Sunday, May 29, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/23/16 to 5/29/16

Highlighting some great comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.


* Monica Johnson on Pierre Maurel's BLACKBIRD
* Alex Hoffman on Simon Hanselmann's MEGG AND MOGG IN AMSTERDAM
* Rob Clough is reviewing all of Youth in Decline's FRONTIER series on his blog.
* Rob Clough (again) on Joan Cornella's MOX NOX
* I don't normally highlight criticism of superhero books, but this review of DC REBIRTH #1 by Chase Magnett is a spectacular kick in the pants


* Joseph Kyle Schmidt talks with J. A. MICHELINE about comics criticism and the graphic novel JOKER. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Comics Are For Everyone, Or So We Say: Goodbye, Comics and Cola

As part of a much larger piece on Women Write About Comics, 
I contributed my "goodbye" to Zainab Akhtar 
after she made the decision to shut down her fantastic site, 
Comics and Cola.

Glad I got to be part of this.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Books in Bites 15: Three Comics Worth Your Attention

Quick Reviews of Three Books you may be interested in.

By Jordan Shiveley
Published by Uncivilized Books
Available Here

Why is it that so often our self-loathing and self-destructive urges harm those who love us most? In the wreckage left behind as we pummel our own souls, so often there are the blood pools of others who have been there for us, cared for us, tried to make us realize how important our lives are. Many times, by harming ourselves the lion’s share of the damage is spattered in the faces of the most important people, the one’s we would never want to hurt.

And yet this consequence, sometimes, is not enough to stay our hands. Sometimes we are drawn to the darkness like the proverbial moth to the flame. No sense can be made of it. Logic fails under the weight. The reptile brain hungers to stop the pain.
Jordan Shiveley’s new book, Silver Wire, takes all this on simply, quietly, and surprisingly powerfully. It asks unanswerable questions through the use of clean, sparse linework and open panels, carefully documenting a relationship built on traps, inevitability, denial, hope, and consequences. Shiveley calls it a “mouse tragicomedy” and his choice to anthropomorphize his characters as rodents gives the reader space to breathe, step away, and confront that which is within these pages without being subsumed by its emotional intensity. It’s the same choice Art Spiegelman made with Maus - as if the only way to really get your head around the horror we inflict upon each other is to take the human element out of it.

Silver Wire works because of its pacing. It unfolds from minutia to the larger world and back again. Even in its most dramatic moment, Silver Wire takes the time to linger on the soft gestures that Shively uses to convey emotion -- the distance engendered by both the choice of using mice and the choice of taking everything down to basic shapes in his rendering. Somehow this makes the emotional beats that much more potent. In these layers of erasure the reader finds their own faces and connects, as if the hardest punch comes from the softest hand. Artists like Simon Moreton know this, apparently so too does Jordan Shiveley.

By Sophie Franz
Published by Retrofit/Big Planet
Available Here

What happens when you become disconnected from that which you feel you are best at? What happens when you sense the changes that are occurring all around you but they only seem like pieces to a puzzle you never purchased, let alone understand how they all fit together? What can you hold on to when the things you must trust about yourself become part of a large sense of uncertainty and unease?

There’s a profound caprice and vagueness at the heart of Sophie Franz’s The Experts -- the expectation of a sudden horror or a building towards a truly unsettling moment -- that keeps you focused as a reader. Something nebulous and tenebrous is not just swimming in the water but is sleeping in the next room. And yet, in Franz’s telling, it exists in the periphery. In Franz’s telling, so does every aspect of life.
For their solicitation for Sophie Franz’s new book, Retrofit/Big Planet Comics writes: “The Experts is a foreboding story of three ‘experts’ on an isolated station, investigating the strange water creatures that live in the area, even as the investigators lose touch with their superiors and even what exactly they are doing at the base.” It’s that last bit, the “even what exactly they are doing” part, that perfectly encapsulates the poignancy of this book. There is a disconnect -- the kind found in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Conor Stechschulte’s The Amateurs -- a sense that the answers most desperately needed are buried somewhere deep in the narrative, that brings tension to the smallest act while clouding every moment in unease.

