“Proverbs Of Hell” : The Marriage Of Zenick And Blake

You literally never know what Jeff Zenick is going to come up with next, and that’s one of the most interest things about him : he’s an artist who never sits still or rests on his laurels, who never fails to find a new way to express himself via his portrait work. In recent years he’s turned his skilled eye and hand to reproducing criminal mugshots and vintage high school yearbooks, and now he’s trained his talents on a subject that would likely vex just about anyone : William Blake.

Well, okay, not Blake himself per se, but the 70 aphorisms included as part of his epic The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell, which have apprently wormed their way so deeply into Zenick’s mind that he’s literally been ruminating over how to approach this project for nearly 30 years, having first attempted to give it a go in truncated form as a mini comic way back in 1991. To say a lot of thought went into the just-released (and, as always, self-published) Proverbs Of Hell would, then, be a massive understatement indeed.

Zenick is probably channeling more than Blake here, though : he seems to have tapped into his inner Charles Burns pretty directly (and successfully) as well, his heavy black inks and stark approach to exaggeration, shading, and expression really kicking up into another gear in this ‘zine. The rotating handful of characters he’s depicting this time around appear to be in various states of distress both mental and physical, some of which would seem to bear direct correlation to the proverb their face appears beneath, but sometimes the connections are more oblique or intuited, and one is left wondering about not only the wisdom of Blake’s words, but the choices Zenick makes as an artist. It all makes for a heady experience, but fair warning : if you’re prone to a heroic self-image, this is gonna disabuse you of that goofy notion in a hurry.

Still, Zenick’s never been one for letting his readership off easy any more than Blake was, so there’s a fair amount of sympathetic resonance to be gleaned from every pairing of the former’s pictures with the latter’s words in these pages. This is portraiture that showcases the lost and the forlorn, absolutely, but whether or not that’s because these folks are considering Blake’s writing, or are simply reflective of it naturally is something I can’t quite nail down — and maybe I’m not supposed to be able to. Either point of view works, that much I know for certain, so no matter what Zenick’s intention is, he achieves it — and how often does a sentiment like that even make concrete sense?

And that brings us to another consistent strength of Zenick’s work : it’s interpretive on its face (pun only slightly intended), but it’s never deliberately oblique. He starts with a firm concept and executes it to the proverbial “T,” but his concerns, and subsequent approaches to expressing them, are inherently non-dictatorial. He never goes so far as to tell you what to think or how to analyze his creative output, but he’s never less than absolutely upfront at the same time. This belies a fair amount of confidence on Zenick’s part in his own abilities, sure, but it also shows tremendous faith in his readership, and in their ability to pick up what he’s throwing down. You never feel lost in a Zenick ‘zine, then, this one being no exception, but you literally never know what’s waiting for you on the next page, either — only that it will logically and aesthetically flow from what’s come before and into what’s coming next.

It could fairly be said, then, that there is a trajectory to be found in this work, although not necessarily a linear one. Each image tells a story in and of itself, but taken in succession and in total, a larger picture emerges : of a fallen humanity crumbling when faced with the intractable edifice of visionary insight, perhaps — or, if you prefer, of a fallen humanity that bears out the wisdom of said insight by dint of both their existence and their approach to it. Take your pick, or go with them both, it matters not — this ‘zine is pearls before swine either way. And I say that as one of the swine myself.

************************************************************************

Proverbs Of Hell is available for $6.00 from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half Distro at : https://www.spitandahalf.com/product/proverbs-of-hell-by-william-blake-and-jeff-zenick/

Review wrist check – Hamilton “Jazzmaster Viewmatic” riding a Lone Star Treasures ostrich leg leather strap in royal blue.

“Unexplained” — But Hardly Inexplicable

You’ve gotta hand it to Theo Ellsworth — nobody else does what he does.

Oh, sure, other people draw and make comics and all that, but nobody draws the way he does, employing the elements he does, in service of anything like the purpose he achieves. Ellsworth — who hails from Missoula, Montana, where he’s not “part” of the local comics scene so much as he is the local comics scene — combines influences that fall along a continuum that ranges from Native American folk and woodcut art to Charles Addams/Gormenghast to downright alien to produce art that both comes from, and takes you to, someplace else altogether. And although his long-running series Capacity is over and done with, he’s nowhere near done creating art.

