Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Roll at the Rink



Late Bloomers is a comic of smudges, false starts and moments of clarity.


The art flexes and reflexes. Its sole purpose seems to be to breathe in the absence of words. Thoughts, written and existing outside of the artwork are to weak for Odomo to allow to exist. Poems about insecurity perform self constructed suicides, crossing out the letters that make up their very existence before subjecting themselves to the readers eyes. The only words that are meant for the reader seem to be those that become infused into the artwork itself. Their importance to the composition precludes them from eraser. They bubble to the surface of the page, congregating between each other to create phrases and even, sometimes, sentences. If they are erased the page dies with them, and as the pages mount, the book itself.




By constantly self-sabotaging the narrative thrust of Late Bloomers you begin to sense a nervousness. A story of maturity that never seems to coalesce, let it be acknowledged as such. Odomo draws himself into the narrative at various ages, but it is only his past self that we are allowed to view in any detail. His identity is solidified in a pre-self, not a present, which is only ever depicted hidden under a baseball cap or in the expressionless outline of a figure viewed from a distance.




As the book moves past the halfway point flowers begin to bloom.

The narrative shifts from short memories of youth to pages filled with drawings of pigeons in the park. The pages are presented as photos from a sketchbook, rather than straight scans, creating a strange undercutting of artistic intimacy. To peak into an artist's sketchbook is to peek into their mind, so when you are given a unrequited look into the sketchbook of Odomo one expects a greater level of artistic intimacy, but while the rest of the book exists in a murky sense of indirectness, these sketchbook pages are straightforward in their actions. The maddening part though is that this level of closeness is given over to a section about pigeons and not any other aspect of Odomo’s.

We are only ever given a sketch of his surroundings, not his life. The tenderness of his line makes you want more though...

The last words written in Late Bloomer is “Don’t Wanna Talk Abou It.... What...Ever!!!!” as a figure walks into a field of flowers and out of the reader's intrusive gaze. A photo of a notebook page with the numbers 27 scrawled across it follows these words, then a drawing of a cat becoming startled as the reader looks upon its face. Or maybe as it looks upon the reader.

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 I turn 27 in four months and i too, do not want to talk about it.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Let's Get Lost



Ding Dong Circus
by Sasaki Maki

I keep thinking about this book, even after putting it away over a month ago.

It’s the first Ryan Holmberg manga project i'm genuinely confused by, but that makes it even more interesting. Holmberg always digs up challenging work but Ding Dong Circus is something else, it is such an out-of-left-field take on comics that it immediately made me start to rethink what i believed the term to even mean.

Almost every panel in Ding Dong Circus plays off each other to create a feeling, and every page plays off each other to create a theme, but at no point is a narrative, or anything that could be called a narrative, taking place. Even in the rare examples of panels that feature the same character you are left feeling like these are just threads left for the reader to attempt to hang the hope of story on, rather than an actual story devices. They exists as a trail of breadcrumbs left to nudge you along to the end. It undercuts the basic premise of comics, sequential panels, for something else. Panels that live and die on their own, but when collected form something greater than themselves.  Not a story, but a thought that’s built on and undermined on every page.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Thought It Was A Drought




Summer Carnival
By Jake Terrell

Terrell cuts immediately to a problem I find in most stories centering around parties; the linearity of the narrative experience. A and B plot lines intermingle and culminate in a satisfactory resolution. I have never been to a party like this, nor has anyone else to my knowledge. Parties tend to fizzle out, or someone gets too drunk and everyone has to leave suddenly after they try and set the couch on fire. They are jumbled moments of great detail and waxy nothingness.

Summer Carnival though breaks down the-party-of-the-year into a series of elliptical vignettes, re-creating the sensation of a blackout slowly coming back to you the day after. So that the reader begins to gather a sense of what the party was, in spirit, while keeping a wide breadth of ascribing to it any singular quality. It is a truer version of events, although one that doesn’t attempt to tell you what happened. 

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Terrell’s line has a playfulness to it. It’s light and fragile, but equally energetic - like the party it is illustrating. 

