The small press/”alternative” comics world is in mourning this week — and will remain so, frankly, for some time to come — due to the tragic recent passing of Mark Campos, and while I didn’t know Mark “personally” beyond some social media interaction over the years, I enjoyed our brief conversations, as well as his work, and I know that he was one of the unheralded “glue guys” who held the scene (particularly the Seattle scene) together, and whose influence and mentoring helped others who came along after him more fully realize their own cartooning potential. His death definitely leaves a big void in the community, and there are a lot of heavy hearts out there, so it only seemed fitting to tip my own hat to him before delving into my weekly “wrap” column. For a more thorough tribute by those who knew him far better than I, head on over to TCJ, where you’ll find a long-form salute to both the man and his work right up top of the site. All I’m qualified to do from here is to offer my condolences to his family and friends and recommend that those who may be unfamiliar with his work definitely check it out because he had a singular voice that will never be duplicated.
Problem is, most of his comics were self-published efforts with very small print runs that didn’t receive much distribution beyond the Seattle area. His most readily-available book for readers in other parts of the country/world is probably the anthology collection Moxie, My Sweet, which features a handful of stories written by him and illustrated by an all-star collection of small-press luminaries, and while it doesn’t offer the “full Campos” experience given that he didn’t draw any of the strips contained in its pages, it’s still a damn fine collection that comes highly recommended, so do yourself a favor and grab a copy if you don’t have one — and as an aside, if there are any “connected” readers out there who know where and how I might be able to track down a copy of his latest (and, sadly, last), 2017’s Casino Son, please let me know as I have been trying to get my hands on it for some little time now.
Beyond that, not sure what else I can, or even should, say other than rest in peace, good sir, and know that you are deeply missed by many who were enriched by your presence in their lives. You made a difference, you left a mark, and your legacy lives on.
As far as new releases from the past week go, the second issue of the Eric Reynolds-edited Fantagraphics anthology Now hit stores this past Wednesday, and while I found its contents to be something of a mixed bag, the standout strips (Dash Shaw’s “Ford,” Tommi Musturi’s “Samuel,” Anuj Strestha’s “National Bird,” Joseph Remnant’s “Photo Case”) were either utterly sublime, absolutely spectacular, or both — and, as with the first issue, even the misfires (Andrice Arp’s “I Need Some Purchase,” James Turek’s “Saved”) didn’t come up short for like of trying and had interesting concepts at their core that simply missed the mark in terms of overall execution. 120 pages of eclectic and visionary cartooning for 10 bucks is still a fantastic bargain any way you slice it, and on the whole I like the direction Reynolds is taking with this series — no themes, no unifying strands, no particular statements being made, each issue apparently just concerned with presenting a varied and interesting assortment of unique comics from around the world in a format friendly to consumers and their wallets that doesn’t cut corners in terms of its production values, but doesn’t overdo its presentation (hardcover, ludicrous size, etc.) either. It’s economical, sure, but in no way done “on the cheap.” Every decade needs a great anthology to call its own, a product of the talents of its time that captures and establishes in equal measure the spirit of the contemporary zeitgeist — this is it.
Just a couple months back Dark Horse re-issued Troy Nixey and Mike Mignola’s Jenny Finn in single-issue format (and, crucially, in color for the first time), and in my capsule review of the first issue in this very column I mentioned that it would be nice to see Nixey get behind the drawing board for something new again — well, that something new is here in the form of Vinegar Teeth (also from Dark Horse), a new four-parter (I think, at any rate) that the publisher has billed as “Lovecraft meets Lethal Weapon.” Make of that what you will, but I found the first installment to be pretty promising in terms of its combination of the grotesque with the humorous, and I look forward to seeing where it all goes. For the time being the fictitious Brick City locale, a weirdly effective mash-up of the modern and the Victorian, is probably of more interest on the whole than the broadly-drawn characters within it, most of whom are of the two-dimensional cipher variety, but it’s early days yet and more oozing, creeping fleshing-out of the principal players is sure to come. Hardest of the cast to get a handle on is probably the titular protagonist himself, who seems to be something of a fuck-up Cthulhu, but Nixey and co-writer Damon Gentry appear to have a solid handle on the comedic timing of his (accidental) actions, and the art in this comic is just plain fantastic. I’m in for the duration, but budget-minded readers may be just as effectively served, if not moreso, by waiting for the inevitable trade.
Last, but certainly not least, we come to Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivela’s Abbott #1, the first of a four-part series from Boom! Studios. Ahmed is best known as a sci-fi novelist, and certainly his other comics project of recent vintage, Marvel’s Black Bolt (with art by Christian Ward) falls more firmly within his genre wheelhouse, but damn if he doesn’t prove in just 22 pages here that he’s anything but a “one-trick pony.” This comic plants you right in its world (1972 Detroit) right off the bat, and protagonist Elena Abbott is the most immediately-engrossing character I’ve come across in a “major independent” book in some time. Ahmed has clearly put a lot of thought into her realization, and while the blaxploitation influence on this story is hardly hidden, Abbott’s not just some Pam Grier clone, and the situation she fins herself in is more The Serpent And The Rainbow than it is Friday Foster. All of which means, I suppose, that comparisons to Sugar Hill are likely inevitable, but for my money I think the vibe Ahmed’s going for is more an occult take on Detroit 9000. We shall see, but all signs point in that direction.
As for the art, Kivela’s got the whole gritty thing down — the world he’s drawing looks and feels very much “lived in” and he manages to convey plenty of authenticity without, it would seem, falling back on the crutch of photo-referencing too heavily. Abbott has a visual style to match its script and its protagonist — real, resonant, and right in the middle of it all, and while the socio-political climate portrayed is very much of the “vintage” variety, the issues at its core are hardly dated. Hell, the depressing truth is that they’ve more relevant than ever in Trump’s America. Quick summation : this is a comic not to be missed under any circumstances — so, ya know, don’t.
And that should do it for this week. A sad one to be sure but one that, nevertheless, offers some rays of hope for the medium that Mark Campos devoted so much of his life to. Join me back here in seven days for a round-up that will, hopefully, be written under far happier circumstances than this one was.