A few weeks ago I co-hosted a podcast in which Tom Spurgeon reminisced at length as to the workings of Eros Comix, the porn wing of Fantagraphics, presently in stasis for its 25th anniversary year. Knowing this, I have been preoccupied with finding examples of new comics in the Eros style, as if to revive it by analogy - and, fitting for works built ostensibly for masturbation, my idea of mainline "Eros" is less theorem than fetish. The 'classic' model wouldn't predict the future, as did Colleen Coover's delightful Small Favors, which anticipated a sex-positive field of egalitarian smut. I'm thinking of something furtive and sinister, weird - a dirty comic, dubiously erotic, preferably folded-and-stapled, and very brief.
I found exactly what I was looking for at last weekend's big show, Comic Arts Brooklyn. The artist Inés Estrada has tabled there a few times, representing not only herself and her Gatosaurio label of comics and prints, but other exhibits from the Spanish-language North American comics scene, and it was among her offerings from Ediciones ¡Joc-Doc! that I found Lilin, a 44-page b&w risograph comic, in Spanish with English subtitles, from an artist and musician known only as "Mou". The publisher will ship it stateside for $12.00 USD.
The first thing I noticed was Mou's faces, dominated by long, narrow eyes in a manner reminiscent of Jonny Negron. His bodies are far frailer though -- even the fat kids seem undeveloped like high schoolers generally are -- and his backgrounds are initially quite minimal: just lines and tone to suggest walls, desks, whatever. We can't help but follow those eyes, then, as every boy in class checks out the cute new girl, her body dismembered by their collective gaze. This is the last violence *they* will be doing to *her*, however, as manga dictum provides transfer students should be loci of mystery, drama, attraction, or other secret powers.
All the boys want sex with Lilin. Some of them, we might additionally infer, have been sexing the internet for most of their lives as mature beings, for it is somewhat surreal extreme porn that one boy settles down to watch after school: lesbian power drill anal; a toothy fish nibbling a flaccid glans; cum-swapping from out the Holy Grail. His bedroom is the first detailed environment in the comic, festooned with typical mess, but Mou quickly drowns everything in black ink to study again his leering eyes and sweating face. Suddenly, miraculously, Lilin appears on the screen. The hot transfer student also does porn! Everyone's dreams have come true! I mean, who even needs to fuck her now?!
Lilin, notably, is a sex comic in which nobody is ever seen engaging in sex acts with another person; it is very contemporary, then, in its explicit depictions of male and female masturbation, and Lilin, the demon -- because who really believed talk of the Grail would be the only pertinent bit of religious lore? -- is equally modern in spreading sexually-transmitted diseases over the internet. Her squirt videos somersault into ejaculations of living tar, while the boys develop similar fat pustules on their fapping hands. Everybody is giving birth, and it is these transformations that Mou indulges with his most texture-heavy drawing, dominated by shiny contrasts of solid black against blank white. Eventually, these values come to dominate his pages as Lilin zips up a vinyl bondage uniform and takes to the night to summon her legion, her transcended rank, her animal slaves, unleashed for the symbolic destruction of a convenience store and the murder of everybody present.
The tradition of the succubus, of the female demon, etc., is generally and rightly read today as a symptom of endemic misogyny, a means of rendering female sexuality diabolical, and its power over men so fierce as to demand suppression. Mou's response is not atypical - he luxuriates in this hellish potential enough that his publisher deems it all an exercise in "female supremacy". I am not especially convinced of that, insofar as Lilin herself clearly could not care less about females, or retorting gaze, or anything remotely humane; I see it instead as a comic that grooves on simple turnabouts, with the consumptive desires of boys consuming them instead by the power drawn from their stares. Were it not for all the hard cocks and spurting jizz and piss spilled on the floor, this could be mistaken for a genuine religious comic about the evils of porn, and, as a lifelong Jack T. Chick reader, I confess that makes it all much more compelling for me.
