This Mini Has “No Title” — Should This Review?

The comics and ‘zines of Jason T. Miles (generally self-published under his G.O.A.T. Comics imprint) uniformly confuse, confound, and challenge me, but even by his standards, his semi-recent (last year? I dunno) B&W mini, titled — nothing, I guess, but listed on his site as No Title — is a quixotic and mercurial beast, its aims and intentions as impossible to pin down as the nature of its threadbare “narrative,” a true case of what’s happening being as fluid and open to any interpretation as why it’s happening.

I will say this much, though — the “people” in it sure do say “fuck” a lot.

Which, I mean, isn’t a knock at all — I do the same myself.  To the point where it even works my own nerves. It’s kinda cute — for lack of a better word immediately coming to mind — in this comic, though, not that I could tell you why. Which is par for the course here, because “why” is a question never far from one’s mind as one — errrmmm — “reads” it.

“What” may have it beat, though, truth be told. What am I looking at? What’s happening? What are these shapes, these drawings, these — everything? If you’re not willing to put in some work on your own end, you’re not going to get much from this mini. And by “not much,” I think I mean “anything at all.”

Even that’s likely negotiable, though. All perspectives and points of view tend to be so on Planet Miles. Fixed points don’t exist, but just because they don’t exist doesn’t mean you can’t intuit their presence. And just because you can intuit their presence doesn’t mean they exist. You see where I’m going here — or maybe you don’t — but it’s not like it really matters. “Where I’m going” has a lot less to do with the value of this particular work than where it takes you — and that could be anywhere at all, nowhere at all, and/or all points between.

Look, what it all boils down to is this : there’s a very real chance that these 16 pages will blow your mind far more than perhaps even the best hit of acid you’ve ever dropped — and at just a dollar (same price as my Patreon, but we’ll get to that soon enough), it’s a whole hell of a lot cheaper. If that’s not enough to convince you to give it a whirl then I don’t know what else (or what more) it could possibly take, but I feel like my job here is done — or as “done” as I can do it, at any rate. Miles’ comics probably make the whole idea of “criticism” redundant at best, utterly useless at worst, and while that doesn’t prevent me from giving the act of analyzing and appraising them on the basis of their merits an honest effort, it does mean that my own modest little write-up here was likely pre-destined to end the way any other critic’s would, to wit : I’ve said all I can say about this book, just get the damn thing and decide for yourself.

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Order No Title directly from Jason T. Miles at https://jasontmiles.com/No-Title

And while you’re spending a buck for stuff, please consider joining my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for exactly that price per month. Your support also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so please help a guy out by heading over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 08/11/2019 – 08/17/2019, Recent First Issues

My reading pile is a bit all over the map these days — some stuff from the current week, some stuff from previous weeks, and some back issues are all vying for my attention (whatever that’s worth). As things shook out, I ended up reading four new “number ones” the other day, and since we talk about “number ones” a hell of a lot in this column and I’m writing it at 5:30 A.M. and have precisely no mental energy to come up with a different theme, we’re gonna stick with what we know —

Batman : Curse Of The White Knight #1 is the start of what I believe to be a six-parter that sees Sean Murphy return to his “alternate universe” Gotham for another go-’round between Batman, a once-again-evil Joker and, I guess, Azrael, this time under the auspices of DC’s purportedly “prestigious” Black Label imprint. Murphy’s art is always stylish and cool, but like its predecessor, this comic is seriously stupid. How stupid? Joker stabs the warden of Arkham in the neck and rather than sputter or gasp for air or lay on the floor dying or whatever the fuck, the guy keeps talking as normal, and just bitches about the situation : “Is this why you brought me down here? Just to stab me?” You think I’m making this up, but I’m not, and how that even gets by editorial I have no idea. The rest of the book’s loaded with wooden dialogue, a completely uninvolving historical mystery, and a bunch of disparate plot threads that who the hell even cares how they come together. Oh, and Murphy’s Batman is an even bigger asshole than the “regular” Batman is. Avoid at all costs.

