Posts Tagged ‘comics’

Comics Time: Gast

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Murder mysteries are defined by their central, structuring absences. A hole occupies the space where a life once lived. That hole can never be filled. But through an investigation of the facts, an uncovering of the truth, and a pursuit and capture of the killer, we can define and discover the shape of the hole to a degree of accuracy sufficient to put a cover on it, so that the still-living may proceed past it once more.

Gast, a graphic novel of exquisite and accomplished empathy and restraint by alternative-comics veteran Carol Swain, tells a story centered on a hole far harder to close up than most. It proceeds with the methods and mechanics of investigation and discovery. The scene of the crime is visited. The victim’s routine is examined. The friends and acquaintances of victim and suspect alike are questioned. Evidence is recovered and cataloged: a discarded make-up bag, a shell casing, a stain on the bedroom wall. Means, motive, and opportunity are all established.

But there is no crime, because killer and victim are one and the same. There is no pursuit, no arrest, no trial, no conviction, because there can’t be. We don’t so much as see the dead person once — not as a corpse, not in a flashback, not in a photograph. All we have is what is learned by a quiet, curious eleven-year-old girl, Helen, a lover of nature and long walks who must piece together even the most basic of facts about the deceased. At first we don’t even know the deceased is a person: Helen is simply told of a “rare bird” who killed himself nearby, and as a Londoner newly arrived in the rural region of Wales where the story is set and unfamiliar with the antiquated expression, she starts her search looking for an actual bird. Like the pages of the ever-present journals, Helen starts with a completely blank slate. Over the course of many long wordless walks and quiet conversations with both her human and, mysteriously, animal neighbors, she slowly fills the tabula rasa with discoveries: suicide, gender dysphoria, the allure and peril of solitude, and the life and death cycle of this farming community and its inhabitants. She learns that most adult of lessons: We each of us have roles we play in the lives of others, shapes we take in their worlds—shapes that can be integral to those lives’ landscape yet still not save us.

I reviewed Gast by Carol Swain for The Comics Journal.


Comics Time: Honey #1

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Honey #1 is an elegantly drawn, exuberantly paced, spectacularly colored workplace dramedy/romance. It’s an action-adventure story set in a fantasy-indebted world with prominent horror elements. It’s a radical reconsideration of anthropomorphism and “funny animal” comics. It’s a serious exploration of how communities shore up certain strengths of the individuals they comprise while also pushing them all toward willful ignorance of wrongs committed in their name. It’s a gedankenexperiment about an all-woman society — imagining it, putting it through its genre-story paces, examining female friendship, romantic relationships, and enmity in the fresh air created by the near-total absence of men and thecompleteabsence of men in positions of power. It’s hugely, admirably, refreshingly ambitious for a twelve-page comic book. If the work cartoonist Céline Loup assembles from these myriad parts is not without flaw, that’s almost beside the point.

I reviewed Honey #1 by Céline Loup for The Comics Journal.


Comics Time: July Diary 2014

Monday, September 15th, 2014

At first glance, Gabrielle Bell’s six-panel daily diary comics don’t have a lot in common with the Mines of Moria sequence in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings . Or at any number of subsequent glances, I suppose. But the more Bell I read, the more I think they share a primary strength: a sense of space, of environment. Autobio slice-of-life comics, by the nature of what most of us tend to do with our lives every day, often consist in large part of conversations, either with a small number of other parties or within the head of the diarist as they go about their day. Unless those conversations reference a specific landmark, cartooned depictions of them can, and often do, devolve into dialogues that could be taking place anywhere, or nowhere. They have all the spatial context of action figures or dolls or sock puppets held aloft by the cartoonist, one in each hand, and made to speak with the voices of the participants.