And art is what his latest ‘zine, Unexplained — self-published, as ever, under Ellsworth’s own Thought Cloud Factory label, and presented in a generous, oversized magazine format — is all about. Dated 2018 but only now making its way to some of the better indie distributors out there, this is a 40-page collection of ink drawings that each, in their own way, tell a story, and occasionally come together, or are juxtaposed next to each other, to do the same. The inside title page labels this as being “issue one,” but whether there are truly more forthcoming, or this ends up standing alone, either way it represents and unqualified success.

I think the thing I appreciate most about Ellsworth’s art, besides the precision of its execution, is its overall tone — his characters are subject to frightening, even harrowing, situations and ordeals, but there’s a kind of playfulness to it all, a sense that everything’s going to be alright, maybe even is alright already, and that the personages and/or entities of one stripe of another that he’s depicting are maybe even in on the joke, so to speak, at least in the abstract. It’s not fair to say his work is “easy” in any respect, apart from being wonderfully easy on the eyes, but nothing he depicts is the end of the world, no matter how much it may feel (and, crucially, look) like it. You can take your time with this work, relax with it, absorb it in every intricate detail — then come back down to the world you know, hopefully with a fresh charge of “new perspective” serum injected directly into your brain by way of the optic nerve.

Which, my oh my, does sound rather pretentious, doesn’t it? But it’s the utter lack of pretense in Ellsworth’s illustrations that make them stand out every bit as much as their undeniable technical proficiency does. Welcome to worlds unknown, then, but not overtly hostile — to rich, conceptually-dense waters where you won’t be allowed to drown. Emjoy the ride, and by all means — go at your own pace.

Certainly there is detail aplenty herein to not only ponder over and absorb but to savor, and freed (largely) from narrative’s hard-and-fast strictures, Ellsworth is afforded ample opportunity to simply “wow” you by wondering where all this baffling beauty comes from, and how it manages to make its way not just onto paper, but into print. “So-and-so makes comics that are unlike anyone else’s” is, let’s face it, music to the ears of the discerning observer and/or reader, but that’s just a starting point with Theo Ellsworth — which is why I started this review by stating as much. But he’s just as concerned with where he takes you as he is in finding the most memorable method of conveyance to get you there. It helps for a reader to care just as much, if not more, about the journey than about the destination, then, but rest assured : you’ll not only get there, you’ll be amazed at the sights you see along the way.

************************************************************************

Unexplained is available for $12.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/unexplained.html

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the world of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very pleased indeed if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing you kind attention to : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

A Cucumber Finds Himself In A Pickle In Josh Pettinger’s “Goiter” #5

For good, ill, or a little bit of both, there are precious few things we can really, well and truly, rely on in today’s comics world — and many would argue that the same is true for the wider world in general. You know, the one they call “real.” But we’re not really hear to talk about that, so let’s get back to comics.

Whether we’re talking the medium or the industry, comics are in a state of flux. Where and how the dust settles, and what things will look like once it does, nobody knows. The mainstream is freaked out by all this uncertainty, of course, but for independent and self-publishing cartoonists, this has always been the way of things. Print a few too many books you can’t sell, you don’t make rent. Have a nice weekend tabling at a show, suddenly you’ve got beer money. There are no constants apart from the fact that there are no constants — unless and until you find yourself a publisher that believes in your work and is willing to put up the cost of printing and distribution themselves, that is.

After taking on the burden of all that all by his lonesome for this part half-decade or so, Josh Pettinger appears to have found himself in precisely that much-sought-after position : Tinto Press has stepped up to the plate and, as of the fifth and latest issue, is now publishing his acclaimed one-man anthology series, Goiter. And they’re doing it in full color, to boot! One hopes, then, that he has found that ever-elusive something to rely on.

As for the rest of us, well — those who have been following it know that Goiter has been a reliably interesting and quirky (but not, thankfully, in a terribly self-conscious way) series from the outset, and that Pettinger’s character-driven stories are consistently delightful and bewildering. At first he was perhaps wearing his Clowes and Ware influences on his sleeve a bit too obviously, but as time has gone on he’s become more and more confident in his own visual narrative skills and now structures his stories his own way, writes dialogue his own way, and has a singular cartooning style that occupies a unique space halfway between emotive and deadpan — all of which coalesces to splendid effect in his title story this time out, “William Cucumber.”

