Sunday, January 30, 2011

BCGF Reviews Too

Here are 2 more handmade comics which I picked up at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival (and 1 that I picked up at Small Press Expo.) I'm not telling which was which, deal with it.

Steam Walkway
Carlos Gonzalez
Carlos Gonzalez is the Providence, RI based creator of the comics series Slime Freak. Steam Walkway is a one-off short story set in a similarly strange world to that of Slime Freak. The comic is B&W throughout and features Gonzalez's trademark multi-colored crayon outlines on the cover. The size is slightly larger than a standard zine and is oddly bound along the spine with the staples facing out, the pages are not folded. It's a small touch but it adds to the idiosyncrasy of his work. Idiosyncratic is probably the best word to use when describing Gonzalez's comics. They are always dense with writing and conceptually crowded. In Steam Walkway we find the characters' fates altered by an encounter with a tunnel-of-love style art installation that serves as a medium for an ancient Aztec projection. It's the way that Carlos turns an object of conceptual art into an object of science fiction that places his narrative somewhere between the two and makes his stories so unique. His drawing features a clean minimalist line that is reminiscent of CF, however in place of CF's naturalism Carlos opts for highly mannered iconography that evokes Egyptian hieroglyphs. Art Comics are often criticized for style over substance but Carlos Gonzalez's work is an example of an artist giving you more substance than you actually know what to do with.

DannyJeremyCarol Comics Collection
Lizz Hickey
This book collects (I believe) the first 3 DannyJermCarol zines. The strips are mostly one page or two and feature the odd interactions between Danny (a shape-shifting creepazoid), Jeremy (a sensitive type) and Carol (an awkward, perhaps semi-autobiographical id of the author.) The dialog is written in a sort of pidgin grammar that is reminiscent of a poorly translated Japanese comic, or even the work of European cartoonists such as Kristoffer KjĂžlberg of the Dongery collective. This is a source of much of the humor and charm of the DJC strips. The art is raw art-brut and creates the feel of the heta-uma manga of King Terry and Takashi Nemoto. The perverse logic of Danny, Jeremy and Carol's lives builds and builds as you read through the book and eventually sucks you into their horrific world. The strips are often scatological and filled with confused emotions such as shame, desire and childlike guilt. The darkness is always just below the surface however because these comics are genuinely funny and smile worthy.

Mr. Cellar's Attic
Noel Freibert
Mr. Freibert, Like Zach Hazard Vaupen, is also a member of the Closed Caption Comics crew out of MICA and Baltimore, MD. Story goes that they all had Brian Ralph as an art teacher and he inspired them to live their art in the tradition of Fort Thunder and it's a message that apparently sunk in. Noel's comics are perhaps my favorite of the whole group. He utilizes a stripped down presentation to deconstruct the EC Horror standard as a vehicle for his dry and bizarre humor. Mr. Cellar's attic is an 8.5 x 11 pamphlet featuring a pastel 4-color process screen-printed cover that creates a crayon-like aesthetic. The interior pages feature a similar rendering technique reduced down to greytones behind the otherwise clean line. A lonely man looks to rent out the attic of his home only to eventually settle on the ghoulish Mr. Cellar. The narration is frantic and obsessive, always building towards the dreadful climax with a war drum cadence. It's within this over-dramatic structure that Freibert sneaks in his awkward wit. The payoff is of course gruesome and filed with the artist's sincere delight in the visual culture of the macabre. I really can't get enough of this guy's work.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Leftover Comics

UFO Flying Saucers #5

Another Gold Key Comics pick this week, with UFO Flying Saucer.
First glance, you get a very retro-pulp looking cover, this comic was made in 1975 but it looks like something out of 1952.
Further investigation leads me to actually find out who did the cover, which was Latin American comic artist Luis Dominguez

This comic is actually an anthology of a few different UFO encounter stories, and whatd'ya know the internet actually knows who drew the interiors as well, credit goes to aritst Frank Bolle who apparently is still alive and working.
The comic is set in real-life and treats each story as something that really happened and were reading what the witnesses and 'case files' actually said.
The first true story is the tale about the Virginia Giant.
The idea focus of it being a 'true story' really dulls this comic down, we see no crazy mind fights, lazer cannons, or face raping aliens.
this particular story is incredibly uneventful.
boy goes camping, dog runs off, boy sees flying saucer, a giant comes out, dog growls at giant, giant walks away.
then for some reason the last page is '2 days later' and his sister sees a flying saucer while driving home.
thats it. really. thats the end. it says 'this case has been studied extensively for 3 years with no explanation found'
how can scientists study and find an explanation from a 8 year old boys story and his teenage sister claiming she saw something 2 days later as well?
and thats the best case file you can find that scientists extensively studied?

the next story is even more of a bland UFO encounter story.
so bland i didnt even bother to scan any of it in.
its a 2-page story of a fugitive running from the police, when hes deep in the woods and thinks he lost them he sees a motionless, orange glowing, rectangle in the sky. He's scared for a second because he thinks its a police tracking device but it soon jets off into space in 2 seconds flat. He then got caught and he's writing this story to the editors from a prison cell.
whippee doo.

