Monday, 29 June 2015

Jane Mai on the ELCAF beat: a comic report

I was really pleased to hear that cartoonist Jane Mai would be attending this year's ELCAF as a guest of Swedish publishers, Peow! Studio, with whom Mai has published her latest book, Soft. I was glad of the opportunity to meet her (as were a lot of people over the weekend), as someone who's work I admire very much and have followed for a while. Mai has a great voice and approach that always feels fresh, interesting, and funny- real, but never sycophantic, which I think many people appreciate. I'd been thinking of changing up festival reportage, and thought she would be the perfect person to do a comics report on her ELCAF experience- luckily, she was up for it! So here you are: Jane Mai on the ELCAF beat for Comics & Cola! To see more of Jane's work, you can visit her website here, and her Tumblr here

I was able to commission this comic thanks to everyone who contributes to the Comics & Cola Patreon; if you'd like to see more comics and columns from various excellent cartoonists and writers, please consider supporting.

On the con floor at ELCAF: Talking to 10 exhibitors and attendees about their festival experience

In addition to the traditional 'here are my observations and reflections' ELCAF report this year, I thought it'd be interesting to try a couple of new approaches to comics festival coverage- an area which I've never really been satisfied with. While con reports can be interesting and informed in their own capacity, it is ultimately one perspective that's provided, and a very formulaic format to adhere to (the regular report will be published later this Wednesday). This piece doesn't re-invent the wheel, but I thought it'd be potentially insightful to collate a variety of  perspectives together in one place. To that end, I asked 10 people who attended the East London Comics Arts Festival this year -either as exhibitors or regular attendees- to discuss their experiences of the festival: share photographs, talk about their highlights, and suggest any potential points for improvement. I hope it provides perhaps a more encompassing and diverse view of things, and the different approaches and hopes different people have for events like this. I also found it illuminating to read points of convergence across accounts. My thanks to everyone here for their time and participation.

Name: José Domingo
Exhibitor or attendee: Guest author/speaker

How was your experience of ELCAF? It was my first time, and it was GREAT. I had the opportunity to meet new people, immerse myself in inspiration, connect to and promote my work within a new public. The most challenging part was to do a talk on Sunday afternoon, having to talk 60 minutes in a second language was for me a huge deal,  but it was all in all good, I think. I managed to deliver what I wanted to say and the people attending laughed a couple of times. I also did a signing session of my book at the Nobrow stand, we were doing a presale of my latest book (and my first book for kids) ‘Pablo & Jane and The Hot Air Contraption’ and it was very exciting to be presenting it for the very first time!

Name one highlight: Michael DeForge´s talk. It was super funny and very inspiring. I like very much Michael´s work and this was a great opportunity of having an insight to his work and his way of thinking through some really weird stuff he prepared for the talk.

I would also like to highlight the exhibitors, it was a huge inspiration to see so much great stuff all together, I specially enjoyed seeing the works and publications from Icinori, Planeta Tangerina, Puño and José Ja Ja Ja, Pasión Moebius, DeHavilland and Joe Hunter!

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? It was so packed with events that I wish it was  three days long instead of two! It was physically impossible to attend to everything that was going on, and specially on Sunday, the day I had my own talk and signings, I couldn´t go to the talks from Icinori, Guarnacia and Tamaki, or the workshop my buddy Diaz-Faes was doing. I also missed the talk of Wagenbreth, but I managed to see Arnal Ballester, Sam Bosma and Michael Deforge, which was great.


Name: Lucy Haslam
Exhibitor or attendee: Attendee

How was your experience of ELCAF? I really enjoyed ELCAF this year! Having it over two days meant it was a lot nicer trying to see and do everything -I could take my time to look at all the work and talk to people without having a weird look in my eye trying to look round at anything else. Also it meant I could go to more of the workshops and talks than before: Charlotte Mei's clay workshop and Toy Hacking were really fun, and Michael Deforge and Jillian Tamaki were as amazing as you'd think they'd be. I usually go to comics festivals with friends but they always ditch me because I have to look at literally everything, but we managed to stay together this year as there was enough space to stand around at the tables and chat. Comics festivals are ultimately about the people and being able to talk to everyone over the weekend comfortably meant this was my favourite ELCAF so far!

Name one highlight: Michael Deforge's reading of the essay he commissioned about his Quicksand comic, which turned out to be written entirely about The Matrix instead, was even better than gorging myself on all the free popcorn.

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? The standard of work was incredibly high at ELCAF, but I love finding work from people I've never seen before at festivals and so it would have been nice to have seen just a few more tables by emerging artists.


Name: Patrick Crotty
Exhibitor or attendee: Peow Studio (exhibitor)

How was your experience of ELCAF? This year, was hectic as usual. Well, ELCAF wasn't hectic, but just the city of London and our schedule for the weekend. We still havn't figured out the underground / overground and getting around took so much longer than expected and we were late to everything no matter what. ELCAF on the other hand was nice. All the people who stopped by our table were super nice and I had a good time overall. Our outfits looked nice and we had good table spot and a little shelf behind us, what more could you ask for? Other than that I noticed lots and lots of riso stuff and so many prints so much I wanna stop doing riso stuff and just make big 100 + page hardcover books.

Name one highlight: Highlight was all the snacks people dropped off at our table. I think it's mainly because Jane Mai was there and everyone wanted to give her gifts. Also a festival helper, Mina, was super awesome and brought us a Nintendo 3DS charger so we could get our 3DS charged and get street-passes; it sounds so boring of a thing, but to me it was one of the best moments of ELCAF. Charging!

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? We needed wifi and a decent station for international guests to charge their phones or whatever because it's more important than water. Also, regular brew coffee would be nice and soy milk that doesn't curdle horribly. Also not enough tables selling stickers. What's up with that?


