BCGF 2011

I took the day last Saturday to travel to Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival. It’s the third comic show I’ve been to this year (MoCCA and PACC being the others), the most I’ve even been to in a year. Bigger than PACC, smaller than MoCCA, I think the curated approach has its benefits (I didn’t see any really bad superhero wanna-be work and the like as you get at MoCCA), though perhaps also it’s drawbacks (with no application process (unless I missed that aspect), it’s pretty much only people already in the ken of the organizers that will get invited). I was happy to get the chance to at least say hi to a few acquaintances and meet people that I know from online or from reading their work. It was nice to finally put faces to names for fellow Pennsylvania bloggers Chris Mautner and Joe McCulloch. I didn’t recognize Tom Spurgeon at first since he’s lost so much weight since last I saw him. As usual the first person I ran into was Marc Sobel who I can always pick out because of his Cardinals paraphernalia. Also briefly met and/or spoke with Sean Collins (who I wish I could’ve talked to more to tell him how much I like his television criticism), Matt Seneca, Darryl Ayo, Kevin Czap (who recognized me, else I probably wouldn’t have recognized him sitting on one of the stairs outside), Karen Green, and others. Despite living in the Philadelphia area I always seem to be in New York when I run into Philadelphians Ian Harker and Pat Aulisio (and I missed saying hi to Box Brown).

The only program I attended at the show was the “Gestural Aesthetic” panel with Frank Santoro, Dunja Jankovic, and Austin English. I think the panel was a little too scattered and perhaps spent too much time on introducing the three artists’ work. Frank, as he readily admits, tends to “riff” on the same subjects, so I’ve heard most of his comments before (though it was interesting to hear he seems to coming around more to coloring with computers if I understood him correctly). Austin is an interesting talker, but I think I’ve also heard most of what he said before (some in my interview with him from earlier in the year). I’m not super familiar with Jankovic’s work. I didn’t think much of Department of Art when I got a review copy, but she is doing interesting work with collage on some of her shorter works (including in the new issue of Küs!). So the panel at least enouraged me to keep an eye on her future output (this “cover” of a Fantastic Four page is pretty fabulous). I would have liked to stick around for some of the later panels (C.F and Brian Ralph, the literary one with John Porcellino), but as it was my return trip got me home pretty late in the evening (the voyage takes car, train, subway, and walking).

Here’s a round-up of some of the work I got at the show (not all of it, sorry if you gave me something and I didn’t end up writing about it I didn’t have the energy/time to be real thorough). When I got home and unpacked everything I realized I hadn’t purchased anything that was even close to a perfect bound “graphic novel”: everything is either newspaper, minicomic, pamphlet, or something unique. That was really surprising to me. I guess part of it was that I’m already caught up with books from the “big” publishers (Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, etc.) and I’d already pre-ordered from Picturebox (before I knew they were going to have it at the show) assumed book-of-the-show Kramer’s Ergot #8.

Anyway, some brief comments, in no particular order:

Smoke Signal 11 edited by Gabe Fowler (Desert Island): The latest from this free tabloid anthology starts with a long DeForge/Marra team-up which is a sure way to get a lot of people super-excited and me bored. I don’t think I’ve seen a Smoke Signal issue for awhile but I get the impression that editor Gabe Fowler’s taste and mine are very different. Was pleased to see a spread with one page from Porcellino and a one page from Julie Delporte (though they spelled it “Delaporte” on the table of contents (but… bonus points to them for having a table of contents at all)). Otherwise… Kupperman, Kaz, Negron, Henderson, etc. it’s a lot of goofiness, genre-pastiche, and grossness, which all seem to be too prevalent modes in comics these days. Which is to say, you, the average art comic fan, would probably love this (though maybe that’s not the people reading my site), but I, not so much.

Study Group Magazine 1 edited by Zack Soto and Milo George: This is a really nice production, printed all in two-tone yellow and purple that adds a unity to all the parts (comics, illustrations, articles). A lot of comics (stands-out from Aidan Koch, David King, Trevor Alixopulos, and even the first Jonny Negron comic I’ve liked), two interviews (a short one with Eleanor Davis and an excessively TCJ-esque one with Craig Thompson), and even a short review essay by Greice Schneider on The Wrong Place. I hope they can keep it up for future issues. It’d be nice to see more short essays and less of the ginormous feature interview. We get that from TCJ and lord knows we don’t need more epic interviews in the comics press.

King-Cat #72 by John Porcellino: If you’ve seen King-Cat this will be what you would expect, another wonderful issue. One oddity is a series of 6 strips entitled “South Beloit Journal” that are quick and rough 4 panel diary strips. It’s interesting to see less planned out work from Porcellino. This has two short comics “Christmas Eve” and “Under the Stars” that are easily on my list of favorite King-Cat pages. Both are short and meditative, visually poetic. Worth it for those few pages alone. I was really happy to finally get to a show and meet Porcellino, but then didn’t know what to say to him when I got to his table. I at least worked in that I’m a big fan of his and give him a copy of one of my comics. (I gave out a bunch of comics during the show, some people got “Untitled [Aug 2011]” and some people got “No Way Constant” (maybe some got both), so many that I ran out (wished I had brought more).)