Collapser #1 comes our way from another DC sub-imprint, this time Gerard Way’s Young Animal, and is co-written by Way’s brother, Mikey (wonder how he got the gig?) and veteran borderline-interesting scribe Shaun Simon, and illustrated by the talented and polished Ilia Kyriazis. Since we’re on the subject of assholes, the self-absorbed DJ who’s our protagonist in this one certainly fits that bill, but at least the premise is kind of interesting : he gets a black hole sent to him in the mail and it turns out to be sentient and it burrows into his chest and starts sharing his body. Oh, and gives him all kinds of (yawn, but hey it’s DC) super-powers, one of which is apparently the ability to overcome his anxiety disorder. This is a pretty uneven ride, I won’t kid you, but it kept me interested enough that I decided to give the second issue, which came out this past Wednesday, a go as well. It was of the “good enough to hang around for one more” variety, too, so I’m still in — but far from all in, if you know what I mean.

Coffin Bound #1 kicks off a new and decidedly different undead series from Image by writer Dan Watters — who’s doing some amazing work on Vertigo’s Lucifer series — and artist Dani, who’s a new name to me but seems to have a pretty solid eye for the horrific and illustrates the proceedings in pleasingly gritty style. The book’s got a grindhouse vibe to it, the protagonist is likable, and most importantly it doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t afraid to ride the wave of its own ridiculousness and see where it goes. Oh, and there’s a cool muscle car too and it all takes place in some barren, godforsaken wasteland of some sort. Pretty much a kick-ass comic that hits all the right notes.

Once & Future #1 marks the beginning of, you guessed it, an Arthurian-themed mini from Boom! Studios and the creative team of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Dan Mora. Right-wing nationalists have resurrected an ancient evil and it’s up to a retired “ghost hunter” and her grandson to put a stop to the fascist chicanery in this one, and it’s all very topical and smart and Gillen manages to actually avoid a lot of the “too cool for school” overly-stylized dialogue that plagues most of his other projects and ends up making everyone sound more or less the same (hey, if he can do it, maybe Tom King can, too — but I’m not holding my breath) while Mora, for his part, is one of the more talented “clean line” artists working in the mainstream right now, so this comic looks pretty cool, too. This is hardly earth-shattering stuff, but it’s exceedingly competent, and there’s certainly no shame in that. I’m more than willing to stick around and see what happens with this one.

And that should about do it for another week, aside from my customary reminder that this column is, as always, “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 buck a month. At that price you’re sure to get good value for your money, and your support also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so help a guy out and go have a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

“Tat Rat” #8 Is All That

Whatever happened to the real underground, man?

You know the one — it specialized in lurid, obsessively-detailed depictions of squalor, depravity, perversion, and societal collapse. It not only embraced decay, it reveled in it. And it was definitely more than a little bit dangerous — back when it was around.

But perhaps rumors of its demise have been exaggerated. Yeah, you’ve gotta look harder  to find it now that high-brow art comics have swallowed up all the territory that falls outside the mainstream, but a small number of die-hard cartoonists either didn’t get the memo, or tore it up and threw it in the trash where it fucking well belongs.

Which brings us to the Forsley brothers, Cameron and Christopher, and the eighth and most recent issue of their irregularly self-published series. Tat Rat.

Everything about this comic is just plain intense — hyper-detailed woodcut style illustrations, rich inky blacks, crosshatching that’s dog-on-a-bone relentless, and story themes revolving around gentrification, poverty, the slow and painful death of dreams, shady day-labor gigs, self-harm, deranged clowns, and mysterious spirit animals coalesce into a heady experience guaranteed to take you to some strange places, mug you in the alley with a blackjack to the head, and leave you bleeding out in the gutter. It’s all so terribly, wonderfully refreshing in this day and age of “safe” and “respectable” art to see stuff that’s anything but.

And yet this ain’t just — or even — ’60s throwback material. There’s a thoroughly contemporary sensibility undercutting it that marks it as a product very much of the here and now that cleaves to the temperament of, rather than slavishly seeks to emulate, the likes of Greg Irons or Dave Sheridan. The issues it addresses are rooted in the present, the narratives eschew shock value for its own sake (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the art betrays a working knowledge of where comics are these days. In other words, expect no tiresome nostalgia trips to be had here, even if much of what’s on offer in these pages is entirely unlike most of what’s being published in 2019.

This is, then, cause for excitement. Really. The idea that the old and the new can crash into each other and show the way forward for those brave enough to follow suit is something comics, and art in general, will always need. The future belongs to those intractable rebels who refuse to conform because they don’t even know what the words means. Cameron Forsley, who handles all the art and some of the writing herein, and sibling Christopher, who writes everything in the book his “other half” doesn’t, are two such rebels. And while they definitely appear to enjoy giving the masses a richly-deserved middle finger, it’s not as if they’re not giving them a hell of a lot to think about while they do so. Pulling off both simultaneously takes legit “mad skills,” and these guys have ’em.

