Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/14/2018 – 10/20/2018

As per the norm, we’ve got four new books to take a look at in this week’s Round-Up column, with something of a common theme in that they all come our way courtesy  of those unafraid to put their money where their mouths are, the noble ranks of self-publishing cartoonists —

Or, in the case of So Buttons #9, a self-publishing writer, specifically Jonathan Baylis, who makes a welcome return after a couple of years spent raising his infant son, who features prominently in a heartwarming little “who do ya love?” anecdote illustrated with stripped-down poignancy by T.J. Kirsch and an equally “awwwww — fer cute”-inducing yarn about introducing the lovable tyke to music drawn with gorgeously wistful aplomb by Summer Pierre. For the anti-natalists out there, though, fear not : we have a quartet of stories that re-visit tried and true Baylis themes, with the great James Romberger providing the strikingly authentic urban visuals which have long been one of the staples of his career on a story about picking up real rare roast beef from New York’s famous Second Avenue Deli, Fred Hembeck continuing his whimsical depictions of Baylis’ time interning in the shitshow that is the mainstream comic book industry, Thomas Boatwright going full-on “cartoony” exaggeration in a second strip about Baylis’ abandoned ambitions to be a horror movie make-up and effects artist, and Noah Van Sciver channeling his inner Crumb for another Harvey Pekar homage, which sees Baylis asking his own version of “what’s in a name?” —  only the name he’s pondering the ins and outs of isn’t Jonathan, as you’d probably expect, but Carl, which was shared by both his father and cousin.

These are all eminently smart and readable short-form vignettes that demonstrate that Baylis hasn’t lost a step at all over his hiatus, and if this issue happens to be your first exposure to his work, rest assured — you couldn’t have chosen a better time to hop on board. Presented in approximate half-standard-size format with a stunningly simple and emotive watercolor cover by Alissa Salah, this comic is more than worth the $5 price of admission and is available for purchase at http://sobuttons.com/order/

Continuing with the memoir theme, Rachel Scheer and her mother, Karen, collaborate once again for By Mom, By Me Volume Two : Tales From Our Twenties, which juxtaposes the “coming of age” years of Karen in the 1970s and Rachel in the early 2000s. This is remarkably relatable stuff, whether we’re talking about hitching a ride in a hearse through Yosemite Valley or an amusingly paranoid (you only think that’s a contradiction) boardwalk stroll, and ably demonstrates that this family has talent to spare. Rachel’s engaging, light-hearted cartooning style is as pitch-perfect for her material as ever here, the simple black-and-white ‘zine presentation is really nice, and I defy anybody to finish this one without a smile slowly creeping across their face.

Granted, this is no reinvention of the wheel or anything, but it’s a novel and winning approach to something that many consider, and not without reason, to have already been, as the saying goes, “done to death.” A bargain at $4.00 from https://www.etsy.com/listing/631943490/by-mom-by-me-volume-two-tales-from-our?ref=shop_home_active_1

Breaking from the memoir/autobio theme we had going, but only slightly, we come to Josh Pettinger’s Goiter #3, a book-length tale about one Sally Talman, who shares many of the same trepidations about turning 30 that, just a coincidence I’m sure, her author/creator did, as well. I’m thinking that the similarities between fact and fiction end, though, once the disembodied head of Sally’s future boyfriend, who’s fighting an interdimensional war, shows up on the scene, although who knows? I could be wrong about that.

Whatever the case may be, Pettinger’s rapid evolution as a cartoonist continues apace here, as he abandons the clinical Chris Ware-like distance he sometimes fell back on in earlier issues in favor of a genuinely involving story with a thoroughly humane viewpoint at its softly-beating heart. His illustration style still betrays hints of a Dan Clowes influence, it’s true, but with a decidedly “vintage” sensibility (be on the lookout for lots of “color dots,” for instance) that gives the proceedings a timeless and ethereal vibe. A richly rewarding return on your $7 investment (not bad at all for a full-color book in a slightly taller and thinner version of the standard comic format, with heavy cardstock covers) is sure to be had if you do the right thing and point your browser to https://www.etsy.com/listing/650388073/goiter-iii?ref=shop_home_active_1

Saving the best for last, though, we have Sara L. Jackson’s stunning painted ‘zine, The Female Minotaur, an emotionally searing look at the slow-burn heartbreak of a father’s gradual distancing of himself from his own daughter — a blow that’s doubly felt given the alienation that she already feels from her mother, and that mom in turn feels from dad. Oh yeah — this is as heavy as comics get.

