Friday, April 25, 2014

Notes On: Simon Moreton - Grand Gestures


Simon Moreton seems like a man who takes a lot of long car rides. Not because he travels a lot or because Grand Gestures is filled with lavish drawings of the english countryside, but because his work is filled with the opposite. The minutia of the every day. Images that are only captured from glancing moments looking outside the car window while on the expressway. It is for this that i suspect Moreton takes a lot of long car drives, even though i don't have the faintest idea about him or his travel plans. Because no man who could revel in such tiny moments while breaking the speed limit.

Grand Gestures seems at first glance a joke title, the work as i said is about the movement of everyday life, the unextravagant. But as these three interlinked stories build over the course of forty pages we see the extraordinary. Simple things that happen in daily life, things that pass us by as we drive to a sale conferences or take off ramp mid journey to get a cup of coffee, are in and of themselves moments of importance. Grand feats that we never register because they take place between lane changes and turn signals.

Moreton paces Grand Gestures in bursts of motion and moments of stillness. The road, parking lots, overpasses rush by with the intensity of a car driving eighty, until the page becomes transfixed on a single object. Moving closer and closer until it again whisks away in the space of a gutter. The reader moves through Grand Gestures like a driver looking around for miles and miles thinking they're lost until seeing a factory with an odd sign, an old barn, a dilapidated shop and suddenly knowing exactly where they are in space and time. Moreton is looking for that sign to fix his eyes upon and he find it in the migration of geese.

While the wordless collection has a protagonist of sorts in a business man, it is really the environment that he exists within that is the focal point.Taking place between October and November, the migratory period of the Canadian Goose, thousands of birds flying thousands of miles to a single location without the help of GPS, but one which most people will not look at with importance, if at all, we ourselves only see this act transpire alongside our ‘protagonist” daily migration from home to work. It is a side-plot occurring between exit ramps, bt it is the only plot of importance in the work.

In the most climactic moment of the work we see the unnamed protagonist walk towards a field that is occupied by geese in mid journey. We are left by Moreton, panel by panel, to relearn the meaning of a brushstroke, with each of his lines denoting entire ecosystems in upheaval. As the man gets nearer and nearer the flock his own shape, a circle with an oblong attached, begins to warp into something else, something trying to be closer in touch with the geese, with nature, something trying to fly away with them, but unable. Bound to the earth by sales conferences. While this is happening the geese on an almost panel by panel basis begin transforming into leaves falling from branches because of the cold, a forrunner of the death inherent in the winter, one which literalizes the need of  the geeses to find a new habitat. Our business man doesn't have this biological imperative. He just goes to the mall and waits for the seasons to change and the geese to return.


Moreton’s artwork falls under the comics minimalism camp that has recently been on a resurgence. His lines are not solid or through, instead the take up as little space and travel as little distance as necessary to convey the idea of the object to the reader. A slightly curved line becomes an exit ramp, a circle with a oblong attached becomes a man and the letter V becomes a migrating goose. In it's minimalism Moreton pushes the reader to find their own meanings, their own associations.

Grand Gestures is published by Retrofit Comics.

You can purchase both a Print and PDF version from the Retrofit Comics Site. Moreton also posts some comics on his Tumblr.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I Ain't Got Too Much Pride: Written during a two week bender

On American Movie:

"I'd like that American peppermint schnaps with some ice and some sprite" says the old man, supposedly worth 250k, yet still living in a trailer park. He is financing a B-Movie. Or more so a C-Movie. It's director guarantees three thousand units sold at fifteen dollars a unit. A Forty-five thousand dollar return on investment. With the initial funds repaid and the remaining left over to finance his next film. Another C-Movie. This one better though. Nothing else is allowed. Three thousand units he insists while wiping his hand across the whiteboard which details the possible revenues for lesser sales in front of a camera in a boardroom. It's unclear if the swipe is simply for dramatic effect or for his own benefit, but his eyes makes one feel like he needed the gesture to be recorded on film. He can believe in it more that way. He's watched movies his whole life.He knows internally the action beats of a film. The rolling of celluloid gives him a grandeur that doesn't live within him. He is a small man under any other circumstance, but when that film roles he is a man of action.

For the remainder of the film he promises three thousand units sold without any of the doubt which engulfed his being before the gesture seemingly washed it away. It is a show don't tell medium.

Covan is a horror film by a director who's never directed a feature before. The director is the subject of this film, of American Movie, but everyone that the camera touches on, lingers on, could equally be the focus. The director isn't that important. What is important though is that he thinks of himself as important. An artist. Everyone asked to pronounce Covan says it wrong according to the directors. They just don't get it. His vision is unique to himself. He is an auteur.