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The grid is almost nonexistent in Summer Carnival, scenes are allowed to start and conclude within the time it takes Terrell to draw a stray hair. This overlapping of images creates a dizzying effect, as no cuts exist everything seems to be happening at once.

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What dialogue exists, after the party starts, is half heard and devoid of context. It reads almost like you’re eavesdropping on someone else's conversation, but one that you didn’t hear the beginning or end of. 


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Do My Dance



HAX
by Lale Westvind

I burnt my copy of HAX. Not completely, but after reading it for the fifth or sixth time since CAB i placed it on my nightstand next to a candle which promptly charred a bit of the upper right corner. Even looking at it a few weeks later, burn mark and all, i can’t help but laugh at the overt symbolism of burning a copy of HAX.


HAX, a 24 page silent comic, follows a group of females moving against an opposing force. The narrative is still a bit jumbled to me, the panels form sequences at times, and at others exist as stand alone images. It reminds me a bit of reading bronze age Jack Kirby comics simply as images. The individual panels are strong enough to convey what is going on in them, but when sequenced they go from narrative delivery devices to abstractions of the shifting power dynamics between images. From right to left, and up to down, an equilibrium is formed, for every spark and surge in one panel the same is found in the next. The eye is drawn from one panel to the next, various laws of thermodynamics are upkept, but that doesn't always mean you know whats going on, or should.

This energy is most evident in the weight Westvind gives her figures, even when they don’t seem to be doing anything the power of her line still shines through. So that when you see her characters move through space, panel to panel, you can almost hear their feet stomping down on the ground as lightning bolts of excess energy fill the air around them. For a comic that lacks sound effects, you can still hear every panel.


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With all the mark making going on in each panel the addition of color could easily overwhelm the whole comic, turning figures and shapes into blobs of nothingness, but, and what initially brought me to think about this comic in line with Kirby and the Bronze-Age, Westvind scales her color scheme back to just four (red/orange/blue/yellow). Of these four red and blue, the strongest contrasting colors, are given the job of being the primary colors for each character. This allows for the delineation of foreground and background figures by giving them to a consistent color scheme, the red group and the blue group can always be seen in relation to each other in space by the colors they are comprised of. Orange and Yellow, the two remaining colors, are then left the job of showing depth between objects and terrains, which, due to the similarities between them, allows for a great number of objects to be placed near each other in the panel, but still be read as far away by shifting between the two colors in quick succession.

While these color rules are subtle, and change at times, their continued use trains the eye to view each two dimensional image as three dimensional. Even while restricting itself to such a limited palette Hax bursts with color, but by leaving them few and flat, every packed image remains readable.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Laugh Now Cry Later

 

Werewolf Jones and Sons
By Simon Hanselmann and HTML Flowers

Werewolf Jones is the most depraved, disgusting and vile member of Simon Hanselmann’s stoner comedy Megg, Mogg and Owl. He is also the funniest. And while the best moments of Hanselmann’s comics are the exploration of the psychological roots that lead to each character's eccentricities, primarily those based in loss, depression, addiction and anxiety, Werewolf Jones exists outside of these moments of characterization. Even in flashbacks to high school the teenage Werewolf seems almost identical to the one currently slated to die of an overdose sometime next year. So that as fucked up as the rest of the cast is, they can always to be judged against Werewolf.

Werewolf Jones and Sons is the first prolonged narrative centering on Werewolf Jones, clocking in at 52 pages, it is an anthology of sorts, a series of five short stories drawn by either Hanselmann or HTMLFlowers. These long form stories tend to be platforms for Hanselmann to delve deeper into a character's persona, but in Werewolf Jones and Sons there doesn’t seem to be anything to delve into. In story after story you see Werewolf do the worst things imaginable, try to smuggle his children through airport security in garbage bags after giving them sleeping pills, trash a principal's office who questions his parenting skills, and again and again Werewolf learns no lesson. After his arrest in the first story he simply asks about his ETSY hat store.