Tell you what, though — it’s just about as good as they get, too, a veritable and visceral feast for the eyes that challenges the reader on all levels from the intellectual to the aesthetic, the end result being a book that literally exists in a category all its own, created for the specific purpose of telling this one story. I tend to shy away from employing overused and, by extension, necessarily cheapened superlatives such as “tour de force” very often, but that’s exactly what Jackson delivers here, a thematic and conceptual powerhouse of raw feeling more-than-strikingly communicated by means of her intuitively-channeled sequential series of  lush and arresting paintings. This is art that comes from someplace really deep, folks, and speaks to equally deep pits and valleys in the reader’s soul. A strong contender for the most unforgettable comics experience you’ll have all year, and not to be missed under any circumstances, exclusively (as far as I know, at any rate) offered for sale — and at the criminally low price of $8 ! — from our friends at Domino Books : http://dominobooks.org/womanminotaur.html

And with that, we  come to the end of yet another of our weekly “mini-review” rundowns. I don’t know what next week holds, but if it’s even half as good as this one, that would still be something well beyond great.


Eurocomics Spotlight : Samplerman’s “Fearless Colors”

French cartoonist Yvan Guillo, better known under his nom de plume of Samplerman, has a technique like no other — and it’s one that leaves me in a real quandary. Digitally manipulating pre-existing (primarily Golden Age, and most likely all public domain) comic book illustrations into hitherto-unforeseen, and uniformly bizarre, new shapes and formations and probably even realities is the part I “get,” but what sort of artist does that make Mr. Samplerman? Or, perhaps more specifically, what sort of art is it that he’s making? Is it “found” art? Is it “Pop Art”? Is it collage? Is it Lichtenstein- or Warhol-esque  appropriation/theft?

Eventually, I settled on — re-mixing. What do we all think of that?

If his recently-issued collection,  Fearless Colors (co-published by Kus!, Ediciones Valientes, and MMMNNNRRRG) proves one thing, it’s that some sort of musical comparison is in order, because while the “strips” in this book are a product of modern technology, there’s actually a fair amount of improvisation that not only informs this work, but in a very real sense forms its backbone. I’m not sure whether or not Samplerman “plots out” what he’s going to do in advance — I suppose to some extent he must — but if so, his “stories” are more the result, it seems to me, of teasing out hidden elements in disparate materials already at hand than any sort of overt searching out of specific details, themes, or even similar visual cues. But who knows? I could be entirely wrong.

In any case, the results are entirely unlike anything else out there, and perhaps the most amazing thing about whatever it is that Samplerman is doing is that it never seems to get repetitious or boring. Prior to scoring a copy of this book, my only exposure to his work was in smaller “chunks” in various anthologies, and while it never failed to impress — hell, even inspire a fair degree of awe in — me, I figured that any long-form exposure to it would necessarily yield diminishing returns. After all, how many times can a guy essentially do the same thing and keep flabbergasting readers with it?

As it turns out, he can apparently do it a lot. And the more I think about it, the more that makes sense — I mean, the whole idea of comics as a medium continues to fascinate and enthrall people, and just as there’s no hard and set “limit” to what can be done with words and pictures in juxtaposition, there’s no “limit” on what can be done with words and pictures that are already extant, right? As long as there’s one comics page out there in the world, there’s a page that can, theoretically, be given the “Samplerman treatment.”

Another interesting, and welcome, surprise : despite the fact that these strips appeared in a number of publications over a three- year period (2012-2015, if you’re curious), they’re presented in a “running order” (hey, another musical reference) that gives them not so much (okay, not at all) a sense of narrative, but at least of visual, momentum — there’s a unique and entirely-accidentally-arrived-at rhythm and flow to this work, both within the individual selections themselves, as well as in their overall assemblage, that mimics something akin to storytelling in the same way that the images mimic, and distort, the pages they’re “sampled” from. The overall effect is not unlike what one would probably achieve if they tore (or, better yet, cut) up some old comics to tiny shreds and dropped them into the business end of a kaleidoscope.