Now, make no mistake, this is not a book that operates in a space of intense ambiguity like (Journal columnist) Julia Gfrörer's excellent Palm Ash, which depicts Christian martyrdom in so emotionally and physically direct a manner as to evoke the horror of saintly tradition, knowing that the horror has always bolstered the tradition. Lilin, in contrast, is a black metal romp through an excerpted mess of humanity, toasting the decline and enslavement of the species as metaphysically salutary. Personally, I was most impressed by the comic's almost perfectly bisected visual nature, its first 'human' half heavy on eyes and faces, lines, and its second 'demon' half dominated by night and menace, ink; because Mou is more effective with the latter, in that his balance of white/black across pages is a good deal more attractive than his figure work, the comic seems to waken along with Lilin's own plan. He also dials back the dialogue, which is helpful for the Spanish-incapable readers he's anticipated with the subtitles - indeed, several times he positions Spanish and English text directly against each other to interesting effect. This is a detail from the left half of a two-page spread near the book's conclusion:
And here is a detail from the right:
You can read these two images in sequence, or you can read all the images on the left side first, and then all the images on the right - the spread makes temporal sense regardless. What you can't avoid, however, is the fact that the Spanish text always precedes the English text, thus giving the images some added superiority for English readers, who are probably 'reading' the art first elsewhere in the book before diving down to those teeny-tiny subtitles. Also, in terms of narrative juxtaposition, Spanish is associated with Lilin and her dread power, and English with her hapless victims in the sanitized consumer world.
I would be remiss, of course, to ignore the iconography of Lilin's costume, which is obviously that of a dominatrix. Like the damaged, fucked Eros Comix of my stereotypical 'classic' phase, this is an aggressive, grimy piece, but it's the bondage aspect that really links it to the era of Saudelli's The Blonde and Lord Farris: Slavemaster, those descendants of John Willie and Eric Stanton, and the grotesque bonanzas Antoinette Rydyr created with Steve Carter. Everything is unrealistic - attributes exaggerated in the name of fantasy. Look not to Lilin, but the faces of the consumer men. Perhaps this is a work of submission, Mou building an immorality play in which God's earlier vision of woman descends like an angel to supplicate man's petty thirst into the service of something real. She is truly old porn; she is inhuman, unrelatable, her sexuality here for our benefit. And our benefit is punishment. This is a fallen world. We all deserve to be punished.
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.
Freddy Lombard: In which the late, great Yves Chaland returns in the form of works we've seen in translation before - but, I think Chaland, a master of the Atom Style, and thus specific to a type of European comics from the 1980s that don't attract so much in the way of local fealty as the '70s Métal monsters, is perpetually ripe for discovery. Starting in 1981, a few years after his work as an author began, and concluding in 1989, a year before his death, the five-album Freddy Lombard series both spans the length of the man's career and perhaps analogizes the evolution of his artistic process: (1) "The Will of Godfrey of Bouillon" begins with fannish experimentation, an album improvised in 30 days, one page per day, employing the devices of mid-century Belgian kids' comics without pausing for reflection; (2) "The Elephant Graveyard" continues into political prodding, a diptych of stories evoking racist imagery and colonialist themes as way of exploring the social space in which the Belgian classics existed, probably too affectionately; (3) "The Comet of Carthage" picks up a continuing co-writer, Yannick Le Pennetier, and presses the whole mission into delirious literary hysterics, evoking Flaubert in the midst of an apocalyptic paranoia narrative smashed to bits with a hammer; (4) "Holiday in Budapest" recombines the approach into a historically detailed, 'mature' adventure story as if dropped out a temporal crack from some reality where '50s BD behaved like that; and (5) "F.52" trims all the fat for a really violent airborne thriller that's nonetheless still somehow a funny adventure romp befitting the Lombard name.
In a way, fannishly, I wish he'd remained cerebral and a bit cloistered; "The Comet of Carthage" is a fantastic, mysterious comic, far stronger (if less immediately appealing) than the albums that followed - it's a chase through a labyrinth of aesthetic obsession, while "Budapest" and "F.52" seem as figured-out as the slick illustrations that brought Chaland a great deal of success and renown outside of comic album specifics. Yet they *are* expert works, and all of these 236 pages are valuable as documentation of a scene we've hardly met in English - or could the Serge Clerc renaissance be just around the corner? A 7.9" x 10.8" Humanoids hardcover. Samples; $34.95.
the bus 2: I probably just didn't read the right publicity, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Paul Kirchner tabling at CAB last weekend; installments of the bus, his wordless slapstick vision quest gag series, had been appearing again in Heavy Metal, and I'd been getting questions as to whether these were new installments or not. Éditions Tanibis now assures us the answer is "yes," with a 9" x 6.5", 56-page hardcover collection of recent material. Kirchner still draws ludicrous and hallucinogenic phenomena with staid precision, so that even the most absurd happening seems to immediately 'belong' to the same deadpan world as common carrier commuters, and thus is the engine of his comedy; $16.00.
Trashed: Being the newest release from Derf Backderf, whose memoir My Friend Dahmer brought him a great deal of bookstore attention. This looks to be a looser, more fictive work -- albeit still, to an extent, based on the artist's personal experiences -- examining the lives and jobs of garbagemen and the many facets of sanitation today. I suspect this longtime alternative weekly contributor will find a fitting venue for his lanky bodies and rippling textures in this 256-page monochrome Abrams release. Samples; $18.95 (softcover), $24.95 (hardcover).
