Sunday, 30 October 2016

Review double: the ills of apathy and fugue

Irmina by Barbara Yelin, published by Self Made Hero

Barbara Yelin's Irmina, ostensibly the story of an 'ordinary German' woman's life as Hitler comes into power, functions equally as a timely study of the white moderate. In his 1963 Birmigham address, Martin Luther King expressed his disappointment at the inherent apathy of those who would consider themselves allies to the causes of justice, 'those 'more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice... Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.'

And so it goes for Irmina, as reduced means and an increasingly tumultuous political landscape force her to leave her studies and board in England, and leave behind her friend Howard, to return to Germany. Initially determined to go back, her gradual capitulation and marriage to an SS officer curiously lack any qualms or fear; a tunnel-vision sense of self-preservation that erases all else. Juxtaposed against the suffering of the Jewish people and Howard's existence as a black man in 1930's Britain, Irmina's 'plight' is a difficult concept to sympathise with. She deliberately chooses to ignore what's going on around her in order to survive: a passive choice, but a choice nonetheless. Her belief is she can do nothing, so she does nothing. It is no doubt an easier stance in retrospect, but in a world currently deeply mired in hateful rhetoric and the politics of divisiveness it feels acutely pertinent: what is the point at which intervention is required, and to whom does such responsibilty fall, if not 'ordinary people.'  

Assassination Classroom volume 8, by Yusei Matsui, published by Viz

There reaches a point in many a manga series where a to-date interesting narrative begins to lag and lose momentum. Such is the case in the eighth instalment of Yusei Matsui's Assassination Classroom. Having established the rather bizarre premise of  a strange emoji-faced, tentacled monster threatening to blow up the Earth (having reduced the moon to a sliver), unless he's allowed to teach the students of 'loser' class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High School for a year: a time period within which only the students will be afforded the opportunity to assassinate him. Once funny and affirming, the seeming thrust of the story of demoralised, 'cast aside' students realising their potential via unconventional tutelage is now stretching thin.

'Koro-sensei' -as his students refer to the monster- is relegated to the fringes here, with the students facing down yet another 'outside assassination' threat. The 'Game of Death' trope of infiltrating a building and combating foes level by level provides some entertainment, and Matsui gets in some amusing meta visual digs at the medium, but it's a superficial engagement. His art is adept at comedic and dramatic flourishes, but the action drags somewhat due to an absence of tension: pattern informs the reader that the students will again overcome, it's simply a question of how. And if that's Matsui's intention - to keep the motives of Koro-sensei obscure and use the problem he presents as a means of focusing on the development of his characters, the journey needs to be significantly more interesting than this one.

(originally published in Comic Heroes magazine)

Monday, 18 April 2016

White noise

This is my last post on the blog. I don't really know what to say, so I will just say thank you for the support, and for reading. 

Masume Yoshimoto's Kuma Miko: girl meets bear

I get a lot of enjoyment and affirmation from manga series like My Love Story, Chi's Sweet Home, Yostuba &! and others -they're satisfyingly wholesome and naturally funny, without being too pat or superficial, and seem to focus on character more than anything else. So I'm pretty pleased to discover One Peace Books are publishing a new series, Kuma Miko: Girl Meets Bear by Masume Yoshimoto, this autumn, which looks to be in the same vein. Kuma Miko (which roughly translates to 'bear, miko') is an ongoing manga which originally began serialisation in Japanese magazine Monthly Comic Flapper in May 2013. The comics have, to date, been collected into 5 volumes, the first two of which One Peace will be releasing in English this September and December respectively. 'Machi is 14 years old and has spent her whole life deep in the Touhoku Mountains as a miko (a shrine maiden). Raised alongside a talking bear, Natsu, she knows nothing of modern life. But, she is enthralled with its mysteries and determined to figure them out. Natsu attempts to prepare her for the trials and tribulations she will face entering the fast-paced city in this comical coming of age story of a backwoods girl in Japan.'

If you were wondering about the aspect that sold me on this, the ginormous talking bear was a major factor. Having a ginormous talking bear as a life mentor sounds interesting and unpredictable -and the hugs would be excellent. Also he seems quite relatable, from the pages I've perused (example: see him splayed out, munching enthusiastically, below) yet still quite a bear-y bear, too; not merely a person in bear form. The ability to be both cute and scary is an important one. Is it strange to relate to a bear more than a young girl? The art...I'd be lying if I said I was 100% sold on it, but it doesn't actively work against my preferences and if the storytelling is strong, it'll be an easy enough compromise. It looks pared back but not static or flat, which is what I find very difficult to get into. I want this to be good!

The few manga-to-anime series adaptations I've watched have stuck to the source material very closely, almost panel to frame, so I generally like to spend my time with either one or the other unless each is doing something quite different. I'm going to wait for the books with this, but the anime does look lively and a lot of fun- you can see the opening title sequence here, and some stills and character design sheets, below.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

'Hubert': portrait of the malignant misogyny of man

Hubert by Ben Gijsemans, Jonathan Cape

Viewed through the insipid activities of its titular character, Ben Gijsemans' Hubert is a treatise on the accepted ordinariness of complicit, pervasive socio-cultural misogyny. Hubert spends his days visiting museums, spending hours gazing at pictures of women, taking photographs of paintings and sculptures, then returning home to upload the images onto a computer in order to replicate them himself. He consumes image after image of placid, silent women, absorbing their bodies part by part, their looks, their lack of agency, before cyclically perpetuating it in both literal reproductions and general outlook. 

Gijsemans doesn't question the impact of art on Hubert's thinking and behaviour, as much as he presents it, and ponders its extent. It's an intravenous effect: the permeation of continually repeated imagery, narratives, and ideologies to which Hubert's been exposed since birth: from family, friends, workplace, films, books, advertising, galleries, and beyond. Hubert doesn't seem to have ever thought to challenge or question these mores because to him there is no delineation: this is 'normal.' It's what he's seen around him all his life, so it's real and therefore true. But there is a point where apathy becomes cultivation of ignorance, where you become capable of making choices and, accordingly, accountable for them.

Gijsemans forms an arc of encounters which see Hubert's predilections tested and reach a cusp of possible change. The first is with a young, (silent) beautiful, blonde in the building opposite who he regularly, voyeuristically watches from his window, until she catches him taking pictures of her, and draws the curtains. Then, while at a museum, he's approached by two women, asking him to take their photograph: something he doesn't want to do. His discomfort seems to stem from them simply engaging with him on a superficial level, i.e. talking to him, and the fact that in asking him to take a picture of them, they remain the active participant, retaining control of the image and themselves. On the heels of these rejections and assertions comes a slightly increased cognisance: he notices 2 other men with cameras, one whom he mistakes as surreptitiously taking pictures of him, and the other simply photographing paintings, much as he does. Hubert is disturbed at both potentially becoming the object of a man's gaze (an association which would indicate that, clearly, on some level he recognises the tilt of his own intent), and the idea that he is not alone in his proclivities: he doesn't own or possess these images of women reconstructed for mass consumption.

