Every Comic I Read in 2013: June

Didn’t actually read a lot of comics this month. I’ve been busy working on some projects, reading novels, and reading/prepping D&D stuff (some friends and I are starting a game and I am DMing).

Puppyteeth #3 edited by Kevin Czapiewski (Czap Books, 2012)

-A full color anthology of comics with a vaguely waxy feeling cover. Most of the comics in this anthology are too cute/cartoony for me. Some feel like they are telling stories I’ve read before and not doing it in a way that makes the retelling worth it.

-A few stand-outs from L. Nichols, Alex Martin, Liz Suburbia, and Kevin himself. They are all the ones that are formally more adventurous (in different ways), and less narratively straightforward.

-Alex Martin’s comic looks to be made at least partially of comics paged that have been abstracted down to squares of color at varying sizes of square/levels of abstraction. He places appropriated word balloons over the abstracted images, with some of the text reaching towards the way the pages have been transformed into the building blocks of color (cyan, magenta, yellow) in traditional printing: “foundations,” “simplicity of existence,” “limits” of power. It’s an interesting piece, though I wish it were pushed a little more.

-L. Nichols piece seems to be about chaos theory. It’s a series of smaller panels that are manipulated photos. Transformation of different sorts form the sequence, a kind of relentless but slow shifting of the image, like a fade-out, a zoom-in, a deterioration of quality. One images leads to another via the transformation. Order leads to chaos leads to order. I like this comic, though I think the text written over the images is often too on-point. It is explicitly talking about chaos and order, cycles, entropy, which is already manifest in the images. It ends up being a little too redundant, so the text makes it easier to not have to pay as close attention to the images, to think about the transformations going on.

-Liz Suburbia’s comic features Joan of Arc, a series of pages primarily taken up by a series of portraits of Joan over time, as a kid, as a mohawked punk, as an armored warrior, being burnt at the stake. The text above is a directly addressed monologue of moral advice, that spins a more modern take on Joan’s story. Beneath those primary images is a short strip that runs across each page showing a horned furry snake like creature flying around and finding love. I’m not totally sure what to make of those, but the structure is effective for a short comic. It has a medieval altarpiece quality to it, with the primary icon and the smaller secondary panels. Some really nice coloring on these pages, too, especially a kind of colorful halftone in the backgrounds behind Joan.

-Kevin’s comic is a dense, vibrant collage. A short meditation that you can reread multiple times without feeling the work is exhausted. There are images in it that are really lovely, some that feel a little clash-y with the collaged work, and some that are symbolically opaque to me (little bug, flower things that float over one spread). I stared at one inset panel a few times before the abstract blue blobs transformed into a close-up image of soles of feet leaving the ground (though I’m open to the idea, that interpretation is purely made up on my part).

Trigger No.3 by Kevin Czapiewski (March, 2012)

-A short mini from Kevin. You can read this one at Kevin’s Tumblr. He did a few of these (maybe 12?) in 2012 and more recently was posting them to Tumblr. I remember commenting on this one when he posted it, which is maybe why he threw a copy in with Puppyteeth when I ordered it (or else, it’s just a coincidence).

-Just 8 pages, this comic is primarily photographs with words and the occasional figure drawn on top in loose white strokes. Like Kevin’s story in Puppyteeth this is a kind of meditation or micro-monologue. I think there is a young woman repeated across a few of these images. In one we see her getting her head shaved (and then I start seeing her as looking like Sinead). Perhaps that’s her in an earlier scene with a shaved head holding a glass of wine, almost centered in the panel, but the photo itself is clearly cropped to focus on her (other figures go off-panel, a lot of negative wall space taking up most of the image). In a subsequent photo of a group of young people, the text “here” with an arrow points out a young woman half-off panel, perhaps the same young woman. Are the cover photos (front and back appear to be crops from two images that are variations of each other) images of the same woman when she had hair (strands are obvious, though the photos themselves are just neck, shoulders, a hand)? They are reminiscent of a senior year high school photo (I can’t help think of that Laura Palmer photo). The text is about discovering hardcore and one can imagine a transformation from long-haired girl in the high school photo to the one getting her head shaved. Is this a fictional recreation (maybe the photos aren’t all the same girl)? Is it someone Kevin knows, a close friend, an old crush? I like that ambiguity into the existence of the comic itself (which is hard not to think of when faced with photographs that look more like snapshots than posed images).

-I really like this comic, though that is slightly tempered by the strange little cartoon duck figure who is drawn onto a couple of the photos. It appears on three of the pages, though not on the two that are most clearly the same young woman. I’m not sure what to make of the duck, but his stylistic difference and the way he floats on the photos with the text makes it a little… discordant.

In Situ No.3 & Sleepy Details by Sophie Yanow (Colosse, 2012/2013)

-Two more autobio minis from Sophie Yanow. In Situ is part of her continuing journal comics, each page is dated with a different day from May through August of 2012. Sleepy Details is a 24 hour comic.

