Weekly Reading Round-Up : 08/12/2018 – 08/18/2018, More From David Tea

This week’s Round-Up is going up early because this weekend, which is when I usually writing these things, is all about Autoptic 2018, the latest iteration of the Twin Cities’ premier bi-annual small press comics/indie publications show, and so I’m going to be too damn busy buying and reading a whole bunch of new comics to have any time to write about them. Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of good stuff to talk about already this week thanks to Minneapolis’ own David Tea, who was very appreciative of my review of his Five Perennial Virtues #2 — so appreciative, in fact, that he hooked me up with some more of his comics, and I supplemented his generous “donation to the cause” by reading a couple others that he has available via Amazon. Let’s have a look :

Magic Horses is a bumper-sized reprint volume of issues five and seven of Five Perennial Virtues, and while the hows, whys, and wherefores of Tea’s re-packaging “strategy” are as utterly indecipherable and impenetrable as much of his work , that’s quite alright with me — in fact, I hope that both he and you realize that I mean that as a compliment. The contents of issue five revolve around Dave’s fictitious gig as a “professional gardener,” his struggles to repair a trellis (complete with a history of, and rumination upon the subject of, trellises in general), his battles with his own lethargy/laziness (he becomes very weak out of nowhere working on a trellis and is magically healed by an inter-dimensional “cosmic portal” of some sort), and his walks around town to buy coffee. Weird interruptions in the story for blocks of hand-written text, “clip art”-style patterns, double-page spreads of immaculately manicured lawns and, you guessed it, illustrations of trellises give the proceedings an otherworldly vibe that you’re either going to appreciate or not (I do, but I also realize that Tea’s are the very definition of “your mileage may vary” comics), and those same “ground rules” also apply to issue seven, which sees Dave pondering the “red eye” on the planet Jupiter and the shape of clouds before hitching a ride on a magical winged horse to a Japanese-style cloud palace, only to find an 1898-issued penny on his possibly-imaginary journey before returning to Earth. The art style varies from sketchy to intricate, with some bizarre photos of the cartoonist himself (one with his head super-imposed on the body of an ant) thrown in for good measure. Weird, inexplicable, deeply personal stuff that seems to be produced for the author’s own personal edification and little else. In other words, pretty much a perfect comic.

Old Stones, Old Shrubs is another thick reprint collection, this one showcasing Five Perennial Virtues numbers four and three (yes, in that order), and four may just be the most utterly bizarre Tea story of ’em all, as his reverie on stepping stones segues into one about skipping stones segues into an encounter with a friend who has a (non-sexual) fantasy encounter with a couple of teenage girls segues into a Zen Buddhist monk who takes Dave and his buddy on a cosmic journey that apparently was too tough to draw, because the last five or six pages are hand-scrawled text. The usual jarring, interrupted pacing, double-page lawn spreads, etc. are all present and accounted for — as is also the case with issue three, but this time the visual sidebars make a bit more sense given that the “plot” revolves, once again, around Dave’s job as a gardener, and he spends most of his time trimming and shaping shrubs located on the grounds of an expensive apartment complex. In addition to shrubs, the author also has “deep thoughts” on cowboy hats, “hole cards,” the weather, the so-called “butterfly effect,” those “helicopters” that fall off maple trees, and even Paul Gulacy. Dave has always liked Gulacy’s art, and guess what? So have I. Some of the pages in this installment are the most detailed and quasi-“professional” I’ve seen Tea do, others look like they were composed by means of some cheap “dot-matrix” computer program, and a couple even feature nothing more than stick figures. Fucking brilliant stuff that “flows” only with respect to itself. Which is, of course, a logical impossibility — but it’s true nevertheless.