This series of events leaves him perturbed and unable to draw, leading to the third, most significant encounter. He accepts an invitation for a drink from his neighbour, Mrs Vandermeer, whom we have previously seen him avoid. Both understand that this is a euphemism for sex. Mrs Vandermeer appears to be around his age, confident and smart. When she disrobes and lays in bed, Hubert stands at the door fully clothed, repulsed and again inert. Gijsemans depicts his gaze deconstructing her in small, tight panels of body parts: a breast, a thigh, an arm -much as he deconstructs Manet's Olympia, and finds her wanting. He leaves. He chooses to retreat to his fantasy. Hubert's unhappiness doesn't just derive from his expectations not being met, but his inability to adjust those expectations due to fear. A fear of change, of self-examination. A fear to challenge what he's learnt -directly and otherwise-; a fear of losing the position of comfort in which he lives. His fragility and ugliness would rather ingest and believe in visions of nubile, young, paper women than consider sleeping with a real woman his own age.

One of the most interesting aspects of Hubert is Gijsemans' use of 'fine art' to frame this discussion, more so when coupled with his stylistic choices. There's an inherent irony to drawing in this very beautiful, technically adept way to comment on the role of endemic sexism within art -messages are embraced and dismissed depending on their packaging. Gijsemans' undeniable skill meet established standards that serve to 'legitmise' his work and its concerns. More pertinently, it floats the issue of classism within art. Are we to parse off Hubert a harmless loner, isolated in the noise of modern city life, simply because instead of thumbing through magazines or leering at women in the street, he takes in 'high art' and engages in 'soft' creeping? Does the fact that Hubert likes to watch old, black and white movies excuse his 'watching' and taking unwanted pictures of his neighbour? Is it our interests that set us apart, or our actions? Is it okay for him to violate her privacy in this way because he's 'inspired' by her beauty? Do we align 'nobler' pursuits with noble intentions? What is it, exactly, that makes a pursuit noble?  Are we to associate the perpetuating of sexist ideals only in correlation with 'popular culture' and those who imbibe it -a handing off of base ideas to base mediums and base people? Is one area more culpable in the fostering of these ideologies than another?

By appearances, an educated, healthy, and self-sufficient white man, Hubert may not be viewed as overtly damaging, but he is absolutely part and participant of the mechanism of ubiquitous patriarchy, exemplifying the increasingly germane, contemporary problem of recognising and addressing socially-absorbed malignancy within oneself. Gijsemans surrounds him with a fine-lined, superficially beautiful, but dull brown and grey life that lacks any depth or vibrancy; boxed in by precise, regular panels. Hubert's failure to identify the dangerous nuances he precipitates means he fails, too, to realise that in his particular situation, it is he who ultimately suffers within the bounds of those very same constraints. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

James Stokoe for Comics & Cola

A while back, I asked one of my favourite cartoonists, the most excellent James Stokoe if he'd be interested in producing a Comics & Cola print based on the frog mascots Isaac Lenkiewicz created for the blog, as seen in the site header and here. Amazingly, he was up for it, and Stokoe being Stokoe, created this wonderful little troupe of sea-faring amphibians preparing to head out on adventure: busy washing, hammering, gathering maps, taking naps, reading comics, and generally showing a lot of frog-butt. I think I like that gorgeous, bird-filled sky as much as I do the rest of it.

My initial plan was to sell these at a low price, but since the blog is closing, I thought it'd be nice to offer the prints as a 'pay what you want' (experimental, but hopefully, I'll still be able to cover printing/packaging costs!). I really love what James has come up with: the cosy bustle and the beautiful colours, and I'd rather everyone have the chance to buy one. Anything you can give is hugely appreciated (any extra money made will go towards that elusive new computer). Postage costs still apply and are listed below. The prints will be A4 landscape, full-colour, and printed in high quality on a thick paper by Ripe Digital. Prints will be posted out in hard-boarded A4 envelopes on 21st of April. Needless to say, they won't be available anywhere else :) 

So, if you want a print, simply select the appropriate postage costs, add whatever you'd like to pay and Paypal the amount to Please make sure your address is included. If you have any questions (such as postage quote for countries beyond those encompassed below), please don't hesitate to contact me at the same email. I'll be taking orders for the next 10 days, cut-off date is the 3rd of April. Thank you!

Postage costs:
UK £1.60 
Europe £4.50
US/Canada £5

Friday, 18 March 2016

Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky's 'Pocahontas: Princess of the New World' to receive English-language edition

Some quick good news as the weekend hits: Pegasus Books will publish Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky's Pocahontas: Princess of the New World in English this September, with Dr Sandra Smith providing the translation. The book was originally released in French last October, and Pegasus will produce the English-language edition as a 128-page hardback in the autumn. I'm a big fan of Locatelli-Kournwsky's beautiful work, following him mainly on Tumblr (where else) for a number of years, where he posts in-progress pages, sketches and character designs, often of gaming and manga characters. He's published a few books in French, including Ni Dieu Ni Maitre ('neither god nor master') Vaincus Mais Vivants ('defeated but alive'), both in collaboration with Maximilien LeRoy, but Pochanatos marks his first work to be given an English-language release (I recommend clicking through to those title links, as you'll get to see some beautiful pages from each). Various elements of his style- the sketchy smokiness, the textures, the use of blacks to an extent- remind me of Christophe Blain and Blutch: you could easily see it slotting in in a volume on Lewis Trondheim's Dungeon (if it was still around). The way he switches from that to a more surreal lean, playing with proportions of figures and heads, and a range of rich colouring is distinctive, and in general, his work seems to have a darkness, a weight to it that sets it apart.

While I'm looking forward to seeing a whole book-full of his art, I also hope that Pocahontas's story is told with respect and clarity. That's increasingly -and rightly- becoming crucial as our culture progresses beyond superficial understanding and representation. So often well-meaning re-tellings of the histories of people of colour/marginalised people can come off poorly, suffering from a lack of specific perspective, knowledge, or empathy. They can also be done well. Certainly, Locatelli-Kournwsky seems to be fervent about his subject, writing, 'I thought Pocahontas deserved something else than “the girl who fell in love with English lads”. She was far more than that. She was an independent woman, a well tempered character with a strong personality, who didn’t care a bit about whispers and babblings. Against her own will, she was also a political tool ripped apart by natives and English. Surrounded by many, but always alone. She was her own country, her own language…' He's shared various process work and pages from the book (again, on his Tumblr), which is coloured in a lovely ochre and black, a selection of which you can find below. It's gorgeous work.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Don’t Be a Dick: Tips and Tricks for How to Talk About Comics

By Kim O'Connor

I’m having a hard time writing about comics. Some weasel called me garbage and I feel sort of…paused. A shaky angry sort of pause, like I’m on VHS. Of course I know better. I know better than to be mad, much less to beat myself up over feeling mad. Above all, I know better than to publicly acknowledge any of that, ever. It’s the sort of thing that makes you look dumb online.