This 2 page feature is probably the best in the book.
so good i just scanned and posted the whole thing above.
just classic looking alien profiles.
i particularly like the sexual predator looking venus alien in the red jammies, page 2 panel 3.

This story really has nothing to do with UFO's, but whatever.
this is the story of the invisible groper, it goes around making wind lines appear around people while grabbing and feeling them.
above youll see poor Mrs. Bee being lifted against her will and sexually violated.
I'm really into the 4-color treatment that was done here, Mrs. Bee has her 'full color' body with the blue coat, pink dress and white gloves and scarf, while her middle ground object is solid gray brick wall with cross hatching, and the background houses are red with an even light orangish sky, then once shes nabbed everything besides her goes green.
I used to take a lot of coloring techniques for granted, thinking for instance that Frank Bolle IS the artist and the colorist is just some secondary dude not even paying attention to his job. I see now the importance to differentiate the color choices between the planes to make distinctions, read distance, and in the last 2 panel cases to make sure you know when someones getting attacked. although i would have had the first panel with the green background and when she gets attack it then turn red, red being the more aggressive color.

The next comic is a cynical 'don't trust the government about UFOs' niche story.
The Maury Island Mystery is told through 2 high-ranking government guys, one a skeptic the other a believer, going over the evidence of the case.
the case being a UFO that was DUI started shitting out metal fragments which injured some sailors and killed a dog.
this is the only cool action packed panel in the story.

the rest is boring talking head panels arguing back and forth whether UFOs are real or not.
blah blah blah.
it ends with one guy believing it was aliens and the other guy not. how memorable!

The last 'story' is actually true! like for real real true. The narrator, 'the hoaxmaster', however is not real.
the story being the recollection of the War of the Worlds radio broadcast back in the 30's.
Above is another awesome example of good 4-color process coloring. notice the whites of the eyes and teeth in the flat color people, ups the dramatics!

and this last panel is probably my favorite in the whole book.
just some more great colors in psychedelic circles.

this Gold Key comic was way better then Wacky Witch, but still not good.
I'm on the fence with a lot of this classic looking house style in these comics. I know where the artist is coming from with the ways they take care of narrative problems through compositions, but they just seem so sterile to me. And i have read about different grid and panel composition techniques, just about every page in this comic has 4 perfect square panels and one long one, it just gets old to me, i like to see my comics with seemingly random panel layouts that the artist either put no thought into it at all or so much thought it looks like they didnt put any thought into it. It might just be from my strict diet of art comics, mini's, and art object books that makes me just brush off these styles as crappy assembly -line-get-it-done-fast type comics, which this is, but sometimes i just look at it and say 'meh, whatever dude'.

Friday, January 21, 2011

BCGF Reviews

Here are 3 handmade comics I picked up at the Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival last month.

Hatred for a Human Host
Vol 666: Suffer Vacation
Zach Hazard Vaupen

Zach Hazard Vaupen is a member of the Baltimore-based comics collective Closed Caption Comics. Hatred for a Human Host features a 3-color (including metallic gold) screen printed cover that itself delivers a very heavy, textural aesthetic. The interiors are printed on ivory stock and feature a course, dirty line. Zach synthesizes pop manga, crust punk and informal art brut/doodle-iconography. The setting is dystopian and hellish, filled with wandering bands of dumpster diving road warriors and dark overlords perched high in their flying black fortifications. Every character seems to be seeking some escape or negating darkness, an end to a seemingly endless disgusting existence. Fun for the whole family.

Mickey Z
Mickey Z is perhaps the best example of the new energy that the manga boom is interjecting into the second wave of art/genre comics. Her comics seemingly take place in a 1000 mph acid rain typhoon. The lines electrically dance around the page with characters emerging and dissolving in and out of the fray. Halftone screens are applied almost abstractly, word balloons melt out of their speakers mouths like ectoplasm. The cover is printed in 2-color on delicate blue paper and the majority of the interiors are printed with blue ink on similarly thin yellow stock. The contrast of heavy printed visuals with lightweight color paper lends an otherworldliness to the object itself. The narrative follows Juice, a leather jacket and sunglasses kind of badass as he wanders through a landscape of demons only to find himself at IHOP face to face with a threat on his life. This comic is a hot mess, and I mean that as a total compliment.

