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The Illuminati, But For Raisins

Today at The Journal, we've got Leonard Pierce checking in with a review of  The Battle of Churubusco, Fantagraphics latest installment in their small (but sturdy) library of done-in-one graphic novels of action/action/action. Don't be scared by the history class sounding "American Rebels in the Mexican-American War"--according to Leonard, this one is all money shots.

If this all sounds like the stuff of a classic Western film, that’s because it’s designed to be.  The whole thing is cinematic in the extreme, practically begging you to imagine it on the big screen with a John Ford type behind the camera.  (There’s even a scene where the tough, steely Mexican señorita on the side of the rebels drags a wounded Rizzo through a massive thunderstorm gathering on the horizon which will make you positive you’ve seen this movie...even though there’s no movie.)  Everything from the way Ferraris illustrates the stark southwestern vistas to the way he mixes his archetypical characters together is well-crafted pure genre nitroglycerine. 

Yesterday, Image Comics announced a whole list of new titles, ranging from "Harry Potter meets Riverdale" to a print edition of Dean Haspiel's webcomic. The one that caught my eye was, in a surprising coincidence, the one related to Rob Liefeld. Following in the footsteps of that thing where Brandon Graham reimagined Prophet as a comic featuring anthropomorphic toilets that didn't make any sense, Liefeld's handed the reins of Bloodstrike over to comics titan Michel Fiffe, who kindly provided readers of The Comics Journal with a preview from the upcoming series

The other big news from yesterday was the announcement of the LA Times Book Prize nominees, which has proven itself over the last few years to be genuinely interested in comics in a way that puts quite a few other newspapers with the word "Times" in their name to shame. The nominees include Gabrielle Bell, Yuichi Yokoyama, Leslie Stein, Connor Willumsen & Manuele Fior. (They even have the class to namecheck Fior's translator, Jaime Richards.) Go figure: if you bring aboard judges who actually like and read comics, the list they produce has the potential to reflect the breadth and depth of the medium. 

 

Recovery Period

Today on the site, Austin English is back with the second and final part of his tour through his favorite zines.

I was intrigued by people's reactions to the first installment of this series. Some expressed excitement at seeing one of the first zines by artist Margot Ferrick. The work in question is from 2012, not ancient history in the least, but Ferrick's work has changed considerably since that moment. As I said before, zines disappear arbitrarily and without warning. A reader's favorite artist may have made something deeply heartfelt in the very recent past, but the work and the attitudes expressed may forever be obscured. With this in mind, for the final installment in this series, I've tried to write about a great many zines, in the hopes that works that have moved me might open up forgotten corners of what is possible in cartooning (which is the not so secret intention of this column in general).

 

Secret of the Saucers by Char Esme, 2013

Pages from Secret of the Saucers by Char Esme, 2013

I'm always surprised that we so rarely see comics like this one, works where total expression is attempted without much concern for the trouble the reader will go through to grasp what's being communicated, but instead with a desire for the audience to catch up. Underground/art comics is a small world, with (it varies year to year) virtually no industry. Experimental works often allow themselves to fall into trends of the day, allowing their truly groundbreaking qualities to be go through a twisty straw constructed with of-the-moment popular aesthetic tropes to make the enterprise more palatable. Not so with this comic by Esme. A comic based on the life of Orfeo Angelucci, a man who claimed to be in contact with extraterrestrials, this is an uncompromising work: the characters change appearance from panel to panel, there is no visual relief in the form of negative space, facial expressions often clash with what is being expressed verbally and the subject matter itself makes one uneasy. I don't believe any work of art is made up solely of intentional choices and I don't believe in a 'gotcha' critique in which a nontraditional work is shown to be doing things exactly as it set out to do. And yet... with this comic, all of Esme's choices are thrilling, all add up to an experience that has no peers elsewhere, in a way I've never had (and I'm sure never will have) elsewhere. I believe Esme once expressed that she liked reading 'any comic' that was put in front of her, and this work, in spite of its seeming opposition to what cartooning is, can only be a comic. It presents us with an experience using images, text, and characters that is entirely its own, and rewards, both in feeling and intellect, the challenge it presents.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Marvel Comics is relaunching its entire line, always a good sign of a healthy brand. This is probably just the lingering virus in my system that had me out of commission for the entire three-day weekend, but I'm getting less and less confident about the near-term survival of comics stores as we know them...

A GoFundMe fundraiser is very close to raising the money necessary to publish the last comic by Mark Campos.


—Reviews & Commentary.
Charles Hatfield writes about Ezra Claytan Daniels & Ben Passmore's BTTM FDRS.