On paper, a long-form strip about a late-teens protagonist who gets canned from his job renting chairs at the beach, moves into a tent in the backyard of his divorcing parent’s home, takes up smoking so he can cash in on being a human guinea pig only to find there’s no money in that racket but he’s hooked on nicotine anyway, and undertakes an impromptu murder investigation with the daughter of his mom’s new boyfriend sounds like a string of utterly incongruous plot elements strung together — and hey, I suppose it is, but Pettinger, as always, finds a way to make it work by focusing on character so ferociously that he’s able to “sell” readers on any set of circumstances said character finds themselves in. It’s a gutsy move, but it’s one that’s always worked to one degree or another over the course of this series’ lifespan, and it works to a very high degree in this new issue. Particularly as questions about how “real” any or all of this even is come to the fore, the tension between the deliberately blase figure drawings and the potentially-hallucinatory subject matter gives readers plenty of reason to question, in the words of Freddie Mercury, “is this the real life — is this just fantasy?” It’s a low-key barnburner of a story, and one of Pettinger’s best efforts to date.

I was somewhat less enamored with the short-form backup strips that round out the issue, but I do see what Pettinger was going for with them — I just found them rather slight and maybe a bit too convenient/forced in terms of execution. But that’s a small gripe when we’re talking about a comic that boasts a superb main feature and terrific production values. Josh Pettinger is creating something really special with this comic, and if you haven’t been picking it up already, now that it’s more widely available, this would be the perfect time to start doing so. Single-creator anthologies are considered by some to be a bit of an anachronistic throwback, I know, but Goiter proves that it’s a format with plenty of gas in the tank yet.

************************************************************************

Goiter #5 is available for $5.99 from the Tinto Press website at https://tintopress.com/product/goiter-5/

Review wrist check – Ocean Crawler “Paladino Wavemaker” green dial model riding an Ocean Crawler black stingray leather strap. And no, your eyes don’t deceive you, that’s the sleeve of my winter jacket brushing up against the watch. We got seven inches of sloppy, wet snow here in the Twin Cities yesterday — yup, on October 20th. How nuts is that?

A Stark And Harrowing “Vision”

Sex and death — there’s just no separating them, is there? I mean, sure, one is fun and the other most assuredly isn’t, but it’s an awareness of our own mortality, and the fear of same, that elevates the sexual impulse in humans to something beyond the mere biological imperative of the animal kingdom. Rightly or wrongly — and I would argue it’s more the latter — humans view the act of producing offspring not just as a continuation of the species, but as a shot at some kind of personal immortality for themselves : a chance to prove that they existed, that they mattered, because they weren’t just passing through life, they actually left something behind.

Message for any kids who might be reading this : next time your parents try to convince you that the act of raising you is some inherently selfless or noble thing, tell ’em to fuck off — you’re doing more for them than they are for you, because you’re giving them a legacy. Without you, they’d actually have to achieve something lasting by dint of their own efforts. Which probably makes me sound intrinsically anti-parent, I suppose, but this isn’t about what I believe — rather, it’s about stating plainly what we all know, but seldom speak aloud : for human beings, the ultimate goal of sex is to literally escape death. But in the end, of course, there’s still no doing that.

For Eleanor, however — the protagonist in cartoonist Julia Gfrorer’s new book Vision, recently collected in a single volume by Fantagraphics after Gfrorer self-published it in serialized form — kids appear to be out of the question, as she’s something of a (forgive the term, but) spinster, her fiance having lost not only his own life in war but, by extension, hers as well. This story, you see, appears to be set in vaguely Victorian or Edwardian times and so, with no prospects for marriage or children on the horizon, Eleanor is relegated to staying in her brother’s home, where she’s assigned the thankless task of caring for his shut-in wife.

With that premise in mind, then, here’s a hypothetical question for you, dear reader : robbed of all chance at intimacy, first by death and then by circumstance, what lengths would you go to in order to find it? And who would you find it with?

Your bedroom mirror may not be your first choice, but who knows? Maybe in a pinch it would do, especially if there were someone on the other side of it, as seems to be the case with Eleanor’s. Who they are, where they are, how she can possibly get to them — these are questions Eleanor has as her “relationship” unfolds, ones that are exacerbated after she’s forced to make a choice about whether or not to have what’s surely a primitive and potentially dangerous form of ocular surgery, but they’re secondary to sheer need : for acceptance and love and connection, sure, but also to provide all of those things. With the man she was to marry gone and the children she hoped to have with him never coming to be, Eleanor’s mirror, and the voice within it, become a repository for every aspect of her love that has gone hitherto unexpressed. And while it’s plenty dangerous enough to assign all your desires and needs onto one person, foisting them all upon an inanimate object with potentially murky intentions may just be a ticket to emotional suicide.