Name: Lottie Pencheon
Exhibitor or attendee: Attendee

How was your experience of ELCAF? This was the first time that I'd visited ELCAF! I went on Sunday and had such a good time! The stall holders were in a really "cool" underground space with a few different rooms, it had a really "fun" "vibe" apart from It being kinda too hot and too LOUD. They had some loud music playing??

Anyway there was such a good selection of artists, everything looked really fun and playful and there was too too much stuff that caught my eye and I had to AVOID a lot of it so that I still had money to pay for things like pet insurance back in the real world. I definitely spent more than I was gonna but oh well, no regrets, I'm so PLEASED with my purchases which include comics from Jane Mai and Patrick Crotty at the PEOW table, Comic Book Slumber Party, Tillie Walden at the Avery Hill table and Disa Wallander!!!! I pretty much bought everything that Disa had to sell apart from the stuff I already had, her new super rare and now sold out book 'Sparklies' was high on my list and I accidentally ended up with two of them- oops. 

I also met a bunch of artist and computer game making friends who I've known from on the web and I felt very popular and friendly. If I met you at ELCAF then it was nice to meet you!! What a fun time!!

Name one highlight: The highlight for me was Charlotte Mei's clay club!! We were supplied with air dry clay and a plastic tool thing and we could just sit there and make things whilst Charlotte walked around saying encouraging things like 'cute!' 'very cute!' and 'awww that's so cute!'. She said that she thought that only 12 people would show up but in fact there were about 30 of us so we sat on the floor. Charlotte's clay club was so much fun that I wish I lived in London so I could go to them all the time. My friend Ricky and his son Noah made a toadstool, George made a donut, Angus made a kind of square man?? and I made bunbun and frog from my comic series No No Life! Charlotte is a joy and a very talented artist you should go to her clay club if you can!

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? I just think that next time maybe don't have such loud music because it was kinda hard to hear and I had to say 'WHAT?' a lot and the artists had to stand up and lean closer and say 'WHAT?' cause they couldn't hear me either.


Name: Hannah K Chapman
Exhibitor or attendee: Exhibitor (CBSP)

How was your experience of ELCAF? I've been to ELCAF every year in varying capacities but this was my very first year behind my own table and it was a lot of fun. I thought the venue  was heaps better than some of the others (I didn't mind the lack of windows) and I was super happy to be put alongside my buds from Chubby, La La La Pom Pom, and Dilraj Mann. I also really enjoyed sharing my table with Wai Wai Pang and Alice Urbino - I wish we could do every single show together. Turnout was good, sales were good, one DJ in particular was right up my street. So yeah, I enjoyed myself.

Name one highlight: My sweet dinosaur tote from Matthew D Swann. And nicking one of the official ELCAF flags at the end.

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? Better access to the tables! You're stuck behind them for a long time each day and crawling around on a really filthy floor wasn't good for morale or cleanliness. Everything got covered in dust - bags, stock, my dinner!!


Name: Ramsey Hassan
Exhibitor or attendee: Attendee

How was your experience of ELCAF? I’m more used to the cacophonous energy of a stereotypical comic con like MCM for example but this was very chill and the comics were beautiful and the patrons very hip.

Name one highlight: I really enjoyed Michael DeForge’s talk / reading / Q&A. It was my first exposure to his work and I found it thrillingly bonkers and DeForge a natural raconteur.

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? The Space was too small to hold the popular talks. The festival could have been more racially diverse but I guess that’s more a systemic problem then an ELCAF one.


Name: Stephen Collins
Exhibitor or attendee: Exhibitor  

How was your experience of ELCAF? I loved it – this was my first ELCAF and I was really impressed by the organization and the amount of thought that had gone into its curation. My own experience was a bit marred by the fact that a printing issue had messed up the comics I’d been planning to sell. Luckily I was on Cape’s table though so it wasn’t like I’d paid for my own stall. But the printer’s being great about it and is reprinting them now, so all will be well. My top ELCAF tip is, don’t leave production too late like I did! I get the impression that printers, especially those offering riso, are now getting a bit overwhelmed just before this specific show. It’s become quite a big beast in the comics calendar. 

Name one highlight: Michel Deforge’s talk was very funny. I didn’t expect it to be – I don’t know why. Often cartoonists are the worst people to present their own work. You know, “here’s a thing I drew… here’s another thing I drew… I hate all my work…” I’m as guilty of that as anyone. But Deforge actually put together a really funny, planned out show. I’d had to run through the rain to get to it, but it was worth it.

What he did was brilliant - instead of just presenting us with what he thought about his own work, he’d had this idea of paying one of those ‘we’ll write you an essay for money in four hours’ websites to write a critique of his own work. So he’s submitted two of his comics to them and some poor grad student has tried to make sense of his comics and write an essay about them. It was a clever, funny way of talking about his own work. One of the essays was a comparative study of Deforge’s story ‘Quicksand’ (which debuted at ELCAF in ‘On Topics’ through Breakdown Press), and The Matrix. I should probably reiterate that: a comparative study of the work of Michael Deforge, and 'The Matrix'. He illustrated the essay too, which made it work visually. 

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? Not really. I thought it was a really good show. Less rain next time?

This is a spread from a thing I made for ELCAF: it’s called Bad Likeness and is a load of pages from my next long project threaded together to make a standalone comic. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sell it at ELCAF due to a printing error, but it's being reprinted this week and will be on sale in the next week or so.


Name: Rob Cave
Exhibitor or attendee: Attendee

How was your experience of ELCAF? This was my first visit to ELCAF, and attending was something of a spur-of-the-moment decision as I was only back in the UK for two full days in the process of moving from the Middle East to the USA. I only had two hours to spare, so I missed the talks and master classes to focus on the wares of the various exhibitors.