Nature Trail dates all the way back to 2001 and features Tea’s most overt attempt at a traditional narrative, focusing on a walk along a — you guessed it — nature trail undertaken by protagonists Luther (an obvious stand-in for the cartoonist) and Olive, who are something more than friends, less than lovers, you know the drill. Rather than going the obvious route of riding the potentially-raw nerve of their ill-defined relationship and exploring the inner lives of either character in any detail, though, Dave has both of them spend most of their time engaged in the sort of out-of-left-field historical and philosophical ruminations that would go on to become a defining trait of his later work. The glaciers, the “Gaia Theory,” environmentalism, the Ice Ages — I guess they’d rather talk about all this than how they feel about each other, and you know what? That’s cool with me. A not-quite-love story for the socially awkward illustrated in a style best described as “sketchy” and “ill-defined” even by Tea standards, this is thoroughly engaging stuff almost entirely in spite of itself.

Coffee Shop Table Of The Stars is a 2017-issued sequel to Nature Trail that sees Luther and Olive reunited by sheer chance for the first time in many years, and fall right back into their old conversational habit, only this time out politics is the major topic of discourse, with Dave — sorry, Luther — coming off as being a lot more conservative that I would have guessed. Not to worry, though, shit gets reasonably theoretical after awhile, and once again, both characters reveal more about themselves when they talk about anything but themselves. Tea returns to his “neo-primitive” roots with the art for this one, and hews closer to the rules of standard narrative, as well. Not as “trippy” as any of his Five Perennial Virtues material (and, by the way, I still don’t know what the virtues are — and at this point, I think it would kill the mystery somewhat if I were to find out), but more accessible by a wide margin. I enjoyed it quite a bit in its proper context as companion piece to an earlier work, but I’m not sure how well it’d function as a “stand-alone” work. It’s nice to see Tea display a stronger grasp on subtleties — of dialogue, atmosphere, setting, etc. — than I would have probably guessed, though, and that alone makes this one worth your investment of time and money.

And so concludes another Round-Up column. Next time, as you’ve doubtless already surmised, I expect to have some books picked up at Autoptic to opine on, but until then, if you want to find some or all of these David Tea comics, they’re not nearly as difficult to get ahold of as you might think, at least not if you have a Kindle. Dave doesn’t have an Amazon “author page,” but if you follow this link you’ll find all of these books, plus one or two others :https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=David+Tea&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=David+Tea&sort=relevancerank

 

How To Read “How To Be Alive”

Toward the tail end of 2017 — yeah, I know, I’m still playing a little bit of “catch-up” here and there, sue me — the always-interesting Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics publishing co-venture released one of the more thoroughly engrossing books of the year, cartoonist/painter Tara Booth’s How To Be Alive, but no matter how many times I’ve perused its contents, either casually or with serious intent (it lends itself quite nicely to either approach, although the latter will always be more rewarding, of course), I haven’t been able to wrap my head around the best way to review it. Finally, after one complex, slowly-developing emotional reaction to it after another, I seemed to arrive back at where I started with it, and that’s when it sunk in : this was Booth’s point all along.

If there’s beauty to be found in the mundane, this comic offers the surest evidence of it — a series of 40 brightly-colored and inventively-arranged gouache paintings, exploding off the page with patterns and textures that enhance, rather than distract or detract, from their uniformly “everyday” subject matter, I take these wordless, border-free strips to be autobiographical in nature, although they can just as easily be interpreted as simply a series of events featuring the same nameless protagonist. You go with what works best for you, and again — I think that’s Booth’s point.

Life’s small triumphs, tribulations, and tragedies are the focus here, and whether Booth is portraying herself/her stand-in popping pimples, trying to get comfortable in bed, eating dinner, gulping down her prescriptions, cutting her hair, trying on shoes, looking for a missing sock, or exercising, nothing on offer is outside the sphere of the absolutely ordinary, much less anything remotely exotic, and as such the beating heart of the work is quickly established as being commonality or universality of experience, marking this as one of the most genuinely populist works of art in any medium you’re likely to cross paths with. Booth’s technical execution is exemplary, sure, but nothing she’s doing feels out of reach by dint of the sheer “oh yeah, I’ve been there” relatability of her visual narrative(s) alone. This comic may not be “about you” specifically — but what the hell, it may as well be.