While Werewolf Jones and Sons does not directly reference it, the lingering knowledge of Werewolf's death begins to take on more and more emotional weight as this book goes on. That this is by far one of the funniest books Hanselmann and HTML Flowers have produced so far seems almost secondary after the initial read, because the lack of any change in Werewolf Jones starts to burrow into your brain. You are seeing a character kill himself, slowly and over an ever diminishing number of pages.Every laugh is leading up to the call Megg and Mogg get while sitting on there couch next year...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Terrance Loves You

Time Capsules
By Maggie Umber



Time Capsules opens with a bang and ends with a note of caution. Between those pages the entire ecosystem of the planet is shown, in painfully humanistic vignettes of the mundanity of every creature's existence. Snapshots of moments that would be filler in a nature documentary but that, when collected and cataloged together, delve into the intimacy of those moments and the complexity of animalistic relationships we can never fully understand. It is a work created of small moments that coalesces into a big one.




The paper, a replication of a battered and aged moleskine, makes you feel like you are stumbling on a biologists notebook from the field.

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The final passage has the last two instances of “i” crossed out and replaced with “that”. After the previous fifty pages spent on exploring nature in its infinite intimacies, Umber is trying to pull the reader back from these singular moments. To not just think of each organism simply on the biological/micro scale, but rather, as the passage alludes to, on a macro/planetary scale. The more you identify with the images in Time Capsule the more these crossed out “i”’s should worry you. 




Which brings us back around again to ask a question about the collection's title, Time Capsule. Is this book a time capsule just being opened, or, more ominously, a capsule for future generations to look back upon and contemplate what has happened to the world as we as a species continue to march through the first man made extinction event. 

Man killed the Dodo, is the rest of the planet next?



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Configurations
By Aidan Koch

This is one of Koch’s more playful comics. It reminds me a bit of Seth’s stamp comics from Palookaville #21 in that it is a series of comics based on re-using the same imagery over and over again, but while Seth used that to create a straightforward narrative about the mundanity of life, Koch’s is utilizing the tone of each image to create a distinct feeling with each strip. So that the same four drawings can be reorganized countless ways too create a different series of tones, each playing off one another, to provoke a new feeling in the reader.

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A dialogue on Lala Alberts Alien Invasion 3
By Alec Berry and Shawn Starr

Shawn: Okay, since I picked this I guess i’ll kick it off.

Lala Albert has had a big year, or at least as big a year as someone can have in art comics. Her newest book Janus from Breakdown Press was as close as any book got to being the “book of the show” at Comic Arts Brooklyn (CAB), and while I'm late to Albert’s party I’ve become mildly obsessed with tracking down her avaliable work.

Albert’s comics follow the recent trend toward body horror, but while much of that work feels cutsy, both in the art and story, Albert places the horror at the forefront, largely by setting her stories in an unfamiliar space and letting that seep into the things we recognize. Alien Invasion 3, a mini comic from 2013 collecting four short stories, is more liquid in its premise than you would think. Each story dissects the intent of an alien invasion, both the good and bad. And so we see stories that run the gamut of your typical alien crash site to explorations of Venus told through vacation slides.

So, Alec, is this your first interaction with an Albert comic? Because I’m wondering how you felt about this. I find that Albert and other body horror artists’ work tend to rise or fall based on how you feel emotionally after reading them, more than how well they work as a narrative piece.  




Alec: I felt very little after reading this, though I’m not necessarily sure there’s less to it because of that. Part of my reaction comes from simply being uninterested in it. These shorts supply good ideas, but they’re just ideas with little else to specify them, so there’s less to contemplate and review.

Another part of it, though, is that Albert is such an image maker her stories, at least in this case, don’t matter, so the reaction to the work is a bit removed. Instead of tangling with a narrative to compartmentalize and connect it to other things (which is human), the reading experience is more so a delivery mechanism for a few of those “panels,” or more likely paintings, so she can stick at least one in your mind as the takeaway, rather than an abstract feeling you’d normally attain from a good story.