-My favorite parts of these are when Sophie breaks away from the normal narrative figuration and really abstracts the images, or uses (almost) blank panels, or scribbles on the page in dark pencil, or repeats the same image with small variations or just shows a bit of background/object in the panel. Those feel like the times when she’s either thinking much less about what she’s doing (just producing panels as quickly as possible) or thinking much more about it (trying to get away from the most normal way to narrate her life). It’s hard to tell, it could work either/both ways depending on the context. Would those sections work as well outside the context of the more conventional images? I’m not sure. I think, yes.

Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort by Simon Hanselmann (Space Face, 2012)

-After reading that really interesting (and brave) interview with Hanselman at The Comics Journal, I decided I try some of his work other than the “Truth Zone” pages I’ve been following on Comics Workbook (can’t figure a way to link right to the those pages specifically). I think I saw Oliver East praising this one on Twitter, so I ordered it and then read a bunch of Hanselmann’s tumblr-posted pages while I waited for delivery.

-This is a small comic, smaller than a quarter-sheet, using an eight panel grid (the panels are small). Like many of Hanselmann’s comics, this one features his Megg, Mogg, and Owl characters. This one seems to show, in the background, some kind of alien invasion, which I have to read, in this comic, as a setting subjective (and metaphoric) to, the witch, Megg’s psychological state. She’s depressed and clearly disturbed in some way. Though, the fact that we hear the others comment on the space ships/invasion does problematize that reading. Though she could be hallucinating some of what they are saying.

-Maybe I’m just too determined to fit this comic in with the others I’ve read where there doesn’t seem to be an invasion or a world that looks destroyed. There’s a certain narrative expectation when you see the same characters that the world they live in is consistent from one narrative to the next (unless it’s been clearly set-up to the contrary). Though that’s certainly never been the case with older cartoon characters (the Warner Brothers or the Disney cartoons for instance). Even if the aliens aren’t a hallucination, they certainly seem metaphorical.

-I wonder what this comic would read like to someone coming cold to his work. I’ve certainly learned to appreciate this work more as I read more of it.

Fatale 1-13 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image, 2012-2013)

-Enjoyable genre reading. This is like a comic book version of a Call of Cthulhu adventure.

-If that means nothing to you… it’s like a Lovecraft story, except instead of focusing on the unfathomable horror, it’s like a film noir detective story… with mystical evil, horrible monsters disguised as people, and characters that go insane. Also… blood and death.

-It’s got a framing narrative that might work a little better as noir than the more prominent embedded narratives. The framing story has that “everyman pushed into circumstances he doesn’t understand” (beautiful mysterious woman who disappears, getting framed for crimes he didn’t commit, secret gangster like bad guys) aspect, while the embedded narratives are more focused on the mysterious woman at the center of the comic. But because the woman is so mysterious, you can’t really see her in the same way as the dude in the framing tale. Her background story is withheld, I assume in anticipation of some big reveal down the line (and they have been slowly filling in her story), which makes her less effective, I think, as the primary focalizer of the story.

-It’s a pretty effective genre narrative. Brubaker knows what he’s doing and Phillips has a nice style that deals well with the darkness of the story. Though in neither case does it ever really reach that awesome horror that Lovecraft is known for. Partially that’s because this doesn’t feel novel anymore, and partially because this kind of straight up illustrative artwork just can’t do that kind of visual effect without really breaking out of the style. I’d almost say it’s just something comics have a hard time doing, but I’ve also been reading Alberto Breccia’s Lovecraft adaptations, and he can do it with his crazy multi-media semi-abstract style, where the art isn’t always so damn clear that you know exactly what you are looking at. Breccia can capture the darkness and the questioning of what you are seeing and the distortion of perspective.

-Read this via Comixology, which is a good way to read something like this, because you can enjoy the story and not get stuck with a pile of comics that you’d probably just want to give away after you read them anyway.

Mere by C.F. (Picturebox, 2013)

-This one isn’t for me. I tried (I read it twice), but my favorite parts are the photos that were interspersed between the comics. I kind of get what he’s going for here with the abstracted genre narratives and the cheap throwaway comic stylings, but it doesn’t overlap with any of my interests.

Odette #1 by Sarah Ferrick (2013)

-This is pretty low-fi comic, photocopy, pencil, some string. Looks like the cover is half pasted-on construction paper with a hand-written title. The book is letter size paper folded in half vertically, creating a tall narrow page, a shape that is echoed throughout the comic itself (it seems very self-referential). Even the front cover has an simple image on it that looks like the book itself, open (a spread).

-An airy comic: no panels as such; not much in the way of imagery; many of the pages are just a few bits of text. It’s most unusual.

-A window the same shape as the comic. A figure in the gutter of the book, black scribbled there, with just arms and legs splayed out to the verso and recto. A screen of crossed hatch. The tall rectangle repeats often as a window, a door, a book, a frame, a caption box, the space between the T’s of Odette.