Aidan Koch
Chant is b&w ink wash (i believe) throughout and presents itself as a sparse and unassuming 8.5 x 11 pamphlet. The binding is hand sewn however with 4 dangling threads from the spine which adds a personal dimension. In Chant, Koch employs her trademark lush naturalism to contrast the urban with the natural. Nature is a major theme running through all her work. In Chant she, as an observer, seems to be seeking it on a subway ride as images drift between passengers, wild creatures and thoughts of a young man. There is serenity throughout. A third visual theme is that of patterned fabric. Perhaps a synthesis of natural beauty and human craft? The final image depicts a young girl (Aidan Koch?) gazing through the ornate pattern towards the reader. Though narratively abstract, Koch's work always calls upon the 5 senses and ultimately delivers a very real feeling.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Leftover Comics

Wacky Witch #18

first thing i must point out here, is that no where in this entire comic is there a scene of skiing
another weird, or shall i say wacky thing about this comic, and most all Gold Key comics, is that its completely anonymous.
even the issue number is hard to find hidden in the first small text at the bottom.
I myself have made anonymous comics, i would draw these small 8 page comics made from one piece of 8.5x11 printer paper, literally drawn on the paper made-to-scan, i would print out like 200 and hand them out a ton of local philly basement and warehouse shows, eventually getting a small notice amongst the noise band hipsters as the dude that made those weird comics.
but yeah, im sure the intent behind Gold Key's anonymous comics were on the complete polar opposite of my motivations to leave weird comics for people to enjoy and question its existence. I can only imagine a cramped studio with an assembly line of artists cranking these comic books out with no deeper passion for the content they are making. probably surly about the fact they bust there hands drawing all day with no credit what-so-ever.
while i purposely make anonymous comics for fun.
times change i guess.

anyways about the comic, its an anthology format with a bunch of short pieces
Wacky Witch is a sassy little witch girl that for some reason or other is the personal assistant to king dingaling
the first story and the longest, and the one it would have made sense to base the cover around instead of some seemingly random pinup of wacky witch skiing, is about the king wanting a falcon.
ya'see king dingaling is a greedy, bratty, stereotype who wants what he doenst have. after hearing about how hip trained falcon servants are he must have one.
so wacky, along with her sidekick, a ghoul named Greta, go out to find a falcon for the king.
as you can see above they find a falcon and Wacky decides to hypnotize it
and what d'ya know! once the king snaps his fingers he gets flown away by the falcon himself! how wacky!

The falcon brings King Dingaling back to his home perch where they run into a blatant Fred Flinstone character design rip-off with the name King Roxy.
we learn above that this falcon was actually his guard falcon and now his treasure is stolen!

but don't worry, Wacky Witch has the power to manipulate the ionosphere where she manages to crash land the bandits zeppelin and get King Roxy's gold.

But Wacky never got King Dingaling's falcon! so now she is forced to mind out the king's sick furry-esque tickle fantasy.

next we have a 2 page story of the 'Three Tusketeers'. The king loses his porridge bowl sends the Tusketeers to find it, they find a family of mice bathing in it and find out a cat sold it to them, they then find the cat who is then forced to feed King Dingaling. Simple corporal punishment joke.
great for kids.

The next comic is a 3 pager with a parrot and a guy named Chester whos freaking out because he's stressed and tense. The parrot, Piccolo, then does a punch of jokes and gags at his expense to relax Chester like the one above.
Piccolo then makes the mistake of giving Chester a badminton set, which of course the required 'hit the birdie' joke is had with Chester relieving his stress by hitting Piccolo with his racket.
violence is always the best punchline!

the dustbowl has hit King Dingaling's kingdom! Wacky Witch does some investigating and hears from Batty that it was the Grim Raker who's cause all the plants to die!
its up to Wacky Witch to serve some justice!

Wacky of course finds this Grim Raker, turns his rake into a black magic joke, forcing him to explain himself, which he goes on to blames the Midnight Knight.
So now Wacky has to find the Midnight Knight.

to make things worse were told that off-panel the Knight has stolen the Kings gold. now its personal.
BOOM! Wacky's hit.
Greta decide's to take it into her own hands, she then jumps out of a gopher hole and scares the Knight giving Wacky time to steal the gold back.