The venue for this part of ELCAF was a trendy East London post-industrial space called The Laundry. This idiosyncratically-shaped concrete cave lacked natural light, and evoked the mood of an arthouse club, coming as it did with its own bar. But this seemed to fit quite with the eclectic range of material available.

With little spare room in my luggage, I tried to really limit my purchases. I picked up some irresistible postcards from Jonathan Edwards, and chatted with various exhibitors and friends. Then I buckled and picked up a few comics, including a print edition of Rachel Smith’s House Party, a book I had help Kickstart, Isabel Greenberg’s haunting The River of Lost Souls and John Cei Douglas and Alessandra Genualdo’s 36,000 ft.

Name one highlight: Well, I had been hoping to meet up with you, Zainab, but a combination of my last-minute lack of planning and your lack of phone prevented that. I missed Jill Tamaki, too, but was more than content seeing the range of new work from various exhibitors, and hearing what they had in the pipeline. It was great to have so many graphic novel publishers of all shapes and sizes, and particularly Drawn and Quarterly, who don’t often attend UK shows. If only they had had copies of Jason Lutes’ Berlin 19!

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? One comic-loving parent I chatted to mentioned his kid got bored in the exhibitors room, so maybe having more kid-focused activities might be an idea for the future, but really I would have just liked to have had more time (and bag space). All too soon I had to hop on the bus back to my hotel and figure out how I was going to stuff MORE comics and art in my already over-stuffed bags. My biggest purchase regret was not getting any of Katriona Chapman’s stuff, particularly her fantastic print of Aretha Franklin – so a trip to her webstore is in order.

Name: Felt Mistress (Louise Evans)
Exhibitor or attendee: Exhibitor

How was your experience of ELCAF? Brilliant as usual, it's such a great show.

Name one highlight: Hmmm it's really tricky to pick just one highlight, so much great stuff there. I think the best thing for me about ELCAF is it's great chance to catch up with other artists and see what they have been up to. So many talented friends I don't get a chance to see that often, all under one roof. It's also always nice to connect with people who buy our work.

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? I don't really have many thoughts about this as I have never visited as an attendee but speaking as an exhibitor, I think if I was being really picky I would ask for a green room for exhibitors to get a cuppa (like in TCAF).


Name: Marianna Madriz
Exhibitor or attendee: Attendee

How was your experience of ELCAF? I attended ELCAF on Sunday and had a genuinely great time. I spent the day meeting artists I long followed online, seeing good friends who don't live anywhere near me and buying many awesome things. Perfect! I was mainly in the fair for most of the day, but managed to attend the publishing panel in the morning led by Alexandra Zsigmond with Hato Press, Planeta Tangerina, Nobrow and Koyama Press. The talk was fun and insightful - all panelists talked about their experience setting up their own publishing houses and the difficulties they encountered along the way.

In comparison to last year, I felt this year's festival was much better organised. Anyone who attended  the previous ELCAF will probably agree so. There was space to breath and to take the time to see each table at a considerable pace. I didn't notice any major queues, and as far as I could tell no attendees had anything to complain about. It was pretty busy and buzzing, but still fairly relaxed.

Name one highlight:  The greatest highlight of it: seeing Annie Koyama in real life and realising she's just as badass as I always imagined she would be.

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? I would like to see ELCAF getting even bigger in years to come. The reputation of the festival is reaching overseas, and this year I met people who travelled as far as America or Singapore only for the weekend. This wave of new attendees will only keep on growing, and expectations will need to be met in due time. We saw the inclusion of more workshops, masterclasses and exhibitions in and around the weekend, and it would be great to see even more of this. Maybe in a few years the festival will go from being a two-dayer to a four-dayer, with a more enriching program of activities and gatherings for all participants.

My wallet is still hurting from all the things I bought, but here are some of my favourite purchases:

Waiting Rooms by Teiera- I'm a sucker for books which are in other languages I can't quite understand, especially if they're as wonderfully designed as this one. This is a compilation of comics self-published by Teiera, an Italian label held by illustrators Cristina Spanò, Giulia Sagramola and Sarah Mazzetti. There's contributing comics by Inma Lorente, Jim Stoten, Jose Ja Ja Ja and many more international talents. And no worries, all comics have English translations too.

Music according to Awesome & Possum by Takayo Akiyama- I finally met Takayo after following her online for years, and she's just as lovely as her comics. Awesome & Possum is a risographed zine full of little adventures and reflections with Awesome, Possum, Threesome and Blossom (aren't they the best names ever?). I'm still reading it and loving every single panel. Big ones and little ones will love this comic.

One thing I forgot to do, stupidly, was visit PEOW's table. But maybe this was good for my wallet.

Friday, 26 June 2015

A comic, a pin, a sticker- ELCAF!

A mixture of the Ramadhan 'slows' and putting together various pieces for the AV Club (including a first look preview of James Stokoe's Godzilla in Hell issue going up next Wednesday, which I'm very excited about), and a bunch of ELCAF coverage has meant I haven't really gotten around to posting much over the past couple of days. There's been a few longer pieces on here recently, so I thought I'd keep things easy breezy and post some pictures of what I bought at ELCAF last Saturday. I'm pretty pleased with myself because for once I actually managed to maintain the integrity of my self-prescribed 'I'm not going to buy loads' vow- most likely due to the fact that I went overboard in Canada just over a month ago. I bought 7 books in total and some pins, stickers, figures, and a wooden wall sign. I like how streamlined my purchasing was; it made me feel better about myself- being more considered and not gorging on anything that looked good! You can get caught up in comics frenzy... There will -fingers crossed- be an array of more thorough ELCAF coverage next week, but for now, some dodgy pictures of nice comics and things.