Ah, yes — suicide. Eleanor makes a rather lackluster attempt at it in the early going here, but as things progress, we begin to wonder if there may be someone else she’d like to see dead —specifically her sister-in-law. The wretched old shrew certainly seems to be of a mind that Eleanor is slowly poisoning her, but she’s clearly not right in the head — what’s less certain, however, is whether Eleanor’s own mindset is any better. Unreliable narrators are one thing, but Gfrorer is upping the ante considerably here, given that we are likely seeing the world precisely as Eleanor does, in fact, see it herself — but that perception may very well be out of step with actual consensus reality.

Gfrorer’s cartooning, vaguely reminiscent of From Hell-era Eddie Campbell at its margins, is perfectly suited to this kind of tale, as her linework is as fragile and delicate as the health (physical and mental) of her characters — her dense cross-hatching and well-chosen placement of shading and texturing effects are primarily utilized in service of providing mood and atmosphere, while very often her figure drawing borders not quite on the insubstantial, but certainly on the ephemeral — general contours of form privileged over specific physical details to lend each person an air of mystery within a narrative already packed to the gills with precisely that. This world and its people, then, as delineated by Gfrorer, are equal parts lovely and scary, much like Eleanor’s affair with her mirror — and at the risk of sounding like a pretentious ass, the opposing emotional polarities offered by the thrill of freedom and the fear of the unknown that compel our erstwhile heroine to position herself and perform according to the voyeuristic commands of a disembodied voice are reflected perfectly as a kind of internal tension between form and function in Gfrorer’s artwork, best exemplified in her “scrawled” but undoubtedly precise line.

All of which, I suppose, brings us back to our original sex and death dichotomy — the central concern not just of this work but, in the eyes of this critic, of Gfrorer’s entire body of work. They might not be entwined in precisely the same way for Eleanor as they are for people in more, shall we say, conventional relationships, but they remain entwined regardless : after all, that mirror could just as easily be a portal to Hell as it could be to the man of her dreams and his magic castle. Or she could just be seeing —- and hearing — a distorted reflection of herself, conjured up by her profound sense of not only loss but longing. The picture is muddled, but by the time all is said and done, Julia Gfrorer’s Vision has never been more clear.

************************************************************************

Review wrist check – Farer Universal “Stanhope” riding a Hirsch “Arne” sailcloth-effect strap in olive green.

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the world of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’ve be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Meet The OCDemon : “Marie And Worrywart”

A lot of people — myself included — have that little voice in our heads. What we don’t have is a little blob on our shoulders.

Marie, the protagonist in Toronto cartoonist Jenn Woodall’s Marie And Worrywart, isn’t so lucky : her anxieties — specifically, the various manifestations of near-crippling OCD that have taken root in her mind — have externalized themselves and become her constant companion. And wouldn’t you know, this little creature they’ve congealed into simply will not shut the fuck up. But can it be prevented from growing?

Anxiety isn’t unique to cartoonists or to comics readers, of course, but damn if it’s not well-represented within our ranks, so Woodall’s willingness to address it head-on is certainly welcome, as is her overall level-headed approach. No matter how big and boisterous Worrywart becomes, she has a deft touch that somehow manages to draw attention to the fact that it (and the things that make “it” up) are blown entirely out of proportion, while never minimizing its effects nor casting Worrywart’s host, Marie, in anything less than a sympathetic light. This is no easy task : Worrywart’s a cartoonish figure, necessarily exaggerated for purposes both comic and far less so, and so it would be damn easy to lose the delicate balance this mini maintains and to just err on the side of “relax, kid, ya really got nothing to worry about.” It’s to Woodall’s credit that she avoids this sort of condescension by default while also offering practical guidance without ever once sounding either preachy or cloying. In short, she probably only had one way to pull this off exactly right, tonally speaking, and she not only manages to do so, she makes it look effortless when, in fact, it’s anything but.

Additonally, Woodall’s cartooning in this Silver Sprocket-published mini is exceptionally fluid and exudes a timeless quality : not overly stylistic by any means, but fundamentally strong in every aspect, its effects are accentuated by her wonderfully thought-out use of color, a truly anxious red offering stark contrast to the blacks and reds of the “real” world. Woodall’s page layouts and sense of composition take care of the rest, balancing the practical and fantastic (not always in the good sense of that term) in a way that invites the eye to take everything in and avoids visual information overload no matter how much the situation may allow for precisely that. There’s a real sense of both confidence and discipline in this art that directly bypasses the need to be flashy in favor of simply doing what’s right — and I always feel like we could do with a little bit more of this in today’s indie comics world.