Remember when Shia LaBeouf did that stunt where he watched all his own movies back to back? It was the latest effort to rehabilitate his reputation after years’ worth of antics that included plagiarizing Daniel Clowes, chasing a homeless man, and maybe almost murdering his girlfriend. In a world in which Britney is a long-forgotten joke and LiLo, at 27, was described by the New York Times as “years beyond her peak, shorthand for total public collapse,” LaBeouf’s team wasn’t even worried. When you’re a dude, all you need is a publicist with enough chutzpah to spin your blatant mental illness/substance abuse problem as self-aware art. Who needs a comeback when you can just pretend your client’s entire shitty life has been a long con in the name of something (anything!) avant-garde?  

Lauded as “performance art” by WIRED and a “work of genius” by Rolling Stone, LaBeouf’s movie marathon got massive amounts of perfunctory press. My favorite report was from a journalist at New York Magazine who observed part of it in person. What made his piece interesting was a couple of sentences that inadvertently captured something real and true about the whole spectacle:
I got excited when I realized I had to use the bathroom, because it meant I could leave the row and push past LaBeouf, which would allow me to see if he was a stand-up-and-let-the-person-past-you kinda guy or if he was more into remaining seated and swishing his legs to the side. It was the latter!
My god, is there any metaphor for #content more perfect than going to the bathroom and writing about it? I imagine those lines would have struck me even if I hadn’t already disliked the person who wrote them, but it’s hard to know for sure. Abraham Riesman, a writer who literally generates content by taking a piss, had been a real dick to me on Twitter the month before.

I think this was my exact face when I had my own deep meta moment reading Riesman’s take [on the time he was a dick to me] in another piece for New York Magazine, this time about why he quit Twitter.

I first encountered the piece when a political writer I like had tweeted a screenshot of this paragraph; comics being a small world, I recognized “myself” right away:
I got into a fight on Twitter with a reviewer from a low-end culture site who had some idiotic opinions about a cartoonist I enjoy. The reviewer is a person of no major consequence in the critical world, and the site is widely derided, but I still felt compelled to get into an argument with her. I wasted nearly an hour doing so and found myself exhausted afterward.
Riesman’s writing had once again accidently revealed something real and true—not about the nature of Twitter, but about comics discourse, which is badly broken.

I’m not sure how to make this point without going into excruciating detail about what actually happened, but I promise you this is going somewhere: The “fight” Riesman referenced was in fact a string of a dozen or so angry, condescending comments he tweeted at me over the course of an hour. The occasion for his fury was my review of Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying, which I dinged for having no real women characters. In that review, and on Twitter, I linked to six or seven other reviews of the book (and issues of Optic Nerve that later became the book). Riesman took those links to be a series of personal attacks on the authors from a tacky, uninformed asshole [me] who clearly hadn’t read enough Tomine to appreciate his genius.

Riesman’s mistake (a common one) was in not recognizing the difference between a critique of someone’s work and a personal attack—a mistake he would repeat when he personally attacked me three months later. I mean, I still don’t think the pieces that I linked were very good (which is a comment on specific pieces of work, not the careers or credibility of those writers). But my point wasn’t hey, let’s have a laugh at these ding-dongs; it was that critics tend to hit the same notes in reviews of Killing and Dying. They praise Tomine’s mastery, perceptiveness, emotional range and subtlety—observations that don’t really hold up if you bother to look past his male characters. It’s not that other critics are “wrong” to like Tomine. I just find fault with the homogeny they collectively represent.

I politely explained all this to Riesman later that afternoon, but he’d already quit Twitter.

That was in October. Fast-forward to late January. Riesman deleted all his tweets to me in preparation for the publication of his piece, but I had screenshots I’d taken just a few weeks before. As it turns out, the time he argued @ me had stuck with me, too. Saved in a folder titled “Don’t Be a Dick,” I had used them as inspiration for an essay about divisiveness in comics culture that I had started writing earlier that month. (C&C went on hiatus in January, so I never finished it.) Here’s how it began:
A few months ago, a comics dude ruined my afternoon. I mean, it wasn’t anything serious. He didn’t lick my face at an industry event or lead a frothing bro army into my inbox. It was just a regular stupid boring kind of ruin, like when you’re having a nice dinner outside and it starts to rain.
You know, the kind of ruin where you reviewed a book for free, for “fun,” except now you’re on a work call, and you can barely hear the person you’re talking to because your phone keeps vibrating with patronizing tweets from a shaky red-faced fanboy who will rage quit the platform before you even hang up. Adding insult to injury, being a shaky red-faced fanboy is what he does for a living, having defeated the final boss of the tcj comments section and found whatever version of the philosopher’s stone it is that lets you monetize explainers on stuff you and your red-faced brethren love to shake about. This is just one of the many reasons why, as the angry man will helpfully explain in the months to come, he thinks he’s so much better than you. God bless this meritocracy.

Anyway, those dumb screenshots were the only reason I was able to call Riesman on what he had written. Partly because of that, but mostly because he had already made himself look so bad in his own ridiculous piece, it became a whole thing on Twitter that day. I think on the surface it probably looks like I “won” that argument, if you can even call it that. (It was never my argument; it was his.) But the reasons I’ve been having a hard time writing about comics are more about the things no one saw. That’s the way it is with comics controversies (big and small alike)—they’re these unimpressive piles of tweets or comments or emails or whatever, or even just the ghosts of those things. Intimations and fragments. The more you have to sift through them, the pettier it all seems.

After Riesman was mocked in an industry newsletter (media, not comics), my paltry Twitter following doubled overnight, and a lot of writers I really admire started following me back. I guess that should have made me feel good (or at least not bad)? They followed me because I stood up for myself. But I had suddenly come to the attention of my professional heroes as a direct result of a man calling me a low-end idiot nobody, and I guess I wish the circumstances could have been different.

Meanwhile, someone sent me a link to an insane Facebook rant that Riesman had written back in October. “I found myself drawn into a conflict with a progressive comics essayist,” it began. (“Progressive comics essayist.” Hahaha, kill me now.) He goes on:  
Her willfully ignorant opinions tensed up my stomach and I, against my better judgment, indulged my righteous fury and wrote a half-dozen tweets pointing out the flaws in her argument (and how those flaws ultimately do harm to the cause of progressive comics criticism). But why? Why did I bother? This was a person with a pittance of an audience, writing for a laughably backwater website. Why was I wasting my time? And why had I experienced a physically harmful reaction when I read her tweets?
I know that reads like parody but the sad truth is that it’s couched in thousands of words that are totally, totally serious. Reading that post…I don’t know. Part of me thought it was hilarious. But also, knowing that my opinions on Adrian Tomine made some stranger physically ill—and that he remained so angry about it that he wrote something very similar on a public, high-traffic platform three months later—makes me feel deeply fucking weird. So much so that I’ve effectively quit Twitter myself (for now, not forever). I mean, I’m there. I just feel strange.