We were actually early enough to get a free tote- the 'treat' inside was exotically flavoured popcorn, which was nice. The tote itself is pretty nifty, too, the fluorescent orange of Jillian Tamaki's designs pop really well against the navy. Quite often, free things can be of, um, lesser quality due to it being designated as something to give away, but not here. The tote is made from cloth and is stitched and generally fancy and good.

It was nice to get to see Kristyna Baczynski and be able to chat to her a little. I've seen her at so many cons, but never really had the opportunity to talk, so that was cool. She always has a plethora of lovely wares at her table which always seem to be popular with people. I'd seen her tweet about these 'rotten fruit gang' stickers and knew I had to get some. The Golden Horseshoe is one of her newer comics, which she's printed with her own riso machine.

The Exquisite Corpse by Luke Healy, A Goth by Patrick Crotty, and There's No Bath In This Bathroom by Joe Decie. I first read The Exquisite Corpse after Healy posted it online- it's about a fitness program that involves swapping bodies while the trainer works you into the shape you'd like. He originally created it for an anthology, but now the rights have reverted back to him so he's produced print copies. It's excellent and I recommend reading it if you haven't already. A Goth is Crotty's newest minicomic- I'm not sure what it's about, but I like most of what he does, so I picked it up. Finally got a copy of Joe's comic about TCAF featuring a few familiar cartoonist faces, after stupidly not picking one up while actually there. It's as good as you'd expect- I haven't read a Decie comic that I don't like. He's just consistently very good.

Got Isaac Lenkiewicz's newest comic, Apple Pie/Hey Hey from Caramel Bay. It's wonderfully drawn. Yes, that's Henry the vacuum on the front cover. He also made and was selling a host of the cutest handmade pins and tiny sculptures and it was so hard to not give a home to them all. Oliver was no help in choosing; he told me to buy all of them. Repeatedly. Whilst laughing in my face. The peach and blue tots wooden pin is by his table-mate, Alfie Phillips.

Ah, I love this wooden sign I bought so much! Look, I already hung it on my wall (with blutack). It reminds me of retro flashing neon lights- especially the font,  the kitschy kind you see in movies but never in real life (not in England, anyhow). But I like it best because it says 'gnarly,' which I am. It came in a teal and pink colourway, too, which was equally as sexy, but this one swung it; I like the contrast of the bright colours with the grumpy meaning of the word. I couldn't find a card at the table, so I'm not sure of the artist or collective, but they were selling some amazing wood sculptures, prints, and signs- there was a super nifty 'tropical' one and a pineapple which were hard to leave behind.

On Topics by Michael DeForge from the Breakdown Press table.  All Dogs are Dogs which is a prose thing Michael gave me which I haven't read yet, but has the best stage directions. I think his recent show was of the same name, so perhaps it's connected to that in some way. I'm a huge fan of his work, so it was majorly cool to get to meet him, and he seems like a sound guy, which makes it doubly nice -or nauseating depending on how you look at it. I find it really odd meeting people who make art which I consider superb, and then connecting a person to that. People are just people, generally. Anyway, Michael was lovely- it was his first time in the UK. I hope he comes to Thought Bubble and gets to experience actual, real England- somebody should invite him, since D&Q are going to be there this year. I got him to draw in the On Topics book. I'm going to say it's a dog because I can.

Pablo and Jane and the Hot Air Contraption: This was the first book I bought, and along with the DeForge release from Breakdown Press, the book of the show according to me. It's a children's book by Spanish cartoonist José Domingo (Adventures of a Japanese Businessman), published by Nobrow's kids imprint, Flying Eye Books, who were selling advance copies at the show. Bit sad I didn't get to say hello to Domingo as he was around, but I'm okay with largely having sat in the restaurant/bar next door and just talked a lot at people while drinking coke. It interposes traditionally panelled comic pages with double paged illustration spreads filled with incredible riots of colour and bus activity- there's so much to look at. I'm crazy about this book and will get around to reviewing it eventually, but for now I took a bunch of pictures to show you exactly why you need it in your life.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

New longform Tom Gauld book, 'Mooncop,' coming in 2016

In very exciting news, next year will see a new long-form work from Tom Gauld, his first since Goliath in 2012. Gauld released a collection of his weekly Guardian comic strips, You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, in 2013, and since then has continued producing cartoons for the newspaper, in addition to illustration work for publications such as the New Yorker. Probably his most recently published comic work is his 8-page contribution to Drawn & Quarterly's 25th anniversary tome, for which he also designed and illustrated the cover, spine and endpapers. His new, upcoming book, Mooncop, the story of a dutiful policeman patrolling his sector on a colonised moon -complete with a daily stop at Lunar Donuts-, will be published by Drawn & Quarterly in 2016. Naturally, something goes awry, no doubt in typical heightened minimal and deadpan fashion. 

Gauld is one of those cartoonists who goes about producing consistently strong, unshowy work in his own particular style. I really recommend the perusal of his website and Tumblr (the latter is mostly a home for his Guardian strips)  for a glimpse into what a quality cartoonist he is. Meanwhile, here's D&Q editor Tom Devlin on what he thinks makes Gauld special: 'Tom Gauld is a singular voice. His characters are all low-key citizens who are just waking up to the fact that everything around them is not working as hoped. They meet this disappointment with resignation rather than dread which is what makes every Gauld comic surprisingly moving AND funny. His comics are beautiful solid structures designed to stand the test of time--unlike every house, castle, robot, and computer in those same comics.'

Monday, 22 June 2015

Last Man 2 The Royal Cup: stunningly executed fight scenes, disappointingly problematic portrayals

Book two of Last Man rattles along in pacy, entertaining fashion. Young Adrian and his new-to-town partner, the mysterious and brawny Richard Aldana continue to make their way through the fighting tournament, The Royal Cup, while the purpose and intent behind Aldana's presence remains murky. Is it just the money and reward he's after? It's clear he's hiding something- when his bag gets stolen he goes frantic with worry charging butt naked around the town in pursuit of the thief to no avail. Although the story began as Adrian's, it's increasingly Aldana who takes front and centre. With the tournament done and dusted, and having certainly made an impression in so short a time, he must  now decide whether to stay or move on. 