The director owes the IRS $85 and some change. Along with child support.

The director is the kind of man who will reference Ingmar Bergman shots when scouting locations in the backwoods of Illinois.Speak of Manhattan as if Woody Allen and Gordon Willis are his contemporaries. He talks like a snake oil salesman when selling his film; putting on the air of being the smartest person in the room, even when he's left talking alone in a broken down Buick that he had to borrow gas money the night before to make the drive to a airport parking lot to write in silence. The airport calms him. It is not stated whether or not he ever worked there.

The next scene shows the old man, or the first scene, it depends on if you trust my narrative or that of the films. It doesn't matter. The old man is drunk, in the tub being washed by the "director", being filmed as always. The old man seems thankful for the company. Although in most scenes he complains about how he isn't told whats going on during the shooting of the film. He half jokes that his money is never going to be returned. Three thousands units seems more like a punchline that will be inscribed on his tombstone than an actual number. The mother, who owns the house, is fearful that the old man left un-attended will drown in his drunkenness. Not by choking on his own vomit like Jimmie Hendrix or some other star i feel like the director could name off from decades of memory, but simply by being alone in a tub. By being old. Alone.

The director though never seems to not believe in his product. Or his intelligence. He tested highly in school we are told by his mother and siblings. Well past his age. He dropped out though because he said he wasn't learning anything. After a series of bills by creditors he opens a letter from Mastercard pre-approving him of a new credit card. He speaks of life's many ups and downs. The cosmic joke. He can now afford to at least get the government and his ex-wife off his back. Maybe even afford a few more feet of celluloid. 

His filming continues...

Eric Packer: How old are you? I'm interested.
Benno Levin: Do you think people like me can't happen?
Eric Packer: How old?
Benno Levin: We happen... 41.
Eric Packer: A prime number.
Benno Levin: But not an interesting one.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Notes on: Sam Alden - Wicked Chicken Queen

Wicked Chicken Queen is a story told in two parts, but in many ways it’s the same story told twice. The story of birth and death and how wallowing in the latter ruins everything in between . The story opens with the discovery of an egg that had washed up on the shores of a tiny island inhabited by one eyed creatures. The chicken that hatches from the egg at first resembles a “slithering monstrosity”, but through the caregiving of the islander she quickly grows up to be a “beautiful pullet” with sutors fighting outside here home to get just a moment of her time. The chicken is quickly adopted by the islands King and becomes the Chicken Princess. She then marries her original finder, and lifelong friend, Saskia. A princess story for the ages. 

It is at this point though that the fairytale aspect of the story begins to fade away, as Alden injects the problems of reality into his fantasy narrative, life and death. Quickly after her marriage to Saskia the islands King passes away making her and Saskia the new queens of the island. While a darkness starts to grow inside the Chicken Queen due to her inability to fully process the death of her father, she and Saskia are still able to lead the island forward, and with the aid of the eggs the queen lays her subjects are able to transition from a fishing based society to one of “gathering”.This conversion allows the islanders to start building the elaborate and ornate castles which fantasy novels are renowned for. While the Chicken Queen was no longer a princess free of any cares, she was now at least a benevolent queen that took care of her subjects, what most princess i’d hope wished to grow up to be. 

But then, on cue, another tragedy strikes. The death of her wife Saskia. The Chicken Queen is unable to bear this second assault on her fantasy world. She cries for a year in her palace before she is able to face her people, but then, following this momentary return though she learns that the eggs she laid which feed her people have changed, now tasting of clay. And with this final insult she retreats completely into her palace to, one assumes, never be seen again.
At the stories mid-way point we experience a time jump, moving the narrative decisively away from the fantasy aspects of the Chicken Queen period and into the modern. We now follow the narrator's life post-Chicken Queen, and while her problems are particularly bourgeoisie in nature (her daughter moving away too law school, her ex-husband that she’s not quite over, the possibility of losing material possessions, etc.)at the heart of them they are still the same as the Chicken Queen. Something is missing in her life that she used to have, but no longer does.The difference though is she is living with this lose and searching for a way to fill these holes.

The moment after our narrators confession though the Chicken Queen reemerges from her forgotten palace and “lays waste” to the island. Destroying the world that her once subjects had created without her. The Chicken Queen dies following this act, but it seems in that moment that she was trying to teach our narrator an alternative way to deal with her situation, to hide away and let her resentment fester. Her final act as Queen is a tantrum at those who found out how to accept  lose, those that moved on. The Chicken Queen couldn’t because she lived in a fantasy world where this wasn’t supposed to happen in. When the islands inhabitants go to see where the Chicken Queen had spent her self imposed exile living we are left with an image depicting them simply walking up the staircase to an abandoned palace. We never learn what they find there, if there is anything to find there at all. I feel Alden wished not to dig the final nail into the coffin of the Chicken Queens life though, to leave the reader some hope that a productive life could be lived in seclusion, but my hopes aren’t high for it. As the narrator says standing over the Chicken Queen’s corpse “it seemed as though she’d been dead for a long time already.” 