Even as I was taking in Riesman’s [other] rant, Comics Twitter did as Comics Twitter does. Hey, you gotta hear both sides. Spotted: the most self-obsessed dude in comics crit with a series of subtweets about what a piece-of-shit writer I am, and what a crying shame it was he couldn’t complain about it more openly. He was the hero Twitter deserved, but not the one it needed just then…not that he was going to let a little thing like popular opinion keep him from being a bit of a goon. He was immediately retweeted by an industry blogger who had been mad af in my DMs the week before, accusing me of libel in an old thing I had written about racism. (Libel! Which, like, lol. But also think about the absurd levels of hostility and defensiveness it takes to arrive at libel.) I mention all this because they’re two more good examples of comics types who couldn’t distinguish between a critique and a personal attack to save their lives. They’re both routinely awful to anyone who disagrees with them.

Another thing that happened behind the scenes was that Riesman sent me a bunch of really lousy apology emails. (I’m not going to quote them at length, but they were frustrating. Like a telepath pushed to her limits, my nose started to bleed when I received the fourth one.) He didn’t want to say he was sorry on Twitter because he thought it would “fan the flames,” but I was more than welcome to announce that I had received a private apology. I wrote a long, thoughtful response to his second email; exactly six minutes later, he replied that he was going to carry forth my vital words as he tried to be a better person. Well, yay for him. Me? I still feel stuck on his anger and contempt, which I guess I’m supposed to believe somehow transmuted into a benign state of totally self-aware repentance in the six minutes it took for him to read and respond to my email.

Even as he was writing me all those apologies, Riesman was begging his editor in the background to let him change the piece. At first the editor said no, saying it was against the magazine’s policy. When Riesman asked a second time, his editor agreed to the change. The piece was quietly rewritten. This is what it says about me now:
I picked a fight on Twitter with a cultural critic. It was someone I don’t know personally and who I had noting to gain from fighting with, but I still somehow felt compelled to start an argument. I wasted nearly an hour doing so and found myself exhausted afterward.
And here’s the note that was appended at the bottom:
*A previous version of this article framed the incident that led Riesman to leave Twitter in a light that was, in retrospect, unnecessarily harsh in its characterization of the other person involved.
The new version is somewhat more accurate in its description of the original incident. It is, however, dishonest in framing the change as “unnecessarily harsh” (as opposed to inaccurate or misleading), in leaving no record of the original passage, and in continuing to refer to what happened as a two-sided fight. The purpose of the change itself was to make Riesman look like less of an asshole for anyone new to the article (it was still trending at the time)—and, presumably, to make it harder for me, a person who regularly writes about sexism and power dynamics in comics culture, to reference it later. On the record, Riesman gets to be the reasonable person he never was, and an act of bullying that I explicitly tried to call attention to was effectively obscured. You can see a pattern here—being a dick and deleting the tweets, belittling me in New York Magazine and deleting that too, sending a bunch of bad apologies but refusing to publicly acknowledge any wrongdoing…it’s nasty, manipulative, and self-serving. And the more words I have to use to describe it, the more it looks like I’m just making a big deal out of nothing.

Feeling like a fucking idiot (I’m fully aware that I’m the only person on earth who cares), I asked the editor to either restore the original passage or write a correction that didn’t emphasize Riesman’s rehabilitation. His reply? Sorry, no. “We considered the revision of that passage carefully.” Well, so did I. And including the original piece, the opaque “correction,” and that correction’s seeming disregard for New York Magazine’s actual correction policy, I count at least three really dubious editorial calls.

Some time has passed, but an inconvenient problem remains: comics crit is a very small world in which Riesman has a very loud voice. Sometimes it grates. Case in point: I was researching a difficult piece, a really personal take on Jessica Jones in which I explain why I think the show’s sexual politics are bad. One of the first links I encountered was a piece by Riesman, “Jessica Jones Has Hot Sex and Nuanced Sexuality,” that conveys his unbridled admiration for an episode in which “the title character got screwed doggy-style.” If you’ve actually watched the scene, you might recall it isn’t exactly the “wild romp” Riesman describes; for example, Jessica flips over because she feels uncomfortable looking into her partner’s eyes. As viewers, we don’t yet know exactly what’s up with that—it’s the first episode—but the scene is explicitly marked as emotionally fraught. If you couldn’t tell by her body language in the scene itself, the fact that she cries and pukes afterward is another helpful clue.

Anyway, here’s Riesman crowing about how what a hot fuck he thinks that was:
Smash cut to Luke on top of Jessica in his bed, going at it with a sexual fury unlike anything Marvel (or DC, for that matter) has even come close to putting on screen. She eggs him on, and when he warns her that she might not be able to take it, she insists she can. At that point, he flips her over and starts taking her from behind while the camera focuses on her impassioned face. It's a scene where Jessica is in total control of her sexuality. Whatever her reason may be for banging Luke, she's doing it on her terms. It's the way real-life grown-ups have sex, not the way neutered TV superheroes do.
Yeahhhhhh doggie! That’s exactly what incredible sex looks like when you’re an adult who feels totally in control: avoiding eye contact, crying in the bathroom, and projectile vomiting in the street after fleeing the scene like a criminal. Any sexually empowered woman can tell you that’s the trifecta. But seriously, this is what passes as a feminist perspective at all those “high-end” culture sites: a white guy writing about his horny level while, in the background, he squelches the voice of an actual woman who writes on the same subjects. Or tries to write about them, anyway. I don’t know. I’m having a hard time.

I’m writing today because I think I know the answer to a question that comics types revisit every so often: Why aren’t there more people writing comics crit?

Some of the reasons are universal. (There’s no money in it. There’s no real audience.) Others are huge, but not universal, like systemic racism and sexism. On top of all that there’s another, more nebulous obstacle that some of us experience, and that’s the fact that comics promotes a culture in which people feel way too comfortable acting like total dicks to complete strangers.

I know what some of you are thinking. Kim, I can’t help but notice that you yourself are a total dick. No, my friend. You are mistaken. I am a bitch.

How does one know a dick from a bitch? To start, a dick is someone with the total inability to distinguish between a personal attack and a critique of someone’s work. A bitch is someone who’s seriously sick of that shit.

