Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/17/2019 – 02/23/2019, Starts And Stops

Two notable debuts and two equally-notable finales were among the “big stories” in the world of the “Wednesday Warrior” this past week, so let’s take a look at them all and see how they either kicked things off or wrapped them up —

Sharkey The Bounty Hunter #1 (Image/Millarworld) from Mark Millar and Simone Bianchi isn’t exactlyHeavy Metal for the whole family” (Sharkey has sex with a hot half-robot chick, after all), but it’s pretty close, as our hard-ass-with-a-heart-of-gold hero takes it upon himself to escort a kid he just made an orphan halfway across the galaxy (or maybe it’s the universe) to the home planet of his closest living relatives — until a big payday “score” falls into his lap when the most-wanted criminal in the universe (or maybe it’s the galaxy) gets a price put on his head that’s high enough to send every freelance scalp-chaser scurrying in his direction, that “everyone” including Sharkey’s mortal enemy. This isn’t taxing stuff by any means — Millar’s books never are — but it is a surprisingly likable mash-up of genres that was enjoyable enough to get even my cynical ass to overlook its calculated (again, a Millar specialty) nature and just go with the flow as it ticked every box on the list. Bianchi’s Eurocomics-influenced art is flat-out gorgeous and detailed “AF,” as the kids say, the colors rich and lush, and who knows? Between this and The Magic Order it seems that the oft-derided Millar may be on a bit of a roll following his big Netflix payday. There are a million and one reasons to turn your nose up at this book, sure, but I’ll be damned if I could remember a single one of them while I was reading it, and I expect to stick around for the rest of the ride.

Considerably more thematically ambitious is Phil Hester and Ryan Kelly’s Stronghold #1 (Aftershock), a “cosmic horror” that’s part The Matrix, part The Omen, and altogether interesting, if a bit jumbled out of the starting gate. Still, I dig the set-up : ancient apocalyptic Lovecraftian alien force of destruction lives amongst us as an unassuming insurance agent, his true nature unbeknownst to him thanks to the efforts of a secret society with global reach dedicated to keeping him in check. Turns out he’s got company in the delusion department, though, as none of us know that the Earth itself is just one big prison designed to hold this guy down. All that starts to change, however, when — nah, you should just read it for yourself. Hester’s a damn good artist but up and down as a writer — fortunately, he’s mostly “up” here, the only pitfall being that he’s playing with almost too much concept for a single issue to handle. I’ve no reservations about Kelly’s art, though, as his trademark thick and “syrupy” line and keen attention to even the littlest of little things has rarely been put to better use. This may just be the book he was born to draw, and again, I expect to be strapped in for the duration with this one.

Sticking with Aftershock but flipping the script to the final chapter, Eliot Rahal and Jorge Fornes’ Hot Lunch Special comes to a very pleasing end with issue #5, a nice mix of high-octane action and solid characterization that puts a nice bow on the package but still leaves the box-top ajar just enough for a potential sequel if the creators were to feel up for taking things in a very different direction. Yeah, this series was basically “Fargo The Comic,” but what’s wrong with that? Rahal’s scripts have been well-paced and loaded with a mix of bloody noir violence and gallows humor, and Fornes’ art is gritty, stylish, and basically pitch-perfect for a crime book like this. If you’ve been passing on this one in singles, rest assured that it’ll read great in trade. Speaking of which —

The Lone Ranger by Mark Russell and Bob Q has been a fun and reasonably thought-provoking ride that’s been a blast in singles, sure, but will be absolutely great collected. Russell refuses to “mail it in” on these Dynamite licensed titles (see Red Sonja), and while I highly doubt the term “human resources” even existed in the Old West, when one line of dialogue is my only gripe, shit — that’s small potatoes. The Ranger, Tonto, and Silver make their final stand against the corrupt Texas land barons out to partition the land with barbed wire here in #5’s (no lie) thrilling conclusion, a bold double-cross pays off, and a cannibalistic dandy bounty hunter gets his pound of flesh, plus we get some solid social commentary and even a few laughs. Tonto was the real star of this series, sure, but that’s cool with me, and there’s plenty of room here for a follow-up, which I certainly hope to see — provided the same creators are on board. Yeah, the writing was the big draw on this title, but the art’s definitely solid, too, and truth be told I kind of admire Bob Q’s commitment to craft over “flash.” The trade should be out fairly soon, and if you pass on it, you’re crazy. This is the best Western comic since the days of Lansdale and Truman.