Not so with Bell, and not so in the most recent iteration of her annual July Diary project. Hers is a world where rooms, furniture, streets, buildings, and human bodies are arrayed in a three-quarter cheat to the audience, enabling us to see into corners, grasp the depth and dimensionality of each space. Her inimitable spotted blacks — little jagged-edged rectangular smudges — set off the surfaces of the objects with which she is surrounded, and pool in the wrinkles of her characters’ clothes like ink. It’s impossible to look at a Gabrielle Bell diary-comic page and reduce it to stick figures against a blank backdrop, any more than you could do so with the fellowship of the Ring dodging orc arrows as they flee down those crumbling steps. Her apartment, her garden, the streets of her neighborhood, the wilderness surrounding the trailer where her mother lives following the house fire that understandably dominates the diary — Bell makes them distinct, inhabitable, navigable spaces. That her rigid, six-panel grid closes those spaces off is a feature, not a bug. Each panel feels like a tiny, beautifully constructed diorama, where Bell and her acquaintances will act out the same moment forever.

I reviewed Gabrielle Bell’s July Diary 2014 for The Comics Journal.


STC @ SPX

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

I’m going to be at SPX, the Small Press Expo, in Bethesda, Maryland this weekend. I look like the person in the photo up top. I’m going to have work in the new Study Group Magazine #3D, which will debut at the show; I wrote a brand-new four-page comic about werewolves and secrets called “Hiders” that was drawn by Julia Gfrörer. Julia will also be selling our comic In Pace Requiescat, a pornographic extrapolation from “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe; I should have copies of Flash Forward, the horror comic Jonny Negron and I made about seeing and being seen, as well. I suspect you’ll find me mostly at Julia’s table, W34B. We look like the people in the photo at the bottom. SPX is a terrific show, and if you’re anywhere in the DC/Baltimore area and have any interest in alternative comics at all it’s well worth the trip. I would love to see you there!


Comics Time: Baby Bjornstrand

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

A thing comes into three lives, without warning or explanation. A thing leaves those lives in much the same way. The time between: Baby Bjornstrand, the new Renee French graphic novel completing and collecting the webcomic of the same name. In the past, I’ve written that the hazy, watery wasteland inhabited by Baby Bjornstrand‘s masked, hooded protagonists and monstrous fauna evokes a post-apocalypticism that is, if not belied, then at least transfigured by the comic tone of the proceedings. Now that the series is finished, that’s only true to a point. As the uniform proscenium staging of its panels suggests, Bjornstrand remains much closer to Samuel Beckett than Stephen King, despite French’s astonishing proficiency with painstakingly penciled menace. Yet its morose ending has a bite that doesn’t require the jaws of a monster.

I reviewed Baby Bjornstrand by Renee French for The Comics Journal.


Say Hello, Meghan Turbitt!

Monday, August 25th, 2014

I’m particularly interested in the idea advanced in Sophia Wiedeman’s piece on you and Katie Skelly for The Rumpus that your work is driven in part by Catholic guilt. Certainly your comics seem to revel in a rejection of Catholic mores, but more than that, they don’t smooth out the rough edges to make the violation more palatable, you know? The sex is, frankly, gross, and so is the food component, once that’s introduced in #foodporn.There’s not an attempt to play respectability politics with it.

Everything I make, every particle of my being, is based on how I grew up. Everything I make will of course be influenced by that. But to be honest, the reason I made #foodporn is because I had a crush on an ugly guy who made pizza at my local pizza joint. He is not attractive. When he was making the pizza I was attracted to him, though? I didn’t understand it and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I thought the concept of him getting hotter and hotter as he made the pizza was just hilarious. Hence the premise of the book.

Oh, just an interesting piece of side trivia – I finally did end up having sex with him, two days after #foodporn was released at MoCCA. I’ve stopped eating pizza since.

Typically when comics creators talk about essentially willing something from one of their comics into existence, it’s, like, Grant Morrison talking about tripping in Nepal or whatever and discovering the true nature of space-time. This is somewhat more relatable. But if it put you off pizza, then I wonder if in retrospect you’d have preferred it to have remained a fantasy.

