Tuesday, September 23, 2014

You're Burning Up, I'm Cooling Down

Last Letter (self-published)
by Hellen Jo


That is the only word one can think of after reading Last Letter. The books design and narrative revolves around destruction and points towards the freeing nature that the act brings about. Last Letter arrives inside a sealed envelope, the return address penciled in by hand reads HELLLLLEN.org / On the Internet, a place where a physical letter can never be returned. One must consume its contents or discard them, but never send them back.

Last Letter has achieved independence from a realm that exists outside of the physical (the internet), and it utilizes this new found existence by bringing the reader into the narrative and creative process through their own physicality. To read Last Letter one must tear open the envelope which it is housed in (not the envelope that it is mailed in, it is physically housed inside a smaller envelope). What could initially be seen as a cute production idea takes on additional meaning though once one actually opens the envelope; inside a small sixteen page silent mini comic is housed. The first image depicts a female sitting on a curb covering her face with one hand as a letter dangles in the other. This first illustration turns the nonchalant red envelope into the cover of the comic and creates a real time prologue to the comic. This prologue is not illustrated by the artist, but instead acted out by the reader as they open the envelope. As harshly or carefully as the reader chooses to open the envelope, the act carries over an energy to the first panel which the artist could never anticipate, but that the work relies on to provide a greater context. One could rip it open like an excited child receiving what they think is a birthday card; or they could open it slowly and methodically, taking great care not to damage the envelope or the letter it contains in anticipation of what they hope will be good news one would want to preserve. Both of these actions, and the multitude of the variations in between them, all lead to the same answer though. A girl slumped over.

The content of the letter is never revealed, the comics title hints that it is a last letter, but from who and concerning what is not divulged or even hinted at. What is depicted though is the nameless female character working through her grief. In sixteen pages, her character cycles through each of the five stages of grief, and on each page that emotion is conveyed clearly and with feeling. Even the journey of the letter is a story in of itself, shifting from being covered in tears, being thrown on the ground in frustration and ultimately shredded and set ablaze. Its journey mirrors the actions of its recipient, as they both move on to another place after being consumed by flames. That Jo can realistically convey a wide range of emotions over the course of so few pages, without the aid of dialogue, but simply through relying on her strength as a cartoonist and ability to manipulate body language is impressive. That she turns the reader into an active participant though is even more so.

You can purchase 'Last Letter' here.


(This post was originally written for The Chemical Box)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I'm A Blank Page, In A Notebook...

Jack Survives - Jerry Moriarty

The cover is the first page of a three page gag. Not even a gag, since the first panel is the only one that could be considered humorous. More a string of disconnected moments that, when placed in sequence, create the veneer of a three act structure. A Beginning. A middle. An end. A man breaks his shoelaces, he sees a shoe store is having a sale, the salesman says he found a perfect fit.

Moriarty's dialogue is near abstraction. Poetic in its limitedness. “On Sale Cheap” Jack says outside of the shoe store. “Perfect Fit” the shoe salesman, with a Fletcher Hanks squareness to his jaw, says after sliding a pair of orange colored sneakers onto Jack’s feet. They are sitting in front of a wall made out of shoes. The two holes denoting the two pairs of shoes laying on the ground. One is not a “perfect fit”.

Each interaction in Jack Survives sounds like a series of half remembered talks. Distillations of conversations. What did the salesman say about the shoes? “Perfect Fit”. Even though no one talks like that, it is easy to understand how you could condense all the words said during a sales transaction into just those two.