Certain of the vignettes are unique to the female life experience, of course — that’s to be expected — but Booth’s keen ability to focus, with empathy, upon the small foibles of any given scene, as well as her fluency in the language of communicating emotional absorption of/reaction to any given occurrence, work hand-in-hand to pull readers of any age, race, gender, ethnicity, orientation/identification right into the material, and guide the eye in smooth and naturalistic fashion toward what matters most in each image. The book may be silent, sure, but this unforced expressiveness speaks volumes about Booth’s confidence as an artist. She “had you at hello” (God, did I really just do that? I’m so sorry), she knows it, and she never lets you go from her flow.

In purely practical terms, this is an impressive enough achievement, but the way Booth transmits — with ease, immediacy and heart — just about every “spot” along the human emotional spectrum while never giving in to the “easy outs” offered by melodrama, parody, self-pity, or smarm? That’s what elevates this book to the level of the genuinely remarkable. My best advice, then, when it comes to how best to approach this work? Cliched as it no doubt sounds, I say just feel your way through it — and enjoy the utterly unique sensation of your heart beating in time with a comic book.

How To Be Alive sells for $8.00 and that’s more than reasonable for a celebration of all that it means to be ali — shit, too obvious, not going there. Order it up post-haste if you know what’s good for you at http://retrofit.storenvy.com/collections/29642-all-products/products/20671676-how-to-be-alive-by-tara-booth

 

Get A “Grip”

Where the “average” wordless comic often comes across as the result of a choice made by the cartoonist to communicate her or his story by means of the purely visual “half” of the medium, Lale Westvind’s 2018-released Grip (specifically, Grip Vol. 1, as this is the 68-page opening installment of a planned longer-form “graphic novel”) seems to eschew dialogue, captions, sound effects, and related ephemera (barring the occasional, expertly-placed exception) as a matter of sheer necessity, recognizing them less as an unnecessary encumbrance that would only get in the way of the tale being told, but as outright obstacles that would actually detract from the proceedings. I defy anyone to get any further than the first page and disagree with that assessment.

Westvind’s nothing if not an inarguable master of her craft at this point — primarily known for her contributions to any number of high-profile anthologies, this marks her longest work to date, and she approaches it with a staggering amount of entirely-earned confidence, a literal whirlwind giving her unnamed protagonist/heroine the “power” of constantly-moving hands (hence, ya know, the title and all that) while a metaphorical whirlwind of at least equal might, power and, when necessary, ferocity, rushes readers along at breakneck pace from one city to another, one blue-collar job to another, one exotic locale to another, finally culminating in a battle royale against an equally-cyclonic “supervillain” in a jungle clearing that’s about to get “cleared out” a whole lot more.

No arguing that the plot is bare-bones stuff, but the subtext in anything but : hiding in plain sight within all of Westvind’s post-psychedelic visual explosions, lavishly rendered in a rich risograph tri-color scheme by printers/publishers Perfectly Acceptable Press (who, as is absolutely expected of them by this point, pull out all the stops as far as the book’s production values go), is one of the most earnest and joyous expressions of thanks to women working in the trades you’re ever likely to see. Seriously, “Rosie The Riveter” has nothing on Westvind’s thick, powerful, muscular, always-assured-and-confident carpenters, welders, and plumbers, all of whom are observed in close detail by our heroine and her temporary sidekick (in fairness, a student — of life, at the very least) with a kind of reverent awe that provides the inspiration necessary for them to continue along on their own paths. Fuck simple notions of “empowerment” — these women are already empowered, and Westvind’s meticulous attention to their facial expression, body language, and other physical mannerisms makes it clear as day that it never occurred to any of them to be any other way.

