Sunday, November 29, 2015

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 11/22/15 to 11/28/15

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


* Andy Oliver on Una's BECOMING UNBECOMING
* Zainab Akhtar on Bruno Gazzotti and Fabien Vehlmann's ALONE 4: THE RED CAIRNS
* Rich Fahle talks to BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2015 series editor Bill Kartalopoulous and contributors Gabrielle Bell, Julia Gfrorer, and Anders Nilsen (VIDEO)
* Jason Wilkins talks to Josh O'Neill from Locust Moon Press about THE LOST WORK OF WILL EISNER
* Scott Cederlund on Simon Moreton's PLANS WE MADE
* Chase Magnett on THE DARK KNIGHT III
* Ray Sonne and Chase Magnett (again, geez, the guy had some serious mojo going this week) on PLANETARY #12
* Matt O'Keefe talks to artist NICOLA SCOTT about her work on BLACK MAGICK
* Jamie Kingston interviews SPIKE TROTMAN
* Jamil Scalese on Derf Backderf's TRASHED
* Nick Hanover on Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque's HUCK


* Six Authors on their Childhood Reading
* Is Subscription the Future for Digital Comics?
* The Thing All Women Do That You Don't Know About
* Signs of a Dying Society
* RJ Casey on the artwork of WALTER MOLINO
* The Comics Reporter HOLIDAY SHOPPING GUIDE 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Reading Darkness As Yourself: Frank Candiloro’s BLACK -- review and interview

There’s an old adage about how when you read a text, it, in turn, reads you. We bring to our reading our a posteriori knowledge and use the sum of our experiences to make meaning. As each of us have different lives, so too do we have different readings.  This implies that perception is an interactive experience, and, as Heraclitus reminds us, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

Go on, grab your favorite book or album or poem from your youth. Though you may remember how you embraced it then, see if it still resonates along those lines now.

It has become something new, hasn’t it? Therein is the acknowledgement that you have grown older, gathered new information to process the world, moved on.

So it is with art. Truly profound works expand to embrace the multitudes of perception; they are as much of a statement of the artist as they are a tabla rasa for the audience.

So it is with Australian cartoonist Frank Candiloro’s new comic book Black.

In Black, Candiloro is tapping into something primal. In only ten wordless pages suffused with his German Expressionist woodcut art style born heavy with blood red and inky black as his palette, Candiloro has created almost an epyllion to the cycle of self-doubt that is the product of our disquiet. Open ended, it beats with the undulating rhythms of a descent into the self, the riptide caused by the meeting of desire and failure, the pulse of the lungs gasping for air as we struggle to free ourselves from the corpulent weight of depression.

Though there is no dialogue, Black is filled with our screaming and the echoes of us pushing against every wall we create for ourselves.

As I read Black, it read me back, and laid bare the monstrosity of my own struggles -- abject in its darkness, syrupy in its message.

It is his best work to date.

What follows is a transcript of my email conversation with Candiloro about Black:

Elkin: It really seems like your forging some new ground with this book. What was your inspiration for Black?

Candiloro: It actually came from a very silly idea - I wanted to do a 50 page comic filled with nothing but black pages - no panels, no text, just black. Almost like an anti-comic, if you will. It was a very cheeky idea but you know, I'm always looking for different ways to explore the medium so it seemed like an amusing idea at the time.

Of course there's no real incentive for a reader to buy it, and certainly no fun for me to make so I kind of abandoned it for a while. I kept thinking about it though, and I realised that I liked the idea of darkness being this element that threatens to overcome you; I think we're all scared of the idea of "blacking out" - darkness is what is waiting for us when we die and what scares us is that it can represent just about anything that we are fearing or struggling with. I had been having a lot of struggles with depression and anxiety for years so that was certainly an influence. The idea behind it is that the "darkness" that the main character is struggling with in the comics can represent whatever the reader is feeling at the moment.

Elkin: There are a lot of archetypal and totemic imagery in Black. Did you know how your pages would look before you began, or did they seem to evolve on their own?