This collection is a proto-artist edition of sorts. While not reproducing each painting at full size, Richard McGuire in the preface points out that they tend to be drawn on 4 x 5 foot canvases (which even the fetishistic printing practices on display in the later half of the twenty-oughts would have scoffed at). Instead we get an oversized collection which reproduces Moriarty's paintings and ball pen drawings in their original color. You see all the indecisions on the page, as images are bathed in white out (or white paint) to cover thoughts he decided to change. There's a dialog balloon in a strip thats completely whited out, but you can still see the outline of the dialogue though it, the black paint is too strong to be fully covered. The balloon reads “The Dog Yapping Seen I”. It doesn’t mean anything. The strip itself doesn’t mean much either, it is just Jack sitting on his front porch and saying he lives in a crime free area. Then the whited out balloon appears on the 2nd panel, and in the third he returns to his home. The meaning of the painting is fighting with itself, between a man contemplating the “goodness” of his neighborhood and the yapping of a dog. Maybe the two thoughts just overlap, because those were the two thoughts he always had while on his porch. Complaints and compliments.

There’s a nostalgia inherent in Jack Survives, but it never reads as precious (like some of Seth’s work), intead it seem to trying to replicate something that is lost in memories. A time. A person. A place.

The introduction to Jack Survives is by Chris Ware. You start to see the idea of memory and dream churning in his mind as the essay goes on. He would have been in the process of drawing Building Stories around this time. I think. He relates a letter he got from Jerry Moriarty after asking about one of his paintings:

“Thank you for asking for my Dad Watches picture. It’s my dad and not Jack...confusing? Jack was my dad’s name. I started Jack when I turned 40, about your age, and it dawned on me that my father was 40 when I first remembered him. So Jack is me as my father. I’ve never been successful trying to paint Jack and have never tried to do my dad in a strip. In the painting Dad Watches we are un-fused, separate entities. In Jack Survives we are one. Which doesn't mean you couldn’t consider him as the survivor of Jack Survives because that is where he went. My father died when he was 52 and once I passed that age I couldn’t deal with him as an invention but I could as pure memory. The painting is the source of my life and my art.” 
On the final pages of Jack Survives we see that the shoe gag from the beginning of the comic didn’t end there. Jack is walking to a bus when he sees a teenage girl wearing the same shoes he had just bought. When you flip the back cover and close the book you see his recently purchased shoes hanging on a power cable above the street. They weren’t a perfect fit I guess. 


Jack Survives is out of print, but you can purchases used editions fairly cheaply here

An incomplete interview between Gary Groth and Moriarty can be read at The Comics Journal

Friday, September 5, 2014

{Scattershot 4}

These sketchbooks (1, 2) by Lala Alberts are worth looking at.

Blaise Larmee’s 2012 Center for Cartoon Studies fellowship talk. I’ve been told the response to it at the time was “people were just so confused/pissed by that talk.”

“"Well it was a challenge, and it was also really fun to be able to have this other element to work with. And I definitely try to use it as a storytelling device, a way of not just colorizing a black and white story, but of using the color as part of the storytelling...For example, the first time you see the pink blanket that’s got cigarette burns in it, it’s not necessarily explained but it keeps reoccurring. And each time that color reoccurs or that image reoccurs it starts to take on more meaning, different meaning. So I don’t have to write, you know, 'My dad was down in his room underneath a pink blanket.' There is the pink blanket, and it’s something your mind instantly recognizes or remembers.”

I just got around to reading this essay on Decadance Comics which I really enjoyed.That stuffs been out of my price range due to shipping for a while now, so i am excited for that a collection of Lando shorts coming out later this year. They were also interviewed over at Exquisite Things.

Lisa Hanawalt interviewed about BoJack Horesman. I’ve watched that show twice already, both times in a single sittings, once alone and once with my girlfriend. It gets so much better as the season moves on. The ending to the penultimate episode is a gut punch.

Derek Ballard dropped a 2-part comic on Tumblr. Part One. Part Two. I really enjoy how angular his line is.

Ales Kot on gender and racial discrimination. Kot was also part of a stream of conscious-esque interview at Multiversity. On Zero:

“As for the why of it, “ZERO” is certainly about war and how it thrives on (at least) two things: unprocessed loss and lack of the feminine. The lack of the feminine comes to its horrifying, troubling head with #9, but it’s present throughout: in the cast, in the absence of genuine nurturing, in emotions that are avoided or repressed, in creativity and sexuality redirected into violence and war, into the black war impulse, the “black thing,” as soldiers with PTSD often call it. Unprocessed loss is there from issue one, as well.“

“It’s not pessimistic, brother, because this is the blues. We are blues people. The blues aren’t pessimistic. We’re prisoners of hope but we tell the truth and the truth is dark. That’s different.”

