These are some of the comics I brought home from SPX. This post will be updated for the next few weeks or so.
Yellow Zine #7
By Roman Muradov
While I’ve never spoken to anyone about Roman’s Yellow Zine series besides Roman himself (and even then, it was only with what could probably be best described as a dismissive grimace, as if the Zines had been made by someone Roman knew but didn’t particularly care for), I’d wager that any conversation around them would be a delight for those who participated and totally interminable for anyone listening—which, in truth, would most certainly please the author to no end, even if he refused to admit it.
Similarly to Roman’s Nobrow book (which I worked on in a mercantile capacity, and that’s about as far as I’ll go with taking the notion of objectivity seriously), the Yellow Zines are rife with allusions and referential humor, of which I’m only able to grasp a modest few—Roman is an Olympian level reader, the sort of person who should have been born 100 years ago, when fishmongers masturbated to the Decameron—but they’re also bawdy, mean things…and you don’t need to know anything about literature to catch meanness. (This isn’t the truth of all of the Yellow Zines, it isn’t even true of the totality of this particular installment, but the sharpest bits of this one are, in fact, the sharpest bits—the moments that leave a mark, the lines that betray the desire to cause a wound. Towards the end, there’s a very funny bit where an artist overly praises a cute dog who represents his audience. We see the dog mindlessly binge read, eventually die, only to be criticized for being dumb and tasteless in the first place. Is that what Roman thinks of his audience? Because if it is, in this reader's case, he's not far off. Here's a blurb for you: unrivaled delight.
Revenger & The Fog #3
By Chuck Forsman
While the first Revenger story arc (hey!) was more 80’s VHS, The Fog is the one that’s more 70’s—specifically, the vans of Texas Chainsaw and the villains of LA crime noir. As with most action thriller narratives, this, the penultimate chapter, is the most exciting one. It’s the one where our villains seem most unstoppable and disgusting, the one that sees our heroes at their lowest. Chuck’s style with the Revenger series is at its most refined here, which is to say that it’s not “refined” in the traditional sense at all. Gangly, uncoordinated figures operate in distinctly blank space, fighting and moving (and hating) within lined drawings that are, many times, at odds with how one might expect characters to move. It’s a gnarly kind of work, and it’s hard to imagine this story working any other way. (If you put it against Chuck’s more traditionally drawn work in The End of the Fucking World or Celebrated Summer, the pieces make sense: these ropy muscles and brokeback knees are needed for the narrative to maintain its momentum forward—why else does Forsman resort to his more widely embraced traditional alt style when its time for the molestation flashback?)
It would be interesting to see the color go full neon, now that I’m thinking about it. Family meeting!
By Melissa Mendes
This Alternative Comics collection of Mendes’ Oily series by the same name is as much a talent showcase for Melissa as her previous book Freddy Stories was. A straight forward depiction of a low income family with specific focus given to one particularly eventful evening, Lou is more winning in this larger format than it was in installments. Melissa’s writing is what so often gets brought in for praise, and rightly so—there’s no false notes in these comics, and her awareness of what does and doesn’t need to be made explicit in a narrative is exceptional and rare. But reading it again, I found myself more taken with how important her drawings were to the story overall, and how much emotion was continued in these simple illustrations. A little boy’s terrified attempt to hold hands, a young man’s confusion at the sight of his bloodied boss, and most of all, Lou—a young girl, at times sullen, at times excited, at times furious. It’s all depicted with simple, direct, confident lines, hinging on the locations and size of the eyes and little else. More so than comics, Melissa’s most direct comparison should be picture books—it’s not hard to see her transitioning into drawing something like Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, or Dr. Desoto, albeit with human leads. Whatever she does next, it’ll be worth the time.
Woof: A Field Guide To Dog Anxieties
By Tom McHenry
A series of one page, eight panel comics introducing the world’s dogs. From the workout obsessed Swole Dog to the self-pitying, race-losing Squeal Dog—actually, this isn't a very useful description. Woof isn’t a lateral range of characters, with one extreme to the other, each one tied specifically to a one word description. (Although there are a few that work like that, most impressively the one named “Sprawl Dog”, which is eight panels of an overweight dog in socks and loser gear trying to find the perfect position for the couch nap that's staving off his next installment in binge eating.) What Tom has done here is build individual worlds that share a galaxy, or lay out the houses in a neighborhood—a place where conversations about the importance of performative atheism and social media opinion posturing are commonplace, the school in the Harry Potter books is a real place (that dogs can choose to go to), and there’s a reference to Manhunter, one of the finest movies ever made.
