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Sinus Congestion

Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews the first two issues of Mike Freiheit's autobiographical minicomic, Monkey Chef.

The hook for Mike Freiheit's minicomics series Monkey Chef is a strong one: it's an account of time spent in South Africa, preparing food for monkeys at a sanctuary, as well as cooking food for the humans who worked there. A more conventional version of this story would be just a straight journal comic; the sheer novelty of the experience might have made it worthwhile in that form. However, Freiheit's approach is a more artful one, juxtaposing different events against each other in interesting ways. That said, the story is a fairly straightforward but episodic series of anecdotes and observations about his experiences that doesn't set out to make him look good. As Freiheit demonstrates, his time spent in South Africa was the epitome of a difficult but worthwhile experience.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Whit Taylor interviews Ellen Forney.

When I did Marbles, it took so much effort and so much emotional work that when I was done I felt like whatever I do next is not going to be a memoir. It’s going to be in the third person, and it’s not going to have to do with mental health. So I brought up another couple of topics, and nothing really struck me to do a book. In the interim, I got so much feedback from people who found Marbles helpful that it made me feel really purposeful. It took a few years for me to be able to come back and say, “I really like doing material about mental health and I feel like I have more to offer.” What I needed was a break from it and, in the interim, I feel like I became a mental health advocate or activist. I’m really excited about and comfortable with that role.

Someone has posted the audio from Ronald Wimberley's panel discussion with David Brothers at this year's TCAF.

—News. The NCS has announced this year's Reuben winners.

—Reviews & Commentary. The aforementioned Ronald Wimberley has written an interesting essay about Dilraj Mann's story in Island #15 (the one with Mann's highly controversial cover).

The fact that Dilraj’s cover is a part of the narrative makes the entire magazine, as an object, a part of the story. Dilraj is using the form to express the grand idea in the story.

As you may have already seen in this site's comments section, Paul Slade has found some intriguing hints that Andy Capp's Reg Smythe may be a strong influence on the work of Jaime Hernandez.

I’ve never seen Hernandez acknowledge any debt to Andy Capp in his interviews but, by whatever route the influence came, it’s clear the two men ended up using a very similar toolbox of quite specific cartooning techniques.

 

Seven American Brothers

Today at the Journal, we're pleased to be walking neck deep in a sea of Koyama Press titles. To start things off here at this abbreviated week of TCJ, we've got a review of the new Alex Degen graphic novel, courtesy of Oliver Ristau.

Though Alex Degen's comics are crowded with weird superheroes, poorly wrapped mummies and giant self-improving automatons – as well as lots of statues, which are often smashed to pieces – piles of dead bodies appear, too, sometimes covered in blood, and serve as a reminder for parts of Darger's work.

And most important, there's an ongoing absence of words. Degen once stated in an interview, “I believe in the power of this form, the silent comic, and am trying to get better at conveying complex feelings and concepts with it. Because when it connects it seems to connect with readers on a deep level.”

Did you have a three day weekend? I did. But you know who rarely takes three day weekends? Colorists! They work like animals. They're crazy for the stuff, that work stuff! Ben Towle agrees, which is why he's here with an interview with one of those colorists, Walter. You've probably come across his work before. Here's a bit on how he got started in the ashes of retail:

How did you become interested in specifically the coloring part of comics-making?

Well I had a comics shop back in the mid '90s when a big comics distributor company (Capital, I think) went bankrupt. We were collateral damage and the shop closed. I nearly lost everything. So after my shop closed I had to find a new job. I wanted to go back to drawing (I was an art student for years before the shop), but realized I stopped too long to get at a level where I could make a living from my art. I was a big fan of Steve Oliff’s work on Akira and read an article showing his process that got me really curious. The whole comics industry has turned to computer coloring but it was nearly nonexistent in France at the time. Coloring was still mostly done by hand on a separate paper sheet with the art printed in blue, so I decided to become a computer colorist, took a loan to buy a computer, and learned Photoshop with a friend who already knew the software.

Meanwhile, over at Vice--sure?--Tara Booth has a rock solid comic called Trying To Be Positive that I quite liked.

Annie's right.

 

 

 

Joyce Carol’s Oatmeal

Today at the Journal, we've got a titan's take on a heavyweight: Tegan and the Bros! It's new Love and Rockets week, cousin. Will we bite the hand that feeds (and has fed) since time immemorial? 