And that’s it for this week — just enough time to remind you that this column is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I offer thrice-weekly exclusive rants on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and even politics. Your support not only enables me to keep things going there, it also allows me to continue providing plenty of free content both here and on my trashfilmguru movie site. Please consider joining up over at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Come One, Come All, To “Our Wretched Town Hall”

Nothing constrains Eric Kostiuk Williams. His cartooning is never less than near-infinitely adapatable, fluid, mercurial — maybe literally, as his forms, figures, even structures seem liquid at room temperature, ever in a state of joyous flux, refusing to define themselves and embracing the joyous possibilities of being whatever their whims allow them to be.

His late-2018 Retrofit/Big Planet Release, Our Wretched Town Hall — a collection of short stories and illustrations — is my third exposure to his work, following on from Babybel Wax Bodysuit and Condo Heartbreak Disco, and certainly continues the pattern of no real pattern, as each vibrantly-colored panel promising an almost entirely different visual experience to the one before it. Here, though, the “quick hits” succession of strips combine to form something of an overarching statement that says : we are whatever we wish to be in any given moment, and “permanence” is only what we make of it.

Perhaps ironically, certain consistent themes have been at the heart of Williams’ ouevre for some time — gender identity and expression, queer culture and history, urban gentrification — most of which lend themselves fairly naturally to his post-psychedelic ethos even if they don’t necessarily, by rights, sound like they should, but there’s an underlying tension between some that’s exciting to ponder, not so much as a series of contradictions, but as polarities that complement each other.

Williams, for instance, clearly feels that the past should be honored, its temperament cleaved to, yet he also damn-near venerates the impermanent, the transitory, holding it as almost an ideal to strive for in the face of conformity and homogenization of culture. The titular strip in this book is probably the most ambitious in terms of expressing that, depicting the town hall in question at six distinct stages in its history/trajectory ranging from the new and bustling to the atrophied and dilapidated, but in others it is people — including the author himself, shown at a party — who constantly evolve or devolve, continually re-arranging themselves into forms and shapes and even states of being conducive to the scene, the situation, the space they are in.

If you’re a big fan of the laws of physics, you may need to let that go and just surrender to the flow here, but if you’ve got a pair of working eyes (or, hell, even one working eye), I wouldn’t expect you to put up much resistance. This books feels very much like an impromptu celebration, even when there’s not one going on — hell, even when one of the strips is a graphic adaptation of an emotionally-charged speech delivered by Keith Cole at Toronto’s Videofag art gallery. “Dull” is not a word in Eric Kostiuk Williams’ vocabulary, and that’s not just true on a surface level, its rejection on a conceptual level is at the very core of his overall artistic project.

Every day, every night, every instant of our lives is pregnant with potential and possibility, whether we recognize it or not — and there’s no more radical statement in this age of regimentation and conformity and uniformity than to simply refuse to buy in or play along. To say “I am what I am — and that’s whatever I say it is and wish it to be.”

And, of course, a split-second later you may just feel like being someone and something entirely different. Eric Kostiuk Williams not only understands that, he holds it to be a sacred truth.

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This review, as is the case with all others around here, is “bought to you” by my Patreon page, where I offer exclusive thrice-weekly updates on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Your support helps me keep things going there, sure, but it also allows me to continue providing plenty of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please consider joining today over at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

“Two Stories” That Speak Volumes

Regular readers around here are used to seeing me looking at old friend Brian Canini’s works in my Weekly Reading Round-Up columns — short-form works like his tending to lend themselves well to one- or two-paragraph “capsule reviews” (such as the one that’ll be soon forthcoming for the newest issue of his ongoing Plastic People series) — but sometimes even the most modest mini can be well-served by a full-length examination, and his latest, Two Stories, definitely fits that bill.

I’ve always dug Canini’s minimalist cartooning style that utilizes a little to say a lot, his economic imagery drawing the eye precisely where it needs to go with just enough by way of “bells and whistles” to make things interesting though not nearly enough to make them cluttered, but even more than that it’s his thematic versatility that impresses me, and the apparent ease with which he can adapt his signature linework to narratives that vary wildly in terms of both form and content has never been on more clear display than it is here.