It’s a fine line doing smartass humor, one that not a lot of people can manage—the jokes become too difficult to understand, too off-putting. McHenry’s trick here is that while he can go incredibly specific with what you need to understand, but without ever coming across as smug or self-pitying. It’s not an easy thing that he’s doing. The world of comics is rife with work that commits crimes of alienation far outpacing whatever actual slights spurred their initial creators forward in the first place; unfortunately, these types of comics are so easily available because there’s a rapacious audience who eats them up, moral superiority and all. Woof doesn’t just avoid falling into that trap, it never really even comes close to skirting the line—it’s just page after page of eight panel heart attacks. It’s hard not to read this alongside along Sara McHenry’s Listless and imagine their household being one where you’re living through the kind of workshop that produced that old Army Man ‘zine. Strong shit here.
Missiles of Montgomery County
By Alexis Frederick-Frost
Extremely stripped down cartooning, a non-fiction subject brought forth with the kind of concision and lucidity you wish came with every single story like it you’ll ever hear, this is, at its most Platonic, the comic book version of a great, never-forgotten piece of trivia you hear at a barbecue from a stranger. After you’ve both run through the “what do you do for a living” stories and the discussion hits upon that weird abandoned field five minutes down the road, you'll hope for a guy dryly saying “I actually looked into it, and it turns out..” and in less than ten minutes you find out the history of anti-aircraft missiles in suburban Washington DC. There’s not a huge amount of bravura flourish that goes on in a comic like this, but if there was, it could possibly detract from its utilitarian function as information delivery. I’m not sure what this style of comics is called—there are more and more of these semi-educational comics every show—but this is certainly on the stronger end.
By Sara McHenry
A series of lists collected into a zine by comedy writer Sara McHenry. One list is called “Your Dad’s Favorite Books” and includes things like Woodworking The Honest Way, Tom Clancy’s Political Science Minor and a Never-Opened Copy Of Your Graphic Novel. Another list is called Cool One-Liners I Could Say While Killing A Bad Guy, And The Weapon I’d Have To Use For The Joke To Work.
I liked this a whole fucking lot, is the subtext here.
By Pete Toms
Pete Toms makes dialog heavy comics based very much in the real world, which is another way of saying that it includes a lot of internet and social media awareness. It’s a tactic that a lot of writers (and generally speaking, all cartoonists) ignore, which results in stories that, bad or good, tend to have a vacation-y, aspirational quality. Look at all these characters who aren’t spending their lives tacking an extra five minutes onto a dump hate-reading social media updates! What a protagonist I might be if I could have a conversation that didn’t involve recapping the last 24 hours of headlines I half understood! In Toms’ work, there’s no such respite—people talk the way we talk, and due to his decision to have so many panels framing the characters dead on, they’re talking to you. Initially, it can be off-putting—as in real life, being barked at isn’t that pleasant, and it’s a hell of a lot worse when the barking involves memes you don’t really understand. It’s worth burrowing into Toms work though, as accepting his delivery methods opens up into a world that can be very funny.
Dad’s Weekend is what it sounds like: a young woman spending the weekend with her father, a man who is handling all of the trials of middle-age about as poorly as one can. Embracing whatever version of reality it is that lives to the crazier side of truther-doctrine, he’d be a giant embarrassment to his suffering daughter if she was capable of caring, but she isn’t, and her general apathy as he spends 48 hours making his life even worse makes the comic a solid excursion in look-at-this-fuck-up porn that you never feel guilty for enjoying, even when he produces a maudlin bit of mush mouth rationalization for why he does the things he does and believes the things he believes.
Burt’s Way Home
By John Martz
This is a graphic novel broken up into two narratives, each of which tells the story from the other character’s point of view. Those two characters are a little boy named Burt who has lost his parents in an undescribed tragedy and the woman who has taken him in on what, based off some of the later word choices, seems to be a permanent basis. As would be expected with that set-up, the story is a demanding one. Martz is no stranger to the challenge, most of his work—even the comics that are more out and out comedies—tend to have a brittle crispness to them that fits well with his delicate linework. (If comic art was a food, Martz’ would be those hard boiled eggs that old people place in a silver holder, to be broken with a spoon.) Burt’s Way Home ups the ante, seemingly styled for younger readers who may have difficulty grasping the lack of specificity at its core, but that’s a sales concern, not an artistic one—and it is impossible to argue that the book fails to achieve a special grace. It’s lovely work.