Josh Cotter, who i thought had forsaken comics for a life on a farm, seems to have reappeared. He is serializing one of two stories from his yet to be released new book on Study Group titled Nod Away.

This Jack Kirby page from Silver Star always gave me the creeps.

2DCloud interviews Box Brown and Jared Smith on Retrofit Comics. I really enjoy hearing publishers talk about being publishers. It seems especially important in judging the health of the scene.



“As an indie publisher, you’re uniquely positioned to assess the comic industry. How do you think it’s shaping up at the moment?

There’s more good talent than ever and that’s very important to keep the industry viable and vibrant into the future. More and more, readers are seeing comics as a normal complementary part of their reading experience. Comics are a lot less likely to be dismissed as nerd fodder… though part of that is due to the overall rise of nerd culture to its current dominance.
Sometimes that leads to a kind of reverse snobbery. As someone who feels equally at home reading Jack Kirby’s pop creations and the literary comics of David B, I wish there was more overlap. That is especially true of comic stores. So many of them want to turn into pop culture emporiums, at the expense of the works that are part of the current graphic novel renaissance.

Press could always be better and the quality of writing about comics could use a boost. That’s one reason we’ve launched the Critical Cartoons series. We’re hoping it in some small way inspires more writers to up their game.”

The Master is just littered with beautiful shots.

I was looking through my shoebox of mini’s and came across the two published issues of Wayward Girls. That was a really unique and strange book that I miss a lot. This is an old Seneca review of it, which i think is the only review it ever got of note.

Jesse Moynihan did an animated short called Manly. It’s in the same vein as Forming.
Benjamin Urkowitz reviews Well Come by Erik Nebel (Google Docs won’t let me hyper link it, but the link is http://----comix.tumblr.com/well-come )

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Feet Don't Fail Me Now

War of Streets and Houses - Sophie Yanow

“A city is built where previously there was nothing. How is it built?” 


War of Streets and Houses is about the grid, both its absence and the intrusiveness of it. The grid of the city, the grid of a prison cell, the grid of nature. By choosing to discuss this topic in comics though, Yanow runs into one more grid that she must contend with, the comics grid.

“The Grid is God” Frank Santoro would tell you, who sports a nice pull quote on the back of this book, and I wouldn’t think it much of a stretch to say that most people would agree with that sentiment. If it’s good enough for Kirby and so on and so forth. But that sentiment is also one she is combating when talking about the city, it is a structure that can exist, but not in an oppressive and homogenized state.

Yanow works primarily within the six panel (or three tier) grid. But she is not beholden to it. Allowing herself instead to subvert the grid, to work around it, or through it, at her leisure. Putting her own personal touch on the format, allowing her line the freedom to move as it wants and not where it must.

The most subtle and, in the context of this work, substantive instance of this is her panel borders. If one were to walk into any comic book shop and pull an issue out of the quarter bin you would find one thing in common across the entire scope of comics, uniform panels, with corners squared and straight lines. Yanows panels though are free drawn, weaving up and down, veering to the right a little or the left.

It is in these inconsistencies that we see the artists hand first and foremost, the nature of her line, rather than the uniformity found at the edge of a ruler. This naturalism goes straight to the heart of War of Streets and Houses, the city/comics grid may have its place, but the eccentricities of the individual community or artist needs to come through first and foremost. Houses can bulge out and side alleys can lead nowhere, just as a line can just bulge out and lead nowhere. 1st, 2nd and 3rd street do not have to be exactly 300 ft between each other, just as each of Yanow’s panels do not have to be exactly 3.25 x 5 inches in size. 