*Alden’s pencil work varies between being extremely tight (Backyard) and a more, almost playful, looseness  (Hawaii 1997). This dichotomy is on full display in Wicked Chicken Queen as each page ping-pongs back and forth between these two aesthetics. The ease of slipping between his two different styles is helped by how Alden choose to lay out the book as a series of single page illustrations. Each page takes on the general shape of the island, but morphs to highlight a specific element or moments in the Islands history. This allows Alden to move between more structured and striking single images, like the budding courtship of the Chicken Queen, which is rendered as a single page depicting the Chicken Queen holding Saskia in the palm of her hand while they stand next to a lake. It’s a quiet moment that needs nothing but stillness to capture its beauty. Alternatively when Alden needs to illustrate a  moment of excitment, like the hatching of the Chicken Queen, he loosens up his line and composition. The horns blow, the sky blurs, and the people dance in an example of a page that could not exist as a fourth draft, but instead lies in the immediacy of the first instance of pencil touching paper. The page has a flow to it that seems so simple, but that's the brilliance behind it, because even the addition or the removal of a single line would destroy its liveliness.

*This is the second instance of a cartoonist (that i’ve seen) in the alt scene using a “story” book approach to comics.That is a single image per page with blocks of text as the only written component. (The other example is Michael DeForges First Year Healthy). While this format has yet to produce a series of images less than striking, i am still left them feeling distanced from the characters. I suspect its that i don’t associate the words in the text with the character in the story. In Wicked Chicken Queen Alden was largely able to overcome this distancing effect by drawing the Chicken Queen with such raw emotion, although i don’t think the same could be said for the townspeople of the island, even Saskia and the narrator leave me feeling nothing.  

*Having erased dialogue faintly visible on the page is something i unconditionally love in comics. Its like radiographed colors shifting in the printing process outside of their designated area’s. It gives the work an instantaneous homemade feeling that warms my heart. Even if the book has an ISBN.

* While I wish more of Aldens mini-comics were printed in larger formats through sheer greed, Wicked Chicken Queen is the first to truly need the space. Luckily Box Brown and Retrofit Comic thought so too. Reproducing the work at the mini-comics version of a deluxe edition i.e. a the size of a standard “floppy” comic you could pull out of any quarter bin.

*Besides the size of i’m also a fan of the paper they choose, it’s texture leaves you feeling like you’re holding the graphite smoothed and eraser stubbled originals.

* The way Alden directs the reader’s eye in each illustration is interesting. Alden had previously played around with the way the eye is drawn across the page in his 2012 comic Ellie Olston. Ellie Olston follows the Chippendale Zig Zag layout found in Maggot (right to left down a column then left to right), but in that case it wasn’t, as Chippendale had designed it, to produce a continued sense of motion by never allowing the readers eyes to revert back to their original starting position, but instead to produce a flow in the work as the individual panels mimicked the notes of a song being sung. It was more of an artistic flourish which made sense when compared to the stories heavy Craig Thompson influence. 

In Wicked Chicken Queen Alden has refined the technique a bit, but the problem is his lack of consistency in his image makings sequential nature. The first image quite intelligently teaches the reader how to read the image in a sequential manner, as a line of creatures march from a sinking ship in the bottom left corner of the page up a series of bridges and tunnels to the islands peak on the top right of the page. On the next page though we see a figure on the bottom right corner fishing and then running up to the top left with her fishing pole to a figure adorned in a crown. While these two examples are pretty straight forward and easy to discern after a moment of looking at the page as the book progresses the island at points develops into microcosms where the bottom section is to be read in one direction, the middle in another and the top in something wholly different. At other times there are no sequences to be found at all. While each image on its own is beautiful, by not providing a singular, or at least alternating way to read them they become just that, beautiful images.

* I found this page online that didn’t make it into the final collection. It seems like it was a good idea to pull it, at least in the context of this story. Still a pretty looking page though. 

Wicked Chicken Queen is published by Retrofit Comics. It is his first (widely available) comic to be printed this year. Later this year Uncivilized Press will be publishing a collection of his short stories including the Ingatz winning Hawaii 1997. Until then you can read most of his work on his Tumblr.

You can purchase Wicked Chicken Queen on the Retrofit Site, WOWCOOL, or Amazon if you’re heartless.