Wacky then puts a bunch of cacti around the king's gold.
the end.

when i first plucked this from the dollar bin at Atomic City Comics i was pumped to have a wacky time with witchcraft. I was severely let down. Very boring and just not wacky enough. i can't imagine kids even thinking this is cool. looking at it just makes me hear the whiny obnoxious voices of 70's kids cartoons.
there also seems to be an over-abundance of sweat drops, movement lines, and highlighting lines.
major bummer.
next week ill be reviewing another Gold Key comic with hopefully better results!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

555-COMX Pound-for-Pound Ratings

I've been a boxing fan off and on almost 25 years. One of my earliest memories is being 7 years old and somehow grasping the significance of Leonard vs. Hagler. The two most skilled boxers in the world squaring off, with names like "Sugar Ray" and "Marvelous Marvin", they were like superheroes. I'm not even sure I watched the fight but I remember the hype, mostly channeled through my father I'm guessing. Despite my personal belief in non-violence I've never been able to shake my interest in the sweet science, at least not for long. I understand the brutality, the socio-economic paradigm most boxers come from, the fact that it usually ends badly for these athletes, but somehow I still see it through that 7-year old's eyes. Is it still violence if it's consensual? Anyway, there is my embarrassing sports confessional (at least within the generally anti-sports world of the arts.) Before joining this blog I had even considered launching a single blog on Art Comics and Boxing just to confuse people!

One of the most fun things about boxing are the pound-for-pound ratings. Originally introduced as a way for writers to deal with the genius that was Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson spent his career campaigning at 147 lbs and later 160 lbs, so it was unreasonable for him to test himself against the supposed "baddest man on the planet" which was traditionally considered the Heavyweight Champion of the world. The solution to this was the "pound-for-pound" ratings, a list of the greatest fighters by skill, the avant-garde if you will. Boxing after all has always been heralded as an art form by it's proponents.

Well of course my even greater interest is comics, so why not marry the two? Comics is an art, but beneath the surface it's also a game of skill. When I'm reading a comic I'm always hyper-aware of it's formal properties. The decisions and techniques the artist employed to present their vision. Comics is a wide and diverse field with it's multitude of cultural and economic weight classes as well, so with that I present to you the inaugural 555-COMX Pound-for-Pound ratings, a list I plan on periodically updating.

1. Chris Ware
Like McCay, Kirby and Crumb before him Chris Ware is a once in a generation talent. Almost certainly the world's greatest cartoonist, perhaps even it's greatest graphic designer. He's been around for over 20 years and is still getting better. Scary better. Ware somehow balances mainstream bookstore appeal with cutting edge presentation. Always inventive, always resonant, he's going to be hard to knock off.

2. Yuichi Yokoyama
Yokoyama is a promethean talent. Viewed historically he comes out of nowhere. He at the same time makes no sense and makes perfect sense when viewed in the continuum of Manga's evolution. His ideas are unique, his delivery pinpoint. I wouldn't even tip the sky as his limit.

3. Brian Chippendale
Well, i've used up a lot of glowing affirmatives in my post on If 'n Oof the other day so just take it for granted that I'm a big admirer of his work. He's doing things that other artist don't have the courage to attempt. It's not the size of the man in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the man.

4. Anders Nilsen
Anders Nilsen seems like a quiet guy. He quietly sneaks into the top 5. Why does it seem like nobody talks about this guy's work? He's been making some of the most innovative, diverse and thought provoking comics of the last 10 years. He makes it look effortless at that. I mean, how perfect is "The End"?

5. Seth
Like Ware, Seth is always pushing the art of Cartooning towards it's graphic point of perfection. He's a classicist, but from the deep meditation of the classic form he always comes out with something fresh and wonderful. He delivers.

6. Dash Shaw
Dash is the great synthesis. How can an artist be so young, so productive, and draw from such a wide variety inspiration at the same time? Bodyworld completely revolutionized webcomics on a formal level. People have barely begun to catch up.

7. Kevin Huizenga
I've got a special place in my heart for any artist who can be at the same time suburban and sublime. Kevin's work proves that the universe can be equally pondered from any place, even your front stoop. His presentation is humble yet always experimental and his message is always moving.

8. CF
CF and Ben Jones were the first true "post-Fort Thunder" cartoonists. Together in their formative years they developed a comics language from the ground up beginning with it's most rudimentary assumptions. His line is always the epitome of elegance and economy and his pacing is eerily controlling of the reader. You get the impression that he could do anything if he tried, but he does exactly what he wants.

9. John Hankiewicz
John Hankiewicz's comics are poetry. That's not a metaphor by the way. If you look back through comics history you can find traces of comics which embody the essence of poetry, but not a crystal clear as Hankiewcz. This is a welcome and emerging field in comics and John has set the bar.

10. Tim Hensley
How does one go from making raw zines to perfectly polished cartoon art seemingly overnight, and in their 40's? Wally Gropius was book of the year for 2010. Hensley hits all the right notes in the wrong way. Familiar yet unbelievable, he's completely deconstructed the power of the 4-color cartoon. I'm not even sure we can grasp what this artist is capable of yet.