The fight scenes are simply superb yet again. The drama, the dynamism, the storytelling- it's here where Vives' and Sanlaville's art really takes flight. Already loose and expressive, it seems uniquely suited to compressing and conveying action and the passage of time incredibly effectively, via a range of different panel layouts. The variety in layout and panel sizes: angled up, down, diagonally, here a figure placed in the foreground with a number of reaction panels behind him, a shattered mirror effect splash page with the shards acting as panels, and so forth, maintains the zippiness of the narrative which helps to really ramp up the intensity of the action. It reflects the non-stop onslaught of the tournament- one after another after another, and grips the reader's interest, whilst capturing little moments in between: the sliding of a foot, a tight panel of Aldana's mouth yelling encouragement, sudden doubt in an opponent's eyes, the gritting of teeth. Everything about the art is perfectly pitched in these books: detailed and intricate when required, simply effective at other times, emotionally resonant, and seemingly effortlessly executed- it's a joy to look at.

The relationship between Adrian and Aldana, of master and apprentice- whilst not new, is nicely done, providing the most substantial and engaging emotional core, where previously it was the circumstance of Adrian and his mother. The sudden manifestation of Adrian's summoning powers goes unresolved- perhaps a cheeky nod to the trope of the physically weak underling becoming magically adept at fighting after a training montage, with Sanlaville et al opting to skip the training montage all together. Or it could be a plot point that may be addressed later. The Royal Cup moves past the tournament, as Marianne (Adrian's mother) is brought further to the fore. Questions are presented about the world in which all this is happening: it seems an archaic, semi-magical place where the King and Queen dress in robes of old, but does it exist alongside the modern world, or has there been some form of time travel at play? Anyway, motorbikes are introduced, and Marianne appears to know more than she was letting on, and it's towards the third book we zoom. 

I enjoy Last Man a lot. Both the first and second volumes have simply been an immensely pleasing reading experience; it's a comic that is so good, so unified in writing and art that time slips by, the pages turn unnoticed, and before you know it- it's over. And then you want to read it one more time, to better pore over the lovely art. The only time I find myself jarringly pulled out of the text and pausing, is when it comes to the portrayal of women.  

In my review of the first book I mentioned the lascivious nature of the down-Marianne's-dress and focus-on-her-bum panels- panels from Aldana's point of view. There's an argument that these are celebratory of the womanly form -sexualisation is by no means a negative thing- but objectification is. And when you cut off the rest of a woman's body for a tight shot of her cleavage (unbeknowst to her) and invite readers to side with Aldana's male gaze upon it, it feels pervy and exploitative. More so when you don't afford Marianne the agency and benefit of her gaze- after all, she too, finds him attractive (although in this book at least she does get her own eyeballing in). In The Royal Cup, that problem is taken to a whole other level. 

There's a long scene where Aldana has to fight a character named Alyssa in the ring (along with Elorna, the only other woman shown to participate). They are fighting when they recognise one another as the person they happily spent one casual night with in the first book. Both are surprised. What happens next is really quite ridiculous. Alyssa goes absolutely wild, her eyes rolling back to white as she's overcome with lust, straddling Aldana and literally tearing her clothes off as she scream at him repeatedly to take her. She starts to tear his clothes off, and attempts to undo his belt, as a close up panel shows first her arse pertly astride Aldana, and then her putting her hand down the front of his trousers. She screeches like a banshee and sniffs him- unless I'm missing something very specific, as a non-gamer, it's difficult to take this as a satirical comment on the treatment of female characters in fighting games. She's simply pulled off him and carted away, not to be seen again.

Why does a strong, competent fighter suddenly start behaving in such a way? All I'm left with is that this is played for laughs; it's supposed to be funny. We're supposed to laugh at her, whilst condemning her behaviour: the crazed, sexually ravenous woman. We're offered to compare her bad sexuality vs the good sexuality of the sensuous and virtuous 'mother' Marianne. The implication is that once Aldana recognises her as the woman he bedded, he stops taking her seriously as an opponent. He's already 'conquered' her by having sex with her so now she's reduced and stripped of her strength as a fighter and becomes a vessel for the worst, negative stereotypes of femininity. Not only is it utterly devoid of humour, it's poor writing. Alyssa comes to the ring like so many before and after, why does she behave this way- no explanation, reason, or motivation is given. Why are we being shown this? What purpose does it serve? Is it setting something up for a future volume? As it is, the whole thing just seems utterly unnecessary: you could remove it and it would make no difference. It adds nothing. 

Ian Culbard and Dan Abnett return to 'Wild's End' for new miniseries, 'The Enemy Within'

The collected trade paperback release of Ian Culbard's and Dan Abnett's Wild's End this September will coincide with the serilaisation of a new, six-issue miniseries, Wild's End: The Enemy Within. The first mini-series was a spin on HG Wells' sci-fi classic, The War of the Worlds -crossed with The Wind in the Willows. If you're wary of such referential mash-ups, I can assure you it was an excellent comic. Strong characterisation ensured Wild's End read smoothly in its own right, in that it didn't require a knowledge or familiarity with either source book for readers to be able to enjoy the story, and there weren't any facets that pulled you out of the experience. It also featured some absolutely spectacular work by artist Ian Culbard; in my opinion the best of his career: clear, bold beautiful lines, with superb colouring choices. If you missed the original run, I very much recommend picking up the trade on release.

