Archive for October, 2007

Holiday Buying


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

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Spend a horrific amount of money today in the PictureBox shop! We have a scary new Cold Heat Special, a frightening amount of new work by Brian Chippendale, and much more, detailed here.

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Holiday Reading


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

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Here’s a few Halloween reading suggestions.

1. Floyd Gottfredson‘s “Mickey Mouse and the Seven Ghosts”

2. Greg Irons and Tom Veitch‘s “Legion of Charlies”

3. Jack Kirby’s The Demon

4. Hideshi Hino’s Hell Baby

5. Richard Sala‘s The Chuckling Whatsit

Bonus: Kelly Link recommends Lynda Barry‘s Cruddy for the holiday, a book I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read, even though my wife recommended it to me years ago when we first started dating. I might give it a try tonight. Why am I more willing to take advice from a stranger on the Internet than from someone whose tastes I know and trust? That is a recurring thing with me, and it is seriously messed up.

Not recommended: The Nightmare Factory, a new collection of comics based on the work of horror writer Thomas Ligotti. Most of the art here is seriously ugly (and not in a good way). This recent interview with Ligotti is somewhat alarming Halloween reading, though. I think he needs to watch some Laurel & Hardy movies or something.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

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Comics Comics reader Brian Nicholson made a comment about my SPX post which got me thinking. Brian took note that the same words I used to describe the “new” mini-comics at SPX — “long on craft and short on narrative” — could also be used to describe some of my own comics like Chimera and Incanto. He also wrote that “not being at SPX this year, I just associated the type of new comics you’re talking about with some Souther Salazar comics, like Please Don’t Give Up“, and added that “maybe people were selling some pretty fucking out there comics that are nothing like the work I’m using as a reference point.”

Souther’s work is, I think, a little tame next to some of the pulsating color zines I saw at SPX. And I always found Souther’s work pretty narrative-based, even at its most dense and notebook-like. Chimera and Incanto are also, to me, totally narrative. And they too are pretty tame next to a lot of this “new” work I’m loosely describing.

One of the amazingly beautiful “out there” comics I bought at SPX was PANRAY by Raymond Sohn and Panayiotis Terzis. It is a remarkable, mountain-climbing achievement in terms of drawing, color, printing, and presentation. Like some spectral black-and-white silent movie that is interrupted by searing color patterns and abstractions, the book goes in and out of focus, organically and structurally. It’s beautiful. How do I even begin to describe it? And that’s what I want to get at or at least try to approach: a new way in which to discuss the purely visual elements of comics. There’s often too much emphasis on reading a comic like a novel when really it should be discussed like a painting or a sculpture. Far from dismissing these “out there” comics in my original post, I found myself simply hoping to discuss them and appreciate them better, and to do that I think a broader approach has to be encouraged, towards a less conservative definition of comics.

What I was looking for, or at least curious to find at this SPX, was something of both. I lament the fact that narrative comics, of all types, but specifically strong character-driven stories that are also beautifully drawn like, oh, Gilbert Hernandez’s Speak of the Devil unfortunately don’t seem to exist, or at least not in the embryonic form of new, well-executed mini-comics. That particular example might be a lot to ask — but where is the experimentation and growth in straight-ahead narrative alt mini-comics? Most straight-ahead narrative small press comics (read black-and-white autobio/cutesy big-head) don’t have a quarter of the energy and enthusiasm that the “nonobjective”, “abstract” mini comics have.

I was looking for a little of both and that combo was in short supply. There were, for the most part, silk-screened color out-there “art comics” and black-and-white variations on the same type of alternative mini-comic you’ve seen many times before. The “art” stuff looked and felt fresh. Yet they are, generally, not wholly engaging in comics language or structure. (However loose and arty Chimera and Incanto may be, they are rigorously structured to unfold as a comic narrative.) The “arty” minis from SPX are more interested, it seems, in image-making. And that’s awesome. But as a comics fan who reads a lot of older “mainstream” stuff, I would like to see “literary,” straight-ahead alternative comics-makers take a page from the “art” comics play book and try to adopt different approaches towards storytelling and narrative. And vice versa. I think the “new” crafty mini-comics took a lot of Fort Thunder to heart visually but don’t truck in the same “narrative strategies” as BC, CF, BJ, BR, LG and MB — who all tell stories, however visually challenging or stunning they may be.

