Rhythm And Resonance : E.A. Bethea’s “Forlorn Toreador”

There’s a lot of talk these days about comics as poetry (or at least more than there used to be), but E.A. Bethea’s ‘zine’s have been comfortably aligning themselves  within that classification for a long time — even if they they don’t, in and of themselves, present literal poems all that often per se. And while her latest self-published opus, Forlorn Toreador, is perhaps the most confident and assured distillation of her singular ethos yet, again there’s not a poem to be found within it, yet the sum total of its contents plays out very much like an extended one.

Alternating between emotive text pieces, full-page portrait illustrations, and Bethea’s trademark scrawled-with-heartfelt-precision comic strips, the book has a transitional fluidity to it that’s more intuitive than it is strictly explicit, more exploratory than it is declarative. Much of the work is tinged with more than a hint of nostalgia — as the title itself implies — but this is no rote trip down memory lane; rather, whether she’s reminiscing on her lukewarm exposure to religion as a kid, famous pro wrestlers of the past, places that once meant something but are now gone, or beloved TV personalities that have passed away, Bethea’s ruminations on the past are employed as a means of understanding her present, a forensic exploration of where she’s been in order to better locate where she is now.

Which, I promise, is nowhere near as pretentious as I perhaps make it sound. In fact, Bethea trusts her own muse — wherever it may take her — so implicitly that what probably, by rights, should feel like a lot of unfocused bobbing and weaving instead finds expression as a cogent through-line that takes all its various and sundry ingredients as necessary components of a holistic worldview, one in which the past is never truly gone, and the lessons to be learned from it have a hell of a lot more to do with cleaving (however fruitlessly) to its temperament than they do with preserving it in a physical sense. In fact, part of the wistful beauty of these places and people and events that have come and gone is to be found within the fact that they are, indeed, no more — their transitory nature itself lending them a kind of mystique that permanence loses probably by definition.

Dense both verbally and conceptually, the vignettes on offer here are nevertheless pleasurable — even sublime — by nature, as they feel very much direct and unmediated : a transcribing of art via consciousness, sure, but also perhaps by a kind of “muscle memory” centered in the heart, each pencil or pen stroke communicating a kind of intimate knowledge of Bethea’s subjects not so much based on who and what they are or were but, more importantly, what they meant to her and mean to her still. This is no easy feat, I assure you, and I’m tempted to say that the ability to transmit this sensation to readers is something you simply either have or don’t, but maybe that’s just because it comes so naturally to this particular artist — I have no doubt that she works hard at her craft and pores over any given page for hours, but the finished “product” is imbued with such immediacy that you could be fooled into thinking she simply sits down, pours it all out of her, and moves on.

Except for the fact that, of course, “moving on” isn’t what Bethea’s work is about and never has been. Each and every person she’s encountered, each place she’s been, every movie she’s seen or song she’s heard — it’s all in her still, and all of it is worthy of examination. Not with a microscope, mind you, but via the very human process of memory itself, which is never so much about an exacting recollection of details as it is an arranging of those details in order of personal importance. We are, each of us, editors of the ongoing film that is our life, and that sort of individual interpretive analysis of the things that have made us who we are has seldom been represented more beautifully than it is in this at-first-glance-unassuming ‘zine.

This is one of those rare occasions where my stash of superlatives well and truly runs dry, and I feel like the best thing I can do is tell you to get this book and get out of your way — it’s an experience suffuse with familiarity (sometimes vague, sometimes more concrete), sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s like anything you’ve seen or read before.

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Forlorn Toreador is available for $10.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/forlorn.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 ongoing work, so please take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

Mining The Past For Clues About The Present : Jeff Zenick’s “2016-1960”

Jeff Zenick’s art ‘zines are always an intriguing enigma, specializing as they do in portrait illustrations that tease out the essential truths of people, locales, and even eras with a kind of intuitive eye for what matters most — his heavy, thick line (often, it appears to this critic, rendered directly in ink, maybe even magic marker) accentuating the “macro” elements of a person’s facial features while downplaying, frequently even bypassing, the “micro” details that would benefit from, even require, a finer line. The result is a quietly breathtaking blend of “big picture” accuracy with singular expressionism, pictures of other people that are clearly and indisputably the product of one artist’s sensibilities.