First up is “Hand City,” an innovative little number about a guy who wakes up to find a tiny town literally growing on his hand and the consequences, largely unintentional, that said discovery engenders. Observation, it’s said, inherently changes the observer and the observed both, and while that old adage may seem as oblique as it is accurate — one of those things we “know” to be true even if we couldn’t exactly tell you why — herein it’s laid out in explicit detail with precisely zero subtlety but, crucially, no real heavy-handedness, either. It’s a fine line Canini walks here and he does so with admirable grace and even, dare I say it, a dash of charm around the edges. It’s not a “feel-good” story, by any means, but it’s also something less than as tragic as one might expect — even when it is.

This is the point at which you tell me to make some fucking sense, man, but I’d prefer to have you read the comic and understand it for yourself.

The second story, “Baggage,” is the kind of thing we’ve seen before, sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still weave a nice little spell, which this certainly does.  “Cartoonist — (read, authorial stand-in) — ponders what he’s done with his life, where he’s at, where he’s going, and the choices he’s made while walking through an airport terminal” is a premise that, at this point, is better-served when said cartoonist has something new to say, but barring that, if it feels old and familiar in comfortable ways rather than coming across as tired and down to death, that’ll do in a pinch, as well.

News flash — Canini doesn’t have anything remarkably new to say via this material, but he does have an admirably earnest, I don’t even hesitate to say endearing, way of saying it, and the entire thing’s a whole lot more contemplative and less overtly morose than admittedly navel-gazing exercises like this typically turn out to be. I enjoyed it, perhaps against all odds, and found I even wished it had gone on for a few more pages.

If Two Stories has one over-arching flaw it’s that there’s no real through-line that joins the tales (or, if you prefer, strips), nor any particular contrasts that can be gleaned from their juxtapositon — in other words, no real threads connecting these yarns — but they’re both thoroughly enjoyable reads and frankly I wish more self-publishing cartoonists would package their very short-form works together in affordable (as in two bucks!) little packages like this rather than waiting until they’ve got 100+ pages of them and then putting ’em together in a $15 (or more) book. This is an engaging, smart, eminently re-readable mini that you’ll be very glad to add to your library.  You can order it directly from Canini’s Drunken Cat imprint at https://drunkencatcomics.com/two-stories-preview/

Last thing : this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I offer exclusive thrice-weekly analysis of the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Your support helps me keep things going there, sure, but it also allows me to continue to provide free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please consider joining up today at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Say Your “Vows”

It used to be said that the inane sitcom Seinfeld was “a show about nothing,” which was no doubt true, but Brazilian cartoonist Julia Balthazar has a much better idea — her new comic Vows (or, as it’s known in its native Portuguese, Juras) is about everything and nothing simultaneously.

We have Laura Lannes to thank for this extraordinary little book making its way to American audiences by way of her recently-launched Pacote imprint, which is releasing four comics from Brazil in the next four months, each Riso-printed with exacting care by Carta Monir’s Diskette Press, and if subsequent releases are this good, then we’ve got a whole lot to look forward to. But I suppose we needn’t get too far ahead of ourselves yet when there’s still this one to talk about, am I right?

A family gathering is the setting for Balthazar’s story, but in so many ways it could be anywhere, anything — just as the characters, not so much “delineated” as “outlined” could be anyone — and the nature of their conversation, while specific to a particular event and the particular personages involved, could easily be about something else altogether. Balthazar’s sparsely-chosen words draw at least as much attention to what’s left unsaid as to what’s spoken, and as we limn the boundaries of what these people are willing to “put out there” for public consumption (even if it’s only to a small crowd), questions arise as to how much of our own thoughts and feelings we’re willing to verbalize, why, and to what end our choices not only reflect who we are, but inform where we’re going and literally determine what’s possible.

Maybe it’s the fluidity of the art that got my mind racing down so many roads that the comic itself doesn’t explicitly traverse, all pink-shaded shapes and border-less panels and oh-so-fluid in the extreme motion and non-motion. It certainly serves as something more than mere “visual accompaniment” and is every bit as integral as the written word in establishing the utterly unique ethos of the overall work. Separation is a theme here — how it persists in the face of even the most intimate of situations — but aesthetic unity is a bold and intriguing (to say nothing of highly effective) manner in which to draw attention to it and negate it all in one go.