So, where does this “momentum” I mentioned come from? Purely from Samplerman’s unmatched ability to absolutely obliterate the concept of “expectations” on even a conceptual level. By taking a bunch of geriatric stories that were no doubt predictable and formulaic in the extreme, fucking with them mercilessly in Photoshop or some related program, and intuitively positioning the results in a manner that draws in both the eye and the imagination, he’s created something utterly unique unto itself : a book where you literally never know what’s coming next — chiefly because you don’t even know what you’re looking at now. With all this in mind, then — and breaking our pattern of musical analogies (hey, I can do this “unpredictable thing,” too!) — I have no hesitation in labeling  Samplerman “the William Burroughs of comics.”

Honestly, though, all my blathering aside, Fearless Colors is something you really need to see, to experience, to process for yourself, and on your own terms. I can imagine this book “hitting” each reader in entirely different ways, and no doubt it will mean something different to each of them, as well. Even if it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you’d dig, you literally cannot make that decision without, at the very least, checking it out — and once you do, my bet is that you’ll be damn glad you did. It can be ordered directly from Kus!, with shipping included free, at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/filter.php?a=1&srn=0




Fair Warning : I’m About To Give You A “Lotta Lipp”

At first glance, it seems crazy — why would any critic, in good conscience, recommend that you spend five bucks on a mini-comic that’s primarily taken up by a story concerning the cartoonist who drew it just walking around his neighborhood? “Join me as I take an aimless stroll” is an old autobio trope, to be sure, but by and large these types of exercises about — uhhhmmm — getting a little exercise are relegated to “backup feature” status, as well they probably ought to be. If you’re gonna make this type of yarn the backbone of your book, shit — it just stands to reason that you must not have too many actual ideas, right?

Conventional wisdom, however, quite often lives up to only the first part of its name, and this is another of those occasions, because August Lipp’s Lotta Lipp Comics #1 is probably the most fascinating walk to ever make the — errrmmm — leap from mind to pen to paper. It doesn’t take up the entirety of the book’s 40 pages — there is some important preamble, in fact, relating a story about Lipp’s 2017 move to Philadelphia (yes, some people actually move to Philadelphia) that sets the stage for the long, leisurely stroll that follows in that it establishes our cartoonist/protagonist’s status as a newcomer to the so-called “City Of Brotherly Love,” and that Johnny-Come-Lately viewpoint that he brings to his environs? That, right there, makes all the difference.

Oh, sure, Lipp plays it cool and casual, but he definitely brings an outsider’s perspective to these loosely-drawn, expressive pages that communicates, with seldom a word spoken, all the awkwardness, trepidation, and adaptive struggles of the outsider, the interloper, the uninvited guest who came to visit — and decided to stay.

But that’s only half the story  —  as anybody who’s ever moved to a new city, state, country, or any combination thereof can tell you, there’s a fair amount of starry-eyed optimism that comes part and parcel with a change in scenery, as well. Stuff that everyone’s seen a thousand times or more is brand new to the recently-arrived. The everyday is exotic. The tried-and-true is immediate, visceral, captivating. The ordinary is anything but. And while a person with this (god I hate this term, but) POV may not make for the best real-life tour guide to accompany someone who’s only in town for a night our two, as the “eyes and ears” of a media audience they absolutely can’t be beat.

The amount of time I’ve spent in Philly is (fortunately, by my reckoning) minimal, but from what I have seen, Lipp more or less nails it in this comic — the row houses, the couples milling about, the bored kids aimlessly roaming, the even more bored adults standing (or, in some cases, sleeping) on their front stoops; these are all straight-up staples of life in America’s fourth-largest (I think?) city. This is as real as real gets, as observed — and subsequently communicated — by the most valuable sort of documentarian there is : somebody who hasn’t seen it all before. It’ll all be mundane as a Denny’s breakfast special for Lipp in no time, of course — hell, it may even be by now — but when he drew this? It was all fresh and new, and he was still navigating his way through unfamiliar streets, social mores, and even attitudes. And while trudging home may never make for anyone’s definition of exciting reading, in this case it’s most definitely intriguing.