Men, when they appear, are of little to no use — cowering, sweaty, at the mercy of the technologies reducing them to redundancy. This would probably piss of the retrograde troglodytes that make up the “comicsgate” crowd, but who fucking cares — they don’t even know that good (check that, great) books like this exist in the first place. Seriously, objects of utility such as toasters and tea kettles serve a more integral role in this narrative than the guys do. “MRA”s may bitch and moan, but welcome to the other side of the coin, chumps : a story this unapologetically celebratory in its depiction of the achievements of working women is long overdue in the comics medium.

On a purely practical level that even the most dunder-headed reader should be able to appreciate, though, it has to be said that Westvind delineates action like few others are able to — largely because they haven’t even conceived of her singular amalgamation of the fantastic with the visually-relatable. Physical forms disassemble, coalesce, transmogrify, even evolve in ways that are no doubt fantastic (in the truest sense of the word) but at the same time eminently naturalistic and easy to both follow along with and believe in. Add to that terrifically exciting use of the elements (most especially, as  you’ve no doubt already surmised, wind), a cineaste‘s eye for blocking and composition, and a fluid succession of scenes that build upon one another as they move at faster-than-light speed toward a genuinely epic finale, and what you’ve got is best described with a term I just about never resort to due to sheer over-use, but that absolutely applies in this case : a visual marvel.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Grip, though, is the sheer audaciousness of the magnificent switcheroo Westvind pulls off : she never gives you a chance to slow down and think, but by the time it’s all over, you realize her message has sunk in clear as day. If you’re ready to receive that message loud, proud, and clear, then order this one up with all due haste from this — errrrmmm — “handy” link :https://www.perfectly-acceptable.com/item/grip/

 

 

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 08/05/2018 – 08/11/2018

Our foray into the wonders of Elijah Brubaker’s Reich these past few weeks has put paid to the idea that these Weekly Reading Round-Ups are all about looking at new stuff that was actually released during the seven-day span in question, but I don’t think we missed much. We would, however, be missing out on a smattering of noteworthy first issues this time out if we set our view-finders backwards, so let’s not do that this time, shall we? Stuff worth talking about new on comic book shelves this past Wednesday, then, listed in order of how well I liked ’em —

Who better than a delightfully cantankerous old man to weave a tale of the decidedly un-delightful, but definitely cantankerous, old men, as well as the constantly put-upon young men whose labors they exploited, that built this benighted comic book industry we all know, love, and loathe in probably-equal measure? He pissed off a lot of well-meaning folks I respect about this same time last year with The Divided States Of Hysteria, but fuck it : I still love Howard Chaykin’s work, and Hey Kids! Comics! #1 is a perfect example in microcosm of why — shithead characters with shitty attitudes mired in ethically shitty situations with nowhere to go but down. This issue runs $3.99, like pretty much all Image books these days, but it’s probably worth twice that if you’re as finely attuned to the “Chaykin wavelength” as yours truly. We jump timelines a lot in this opening installment and get to meet a character who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Siegel and Shuster both, another who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Flo Steinberg plus a requisite amount of adolescent male fantasy, several chronologically-appropriate version of someone who’s pretty clearly a Kirby stand-in, only one chronologically-appropriate version of a guy who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Chaykin’s mentor, Gil Kane, and at the end of the book the “Big Bad” making everyone’s lives miserable is revealed to be a seedy, smooth-talking huckster who’s pretty clearly a Stan Lee stand-in. It’s all more than a bit obvious, sure, but it’s just as obviously all kinds of fun and I’m truly curious to see whether or not this project turns out to be an homage of sorts to the business its creator has made his living at for getting on five decades now, a giant middle-finger to everyone in said business that said creator never could stand, or a little of both. Throw in some truly eye-catching color work by Chaykin’s regular huesman of recent vintage, Wil Quintana, and the usual superb lettering and effects work of the perpetually-a-couple-decades-ahead-of-his-time Ken Bruzenak and oh yeah, we’ve got a winner here. Let’s just hope releasing this on a monthly basis in the short-term (what is this slated to run? Five or six issues?) doesn’t further delay the long-anticipated third volume of Time Squared  too terribly much longer.