Post alien invasion, The Enemy Within sees the military arrive in Lower Crowchurch to cover up the 'incident' and the deaths and destruction that resulted from it.  Meanwhile, Clive, Susan, Fawkes, and the other survivors are attempting to cope with what happened, but as town residents are detained, questioned, and treated with suspicion, it becomes unclear exactly what the military's intentions and purposes are. Are they alien spies, collaborators, sympathizers? The continuation of the story looks to play with the paranoia and 'the enemy amongst us' conspiracy theories prevalent in more contemporary science fiction, as Clive and the rest will need to escape imprisonment if they’re to get the word out and warn the rest of the world in case the aliens return.  Wild's End: The Enemy Within will begin publishing in September, with issue one offering variant covers by Jake Wyatt and Jeff Lemire (something I normally wouldn't care about, but I'm a big fan of Wyatt's work). 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Snapshot thoughts on comics sfx: Quitely does it

My nephew Abu spent last weekend at out house, and come bedtime on Saturday evening, he requested Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn as a night read. He likes it mainly for the fight between the lady in the pink dress and Robin (also the bazooka). We don't *read* read this; Abu is 5, so he'll turn to the pages/passages he likes the look of, and I'll make up a little story around whatever's going on. Going through it again reminded me I wanted to talk about Frank Quitely's use of sfx in the book.

What makes the sfx in Batman and Robin ingenious is that they're not independently floating letters or text (although there is some of that, too); Quitely uses and manipulates the environment, situation, and objects to manifest and visualise sound to greater impact. They're integrated within the art and created from elements that would already exist and be drawn/pictured, so they become naturalised to some degree. This results in Quitely giving us spidery cracks in a wall against which Robin's been thrown spelling out 'SMASH.' Blood from gunshots squelches out 'BANG BANG.' The smoke from a bazooka blows an inventive 'SSSPF.' Batman crashes through someone's window; glass, plates, some water, maybe even a knife and fork, spell out a sharp, tinkling 'CRASH.' 

I've capitalised all those sounds, but part of Quitely excellence is that the way he illustrates the sfx gives you an indication of decibels- not only noise level, but the way it sounds. Batman crashing through though those plates, for example- crockery breaking sounds a very particular way. Similarly, having rising water spell out 'SPLSH' as a car lands in a river immediately leads your brain to the sound of water, or something hitting the water. You can't draw sound, but you can draw the object/s which creates the sound, and drawing sfx as part of that object, as an organic extension, allows associations to be made faster, making  the sound more tangible, more instant. Instead of looking at a a fired missile trailing fire and smoke and then looking at a block of text reading 'BWKSSSSHHHH,' you can simply have the trailing fire and smoke moulded to spell out 'BWKSSSSHHHH.' It removes the pause, the separation and distance, and brings the sound and the object together for a much better, visually onomatopoeic experience. 

Quitely's carefully chosen what aspect to animate into sfx in order to convey the best sound without it taking the reader away from the narrative. But while it's not always possible (depending on the tone of the book), colour and shape, and some imagination can produce similar effects. In Godzilla: the Half Century War, James Stokoe uses gradiented palette of oranges, pinks, and reds combined with a fuzzy sharp edge and crescendo-ing shape to illustrate the letters of Godzilla's roar. The letters aren't wholly discernible, but the heat and size and static and the uniqueness of it reverberates to create a sense of the sound inside your head. 

Quitely's use of sfx has been evolving for a while; it obviously helps that he's the artist and thus able to experiment and play around with it. In Shimura (above), for example, you can see he was working with the placing of sfx: it moves from foreground to background, right to left, often following the direction of movement and sound. The 'CRACK' in the panel above is placed against the man's striking arm, and also has an actual crack splitting it. That yellow blocked 'FOOM' looks great bursting out of that wall; I actually think the definition and outline of the letters works better to provide a sense of force and hard impact, where fiery, smoky letters might not have the same edge. The smaller letters are a physical object: the name of the company mounted on the front of the building, but perhaps signify the approach he was to take later in Batman.

To an extent  the sfx here are still obtrusive: letters/font placed in the comic specifically taking up space, but they're well-considered and generally very effective in a different way. Quitely does enough with them to make the reader look (how often do you just skim over sfx) and lift them beyond boring territory. The clean aesthetic of his letters have a very Domu/Katsuhiro Otomo feel- but that's only because I read Otomo in English, where the lettering and sfx were largely done by Studio Proteus (a Japanese import, translation and lettering company). The sfx in Domu sees letters contort and get shaky and juddery; leaning this way and that, overall imbuing them with a bit more life. They look good. One of the things that kept Domu's and Akira's sfx fresh for me was the simple difference in the phonetics: that 'BKROOM' below would have been just 'BOOM' in an American comic. The 'tok tok' and 'poot poot' and so on were different enough to get me paying attention to them. 

There's certainly room for both kinds of sfx in comics, but the strongest feeling is that we really should have moved past lazy, uninteresting, generic blocks of letters at this stage. Quitely's elemental incorporation of sfx not only looks good, but makes for better experience. It imbues individuality and personality to a work, while also pulling together the comic as more unified and streamlined text. The integrated sfx are more like something that's part of a cohesive, organic comics language, while blocked letters seem to have greater visual impact when used in conjunction with applications of color, shape, contouring. placing, and so forth.

New, ninth volume of Kramers Ergot to be published by Fantagraphics

It looks like Fantagraphics will be publishing a new, ninth volume of alternative comics anthology, Kramers Ergot, in March next year. Kramers Ergot began life as a self-published mini-comic by Sammy Harkham and evolved into an acclaimed anthology series which included contributions from artists such as Renee French, Anders Nilsen, Marc Bell, Chris Ware, Jordan Crane, Gabrielle Bell, Ron Regé, and more. It reached a zenith in 2008, with the publication of volume 7, an over-sized 16 x 21-inch hardcover which has since attained a somewhat mythological status, and contained work from Ivan Brunetti,  Blexbolex, Dan Clowes, Tom Gauld, Matt Groening, Jaime Hernandez, Kevin Huizenga John Pham, Florent Ruppert et Jérôme Mulot, Seth,  Josh Simmons, Adrian Tomine, and others. In 2012, PictureBox published an eighth volume (4 and 5 were published by Gingko Press, while 6 and 7 were published by Buenaventura Press), and since PictureBox's closure, it's rather fitting that Kramers Ergot now seems to have found a home at Fantagraphics, who have a long association with alternative and underground comics.