What all this means is that Zenick is uniquely positioned to do something not too many can — tell a thematically and conceptually dense story while eschewing narrative altogether. He sells the scope of his ever-evolving project short in the introduction he pens for his latest, 2016-1960, a self-published selection of high school and college yearbook portraits covering the years mentioned and arranged in the reverse chronology the title suggests, but otherwise provides just the right sort of preamble to put readers in the frame of mind necessary to feel, as opposed to merely “understand,” his aims. And while the notion of sixty densely-packed pages of small illustrations might seem a bit much, in truth it’s just the right amount to really flesh out the overall social history of our country that the book represents.

It only takes a few pages to start really getting into a “groove” as a reader with what’s happening, as subtle differences in people’s appearances become more pronounced over time and regional genetic traits begin to manifest themselves fully to the eye. By the halfway point of the book you can pretty well guess which part of the country is being featured on a given page without looking at the captions Zenick provides at the bottom, but his commitment to accuracy is nonetheless appreciated, and I can only imagine the reaction a person whose “picture from way back when” would have if they found themselves in here. A mix of delight and genuine surprise, most likely, with maybe a little bit of embarrassment at their hairstyle or choice in eyewear?

In any case, a kind of rhythm really does settle in as you pore through the contents herein, and a clear through-line from the present (-ish) to the past comes to the fore that goes beyond what the calendar year tells, and even what surface-level modes of dress and appearance belie — the people come to reflect the times and vice-versa, and what has remained the same stands out every bit as much as what’s changed. Very little about society as a whole circa 2016 resembled society as a whole circa 1960, it’s true, but individual people? Maybe we have more in common with folks from previous generations than we think.

Clearly, this modest ‘zine provides fodder for a lot of reflection, and rewards the act of spending time with it, but it would be a mistake to believe that it’s an inherently nostalgic piece of work, even if at first it likely sounds it. Rather, it’s a holistic and comprehensive visual representation of both who we were and who we are, and consequently offers a springboard for the imagination to visualize where we’re going. Only the most immediate and unmediated art has the capability to engender such a complex series of responses, and it helps an awful lot that Zenick seems to draw every bit as much with his heart as he does with his hand and his brain — hell, if you want to pull off something like this and really do it right, all three have to equally engaged.

If, then, I might be so bold as to offer a piece of advice to prospective readers beyond a simple “hell yes you should buy this,” I would suggest settling in with a cup of coffee or your warm beverage of choice and make an evening of this book. Let it wash over and through you, pore over each image, and understand that a portrait is an image not just of a person, but of the life they’ve lived and the future they are (or were, as the case may be) dreaming of. It’s true for each of us, and it’s true for the sum total of all of us.

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2016-1960 is available for $6.00 from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half distro at http://www.spitandahalf.com/product/2016-1960-by-jeff-zenick/

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 music for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my ongoing work, so do please take a moment to give it a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/10/2019 – 11/16/2019

After a week off to attend the superb Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle, the Round-Up is back, and we’ve got four first issues to take a look at because, hey, every week at your LCS there are at least four “number ones,” if not more, are there not? It sure as hell seems like it —

First off, Joe Hill’s horror comics imprint at DC, Hill House, gives us The Dollhouse Family #1 by the veteran pairing of Mike Carey (here writing, for reasons unknown, under the pretentious moniker of “M.R. Carey”) and Peter Gross, joined this time out by the criminally under-utilized Vince Locke, who for my money has always been — and remains — one of the most distinctive artists working in the comics mainstream. Gross is credited with “layouts,” Locke with “finishes,” which means this looks to be about 75% Locke, at least, and that’s a good thing because his creepy, expressive, and highly atmospheric style is just plain perfect for the always-reliable Carey’s immediately-engrossing script about a fracturing family with a unique heirloom that may be at the source of all their troubles. In an unpredictable world, it’s good to have something you can always count on, and any book by these three exceptionally solid pros is at the very least going to get the job done, plus interest, and there are any number of brash “up-and-comers” who would do well to pay attention to what these guys are doing here, because this is a veritable clinic on how to grab readers right away with a new horror concept — and it’s a safe bet that subsequent issues will be every bit as good as this one was.

And while we’re on the subject of DC sub-labels, Gerard Way’s Young Animal this week serves up a highly-publicized debut of their own with Far Sector #1, the story of a Green Lantern in the far future called in to solve a murder on a planet with no crime to speak of, by the superstar pairing of best-selling genre novelist N.K. Jemison and Naomi co-creator Jamal Campbell. Jemison shows why she’s one of the more popular authors in the sci-fi game at the moment with this well-crafted script that’s rich with well-thought-through “world building” while Campbell, who does both line art and color, ups his game to match the material by turning out one eye-catching, sleek as hell page after another. This is a great-looking book with a fundamentally sound story and I’m more than happy to consider myself “all in” for the entire 12-issue run.