Creepy and charming, it mashes up oozy, sick horror and dark, politically barbed comedy. The story satirizes racism, structural and environmental, via a blighted Chicago neighborhood and an imposing, temple-like block of an apartment building there that serves as the setting. A hyperbolic SF riff on urban decay, BTTM FDRS also skewers the kind of White hipster hypocrisy that extols urban decay for its authenticity. It does all this with a cast of distinctive characters, funny, stinging dialogue, and moments of queasiness built around a body horror conceit: that of a building that literally gets inside your guts. It’s one of a kind.

Michael Dooley looks at Paul Gravett's Mangasia.

[John] Lent investigates comics cultures and changes regionally, from East to Southeast to South Asia, while Gravett explores its subject thematically within a loose chronological timeline. Visually, Asian Comics has a textbook vibe, with its university press-style workmanlike cover and amateurish layout, while Mangasia comes across as an eye-popping coffee-table book, from its screaming cover starring Star Punch Girl to pictures on every single page, beckoning you to keep flipping through. And while Asian Comics has less than 200 images, all in black and white, Mangasia is in full color and packed with more than a thousand. And while there are a few by familiar names like Osamu Tezuka, Sonny Liew, and Nestor Redondo, many are wildly experimental and most have rarely, if ever, been seen in the U.S. However, in this case less images would have been more, inasmuch as a handful are either undersized or unsharp.

Brian Nicholson looks at Adam Warren's Gen13.

“Everybody’s talking about Riverdale and the Archie who fucks,” I texted a friend. “But the original Archie that fucks is Burnout from Gen13.” The sad truth that led to me having Gen13 on the brain was that I had recently purchased the last few issues of Adam Warren’s run on the title. Not the issues drawn by Ed Benes, whose figures have the expressiveness of mannequins, but whose proportions make it clear you’re supposed to jack off to them, but those drawn by Rick Mays. Mays’ manga-influenced style is close to Warren’s own drawings, though its less maniacally cartooned, a little closer to mainstream superhero comics notions of detail. He illustrated the Kabuki spin-off miniseries Scarab. The first issue has its main character on the toilet, flipping through comics and talking about an earlier Adam Warren Gen13 comic. It’s a weird scene. Not just the page, but the subculture of comics that produced it. That’s not to place any value judgment on the work. I’m not necessarily in love with Rick Mays’ art, but it’s a good match for comics I feel conflicted about.

—Misc. Daniel Clowes as a category on Mastermind.

Eddie Campbell is publishing new webcomics.

 

Know When To Fold Them

Today at The Journal, the indefatigable Rachel Davies returns with a review of Anneli Furmark's Red Winter

While many comic books involving tense political climates announce it clearly, or feature the political climate as the meaning for the book, Red Winter’s 1970’s Sweden, following the fall of the social-democratic party, isn’t so much important on its own, but in the way that it affects our protagonist, secondary to the romantic emotional tether of the book. Books like Art Spiegelman’s infamous Maus or Sarah Glidden’s How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less grapple with the way politics affect our lives in a very head-on way––the central tension of these books is parsing through a problematic history, and using politics as a lens on love, and other emotions. Furmark has strayed from that route, and uses love as a means to view politics, commenting on almost exclusively the ways that a political affiliation problematizes a relationship between two people.

It must be Drawn & Quarterly day here at TCJ, because that's not all-we've also got a visit from Robert "Bobbie" Sikoryak, who documented his most recent book tour for you, the Journal reader. As is his wont, said documentation comes in comic form, and features a loving tribute to the "other" Robert in comics--sweet Liefeld. Before agreeing to run the piece, I extensively confirmed with D&Q and Sikoryak that Liefeld's work would be treated with the utmost respect, and they assured me that was the case. It's not so much that I'm a super huge Liefeld fan, although I do have a lot of fondness for the way Matt wrote about him, but that I'm not a super huge fan of that thing where 80% of the comics internet started talking about the feet thing all the time. Same thing with the tv show 24--for the entire time it was running, every guy and their best guy friend had the same joke, asking about when Kiefer went to the bathroom, and everyone always asked it with the same gee-golly tone of voice that made it clear they believed they were the first person to ever make that observation. Liefeld was/is the same way--he's the guy that turns every pencildick into Manny Farber with the fucking feet comments. It doesn't matter that there's like 800 zillion super-hero artists who couldn't draw a flatscreen television set without lightboxing an IKEA catalog, all of whom have completely escaped criticism since the dawn of their miserable, dull-ass careers, Rob Liefeld is somehow the exemplification of the failing of modern illustration because of some affectation that had absolutely zero bearing on his job, which was to draw giant steroid cases with guns shooting at Spider-man rip-offs while women with the most insane hair you've ever seen screamed so big you could trace their gumline with a cricket bat. Until I started reading the comments section to Rob Liefeld articles, my opinion on the guy was that I had zero interest in reading any of his comics ever again, but ever since he became the target joke for people who call themselves intellectuals while also calling Saga an "indie" comic, I sort of fell in love with him. That being said, I've met him a few times and he always seemed deliriously happy with his station in life, so maybe I should just let it go, it's not a battle that needs fighting. I also did try to read some X-Force a few years ago and it was an impossible slog. I guess the whole point of this complaint is: sharpen your knives?

