Every Comic I Read in 2013: April

A weird collection of comics reading this month, and I mostly neglected online stuff again.

Best American Comics 2013, edited by altcomics (Download Links)

-Blaise Larmee released this pdf compilation into the world early this month via his alt comics tumblr, which, if you aren’t following it, is one of the most interesting comics tumblrs.

-Almost every word in the title is a bit of a misnomer: “best” is always arguable, it’s not all American artists, many people would say that a lot of the works contained within aren’t really “comics”, and they definitely are not all from 2013.

-So what we really have is a 206 page pdf of… well, basically what you’d find on the altcomics tumblr.

-It’s a good joke though, because, damn, I wish the actual Best American Comics series were this adventurous… or even a quarter this adventurous. (And with Matt Madden and Jessica Abel leaving the series editorship, it may get even less so, as I know Matt at least tended to select more experimental works for the first round of selections (even if the guest editors didn’t actual select those comics for inclusion in the book).)

-One of the big disappointments of this collection, is the lack of attribution, which is too common on Tumblr to begin with. Some of the work here I can identify, but some of it is a total mystery, and there’s no easy way to follow up on it (maybe extracting the page as a jpg and then using Google Image search…). The file names are at the bottom of each page, which, very rarely, provides some clues, but mostly they are just long gibberish tumblr filenames.

-The works are surprisingly varied in style. There’s a lot that I actively dislike, some that is very “meh”, but there is also a lot of work that is really interesting, beautiful, or both. A few favorites:

  • The abstract pencil drawn comic on page 18.
  • Lovely, lightly colored drawing on page 27.
  • The series of pages, divided into 6 panels, each that are mostly cardboard and ripped paper. (45-47, 51-52).
  • Nice all black page (62)
  • A Jason Overby comic (63-67)
  • Neat Lawrence Weiner images on page 123.
  • Shuji Terayama photocomics! (158-161)

-A lot of the work that appears to be by the same artist if not part of the same series/sequence are interspersed with other works, which leads one to believe there was some more purposeful organization to the whole collection, though I have no idea what that organization would be.

-Like the tumblr there are a lot of pages featuring window frames/panes.

One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry

-My third Barry collection of the year. I think I’m Barry’d out for now.

-I already reviewed this, many years ago.

It Was the War of the Trenches by Jacques Tardi (1993, Fantagraphics, 2010)

-I remember reading parts of this in Drawn & Quarterly (the anthology) a long time ago. It felt so fragmented and discontinuous. I thought that was because I was just missing parts (I didn’t have all the issues), but it turns out that’s just the way this book is.

-More than anything this comic is about the landscapes (which Tardi draws marvelously). Even the people, the characters, are as often as not part of the landscape rather than active figures. Many of the stories (for this is a collection of vignettes/stories) are about the transformation of a person from a character to part of the landscape as the soldiers die on the battlefield, left to rot in no man’s land. In this sense the political bent of Tardi is made manifest. The overriding theme is the sheer inhumanity and meaningless of the war. The people are barely people, become not people at all. I can’t remember a single character in this book’s name. I can’t even remember a single character enough to differentiate him from any of the other characters. They are all just bodies on their way to integration with the landscape.

The Adventures of Jodelle by Guy Peellaert (Fantagraphics, 2013)

-As much a monograph on Peellaert as it is a comic, the Jodelle comic is about half of this large hardcover; the rest is a couple of well illustrated essays on Peellaert.

-I found the monograph portion much more interesting than the comic itself. It chronicles Peellaert’s early career (up to the point where he stopped making comics, but including much more than just his comics, including drawings, paintings, film, theater, dance, and even a happening) with lots of illustrations. Interesting to see that a number of his later comics made use of photo collage as well as drawing (on/around the photos). I’d like to see some more of those (maybe in the Pravda collection if Fantagraphics is still doing that).

-Jodelle is referenced a few times as the first real adult comic, which I find quite debatable and a bit ironic since Peellaert’s writer collaborator Pierre Bartier was only 19 during the time of the collaboration. That young age is evident in the story itself… I mean, the story in Jodelle is puerile (the jacket copy proclaims that Jodelle “obliterated the conventions of what had up to that point been a minor, puerile medium,” and I have to laugh) and pretty stupid. It’s “adult” in about the same way a “mature readers” superhero comic is “adult,” which is to say: the breasts are sometimes bare and it’s implied that people have sex.