A critique of someone’s work involves good-faith engagement with another person’s words or ideas building towards a substantive point—something beyond “you suck” or “that’s dumb.” A dick interprets every criticism, however carefully articulated, as “you suck and that’s dumb.”

Good-faith engagement doesn’t necessitate the absence of snark. Dicks are really invested in the idea that critiques of them have the sheen of respectability, like a business suit. They often wonder why a bitch can’t be more polite. They ask this calmly, drawing upon a seemingly endless reserve of something they believe to be neutrality. They don’t understand they are a protected class. See, when you’re a dick in comics culture, all the other dicks don’t act like dicks towards you. It must be some sort of crazy coincidence.

Personal attacks, I hope we all agree, are shitty and unfair. Conveniently for dicks, all negative assessments of their behavior or work are classed as personal attacks. This provides two key benefits: (1) there’s no need to take the negative assessment seriously, since it’s supposedly shitty and unfair, and (2) it’s totally fine to respond with an honest-to-goodness personal attack because, hey, “they started it.” And so we have this weird intractable problem in comics culture where all the dicks are taking everything personally, but also nothing personally, often while doubling down on whatever behavior it was that they were being criticized for in the first place.

Like bitches before me, I’ve been called sanctimonious and petty and provocative. What I am, in fact, is tired of people being dicks—often to the detriment of my own message.

(A message that is, invariably: don’t be a dick.)

It’s that signal failure that bothers me most, much more so than whatever dumb angst that people like Riesman make me feel. That guy’s an employee of a prominent magazine—one I subscribe to!—not the old coot who used to leave me unsettling comments about “dishonoring” the Hooded Utilitarian. Which is worse: if I can’t convey a simple, obvious point to the kind of “opponent” who should be most receptive to my message? Or if misogyny is so entrenched in this culture that I can’t review an Adrian Tomine title without some asshole making me want to quit comics?

Riddle me this: how is it that Abhay Khosla writes a novella-length wank joke about racism, misogyny, etc. and gets celebrated as a balls-to-the-wall TRUTH TELLER while the rest of us (women) writing about the same stuff get weird, aggressive, distressing bullshit, very often from our peers? I wrote one measured comment on his (mostly great) piece about how one section was weak and disingenuous and what *I* got was a personal attack from another commenter that tcj had to censor. I’m sincerely grateful to Khosla for taking the time to explain why trash opinions and literal crimes are Very Bad to a bunch of men who think most of that stuff is a joke anyway, but that’s an entirely different project with different stakes than whatever it is that the rest of us who wrote about those issues all last year have been out here trying to do, often in the face of real hostility. No one seems inclined to discuss that hostility with any openness or honesty, much less examine it in terms of personal responsibility.  

Here’s my suggestion: We need to call a moratorium on personal attacks in comics crit. Really this boils down to basic human courtesy. Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a dick to me. Don’t be a dick to anyone. Don’t attack people personally. Make fun of the stupid things they say, not who they are or where they said them. And maybe try to do all of that in service of some objective that’s not just putting someone down. That’s not practicing criticism; that’s being a sociopath.

In so many ways, I’m living my best life in terms of writing about comics. Somehow I’ve landed here on a website that means something to me. When I mock cartoonists, publishers, fellow critics, and other industry figures, I try to critique their actions and words and ideas as specifically and substantively as possible. I don’t do it to demonize them or make them feel bad about themselves; I do it because I’m very tired of reading the same stories about the same shit from the same perspectives. I really grapple with trying to find a way to write about these issues in a way that’s effective and ethical and entertaining and interesting to me, with mixed success.

In my own work and elsewhere, I feel like I watch conversations about the stuff I care about repeatedly fail to get off the ground. I worry I’m slowly becoming humorless about it, which I resent. Every time I vent my anger I know I’m losing more ground with the very people I ostensibly wish to reach. I honestly don’t know that I’m capable of writing for an audience that doesn’t already agree with me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to set aside my indignation in the service of being more effective. I’m not even sure that I should.

I guess that’s what Abraham Riesman is to me more than a personal antagonist: a symbol of that failure to communicate. Of futility. I mean, don’t get me wrong—I think he makes the Internet a shittier place, and that’s on him. But I look at that stuff he wrote and think: demonstrably, I’ve failed. I’m failing.

Maybe it’s too much to hope for, this dream of mine. Still, some crazy part of me dares to believe that, one day, my “progressive” movement will finally take hold. The next time you’re tempted to be a dick to someone, ask yourself: could I just not? Maybe we'll all be surprised.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Comics shelfie: Eleanor Davis

Early this year I asked the excellent cartoonist and illustrator Eleanor Davis if she'd like to participate in Comics & Cola's ongoing comics shelfie series, which sees cartoonists photograph and discuss their book and comic collections. 'I’m going to be traveling for the next 4 months,' she replied, 'I’ll be away from my comic books! I could either wait until May if that’s cool with you, or I could do a comics shelfie at my folks’ house with my mom & dad’s comic collections, which would be neat because I grew up with a lot of those comics.'  As much as this feature was conjured up to take a nosey around what artists read and are influenced by, one of the aspects I've come to like most about it is not only how peoples collections reflect their personalities- from Michael DeForge's crate system to Sophia Foster-Dimino's meticulously organised mini-comics- but also how individual and varied the approach to putting together the feature itself is. So when Eleanor suggested a 'family shelfie' (of sorts) I was pretty stoked. When she emailed me submission, my jaw definitely dropped open in envy: growing up around such a range of comics seems like a dream.

I love Eleanor's work; she produces comics that are thought-provoking, nuanced, and beautiful; and her use of shape and colour is one of my favourite things to see. But enough waffle, handing over to Eleanor:

'I spent the winter visiting my parents, Ed & Ann Davis. They aren’t collectors; they enthusiastic readers. They love books and they love comic books. This is a very incomplete idea of all the comics they own, because their comics are scatted all over the place, with lot of them packed away in boxes under beds and in closets.

Some King-Cat, Nausicaä, Scott Pilgrim, Kare Kano, Marmalade Boy, Cromarte Highschool, Pogo, old Mad Readers, 20th Century Boys, Crayon Shin-Chan, Dr Slump, Slam Dunk and Dungeon. (Also featuring a glow-in-the-dark comic-lamp I made in highschool.)

Well-read copies of The Tick, Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku, Foxtrot, Lil Abner, Blankets, Doonesbury, HATE, and Calvin & Hobbes

Yotsuba, One Piece, School Rumble, Brides, Kaze Hikaru, Hikaru no Go, Nana, Dance ’til Tomorrow, Azumanga Daiyo, Oishinbo, Nodame Cantabile, Nana, Please Save My Earth, Genshiken.