 

Feed Zone Portugals

Today at The Journal, we've got dw on Yuichi Yokoyama's Iceland, which was released by Retrofit Comics last year. It's an excellent comic, and dw's review gets right into the meat.

Elements of his aesthetic - acutely distinctive character designs, aggressive contrast between black and white (with artfully-deployed dots and grays), busy layouts that bulge uncomfortably against the edges of the claustrophobic pages - push any given narrative moment or representational image distressingly close to the point of abstraction. Trying to grasp the deceptively simple narrative induces tension and unease, reflecting emotions that afflict the characters to varying degrees.

A solidly influential comics figure sent a list of demands for coverage within days of me taking on this little role here, and one of those was that The Journal get around to talking in more detail about Retrofit's development over the last few years--it's not a bad idea, and maybe by outing it here I'll move it to the top of my to-do list, placing it one spot above "convince my wife to go see that Clint Eastwood movie with me."

It didn't seem right to ignore the release of Black Panther this weekend, considering how much I've been enjoying that Kendrick Lamar album. Don't get me wrong--it's still a Marvel movie that includes a slow motion flip over a car and a speaking role for that ridiculous ham they usually cover with motion capture dots, so I'm not holding out a lot of hope. But it's also absolutely plausible that Ryan Coogler--the man who realized that the beating heart of a sports movie is the workout montage, so why not include one that is 45 minutes long--has come up with something that even Chadwick Boseman, an actor whose ambitions don't seem to extend beyond the heroes of his 9th grade social studies class, can't turn into another leaden monologue on truth & justice. But hey: this is the COMICS Journal, we're not part of the Disney Marketing Arm quite yet.

SO: Back in 2010, Marvel Comics released an overpriced hardcover collection of Don McGregor's run on Black Panther, which contained the story "Panther's Rage". At that time, comics critic David Brothers and I teamed up to write about that story, why we liked it, what we thought it said about super-heroes, and Black Panther in general. We've repurposed those pieces into one article, which you can read on your phone while you wait in the line to watch Michael B. Jordan convince you to renew your gym membership. Ladies and gentleman: Fear of A Black Panther.

 

Sick Day

Today, Sarah Horrocks returns with a review of VS #1.

It takes place in the blurred borders between a first-person shooter and a reality show about war.  The first issue follows soldier/gamer Satta Flynn, as he recovers from an injury and works to get back to fighting with his unit. The book slots alongside things like Robot Jox or Mobile Suit G Gundam; it's another story about protagonists participating in a sort of futuristic sporting replacement for war.

In contrast to something like Mobile Suit G Gundam, the war game aspect of the story exists in a kind of hyper-reality running parallel to a slightly more mundane world, and at least through the first issue, it’s not clear how the two worlds connect or what weight we are meant to give the things that happen in the “game.”  Because of the artifice of the game world, where people stop fighting during commercial breaks, and seem to compete according to the the rules of a first-person shooting game, it’s hard to determine the physical stakes of what you see happening. While we do see Flynn recovering from some sort of injury to his legs, it’s unclear how he sustained those injuries and whether the last quarter of the book is happening in flashback or things are proceeding somewhat chronologically.  While this displacement of stakes in terms of how we watch war is intellectually stimulating, the dramatic edge is almost nonexistent.  


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Misc. Eisner Award voting is open.

—Interviews & Podcasts. The latest guest on RiYL is Gina Wynbrandt, and the latest guest on Virtual Memories is Lauren Weinstein.

—Reviews & Commentary. Mark Dery revisits the collage novels of Max Ernst.

More than three-quarters of a century on, the collage novels still cast an unsettling spell, plunging us into a gaslit Victorian underworld of the unconscious, part magic lantern show, part séance, all Freudian uncanny. Armed with scissors and glue, Ernst performed meticulous surgery on 19th-century engravings— illustrations from Gothic romances, penny dreadfuls, mail order catalogues, and scientific texts — to create disquieting tableaux. Marrying hallucinatory visions to hard-edged realism, true crime horror to black humor, they flicker in the mind’s eye like scenes from a silent movie — a melodrama based on Jack the Ripper’s dream journal, perhaps.