One thing I’m truly baffled by is the fact that comics haven’t tried to do “the Fargo thing” before, but writer Eliot Rahal, artist Jorge Fornes (who also does the coloring), and Aftershock Comics are determined to make up for lost time, at least if the evidence presented by Hot Lunch Special #1 is anything to go by. An Arab-American family that runs a veritable empire centered around those disgusting microwaveable sandwiches you get (assuming you do, in fact, get them — which you shouldn’t) in vending machines and at gas stations from the frozen hinterland of Ely, Minnesota, finds themselves on the receiving end of some fairly typical mafia intimidation schemes when they grow too big for their britches and decide they don’t want to cut the Italians in for a piece of the action. Nothing supremely original or anything, but certainly perversely charming, side-splittingly funny, and even damn dramatic when it needs to be, with killer modern-noir illustration by the astoundingly talented Fornes, this is unquestionably a series worth keeping an eye on. Hell, both eyes. As is ever the case. $3.99 ain’t cheap, but count me in for the duration on this one, barring some unforeseen turn toward the cataclysmic.

The popular and successful team behind the just-concluded Grass Kings is back at Boom! Studios with something entirely different in Black Badge #1, a tale of “Top Tier” Boy Scouts who so impress the old-timers that they’re sent behind enemy lines into North Korea for the purpose of carrying out an entirely-undisclosed assassination.  Kindt keeps things moving along at a very pleasing clip in this one after making all necessary character introductions, Jenkins’ art is just a bit tighter and more formalized than previous efforts, and his colorist/wife, Hilary, adds the final touch by swapping out watercolors for what I take to be some sort of digitally-approximated gouache effect. The final result? A comic that looks and reads really effing well, even if it’s a bit of a mess tonally, unable to decide whether or not it wants to be “appropriate for all ages” or “suggested for mature readers.” I’m cool with that, though, because at least it means I don’t know what to expect on the next page throughout. This one’s getting a bit of a shorter leash than the two previously-mentioned publications, but not by much : I’m more than happy to give Kindt and and Jekins at least two more issue — and eight more dollars — before deciding whether or not I’m on this one for the long haul. Given the track records of the principal creators, both separately and together, it seems a fairly safe bet that this’ll just get better as it goes along, and in point of fact it actually stars out of the gate remarkably well, which is always a good sign.

Lastly, we set out sights on DC/Vertigo’s $4.99 one-shot, The Sandman Universe #1, which basically employs the same conceit as the DC Rebirth Special of using a character that’s been getting pretty dusty to act as our “eyes and ears” as we get ourselves up to snuff on everything that’s been happening in our (or, in a pinch, his) absence. This time it’s Matthew The Raven as opposed to Wally West, but it’s still an effective storytelling technique, if an over-utilized one.  This is sheer set-up material all the way, clearly designed to get readers interested in the forthcoming quartet of Sandman  spin-offs coming out over the next few months (really? Another new Lucifer series?), all “curated” (whatever that even means) by Neil Gaiman himself, who’s credited with same here. I’m not normally a fan of the “committee approach” to crafting comics, but writers Simon Spurrier, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, and Dan Watters do what they can in the face of a truly cumbersome editorial remit, and ditto for artists Bilquis Evely, Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Tom Fowler, Max Fiumana and Sebastian Fiumara, as well as cover artist Jae Lee (although the landscpape is littered with variants), who all have their own unique looks that they bush aside in their pursuit of something akin to a “house style,”  Okay, good enough, as long as it’s done with an eye toward quality as well as unifornity, and colorist Mat Lopes also gives the book more of  a consistent visual ethos, given that he’s aboard for all 40-some pages. This was by no means an Earth-shattering debut, but it was a plenty good for— well, what it was , as is also true of the “writer’s room”-crated story. I’m sufficiently intrigued to give all four of these new books a month, at least, to see where they’re headed, so that’s at least something.