Candiloro: I sort of had a vague idea of how the pages would look - it started off with the main character swimming in blackness and i incorporated more images after that. Most of them were just the first images that came to mind - speaking candidly i did have a few suicidal thoughts back in May (an incident involving uni happened which triggered a lot of my issues) but they were very abstract and didn't have any cohesiveness to them, it was just an overall ugliness that i was feeling. I used that as the inspiration for the imagery. I wanted to use a lot of "classic" and primal imagery that I think we all have experience with because in doing so it would be easier to relate to and thus the reader could project themselves onto the comic using whatever it is they are going through at the time.
Elkin: Does Black, then, end on a message of hope, of acceptance, or something else entirely?

Candiloro: To be honest I'm not really sure - I think I just left it ambiguous because it felt right. I'm not against having clear messages in my comics, I've done this with previous books of mine but for this particular comic it felt a lot better to have it be vague - it's whatever you need it to be. We don't always have universal feelings and experiences and so I don't really want to speak for others who may be going through the same thing I was, as they may be dealing with it differently; I am certainly in a much better place mentally than I was back in May but others may not be. So it worked for this comic.

So it worked for this comic” may be the understatement of the year. Black is a comic for you because it is of you as much as it is of Candiloro.

The book releases on November 27th and will be available digitally soon after that. You’ll want to head on over to Candiloro’s web page to order it then.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 11/15/15 to 11/21/15

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


* One of the best critical voices in the comics biz is hanging it up. After ten years, Justin Giampaoli says his good byes. I'll probably have more to say about this in the coming weeks, as Justin has been a major influence on my critical sensibilities
* Ken Parille on Daniel Clowes on Superheroes via his Batman Cover
* Nick Hanover on IRENE #6
* Chase Magnett on why SANDMAN is NOT a good intro to comics.
* Ian Dawe on ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER DOLLAR, Harvey Pekar's last AMERICAN SPLENDOR from Vertigo
* Kelly Kanayama on MONSTRESS #1
* Andy Oliver on FRONTIER #9 by Becca Tobin 
* Suzanne Walker on Cartooning Disability: HAWKEYE AND HEARING LOSS 
* Jared Gardner "highlights some recent additions to the growing body of graphic literature devoted to medicine, illness, and recovery"


* The Hidden Life of Marginalia
* Keith Silva really loves the movie TWO-LANE BLACKTOP 
* Two Poems by JON WHITBREAD
* CHESS by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
* Keep drinking coffee, my friends
* My Carpet Liquidation Center Really Is Going Out Of Business This Time
* You Can't Fix Schools by Fixing Schools
* Richard Holmes on The Greatness of WILLIAM BLAKE

Monday, November 16, 2015

Books in Bites 8: Three Comics Worth Your Attention

Quick Reviews of Three Books you may be interested in.

Published by Sparkplug Books
Available Here

This book is visceral, thick, unyielding, honest, and defined. Of A Wretch Like Me, creator Ebin Lee says it is “an ongoing project about blackness/depression/anxiety and dysphoria. Another core theme is being black in white spaces.” This is a book that fosters understanding and adds to the conversation, but it is also a book from which you step back in order not to interrupt. A Wretch Like Me is a work recognizing this individual and what this artist wrestles with in the world.

Simple in presentation and working in heavy inks, the narrative follows neither time nor story, but conveys perspective -- the reader comprehends Lee through images that tap the communicative moment -- the heart fluent and forceful -- bridging the disconnect by connecting. My experience being so far removed from Lee’s, I can only receive the artist’s perceptions and feel its truth.

What does it mean to be black? To be depressed? To be queer? To feel ugly? Lee is not seeking pity. This is a creator conveying those truths that are singular in comprehension and inwardness, yet universal in their veracity.

This is hard art. Unrelenting and necessary.

A Wretch Like Me: Sad/Black/Ugly/Queer is the fifth book published by Sparkplug Books as part of their Minis Series.