And let me say this — I’ve always felt that all comics are inherently narrative because of the form that the book takes. For that matter a single image, an abstract painting, for example, is often narrative. Jackson Pollock‘s paintings are narrative — you can follow him, the story of him working by the lassos of color — and the same is true even with the color field abstractionists like Frankenthaler. It’s just a broader range, a greater bandwidth for inventing narrative.

Using this definition, PANRAY is narrative, too. It has characters that appear to repeat, settings where they interact, and even occasional panel structures. It is a miraculously hewn jewel of a comic. Do I lament that there are no obvious narrator type characters to guide me through the book like a Maggie or Hopey? Not at all.

I simply see this end of the comics spectrum flowering at a lightning-fast rate, absorbing SO much and spitting it back, drawing their asses off year after year. But, and I’m really overgeneralizing here, on the other side of mini-comics world is the umpteenth generation of the Ware/Clowes school, who seem to stay firmly planted in straightforward narrative, “literary” comics. With a few exceptions, nothing’s really changed here in 15 years, kinda like superhero comics. There are very few inventive, straight-ahead narrative “alternative” comics for my taste. I think Kevin Huizenga and Dan Zettwoch are the heirs to this evolving school. They both made (and continue to make) beautiful mini-comics that grew easily into their “professional” work.

But I don’t see work of that par so often these days. Most new minis in this school over the last few years are standard fare. The drawing and production values are weak, and the stories are usually slice o’ life snoozers. If I were to name names I probably couldn’t, because nothing from this camp stood out to me at this SPX. Generally, they make black-and-white minis with maybe a color card stock cover. I’ve talked to a lot of kids who do “alternative” comics, who read mostly “alternative” comics, and who know next to nothing about the history of comics before 1999 (or the history of art). They have this weird attitude towards “art” comics. I see them come up to the PictureBox table and literally sneer at the work displayed. They would be doing themselves a huge favor if they could get over their ingrained distrust for the more “arty” aspect of comics.

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Comics Enriched Their Lives! #8.5 (Video Version)


Thursday, October 25, 2007

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Joe Strummer reading Dick Tracy

view it here

pause at 2:06

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We Love Frank


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

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Frank Santoro’s cogent post about SPX last week has the crowd cheering. Heidi likes it, and so do I. Now, for heavens sake, go out and buy Frank’s work. Besides being a great comics thinker he is one of our finest cartoonists, period. Storeyville is just out, and his other works, Chimera, Incanto and Cold Heat are readily available. He is the unique position of being the heir to both Roy Crane AND Alex Katz.

Frank rules. It’s time everyone knew.

Also, I promise no more of these little bite sized blog entries. I’m re-reading Arcade for inspiration to write something on that stuff.


Comics That Never Were #2


Monday, October 22, 2007

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Q. I was hoping for graphic art — perhaps a comic book based on one of Oscar’s sci-fi novels. Is that totally off the wall?

A. Not at all. Actually part of the plan was to have a section where it would have been a comic book or a science-fiction story. But what ends up happening is that it was weird.

Every time I tried to write it, the book ejected it. Believe me, I had all these ideas. There were supposed to be dozens of comic book panels and photos throughout the book. Had I had the talent, and the book could have withstood it, I would have. Sorry to say, it didn’t come together.

—From a La Bloga interview with novelist Junot Díaz,
regarding The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

[Via The Elegant Variation]

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Dude, seriously…


Sunday, October 21, 2007

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I’ve been a huge fan of the Nexus series since the late 1980s, but even though many of you may have never heard of the book before, I’m going to skip the collaged, fast-motion history of the character and creative team. Look it up online. Suffice it to say that Nexus was the most exciting independent action/adventure comic of the 1980s, something like a new wave Space Ghost. The writing was razor sharp and the art was better than anything else out at the time.

So what happened since then? Why haven’t we seen this comic in ten years, or on a regular schedule for almost twenty? Well, for one thing, the comics market basically collapsed in the mid 1990s (“The ’90s were a train wreck,” said Gary Groth at an SPX panel in 2006), but beyond that I think the real reason Nexus went away is because Steve Rude is a perfectionist. He can’t maintain a regular schedule. He may be the heir apparent to Jack Kirby (who else is there?), but unlike his hero, Rude has serious deadline problems.