Which, sure, sounds like it makes no real sense, but as events and the depictions thereof move into ever-more esoteric (in the strictest sense of the term) directions, you realize it does. That, in fact, “two sides, one coin” is something far more than a simple cliche and that a work with sufficient vision and (perhaps even more importantly) intent behind it can both reject and embrace the phenomenon of individual identity at the same time. Can both question and re-affirm it. Can both celebrate and lament it.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve got it all wrong. I’m open to the possibility. Any work this deliberately undefined can and should and indeed probably must mean different things to different readers — and what each reader takes from it may be markedly different, may even run counter, to the artist’s goals and purposes. All I know is that any modest little comics ‘zine that prompts such deep philosophical queries from even one person must be doing something right — whether that “something” is what the cartoonist who created it was aiming for or not.

I realize a review this opaque may be frustrating, even outright confounding, to some readers — that’s an entirely fair criticism. But I would counter that it also means this book functions as an invitation — for folks to come inside, explore, think their way around, feel their way around, and come to their own conclusions about what this is, what it means, what it does.  It can be taken as an “A-to-Z” work, absolutely — and functions quite well as such, truth be told — but spend some time with it, consider all of it, and you’ll be drawn into some fascinating conversations with it every bit as memorable, and ultimately unknowable, as those presented on the page.

Vows is a map to any number of different places within yourself and in relation to others — but Julia Balthazar is all about showing you where you might go rather than telling you exactly where, or dictating the terms by which you get there.

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Although no longer available for individual purchase, Vows can be obtained as part of the Pacote “four-pack” from Laura Lannes’ website. Retail price for the entire bunch is $32. Check it out at :https://lauralannes.bigcartel.com/product/pacote-completo

As with all reviews, this one is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up thrice-weekly exclusive updates on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. You support helps me to keep things going there, sure, but  also to continue providing free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please consider joining up over at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

The Abyss Parties Also : Casanova Frankenstein’s “The Adventures Of Tad Martin Super-Secret Special” #1

Man, it’s been awhile.

Not as long a while as the gap — no, make that gulf — between Casanova Frankenstein’s The Adventures Of Tad Martin #5 and The Adventures Of Tad Martin #sicksicksix, a book that was literally a couple of decades in the making, but still — four or five years, by my count, is a pretty long wait. Still, as always with The Cartoonist Formerly Known As Al Frank, the wait has proven to be more than worth it.

That being said, in order to fully appreciate Frankenstein’s latest, entitled The Adventures Of Tad Martin Super-Secret Special #1, you have to be a bit of a “process-lover” — or, perhaps more accurately, a “progress lover,” as in “work in.” This is no place for fans of the polished, the refined, the sanitized — this is the straight dope, right from our guy Cassie’s subconscious to his pens and brushes to the page. A wordless channeling of pure nihilism — and not the cheap, rage-fueled nihilism of youth, but the considered, soul-deep nihilism of someone who knows damn well this is a fallen world but is nevertheless, perhaps paradoxically (and perhaps not), determined to enjoy the right straight down.

A Halloween party from hell is the setting, but more than that, it’s also a springboard — into the “world according to Tad” that those of us who’ve been following its fitful starts, stops, and continuations know well, sure, but there’s something underneath the full-time attitude, the black shades at night, the muscle cars, the old-school speed and bottom-shelf booze. Always master of his circumstances or at the very least acting the part, the phantasmagoria of ethereal depravity that Tad is subsumed by here is something altogether more dangerous, altogether more consequential, altogether more in general than even “Mr. Too Cool For School” can pretend doesn’t faze him. The game’s the same, but whatever is “playing” Tad here is playing for keeps.