This book isn’t just a therapeutic tool for readers, though — it was also a therapeutic exercise for its creator, and one that’s had some legs : originally printed and distributed in Woodall’s native Canada “way back” in 2018, this new second edition gives it another well-deserved lease on life, and it’s almost certain to end up in the hands of more people who will benefit from knowing that they’re far from alone and that there’s room for laughter on their road to healing. Woodall doesn’t trivialize Marie’s suffering by any stretch, nor does she offer “magic bullet” solutions to it, but she offers methods for coping with it that don’t insult a reader’s intelligence and don’t drain all the joy and wonder out of life — even a life where those things are in short supply.

This is an absolute gem of a comic, then, no doubt about it — and hey, it’s a public service, to boot.

************************************************************************

Marie And Worrywart is available for $5.00 from Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club at https://store.silversprocket.net/products/marie-and-worrywart-by-jenn-woodall

Review wrist check – Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 53,” in the sleek-looking “Blackout Edition” that I can’t seem to keep off my wrist for more than a couple of days.

Two From Le Dernier Cri : John Broadley’s “Wild For Adventure”

It’s a pretty cool thing, when you think about it : making comics like nobody else is making. And it’s especially cool to do it within a framework that’s about as tried and true as it gets.

All of which is me letting you know that the (extremely) short-form stories presented in Johan Broadley’s 2016 Le Dernier Cri book, Wild For Adventure, are both deliciously weird — and strangely mundane. We know this world he portrays — we’ve just never had it shown to us like this before. So yes, at first glance these are every bit the vaguely traditional gag strips they appear to be — until they’re not. And there’s always one or two off-kilter things in each that are guaranteed to shake your perceptions just a bit. I’m reminded, crazy as this may sound, of the so-called “creepy crawls” the Manson family used to engage in, wherein they would enter somebody’s house or apartment and move everything by a couple of inches forward or back, to the right or the left. When the person who lived there would get home, their equilibrium would be off by just enough — but never enough to make them consciously aware of what was wrong. B&E aside, you’ve gotta admit — that’s a pretty ingenious way to alter somebody’s entire friggin’ world.

And if there’s one thing Broadley is playing at here, it’s the altering of perceptions — at first glance, for instance, you could be forgiven for thinking we were in Michael Kupperman-esque territory here in a general sense, but that only lasts for a few pages after opening this pocket-sized volume’s silk screen cover to view its rich offset-printed pages. Not only is Broadley’s art far more fluid and way less photo-referenced than Kupperman’s, it’s utilized to entirely different effect. Yeah, Broadley wants you to laugh — and succeeds in getting you to do so — but he’s also out to subvert both expectation and form. The predictable never proves to be so; the established exists only to demonstrate that nothing really is. And if it seems like I’m being vague, I assure you — that’s entirely by design. To give anything about this book away is almost to give away too much.

Certainly, the quality of the cartooning here is above reproach — Broadley has all the basics mastered, and infuses everything with a kind of deadpan personality that takes you off guard even as it quietly dazzles with its sheer technical prowess. His linework is crisp, his textures and shading borderline-elegant, his composition impressive without drawing undue attention to itself. And yet there’s an undercurrent of ingenuity to it all that’s difficult to place until you realize that it’s deployed just as successfully in service of the absurd as it is in service of the everyday — and when the two combine in a given panel (every page being a single-panel illustration), the results are more than a bit magic : as if a quick injection of the bizarre was what was missing all along, and everything and everyone was clearing the way for it in advance. Think of a long-lost relative coming home for dinner — only to discover a place had been set for them the whole time.

Perhaps I’m straining for metaphors here, but that’s only because something singular can occasionally be singularly difficult to describe. Even when it feels like it shouldn’t be. Fortunately, Broadley dispenses with any and all notions of what “should” or “shouldn’t” happen in one of his strips almost immediately, and just keeps going from there.

“Going where?” is, of course, the next natural question, but again the answer is not an easy one — in a pinch, I’d say “to where we’ve been all along,” but that only holds true if we knew where we were in the first place. In a John Broadley comic, nothing is more elusive than certainty, but that doesn’t mean we’re lost — only that anything can happen anywhere and at any time, no matter how pedestrian a set of circumstances may appear.