If the comics landscape has become stale, uninspired, and most crucially uninspiring to you, then Tat Rat #8 is precisely the antidote you’ve been craving. An adrenaline shot right to the heart that will rouse even the most jaded and cynical from their comic book fatigue, it gets — and keeps — your attention by means of the most sure-fire method of all : grabbing you by eyeballs and refusing to let go.

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Tat Rat sells for $7 and is available from Domino Books at http://dominobooks.org/tatrat8.html.

But don’t stop your spending spree with that, please consider supporting my Patreon site, as well, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants an ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar per month. At that price you’ve got literally nothing to lose and are sure to get plenty of bang for your buck, so please have a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Several Miles Beneath The Underground : Max Clotfelter’s “Andros” #8

The welcome news that Max Clotfleter, the enfant terrible of the Seattle cartooning scene, will finally be seeing the first comprehensive collection of his comics coming out later this year — courtesy of Birdcage Bottom Books and bearing the title Rooftop Stew (the cover of which is pictured near the bottom of this review) —shouldn’t obscure the fact that he’s been been cobbling together much of his work from parts various and sundry for several years now in the pages of his self-published series Andros, the eighth and most recent issue of which is probably as fine an example of “Clotfelter in microcosm” as you’re likely to find. Assuming, of course, that finding such a thing would be of interest to you.

And hey, who are we kidding? It certainly should be. There’s no doubt that much of Clotfelter’s sensibility emerges from the “confessional/autobio” tradition — see, for example, the strips about his childhood life with his very unconventional father in this issue — but the most pleasing thing about a project of this nature is that such things are interspersed with, indeed even counter-balanced against, that other indisputable staple of our guy Max’s cartooning career, namely his superb “ugly art” illustrations that would do the likes of Rory Hayes, S. Clay Wilson, Jim Osborne, and Roy Tompkins proud.

Where else, I ask you, can you find memoir on one page, mutant freaks on another, sprawling phantasmagorias of the beyond-grotesque on another still? It’s Andros or nothing if variety like that’s your bag, and number eight serves up heaping helpings of it all for a modest three dollar price — which is more than earned by the eyeball-gouging and painstakingly rendered (or should that be channeled?) center-spread smack dab in the middle of the book itself.

Certainly, as mentioned, other people have done comics in this vein, but not quite like this at all : Clotfelter’s obsessive attention to detail, his penchant for well-placed and just-as-well-timed exaggeration, his intuitive knowledge of when to pull back and “get real” with shit — to borrow from a wretched country song, this is a guy who well and truly knows when to hold ’em and knows when to fold ’em, and the only people I don’t recommend his work to are the kinds of squares that I want nothing to do with in the first place. Comics should be fun, comics should be engrossing, and the best comics should even hurt — Andros #8 covers all three of those bases, each in fairly equal proportion to one another, so it’s pretty tough to walk away from this particular mini with much of anything to complain about.

I know that, for my own part, I’m very much looking forward to meeting Clotfelter in person for the first time at Short Run (see above) later this year after admiring his creative output for a hell of a long time. The spirit of the utterly fucked up is alive and well — or should that be unwell? — in his comics, and if you’re new to his warped visions, you could do a hell of a lot worse than than checking them out for the first time with Andros #8. Be warned, though : once you’ve paid a visit to this sleazy, slimy cartoon slum, you may just want to take up permanent residence.

Hell, you won’t even mind the rodents — they make for some pretty tasty eating.

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Get three bucks out of your wallet and go order Andros #8 from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half distro at http://www.spitandahalf.com/product/andros-8-by-max-clotfelter/

And while you’re running around spending money, please consider supporting my work by joining 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. Give it a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

“My Fanny” If I Can Understand This Comic

A visually lurid and kaleidoscopic amalgamation of the fragmentary, the jumbled, the confused/confusing, and a good deal of the utterly inexplicable, Jason T. Miles’ mini My Fanny #1 (self-published under his G.O.A.T. imprint) is nevertheless a rewarding experience — just don’t ask me to be able to quantify why that’s the case.