Asterix, Barbar, Zippy the Pinhead, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Maus, the Carl Barks duck comics, Lynda Barry, Will Eisner’s The Spirit

My mom and dad both read a lot of comics growing up. There were comics they’d read in the paper – Alley Oop and Lil Abner and Pogo. Their moms would buy them floppies like Little Lulu and Donald Duck comics from the grocery store for 10¢. Mad Magazine with Spy vs Spy and Don Martin was 35¢, and there were older kids around who had the back issues with Bill Elder & Wally Wood.
I grew up reading ancient floppy Little Lulus. My mom had especially loved Little Lulu when she was a kid. She could tell that there was one artist that was particularly good – the John Stanley Little Lulus – and she would seek those out. I didn’t read my mom’s childhood collection, though, because my grandmother donated them all to children in the hospital. When my parents were in their 20s my dad started looking for Little Lulus to give my mom for Christmas & her birthday. By the time I was little they had a filing cabinet full. I had to ask permission to read them, lay them out flat on the floor, and turn each page carefully.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

First images from French animated film adaptation of Jiro Taniguchi's 'The Summit of the Gods'

A proposed animated film adaptation of Jiro Taniguchi's climbing manga, The Summit of the Gods, was one of the highlights presented at Cartoon Media last week. Held annually in Lyon, Cartoon Media is a 2-day pitching & co-producing forum for animated feature films, giving producers the opportunity to share their projects and potentially speed up financing, find co-producers, and interest international distributors. Veteran National Geographic Magazine photographer Éric Valli and animator Jean-Christophe Roger are set to direct the film, which will be produced by Julianne Films, and already counts Folivari (France), Melusine Productions (Luxembourg) and Walking the Dog (Belgium) amongst its co-producers. A teaser of the film was shown at the event, and while that's not made its way online yet, several stills and character design sheets have -some of which you can see below. Most reports I've read have the film down as a 2D production, although project head Jean-Charles Ostorero was also quoted as saying, 'It won’t be in full 3D, but instead it’s an attractive way of allowing the breathtaking settings to make the highest possible impact, thus creating a huge adventure film, an incredible, epic voyage.' Which suggests it may be a bit of both. Regardless, it looks very promising and attractive indeed.

Originally serialized in Business Jump magazine between 2000 and 2003, Taniguchi's excellent manga is itself an adaptation of Baku Yumemakura's (one of Japan's most successful and prolific authors) 1998 novel, Kamigami no itadaki ('peak of the gods'). The manga was collected and released as 5 volumes, and has since been translated into both English and French by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, winning Taniguchi an award at Angouleme and an Eisner nomination. The story follows photographer Makoto Fukamachi, who, having come across an old camera in a little shop in Nepal, becomes convinced it belonged to the English mountaineer, George Mallory. Mallory took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s; disappearing in 1924 with his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine, as they attempted to make the first ascent of the world's highest mountain. His body was discovered 75 years later, but the question as to whether he and Irvine ever reached the summit of the Everest remains unanswered.  

Fukamachi's investigations to establish the provenance of the camera lead him elsewhere- to the story and rivalry of two modern climbing greats: Jouji Habu and Tsune Hase:

In 1993, in a small Nepalese store, Makoto Fukamachi, photographer for a Japanese expedition to conquer Mt Everest, stumbles across an old camera – a Vest Pocket Autographic Kodak Special. Could it be Mallory’s camera? Did it hold the secret of whether Mallory and Irvine made it to the summit?

With what may be Mallory’s camera found and lost, photographer Fukamachi delves deeper into the life of the mysterious character Bikha Sanp – the “Venomous Snake” - convinced that he is, in reality, the legendary mountaineer Jouji Habu. The more he digs the more he reveals of the lives of both Habu and his constant nemesis Tsuneo Hase as they each struggle against their own limitations and the perceived achievements of the other. It is a tale of obsession to succeed, to be the first – always. But as he penetrates the darkness of these men’s psyches he finds himself being laid bare and bound to the mountain in this raw human drama.'

Japanese live-action film of The Summit of the Gods is set to release in theaters this week, on March 12th.  

(via Catsuka)

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

With pound in hand: March 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).

Patience by Daniel Clowes, Fantagraphics: The first new work from Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron) in half a decade, Patience is a time-travelling love story about a man who travels back in time to track down his murdered girlfriend's killer, promising both 'violent destruction' and 'deeply personal tenderness.'  I'm interested to read this: I like Clowes' style and colouring (which is very distinctive) more than I do his writing, but to me he's another of a group of influential male cartoonists of the 90's whose relevance seems to be more contextual and historical than resonant with contemporary comics audiences. So I'm curious to see what a new Clowes work reads like, and how it holds up within the current landscape of the medium.

Kramers Ergot 9, Fantagraphics: The ninth volume of the alternative comics anthology, which began life as a self-published mini-comic by Sammy Harkham and evolved into an acclaimed series, is an over-sized, 250-page full colour book with a super fun cover by John Pham. It will carry comics and illustrations by a roster of contemporary alt comics finest, including 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 more. It's sure to be a beautifully produced object, too.

Marquis of Anaon 3: The Providence by Matthieu Bonhomme and Fabien Vehlmann, Cinebook: Vehlmann and Bonhomme's inherently gothic series continues, as the young, scientifically minded but curious Jean-Baptiste Poulain continues to investigate crime and strangeness in the 1720's, as he attempts to learn both about himself and the ways of the world. Here, he's back in Paris when the Countess of Almedia invites him to join her salon in Andalusia. 'Her offer is too good to refuse, and they're soon on their way to San Fernando by sea. During a storm, they narrowly avoid a collision with a drifting ship, the Providence. When they go aboard the derelict, all they find are corpses - and yet Jean-Baptiste is convinced he'd seen a survivor...' Stunningly irrefutable work from Bonhomme.

Hilda and the Stone Forest by Luke Pearson, Nobrow Press [EDIT- release date moved to September]: Four books in, Luke Pearson's blue-haired heroine, Hilda, is fast on her way to establishing herself as one of British children's literature's beloved characters. And it's easy to see why: Pearson depicts a dense and charming world that swirls together the magic and realism of childhood, a curious and bright heroine, and a sometimes frustrating but always loving mother-daughter relationship; all gorgeously bought to life by some utterly sumptuous cartooning. In her fifth outing, Hilda and her mother are thrust together on a dangerous adventure through the land of trolls, after Hilda's caught trying to escape the house while grounded. Body-swapping shenanigans ensue.

Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano, Viz: Asano's longest, and perhaps most acclaimed, work to date. Goodnight Punpun follows the titular 'Punpun' as he progresses from childhood to adulthood, all the while depicted as a poorly drawn cartoon bird: first a chick, then slightly more feathered, and eventually a darker-coloured, fully-grown bird -even as all other characters are traditionally rendered people. Spread over 13 volumes, the story is split roughly into four arcs: Punpun's life in elementary, middle, and high school, and then as a young adult. Asano mixes his trademark realism with a heavy dose of surrealism: Punpun comes from a broken home with an alcoholic mother and an abusive father, rarely speaks, can conjure a 'god,' and  is surrounded by a bizarre cast of characters. Goodnight Punpun charts the comedies and increasing, intensely dark experiences of Punpun's life as he grows up in this environment, and struggles to deal with himself and the world around him.  