Sure, this may seem like pretty staid stuff for the guy who less than a year ago gave us the fiercely idiosyncratic imaginings of Roopert, but the same keen intelligence, inherent wit, and commitment to honestly in craft (as well as ruled notebook lines) are all present and accounted for here, so please — whatever you do — avoid the assumption that this is necessarily “August Lipp Lite.” In point of fact, Lotta Lipp Comics #1 is as inquisitive, as resonant, as smart as funnybooks get. Order your copy directly from the cartoonist at https://augustlipp.tictail.com/product/lotta-lipp-comics-1


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/07/2018 – 10/13/2018, November Garcia And Ines Estrada

It’s no secret to anybody who’s read this site for any length of time that I consider November Garcia to be the best comics art import to come out of the Philippines since Alex Nino, and it’s equally-public knowledge that my adoration for Mexican (by way, the last few years, of Texas) DIY cartoonist extraodrinaire Ines Estrada knows no bounds, so when John Porcellino recently listed two new self-published titles from each of them for sale at his Spit And A Half distro site, you knew I was gonna be all over them in no time. Let’s have a look at ’em, shall we?

Rookie Moves  is a witty and never-less-than-completely engaging mini that charts Garcia’s “rise” from the ranks of comics fan-girl to published cartoonist in her own right and showcases her at her neurotic, self-deprecating best as she rubs shoulders with the likes of Gabrielle Bell, Jon Lewis, Iona Fox, Rob Clough, and others — including the aforementioned Mr. Porcellino himself. This is all a bit “inside baseball,” it’s true, but for those of us involved in “the scene” it’s a welcome chance to see just how unwittingly intimidating we can be, plus Garcia’s sharp observational skills are in top form — as is her illustration, which is clean, controlled, and emotive all in one go. Five bucks for my favorite NG comic yet? Quit dawdling, you know you have to get this now.

Besides bearing the longest title of any mini you’ll read this year, Great, Just What We Need — More Diary Comics From A Relative Nobody wins bonus points for truth in advertising, but I take exception to Garcia’s central premise : when diary comics are this good, we actually do need  them. A lot of these entries catalogue typical diary strip concerns revolving around the drudgery of daily life and navigating through relationships, no question, but the raw honesty with which our gal November documents even the most minute details is admirable, her art looks good even in when it’s clearly “rushed” as it is here, and there are some moments of genuine poignancy on offer, such as her shocked reaction to the death of cartoonist Mark Campos. Perhaps not an essential purchase to anyone other than the most dedicated Garcia partisan, but if  you’re among that rabble — as I proudly acknowledge myself to be — you can live without a measly three dollars a hell of a lot more than you can live without this comic.

Buckle up for bestiality in Ines Estrada’s It’s Too Much And Not Enough, a collection of purportedly “erotic” portraiture featuring people, plants, wolves, robots, and reptiles engaged in various (thankfully) impossible states of coitus that will probably make your stomach churn even as you can’t tear your eyes away. A heady mix of color and black-and-white illustration that showcases the most depraved corners of one person’s fertile, if slightly (okay, maybe more than slightly) disturbed imagination in the bright and unforgiving light of day, Estrada’s art is lavish and intricately-rendered, and while you’ll probably be glad your mind doesn’t conjure up this sort of imagery (unless, hey, it does), you’ve gotta admire anyone who not only admits that theirs does, but isn’t afraid to let the world (or at least the part of it that’s paying attention) know it. Six dollars is a little bit steep for 16 pages, it’s true, but these are 16 pages sure to burn their way into your memory permanently. Whether that’s a good or bad  thing I leave up to you to decide for yourself, but I’m glad to have this ‘zine in my library, and look forward to leaving it out on the coffee table for unwitting visitors to our home to peruse while I slave away in the goddamn kitchen.

Just kidding, Deinell and I never have company over, and now you know why — we have comics like this one laying around.