“Sorbet” by Blaise Larmee (self-published): It was nice to meet and talk with Blaise after following his work for so long. This item was one of a number of unique books he was selling. All were 8.5″ x 11″ and of varying pages (mine is a bit more than 100 pages by a quick count). This one is a series of screen printed shapes that basically look like the gutters of a six-panel grid (or the dividers between panes of a window, see above). The pages are mostly a kind of peach color (with smudges of blue and white) that briefly turns to red and pale green (which I believe are what mixed to form the peach). The pages vary in print quality from a very complete “grid” to ones that are almost non-existent. It’s oddly fascinating in it’s own way. He had a few others there made with a mirror and a photocopy machine, and at least one (if I recall correctly) that was kind of the opposite of mine (it was just the squares without the gutters. I think the title was created on the spur of the moment, but it fits as the color is reminiscent of sorbet. This is definitely one of those places at the show where the “art” overtook the “comics” in “art comics.”

Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 2 by Tom Kaczynski (Uncivilized): A bunch of shorts by Kaczynski, including a reprint of an earlier mini that he bound inside this book as its own smaller book, which was a fun surprise to stumble upon. One thing I really like about his work is how much the text becomes the driving factor in the work rather than the images. These are often more about ideas and concepts and less stories. Kaczynski mentioned he has a book coming out from Fantagraphics in the future that will collect his Mome stories. Looking forward to that.

San Diego Diary by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized): The latest of Bell’s small diary comics, this one about her trip to ComicCon in San Diego. I enjoy these for some reason despite my general recalcitrance about this type of autobiographical comic that is a little too much about the artist as an artist. Partially it’s that these are not presented with a lot of pomp and circumstance, a humble but nice design in a small size. I also like the excerpts of the sketch/draft versions of some of the content which shows a bit how Bell edits out/in parts of the story. The way Bell spots her blacks is also really attractive with tight curved lines that overlap into these little swaths of darkness throughout the panels.

“Seeking the Spirit” and “Skin, Deep” by L. Nichols (self-published, not sure where you can get these): L is really moving in an interesting direction working with mixed-media/collage/layers. Both are these pieces are non/semi-narrative, more (personal) essay than story with a real focus on figures. Great figure drawing in both, kind of cartoony schematics in “Skin Deep” and gestural life drawings in “Seeking the Spirit.”

“Monica et les fourmis”, “Prudence, Balthazar”, “Sous l’influence des mots”, “You will always be my cat” by Julie Delporte (self-published, not sure if you can order these from anywhere): I’ve had a growing appreciation of Delporte’s work since I first saw it (a not terribly successful piece in the Colosse anthology Lecture à Vue). Her work is becoming more skilled and interesting over time. The first three minis are all 8 4.25″ x 5.5″ pages in color (see above) playing off films (they are numbered “Cinema” 1-3 on the inside), mixing what I assume is autobiography (most of Delporte’s work reads as autobiography) with content from the films. These are beautiful little minis, some of my favorite work I picked up at the show, that I’ve reread a few times already. The last of the bunch is an English language mini done for the show, basically a single 11″x17″ page folded twice. It has a four page comic and then unfolds to display a large one page comic (the same as in Smoke Signal 11). The large page works in a lot of collage (which seems to be trending in comics lately). Both, I think, would look a lot better in color, Delporte’s work really needs those colors. She draws directly in color, so seeing the work in black and white really loses an integral part of the aesthetic.

“Here I Am” by Austin English (Domino Books): An 32 page minicomic version of a story that originally appeared in the Astral Talk anthology (on which more in the near future). In the anthology it was printed shrunk down so four images appeared on each page, but in this version each image is it’s own page much to the comics betterment. This is another of Austin’s comics about close living quarters kind of like Disgusting Room but this mini is less rich visually (it’s all grey tones in pencil/crayon/charcoal). I finally got to officially meet Austin at the show and I enjoyed chatting with him a bit. He’s got a lot of things going on with Domino Books so keep an eye out for their upcoming books.

“John Blaze” by Leslie Weibeler (self-published): Got this mini from Blaise’s Gaze Books table. It’s a of couple short comics. I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about this one. I’m not even sure how I feel about it (I like it, but I’m not sure how much). I am intrigued, and I’ll be following Leslie’s flickr stream to see what else she does. Here’s a one page comic that’s in the mini to give you an idea of the style.

“Real People: Through Discipline Power” by Anya Davidson: Not sure that’s the title (I have something else by Davidson called “Real People” too). Got this from the Picturebox table. Davidson was there signing Kramer’s Ergot 8 (really looking forward to see what her contribution is like). This is an 8.5″ x 11″ black and white comic (see above) with silkscreened covers. Davidson doesn’t seem to make a lot of comics, but her work is really fascinating. It’s narrative but often really discordant as if there were a whole bunch of narratives interspersed. And I’m pretty sure at least some of the content is appropriated. Again, something I’m not ready to write about in detail, but an artist you should keep your eye out for (this might make it on to the Picturebox site).

I’ll add that if you were there and lucky, you grabbed a copy of Frank Santoro’s Blast Furnace Funnies from the Picturebox table. I know he had copies (Matt Seneca had one when I met him), but by the time I got to actually browse the table there didn’t seem to be any left. I got a copy in the mail a few weeks back and it is the best comic Frank has done, a really great comic (I hope to post on it soon).

I’ve not looked at a ton of other reports from the show yet, and when I talked with most of the other critics/bloggers they had all just arrived at the show, so I’m curious to see what people thought were the highlights of the show (besides Kramer’s). A lot of people seemed to be excited by the work that doesn’t interest me Deforge, Marra, and No Brow in particular. In the end, there didn’t seem to be a lot of surprises.