Page one flashes between three tiers depicting Yanow’s childhood home in a heavily forested area of California. Switching between intimate street views and cold overhead shots from a Google Maps screen, Yanow comments that even with the advent of Google Maps nature eludes the mapping of her hometown by satellites. Streets that are supposed to be there are suddenly made dead ends by fallen trees and mudslides made only accessible from roads not marked on any map. The area belongs to the forest and the people. Not the state. It requires an intimate knowledge to traverse that only comes through living in it.

While I said above that Yanow works within a specific grid/tier, and by and large this is true, Yanow also chooses sporadically to break away from these. Unconventional layouts pepper this book. The most striking page is found early on, Yanow is talking about not understanding Toronto’s gridded structure upon first moving there. Each time she takes a walk around the city though the blank spots are filled in. This commentary can equally be read as her trying to find her way around her own art, and the structure of comics, as this page is deliberately constructed in a way that breaks a comics “rule”.  

Ben Marra wrote a series of process posts labelled “The Marra Method: Traditional Comics Techniques for Visual Storytelling” in his eighth post he only has one rule “Never break the panel border…” and in this page Yanow does just that.

The page has three horizontal panels, but is also contained in one greater panel which is occupied by the character of Yanow. Her full body inhabits the space occupied by these three (sub-panels) as she breaks the borders of each of them simultaneously. She is walking through them, filling herself in on the techniques of “comics” as she is also filling herself in on the techniques of the city. She is momentarily lost, or more so intentionally lost, as she begins focusing in on what makes the grid tick. 


Elsewhere in the book, when Yanow is describing the streets and houses of the Kasbah of Algiers, before an imposed grid of subjugation was given to them by “city planners” (an occupying army), she uses the buildings themselves as the source of her grid. Integrating them into their own story. Their placement guide where the blocks of text are allowed to be placed, and how your eye is allowed to get to them. They create a visual maze that you must absorb and learn from, must fill the blanks in of, or else the words and phrases will read as gibberish. Fragments that won’t ever congeal.

The words on these pages are also chosen precisely, within this maze of buildings is Yanow’s retelling of the first instance of this form of military oriented city planning, in 1840 “Marshal Thomas Bugeaud…was sent to negate the logic of the indigenous city….and he did so through demolition...the complete destruction of the homes...forging wide streets...removing local advantage.” The grid itself is set in juxtaposition to this story, as you learn to appreciate its eccentricities, its tangents, you are simultaneously learning that these are the reason why it was destroyed. To remove the advantage to the indigenous people.

Later, when describing buildings found in the city of Casablanca, Yanow allows the lines of her six panel grid to become integrated into them. They disappear and reappear as they run into extended porches and tacked on rooms. They conform to the building, not the other way around, at times even becoming part of each buildings structure. Yanow explains how these buildings used to be “Modernist spaces”, clean and formal, but the inhabitants transformed them “Balconies were closed off...Floors added” the “Purity of the Form” was ultimately“Diluted” by their inhabitants.

It’s an example of how things can be changed, even when Google Maps is in place, the personal touch will always exist.


You can purchase War of Streets and Houses from Uncivilized Books.
Sophie Yanow’s Tumblr can be found Here and her website Here.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Media Consumed In The Month of August

The Unknown Known
Expendables 2
Expendables 3
22 Jump Street
Life Itself
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Boogie Nights
Rocky Balboa
First Blood
Rambo: First Blood Part 2
Rambo 3
Before Sunrise
Before Sunset
Before Midnight
The Master
Walk The Line

Marvel Masterworks v1: The Amazing Spider Man - Steve Ditko / Stan Lee
Prophet #42-#45 - Brandon Graham and Company
Mere - CF
The Hypo - Noah Van Sciver
Kramers Ergot #8 - (Edited by) Sammy Harkham
Memory - Milo Manara
Haunter - Sam Alden
That’s Because You’re A Robot - Shaky Kane / David Quantick
Jack Survives - Jerry Moriarty
Megahex - Simon Hanselmann

Nine Stories - J.D. Salinger
Against Interpretation - Susan Sontag