Roppongi Nights is a companion publication of sorts to the one just discussed, and also sells for six bucks, but this time out you’re getting 20 pages of entirely B&W sketchbook art, much (check that, most) of it again ostensibly”erotic” in nature, but there’s some relatively “tame” material mixed in with the animalistic debauchery, as well, so hey — if somebody put a pistol to your head and made you show one of these comics to a youngster, this might be the one.

Awww, who are we kidding? Just let ’em shoot you dead, because this stuff is plenty combustible enough to blow an impressionable mind to pieces, and who wants that on their conscience? Again, I’m more than pleased to have this in my collection, but your mileage may vary substantially, especially if you’re a hopeless square — which, I’m reliably informed, you (yes, you personally) aren’t, so why not give it a go?

And that’s probably more than enough to keep your brain full and your wallet empty for one week, so join yours truly back here in seven days as we see take a look at whatever delights, depravities, or both the dastardly combination of my LCS and the USPS serves up next. Until then, you can get any of these comics your heart desires, as well as a whole lot more, by aiming your browser of choice at http://www.spitandahalf.com/


Dysfunction Junction : Carta Monir’s “Lara Croft Was My Family”

When you can construct a fully-formed, emotionally resonant, deeply poignant comics memoir in just 40 pages, you’re probably an extraordinary cartoonist. When you can do it in 40 panels? Then take a well-deserved bow, because you’re downright otherworldly.

Now, before you mention it, rest assured that I’m fully aware that it’s considered bad form for a critic to “give away the game” in the opening paragraph of a review like I just did, but fuck it — Carta Monir doesn’t mess around in Lara Croft Was My Family, and I intend to follow her lead. To that end, I’m going to be uncharacteristically short, sweet, and to the point here, because this is a work that seems to demand exactly that sort of analysis, given that it’s deliberately structured (and magnificently, at that) to achieve maximum impact with minimal bells and whistles — but please don’t take that to mean that Monir’s brevity is employed in service of a quick, hard, punch to the gut. That would be far too easy, and the very nature of this comics makes it abundantly clear that nothing about its creation was “easy.”

So, if this isn’t a visceral and immediate work, what sort of work is it? Believe it or not, while it’s direct and earnest in the extreme, it’s actually remarkably subtle in terms of the complex and even contradictory emotional responses it engenders in readers, telling a tale that touches on issues of emotional abuse, parental mortality, gender dysphoria, and yes, good (okay, not so good) old-fashioned family dysfunction by means of a strung-together series of rapid-fire memories that cover a number of years in, as we’ve already established, a small number of visually-pleasing panels that stress an economy of linework in the same way that the story stresses an economy of dialogue.

Monir’s family had an unusual bonding ritual, to put it mildly — they hovered around Carta’s father, Paul, and he played Tomb Raider — but it’s not like they particularly enjoyed doing so. They just did it. And, for a time, it provided a respite from the old man’s constant and withering criticism. How constant and how withering, you ask? When Carta’s mother was effing dying, “Daddy Dearest” was all over her ass for not trying hard enough to stay alive. And you thought your parents had issues —

Fortunately, dad’s acerbic nature is contrasted by mom’s warmth and caring, so the kids had at least one decent role model in the house — but after she passes away, a transitioning Carta and her brother have a heart-to-heart that, as you’ve probably already sussed out, communicates a lot even though the two of them say very little. This is raw, honest, unvarnished stuff that is in no way easy to read — so I can only imagine what committing it to the page (to say nothing of actually living through it) must have been like. That being said, at least mom and Lara Croft (specifically, mom imitating — and channeling her inner — Lara Croft) provide a quiet template for the kids to look to in order to assure their emotional survival, and the story ends on something of an “upbeat” note — but it’s one tempered by the pain of alienation, of abuse, and especially of loss. Monir doesn’t wallop you over the head with any of this, but the expertly-chosen vignettes that chart her family’s history don’t require a heavy hand, instead realizing that real power lies in burrowing away in the reader’s mind and lingering there for a hell of a long time afterwards. Forget cartooning “lessons” — Monir puts on a veritable clinic here.