And just to keep the sub-imprint theme going, Marvel’s largely-moribund Max Comics line pops its head back above water for Punisher : Soviet #1, which marks Garth Ennis’ welcome return to the character he does better than anyone else, this time joined by Providence artist Jacen Burrows, who is fast turning into the contemporary master of “clean-line” comic book art. Frank Castle vs. the Russian Mafia is a natural, of course, but when there’s somebody else out there who’s doing an even better job of being Frank Castle than he is himself — well, that adds an intriguing wrinkle into the mix. This is bad-ass stuff that may just be the most fun read of the week, and Burrows is an inspired choice for a Punisher yarn. I am so down for this.

And to finish off back where we started, at least in a thematic sense, we go from Stephen King’s kid to a pretty damn respectable Stephen King impersonation performed by Jeff Lemire in Image’s Family Tree #1. Lemire checks all the usual boxes pretty well by setting his story in a small Maine town, giving us a good flavor of the place, introducing us in short-hand form to all the principal players (in this case an over-burdened single mom and her kids), and then tossing in elements of the supernatural, in this case a mysterious local outbreak turning folks into — errrmmm — tree-people. But the answer to the problem may be hidden in the — errrmmm again — titular family tree of the protagonist clan themselves, as the last-second appearance of grandpa would indicate. This is fairly by-the-numbers stuff, which does sorta seem to be the Lemire specialty these days, but it hit all the right notes for me, and the art by Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur — who have collaborated on a few projects together in the past — suits the mood and atmosphere quite nicely. Nothing overly spectacular, but a plenty solid read.

And there you have it, all that’s left at this point being to remind you folks that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon site, where I regale you with three new and exclusive posts per week on all things comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a buck a month. Please help support my ongoing work by subscribing at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Grace Kroll’s “Tulpa” : That Voice In Your Head Is Getting Louder —

To the extent that I understand the term, a tulpa is an independent thoughtform created by a person that shares their brain but has thoughts, feelings, etc. of its own. Tibetan monks were — and may still be — big on these things, and David Lynch’s interest in their teachings and traditions undoubtedly played a big part in the inclusion of tulpas (or is that tulpae?) in Twin Peaks : The Return, although he added the twist of giving them actual, physical reality by means of rather standard hair-and-blood magickal conjuring. That’s how we ended up with three different versions of Special Agent Dale Cooper. But I guess that’s neither here nor there for purposes of this review, as the one in the comic we’re here to take a look at, Seattle-based cartoonist Grace Kroll’s self-published Tulpa, exists purely within her mind — and isn’t exactly the most welcome of guests.

A kind of incorporeal manifestation of Kroll’s doubts, insecurities, neuroses, and anxieties rolled up into one entirely unhelpful package, her own tulpa’s lack of physicality doesn’t preclude it from being a massive pain in the ass, and a kind of permanent obstacle to the ability of its host/creator to find not just happiness, but even simple contentment. In fact, if it had a body, it would probably be easier to deal with, because then you could at least just shoot the damn thing.

Which is probably me being too jocular by half in relation to this material, because truth be told this is one damn harrowing read — and yes, that’s meant as a compliment. Kroll wisely prefaces her comic with something of an oblique “content warning” on the inside front cover, and proceeds to give us 24 pages that prove why such a disclaimer was necessary : even by autobio standards this is remarkably frank and unvarnished stuff, and likely as therapeutic in practice as it clearly was in production. Whether she’s at the gym, having trouble getting out of bed, interacting with others socially, or bound and gagged on a sofa, our protagonist/authorial stand-in’s constant companion is always throwing freezing cold water on things, which affords us the opportunity to look at any and every situation presented from a “pro” and “con” perspective, and to recognize the gulf that needs to be crossed in order for Kroll’s own tendencies toward self-care and self-harm to somehow, finally, reconcile. Analytically, she has a firm grasp on what she’s doing and why at all times — her frank dissection of the healthy psychological benefits of consensual BDSM is particularly welcome and frankly long overdue — but oh, how the ghost of her own negative self-image, given a distinct persona and voice of its own, lingers. And casts zingers. And always, and I do mean always, points fingers.