The Experts is a horror comic insomuch as we fear the unknown. Franz capitalizes on this not just through her narrative, but through her art as well. Bold colors laid against white backgrounds juxtaposed with thick black panels and tight close-ups bring the reader into a medial place -- between thought and expression shrouded in fog.

When science bumps into the surreal, nobody is an expert anymore. Facts become arbitrary while dreams become nightmares and to leave is to abandon whatever it was that brought you there in the first place. The Experts invades more than it explores and whatever grounding there is to begin with, Franz quickly sends seismic undulations into it to upend your footing.

By Matthew Swan
Published by Avery Hill Publishing
Available Here

Parsley Girl: Carrots is my first foray into the world of Matthew Swan’s Parsley Girl series and it’s bonkers and fun and wild and weird and wonderful. It teeters on the edge of complete incomprehensibility but never falls off, as Swan provides just enough of a rhythm to allow you to dance. It’s vibrant and it swirls and no matter how good the acid you gobble is, it will never be as wack-a-do as this book.

Not that this will help, but Avery Hill’s PR for this book reads: “Parsley Girl is having a tough day. She's just had a tooth taken out by her super weird dentist, her best friend Margiotta Moonshine might be stuck in her mundane decorating job forever, her Robot Thomas is feeling obsolete, and there's a mysterious puppy watching her every move. So it couldn't be a worse time for a magical portal to open in her kitchen, allowing hordes of vegetable villains intent on vengeance to invade her village!”
It’s magic spells and helpful robots and double-bladed axes and marauding giant carrots and warrior alien turtles and talking dogs and it’s wavy and fluid and psychedelic and wonderful.
If Matthew Swan wants to tell me that this is an all-ages book then I want to hang out at his Daycare Center because that has got to be the most bonkers place on Earth.
It’s a rare thing in my reading life that I come across a book so gleefully unglued as Parsley Girl: Carrots. Swan grabs ahold of a delirious joy and saturates it into this book making it jingle and jangle and wonk the whatnot in an almost delicious way. It’s thick with joy as it is possibility, and it adds all sorts of magenta and periwinkle and tangerine and cerulean and cyan and chartreuse to all the gray days you might be having.
Parsley Girl: Carrots is whimsy and fun and the light desert you need after so many heavy meals.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/16/16 to 5/22/16

Highlighting some great comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.


* Claire Napier on Cathy G. Johnson's DEAR AMANDA
* Sarah Horrocks on Blutch's PEPLUM
* Robert Kirby on Gabby Schulz's SICK
* Andy Oliver on Michael DeForge's FRONTIER #10
* Emma Houxbois on CLEAN ROOM #8
* John Seven on Dylan Horrocks' INCOMPLETE WORKS
* Conori Bell-Bhuiyan on Luke Howard's TALK DIRTY TO ME
* Paul Montgomery on FUTURE QUEST #1


* Sean Ford has finished SHADOW HILLS #8
* Julia Wright profiles KATE BEATON
* Brenna Clarke Gray interviews CHESTER BROWN 
* Jason Sacks interviews SIMON SPURRIER
* David Harper interviews ULISES FARINAS about his new book, Motro
* Nick Hanover's powerful and personal ALBUMS FOR WHEN IT'S JUST YOU AND THE ABYSS: LOW'S SECRET NAME
* Benjamin Marra's 10 RULES FOR DRAWING COMICS
* Alex Mansfield has some RANDOM THOUGHTS about comics and the Simpsons
* THREE POEMS by Carol Szamatowicz

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: NOD AWAY by Joshua W. Cotter

Over on Wink Books, I wrote a short reflection of Joshua W. Cotter's book out of Fantagraphics, NOD AWAY

Nod Away is the first of what Cotter promises to be a seven-volume series. Ostensibly this first volume is a sci-fi story that circles around issues such as the human desire for exploration and connection, the power structure inherent in gender politics, and the gray area created in the intersection between science and morality, but, as the book unfolds, the reader feels there is something more complicated occurring in the periphery. Cotter is exploring profound questions of consciousness itself by creating a story that asks them indirectly.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/9/16 to 5/15/16

Highlighting some great comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.