That’s something about both Jaime and Gilbert, as they got older and their respective serials eased into the comfortable rhythms of mid-life: saying each chapter seems slight on its own is hardly an insult when the sum is immeasurably greater than its parts. At this point even the idea of something as distinct as “story arcs” seems like a mundane imposition. Maggie & Hopey’s lives, to say nothing of those of Fritzi and her extended fractious clan, don’t fit into beginnings, middles, and ends. Maybe every now and again events cohere into distinct climaxes and denouements, but mostly things just keep going one damn thing after another. You know, like life. 

That's not all! Today we've also got a bit of Nobrow's King of the Birds to share with you. This is how they described their graphic novel interpretations of Slavic myths by writer/artist Alexander Utkin:

When a merchant nurses the King of Birds back to health after he is injured in a great war, he is offered a great reward. Together they travel far across the land to the domains of the King's three sisters to claim the merchant's prize... but will they give up that which is most precious to them?

Of course, this being the Internet, we're not the only ones with free comics--there's also The Passing, by Marian Churchland. It's excellent, stirring, and all too brief. 

For those of you in Belgium: first off, congratulations! I have never been. Second off, they have a Gilbert Shelton show going on now at Comic Art Factory, which you should check out. For the rest of us, drink in this interview they provided.

 

 

The American Kids

Nick Drnaso's Sabrina is one of the most acclaimed books of the year so far, and Patrick Dunn is here to talk with the artist about it.

I’m curious about how your life led you to comics in the first place. When did you first develop your interest in the medium and what creators influenced you?

I started a bit late. I was 18 and a high school friend and I were both going to community college. He was drawing crude notebook drawings and something about that appealed to me. I think ever since then, I have been trying the process of moving away from where I grew up and changing the way – Well, basically what is behind this whole interview is that there is a ton of uncertainty and a ton of negative feelings that have come up in the past year or so. And it makes me very conflicted about even doing an interview, taking in any kind of attention or validation that might come from what I’ve made, because it’s just wrapped up in a lot of self-hatred. And that’s another thing that has been kind of hard to get over recently. And somehow making art is very comfortable, or very comforting to me. But also, when I am being my most self-critical, it just seems like this exercise in ego gratification or something.

So I think that's why I'm having trouble answering these questions in a clear-headed way, about even simple things like my process, because in my mind I'm getting tripped up thinking, “What is my process? What does this even mean? What am I doing?” And the silver lining is that I think all of these things will just funnel into whatever this next project is. I think that the little bit of work I’ve started on, and a little bit of notes I’ve jotted down, have all been centered around these feelings. And I feel like there might be something healthy and relatable in doing that and just being able to share that with other people. So that is kind of the mode of thinking that is keeping me working these days.

Irene Velentzas is here too, with a review of Karl Stevens' latest, The Winner.

“It’s funny how people ask me if the stories in my comics ‘really happened’” writes Karl Stevens in his latest graphic narrative, The Winner. The back of Steven’s book jacket will tell you “Karl Stevens uses the graphic novel to dissect the line between the worlds of high and low art. While working as a museum guard he contemplates the plight of his aesthetic choices, and how they have affected his life thus far.” Since this is true of The Winner, I think it shouldn’t come as a surprise to an artist straddling the lines between reality, unreality, and surrealism, that his audience approaches the narrative reliability of his work with some skepticism. Stevens’ wry and often laconic wit are as much a part of the subversion of his words as they are of his images. It often takes an extra beat after the punchline to determine the double edge of his intension.

In Stevens’ work, I do not distinguish between high and low art, however. I would never say his work is not cartoony enough for comics, or realistic enough for the art world. While Stevens expresses simple sketches, primary color blocks, detailed engraving-like cross-hatching, and photorealistic paintings, I do not see these artistic styles as juxtaposed so much as superimposed in his work. The work that Stevens’ graphic narrative reminds me of the most is that of William Blake, who by his own admission endeavored to create works of “memorable fancy” – something descriptive both of reality and the heightened ability of the human mind to imprint the imagination onto memory. I find Stevens’ work converges upon itself, using his etched line-work as a type of base upon which he layers his colored portraits, and sometimes prints on colored paper. It is the repetition-with-a-difference in Stevens’ work that makes up both the reality and the fantasy of his tales.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Art Spiegelman has won the McDowell Medal, and Stan Sakai was won the inaugural Joe Kubert Storyteller Award.

—Reviews. Charles Hatfield reviews Vera Brosgol's Be Prepared.