Those fingers are aimed squarely at the artist herself, of course, depicted here in a form that’s recognizably human but with just a dash of anthropomorphic animal, perhaps even alien, characteristics, further cementing the notion one arrives at early on that, at least visually, Kroll appears to be giving herself a little bit of “breathing room” between self and subject visually that the narrative itself, by design, in no way provides for. It’s an understandable move, as well as a smart one — after all, we’d also like to hope that our ostensible heroine’s internal world isn’t in quite as extreme a state of constant struggle as it would appear to be, even though we know that hope is likely to be entirely in vain.

Even with all this in mind, though, we may as well address the elephant in the room by admitting that “yeah, I know I’m fucked up” is almost the default setting for autobiographical comics these days, and has been for some time. The key difference here, however, is that Kroll doesn’t play for sympathy so much as actively earn it — her cartooning is so inherently strong and expressive that it reaches out and touches readers at their core without resorting to cheap sentimentality or deliberately manipulative exaggeration. I mean, take a look at the pages reproduced here and tell me that her sublime use of shading, her expressive body language, her rich faces don’t hit you right where you live. There’s maybe a hint of Carol Swain at one margin and of Remy Boydell at the other, but this is unique and expertly-crafted illustration that has a living, beating heart at is core, and is more than capable of picking up the responsibility of most of the storytelling duties, leaving Kroll free to be selective and sparse with her dialogue and captions in each of the interconnected — though not necessarily linear — vignettes that comprise this book’s slim (but no less powerful for that fact — quite the reverse, actually) contents.

Acts of self-aggrandizement are common as dirt in the autobio game, acts of genuine self-reflection considerably less so. Kroll leaves them both in the dust, however, by committing an act of sheer and unmitigated bravery with this comic, and it’s no bullshit to say that for someone suffering though the same or similar issues relating to their own self-actualization and even sense of self-worth, this is a book that has the power to potentially save their life. Not by offering the usual “things will get better” bullshit, but by letting any reader in such a position know that they’re not alone, and that there are voices other than that of their own tulpa that are worth listening to, that understand, that have been there — and may even be there still. The road could very well never get easier, but art offers a way to at least communicate anguish, if not resolve and/or banish it, and this particular work of art does so with more forthright honesty and integrity than any I’ve come across in a good long while.

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Tulpa is available for $5.00 directly from Grace Kroll at https://ingestpress.bigcartel.com/product/tulpa

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 please give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

See It Or Fold : Casanova Frankenstein’s “Tad Martin” #7

So here’s the thing — I’ve reviewed this comic on this site already. But I haven’t reviewed this comic on this site already.

I realize that demands an explanation, so by way of such : Casanova Frankenstein self-published a “rough cut” of the book that would later become Tad Martin #7 in the form of something called The Adventures Of Tad Martin Super-Secret Special #1 about a year or so back and, being a junkie for all things featuring comics’ most endearing junkie character, I jumped on it right away, loved it every bit as much as I was figuring I would, and gave it a glowing write-up — that I’d actually prefer you not to read, hence the absence of any link to it.

The reason for that is simple : this is the way this comic was meant to be experienced. Austin English’s Domino Books pulled out all the stops for this version, knowing they had something truly memorable, unique, and maybe even combustible on their hands : oversized format, high-quality paper, heavy cover stock, and best of all — full, searing color. Get a ten dollar bill out of your wallet now, because you’re gonna be itching to spend it on this by the time we’re through here.

The ostensible focus of Frankenstein’s wordless narrative herein is a Halloween story entitled — well, “A Halloween Story,” but the vaguely degenerate costume bash that bad attitude king Tad attends is really just a springboard into an amputee (in the mental and emotional, as well as physical sense of that word) abyss, a phantasmagoria of wonders both parochial and profound, and of horrors both plain as day and thematically, conceptually complex; the sort of hellscape that draws you in with a veiled whisper backed up by a gravitational pull of inexorable strength, with no signposts to be found anywhere on the way down. Rest assured, though : if there are “off-ramps” branching off from this highway to hell, none of them are any safer than the straight descent itself.

Frankenstein has always managed to do something different in each of his outings with Tad over their nearly three decades “together,” but this represents the purest dystopian vision of both artist and protagonist yet, the harrowing autobio of the most recent iteration of the sporadic series, #sicksicksix, abandoned in favor of something even more honest and immediate : a direct transmission from id to pencil, pen, and brush to paper. If you want to know what it feels like to mainline a cartoonist’s nightmares, you’ve come to the right place.