When I heard that Nexus was returning, and on Rude’s own label no less, I was thrilled. I’d followed the sporadic Nexus mini-series that were published through most of the ’90s, and really did mourn its absence over the last decade. The new book was announced and then word came that, no, in fact there were creative differences between Baron and Rude and that it was off. Then it was back on. But by then I didn’t believe it. So when I found out that it was actually coming out I was relieved and excited. Finally a good regular monthly comic to follow besides All Star Superman. (I like Frank Quitely’s art. Geez. What? You don’t?)

As a true Nexus fan, I read issue #99 carefully and slowly, and savored every second. It’s a remarkable return to form for Baron & Rude, masterfully and beautifully done. That said, it also feels like they tried to cram in too much “set-up” for the next few issues. There’s an amazing action sequence in the middle that puts Paul Gulacy (Rude’s other hero) to shame, but then the book stumbles through the next few pages with more set-up, and ends with an ostensibly big moment — the birth of Nexus’s son — that feels flat and uninspired. A few pages earlier, momentum was building well, and despite all the set-up, it seemed like there would be a fitting coda to the first Nexus comic in ten years. Instead we’re left to wait until “next month” (or so we’re told) for the implied showdown between good and evil.

That’s a problem. Nexus #99 debuted a couple weeks before the San Diego Comic-Con in July. I’m writing this in late October and still no new Nexus. Whatever momentum that it received from the comics press is dying down, and it seems, like the story itself I’m afraid, that the return to form is exactly more of the same from these guys: sporadic issues here and there of a great comic for an ever dwindling fan base. I’d rather wait ten years for a complete story than be promised something the creators and publisher (read: Steve Rude) can’t deliver on a regular schedule. What possessed Rude, after waiting ten years to get back in the saddle again with Nexus, only to release the first issue of a four-issue mini-series before finishing even the second?! Common sense dictates that after such a long hiatus, the entire series should be finished before the first issue goes to press, thereby insuring the uninterrupted flow of the dynamically paced series, where the loss of momentum is the kiss of death to both enjoyment and sales.

It’s still probably the best action/adventure comic I’ve read all year. A solid piece of genre comics that expands the form’s conventions while remaining firmly rooted in tradition. I’m simply worried that it will be completely over new readers’ heads. Tastes have changed since Nexus was cutting edge. And if I’d never read Nexus before, I think I’d probably wonder what’s really happening on planet Ylum (where the story takes place). Is Nexus president there? What is all the unrest about? As an old reader, I can figure it out, and piece together my recollection of past adventures. But I worry that if Nexus the comic wants to recapture its glory days, then Baron and Rude are going to have to work a lot harder and faster this go round.

One final note: While writing this, I discovered that the Nexus: Origin one-shot is slated to be reprinted in November. Anyone inspired by this review to give Nexus a shot and would like a quick (and cheap) way to get up to speed is advised to grab a copy upon its release.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

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Santoro popped up for a surprise blog entry! All right! Well, I had a good time at SPX and agree with Frank about two important things: Speak of the Devil is the best ongoing comic book in the world right now (only AYC and Raisin Pie come close) and Kevin H. should be featured in conversation with Ben Jones next SPX, or perhaps at MoCCA. The two most restless searchers in the medium. SPX felt pretty routine this year. I was thrilled to see the new Brian Ralph book, intrigued by Ken Dahl’s stuff, and psyched to see the Baltimore kids working hard, not to mention the debut of Panray, a pretty rad new silkscreen tome. No major surprises though, I suppose, and I agree with Frank: a pretty insular crowd. Was totally amused by the various “fight” threads over on the Beat and TCJ. And, um, that’s it. I gotta get back to work!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

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OK. SPX report. I like reading other people’s views on the show, so I thought I’d add my own to the mix before the week was over. Forgive me if this feels dashed off. I just want to get some impressions down before they evaporate.

Was it slower than last year? It felt like it. There was never an insane rush of people crowding all parts of the floor (which I remember from last year). Yet it was pretty brisk. People were buying. Especially late on Friday and around 4 on Saturday when people had done enough window shopping and had figured out what they were gonna take home.