This is exciting stuff — narratively, conceptually, maybe even theoretically — but you’ve gotta show up prepared to do a good deal of the “heavy lifting” yourself. Incongruous events collide against each other and propel the silent story “forward,” absolutely — but not only. As the shit swirls and spirals and spasms, there’s a sense that everything is happening in an ever-present “now” where prosaic notions such as linear time are left back not so much in the dust, but on the puke-encrusted floor. You can power through the whole thing in ten minutes, granted — even allowing for a fairly detailed perusal of the vintage “Super Gifts And Gimmicks”-style ad pages clipped from forgotten Bronze Age comics — but if you find yourself transfixed for hours, don’t be surprised. The not-quite-ready-for-prime-time art shifts styles, for a start, but also realities with it, and as you go with the flow through these choppy waters, you’ll find yourself succumbing to a siren call, an alluring invitation to give up and in at once, to see the bottom of the barrel not as the finish line, but as the starting point to a chemically-induced race down deep — really fucking deep — past the infernal pit, past everlasting fire, past even the void of nothing and into —

Shit, I dunno. The same place you started? Only nothing’s the same. Eyes wide open now, consensus reality stands revealed as the crock of utter nonsense you always figured it was, but the journey through complete uncertainty you’ve just been on? It’s made you more certain than ever. Maybe it’s all an illusion, this whole “everything we know” thing. Maybe it’s all a lie. Maybe it’s all a cruel joke. Maybe it’s all three.

And maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t matter.

This is gonna be a big year for fans of Cassie Frankenstein. He’s got a new book coming out from Fantagraphics Underground in May, and an “official” new issue of Tad hits sometime after that from our friend Austin English at Domino Books. If either are even half as good as this — and, in my experience, this guy’s stuff actually only gets better — it’s going to be a no-brainer who the most significant cartoonist of 2019 well be come calendar’s end.

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The Adventures Of Tad Martin Super-Secret Special #1 comes in an over-sized magazine format on uncharacteristically (for Frankenstein’s stuff, at any rate) slick, glossy paper. “Publisher” Blurb ships these out quick, so as soon as you part with your ten bucks, expect to have it in a matter of days. Even faster is buying it digitally for the bargain price of $5.50. Here’s a link :http://www.blurb.com/b/9286323-tad-martin-super-secret-special-issue

Also, this review — and all of mine, who are we kidding? — is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I post thrice-weekly updates on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Basically, whatever the hell I feel like. Joining up is cheap, and your support not only helps me keep things going there, it also enables me to continue providing plenty of free content here and on my trashfilmguru movie site. I’d be very gratified to have you as a member, and promise you’ll get plenty for your money. You can check it out here :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/10/2019 – 02/16/2019, The Image Of Crime

Every “cool point” I’ve ever earned with the small press scene is about to fly right out the door/go down the grain/get flushed away/pick your cliche when I admit, right here and now, that I fucking love Ed Brubaker and Sean Phllips’ Criminal. Always have, always will. Not in some lame ironic way. Not as a so-called “guilty pleasure.” I just plain dig the hell out of this comic. I’ve found the duo’s other projects to be a mix of the pretty good (Kill Or Be Killed), the pretty average (Fatale), and the pretty damn lousy (The Fade Out), but Criminal remains the straight dope for fans of comics noir. When I heard they were resurrecting it, and blowing off the lame “story arc” format that afflicts pretty much every other title on LCS shelves in favor of short-form stories, one-shots, and the like — in other words, doing whatever they wanted — I was doubly excited. For this week’s Round-Up column, we’ll be looking at the first two issues of the title’s new iteration, as well as the first two of another Image crime (I guess?) book. Jeff Rougvie and Moritat’s Gunning For Hits.

Don’t let the fact that returning character Teeg Lawless is the protagonist in Criminal #1 put you off if you’ve never sampled the book before; this double-sized (but still priced at “only” $3.99) debut is exceptionally “new reader friendly” and, honestly, fairly straightforward — Teeg’s kid has ripped off the wrong guy and now the old man’s gotta set things straight by any means necessary. That means scraping together a big score out of thin air, but fortunately the death of an old “friend” leads to the opportunity for, perhaps, an unexpected windfall. Brubaker’s script is lean, mean, and loaded with every genre trope you could hope for minus the femme fatale, and if Phillips’ grim n’ gritty art has ever looked better, I’d be hard-pressed to say when that was. The addition of his son Jacob on colors proves to be an exemplary choice as he really knows how to lay the hues on top of pop’s work, and all in all this is the most thoroughly satisfying Brubaker/Phillips jam in effing years.