That’s fairly alien in my experience reading comics. It’s not necessarily bad. It’s just something with a delayed response, though I’m assuming that’s why Albert is spoken of so frequently. It is an experiment, one that seems to almost want to reverse the practiced comics reading process (where you’d normally want to connect images for a larger effect, this is working in the opposite direction). I’m not entirely sold on its success, but it is a thought.

As for reading into the images, the fucking on the train was disgusting and heartfelt. That dude’s spiral, tree-nub dick thrusting its way up in there turned my stomach because I could suddenly smell rotting tree bark, and I felt guilty for ever fucking anybody.




Shawn: Albert’s style has this oddness about it. Her figures are recognizable as human, but their proportions are off. Her faces tend to involve chins and foreheads that protrude outwards, creating an almost jellybean-like side profile. Her aliens barely look any different sans an antenna or warping mask. I think this goes towards that idea of distancing, though. They’re humans/non-humans at the same time.

Distance is also at the heart of Sci-Fi and Sex. Dystopian futures are more about critiquing the present than the future, just as sex tells you more about the individuals’ relationships with one another than their ability to make each other cum. Alien Invasion combines these two acts, intertwining them under the umbrella title. Of the four stories in this collection, “12 On Venus” and “34 Starlight Local” are the strongest, but the latter illustrates this idea most explicitly.

The basic plot of “34 Starlight Local” is that two individuals meet on an interstellar train. The male character is identified explicitly as alien (Albert draws him with an antenna, though the rest of his body seems anatomically human), while the female passenger is just like us.

Over the course of the trip, the two begin to have sex with each other, shown in varying detail. With every act we see a growing intimacy between the two, as scenes of sex are intercut with panels of them sleeping in each other's arms, holding hands while looking out at the stars and  sharing coffee at breakfast. At the height of this intimacy the male asks, hesitantly, “hey do…i was thinking we’ve been hanging out for a while...do you want to have sex?”. This question takes both the reader and the female for surprise, since they already seem to be doing so. Though, the male’s definition of the act is something we learn by the comic’s conclusion, and it certainly echoes the idea of invasion.

34 Starlight Local” could easily translate to a non-sci fi setting, but by placing it in space there's enough distance to remove any sense of titillation and instead focus on the strangeness of the act as well as the female character’s discomfort. The smell of rotting tree bark seems apt, but it could be anything that unsettles you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Your Type


Heather Benjamin

When you find old romance comics the covers, typically printed on newsprint or some other low grade paper, tend to be beaten up and falling apart in a vendor's quarter bin. The imagery across the board is that of idealized love, but the fatigue of time has battered the surface of these covers away to reveal the fetishism of love that lies beneath.

Romance Story though has a gloss cover, it’s smooth and built to last in the modern world. The cover harkens back to the romance comics created by Kirby and Simon, but cuts directly to the point of their narrative underbelly, reveling in the inhibited nature of their origins.

The central character on the cover is shown masturbating to an image of nostalgic love (circa 1950). That Benjamin is confident enough in her own narrative to place a sticker, heart shaped and with an illustration of an eye, over the woman's exposed vagina shows her own playfulness with restraint. A kiss on the neck is okay, an exposed private part not so much.

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Sad Sex was confused and raw, a book made by someone fighting with themselves. Exorcise was a series of drawings meant to reclaim the personal identity of one's sexuality and explore what that means. And now we have Romance Story, a collection of 24 drawings that no longer wishes to look inwards at one's own struggles, but rather place those self-discovered truths against those of nostalgia.

The myth created in the romance comics of the 1950’s, an idealization of love created by the post war middle class, is set in contrast to Benjamin's own mythology. Her figures appear no longer as just woman, but as half woman / half horses; Mythological creatures in their own right. These figures are depicted peaking through the small windows of brick buildings into the lives of these idealized 50’s lovers and surrounded by the constellations, moons, suns and symbols of several millennia of human existence.

By flanking these scenes in such deep mythology Benjamin is placing the images within the vast context of history, making the sequence taking place in their window frames seem all the more brief (and untrue) in comparison to the vast and ever expanding narrative taking place outside of it.