You should pick up a copy of it here.

Published by Cuckoo’s Nest Press
Available Here

Mental illness frightens us more than cancer. It strikes to very heart of our conceptions of self, illuminating them to be fragile and, even more horrifying, transient. To see someone in the grips of schizophrenic hallucinations or manic reckless behavior, we struggle to understand who the person “really” is. More importantly, we fear them, ignore them, relegate them to living like animals in the street or locked behind doors away from our discomfort with their “behavior”.

It is another of the great shames of society and its inability to deal with the “other”.

Published in 2013, Look Straight Ahead brings its readers straight into the maws of mental illness. Though having as its narrative center a seventeen year old high school boy, the best pages of this book transcend its limited perspective and surge and heave into the chaos of bipolar disorder -- the hallucinations and the inner voices and the grandiosity and the indignity.  Even though Elaine Will distances herself from the experience through her choice of narrator, you can still feel the intensity of her personal encounter with what she describes in her lines and her layouts and her teetering on the edges.

While ultimately redemptive, it’s hard not to get enmeshed in the horror and the disconnect that Will inks on her pages. The vividness of experience that saturate these pages is almost overwhelming, as if you have to struggle to not fall into the moments in and of themselves. It would be difficult to read Look Straight Ahead and not gain some larger insight into the experience of mental illness, it would speak to the kind of person you are if you continued to view those among us who struggle with these issues as “things” to be feared.

What Elaine Will does in this book is remind us that there are people in the statistics, that there is pain in the disease, and that understanding is the first step to acknowledging these facts.

You can purchase Look Straight Ahead here.

published by kuš! komikss
Available Here

The latest anthology from Latvian publishing house kuš! komikss is, perhaps, their most powerful to date. In š! #23 “five young European artists shed some light on one of the darkest periods of our past. They tell stories about victims of National Socialism based on incidents and biographies found and researched during the project Redrawing Stories from the Past.

As we get further and further away from the atrocities of the Holocaust, the direct impact and true repugnance of this event dissipates. This calculated and organized genocide is, seemingly, becoming just another topic in an already overloaded history class or, even worse, the punch-line of comedy shows.

You hear the refrain over and over again, “Haven’t we heard enough?” or “What more do you want us to know?”

So why continue to focus on this event? As Ole Frahm says in his “Introduction” at the back of the collection, “Only one thing is certain: that we should still mourn this destruction, that we should try to understand what happened and why. And finally, we should tell these stories.

Half the people of the world have never heard of the Holocaust. Of those that had, nearly a third of them don’t believe it actually happened. As the past becomes a story, do you get to choose to believe its veracity? As the last eyewitness is gone, through who’s eyes do we witness this hideousness?

As part of their solicitation for the anthology, kuš! komikss writes that “the stories illustrate a rather unseen, forgotten or even marginalized part of our common memory and give voice to the lives of people who have not been heard before, thus offering a new perspective and better understanding of our present as well.

Lofty goals for a comic anthology. š! #23 lives up to its aspirations and becomes an important document in keeping the story alive, keeping it part of the narrative of what we are capable of doing to each other, keeping the fire lit to shine a light in the darkness spawned by the gathering clouds, keeping us vigilant in hopes of never allowing it to happen again.

Given the events of the recent days and the backlash it has engendered, these are not only stories of A time, they are stories of OUR time.