Even now, after countless knockoffs in ads and album-cover art, Ernst’s collage novels pack a wallop. “They are still sinister, disturbing, and marvelous in their unrelenting power of suggestion,” Robert Hughes observes, in The Shock of the New. “The peculiarity of Ernst’s world never lets up or lapses into cliché, and its apparitions are always suddenly there, as if stumbled on.”

Cullen Murphy picks his five favorite books on comics.

Kate Feiffer reviews How to Read Nancy, and briefly chats to co-author Paul Karasik.

I grew up the daughter of a cartoonist and thought I knew a good bit about the craft. I was glued to this book and came away with a entirely new and deeper understanding of the comics form. Karasik and Newgarden turned an experimental idea, one that conceivably could have had limited appeal to students and cartoon geeks, and created a page-turner that should appeal to anyone who has ever loved a comic strip, or is interested in visual storytelling and humor. Not to mention Nancy fans.

 

[rethinking]

Ah, the Comics Journal: it's Valentine's Day! I don't know about you, but up until I got hitched, my only valentine was comics, shoved directly into my mouth, Ash v. Ripley style. Stick with who brung you, I say--and who doesn't love Shaky Kane? We've got a whole pile of Shaky comics for you today, courtesy of Breakdown Press. In the hopes of synergistically building your anticipation for an upcoming review, take a look at this excerpt from their Good News Bible, which reprints all of Kane's Deadline strips

Ah. That's not enough though. Let's do some more Breakdown Press stuff today. How about a nice long interview with Antoine Cossé, courtesy of George Elkind? Not to blow the guy's spot up too much, but George has apparently been off huffing some comics ether, some kind of comics critic workout montage--he's promising that his return to these pages will be so expansive we'll forget he ever left. I'm gonna hold him to it, you should too. Funny how this Antoine guy inspires so many critics to get back on the writing horse. Anyway, enough horseshit from me: it's a great interview.

You have a lot of long drives in your comics, but I don’t associate any of the places you’ve lived [London, Paris, Turin] with long drives. Is that kind of an elaboration for you or is that more rooted in some experience?

Well, it’s both. I really like driving. I always find it very meditative--it’s like a nice thing to do. But, to draw, it’s great because it’s a total space. You can control everything and you can vary the speed. Because it’s like a thread. So I found out that, too--but I also really like drawing cars. So that’s good.

Sure.

But you also get to enclose your characters into a really close space, which is weird. Because people in cars are just a bit weird. You’re not really--it’s strange [in Showtime] because it’s his car, and they’re all strangers and they talk together. I mean, there’s different things; if you’re being driven by someone, there’s a strange kind of way of watching landscapes. I don’t know, it’s like if you’re driving… when you drive, it’s different. So there’s loads of different shifts in point of view.

Yeah, it’s kind of its own sort of altered state, I guess.

And there’s the in- and the out- of the car, when you’re [via point of view] in the car or out of the car, which I really like playing with in comics. But you’re right, there’s a lot of driving.

AND THAT'S NOT ALL: I didn't expect Valentine's Day to have such a distinct thru line, but here it is--the man who brought George Elkind into my life, Matt Seneca, who turned up with a review of Uno Moralez's Blue Teeth that had me staying up later than intended. Check this piece out, I read it and immediately incorporated it into my own belief system.

Moralez has internalized one of the most important lessons of the horror genre, one it shares with the kind of esoteric mystical texts that Blue Teeth also slots in comfortably next to. Don't make too much sense! There's a reason every horror movie starts to suck after you see what the monster looks like, and that haters always insist there's no scientific basis for whatever your religion is. Horror is our fear of the unknown; transcendence is our awe of it.

Excellence. I hope you have a great day with whomever it is that you are super into. By the time you read this, I will have shared one of my favorite love stories--Frog & Toad--with my daughter. Arnold Lobel all day, son.

 

Shop Talk

Today on the site, Martyn Pedler talks to Charles Forsman.

You often use teenage protagonists in your work. What’s so appealing about writing teens?

Yeah. It comes down to when I was a teenager. I was pretty depressed. I became disengaged from school and, you know, I got really cynical about life. I’m not special in this. The one big thing that happened was when I was 11, my dad died from cancer, and that was such a changing moment in my little world. It made me grow up a little faster: life is not always running around in the suburbs, riding bikes, and having fun.