And that’ll do it for the Round-Up this week. Next time out we’ll turn our attention to — whatever we turn it to. Join us here in seven as we reveal what the heck that even means!

Euro Comics Spotlight : “Face Man”

Just who the hell are you, anyway?

It’s an ever-present, and ever-fluid, question for each and every one of us : think back to the “you” of ten years ago, for instance, and odds are pretty good that not only have your looks changed (unless you’ve got a great plastic surgeon), but your outlook on life has changed in many (perhaps most) key respects, your circumstances have changed (economically, romantically, maybe even geographically), your daily routines have changed dramatically. In point of fact, as alien as other people might seem at times, almost no one is more difficult to understand that than the person you used to be — except, perhaps, the person you are now. Good luck figuring that bastard out.

Add uncertainty about one’s surroundings and even the nature of the world itself into the mix and you’ve got the plight of the protagonist in Swedish cartoonist Clara Bessijelle’s 2012-published Domino Books comic Face Man in a nutshell. There’s something vaguely Lynch-ian about these proceedings, it must be said : “our man” is a theater critic who attends a performance of a play he can’t make head or tail of, only to have to sit through it again when the box office receptionist misunderstands his request for her to explain the plot to him and ends up handing him a ticket for the next show instead. It makes no more sense the second time around, of course — it’s at least intimated that it may be an entirely different production every time it’s staged — but that’s nothing compared to what happens when he finally leaves the the theater, only to find himself obviously “tailed” by a cloaked figure who’s never more than a step or so away and who achieves his goal of conscripting the critic into a secretive conglomerate of individuals known as The Identity Group not so much by force, or even coercion, but by simply leaving him no other options that seem to make any sense.

Not that entering their den is necessarily the most logical move, either, but seriously — it’s a “what the fuck else is he supposed to do?” situation all the way here.

Alluring and absorbing as this infinitely mysterious narrative is, though, it’s Bessijelle’s stunning, amazingly-detailed illustration that’s the real star of this particular show — rendered entirely in pencil, the detail she packs into each page is borderline-painfully intricate, but there’s much more to admire here than her frankly incomparable technique, as every panel is also packed to the gills with unannounced clues that come into play as the story reaches what passes for its “resolution.” In fact, I don’t care how smart or observant you fancy yourself, the simple fact of the matter is that it’s going to take at least three passes through this work in order to chisel away at its seemingly-impenetrable edifice. It all makes a kind of “sense,” though, if you’re willing to put forth the effort — and that effort is richly rewarded as the nagging little kernel of realization in your mind grows and swells and morphs into something very nearly akin to understanding. Hell, if you’re really lucky, you may even achieve a borderline-transcendent state of revelation that hits you like a ton of bricks.

By now you should be fairly well clued into the fact that this is a comic that will challenge you to no end, but it’s by no means a rough slog — in addition to being a truly gorgeous thing to behold, it’s also quite funny, even if you’re not exactly sure why at first. As context becomes more decipherable, though, Bessijelle’s darkly absurdist humor likewise becomes more apparent, and if you’re one of those twisted folks (like myself) who laughs hardest when you’re laughing in spite of yourself, then you’re going to be doing a lot of that as you unravel this book’s deep, and ultimately humanistic, mysteries.

Hell, in the final analysis (and I admit my current analysis may not, in fact, be my “final” one, but I think I’ve got things fairly well sussed out at this point) this may not even be a scary story (though it’s undoubtedly frightening and unsettling in the extreme) as it is a — redemptive one? It’s certainly shot through with more warmth and compassion that it appears at first, but who knows? Nothing is as it seems here, and it could very well be that the “answers” I’ve arrived at are just another richly complex layer in an endlessly-unraveling metaphorical onion —one that I may only think I’ve arrived at the core of.