In a sure sign that, hey, maybe all is not lost in the world after all, Lara Croft Was My Family has gotten a lot of positive “buzz,” and was even awarded the 2018 Ignatz for Outstanding Webcomic. Monir produced a small riso-printed version of it in advance of SPX (and trust me, the dimensions of this ‘zine put the “mini” back in “mini-comic”), which I jumped on quick but is now already sold out, but fear not — it’s still available for you to experience in its entirety for free online, and you’d be very foolish indeed not to do precisely that. Just follow this handy link and prepare yourself for one of the absolute best comics you’ll read this year :https://medium.com/mammon-machine-zeal/lara-croft-was-my-family-ca4e2b8daf12




Eurocomics Spotlight : Zane Zlemesa’s “Fenix”

Latvian publisher Kus! didn’t need to look too terribly far ( probably just a few towns over, if that ) to find a Zane Zlemesa, the painter/cartoonist who produced the fourth title in their idiosyncratic and consistently-interesting Kus! Mono line — bearing the curious but intriguing title of Fenix — so credit goes to them for introducing a local talent to an international audience, but a “big break” is only what you make of it, I suppose, and the proof, as the saying goes, is always in the pudding. Or, as the case may be, on the pages.

For their part, these pages are certainly visually arresting — Zlemesa’s masterful use of paint is imbued with a fair amount of confidence throughout, and her intuitive understanding of sequential narrative is strong, with her larger-than-normal panels giving her colorful artwork plenty of room to “breathe” while simultaneously allowing for nicely-paced story progression. That story, however, is where we run into a few problems, so we may as well not ignore the elephant in the room any longer —

Zlemesa’s narrative begins on the set of a TV newsroom, which is a great way to accclimate readers to the general and essential character of her fictitious Fenix City locale (the introductory double-page map also helping considerably in this regard) , and the parameters she sets for this pseudo-society are certainly unique, bordering on the compelling, as the town seems founded equally upon the at-first-glance-contradictory endeavors of fine art and casino gambling. Those two worlds are about to come crashing together, though, as a high roller who hits the largest slot jackpot in history has decided to invest his winnings in building a new art museum.

One could be forgiven for assuming that the raison d’etre behind this work was to draw some sort of distinction between the world of art and the world of commerce, gambling being the hyper-charged and perhaps inevitable end point of capitalism in general, but Zlemesa’s narrative instead seems to posit that the two can co-exist and even complement each other in crucial ways, the beauty and richness of art providing a necessary counter-balance to the predatory ugliness of exploitative economic institutions such as casinos, while said casinos can, perhaps, furnish the necessary capital for an arts community to thrive, but who are we kidding? This view is incredibly naive, and to her credit Zlemesa has already internalized this naivete and reflects it back in the sunny, free-wheeling tone of both her art and story. There’s a problem inherent in this approach, though, or at least in Zlemesa’s execution of it, in that there is precisely zero narrative tension on offer here, events simply skipping from the big slot machine win to opening night at the new museum,  and one wonders why she felt compelled to stick with such a straight-forward, if admittedly threadbare, linear progression here at all rather than just eschewing such limiting strictures altogether — as plenty of other Kus! publications have done, often with a sense of outright glee. Go figure.

The TV news anchors we meet at the outset function as the audience’s eyes and ears throughout the book, and as they make their way to the gala opening they have a fascinating, and no doubt symbolically-rich, encounter with one of the mythical Phoenix birds the city is named after (well, one of them does, at any rate — the other doesn’t see a thing), but Zlemesa bizarrely dispenses with this sidebar almost as quickly as she introduces it, leaving a distinct feeling of under-developed ideas in its wake and of genuine potential squandered. It’s frustrating, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I’m entirely in favor of unconventional narrative structures that challenge the reader to “fill in” a fair number of deliberate “blanks” themselves), but it’s frustration introduced in service of no larger goal, as our protagonists simply arrive at the big event (complete with catered food and a band, as one would expect), and then the story doesn’t “end” per se so much as it just (merely?) stops. It’s a damn good thing that the art in this comic is so vibrant and immersive, because otherwise we’d be firmly in “pretentiousness for its own sake and nothing more” territory here.