By Noah Van Sciver
While these tiny little blurbs aren't official "reviews" or anything serious, I still feel a little guilty churning out some kind of dipshit personal essay style missive...and yet, I feel like it would be disingenous to ignore the emotional reaction I had upon turning to this page in Blammo 9. It comes towards the end of what one hopes (for the sake of CCS) is an exaggeration of Noah's time spent at that school in Vermont. The emotion I had one was one of astonishment at how far Noah has come in the last 8 years that I've been reading his work followed immediately by the painful reminder that I won't be standing in a comics shop tomorrow morning answering the occasional "what are you reading" question by grabbing an issue of this off the wall. A dense, inexpensive comic that demands an investment of time and attention that it is rewarded ten times over--this is one of the best things he's done, and that's the feeling I've had every time I've read something by him in the last two years. Disquiet, Fante Bukwoski, Blammo 8.5, My Hot Date--they're all great. They're inspiring work, read in the knowledge that he got good the only way I can understand, by just obsessively making and making and making. I've never denied my affection for discipline and machismo, and to see what that kind of attitude can produce....I wish I could disengage from it enough to talk about it more analytically. To argue for its value as an artistic achievement. Not because I think that is what it needs, or because it would help the work sell--nothing like that. But because it would be the small token; it would be the petty coin that one could offer to show that the hard work that has been given has been returned with a hard work in kind.
Cankor: Calamity of Challenge #1
By Matthew Allison
Matthew has been making Cankor drawings and comics for years, I first came across them at Bergen Street Comics, where the aggressively drawn muscular striations and dripping skin, giant figures in landscapes that looks like overly realistic depictions of Herriman landscapes served as a perfect respite from the walls of comics with similarly violent themes. Taking on its own, this issue--which feels like Allison's best drawn comic yet, even if I'm wrong and it's just been a while, it's great, great stuff--is an astonishing comic, opening with a monstrous yet vaguely autobio section that reads like its written by Gilbert Hernandez making fun of Michael Deforge which gives way to a glorious, atonal sequence on some kind of moon, where characters rip open the landscape to reveal distended corpses and send others splintering into oblivion, then a manipulated author photo calling back to the autobio section, a one page guest pin-up that has more work put into it than most artists put into six issues (it's by Buster Moody, he deserves a raise at whatever it is else that he does), and then--and this really comes out of nowhere--a perfect one page homage to John Porcellino in the form of King Cankor Comics. Let me abundantly clear, by repeating myself: this comic book is fucking astonishing.
A short back-and-forth between Muradov and Foster-Domino that employs the former's love of language and the latter's geometric line effectively, resulting in a funny slice of the two cartoonist's shared affection for one another. Eight pages, it's probably all online somewhere, but there's something to be said for having it in cupped hands.
Diary Comics #5
By Dustin Harbin
I was only at TCAF for a few hours this past year and missed this installment of Dustin's Diary Comics series. While it's possible to keep up with Dustin's work on his website (and I imagine many do), i've been out of step with comics since the closing of Bergen Street Comics, making everything here (except for the heartbreaking "Dream" from last December) totally new to me. This collection is the most painful one Dustin has done, and considering the reputation that autobiographical work has for being lonely-worship solipsism, it's strangely courageous to see Dustin--one of the few people in comics that is funny in the sense that he makes you laugh, as opposed to being called funny because he makes you feel like you're safe--commit to the relative mundane topic of habitual exercise, middle-aged ennui and everything else that comes with break-up recovery. Ultimately, the collection works because of its unsentimental commitment to said mundanity, essentially setting the stage with "Dream" and then continuing onward at a specific, intensified pace while Harbin puts in the hours (both at his day to day existence and in front of his sketchpad) making his way out of pain. I think the main reason that people tend to respond so negatively towards the idea of autobio comics about feelings is that they (rightly) think that many of them are performative rehearsals of negative feelings, center-of-attention showcases for self-obsessed children. Dustin's work, as far back as I can remember, has never been guilty of that. Diary Comics 5 may have the most graceful of openings, and the ending may be a closure-free bit of downcast whimsy--but that's to its credit. It's a lovely piece of work.
Space Rope: Mars & Venus
By Casey Bohn
A personally prophetic horror mini-comic from 2011 republished with two additional stories by Oily Comics, Space Rope follows the titular rope from space through three stories. While the violence throughout the comic is offset quite a bit by the retro-esque style dialog and cartooning, there's an extremity to the whole thing that underlines the personal significance that the stories have for Casey, some of which are made explicit in the mini's afterword. A strangely touching mini-comic still firmly in touch with its horror roots.