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Face Man is the working definition of the old “mystery wrapped in a puzzle inside an enigma” cliche, but rest easy — there’s absolutely nothing cliched or hackneyed about it, and it will gloriously confound you at every turn. If that sounds like something you need in your life more than five bucks — and, unless you’re absolutely dead broke, it is — then order it up from the publisher with the all the urgency a work this accomplished deserves at http://www.dominobooks.org/faceman.html

 

 

 

What’s In The “Space Basket” ?

Maybe I’m just a masochist, but for whatever reason, comics that utterly defy description are almost always my favorite to read, and without question always my favorite to review. As a reader, they force me outside my comfort zone, and require me to consider what I’m experiencing in a deliberative manner; to question the function of the work certainly, but also, at the best of times, the form. Trying to figure out what’s happening on the page (assuming such a thing can be done), is only half the battle — why what’s happening is being communicated and presented in the way it is, deciphering the reasons for the choices the cartoonist has made, that’s the other half. And it can often be the more richly rewarding part of the equation.

As a critic, all of the above still applies, of course, but I’m also called upon to examine my own reactions to the work, to achieve some level of understanding vis a vis the comic itself as well as my own interpretation(s) of it. And when a critic’s feelings about a work develop, change, even contradict each other over time — well, that’s when you’ve got quite the task ahead of you, and you’re really called upon to “prove your worth,” as it were, as more than a mere arbiter of taste (what the dull and shallow perceive to be our only function to be, it often seems), but also as a source of genuinely authoritative analysis.

All of which brings me to iconoclastic Canadian cartoonist Jonathan Petersen’s 2012-published Domino Books B&W comic ‘zine, Space Basket.

This is my first go-’round with Petersen, most of his comics being self-published numbers getting little to no distribution south of the world’s longest un-walled and un-fenced (for now, don’t give Trump any ideas) border, but I’m certainly hoping against hope that it won’t be the last, because this is a work that’s been burrowing its way from the back of mind toward the front since I read it (for the first of several times) a couple weeks back. It’s circular and elliptical at the same time, drop-dead funny, emotive on any number of different levels, and meticulously rendered with painstaking attention particularly being paid to its tight, precise linework. And that’s about where my ability to pigeon-hole it within the larger framework of the “comics world” begins and ends.

Have no fear, though, if straight-forward narrative is your bag : this book not only has one, but it’s relatively easy to follow, provided you can let go of certain hang-ups, like getting too attached to certain characters and the like. A densely-wooded forest is the main setting for the “action,” but we switch protagonists and points of view fairly quickly throughout, from partying teens to a bizarrely hirsute recluse to birds of prey to other teens to baskets of sentient fruit — all the while a steep and perilous cliff acting as a proverbial magnet that drags things and people back toward it, maybe even off it.

There are other threads of connective tissue to be discovered, as well, some not becoming apparent for what they are until more or less the very end, but the resolution — mysterious yet also unquestionably satisfying — is not what you’re in a book like this for : it’s all about, as the cliche goes, the journey. And that journey is quite unlike any other you’ve been on.

Which isn’t to say that Petersen’s cartooning isn’t without its influences — in fact, they’re pretty apparent. I see hints of Theo Ellsworth here, of Mike Diana there. But the tone Petersen strikes, the structure of his storytelling, his thematic concerns with finding the fluid and intransient in even the most ostensibly banal aspects of life — those things are entirely his own. Nothing is at it seems to be in this comic, even when it seems like nothing else — but on the other side of the coin, everything makes a kind of perfect, logical, symmetrical sense, even when it doesn’t. The end result is a book that circles back in on itself, and compels you to start over again on page one the minute you’re finished. Which means, of course, that you’re never really “finished” with it at all — and with a comic this engrossing, this singular, this utterly and ineffably unique, why the hell would you want to be?