Very interesting to me that you use the word “fantasy.” In March, I got out of an eight-year relationship. We had broken up and I moved out in 2012, but we ended up getting back together very quickly. But over the last year I had several crushes on people, especially this pizza guy, and I ended up making the comic about him. Things were just not working out with my ex, even though I loved him very much and he was family to me. I spent a lot of time fantasizing about “what life would be like” with certain other people, and this pizza guy was first in line. However, I didn’t make any moves about ending the relationship for almost a year after making the comic about him. My therapist had a real woman-to-woman conversation with me, knocked some sense into me, and suggested to me that my life might actually be greater on the other side of ending things with my ex, so I did it. For some reason at that moment it hit me that my life might be better with my ex not in it, which seemed almost unfathomable to me. She was right. So I guess one could say, therapist Sean, that maybe I avoided one of those painful Irish-Catholic illnesses or avoidance-of-feelings situations here? Perhaps history did not repeat itself, hmmm?

Luckily, things with this pizza guy fell into place — I got drunk at the pizza place and propositioned him — and we saw each other for a little while. It certainly served a purpose and helped me get through my breakup. I suddenly felt sexy again. He knew about my comic about him, and about #foodporn. He was aware I was doing some podcast interviews and being reviewed, and the comic about him was mentioned a few times. One night, in the midst of all this, he told me that he had gone to my website and looked at my comics, and told me, “Wow, I thought you were going to be much more famous than just this.” He also referenced myConancomic, in which there is a long sex scene between me and Conan O’Brien, while we were having sex one night, which I thought was hysterical, and which I am currently making a comic about now.

Anyway, this pizza guy was into Phish, and if anyone knows me they know I’m not into jam bands, so it just wasn’t meant to be — even though I continued to draw him and make comics about him while we were seeing each other. I guess I was just looking for anyone who wasn’t my ex and was fascinated by that. A few months after we started seeing each other, my friend Holly caught him arm in arm with another chick around the corner from my house. She went into the pizza place, which we frequented regularly, the next day and called him out in front of all of his coworkers. Needless to say, we haven’t really been back there since. So my ultimate curse is that I live half a block away from a pizza place that I love and can’t go to. So fantasy, shame on me I guess. All around, it’s been a fascinating chain of events for me to witness go down. And now I’ll have #foodporn to document it for the rest of my life, so “LOL,” I guess.

I interviewed Meghan Turbitt for “Say Hello!”, my Comics Journal column about up-and-coming cartoonists.


Comics Time: Alien Invasion III

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

True, in a way, to its title, Lauren “Lala” Albert’s Alien Invasion III has two primary concerns: aliens and invasiveness. The former are presented in the fashion that has become Albert’s trademark as an artist working with science-fictional imagery in an underground context — otherworldly and elfin, their ubiquitous third eyes a collective locus of mystical enlightenment, erotic fascination, and viscous physicality all at once. The invasions are varied. Aliens visit Earth, humans visit other worlds, humans and aliens travel between worlds together. Alien biology is probed by a human performing an autopsy, explored by two aliens in a body-modification ritual with romantic undertones, inserted unexpectedly and forcibly into an unsuspecting human’s more familiar body. In all four cases the theme is intimacy, invited or not.

I reviewed Alien Invasion III by Lauren Albert (aka Lala Albert) for The Comics Journal.


How Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles went from comics in-joke to cowabunga blockbuster

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Most of the action-figure/kids’-cartoon juggernauts of the Eighties were developed the old-fashioned way: by corporations. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe began in the design department of toy behemoth Mattel. Its rival Hasbro teamed up with Marvel Comics to revive its old G.I. Joe concept, this time making its toy soldiers the same size as the smash-hit Star Wars action figures to which Mattel had passed up the rights several years earlier, with their “Real American Hero” relaunch. The Hasbro/Marvel team-up found similar success when it rebranded several lines of robot toys Hasbro had licensed from Japanese toy company Takara as the Transformers.

By contrast, the Turtles literally started out as a joke. Co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were comic-artist wannabes when they spent a November 1983 evening doodling the masked, weaponized reptiles to entertain themselves. Each adjective in Turtles‘ title represented a hot superhero-comic trend at the time — mutants were the stars of Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men; DC’s New Teen Titans had teenage protagonists; and future Sin City impresario Frank Miller had stuffed his groundbreaking run on Daredevil full of ninjas. By throwing it all together atop a funny-animal framework — which, from Carl Barks’ Donald Duck to Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck, had long been a route to comic-book gold — Eastman and Laird simply obeyed the Spinal Tap doctrine of cranking it to eleven.