About seven years ago, animator and storyboard artist Vera Brosgol entered the world of graphic novels with a walloping big success: Anya's Ghost, a supernatural fantasy rooted in the experience of being a Russian immigrant girl struggling to fit into American life. Brosgol knew this struggle firsthand, having moved from Russia to the US at age five. Anya's Ghost changed Brosgol's life: rapturously reviewed, the book went on to win Eisner, Harvey, and Cybil Awards. Its theme of trying to disavow one's cultural roots resonated with Gene Luen Yang's epochal American Born Chinese, which had been published some five years earlier (both were published by First Second). The two books drew upon popular genres—myth fantasy, superheroes, ghost stories—to fashion nervy fables of complex and ambivalent identity. In that sense, Anya's Ghost​ appears to have struck a nerve.

Now Brosgol, having also authored a Caldecott Honored picture book (2016's Leave Me Alone!), has just released her second graphic novel: the autobiographical Be Prepared, in which a nine-year-old Vera, again a self-conscious Russian immigré, goes to summer camp.

 

Her Satanic Hands

 

Today at The Comics Journal, we've got the latest installment of Retail Therapy. This time around, Steve Anderson is holding it down with his perspective from the giant display windows at Third Eye Comics. This is him on his running crew:

I could be away from the store for a good while, and as long as I am working remotely, nothing would change, because of the strong team we have. What I find myself doing more so than bringing up folks to take over responsibilities, is bringing up folks to take on responsibilities so that it allows me to do more for the company as a whole. There are a few things that I really have a hard time letting go of, but I've gotten pretty good over the years at identifying those things, and being realistic about just how much I can have on my plate at one time.

We pride ourselves on having very low turnover at Third Eye, and because of that, we're super lucky to have one of the most dedicated, knowledgable and committed teams in retail - not just comics retail, but retail as a whole. It's our staff that has allowed us to grow as much as we have, and they're what provides me the constant motivation to make the stores bigger and better.

RJ Casey has also returned to us, if only for a brief moment, so as to share us with his take on Sabrina, the new Nick Drnaso graphic novel. His take is that it's one of the best comics you'll find, anywhere:

The only thing I love more than an overly ambitious project that falls just outside its target is one that hits the bull’s eye. Sabrina splits the arrow with over 200 pages of Drnaso flexing. He puts a striking amount of detail in interiors, capturing the stale-aired drabness of “EMPLOYEES ONLY” backrooms and nearly empty month-to-month apartments. In a few large panels, he pulls out a Where’s Waldo-esque style to illustrate a children’s book inside the book. On other occasions, Drnaso, drawing haunting dream sequences, makes a negative image with his minimal line in neon over black. Sabrina’s art throughout is assertive and immediate, yet non-hurried.

If you want to know more, you can check out a preview of Sabrina, over at Comicon. We'll be talking with the artist behind this contender later on this week.

By the way, if you're aiming to grab an Ignatz, the first step is going to be getting nominated for one, and those submissions close June 1st, allegedly. Submit away!

One publication alone is too small to contain American hero Rob Clough, which is why you'll have to get on over to Your Chicken Enemy to find out what he thought about Michael Kupperman's All The Answers. I've never had the privilege of editing Rob's reviews, but if I was in charge of this one, I would have violently disagreed with the concept that Snake, Bacon, Pagus, Twain or Einstein areanywhere near as star-making as the infamous 4-Playo. Blasphemy, thy name is Elkin!

 

Anime DVD Collection

Today on the site, we have published the commencement speech Seth gave to this year's CCS graduating class, with an introduction by James Sturm.

To begin, I’d like to tell you that you have made the right decision in choosing to be cartoonists. This is very likely a sentence you will never hear again in your life. Don’t let that deter you.

Cartooning is a beautiful art form and you are among the first few generations of artists allowed to explore it with the freedom and pleasure that other artists have always been granted with their mediums. Take that to heart but take advantage of it, as well. It is a remarkable opportunity.

While it is true the legacy of our medium is scant, this also means you do not have the weight of centuries of tradition hanging over your head. Comics have only been considered worthy of serious attention for a decade or two. That’s nothing in the grand scheme of things. The field ahead has barely been tilled. Open ground. Ground that is still fresh, still brimming with possibilities. Still chances to stake your claim.

To be honest, I am quite envious of you. This school has given you an experience I could never have dreamed of when I started out. Back then, in the year 1980, it would never have occurred to me, after high school, to look for a college that focused on teaching comics. A ridiculous idea. Why would there be such a thing? I knew that comic books were considered pure junk. Almost the very bottom of the cultural trash heap. Perhaps pornography was considered lower. Perhaps.

We also have Rob Kirby's review of Jessica Campbell's sophomore book, XTC69.