Which, I suppose, negates the whole idea of me positioning myself as a “critic” in the first place, but shit — that’s Miles for you. Few cartoonists are as adept as he is at defying everything you think you know about anything, mostly by dint of just ignoring all that exists outside of his own very particular set of sensibilities and/or instincts, and getting you to either buy in or, failing that, simply get the fuck out of his way. There’s no guidebook to either making or reading comics like this, so — go with the flow or drown, I suppose.

I don’t know which I did after making my way through it, to be honest, and subsequent re-visits of the material, which is now a couple of years old to the best of my knowledge, haven’t clarified the situation any. I caught on to the names of some of the characters — Pocky, Teary, Tennessee, Man-Wolf Bones — but what they’re doing, much less why they’re doing it, remains shrouded in a mystery that I’m not fairly convinced I’ll never solve. And I think — that’s okay?

Hell, maybe considerably more than that, even. I can parse this work all I want and come up with something vaguely resembling any number of possible explanations, but they’re discarded from my mind as quickly as they arrive in it, and besides, where’s the fun in that in the first place? Not really knowing what you’re looking at on any given page is as firm a guarantee as you’re likely to encounter that you won’t know what’s coming on the next one, and certainly that’s worth something right there in and of itself, is it not?

I’m gonna go with “I think so” as the response to that question, and that’s basically the best rejoinder to all queries that rise up in regards to this mini. Is it well-executed? I think so. Is there an internal logic underpinning it? I think so. Is it a worthwhile utilization of a talented and iconoclastic cartoonist’s time and energy? I think so. Is it any good?

Again, and most crucially — I think so.

If uncertainty frustrates you, then certainly this review — or this attempt at a review — is bound to do the same, but the comic itself has me beat in that regard by several orders of magnitude. It’s one thing to meet a work on its own terms — it’s another to come up short in terms of establishing what those terms even are. A facile surface-level reading may find  My Fanny #1 to be an inherently self-indulgent exercise, sure, but to the extent that I can tease out a point to it, I think such an interpretation misses it by a country mile — what Miles has created here is art that demands consideration for the most pure and un-pretentious reason of all : just because it is.

As to what it is — I’m still working on that. If I ever come up with the answer, I’ll let you know. Until then, you’d do well to check it out and maybe come up with the answer for yourself.

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My Fanny #1 is available for $5.00 from Jason T. Miles’ Storenvy site at http://goatcomics.storenvy.com/products/17426633-my-fanny-1

Also, please consider supporting my work by joining 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. Check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Eurocomics Spotlight : Anne Simon’s “The Empress Cixtisis”

Ostensibly a sequel to her earlier, and justly well-received, The Song Of Aglaia, French cartoonist Anne Simon’s newly-released-in-English (and in color!) The Empress Cixtisis (originally published in 2014 under the title Cixtite Imperatrice) is something rather more than that, in actuality — I mean, yeah, Aglaia’s back and all, but she’s just one of a pair of dueling pro/antagonists, the other being our titular Empress, who is herself a barely-concealed (to say nothing of bitingly sardonic) stand-in for the “real life” Empress Dowager Cixi of China, who effectively ruled that country for nearly 50 years. We’ve got an ambitious and multi-faceted text going on here, then, but here’s the thing with Simon — no matter how conceptually and theoretical dense her work may be, it’s never anything less than a pure joy to read.

In fact, my one and only complaint about The Empress Cixtisis is that, at just 80 pages (80 pristinely-presented pages between two hard covers courtesy of Fantagraphics, to be specific), it’s far too short, so utterly absorbing is the sharp, fully-realized feminist parable that plays out within it. But here’s one other really impressive thing the book has going in its favor : men, against all odds, matter to these proceedings, as well.

Not that they’ve ever been of a tremendous amount of use to Aglaia herself, of course, a fact that those who’ve been fortunate enough to read her earlier exploits are well familiar with. But when the forces of Cixtisis’ neighboring nation of Chinchinia abscond with all of the men under Aglaia’s rule with an eye toward castrating and enslaving them, it’s a bridge too far even for our complex, troubled, but never less than bizarrely charming and funny “heroine,” who’s forced to examine her own relationship with the unfairer sex in light of this bold transgression.

Certainly Simon’s art is given a chance to really shine accentuated with a sympathetic, wisely understated color palette, which I’m pleased to report does nothing to diminish the power of her intricate cross-hatching and wonderfully inventive character designs. This is accomplished and smart illustration that plays to the strengths inherent in Simon’s script while fully drawing readers/viewers into the world it presents. Look — when you can’t envision a comic looking any other way than it does, then that’s cartooning at its finest, and I defy anyone to label Simon’s work as anything less than that.