-But then there are the images. Peellaert’s style is quite attractive. Its sinuous lines and saturated colors are almost an ur-style of traditional comics drawing, yet they are filled with movement, interesting compositions, depth of space, and unusual angles. He makes use of repetition smartly in a kind of proto-copy & paste method where a crowd of figures is basically one figure redrawn a number of times. It’s pretty to look at, at least.

We Will Remain by Andrew White (Retrofit, 2013)

-This is my favorite Retrofit book so far. Though with Simon Moreton’s issue coming out next, we’ll see how long this remains true. (Fight!)

-Andrew White is only 22 (so says the inside cover, is it a boast or a disclaimer?). I knew he was young, but damn. I wish my comics had been this adventurous when I was 22 (actually when I was 22 was during the time I stopped making comics to write instead). He deserves a lot of props for experimenting, pushing himself, in his work. You can see that in this volume and in the work he posts online. Comics needs more of that, and if the experiments aren’t always successful, that is the nature of experiments. But you have to be willing to try.

-Let me enter a tangent here… I wonder how often comic artists give up on work. Try something, not like it, and then destroy/delete it and not publish it. The historical and economic context of comics tends to favor a mode where the artist (once they were at the point that they were publishing) makes work and publishes it, regardless of how it turned out. For a comic strip artist or someone making comic books, there was not any luxury of time to try and fail. The “alternative” comics that grew from a similar model as comic books and strips also seemed to allow little extra time as artists got involved in serialized graphic novels and regular scheduled pamphlets. And because of this, there is/was perhaps a tendency to not experiment too much, to not go too far outside one’s comfort zone. Does the internet change that, does the lack of monetary publishing options change that?..

-This pamphlet contains a few short stories and a few one-pagers. Most of them are about attempts to grasp the ineffable in different ways (at least that’s how I’m reading them).

-“Travel,” a mostly abstract narration of a character’s interdimensional travel, has a series of lovely inked panels that veer between abstraction, landscape, spacescape, and subjective vision. It could have been a little longer, I think. The narration mentions the traveller experiencing/feeling other people’s memories and lives, and it would have added to the comic for the panels to evoke that at least a little. It’s one of the only straight black/white inked stories in the book, which gives it an extra visual punch in the collection.

-Tangent again… from Chapter 26 of Galaxies by Barry N. Malzberg which I was reading last night (and is so far a very good metafictional sci-fi novel from 1975):

And this is a concept so broad, so (as the old pulp magazines might have billed it) mind-shattering, that it is worth considering for just a little while. As the ship, past its initial lurch into the field of the neutron star, becomes part of the black galaxy, as the ship partakes of the energies and properties of a gravitation so immense, Lena begins to live not only her life again, but also the life of various separate identities which are not hers. Some of these are identities transferred from the dead in the hold, others are taken from those that she has known in her previous life and others still (like this novel itself) have been completely constructed, fictional lives that nevertheless have all the reality and omnipresence of truth. Self-invention, spontaneous creation are as pervasive as anything that has happened, Lena finds, and as she lives a thousand lives over these seventy thousand years (give or take a few years overall and falling well within the Bell Curve of chances), she has the time to find out a great deal.

-I’m not totally convinced of the story in “Change Color,” but I love the way Andrew has crafted the imagery. The landscapes and interiors are drawn in a light multi-toned pencil, while the characters are all darker pencil in outline only, so that the background can be seen through them. In a few ways this makes the characters sit on top of the background, which helps you see the backgrounds with their own importance, appreciate the often very lovely pencil work on them (there are a few great panels of landscapes and foliage), and feel them as an evocation of the characters’ disconnection.

-“Out of Focus” features (drawn) photos and attempts at grasping/forgetting memories based on those photos. The “photo” panels are drawn with a bit more tightness and set off with a slight shadow which sits them on a plane above the looser subjective panels (again with the layers). I wish there were a little more contrast between the two types, as they a little too close, or if the stylistic contrast were a little more controlled and varied to mimic the sense of clearer/vaguer memories.