Buy. Sell. Trade. Don’t get me wrong — I see SPX more as a community event than a commodity one — but let’s not kid ourselves, we’re there to sell books. But who’s buying these days? That was what I was trying to figure out. It’s other artists, really, and other dealers who do a lot of the buying. Not a big surprise, but I was having a rough time trying to get a handle on who my audience was this year and, y’know, do a little market research. Some know the work already and some are surprised PictureBox even exists. Nothing new there, but where were all those new comics fans that are supposed to be out there? Where were all the new “book” crowd people? I feel like I read these articles all the time about this new type of educated, multi-dimensional comics reader but I rarely ever encounter them in large numbers. (Except at the Toronto Comics Art Festival, those folks at The Beguiling have groomed a whole slew of this new type of reader.) I mean, there were plenty of you sharp comic readin’ cats out there — but I’ve seen you year after year. SPX seems to be a mix of newbies, passersby, and hardened old-schoolers. I would say it’s because it’s in Bethesda, but really I feel this way at MoCCA too.

So then what about the community? Well, I kinda felt a real sense of community more than ever this year. It’s really great to see C.F. and Brian Chippendale at the same show as Gilbert Hernandez and Kim Deitch. That’s three generations of radical comics (“underground,” “punk,” and “fort thunder”) in one show and that, to me, is pretty special. Tim Hodler moderated a panel on genre comics that included Gilbert, Jon Lewis, Matt Wagner (!), and myself. Dan Nadel interviewed C.F. about inner space (while Chippendale interjected from the audience about music and Providence history). Both Tim and Dan were on a panel with Gary Groth and Doug Wolk which was moderated by Bill Kartalopoulous (who I think did a great job setting up this year’s panels). At SPX these events feel right somehow. MoCCA’s off-site panels seem weird and disconnected from the show, and San Diego‘s panels are too blockbustery. So yeah, community in full effect, yo. It was pretty sweet. I’ve heard that almost all of the panels were recorded and will be available soon, so please stay tuned. (Next year wish list: Kevin Huizenga and Ben Jones “in conversation”.)

And as far as the comics themselves: one thing I really noticed this year was that most of the “new” comics were long on craft and short on narrative. I think this trend is due to a lot of new practitioners coming to the field from other backgrounds besides comics. Meaning, I think a lot of the people who are new to making zines and minis aren’t long-time comics readers and are more immersed in fine art and illustration. This is a good thing. But some of them are familiar with comics and comics “language” and some of them aren’t. And the books they are creating seem more about the look and the craft of bookmaking and image-making than they are about creating narrative comics. Again, this is nothing new — I’ve heard this being said about Fort Thunder — but in reality most comics created by Chippendale, Brinkman, Paper Rad, C.F., etc., are all character-driven and tell stories. And for the most part they are all avid readers of comics — and mostly mainstream comics at that.

I feel like I need to be careful here because I’m not saying that I don’t like the new crafty, abstract work that was in evidence this year — I’m simply taking note that there is something new going on. And I like it. The work is beautiful. I do, however, lament the absence of strong characters in this new trend. Whether the comic is well-executed or dashed off what I notice is there isn’t much of a story or any real characters to identify with. There’s no distance, no mediator between the artist’s intention and the reader’s comprehension. I know I’m over-generalizing here. But it’s sort of like abstract painting, which I love, but often leaves me wanting more. Yet the work is usually so visually stunning that one has to hope that the craft and narrative elements will start to balance out. And, ultimately, I hold out much more hope for this approach to making alt comics than the rehashing of every Clowes, Ware, or Tomine story of the last 15 years.

Anyways, thanks to everyone at SPX. It’s still the best indy comics show out there.

P.S. Read Gilbert Hernandez’s Speak of the Devil — IT’S THE BEST COMIC BOOK ON THE MARKET RIGHT NOW!

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Double Trouble


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

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Brain’s still broke from SPX, but here’s two links in the meantime:

1) Craig Yoe has posted a cover of “Jug Band Music” by the late, great Wally Wood.

2) Jog has written a great review of C.F.’s Powr Mastrs 1. I need to stop linking to Jog — just bookmark him, please.

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