Gotham Academy 2 Calamity by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, and Karl Kerschl, DC: I was pleasantly surprised by the first volume of Gotham Academy, a boarding school mystery buoyed by Kerschl's art that did enough right to make me want to check out the second book. It's a title that's accessible to new and younger readers, whilst remaining Batman-affiliated. 'At the beginning of the term, Olive Silverlock returned to Gotham Academy as a shadow of her former self. But thanks to her new friends and their Detective Club sleuthing, Olive was finally starting to feel whole again. But now, Olive is seeing ghosts. A spectral, robed figure is haunting the Academy-and haunting Olive in particular, appearing to her and giving sinister instructions. Could this spirit be the key to unlocking the secrets of her family’s dark past? Or is Olive simply losing her grip on reality?'

Help Us, Great Warrior by Madeleine Flores, Boom: Based on Madeleine Flores' popular webcomic, the Great Warrior is a bean-shaped being who travels strange lands in need of help, embarking on perilous quests, fighting ancient evils, and keeping herself in great shoes, swords and whilst she's at it -bow perched at a rakish angle along the way. Boom! tapped Flores to create a mini-series featuring the character back in 2014 and it's finally getting a trade paperback release, which I'm really looking forward to picking up. Just really fun, affirming comics that look great. 'Possessing great strength and even greater self-confidence, shes ready to kick some butts and save everyone, especially hunks/pals/handsome skeletons. But Great Warrior has a secret...and will her friends stand by her side?'

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew, Pantheon: Liew's magnum opus (and it is a tour de force- lets's employ all the applicable cliches), published last year by Singaporean imprint Epigram Books, gets the wider distribution it deserves from Pantheon. Ostensibly a journey through the life of an artist and the history of a nation, the marketing for this has been really smartly done, and plays a good part in how you experience the book, so I'm not going to say anything further. It's a truly exceptionally crafted work and one that epitomises the medium in a singular way. 'Now in his early 70s, Chan has been making comics in his native Singapore since 1954, when he was a boy of 16. As he looks back on his career over five decades, we see his stories unfold before us in a dazzling array of art styles and forms, their development mirroring the evolution in the political and social landscape of his homeland and of the comic book medium itself.'

Also releasing: Ajin Demi Human 7, Master Keaton 6, Steven Universe vol 2, The Complete Creepax

Thought Bubble open table registration & announce first wave of guests: Mike Mignola, Clare Wendling, Lisa Hanawalt, Kim Jung Gi, and more

The comics year always feels like it's getting into gear once Thought Bubble begin making announcements. And last week the Leeds-based comics festival delivered a triple whammy: unveiling this year's artwork/logo by  Emmeline Pidgen, opening table registration, and rolling out the first wave of guests due to attend. There's also been a slight change in date: where typically the festival has taken place over the mid week of November culminating in a 2-day comic con at the weekend, this year it will in the first week of November- from the 1st to the 6th, with the convention running on the weekend of the 5th/6th. The venue remains the same: the Royal Armouries Museum, with the con inhabiting 3 designated spaces: New Dock Hall, Armouries Hall, and the TB 'Teepee', a frankly amazing hard-shell, heated and carpeted marquee-like contraption which is basically a building in itself.

The first 11 guests to be announced are Mike Mignola, Lisa Hanawalt, Faith Erin Hicks, Mahmud Asrar, Calire Wendling, Kim Jung Gi, Lee Bermejo, Babs Tarr, Ryan North, Tess Fowler, and Stephanie Hans. The thing I -and no doubt many people- like best about Thought Bubble is not only that it's comics-focused (no sci-fi TV guests, or toy stalls- to state a preference, not a judgement), but that it strives to encompass the range and breadth of the medium- something which is evident from even that initial line-up. That then results in appealing to a variety of audiences, which is a big part of what makes Thought Bubble so highly regarded. I'm particularly excited for Mike Mignola, Lisa Hanawalt, Clare Wendling and Kim Jung Gi: all excellent and very different artists.

For those wishing to exhibit at the festival, registration opened on Friday 4th March  and will close on Friday 18th March at 8pm (GMT). You can find and submit an application here. Due to growth/demand, Thought Bubble switched to a fully curated approach in 2014. This means instead of a 'first come, first served' policy, each application is considered by the festival team and exhibitors are selected from within that pool. Once tables have been allocated, a reserve list of unsuccessful applicants is kept, in the event of table cancellations, etc. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Jill Thompson's and Evan Dorkin's Beasts of Burden returns for one-shot, 'What the Cat Dragged In'

In a continued run of happy comics news, a series I'm a big fan of is returning for a one-shot this May: Beasts of Burden, by Jill Thompson and Evan Dorkin. Revolving around a group of dogs who attempt to patrol and investigate the curious number of paranormal going ons in their neigbourhood of Burden Hill, the comic began life in 2003 with a short story in The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings. Three more stories appeared in various Dark Horse anthologies in 2004, '05, and '06, leading to a clutch of Eisner awards, and the title being given its own 4-issue mini-series in 2009. All eight outings were subsequently collected in a hardback collection the following year, Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites. It was this lovely book -beautifully designed, and printed at an A4 size which really lets Thompson's watercolours breathe- I came across whilst working in my first public library job. One of the first areas I explored was the small comics section; working my way through anything that looked interesting on my half-hour lunchbreak. It was case of instant immersion, combined with the feeling of discovering a book so good of which you previously knew nothing about.

I often see Beasts of Burden described, somewhat lazily, as 'Scooby-Doo but all the characters are animals!' when it's quite far from that (even without taking into account that Scooby-Doo fundamentally was about people always being behind the seemingly supernatural mysteries the gang were looking into- the supernatural didn't exist)- more horror-leaning: if it's going to be compared to a TV show, tonally, it's actually more like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It spins the lore of a cabal of 'wise dogs' throughout history fighting malevolent forces, and there being hotspots of spooky activity -of which Burden Hill is one. Some of these dogs have special abilities that are difficult to define: a second sight, while others act as leaders, or simply defenders. Although balanced out by turns of humour and mischief, it's darker overall, with the animals suffering from trauma and abuse, but finding a sense of community and purpose in one another. The strength of writing and characterisation is what ensures these shifts and emotions work. 