I mention the art again not only because it merits the additional praise, but also because I think I’m bound and determined to give you some reason to support this book, since Zlemesa is a talent who may very well have a bright future ahead of her and I’m a firm believer in the evolving aesthetic project that Kus! is engaged in as a publisher, but the more I mull it over, I simply can’t in good conscience recommend that you drop 16 of your hard-earned dollars on this thing. I dearly wish that I could, and it’s entirely possible that a couple more re-reads will reveal more than the three passes through it I’ve already made have, but I really do think I “get” what Zlemesa was going for here — unfortunately, she just doesn’t manage to achieve her aims, and as a result allows a fascinating exercise in so-called “world building,” as well as several pages of very strong (hell, sumptuous) pages of painted artwork, to go to waste in service of a failed narrative experiment. If  you choose to blow off my opinion, though — as is your prerogative — and check Fenix for yourself, it can be ordered directly from the publisher (with shipping “on the house”) at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/28887654/fenix-zane-zlemea




Beauty In Decay : Ian Sundahl’s “The Social Discipline Reader”

We’ve all been there — the end of the road. The last stop on the train ride. The bottom of the barrel. How we pick ourselves up again and move forward — that’s up to each of us, I guess. If we even manage to do it at all.

For some folks, however, there’s no way out. What once looked like rock bottom becomes their new reality. Changing things is either impossible, or no longer an attractive option. I humbly submit that, based on the characters whose existences he delineates in his recently-published Domino Books collection The Social Discipline Reader, that cartoonist Ian Sundahl knows these people, and their circumstances, very well indeed.

Which isn’t to say that Sundahl’s work wallows in, or in any way even exploits, the misery or hardships or unfortunate situations of others. Quite the contrary, in fact : he not only respects the motel dwellers, the drifters, the deviants, the deadbeats — he somehow manages to isolate a kernel of absolute uniqueness and individuality within each of them, to hone it on it with laser-like accuracy, and to accentuate the essential character of its inherent truth in a way that is so smooth and naturalistic as to seem downright effortless, even though this sort of instinct is hard-arrived-at and even more difficult to express in a manner that celebrates the humanity of the (voluntarily or otherwise) dispossessed and disenfranchised.

A lot of this bleak magnificence is communicated, of course, by means of Sundahl’s theoretically “scratchy” artwork, which is so fundamentally solid in its structure, its style, and its overall aesthetic that it seems, in a very real sense, beyond reproach. His figure work is instantly compelling and his placement of characters within space cinematic in its execution and expressiveness. Each panel feels like a tight and intricately-composed frame, as thought-through as any shot Kubrick ever assembled, but with a “street-level,” documentary feel. How “real” these individual strips are is open to debate in the strictest sense of that word, but in a larger sense, the designation becomes irrelevant, even obsolete, because they all communicate truths about the human condition that are the very definition of non-fiction.

But please don’t think for a moment that Sundahl makes one particualr type of story his “bread and butter” — indeed, his subject matter occasionally veers into unconventional, even bordering on surreal, territory, but tonally, everything is of a piece, conveying a similar sensibility, intent, and point of view; a kind of pulp or grindhouse affect and effect blended in with the clinical precision and emotional realism previously mentioned to coalesce into caption boxes and imagery (dialogue being sparse to non-existent, visual and verbal narration essentially negating its necessity in most circumstances) that convey a kind of cool detachment, and near-unbearable intimacy, simultaneously. If this sounds like a heady mix of contradictions, all I can say is yeah, it should be — but in the hands of a cartoonist with a viewpoint this singular, and a sense of purpose this strong, it ends up as something near-intoxicating in its sublime effectiveness.

The Social Discipline Reader — culled from several years’ worth of self-published comics ‘zines to form a true “best-of” collection — is my first prolonged exposure to Sundahl’s striking work, but it’s a lead-pipe cinch that it won’t be the last. Its “low-fi” production values (simple black and white pages between equally color-absent covers) are perfect for the material, and in sum total it adds up to a comics reading experience absolutely unique unto itself. Five buck is an absolute steal for something you’re sure to re-visit again and again and genuinely value having as a part of your library, so order it up ASAP from our friends at Domino via this link : http://dominobooks.org/socialdiscipline.html