And while we’re talking cartooning, Frankenstein’s has never been stronger — inky blacks thick as night, detailed yet not belabored figure drawings and faces, page layouts that bob and weave between the highly traditional and utterly innovative, demonic apparitions and entities rendered with an understated virtuosity that implies (or maybe even directly states) intimate first-hand knowledge of same. The recent — and highly recommended — Fantagraphics Underground collection In The Wilderness showed what Frankenstein was up to when the comics world assumed he was up to nothing, and this is the fully-formed work that emerged from the other end of his self-imposed “exile on main street” : a staggeringly confident and visceral, inimitable statement of artistic intent that is through taking prisoners and is, instead, well and truly out for its pound of flesh.

And yet anger seldom seems to enter into the equation : rather, Tad’s stock in trade is a kind of emotional hedonism, a desire to experience all aspects of life through the eyes of others while fronting a passive and observational bit of play-acting himself. On the one hand, yeah, he could give a fuck about everyone and everything; on the other, he can’t resist an open door into your most intimate secrets, fears, foibles, and even kinks. He shows up to the Halloween party by himself but only because, one way or another, he’s taking everybody with him wherever he’s going next.

And while it would be saying too much to give away just where that is, much less whether or not both it and the journey to it are “real” as we understand that term, it doesn’t actually matter either way : our ticket’s been punched, and we’re along for the ride. It’s not an easy one, not a pleasant one, and most certainly not a guided one despite being in the company of an infamous ne’er do well  — but by the time it’s all said and done, you’ll realize it was never about him anyway, at least not in the direct, literal sense ; on the contrary, it’s about you, as a reader, being pushed well outside your “comfort zone” and seeing the infernal and heretical for what it’s always been : a reflection that shows all as it really is, and that accrues ever more power and mystique to itself the more we refuse to acknowledge it as such.

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Tad Martin #7 is available for $10 from Domino Books at http://dominobooks.org/tadmartin7.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 ongoing work, so please do yourself — and me — a favor by checking it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

RIP Tom Spurgeon

The comics world has been understandably and justifiably reeling since news broke of the untimely death of Tom Spurgeon on Nov. 13th, 2019 at the far-too-young age of 50. The tributes that have been pouring in on twitter and facebook have run the gamut, with everyone from indie luminaries to guys who inked a few pages for Marvel or DC once upon a time paying their respects, and taken in total all of them show the remarkable reach Mr. Spurgeon had in every corner of the industry. I don’t have any personal anecdotes about him to share, never having met him in face to face, but we did correspond online occasionally and I found him to be more than helpful and encouraging in my early days of comics criticism, as well as sharp and insightful in his plainly-stated suggestions for improvement. He called it like he saw it at all times, and while that occasionally ruffled some feathers, the fact remains that he made time for those who reached out to him, and everything he said, no matter how brusquely delivered, was done with the aim of getting people to “up their game” and deliver the kind of work he knew they were capable of.

He also backed up the talk with literally decades worth of quality work on his own part — a superb interviewer as well as critic, Tom was arguably the best editor The Comics Journal ever had, the trailblazing mastermind of “must-read” news website The Comics Reporter, writer of the syndicated strip Wildwood, author of a terrific “warts and all” Stan Lee biography, and executive director of CXC, probably the most innovative comics festival in the country in that it annually brings together small-press and self-published creators along with established “Big Two” superstars, truly showcasing everything this diverse medium has to offer.

So, yeah, the term “Renaissance Man” definitely applies in this case, as Tom was known, liked, and respected every bit as much at San Diego Comic-Con as he was at, say, SPX or CAKE. His love of comics encompassed everything from newspaper strips to minicomics to super-hero stuff, and he was a meticulous historian and tireless champion of creators’ rights who had a strong and abiding passion for exposing the industry’s seedy ethical past — and present. If you worked in comics, in any capacity, this guy was on your side.

Of course, when a person is as intimately involved in so many facets of “the scene” for so long a period, not everything is going to come together quite the way one wants it to, and Tom took some heat for never launching the “new” journalism project his Patreon was ostensibly established to help fund, but I think most subscribers were cool with the idea that their cash was going into the considerable amount of work he already had going, and while the Fantagraphics “doorstop” anniversary book he started out overseeing turned into something of an overly-obvious “victory lap” once he stepped away from it, the segments that bore his stamp of authorship clearly stood out from the rest of the contents. CXC itself also didn’t necessarily  live up to his lofty expectations, but most attendees have lavished the event with praise over the years, and Tom is to be credited for establishing important standards such as a “zero tolerance” policy for harassment at the show well before other festivals saw the necessity of such things.