Post the hardback collection, Beasts of Burden returned for a crossover one-shot which saw the team partner up with none other than Hellboy, with surprisingly enjoyable results for something so random-sounding. A number of stories have since followed in Dark Horse Presents, with the comic last publishing another one-shot, Hunterers and Gatherers, in 2014.  There's not a lot of it, which should make it easier to track down what there is, for anyone interested. That also makes this new story very welcome. Titled What the Cat Dragged In,  it's due in stores on May 4th: 'When curiosity gets the best of Burden Hill’s cats (and one reluctant raccoon), sleeping demons are awakened and black magic is unleashed on the town of Burden Hill.' As a stand-alone story, I'd imagine it's well-placed to attract new readers, too.

'See You Next Tuesday': will the real Jane Mai please stand up? [review]

See You Next Tuesday by Jane Mai, Koyama Press

Somebody sent Jane Mai a potato in the post at the end of last year. In a series of posts on Twitter, she discussed how embarrassed and disturbed it made her, even as she attempted to interpose the incident with humour and kindness. The struggle between mortification, admonishment, and de-escalation was palpable. It's indicative of one of the focal issues in See You Next Tuesday, Mai's new collection of comics, where in addition to dealing with the perception and expectations she has of herself, she's also contending with the ideas and overtures people have of her -very often via the internet- and the ways in which these interact.

This notion of identity is continually kneaded at throughout the book: at the outset the reader is introduced to a number of 'Jane Mai' personas and characters- exaggerated representations of real and fictitious facets: there's separation and alignment. It's an ouroboros of introspection built in a hall of mirrors that -like her humour- acts both as a form of defense and defiance: in which the real Jane Mai- the truth of Jane Mai, can never really be got at. That allows for catharsis and autonomy of expression on Mai's part, and room for interpretation on the reader's behalf, without imposing a rigidity of meaning on either.

"Jane Mai was a product I made and sold"

While the relative 'democracy' of the internet has allowed people to bypass instituionalised gatekeeping to some degree, the transition of culture from 'in real life' to online remains the same (if not worse in that it facilitates rampant, unchecked abuse). Mai is one of many contemporary artists who have built followings after publishing work online, a feat that often requires a specific level of engagement and giving of oneself in order for it to be successful. The nature of that interaction can feel more direct and personal to the audience, fostering (with regard to female creatives, especially) entitlement and attempted ownership. There's a sense of people playing a part in your persona, a 'we made you' mentality; a collective Frankenstein-ing. Responding to your audience in ways they expect or don't expect is still a response created by the audience, and any giving is parcelling away parts of your self. Ultimately, there is no control over consumption and context in anything that a person chooses to share online. Thus the notion of authorial persona becomes non-existent, as does the notion of personhood. Mai attempts to subvert and turn this digital gaze on in itself by offering packages such as 'the Jane Mai girlfriend experience' ("a box full of garbage") or a t-shirt reappropriating abuse: "Somebody called me a cunt once on the internet. Isn't that weird you don't even know me! That's when I started making t-shirts that said: 'Cunt is such an ugly word. I'm so pretty though.'  And it was a bestseller. "

"I'm sorry I'm not your manic pixie dream girl. Let a bitch have some gravitas okay."

See You Next Tuesday is interjected with scrawled notes, ruminations on events, anecdotes, and quotes, and these break up the comics nicely. At 114 pages, it's not an excessively lengthy book, but it feels dense in a one-sitting read. Part of this is due to Mai's thin pen lines filling the 4/9/12/15-panel grids and requiring a greater concentration (she uses ink too, but the bulk of the strips are done in pen), and part of it is simply the range and depth of the material. The art appears quickly dashed off, yet that lack of polish somehow frees up topics to be addressed with rigorous, incisive attention: Mai's relationship with her parents, the tying of self-worth into looks and employment, sexuality, depression, her relationship with clothes, stranger encounters, sex positions -everything is engaged with wit and intelligence. Her humour ranges from toilet to black to absurd, synthesising with the loose, expressive style to convey a gamut of emotions; and her command over it is total. Mai seems genuinely, easily funny and it's key in making the subjects she discusses accessible, viable. See You Next Tuesday is a showcase for Mai's extensive abilities, and the most comprehensive evidence yet of her significance as one of contemporary cartooning's most capable talents.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Yen Press to publish Yotsuba&! 13 in May 2016

The best comics news of 2016 was announced earlier this week: Yen Press announced they'll be publishing the 13th volume of Kiyohiko Azuma's Yostuba&! in English this May. Many Yotsuaba fans -including (especially) myself- were hoping for exactly such a quick turnaround after book 13 was released in Japan in November last year. It's been a bit of a wait (a wait that always feels longer when it's something you enjoy and anticipate): that marked a 2 year gap between collections, with volume 12 published in Japan in November 2013. As far as I can establish, that seems to simply be down to Kiyohika Azuma producing story 'chapters' at a more leisurely pace; the chapters essentially read as individual stories, and are serialised in monthly magazine Dengeki Daioh before being collated for book publication.  

Here's the official solicitation from Yen Press to whet your appetite- it looks like readers will finally get to meet another member of the family in Yostuba's grandmother: 'Fresh off the excitement of her camping trip, Yotsuba initiates a very productive session of sandbox play in which she instructs Fuuka how to properly run a bakery. But even more exciting is a visit from Grandma! Yotsuba learns how to value and enjoy cleaning, how not to be rude when hoping for souvenirs, and most important, how to cope when Grandma leaves. But don't worry, she'll be back someday!'

Yotsuaba&! follows the everyday adventures of a 5 year old, green-haired girl, who lives with her single father. The cast of the comic is bolstered mainly by the three daughters of the family next door where she spends a lot of time, and also by Yotsuba's dad's friends: the very tall and aptly-nicknamed Jumbo, and Yostuba's mortal enemy, the younger Yanda. There are many 'slice-of-life' mangas, but a recent re-reading of the series confirms Azuma's Yotsuba as truly special. It's one of those very few comics where the tone, pitch, characters, pacing, writing, and cartooning all coalesce in a reading experience that's so completely fluid and natural that it's unquestionable. To make the mundane interesting is a tough task; to make it immersive and joyful yet still believable is masterful. The tilt of 'see how wonderful the small things in life are through a child's eyes' could so easily tip into the twee and trite, but Azuma avoids this through sheer strength of writing: Yotsuba is unassailable. And it's incredibly funny: how often is something still laugh-out-loud worthy the second time around? Azuma's cartooning is really, really good, too- this is most evident in the way he conveys changes of expression- a sequence in which Yostuba breaks something and her expression moves from sweaty guilt to shifty-eyed evasion to outright panic, via a few panels and an alteration in brow lines, is superb.

Ultimately, though, Yotsuba is joyous. As much as art hopes to elicit a reaction from the reader, to actually, honestly *feel* something from a work is rare. That that emotion is a positive one simply makes it all the more special. Ostensibly, what I'm saying is: this comic will improve your life. Get on to it now for instant results.