Chicago-based artist Jessica Campbell's first effort with Koyama Press, Hot or Not: 20th Century Male Artists was a wonderfully funny, pointed satire in which the author presented herself as a museum docent, assessing not the artistic merit of celebrated male artists such as Gustav Klimt, Henry Moore, and Mark Rothko, but their sexual attractiveness, i.e., their "boneability." It was wicked fun, and Campbell never let the politics of her role-reversal override the silly humor of it all, proving herself a humorist to be reckoned with.

With her followup, XTC69, Campbell explores the same satirical territory, holding a mirror up to male chauvinism and misogyny and reflecting it back with merciless aim, this time through a science fiction parody seemingly inspired by the 1967 drive-in trash classic Mars Needs Women, in which a group of male Martians visit Earth to find female mates with whom to repopulate their planet. Campbell quickly establishes her everything's-opposite scenario, making her aliens a trio of females from the planet L8DZ N123 (read that carefully—get it?) roaming the galaxies in their titular ship in search of males. The L8DZ are led by Commander Jessica Campbell and the planet they have landed on is Earth—only it is 700 years in the future and no humans remain… except for one young woman also named (gasp!) Jessica Campbell.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Alex Dueben talks to Ellen Forney about her new book on dealing with bipolar disorder.

I feel like I became a mental health activist and advocate just by putting out my personal story. It made me feel really purposeful. It wasn’t just about me and exposing my own vulnerability and strength and story, but that there was more meaning to it than just my personal story. Much more than I had realized. I wanted to do more. The focus in Marbles, and the focus in most personal stories about mental health or bipolar disorder certainly, are about the struggle to get stable. That’s what my story was and that’s the narrative story arc. That makes sense, but being healthy with a chronic disorder means that you have your whole life stretching in front of you. It’s a long term prospect and that’s not nearly as interesting a narrative. I wanted to come up with a way that was dynamic and helpful and dealt with that part of it. That’s why Rock Steady is more of a companion book to Marbles, but you can also call it a sequel in that it’s about act two, three, and four, and however long life is.

—Reviews & Commentary. On his own blog, Brian Nicholson ponders Jim Mahfood's Grrl Scouts and the new collections of Mike Mignola's Hellboy.

When I think of the Mignola images I like that predate the Hellboy material, I most often think of a page in the DC event Cosmic Odyssey, where Batman is hiding just out of sight of the larger, Kirby designed villain above him: This sort of framing is nowhere in Hellboy.

Reading Hellboy, it turns out it still works. The aspect of Mignola’s visual language that seems most uniquely his is the insertion into a page of a statue or something that is primarily about atmosphere than a progression of sequential images. Despite his pages being redolent with big chunks of black and negative space, it was easy for me to see the similarities with Rob Liefeld and other Image founders. But reading this collection, those sort of insert shots that seem atmospheric or decorative when looking at the page as a whole comes across differently when you’re actually reading it: Like you’re noticing something else in the room you didn’t see before, but that now is emerging from the shadow because it’s directly in front of you. I don’t think of Hellboy as actually “scary,” despite its designation in the horror genre, but the stripped-back visual language works to convey that feeling as much as any of the story’s tropes.

 

Baby Euclid

The weekend beckons but before it comes, prepare by reading Alex Dueben's interview with Timothy Truman, who has revived one of his signature 1980s titles, Scout.

At the time, the book was my response to a lot of things that were going on politically and environmentally. We were in the middle of the Cold War and everyone seemed to be afraid of atomic bombs falling any minute and I just came up with the idea that there were other things to worry about beyond atomic bombs. Scout’s world is an America that’s fallen into a state of collapse, not due to outside forces but due to inside forces. I’ve always been a fan of Native American culture and history and I’d been reading a lot about traditional Apache religion and lifestyle and the more I started thinking about it, it seemed to me the only one that would be equipped to survive in this world that I was concocting would be an Apache traditionalist. Not just a Native American traditionalist, but an Apache traditionalist. Anyway, that was the genesis of the story.

Now in 2018 the idea of an environmentally ruined America that’s collapsed in on itself doesn’t seem quite so outlandish and crazy. [laughs]

How far we’ve come since the 1980s! [laughs] That’s what I mean. It was the time to resurrect the concept. In the follow-up series Scout: War Shaman, which was set fifteen years after the events chronicled in Scout, Santana gained two companions, his two young sons Victorio and Tahzey. That presented a new spin on the story. Scout didn’t have just himself to worry about. He had to do what he could to protect his two boys and be a good father to them as they roamed across this barren, ravaged landscape. At the end of War Shaman, Scout was ambushed and killed by government troops. However, Victorio and Tahzey were left alive. The oldest, Tahzey is rescued by one of Scout’s allies, a militant fundamentalist minister. However, when we last see the youngest, Victorio, he’s all alone beneath a rock in the desert. No one can find him.