-“We Will Remain” is also a comic with visual layers. Each page (except the last) has a single large image in the background of the page as a whole, while the panels show the actions of characters in the foreground, visually differentiated by tone.

-The last page is a nice, quiet eight panel landscape comic.

-I’m not sure how publisher Box Brown decided on the format for these books, but I find it a really odd size. It’s not zine size, a classic comics pamphlet size. or manga size. It’s a little too square for all of those. I wonder what Frank Santoro thinks of the page size ratio of these.

So Long Silver Screen by Blutch (Picturebox, 2013)

-One of the first arrivals from my Picturebox subscription for the year. (I couldn’t resist the offer with the number of books they are putting out this year that I really want to read.) The first translated volume from the French artist Blutch.

-I honestly don’t know what to make of this one yet. I need to reread it, but Blutch impresses with his visual style, and I love the coloring.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin v.1 by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (Vertical, 2013)

-While I did read superhero comics when I first started reading comics, I think, unlike many comics readers my age or older, my sense of nostalgia for comics lies with manga and anime rather than the Marvel/DC/Image axis of the 90s. An early dose of various anime followed by the discovery of the early manga translations has always left me with a nostalgic feeling for certain styles and genres. Among those is the mecha sci-fi space opera perhaps most prominent at the time in the US via the Americanized Robotech series. I actually missed the showing of it on normal television, but picked up later via bootleg vhs’s (of the Japanese Macross), novelizations (yes, I read the whole series), and adaptation or sequel comics (from Comico and Eternity). At the time, there being a shortage of actual anime/manga in the genre, I also read a three book series of Mobile Suit Gundam novels (which, oddly, were put back into print last year). I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of the anime and I don’t remember those books at all.

-But when I saw Vertical was putting out a Gundam manga by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, who I remember from early translations like Venus Wars and Joan, I got curious. Vertical has a pretty good track record, so I thought I’d check out this version.

-Verdict so far: Eh… It’s (at least this far in) really lacking in character drama/development. I could barely keep them straight (and didn’t for awhile, as I was convinced this random German woman (I think, since someone keeps calling her “Frau”) was given the job of space ship pilot, but now I think there were just two women who looked kind of the same). And from something like this, a rather long running series, you really need to be engaged by the characters as much, if not more, than the setting (especially since I don’t expect this will be conceptually/thematically dense beyond something about war (good? bad?) and responsibility (good). One of the big sells of Robotech was that it foregrounded the characters and their interactions as much as the sci-fi tech and fighting. Maybe that changes as this series goes on. I’m not sure if I want to give it the benefit of the doubt or not.

Journal by Julie Delporte (Koyama Press, 2013)

-For something a lot different…

-Annie Koyama was nice enough to send a review copy to me, unrequested. I think this book is officially out in May.

-I’m already a big fan of Julie’s work, and this book did not disappoint at all. I know I’ve read a number of these pages online before, but seeing them all together (and reading them with less distance between pages) gave them a better unity and narrative movement.

-I don’t think anyone makes color comics like Julie. She draws directly with colored pencils in non-mimetic colors that are well balanced. The first comic I read by her was in black and white and it didn’t have nearly the same impact as her color work.

-The pages also have a real physicality to them, as they are printed like original art. You can see tape where elements are collage in, often the paper color and edge (sometimes looking like it was torn out of a book) is visible within the printed page. I think I saw a few erasures in there too.

-This was a real journal for Julie, so the pages do not have the structure of a conventional comic page, text and image mingle freely, one often overtaking the other to a great degree. The drawings appear to be a mix of life-drawing, photo(?) referenced drawing, and made-up imagery, which adds a nice stylistic variation to the details, representations, and amount of abstraction.

-I say “drawings” to reference the images/pictures, but the text itself is very much like drawing, in colored pencil, handwritten in a clean but idiosyncratic style. I’m really impressed with the work that must have gone into the pages to translate them. The text is often over/within/on the drawings, yet the translated re-lettering is seamless.

-The journal itself finds Julie dealing with a break-up (one of those where the ex remains a big part of your life) and spending a semester at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. It is a more confessional, expressive type of autobiography than a constructed story type. It doesn’t have that quality so many autobiographical comics have of being planned out.

-I need to reread this again too.