* Abhay Khosla on Michel Fiffe's COPRA
* Simon Moreton writes about his own book, PLANS WE MADE
* David Barnett on LOVE AND ROCKETS
* Stephen Webb on Nick Sousanis' UNFLATTENING
* Chase Magnett on WEDNESDAY COMICS
* John Seven on Andrea Tsurumi's WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?
* Johnna Draper Carlson on Lucy Knisley's SOMETHING NEW


* Ardo Omer, Insha Fitzpatrick, and J.A. Micheline's 3 TAKES ON BEYONCE'S LEMONADE
* Tucker Stone's DARWYN COOKE remembrance and interview
* Alex Mansfield unpacks his brain on various COMICS RELATED STUFF
* Jonathan Wilson on THE ART OF AVIGDOR ARIKHA

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Review -- Nick Drnaso's BEVERLY

Over on LOSER CITY, Keith Silva, Taylor Lilley, and I examine Nick Drnaso's debut book from Drawn and Quarterly, BEVERLY, in a piece we call

Red Ants Underneath: Nick Drnaso’s Beverly is a Soft Palette of Middle-American Suburban Ennui Porn Shoved Into Little Boxes

Growing up in the suburbs is like trying to pick up a tiny fillister head wood screw from a beige hand-tufted shag rug while your hands keep falling off. It breeds a smug frustration that reeks of sacks of liposuction fat and empty bottles of salicylic acid. It undulates with a gothic sensibility, as if the red ants are constantly pulsing under the flesh. It is a unique result of duck ponds next to shopping malls with tiered parking lots and a security force driving golf carts slowly around and around hoping to finally jostle some teens.
Minutiae becomes monumental in the face of everything-but-nothing to do. Daily life is written by soap opera hacks gacked out on Sinutab and stroking corrosion-resistant ball peen hammers. Fears and anxieties come from combining plaids with stripes, not guns or starvation. The social nuances of every interaction become tantamount to Gilgamesh crossing the Waters of Death. There is the eroticism of despair. What doesn’t exist is created in order for meaning to occur.
The weariness of entitlement, advantage, and prerogative all promulgate a strange kind of weirdness — this is what begets the ear on the lawn covered with the scurry of red ants.
And this is what Nick Drnaso seizes and bags in his debut graphic novel, Beverly, published by Drawn and Quarterly.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/2/16 to 5/8/16

Highlighting some great comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.


* J. A. Micheline has a Patreon going to support her critical writing about criticism. Read the first installment HERE. It is well worth a read. 
* Katie Skelly on Cathy G. Johnson's GORGEOUS
* Ken Parille's BLACK PANTHER #1: 31 THOUGHTS
* James Kaplan on Kaare Kyle Andrews THE ONE % #1
* Chase Magnett on LETTERING IN COMICS


* Andrew Hickey's HOWL about the toxic culture of comics
* SHORTBOX is a curated comics box from Zainab Akhtar. CHECK IT OUT!
* Eleanor Davis reading from her comic BDSM
* Robin McConnell interviews CAITLIN SKAALRUD
* Mark O'Connell interviews DON DELILLO
* Tamsin Smith and Matt Gonzalez on DAVE EGGERS' "IDAHO"
* Paul Berman talks about Walt Whitman's MANLY HEALTH AND TRAINING
* TWO POEMS by Lewis Warsh
* Brian Hibbs on LICENSED COMICS

Monday, May 2, 2016

Books in Bites 14: Woods Edition

Quick Reviews of Two Books you may be interested in, 
both of which have the word “Woods” in their title.