This here is a snippet from the history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I wrote for Rolling Stone. The gist is that the Turtles began as a literal joke shared by creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and came to prominence as a comic that existed halfway between Frank Miller parody and Frank Miller homage; it was only when Eastman & Laird hooked up with a toy company that hooked up with an animation studio — i.e. the same basic process that birthed He-Man, G.I. Joe, and the Transformers — that it became the durable pop-culture phenomenon it is today.

I got to work in all kinds of fun factoids — the “black-and-white boom” that followed TMNT’s success in comic shops, the bonafide alternative-comics ventures funded by Eastman (Tundra) and Laird (the Xeric Grant) with their Turtle fortunes, “Turtle Power” going to the top of the pop charts in the UK. I hope you enjoy it!


Comics Time: Danny Boy

Friday, August 8th, 2014

…the ending is otherwise the strongest section of the comic, the one place where Danny Boy takes on a life of its own. It does so in death. In the end, father and son are buried side by side, first their bones and then even their coffins breaking down as the dark earth reclaims them. In the end, the totemistic pipe and locket that Faret had used as shorthand for each member of the pair are all that remain, and they too are disintegrated and consumed before the final black panel. A realist might question the staying power of a corncob pipe in a grave, while a reader partial to extremes might miss a full-fledged depiction of dead bodies rotting away into nothingness (admittedly this is where my sympathies lie), but both critiques are superfluous to the sequence’s purpose, if not its power. In these final pages, Faret unearths an unspoken element of “Danny Boy” and puts it on display: The song’s final line is “And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me,” but of course at that point in the song the child has already returned, is in fact kneeling on the grave. It’s death the parent is looking forward to sharing with his child, because only then will their reunion be complete. Faret shows what that would look like, taking the original and adding a stanza of her own.

Those final pages present a potentially rewarding path for Faret to follow as an interpreter of existing stories. It reflects the same sensibility on display in, say, her luminous, horror-tinged scratchboardillustrations for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Though the whole point of Miller’s witch-hunt parable is that the thing was bunkum, Faret casts her cast of goodwives in a seemingly supernatural light, suggesting that terrible forces and tremendous powers were in play here — just not in the way the persecutors believed. Neither here nor in the end of Danny Boy is Faret indulging in the aforementioned glurge, lacing contemporary mores into past events in order to make readers feel good about their unearned ethical superiority (though she’s not entirely immune to this temptation); rather, she’s tapping into ideas and sentiments present in the characters and giving them freedom to manifest themselves in ways the characters could never do. Danny Boy may be a failed experiment, but in conducting it Faret has collected data that could well yield happier results a season or two down the line.

I reviewed Danny Boy by Kjersti Faret for The Comics Journal.


Comics Time: Configurations

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
 I hesitate to use the formulation “more than just a comic” in describing “Configurations”, the recent webcomic series Aidan Koch published through TCJ contributor Frank Santoro’s Comics Workbook tumblr. Comics are whatever you put into them, and “Configurations,” certainly a comic, puts in plenty. But it feels less like a strip you read and more like a participatory event. It’s the rare experimental work that makes you feel as though you’re there in the lab with its creator, conducting that experiment yourself.  I reviewed “Configurations” by Aidan Koch, originally published in comicsworkbook, for The Comics Journal.

I hesitate to use the formulation “more than just a comic” in describing “Configurations”, the recent webcomic series Aidan Koch published through TCJ contributor Frank Santoro’s Comics Workbook tumblr. Comics are whatever you put into them, and “Configurations,” certainly a comic, puts in plenty. But it feels less like a strip you read and more like a participatory event. It’s the rare experimental work that makes you feel as though you’re there in the lab with its creator, conducting that experiment yourself.

I reviewed “Configurations” by Aidan Koch, originally published in comicsworkbook, for The Comics Journal.