************************************************************************

Wild For Adventure is available for $12.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/wildadventure.html

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Two From Le Dernier Cri – “Mark Beyer : Sketchbook 2016-17”

Aside from Gary Panter, no artist from the first wave of Raw has been more influential to the generations that came in his wake that Mark Beyer — and, like Panter, he’s never been content to simply rest on his laurels and let his reputation (to say nothing of his back catalogue) do the talking for him. Indeed, although he’s mainly moved into the world of “fine” art that he had one foot in from the outset, his work continues to both challenge and transfix, ever in pursuit of new statements to make and ideas to explore within a stylistic framework that’s immediately recognizable as his own and no one else’s.

Which brings us to the latest Beyer item to make its way into my hands, the Le Dernier Cri-published Mark Beyer : Sketchbook 2016-17, which eschews pretty much anything by way of titles or branding and just plunges you right in at the deep end, offering page after stupefying page of works the artist drew ostensibly for his own edification, but which were probably destined to be let loose into the wild at some point or other, that point being, as it turns out, not terribly long after it was created. Hey, when your stuff’s in demand, it’s in demand — and Beyer’s stuff will always be in demand.

I’m not sure it would be fair to call the contents of this handsomely-printed (silkscreen covers with offset interiors) collection a “departure” or even a “side-step” when it comes to the overall trajectory of Beyer’s still-unfurling artistic project, but it would be eminently fair to say that as far as “variations on a theme” go, they don’t come much more varied than this. With apologies to Norwegian Black Metal pioneers Darkthrone, there is a “ravishing grimness” to many of these illustrations, a determination to show the inner truths that inform the outer actions of folks on the brink — of losing their grip, of suicide, of revelation. Some of the gallows humor we’ve come to expect from Beyer over the decades is present and accounted for here, but in very limited quantities : on the whole, this is dynamically morose stuff that prides itself on peering into corners many of us wish we’d never seen, or at the very least can’t unsee. I’d say read it and weep, but shit, it’s a sketchbook — there’s nothing to read.

Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot to absorb here, mind you — by and large you won’t want to move on from one illustration (I hesitate to call them “sketches” when they’re as fleshed-out as these are) to the next until you’ve taken the time to examine all the nooks and crannies for fear not so much of missing any details (although, sure, you’d be kicking yourself for that) as missing anything that could be further used to limn the artist’s intent. Beyer’s world has always been a fallen one but, to paraphrase the infamous late-night television commercial, is it now a fallen one that can’t get up?

It sure looks that way given that the prospects for survival of many of the subjects herein look pretty damn remote, indeed — but this is no mere catalogue of morbidities and grotesqueries. That would be far too easy, and Beyer’s never been one for keeping things simple. Expect, then, nothing apart from the unexpected — as well as a heavy dose of sheer compositional and imaginative prowess. “Where do your ideas come from?” is the single- most cliched and over-used question in the art world, but nevertheless— if I ever got the chance to meet Beyer, it’s probably be the first thing I asked him, even at the risk of losing what few “cool points” I’ve managed to earn over the years. Some minds, after all, are just so utterly singular that one can’t help but attempt, however clumsily or awkwardly, to plumb their depths at a remove.

Which, come to think of it, is precisely what a project like this is all about : an artist whose prime seems to go on forever presenting us with work that wasn’t produced with a prime time audience — or any audience at all, for that matter — in mind. I may not know where Beyer gets his ideas from, then — but I know it must be someplace as amazingly inspirational as it is haunting and harrowing.

************************************************************************

Mark Beyer : Sketchbook 2016-17 is available for $18.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/markbeyer.html

Review wrist check – Formex “Essence” brown dial model riding a blue Formex strap.

All Cooped Up : Lance Ward’s “A Good Man’s Brother”

Let’s be honest : at this point a person could commit an entire blog to reviewing nothing but quarantine-centric diary comics, simply because so many cartoonists are filling their own blogs with quarantine-centric diary comics themselves. Which is, of course, to be expected given present(-ish) circumstances — but it also means that it’s getting more and more difficult for any particular cartoonist’s quarantine work to stand out from the pack, simply because there’s a real glut of this kind of stuff out there.

Fellow Twin Cities resident Lance Ward needn’t worry, however — autobio has always been his “jam,” as the young folks said a few years back (when they were even younger — but then, so were all of us), and diary comics are often just short-form autobio strips in and of themselves. What makes his new collection of them, A Good Man’s Brother, a bit different than his previous efforts, though, is that rather than concentrating entirely on material that’s either unique to him (as he does in the pages of Flop Sweat) or to those in recovery (as he did in last year’s Blood And Drugs), much of the contents here are pretty well universal, as the physical, mental, and emotional ups and downs of a more isolated, or at the very least socially distant, life are things that almost everyone can relate to at this point.