There’s a part of me that wants to constantly relive that because when you’re a teenager your emotions are so raw. You think you have everything figured out, but you’re also so lost and frustrated. I just find it fascinating, and I’m trying to organize that time of my life on paper. Figuring out how to get it out, to communicate these feelings. Because it can be pretty complex, and I’m not the best speaker. Comics is how I’m most comfortable.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Michael Cavna at The Washington Post spoke briefly to Adrian Tomine.

“I think that becoming a parent was by far the biggest influence on me while I was working on ‘Killing and Dying,’ ” says Tomine, who will be speaking Saturday at 6 p.m. at Washington’s Politics & Prose at the Wharf.

“When I finished my previous book, ‘Shortcomings,’ I honestly felt like I’d painted myself into a corner in terms of subject matter and tone and style, and I was kind of stumped about how to escape,” Tomine tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs.

The most recent guest on RiYL is Emil Ferris, and the most recent guest on Process Party is Michel Fiffe.

—Misc. Ken Parille remembers Alvin Buenaventura.

Alvin Buenaventura left us two years ago. On the day he died, I had been thinking a lot about calling him, but decided not to. Unless we were in the midst of a comics project for his press, Alvin, ever elusive, often didn't pick up. In the fourteen years we were friends, if I wanted to get in touch with him, I knew what to do: Call him a few times over the course of a few weeks and he’d eventually get back to me, whispering in his almost imperceptibly soft monotone, “Hey Ken, I saw you called.” When this tactic wasn't necessary — when I called and he answered — I felt lucky. I had someone smart, someone engaged to talk comics with. ...

John Jackson Miller writes about the end of DC's newsstand editions.

A moment in comics history passed without any fanfare at all in the summer of 2017. It went unnoticed for several weeks — and while it's been discussed online in the months since, I was evidently the first person to ask the publisher directly about it, more than five months later. And now the confirmation is official: DC ended its newsstand editions of its comics as of the end of August 2017.

See this issue on eBay"DC discontinued much of its newsstand distribution in late 2013 and early 2014," Vice President - Specialty Sales James Sokolowski told me today. Marvel had pulled out of newsstand distribution completely in 2013, but while DC's titles left most independent wholesalers then, the company had continued to distribute a limited slate of returnable titles through Ingram Content Group, which served Barnes & Noble, and Media Solutions, which served Books-a-Million.

 

Another Tryst Opportunity

Today at the Journal, we've got Rachel Davies and Tommi Parrish talking about The Lie and How We Told It, their most recent release via Fantagraphics, the consequences of youthful indiscretion, the Australian comics scene, and the delights of bookmaking.

I think I’m just trying to make more interesting stuff. I think also my life might be a little bigger than it was before. I’m just more interested in talking about other people’s stories, than like constantly writing about feeling sad. I think it’s totally just a,[product of] maturing as a writer. I was starting to feel frustrated with what my work was looking like––I mean I’m still frustrated with my work, but I was starting to feel frustrated with constantly making the same thing. That’s how it felt, anyway.

That's it for today. There's so many reviews that are coming up this week, from so many great writers! I'm currently in Denver for ALA Midwinter. It's a massively different show than it was last year, when it was held in Atlanta during Trump's Inauguration, the Women's March and an Atlanta Falcons playoff game. The only thing I remember at that show was how March won every award that it was eligible for and how completely empty the room was when all the women walked out of the convention hall. This year, a snowstorm has kept a lot of attendees from being able to make it to the show, which has made the attendees who are here even more curious than they usually are, which is pretty curious. It's the opposite of a fiscally driven consumer show, where the ultimate aim is to conclude any conversation with the sale of a product--here, it feels more about finding the way in which the thing you're speaking about can become part of the catalog of things that these people are going to be speaking about when they return home. How can your work get on board with the conversation that's already happening, that will continue with or without you, and will last after you're gone? Often times, it feels less and less like the place I used to live in comics is still there--a place where multiple strands and styles and genres lived amongst each other. But then you go here, and so few of those prejudices have survived the trip. Comics are back to just being an artform, a style of communication, something that can tell a whole nest of stories, or explore not telling a story at all. The idea that any one publisher or genre or style of art would be enough to fill a library branch with everything their patrons need is so absurd that it doesn't even come up as a concept in a discussion--it would be like saying you can only have yellow boxes at a grocery store, or any other dumb analogy. Here, it's a bunch of people happily embracing the impossible task of trying to please everyone--of trying to return to their homes armed with what they need to entertain and educate, and who don't have the time or luxury to adopt a bunch of grievances they'd have to read actual back issues to have an opinion about in the first place. It's a challenge just to keep up.