-Lots of noise. Often the noise is all you see other than text: dots from the printing (copier I guess since a printer wouldn’t leave such marks); smudges around the pencils (it all appears to be pencil of differing softness); faint lines at the edges of the page that look like edges of the page.

-The text is monologue and dialogue. I believe we have Siegfried, Odette, and some perhaps imaginary voice that talks to Siegfried. Siegfried longs for Odette. Perhaps they are dreaming of long ago when they were young.

-Page 1: “Swan Lake” in big letters at the top. “Here’s the lake” in smaller letters about a quarter of the way down. A bit of copy noise towards the bottom.

-The lettering, for being the primary part of the work, is almost non-aesthetic. It looks like regular handwriting as opposed to a constructed style of lettering. Kind of awkward looking (adding to the low-fi aesthetic), it’s like a thumbnail sketch.

-”#1″? Should I expect a continuation?

Bulletin Vol.1 No.1: Jason Overby; Supplement by Stephen Hayes (Booklet, 2013)

-I got this for something like 1 yen, mail-order from Japan. It’s a single piece of paper (some Japanese size I guess), folded twice, with another half-size page folded once inside it. Blue and black ink.

-Jason’s part is the larger page. A drawing of a painter on the front. Other than that, this is pretty much an all text comic. The smaller inside is a page from one of Jason’s comics, “Truth” in block letters across the six panels, and some text on truth/fiction in, I believe, auto-biography. The larger “broadside” section is a series of tight word balloons on a blue speckled background, “Dialectics” (crossed-out once). This section is a sort of dialogue (though mostly a monologue) about art as gesture.

-I’m pretty sure I’ve seen both of these before in a different form, but they are the type of work you can always reread. Like a lot of Jason’s work, you can see him trying to work out problems on the page. The art is like a record of an internal thought process, though we know it’s also an internal thought process that has been re-processed for the work’s reader. The two pieces in this pamphlet push against each other in that respect, as one questions the “truth” of the work, and the other seems to question the work itself as an object.

-Stephen Hayes’ inserted page is Jason’s “Dialectics” page (in black and white) with four white rectangles inserted behind Jason’s word balloons. Three of them have text from Hayes as he inserts himself into Jason’s dialogue.

The End by Anders Nilsen (Fantagraphics, 2013)

-An expanded, hardcover edition of The End #1 (from the Ignatz line), which is one of my favorite comics ever.

-It’s also one of the saddest comics ever.

-It’s slightly smaller than the old version, but nicer printing (and the color is better). There are a number of added sections (a few from Mome, a few from other places), a couple pages removed (a section about Nilsen’s time in Berlin that never did feel quite right in context), and what looks like a few minor edits.

-The added sections are for the most part to the benefit of the book. One section has the silhouetted male character (Nilsen) talking to the silhouetted female character. He’s talking to her like she’s really there, asking her questions and such, and she responds to him, but keeps reminding him she’s dead. It’s a brutal frankness in a conversation that is essentially (narratively and materially) Nilsen talking to himself. One of his “character drawn over photo” comics from Mome included here does feel a bit like filler. The other similar section works in context quite well as an addition.

-What I think is so powerful about this book is the way it is both specific and abstract. The way it’s not just Nilsen telling the story (which he does very effectively in “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow”), but him exploring the after-effects of his fiancée’s death, the grief and questioning and emptiness and coping. And he swerves between the very specific (like the section “Since You’ve Been Gone I Can Do Whatever I Want All the Time”) and the abstract (“Solve for X”). They feed on each other and make something that is more emotionally powerful than if he had just illustrated a narrative with lots of figures and scenes and backgrounds.

-I wish I could write more effectively about this book.

Takemitsu Zamurai v.1-8 by Issei Eifuku and Taiyo Matsumoto (2006-2010)

-I haven’t been a huge fan of the Matsumoto works I’ve read. Didn’t care for Black & White (what I saw of it in Pulp) and was luke warm on GoGo Monster.

-I did enjoy this manga a lot. I read it in scanlation after hearing about it from the French translation.

-It’s written by Eifuku which might explain my like for it in opposition to Matsumoto’s solo works. Also I think Matsumoto’s drawing is much looser and more expressive in this than in his other manga.

-There’s a pretty strong narrative resemblance to Ono’s House of Five Leaves: ronin in Edo, secret pasts, a light-hearted but deadly samurai, the use of place as a community builder, though Takemitsu Zamurai is considerably more dramatic and expressive (and more fights).

-My biggest issue with the whole series was the primary antagonist in the series seemed unmotivated in context and was a little too monster-ish. The authors side-stepped some of the more interesting narrative threads and thematic possibilities by focusing a lot on this big crazy assassin guy who was really not interesting at all (too crazy, too “quirky”). The story started out in this quiet mode, with the ronin (with the mysterious past!) settling into a new home in Edo and interacting with the community, but then at some point the crazy assassin plot just got too prominent.

-I plan on reading this again though to better think about it. Matsumoto’s art is fantastic, often showing an inspiration from Edo period illustration and often breaking out into expressive brush work.