The landscape of comics has shifted so much over the past decade, that it's almost odd to see an alt comics anthology (of presumably all new work) being released- comics anthologies of any persuasion seem to be filtering out. But Kramers established itself as  an arbiter of high quality, individual work, particularly with volumes 5, 6, and 7, so it'll be interesting to take in this new volume after 8 wasn't as well received (even within the context of it having to follow up 7). Promising 'powerful and impulsive cartooning of the highest caliber still exists in the short form,' the projected release date for Karmers Ergot 9 is March 18th 2016, and it will be an over-sized, 250-page full colour book, with that super cover by John Pham (pictured above).  It will carry comics and illustrations by Michael DeForge, Noel Freibert, Steve Weissman, Anya Davidson, Stefan Marx, Abraham Diaz, Leon Sadler, Julia Gfrörer, Adam Buttrick, Kim Deitch, Ben Jones, Andy Burkholder, Antony Huchette, Trevor Alixopulos, Antoine Cossé, Archer Prewitt, Kevin Huizenga, Renée French and others yet to be announced.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The ELCAF buy guide 2015

It's the East London Comics and Arts Festival (ELCAF) this weekend -boy, has that come around quickly- and as you most likely know by now, this year the festival is taking place on not one, but two full days. Like lots of people, I like to have a bit of a list in my head about which tables/artists/books I definitely want to check out, and then that once those are done, it leaves you free to have a more. It's a rough system of sorts, and it can help make the whole thing a little less overwhelming, whilst ensuring you don't miss what you really want, and still come away with something. It relies on people making announcements and sharing about what they'll have, so it's by no means thorough; and there'll be a host of fantastic things available that aren't on here. But the list below is  a short compilation of some of the books/prints/items I'm aware of, and interested in picking up. Some are limited quantities so it helps to have precognitive knowledge! 

First up- ELCAF have printed up some tasty-looking totes which they'll be giving away free to the first 200 people through the doors on both Saturday and Sunday. I'm not usually too bothered about this kind of  thing, but the navy and orange combo is very nice, and that's Jillian Tamaki's ELCAF poster design that it's carrying. So if you're going early, it's perhaps something to keep in mind (I think they'll have an additional treat inside, as well).

Lizzy Stewart has a new comic, 'Summer 96,' that looks incredibly lovely. I'm a big fan of Stewart's art, especially her various travel and object zines, so I'm looking forward to picking this up. If you can't make it to ELCAF, it's also available online in her shop. I imagine she'll have some prints and more of her zines with her, too.

The excellent Stephen Collins (The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, Some Comics) will have with him a new mini comic called Bad Likeness, comprising of bits from my next book, which I'm really curious to see. I don't think Collins has made a comic that I haven't enjoyed yet, so while the new longform work may be a while off -Jonathan Cape will be publishing it in 2017-, it'll be interesting to read and see what it's about.

Those Swedish comic maestros are tabling again this year, and they'll have a table full of comics and prints that will no doubt make your head spin. The three new comic that they've published in 2015, and all of which I recommend are, The Nature of Nature by Disa Wallander, Soft by Jane Mai, and Lemon & Ket by Natalie Andrewson. Three very different books, but all are worth your time. Peow will actually have Jane Mai in residence, and my tip is (especially if you only have limited funds and have to make a choice) to buy her book and get signed and sketched in, because it will sell out quickly, as with her last one. I believe this is Mai's first UK comics festival. I've covered most of Peow's books at some point or the other, so perusing the Peow! Studio tag to get a look at interior pages and read reviews may be helpful. 

Breakdown Press are quite low-key with their marketing, so the only newer title that I know of is a Michael DeForge comic. On Topics collects 2 of DeForge's Patreon comics: Regarding Quickand and About Kissing. I much prefer to have things in print, so this goes on the list. DeForge will in attendance for the weekend, doing talks and signing at the D&Q table (times on the ELCAF website), so if getting things signed is your thing, that's an option. I'm assuming Breakdown will have their wider catalogue, perhaps a reprint of Lala Albert's Janus, even. It's worth checking out their table, one way or another.

Probably the thing I'm most excited to get my hands on- an advance copy of Jose Domingo's latest for Flying Eye Books: Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption.  It's a kids book, but I don't think that should stop anyone else from enjoying it, and that cover below, is just amazing. Domingo's art and colours always make my eyes very pleased indeed. Here's a little blurb: 'A strange green glow is coming from the old house up on the hill, and when Pablo and Jane decide to inquire they make an unexpected discovery! Zapped into the Monster Dimension by the evil cat, Dr. Felinibus, they must now find a way home in the broken Hot Air Time Machine, with a little help from their friend Dr. Jules (a nineteenth century scientist trapped inside the body of a rat).'

You need to see ELCAF's artist in residence, and this year's star guest, Jillian Tamaki, and buy a copy of SuperMutant Magic Academy which is one of the undoubted books of 2015. The past 2 years have been spectacular in terms of her releasing work that's been exceptional, and winning a clutch of awards and accolades for it. This is also her first UK comics festival, as far as I'm aware -and the only one she's doing this year, so it's a unique chance to meet her, and tell her how ace you think she is. I know many people have been waiting for ELCAF to buy her very good Youth In Decline comic, Frontier 7: Sex Coven which I'm assuming will also be for sale here, so this presents a good opportunity to save some international shipping costs.