You can get a copy of š! #23 here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 11/8/15 to 11/14/15

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


* This review of John Porcellino's KING CAT #75 by Kim O'Connor
* Nick Hanover on Pete Toms' THE LINGUISTS 
* Sarah Horrocks on TERROR ASSAULTER: O.M.W.O.T.
* Claire Napier on THE GODDAMNED
* This review of Kathryn and Stuart Immonen's RUSSIAN OLIVE TO RED KING by Greg Burgas
* A new column on Loser City called Split 7 Inch, in which Christopher M. Jones compares ART OPS and THE VISION
* Sort of an interview with Ryan Sands from Youth in Decline, but really something else. Anne Ishi says some really interesting things about changes in publishing.
* Zainab Akhtar interviews the guys at Peow! Studio about publishing and their new Kickstarter to fund their latest slate of books.
* Dan White issues 21 Statements on Comics Criticism


* Jason Sacks provides an overview of Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN in preparation for a series of articles about the full run of the book
* Colleen Doran tries to answer the question, "Can You Make A Living in Comics?"
* RJ Casey on the art of Frank Viva
* This piece about intellectual space vs. safe space at Yale has me totally befuddled.
* The Digital Revolution in Higher Education has Already Happened. Nobody Noticed
* The Upside of Doing Nothing -- trying to explore the benefits of wasting time
* Living and Dying on Airbnb
* Why Sitting Is Bad For You

Sunday, November 8, 2015

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 11/1/15 to 11/7/15

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


* This Review of Adrian Tomine's new book KILLING AND DYING
* Bob Temuka's review of THE HEADING DOG THAT SPLIT IN TWO
* Elaine Will on depicting mental illness in her book LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD
* Sarah Horrocks on BITCH PLANET
* Tom Murphy on OVER THE LINE (an introduction to Poetry Comics)
* Dominic Umile on the interactive comic THE BOAT about Vietnamese Boat People
* Heidi MacDonald's "It's About Disclosure In Comics Journalism"
* Why Robert Sikoryak illustrated the ENTIRE iTunes Terms and Conditions


* A new comic from LESLIE STEIN on Vice -- also this interview Stein did for the Paris Review
* kuš announce new line of long-form comics, to debut with Roman Muradov's THE END OF A FENCE
* THOSE GODDAMN FUCKERS by Alec Berry and Andrew White is available online
* RJ Casey on the artist Mamma Andersson
* "The Uber-economy F*cks Us All" by Steven Hill
* Charlie Kaufman on his new film "Anomalisa"
* "My trigger-warning disaster: 9 1/2 Weeks, The Wire, and how coddled young radicals got discomfort all wrong" by Rani Neutill
* John Danaher's review of INVENTING THE FUTURE: POSTCAPITALISM AND WORLD WITHOUT WORK by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams
* "Ambrose Akinmusire and Jazz in the Smoldering City: A Dispatch From Kyiv" bIL’JA RÁKOŠ

Thursday, November 5, 2015

So. Many. Words. About BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2015

Over on Comics Bulletin, Kyle Garret, Jason Sacks and I write a lot (and I mean A LOT) of words about BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2015 edited by Jonathan Lethem. While we talk about the book, we mostly talk about what makes comics, "comics" -- I think you might like the piece.

What is important is that the experience of reading The Best American Comics 2015 is participatory. The audience engages actively in their response to these works. It is not the passive entertainment of reading the endless serialized exploits of garishly garmented exemplars of public morality punching villains in the taint. Rather these comics demand the audience’s partnership as much as they demonstrate respect for and trust in their readership. As they emerge from personal perspective, oftentimes they require consideration and empathy to grok. Because of this, immersion in this world, perhaps, makes people just a little bit better for having done so. The more people are exposed to other voices, the more they realize that we are all, ultimately, singing the same song into the darkness: Know me for who I am because when you strip everything away, I am just like you.
By working in the intersection between words and pictures, these “deep cuts” and “termite” comics (as Lethem calls them in his introduction), force the brain to operate in a more personal and affecting way. It is inviolable.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Books in Bites 7: Three Comics Worth Your Attention

Quick Reviews of Three Books you may be interested in.

FRONTIER #9 by Becca Tobin
Published by Youth in Decline
Available Here.

Frontier #9 is a golem story. According to Alden Oreck’s article about The Golem, “In Jewish tradition, the golem is most widely known as an artificial creature created by magic, often to serve its creator. In Hebrew, 'golem' stands for 'shapeless mass' and according to Talmudic legend, Adam is called 'golem,' meaning 'body without a soul' for the first 12 hours of his existence.” 