And while it probably goes without saying that the standard male way of waging war is deftly cast aside here in favor of a battle of wits, who are we kidding? Upending norms as a matter of course is always part and parcel of the Simon approach to storytelling —  but please don’t take that to mean you’ll know what’s coming next here, because it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll find a surprise around just about every corner. There’s a gleefully fiendish cleverness underpinning each page from first to last in this book, and even though that could easily and understandably denigrate into a kind of resigned cynicism in the hands of a lesser talent, with Simon behind the wheel we have absolutely nothing to worry about.

For my own part, all I can say is that I hope the saga of Aglaia and her queendom is far from finished. The Empress Cixtisis is one of those books that you not only don’t want to end, you dread the fact that it even has to do so well before it’s over.

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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 per month. At that price, seriously — what have you got to lose? There’s a ton of stuff up on there already, so you’re sure to get good value for your money, and your support also helps ensure a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, Please give it a look, won’t you?

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Everyone Else Is Talking About “Pope Hats” #6 — I Suppose I Should, Too

So — who do we believe? Over at TCJ, inexplicably popular critic Matt Seneca used his review of Hartley Lin’s recently-released Pope Hats #6 as a platform for anti-natalist proselytizing and to burnish his “edgelord” bone fides, while at Sequential State, my friend Alex Hoffman adorned it with glowing praise, admittedly filtered though his own parental sensibilities. Can they both be right and/or wrong?

Well — theoretically, sure. But as circumstance would have it, I find myself leaning more toward “Team Hoffman” on this one, although I don’t see the latest issue of the long-running AdHouse Books series, which carries the title of “Shapeshifter,” as a revolutionary departure for anyone but cartoonist Lin himself, who telegraphs his intentions early on by ditching his “Ethan Rilly” pseudonym and positioning himself as being smaller in stature than his infant son and a toy (?) ladybug on the comic’s cover. He’s still front and center, mind you, and so we’ve got ourselves a fairly clear case of truth in advertising going on here : this is a comic about him, sure, but he’s not the largest figure in his own life.

I can’t be the only reader (or critic) to get a “this feels like Adrian Tomine used to about 10-15 years ago” vibe off this book, but at least Lin’s less determined to force meaning and significance upon everything, choosing instead to trust his readers enough to tease such things out for themselves as these four-panels-per-page interconnected vignettes run their course. Granted, the overall thrust of the work is right out there in the open — the strategic placement of his “Driving Through Vermont” one-pagers alone sees to that — but he assiduously manages to avoid clobbering you over the head with a “life is about the small, quiet moments for me now” editorial/artistic POV that you’d frankly have to be blind to miss, anyway. In the wrong hands, this shit could grate pretty fast — but Lin’s nothing if not skilled, and so he manages to pull it all off, if only just barely.

That being said, the “parental memoir” has certainly been done both before and better, and if this issue turns out to be a “sidebar piece” between the end of one long-form narrative and the beginning of another, I won’t really complain. In fact, as was the case with Pope Hats #4, this may function best as a “step out of the nest” one-off that allows Lin to get some necessary stuff out of his system before honing his focus on the next “big thing.” I won’t pull my hair out if this ends up being “the way things are” in this series from here on out — it’s not like I’ve got a whole lot left anyway — but I think I’d prefer it if, ya know, it weren’t.

Which probably sounds unduly harsh, and I don’t mean for it to. Formally, tonally, narratively, there’s nothing strictly “wrong” with this comic. I enjoyed my time spent with it. But I could also be capable of enjoying the odd episode of Seinfeld here and there while acknowledging that watching 300 (or whatever) installments of it sounds like a living hell.

 

Not that I mean to compare a considered and largely well-executed work such as  Pope Hats with the vacuous and wholly unremarkable Seinfeld. And not that I actually even could derive anything resembling a dictionary definition of “enjoyment” from Seinfeld in the first place. I’m probably just reaching for something that can be nearly-universally related to, I suppose. And maybe that’s what Lin is doing with Pope Hats #6, even if we’re not (thank God) all parents — in which case, he’s doing a far better job of it than I am.

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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. At that price, seriously — what have you got to lose? There’s tons of stuff up on there already, so you’re sure to get good value for your money, and your support also enables me to keep a steady supply of free content coming, both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please give it a look, won’t you?

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse