.'

Coffee is an ode to the drink which seems to have taken over the world. I don't drink hot drinks (although I love the smell of hot chocolate and coffee); lots of people consider this deeply weird, especially in England where tea is king, but I'm very much okay with it. I don't get the fascination, but I'm able to appreciate the idea of fervent passion for anything, particularly food and drink. Fan's Coffee zine is one continuous narrative, the illustrations from page to page bound together by a spilling, flowing stream of the drink winding from one onto the next, connecting all these people, bound together by the commonality of their love for the drink, or the experience of it. Different people are shown imbibing it in various ways, as part of a morning routine, curled up with cats- even out in space. It's a lovely production, the cream, brown, and mocha colours giving it an elegant look.

The Greatest Gangster in the Galaxy by Benjamin Courtault and Tiger Man by Noa Snir
A couple of gorgeous new dream leporellos from one of my favourite endeavours- the Spanish project elmonstruodecoloresnotieneboca ('the monster of colours has no mouth'), who enlist artists to illustrate the transcribed dreams of school-children from around the world. These two complement each other nicely in relation to colour scheme, the blue, pinks and purples are all very harmonious. I find the blurred fuzziness of French artist Courtault's art appealing -and pink and white penguins waddling around!-, but the best part as always are the children's dreams- here's one from Marina: 'Today I dreamed that our food was shit. I ate and became transparent and when I went out to the street I saw nobody because all the people were transparent.' And another, more disturbing one: 'Today I dreamed that a man was in TV and he was shaving his skin with a knife. In the end he had no skin left.' Shared by 9 year old Maria. But I like that: that the dreams are relayed as they are, weird and surreal and strange and inexplicable, and the continuous, looping landscape of the leporello in capturing them all running into one another captures that really well.

Israeli artist Noa Snir's work is wonderful, lovely shapes and personality. For this leporello, the images are all one side, so you get a brilliant, long unfolding picture of what appears to be a very odd circus: pigs shooting at aliens in a galley, Betty Boop asleep in a tent, dancing cats, a monkey whizzing by on roller-skates, an ice-cream cone shaped candy stall. It's ready to be pinned straight onto a wall, and the fluorescent pink and black contrasts sharply enough to make it stand out without it being jarring. The children have very real dreams too (they're not exempt, sadly) as Vincent, 9, demonstrates with a grounding one-liner: 'Yesterday I dreamed that someone kissed my girlfriend.' But then in another, he dreamed he was a tiger-man, so I guess it's okay. I'm a huge fan of this project, and long may it, and chief organiser extraordinaire, Roger Omar, continue.

Emily Rand's In The Garden is another zine that's evidence of what you can do today with even small-scale self publishing. The pages are die-cut laminated and hand-sewn together along the spine with a red thread. Each one is a different shape and size, too, so together they form a unique layered, 3D effect, lending it texture and depth. The risographed greens are lovely and lush, and the blue cleverly used to pick out leaves and branches. It's another very simply idea, but pulled off right. It makes for a very tactile experience; as you open and turn each curved page, you feel as if you;re being further immersed in the shrubbery and foliage- you can imagine the sense of quiet, leaves and trees all around, stretching overhead -it really does create a lovely atmosphere. Amongst all this green is a small pop of colour: a red feather floating on the wind, which is what you follow from page to page to its destination. There's some fun topiary to see along the way, too. I believe Rand is making this into a series, with future titles including Under the Sea, In the Rainforest, and Above the Snowy Mountains, which I'd be more than happy to see. 

Another cool offering from the fine folk over in Sweden at Peow! Studio, Mathilde Kitteh's MGCL GRL refers to the Japanese anime and comics trope of girls who use magic, or mahou shoujo or majokko (so Wikipedia tells me). Now, I read pretty much anything, as even a brief perusal of this blog will indicate, but I really don't get/like stories with magic in them: they just don't do anything for me. I still enjoyed this, because Kitteh's art is very accomplished- she has a nice blend of that textured, cartoony realsim style going on, and some of the spreads are gorgeous. This is a faux--magazine from the magical world, with guides to help you ascertain what kind of familiar would be best suited to you, tips on where to get specific magical plants and ingredients, fashion spreads that help you best look the part, predictions for the day's events, and more. There's even a (fictional) interview with Sakura Kinomoto, from popular manga Cardcaptor Sakura, in which she discusses the triumphs, trials and tribulations of being a successful magical girl. It's very cool, fun thing, but it needs to be in the hands of the right person, as with all magical items. I appreciate that it's specific in vision and appeal, though, as are all the zines, here- I think that always pays off in creating a superior thing, and finding the audience that it will be of interest to.

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