In Becca Tobin’s new book from Youth in Decline, the golem is called Saltdough.

You might think you know Saltdough, but you don’t know Saltdough.

Becca Tobin’s Frontier #9 is about when art becomes a burden to the artist. It is about how fame and success are antithetical to creativity. It is about how a creation can consume the creator to the point where the original intent disappears entirely.

Much like a golem, success in art can devour the artist. It can suck you dry then erase you completely.

Tobin explores all these ideas in beautiful and graceful watercolors. There is a deceptive lightness to her panels that washes in color and perspective. Even her writing seems to come from a place of innocence and glee. But Tobin is playing the bait-and-switch, her joyous pages are a bamboozle, as her themes and purpose work in darker hues.

It is in this turnabout that heightens the bite of what could misconstrued as pedantries. There’s more of an appeal and an empathy at the heart of Tobin’s work here, more so than one of those envy-driven admonitions against the price of successfulness. It’s gentle and it ends with what appears to be a solid statement, but in such it leaves the door open just ambiguously enough that Tobin is asking for you to step inside.

It’s a thing of beauty.

You can pick up a copy of Frontier #9 here.

Published by Tinto Press
Available Here.

I’m glad this book is being published because it gives me another reason to re-read Jason Walz’s Eisner-nominated Homesick, a book I love for all the things that can be said about comics. Tinto Press calls A Story For Desmond a “(sort of) Epilogue” to Homesick -- which it is, but it also stands on its own as a complete work.

Walz describes his A Story for Desmond as, “A parent explains the loss of a grandparent, her legacy and hope for the future to a very young child through the telling of an adventure that spans the depths of the ocean to the farthest reaches of space. From loss, so much can be found.” And it is that entirely and completely.

It’s an all-ages book in the truest sense, as I can’t think of a single age demographic that couldn’t get something out of it. It’s both joyous and darling without being precious. Like Homesick before it, everyone will bring something of themselves to the book.

Yes, Walz says, “From loss, so much can be found,” and this is the working motif of this comic. The book is stocked with the stories we tell to each other and ourselves to help us make sense of the world, to understand that we come from somewhere, that our sense of self is formed from those that have passed us the baton. It also stresses the obligation of a parent to a child and how that obligation can be what grounds us or give us purpose.

A Story for Desmond is a soft comic, gentle in reading, beautiful in execution, and purposeful in its sense of place and intent. While maybe not as profound as Homesick, it brings to the fore all the heart of its predecessor.

You can grab a copy of A Story for Desmond here.

by Karl Christian Krumpholz
Published by Drunken Tiki Comics
Available Here.

30 Miles of Crazy: Another Round picks up where the last collection of 30 Miles of Crazy left off, which, of course, makes sense as these are diary comics (in a way), or, as Karl Christian Krumpholz characterizes them, “true-ish tales of the bars, characters, denizens and derelicts of the City and Other Low Places” based around (for the most part) the 30 mile stretch that is Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado.

Once again, Krumpholz is finding the pulse of each place he goes. He overhears just the right turn of phrase that encapsulates a person’s being, a place’s vibe, a moment’s truth. Often times it is from the mouth of those whom society has pushed out of its embrace that we see how truly absurd our daily concerns are. When we go to an “out of the way” place, we re-evaluate what is “in the way” as it were. When you step out of your comfort zone, sometimes you finally find a new path.

So while 30 Miles of Crazy is filled with moments that are bonkers, with people that are off-kilter, and with places that you might think twice about walking into, Krumpholz parses each page with affection at a distance, celebrating instead of mocking what he is chronicling.

As so much of today’s commentary comes at the expense of an ironic turn of phrase, 30 Miles of Crazy is a welcomed relief.

What Krumpholz is narrating are the experiences that operates at the margins, and sometimes, really, that’s the most interesting place in the world to be.

You can pick up a copy of 30 Miles of Crazy: Another Round here.