Ward sets the stage with a bit of pre-COVID stuff, both to help set a tone and to introduce certain life circumstances that will become more pronounced once the lockdown hits, but by and large the bulk of this material was created between late March and early May 2020, so we’re dealing with a tight, hermetic time frame that most of us won’t require too much by way of recall prowess to bring back to the forefront of our minds — and who are we kidding? It’s not like that much has changed between then and now. And yet —

Reading this in the here and now really does plant you firmly back in the then, and while Ward (no surprise) starts things off with daily (or thereabouts) strips about life in his (and our) then-new reality, in due course the effects of a locked down life take precedence over the specifics, and this is actually when things get more interesting : as the pandemic becomes a constant feature of life (hell, the constant feature of life) rather than something to adjust to on the fly, its presence is actually felt even more acutely. Ward responds duly, keeping his creativity sharp by splitting his attentions and following his muse in equal measure. “A Day In The Life”-type content recedes into the background a bit, then, in favor of parodies of “Sunday Funnies”-style strips, a recurring “Diary Input” done on his computer (or tablet, I dunno), annotated sketchbook illustrations, even philosophical musings. There’s still plenty going on that’s about the vagaries of the “COVID mindset,” but more and more what we’re presented with are strips that are the result of it.

Likewise, Ward’s drawing style morphs in accordance with his interests, his trademark heavy linework occasionally finding itself shuffled aside in order to experiment with finely-detailed illustration, classically-influenced cartooning, rapid-fire scrawling, and some time-saving stuff that’s uniform in appearance, sure, but entirely apropos for its subject matter. Obviously, some pages are more successfully-realized than others, but that’s the nature of diary comics even absent a pandemic — and the remarkable thing is that they’re all partially successful to at least one degree or another.

By the time all is said and done, it’s clear that Ward himself is still navigating his way through the morass that is the contemporary world, and even through his reactions to it — including the idea of making comics about it — but just about any artist worth following is usually questioning anything and everything, including themselves and the value (therapeutic or otherwise) of their work. It’s that fearlessness and honesty that Ward displays, then — not just when it comes to dealing with the pandemic, but with issues that will surely outlast it — that ensures that, although quarantine comics will be with us for as long as the quarantine is, in years to come, when I feel the need to remind myself what all of this was like, this is the one I’ll turn to.

************************************************************************

Lance Ward is selling A Good Man’s Brother via Amazon’s (sorry) print-on-demand program. You can order one up for $10.00 by going to https://www.amazon.com/Good-Mans-Brother-Lance-Ward/dp/B08BWCBMGN

Review wrist check – Tsao Baltimore “Torsk Diver” green dial model riding an Ocean Crawler black-and-orange NATO strap.

“Multiforce Shit” Is GOOD Shit

Culled from the pages of Providence’s legendary Paper Rodeo from 1995-2001, Fort Thunder alumnus Mat Brinkman’s Multiforce Shit is every bit the collection of curiosities one would expect, given that it’s an “odds and ends” compendium on its face — but who are we kidding here? The words “expect” and “Brinkman” don’t really belong in the same zip code together, much less the same sentence.

Italy’s Hollow Press — who recently issued a handsome, oversized hardcover collection of Brinkman’s Multiforce strips — were wise to go the completist route by assembling all this sidebar “shit” into this top-notch mini with production values to match the quality of its contents (archival quality cream-colored paper, heavy-duty cardstock covers with bronze-embossed exteriors covers and silver-embossed interiors), but this is no mere historical curiosity or relic of days gone by. That would be cool, but hardly essential, and I would submit that any assemblage of “prime era” Brinkman — even if it’s largely composed of quickly-dashed-off stuff — is very essential indeed.

Most of what we have herein falls somewhere in that nebulous and exciting nether-realm that exists somewhere between a sketch and a full-fledged drawing, with some homemade “ads” for Multiforce “proper” at the back, and the extra level of immediacy such “anything goes” material brings to the table both fleshes out and adds depth to our knowledge of Brinkman’s unique creative process at the height of his cartooning prowess — and, given that he was one of Fort Thunder’s unofficial “standard bearers,” we get a privileged look at the often-inspired flotsam and jetsam that was hovering around in the hermetically-sealed zeitgeist of that legendary collective’s heyday. If some of this feels a little bit familiar, then, it’s only because these cartoonists were laying down the gauntlet that other artists spent years attempting to pick up and run with, usually with wildly varying degrees of success. And hey — given that we have no idea when, or even if, Brinkman will ever return to comics, having access to as much of his stuff as possible can only be a good thing, right?