Curveball: Brooklyn-based Jeremy Sorese is doing the week-long diary feature on this site right now, and look at that - his debutante graphic novel is out this week too. A 420-page Nobrow release (and transparency suggests I remind you that I sometimes record a podcast with a Nobrow employee), the book focuses on "the duality of hope and delusion," joining queer relationship drama with science fiction themes. Preview; $19.95.
Men's Feelings #2 (&) Mimi and the Wolves Act II: The Den: Two sophomore efforts, appearing in comic book stores through Alternative Comics. I saw Men's Feelings at CAB, among the debuting folded 'n stapled comic book fare. It's the latest Revival House collection of humor comics by Ted May, a genderlicious 32 pages of what drives men today. Mimi and the Wolves is a Hic & Hoc production, continuing a dreamy anthropomorphic animal mystery narrative from the artist "Alabaster" for another 72 pages; $5.00 (Feelings), $12.00 (Mimi).
The Troll (&) Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey: Here's a pair of all-ages books from artists with which I am completely unfamiliar, though they look potentially interesting. The Troll comes from Danish cartoonist Martin Flink, via Accent UK; based on stories exchanged between the artist and his young son, this 48-page piece involves a boy's encounter with a forest creature. Dare to Disappoint is a 200-page autobio work from Illinois-based Ozge Samanci, a Farrar, Straus and Giroux release about childhood ambitions and familial tensions on the Aegean Coast; $4.95 (Troll), $16.99 (Dare).
Hereville Vol. 3: How Mirka Caught a Fish: From what I can gather, this series of Orthodox Judaism-themed kids' comics from artist Barry Deutsch seems to be pretty well-regarded. At least it's done well enough for Abrams to release a third installment, this time finding the subtitular time-traveling monster fighter girl minding her little sister and contending with a humongous water-dweller. It's 144 pages in color; $17.95.
Thought Bubble Anthology 2015: Leeds' own Thought Bubble festival is running this week, and I again will not be in attendance, as I was not made Guest of Honor nor offered the key to the city, as outlined in my demands. It does look like a nice show. And, as part of that show, they always put out a 32-page charity anthology, this year promising contributions from Farel Dalrymple, Nick Gurewitch, Tula Lotay and Jeff Lemire, among others; $3.99.
Mandalay (&) Redhand: Twilight of the Gods: Another two from Humanoids this week, both of them more 'mainline' in terms of modern adventure comics than the oeuvre of Mssr. Chaland. Mandalay is the newest translation of work written by Philippe Thirault, the talented scenarist behind Miss: Better Living Through Crime and Balkans Arena. This one is a 2006-15 fantasy adventure set in Burma during WWII, drawn initially by Butch Guice, and later José Malaga, compiled into a 188-page hardcover. Redhand furthers the American/European connection, in that its first wave of 2004-06 releases teamed superhero specialist Kurt Busiek with artist Mario Alberti on a magical warrior concept. A 2015 final volume brought in co-writer Sam Timel and new artist Oscar "Bazal" Bazaldua, and it too is included in this comprehensive softcover; $39.95 (Mandalay), $19.95 (Redhand).
SpongeBob Comics #50: Hey, I'll give it up for any title making it this far in 2015, particularly a licensed kids' comic that spreads its love across numerous alt-comics veterans. Per the solicitation, Kaz and Sam Henderson (both of whom also worked on the animated cartoon) should be involved with this anniversary special, along with Michael T. Gilbert of Mr. Monster fame; $2.99.
Herb Trimpe's The Incredible Hulk - Artist's Edition: Are these coming out weekly? It feels like it. Nonetheless, it is now the late Marvel artist's turn for the 'original b&w art reproduced in color' treatment at IDW with a collection of stories involving the superhero character associated most with him (I DON'T COUNT GODZILLA, HE IS NOT A SUPERHERO IN THAT SENSE); $100.00 (or so).
Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir: Finally, your comic-on-comics of the week, marking the inevitable moment in which the bookstore-focused 'graphic memoir' and the vogue for superhero branding join hands. Yes, True Believers, this is indeed the Fun Home, the Persepolis - verily the American Splendor of Stanley Martin Lieber, aka Smilin' Stan Lee, much-maligned arch-architect of the merry Marvel marching militia of movie, television and paper product fame. OH COME ON, you're gonna peek, right? A 192-page Touchstone release, co-written with Peter David and drawn by Colleen Doran; $30.00.