To say it wasn’t always easy for (and with) Tom is undoubtedly true, but he went where his razor-sharp instincts took him and along the way he broke important stories, gave many cartoonists valuable exposure, founded outlets that evolved into industry cornerstones, nurtured many a career, and shone a light on historical injustices and discrepancies that desperately called out for it. I’d be very hard-pressed indeed to name a person who did more for comics, and the people who make them, than he did — and if it weren’t for the example he set, truth be told, I’m not even sure I’d be doing what I am today, since he consistently demonstrated that doing it yourself, and doing it your own way, was always the best way to go in the comics world, and that if you stuck to your principles, you’d earn the respect of your peers.

Tom certainly earned a hell of a lot of it himself, and even a healthy amount of admiration, to boot — he certainly had mine, and his passing leaves a void that I don’t think will ever be filled by a single person. I wish I’d gotten the chance to know him better, but I knew him through his exemplary work, and that work not only spoke for itself, it spoke volumes — about his ethics, his standards, his abilities, and his genuine love for the comics medium.

“One Minute To Wonderland” : A Quick And Worthwhile Trip

Single-panel comics are a tough game to make a go of it in — especially if you’re going for something more, or at least other, than a quick laugh — but in his second self-published collection of them, the just-released One Minute To Wonderland, Denver-based cartoonist Karl Christian Krumpholz builds on the strong foundation he established in his previous go-’round, The City Was Never Going To Let Go, and manages to do something quietly extraordinary : breathe real depth, character, and dimension into people and situations we meet for only the briefest of moments.

Not that you wouldn’t be well-advised to spend at least a bit of time lingering over his expressive, intuitively-intricate illustrations, mind you : already well-established as arguably the definitive delineator of the modern socio-economic urban landscape in sequential form, Krumpholz is fast learning to translate those skills into “one-off” drawings — all of which are admittedly of a piece, but each of which expresses a truly distinct interpretation of city life on or near the broadly-defined “margins.” You want the real deal? This book is it.

As an overall aesthetic experience, it’s pretty hard to argue with what Krumpholz has cooked up here : presented in a unique 8.5″ x 5.5″ format on slick yellowed paper between heavy cardstock covers, this comic’s horizontal orientation offers the drawings contained within it plenty of room to spread out, giving a wonderfully contrasting “macro” feel to the “micro” interior worlds they frequently communicate, the end result being a collection that captures both the feel and look of densely-populated urban living and the uneasy place of the individuals attempting to make a go of holding onto a sense of self in the face of sometimes-overwhelming odds. Some opt to stand out, others to blend in, but each person has a story to tell, and those stories are often at the their most raw, powerful, and immediate when communicated via this sort of verbal and visual shorthand.

Krumpholz has been playing with various shades of blue as his accentuating color of choice for some time, and that experience really shows here, its placement being uniformly well-considered and drawing the eye toward important information that isn’t necessarily and/or immediately obvious — color choices are an interesting thing to consider even in far less-skilled hands than this, it’s true, but herein they rise to the level of being a living, breathing character in and of themselves, and trust me when I say that only sounds pretentious “AF.” Again, there’s nothing preventing you from getting the general gist of things in this book by means of a breakneck initial pass-through — indeed, I might even recommend doing so in order to absorb its contents in an emotive “rush” — but go back to the start after you’ve hit the end and do it all over again, this time taking in every facet of every drawing. I guarantee you’ll be glad that you did.

Commutes are a constant theme in Krumpholz’ comics, particularly those undertaken by means of mass transit, but so are those moments when when all is still, quiet, and a person is fixed to and/or in a certain spot. The one thing both motion and lack thereof have in common in these slices of life, though, is that the minds of the individual “protagonists” we’re presented with are far from quiet, whether they’re engaged in taking in their immediate surroundings or off on flights of fancy to places far away. Peace always feels hard-won, and momentary at best, but even when it arrives, Krumpholz’ characters seem to be girding for their next action, whatever it may be. Much, I suppose, as many of us probably do — so keep that in mind the next time your significant other says you have difficulty being “present,” I would suggest, and adjust accordingly.

Still, relationship advice is pretty far removed from what you visit this site for, and rightly so. That being said, the fact that Krumpholz’ comics offer still-life portrayals of so many things we can all relate to, reflect upon, and even learn from is testament to their power and efficacy — and whether you spend five minutes with his newest collection or five hours, either way it’s an experience you’re sure to remember.

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One Minute To Wonderland is available for $10 from Birdcage Bottom Books at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/one-minute-to-wonderland

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