We also have Day Five of Colleen Frakes's Cartoonist's Diary, in which she returns home from her trip.

And we also have a review for you, Tegan O'Neil's take on the Black Mask comic Young Terrorists.

The problem with Young Terrorists isn’t that it isn’t about anything, but that it’s about too much. There’s a lot of plot, a lot of exposition, a lot of characters. Charts and graphs are employed. Every character has backstory and a gimmick. The plot goes every which way. There’s just a lot.

This is an angry book, and in 2018 righteous anger can paper over a lot of sins. This comic runs on indignation, pure rocket fuel that burns incandescent white. (I watch the news all day so I can relate.) Matteo Pizzolo’s name appears on the comic twice, both as the series’ writer and one of the co-founders of Black Mask Studios. There are worse reasons to co-found a comic book company than to have an outlet for ultra-leftist political books.

I like everything about Young Terrorists, really ... except the book itself. And the reason I didn’t particularly like the book has nothing to do with the book’s politics, with which I find myself in general agreement. The reason is that there’s just too much going on here, even in the context of a two-hundred-page story. Although some things work and the book improves drastically as it goes, it stumbles out of the gate. It’s the kind of book where, after reading the story, I was surprised by the blurb on the back cover: A young heiress discovers her father is part of a tyrannical new world order. She vows to burn his whole empire down. That’s what I read?

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Eric Farwell at The Paris Review interviews Michael Kupperman.

I didn’t want a reader to have to work to get through this book. That’s why the structure of the chapters is modeled after classic comic books. It’s meant to pull you through, keep you reading. And reduction was the key. I had to keep my eye on what the story was about and focus on that. There are many fascinating details, cool stories, and bits of trivia I removed. This book is not about old show business per se, or how cool it was to be in his position—even though he had many extraordinary experiences, he didn’t enjoy most of them.

And the book isn’t about me, either, even though it needed my pain to work. I changed the final two chapters radically during the last months of work on it. There was a lot more about who I am, the negative effects I feel my upbringing has had on me. I removed that stuff because it was wrong for this book. This book is about my father first—my experience is secondary.

—Sam Ombiri writes about how he initially misunderstood the work of Gabrielle Bell.

Truth be told, the very first time I read the comic, because it didn’t tell me how to feel and the drama wasn’t calling so much attention to itself, I kind of just skipped over all that was happening. I read through elements in the story, not really engaging with said elements. Like, for example, a friendship dissolving between Audrey’s dad and Cody, because nobody is paying any mind to it. Not even Cody, who is being so mistreated. While Audrey’s dad can be blamed for leaving Cody behind to be arrested, it isn’t for reasons that aren’t hard to guess, displayed by how Cody treats Audrey. At the same time, the way everything ended unfairly on his end, it’s easy to see why he doesn’t feel like he owes anyone anything. The way Gabrielle drew Cody being arrested conveys to me his realization that nobody truly cares about him. I wonder if Gabrielle gave him a dog to be less lonely? Anyway, Audrey’s dad is confronted with having to take responsibility for the man he used to be, not to mention the torment he has clearly been subjecting his wife to, and possibly at one point considers escaping it all, maybe with Cody? Would all this drama then be more effective if I was told what to feel?

—The most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Kriota Willberg.

 

Don’t You Bile, Tonight

Today at the Journal, we've got that free comic action cooking something fierce. First up, you'll find an excerpt from Aaron Costain's Entropy, which is coming from Secret Acres later this year. One of the central questions is whether or not the cat in the comic can be trusted, let me spoil that for you: no. It's a cat. Never trust cats.

Day Four of Colleen Frakes' Cartoonist Diary is up and running as well, and Colleen has the most accidental Zen moment in response to meditation you're likely to find outside of those books by Uma Thurman's dad, it's pretty great.

Speaking of comics, here's something from an upcoming issue of Brittania: Lost Eagles of Rome, by Peter Milligan and Robert Gill. Valiant sends these over all the time, and while I know they won't publish this in black and white, I look at this page and think: they really, really should.

Of course, before you get to see the comics, you usually get to sneak a peek at the covers, which is what's going on over at Koyama Press this very second: the reveal of Annie's much anticipated list of Fall titles, which is wall to wall heavy hitters.

Over at The Chicago Tribune, you'll find novelist Kathleen Rooney reviewing Nick Drnaso's Sabrina, which D&Q is dropping next week...hey, I wonder if we'll review that? I'll ask Tim, his phone has a calendar on it.