A fair number of these illustrations are suffused with Brinkman’s decidedly off-kilter and bizarre humor, of course, but some seem to make no particular statement at all, funny or otherwise, and to me that stuff — sorry, that shit — might be the most interesting on offer, in that there’s nothing propelling them forward beyond their own ideas and energy. If you’re not into seeing what happens when a cartoonist is just throwing a bunch of (here’s that word again) shit at the walls to see what sticks, then fair enough, this mini may not be for you, but in all honestly you needn’t be a Fort Thunder aficionado to appreciate both the conceptualization and execution of sheer mind-to-hand-to-pen-to-paper creative expression presented on these pages — just someone who appreciates unmediated, unfiltered cartooning for its own sake.

Certainly there’s no way Brinkman ever conceived of any of this as being anything other than more or less spur-of-the-moment stuff, and so it’s necessarily a bit rough around the edges, but that’s also the source of its strong DIY ethos. If it’s in you, get it out — and hey, if folks like it, so much the better. If not, oh well, there’s still no doubt about its sincerity and authenticity. Comics that are made simply because somebody felt like making some comics? It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that, no matter how inexplicable some of those comics may be.

The only thing better than reading or looking at Mat Brinkman’s work is mainlining it straight from his consciousness to your own — until such advanced thought-transfer technology is available, though, this book is the next best thing.

************************************************************************

Multiforce Shit is available for $13.00 from Floating World Comics at https://floatingworldcomics.com/shop/art-books/multiforce-shit-by-mat-brinkman

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my ongoing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Work Is Hell : “Eddie The Office Goblin” #1

Work is a death trap, and we all know it. If your job doesn’t kill you directly, it’ll likely kill you indirectly — either by means of stress-related conditions such as ulcers, repeated-motion fatigue and attendant joint decomposition/arthritis, heart disease, various work-induced cancers or, in a pinch, maybe you’ll get yourself killed in a car accident going to work, from work, or to or from some other place, such as a bar, hoping to forget about work for a little while. However you slice it, the minute you start punching a time clock, that clock is ticking against you.

In some cases, however, the connection between employment and death is a pretty straight line — like, what if your workplace literally sits atop a portal to hell? Which brings us to the first self-published mini (that I’m aware of, at any rate) from Michigan-based cartoonist Chris Russ, Eddie The Office Goblin #1.

Physically, it’s an impressive enough little specimen — full-color, fairly nice paper — but it’s Russ’ unhinged imagination that really helps this stand out from the pack, as he unfurls the contents of his id to give us an office that includes such accoutrements as talking statues, doorways made of skulls, multi-eyed and Cyclopean demons, lava sharks, and blank-featured wraiths. He renders all of these in a crisp and inviting style, complete with colored pencil- and Crayon-style hues, and while pretty much every figure he conjures forth is humanoid in appearance, none of them appear to be strictly human, per se.

Still, even for all the ghosts and goblins (including, of course, our ostensible hero), it’s the ever-present spectre of the clock and the schedule that is the most frightening monster of all here, as is the case with any workplace. After all, whoever is in control of your time is in control of your life — and anyone who wants that degree of power over you is a true ghoul, whether they look the part or not.

So, yeah — points for originality here, even if much of it is originality in service of pointing out a number of fairly obvious truisms. Where Russ runs into a bit of trouble, however, is with his pacing and narrative flow — these are skills that take any cartoonist some time to develop, so I’m willing to sit back and see how his maturate over time, but we’ve got splash pages here that would be better off as smaller panels on multi-panel pages on the one hand, smaller panels on multi-panel pages that would be better off as splash pages on the other, and some curious choices in terms of depth and perspective in certain images. None of these are “deal-breakers,” as the saying goes, but taken in total they make for something of a disjointed reading experience that’s likely a few pages longer than it needs to be — even if it’s fairly short as is. Still, in the end (for now, at ay rate) he does get us from A to B and leaves us with a reasonably juicy cliffhanger.

So what the heck? I’m down for more, and fully expect that “more” will continue to improve. I’ll also be reading subsequent issues while I’m on the clock at work, just as I did with this one.

************************************************************************

I’m not sure how much Chris Russ charges for a single issue of Eddie The Office Goblin, but you can ask him — as well as check out some more sample pages — by going over to his twitter page, which can be found at https://twitter.com/ChrisJRuss

Review wrist check – Monta “Atlas” blue dial model riding a BluShark green and red “Pajama Stretch” strap.