The Rise of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy”s Rocket Raccoon

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

“You can only take these characters so far before it gets ridiculous,” Gunn admits. “Honestly, some of the latest superhero movies take themselves so seriously, they feel like a joke. This desperate, angsty need for ‘coolness’ is sort of pathetic. Guardians is a big reaction against that.” Will the grim-and-gritty-loving fanboys go along? Gunn laughs. “Who the hell knows?”

I interviewed Rocket Raccoon co-creator Keith Giffen and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn about Marvel’s answer to Mickey Mouse for Rolling Stone. What a world!


Comics Time: This One Summer

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

At the beginning of This One Summer, its main character, Rose, splashes down into her bed, holding her nose and falling backwards as if leaping off a dock into the lake nearby. At the end she and a friend dig a hole in the beach big enough to contain her, and she lies in it, posing for her last picture of the summer — this is how she wants to remember it. In between, nature, as drawn with preposterous skill by Jillian Tamaki, proves capable of enveloping her without her help. Big summer-night skies, full of stars and moonlight. Bright summer sun, hanging overhead like it will never set again. Wet, heavy summer rain, seemingly just as endless, pouring into puddles drop after drop. Trees and vines and bushes and grass and undergrowth, verdant, overripe to the point of hysteria. The lake, which is alternately drawn dominating a spread vertically like a monolith, suspending the joyous bodies of tumbling teenagers in its inviting murk, and enveloping them like a sunlit shroud when they no longer wish to be found. Against this brush-stroke backdrop stand Rose and the other impeccably cartooned characters, whose stylized simplicity (relatively speaking; no sense that these are real people is lost) when juxtaposed with those wall-of-sound environments makes them feel like inner tubes bobbing in the water, or stones tossed in it. Immersion is This One Summer‘s strength, and it works alarmingly well for the story that cousin-collaborators Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki are telling. It’s a young-adult graphic novel, and young adults are constantly tossed into new circumstances by forces beyond their control, from puberty to parents. Out of their depth, do they sink or swim?

I reviewed This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki for The Comics Journal.


Comics Time: How to Be Happy

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

The first moment — but certainly not the last — that made me stop reading How to Be Happy, turn back the pages, and immediately re-read them came early. “In Our Eden”, the lead-off piece in Eleanor Davis’s masterful new collection of short stories, concerns a back-to-nature commune driven to dissent and dissolution by its founder’s purity of vision. Some members chafe at the convention by which every man is called Adam, every woman Eve. Others fall away when the leader, a towering and barrel-chested figure with a ferocious black beard like something out of a David B. comic, takes away all of their prefab tools. The rest depart when he insists they neither farm nor kill for food, literalizing and reversing the Fall’s allegory of humanity’s move from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies. At last it’s just this one Adam and the Eve he loves. By the next time we see them, Adam’s gargantuan physique has been pared away, his ribs visible, his nose reddened for a sickly effect, demonstrating Davis’s remarkable ability to wring detail and expressive power out of the simple color-block style of the piece. He comes across Eve, nude and stork-skinny, washing her long hair in a river. He goes to her, nude himself. “I’m ready for the bliss to come,” he says right to us in one of the recurring panels of first-person narration that have been peppered through the comic. They embrace. “I’m ready for the weight to lift.” They kiss.

I turned the page, curious as to how the story would end. Some final irony? Some subtle but biting indictment of utopian folly? A widening of the view to deny the lovers centrality in their world? None of the above: the story had already ended. The build-up I’d read into it — a crescendo of extremism that would end with Adam’s hubris exposed and exploited — didn’t exist. The easy climax, the stacked-deck scenario so common in stories about true believers in which author and audience get over at the expense of the characters when the latter are made to look foolish for foibles the former recognize instantly, never comes. The climax had come two pages before, when I turned from one page to the next and reached a splash-page image of the moment when Eve turns to see her Adam. This moment of connection is the story’s resolution. The use of Adam and Eve’s human bodies to communicate to one another, to seek the bliss that’s coming, to lift that weight, is the image Davis wants us to leave with. No moral, no punchline, no muted epiphany — discarded along with all the other distractions, they leave only Edenic bliss behind.