I came across Thomas Danthony's work on Tumblr (where else), and the serenity of it appeals to me: the colours, composition, the reflective solitude. So I'm pleased to see Danthony will be tabling with a selection of prints (even though I have almost no wall space left).

Dilraj Mann will have copies of the Jen Woodall edited and curated Fight! zine. Contributors include Mann himself, Sam Bosma, Kali Ciesemier, Madeleine Flores, Valentin Seiche, Guillaume Singelin, Mathilde Kitteh, and more. The zine sees illustrators create their own original female fighting game characters to face off within its pages, with each artist given a direction to draw their character facing and the spreads of the book mimic the appearance of versus matches in a fighting game. It was funded through Kickstarter, and with that roll call of artists it's essentially irresistible to me. You can see more here.

And finally, Nobrow's 17x23 line has been of a very high quality this year. The two that I'd pick out as excellent, 'must-reads' are Jen Lee's Vacancy (review here) and Wren McDonald's Cyber Realm. You can't go wrong with either.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Jane Mai's 'Soft' explores sexual identity and abusive relationships in contemporary revamp of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's 'Carmilla' [review]

Jane Mai manages to do the seemingly impossible in Soft: make a vampire story creepy and relevant again, and in the most acute manner. A honed, modern re-imagining of  Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's 1871 influential lesbian gothic novella, Carmilla, Soft brings to the fore the sexuality of Le Fanu's as a contemporary identity struggle, whilst interplaying the abusive power dynamics and symbolism of vampiric relationships to powerful effect.

Laura lives with her father in an apartment complex, also home to her best friend June. She's 15 and summer vacation is approaching, but June's got a summer job which leaves Laura at a bit of a loose end. An accident with her bike leads to her meeting Carmilla, a beautiful, long-haired girl, and they begin spending a lot of time together. Laura quickly becomes besotted even as she's mentally racking up all the odd things about her new girlfriend: she sleeps through the day and appears at night. she's lethargic and then suddenly energetic, she's unnaturally strong, 'There was something wrong with her, I knew. But I was drawn to her like a magnet.' While Carmilla becomes increasingly possessive and demanding, a spate of girls in town contract a mysterious illness and start dying...

Ostensibly, Soft serves as an examination of an abusive relationship. Laura, already cautious and with few friends due to her confusion and shame over being gay, is afraid to disclose that knowledge with anyone else (she's not even ready to really admit it to herself) out of fear of any negative reactions. It's a state that is readily exploited by Carmilla, who uses that knowledge to exert greater power over the person she purports to love. There's a tidy, prescient little moment where Laura's in her room, looking at sexy women magazines, and her Dad pops his head around the door to tell her he's bought home some egg tarts. Caught off guard, she quickly shoves the magazine under a pillow, 'I'll come out,' she says. The intensity of her relationship with Carmilla, and the way the latter manoeuvers and positions herself as the only person who understands and cares for Laura, leads to the her isolation as she pushes further away from anybody who expresses concern or doubt. Alone, she struggles to deal with Carmilla's need for constant declarations and proofs of love, her stalking and following her, hurting people close to her, and her physical violence. Laura's aware of Carmilla's nature and the situation of her relationship, but quells the moments of clarity and recognition because she loves and cares for her. In addition, Carmilla is only person who knows her for who she really is. Fundamentally, that's what everyone wants: to be seen and known and accepted for they we are. So she continues to overlook Carmilla's transgressions, making excuses for her, until things escalate to a point where she has to make a decision, or choose not to make one.

Mai draws parallels between the vampiric cycle of 'turning' a person to the cycle of abuse: the abused becoming the abuser. Carmilla is repeating the acts of the person she was once in love with; the way in which she was treated, and now wishes to turn Laura. There's a Frankenstein parable threaded in here- creating something seemingly borne from love and then twisting it to selfish purpose, and in doing so producing something monstrous. People are not things. They can't be owned. They don't belong to anyone. They can't be controlled. But they can be hurt in numerous ways. Even, and especially, through love, supposedly the best of all emotions. Mai is an intelligent writer and at no point does she negate the relationship, underlining its importance and significance to Laura, while contextualising, but not absolving Carmilla of her crimes.

The simple lines and textures of the style that Mai employs here straddles horror and romance- it's cute with an undercurrent; a swell that can turn at any moment. The epistolary teen diary entries gradually grow more sinister: after yet another visit to the nurse's office at school, Mai gives us a full page shoulder and head portrait of Laura: worn out, eyes small and tired, hand clasped to neck, smudges of blood dotted all over jumper and shirt. This is the first and only time in the book that we see blood, and the sudden insertion of it here while Laura's at school reinforces both her vulnerability and the horror of what is happening to her. That it is not particularly overt serves to invoke a greater chill.

Mai's storytelling is at an exemplary level here. She uses the familiarity of the traditional vampire story to guide the reader to new territories, although none of the themes she presents feel obtrusive or unorganic to the  symbolism and allegory of the vampire narrative. Keeping the focus tight and personal, on just these two people, helps build a growing tensions, as well as providing insight into Laura's emotions and mindset. Soft is Laura's story: her confusion, hopes, happiness, desires, fears. From a first love that helps her assert her sexual identity, she progresses to a place where she's able to make an autonomous decision about what's best -despite the hurt it may bring. The inclination to disregard as human or mythologise those who act in terrible ways robs them of their deliberate will and choice. Humanity can be beautiful: loving, forgiving, generous, but it can be equally as terrible, destructive, and appalling. One can exist alongside the other. The separation between man and monster is not a relevant dichotomy; man, capable of all things, is more than enough.

Jane Mai: website   Buy Soft here

(clicking on images below should enlargen them)