Or was, at any rate, because if anything Criminal #2 is even better. Going back to another earlier well, Brubaker does a complete 180 here, leaving the story from the first issue hanging and jumping right into what is apparently a two-part tale about a down-on-his-luck legendary comics artist (let’s just call him what he is — a Gil Kane stand-in) who enlists the services of one of his former proteges who’s now a petty thief in order to get his pound of flesh after a lifetime of bad choices led to him hustling off valuable original art for pennies on the dollar. An earlier “arc” of this series played in this same sandbox, cleverly mixing actual comics history and personages with “names-changed-to-protect-the-innocent” stories that have been circulating for decades, along with a healthy does of complete bullshit. Puzzling out which is which is a big part of the fun, but even absent that admitted (but highly effective) gimmickry, this is just a solid small-time crime yarn with, once again, killer art that shows you every ring on the bar napkin, every liver spot on the old guy’s hands. Not as hefty in terms of page count as the previous ish, but you still get plenty of comics and backmatter for your four bucks here.

Switching gears just a bit, but still in the same general vicinity genre-wise — at least I think — we come to Gunning For Hits #1, which only boasts a standard page-count, but packs more into those pages than, seriously, anything else out there. Billed as a “music thriller,” scribe Jeff Rougvie knows this landscape well, and how much of record-label A&R man protagonist Martin Mills’ exploits are either directly cribbed and/or extrapolated from his own time in the industry is an interesting thing to ponder as you make your way through these densely-scripted pages. Martin’s flying high in this 1990s-set story, riding a hot streak, but just how far will he go to sign a promising new act — and if he does get their ink on his contract, is it really them he’s after, or are they a convenient stepping stone to scoring the profitable back catalogue of a legendary glam-rock recluse? Throw in a few telling hints about Martin’s shady past (as if his present is entirely on the up-and-up), and some solid art from Moritat that shifts styles effortlessly between contemporary-looking stuff and old-school Sunday newspaper strip-style cartooning, and the end result is probably the strongest debut of the year, with one major caveat : there’s a lame and mind-numbingly retrograde caricature in here that I took to at the very least play into, if not actively reinforce, the most tired anti-Semitic tropes around. From where I’m sitting, at any rate, it looks as offensive as it reads, and I could scarcely believe it made it was into a comic book in 2019. Hell, I don’t think it would have slipped past editorial 30, even 40 years ago — and yet there it is. I grew up reading Crumb, so this kinda shit slides off my back more easily than it probably should, but if you were to choose to walk away from this comic in disgust, I can’t say that I’d blame you. That being said —

It’d be a damn shame if you did, though, because that would mean you’d miss out on Gunning For Hits #2 ,which is even stronger than its predecessor. If you think Martin’s a dick — and who are we kidding, he kinda is — wait until you meet his best friend, the kind of loathsome-but-weirdly-likable lowlife flush with cash that was a fixture of the entertainment industry (as in, every entertainment industry) in the 1980s and ’90s. Martin’s plans are coming more fully into view here, even if his past is muddier than ever, but you get the sense that everything’s gonna collide with spectacularly devastating results for everyone but our man himself, who’s probably already calculated the one and only angle to emerge from his largely self-created mess smelling like a goddamn rose. Thick with intrigue, sleaze, and music-biz cliches — plus some seriously slick art — this is Rougvie, Moritat, and colorist Casey Silver hitting a mean stride admirably early in their run. Greatness isn’t just “around the corner,” it’s already here. Lots of backmatter to give you extra value for money, too.

And that’s a wrap. Next week’s Round-Up will likely see us back in our familiar small-press stomping grounds, but until then I’m obligated to remind you that this, and every, review on this page is “sponsored by” my recently-launched Patreon page, which offers thrice-weekly exclusive rants from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Your support there enables me to continue providing free content here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so please consider joining up today at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

No Healing From “The Scar”

As I write this review, news has broken that “president” Donald Trump intends to declare a so-called “state of emergency” along the US-Mexico border in order to commandeer funds for his pipe-dream of a “wall” by executive fiat. A genuine “emergency” has been unfolding, with disastrous consequences, at the border for a long time, it’s true — but it’s nothing like Trump would have you believe.