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Space Basket is one of the most engagingly un-classifiable things I’ve ever read, and worth a whole hell of a lot more than its quite reasonable $5.00 cover price. Order it directly from the publisher at http://dominobooks.org/spacebasket.html

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/29/2018 – 08/04/2018, Elijah Brubaker’s “Reich,” Issues 9-12

It’s been quite a ride so far these past couple of weeks, but it’s not over yet —

In Elijah Brubaker’s Reich #9 , the FDA makes its move against our increasingly-ostracized (partly by choice, partly due to circumstance) protagonist, who’s also getting noticeably more prickly in his dotage (not that he was ever exactly pleasant company), and as it happens it turns out that it was someone very close to him who ended up selling him out to the feds. These intrigues pass by unbeknownst to Willy, though, as he’s far too busy “discovering” the negative counterpart to Orgone, which he calls D.O.R., an acronym for Dark Orgone Energy. The cover for this issue is one of my favorites, the detail is just amazing and I love the lime green — a bold color choice that really draws in the eye. The interior art is solid as ever, and tips its hand more than ever to Jeff Nicholson’s influence — which is by no means a bad thing. One item worthy of note : this issue carries a $5.00 price tag, as opposed to the usual $4.00, but fear not — it goes away as quickly as it showed up, and was probably just due to temporarily tight finances at the offices of publisher Sparkplug Comic Books. In any case, it’s still more than worth it.

We’re back to a watercolor cover for Reich #10, and if you’re of a mind that Brubaker’s mastery of this technique just gets stronger and stronger as he goes along, you’re exactly right. Personal drama takes center stage in this chapter as Reich’s second marriage falls apart — or, more likely, is irreparably shattered thanks to his own actions and increasing paranoia. He’s got bigger things on his mind than domestic strife, though, as this is the point at which he enlists his “Cloudbuster” devices into service in — the war against UFOs? You’ve gotta read it to believe it, and even then you still probably wont. Brubaker’s depictions of flying saucer battles are worth the price of admission alone, and that price is once again (and would remain) just four bucks.

If you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose a favorite cover for this series, it would probably be the one for Reich #11. I mean, just look at that stark imagery that positively reeks of isolation, and the cross-hatching alone must have taken fucking hours. Inside, Wilhelm finds what passes for “love” (or, at the very least, marriage — this time complete with a contract) one more time, makes some absolutely crucial mistakes in his handling of his legal case, shares a genuinely tender moment with his son, and unleashes his violent temper upon now-ex-wife Ilse, in a scene masterfully illustrated partly with full-figure drawings, partly with shadow forms. It’s just plain stunning, as is this installment in general — thick with foreboding and doom, the end is truly nigh.

That end arrives with Reich #12, and I guess I’ll keep details of this one scant just in case some readers aren’t aware of the circumstances surrounding the groundbreaking-but-possibly-bonkers scientist’s ignominious final days. A decidedly understated and quite apropos cover kicks things off, and Brubaker goes back to the traditional six-panel grid for his big finale, which gives the proceedings the feel of a work circling back around to its beginnings even as the curtain drops. You can’t help but feel that, unlikable as he was, Reich deserved better than he ended up getting, and the matter-of-fact, unsentimental manner in which his shuffling off this mortal coil is depicted is, once again, reminiscent of Chester Brown’s last page of Louis Riel — minus the rope. A stark, powerful, frank conclusion to one of the finest works of biography ever undertaken in the comics medium.

And so all good things must come to an end, and this series was a very good thing, indeed. Next week I think we’ll turn our attention back to current offerings hitting the comic shop racks, since I’m at least morbidly curious to check out The Sandman Universe #1, and Howard Chaykin’s got a new series making its debut, so the tentative plan is to check both of those out, plus whatever else (if anything) catches my interest. In the meantime, we’ll wrap up this Reich retrospective by providing the link to order all twelve issues (hopefully you’re convinced at this point that they’re an absolutely essential purchase) one more time :https://wowcool.com/product-category/comics/indie/elijah-brubaker/