I reviewed Eleanor Davis’s masterful comics collection How to Be Happy for The Comics Journal.


Comics Time: Sorry Kid

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Sorry Kid folds out like a 22×17 broadsheet. When examined closely, it reveals itself to be two 11×17 pages, their surface murky with black xerox ink, joined together by sparkly rainbow-silver tape. This juxtaposition in its construction encapsulates the eight-page whole, which sees Clark alternate heartrending grappling with the overpowering grief of her father’s death and small welcome gestures in the direction of comfort.

All of the text is borrowed from apparently much-loved sources: Inside, writer Hélène Cixous’s novel on this theme; Ursula K. Le Guin’s fantasy classic The Farthest Shore; the Cocteau Twins song “Know Who You Are at Any Age”. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that recognition of your pain in painful work is often as comforting as can be.

I reviewed my first comic in ages, Sorry Kid by Katrina Silander Clark, for The Comics Journal.


“What Is Nigeria?”

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Colin Panetta and I made a comic called “What Is Nigeria?”, inspired by this vox.com article by Max Fisher.


STC @ CAKE

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Come see me at CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (the “k” is silent, and invisible), this weekend! I’ll sporadically be at table 68A with Julia Gfrörer, hawking our Edgar Allan Poe porn comic In Pace Requiescat and potentially Flash Forward by me and Jonny Negron too, and I look like this.


Sean & Julia on Poe & Porn

Monday, May 5th, 2014

What inspired you to make this Poe Porn (lol)?

Sean: Julia and I have a lot in common, and one of those things happened to be a fascination with this particular Poe story, which we’d both read at an impressionable age.

Julia: I felt like Sean’s script was such an effective interpolation of the original story because in a sense it wasn’t radical at all, its constituent elements are entirely native to the source material. There are hints of regret, of reluctance, almost tenderness, supporting the maniacal sadism. The meticulousness with which Montresor inflicts the final act of cruelty on his friend already carries an erotic undertone–maybe not all readers experience that, but Sean and I didn’t invent it.

Sean: In “The Cask of Amontillado” I recognized a link between the genres of horror and pornography. Both frequently rely on a sense of certainty for their visceral emotional impact: When you begin to read or watch a horror story, you know that a terrible thing will happen, and frequently so does the character to whom it’s going to happen. In pornography, as in sex generally, you know that when your partner begins touching you, you have entered into a process that will end with you briefly losing control of your own body, unable to think of anything but the pleasure your partner is effectively forcing you to experience at the expense of everything else. In both cases that certainty is magnetic to minds trapped in our unforgivingly inconstant and unpredictable world. Dread and eroticism are two sides of the same coin neither of us can stop flipping in the art we make or consume.

Julia: Right, I rarely respond to a sex scene that doesn’t have some foreboding attached to it. The sense that the world has stopped and what’s happening right now is the only thing that matters or exists is romantic, but it also feels like something on the verge of panic.

Sean: “The Cask of Amontillado” and Montresor’s revenge scheme both depend on that certainty — on Montresor letting Fortunato know exactly what’s happening to him, and exactly what will continue to happen to him until he dies. There just came a day when I wondered what would happen if Montresor’s mental circuit overloaded and that horrific mastery over another human being became erotic mastery over the same person. This was the result.

We hope to do more Poe-nography together, actually. We’ve been talking about “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

Julia: “The Pit and the Pendulum” seemed a little on the nose.

Glory Hole In One: A NSFW Comic Book Review & Interview | Slutist

The marvelous writer/musician/dominatrix Hether Fortune interviewed me and Julia Gfrörer about In Pace Requiescat, our pornographic adaptation of/extrapolation from “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, for Slutist.You can buy the comic here.


A May Day thought

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Respecting creators’ rights is not about reasserting the magical aura of the Artist in opposition to the hoi polloi, it’s about defending the relationship between worker and the work produced. Creators’ rights are labor rights.