Italian cartoonist Andrea Ferraris and his documentarian colleague/creative partner, Renato Chiocca, know all about this real “emergency,” though, because they’ve seen it firsthand — and they know it’s got precisely fuck-all to do with some supposedly free-flowing “supply line” of drugs and MS-13 gang members out to rape our daughters, burn down our homes, and butcher our pets. The actual emergency is a humanitarian one, an economic one, even a logistical and conceptual one, as increased militarization of what was once a fairly open expanse, our country naturally “guarded” by hundreds of miles of frankly deadly desert and an equally intimidating river, has actually created and then exacerbated the very problem it was ostensibly designed to solve.

In the all-too-brief 40 pages that make up their new Fantagraphics Underground release, The Scar (subtitled Graphic Reportage From The US-Mexico Border), Ferraris and Chiocca bob and weave between first-person verbatim accounts and broadly-argued, highly emotive and resonant statements of intent and opinion, that together form a more cohesive whole than it probably sounds on paper that they by all rights should : one that follows in the footsteps of Joe Sacco, Sarah Glidden, and others, but has all the immediacy of the “right here, right now,” given that they made their pilgrimage to Tuscon/Nogales in the summer of 2017, immediately following — and as a direct extension of — promotional work in relation to Ferraris’ previous book, Churubusco, a historical account of deserters in the Mexican-American war who took up arms against the US army they were once a part of in a last, desperate stand at the border.

So, yeah, it’s probably fair to say that Ferraris had some familiarity with, even affinity for, this region, its history, and its people, but beginning with the murder of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez at the hands of a Customs and Border Patrol agent named Lonnie Swartz when he fired through the steel-slat “fencing” over to the Mexican side of the border and killed the kid, already-extant tensions in the region ramped up considerably, and upon arrival, Ferraris quickly came to realize he had no idea of the size, scope, and scale of the social, political, economic, and cultural minefield he was walking into. A scar is a fine metaphor for our militarized border on the whole, but for the people living in the area? It’s more like an open wound.

Humanitarian organizations such as Tucson Samaritans, who place food, water, blankets, and other supplies along “routes” taken by migrants, and No More Deaths, which provides them with medical services, do necessary work to help alleviate the suffering of people willing to risk their fucking lives in order to escape certain death at home, but as we learn here, they too are under assault from “law” enforcement, and would barely have the resources to continue their vital missions even absent CBP and ICE harassment. Ferraris’ expressive graphite and charcoal illustrations capture the unique combination of desperration and defiance that drives the people associated with these groups forward, but even more affecting is the quiet righteousness of Colombian artist Alvaro Enciso, who leaves hand-made wooden crosses at sites where migrants have died, knowing damn well that his are the only memorials they will ever receive.

Make no mistake : there are some very beautiful, in the most all-encompassing sense of that word, people that we’re privileged to meet here, folks whose hearts are so big and whose personal stories are so profound that you almost feel unworthy of being part of the same species as them — but the beauty of Ferraris’ art isn’t solely reserved for them. His evocative landscape illustrations and amazing wildlife renditions are equally imbued with precision, care and, most importantly, a hell of a lot of feeling. This really is a book you feel every bit as much as you read — even in its most cut-and-dried, “straight reporting” segments — and much of that emotion is expressed to readers by means of the art. There are pages in here that will well and truly suck you right into them and leaving you staring in awe for a good long while. Some, dare I say it, are even mesmerizing.

That ability to capture the essential truth of the large and small alike also carries over into the authorial tone and narrative structure of the book, lives met along the way gaining a kind of cumulative power and strength as events proceed, but each utterly unique and individual unto itself. A return visit to the tragic murder of young Mr. Rodriguez, now making it way toward the Supreme Court after an earlier (and fucking preposterous) acquittal of Swartz and two hung juries, hammers home the utter insanity of the idea that the U.S. legal system is qualified to decide whether or not a citizen of another country altogether, killed on his home soil, is entitled to justice — but even that is just part of a much larger ball of batshit-craziness, that being the bizarre and inhumane notion that we have the ability to arbitrarily decide where “our” land stops and “theirs” begins, and the susequent “right” to use the full force of the world’s most expensive and deadly military and police apparatus to enforce our entirely one-sided dictates.

There’s an “emergency” at the border, alright — and it is the border. And where other treatises examine how to “secure” it, The Scar asks a far more vital question : why even have the damn thing in the first place? Its very existence, at least as presently constituted, is an affront to us all.

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