By David Enos
Published by California Clap
Available Here

On the periphery, there is always the woods. For many they are “lovely, dark and deep.” For others, they are a place where one can “live deliberately.” But for some, the woods are wild, unfettered, where the witches dance, the place outside the social order. For those people, the forest is as much about possibility and mystery as it is about freedom. The woods are poetry and the procreant urge.

Weird shit happens out there in the trees.

David Enos’ Bat-Man is Lost in a Woods embraces this sentiment fully with pages of painted panels that squeeze you right between that which you know and that which you envision. It stands heroically both within and without, one foot in dreams, one foot in some other place. That which is familiar is now seen anew.
There is a narrative to Enos’ work. Publisher California Clap has the following solicitation for this book: The greatest mystery Bat-Man has ever faced may be the disappearance of his wife, Amity.  The wooded acres surrounding their castle home offer few clues, and months of searching have led him no closer to the truth.  In a case of this nature, even his unmatched investigative techniques may not be enough. Yet this description allows access only, an opportunity to reference and to put up walls. Bat-Man is Lost in a Woods gathers familiar objects in order to provide a map into reverie. This is not super-heroics or even a plotted out here-to-there. It is Lynchian, a blurred Magritte, full of plaintiveness and unease.
Enos’ art is static, flushed with the colors of bile and dissociative nightmares. His Batman throws us back to the comfortable Adam West iteration of the hero, but removes the campiness and replaces it with a fugue state. The hyphen Enos adds to his Bat-Man forces the dichotomy that has always been at the heart of the character. Here, though, the pause between the two words becomes the focus.

Bat-Man is Lost in a Woods is a right brain book out of left field, shepherding intellectual property out of the city and into the forest. Where you stand is in the middle, smiling and shaking your head in the end.

By Desmond Reed
Available Here

Throughout history, humans have viewed the woods as place where strange, mythical, magical creatures cavorted and/or abided in wait. Denizens of the forest were conceived as beings who were infused with the impossible, capable of granting wishes or tearing us apart. They were to be wary of, as they were not like us at all.

In Desmond Reed’s world, the creatures of the woods are entirely all too human.

Within its 112 pages of meticulously tight and outlandishly subversive black and white pages, Those Dark New Hampshire Woods collects Reed’s previously available five standalone mini-comics into one package providing commentary on itself and creating a world of its own, a world populated by Scumbags, Perverts, Uncles, Drifters, and Troubled Teens, all watched over by a “Strange Being” and a “Mysterious Old Woman”. Everything intertwines and Reed holds it all together by his world building there in the woods of New Hampshire.
In Those Dark New Hampshire Woods, Reed’s intent is clearly to entertain. Larger themes of community and isolation, the responsibilities and dynamics of the parent/child relationship, and power struggles inherent in gender classifications are inadvertent side roads that Reed stumbles upon in his journey to amuse. The presence of these ideas seems to end up being more a function of setting up a punch-line than any thought of exploration. Reed wants you to laugh along with him at his weird off-kilter jokes.

What separates Those Dark New Hampshire Woods from a collection of freak-gags, though, is the fastidiousness of Reed’s meticulous lines. Though his characters are outlandish and exaggerated, the detail work is fine and precise. His backgrounds are immersive. Trees have depth, clapboards have texture, body hair is everywhere. The juxtaposition between intricate and bonkers gives anchor to your eye; you linger on Reed’s pages even though the content is light and quickly passed over, reminiscent of some of Noah Van Sciver’s short shots in Blammo, or some of the wilder work of Jamie Vayda in Loud Comix.
It’s hard to tell if ultimately Reed wants us to sympathize with or mock his creations. As I said above, his dwellers in these woods are a spot on in terms of their reflection of some of the more loathsome aspects of ourselves. Although it appears the mirror Reed is holding is of the Fun-House variety, still it is hard to laugh at your reflection in this harsh light.

Those Dark New Hampshire Woods is an odd collection of strange, entertaining stories that serve as a vehicle for Desmond Reed’s artistic talents. Reed is a creator to watch as he develops more what he wants to do with his gifts.