“I’m Very Interested In The Margins” : The Four Color Apocalypse Interview With Tana Oshima

One the most intriguing new voices to emerge in cartooning over the past year has been Tana Oshima, and after reviewing her self-published minis VagabondFilthy, and Masquerade in recent weeks, I wanted to reach out to Tana herself and allow her to “have her say” in regards to her own work rather than subjecting you all to more of my blathering about it. Without further ado, then, here she is on her life, her work, her influences, and her aims, interspersed with images from two works in progress :  a short-form strip entitled Nabakova, and a full-length graphic memoir.

4CA : By way of introduction to readers who may not be familiar with your work, what is your artistic background? Did you attend art school, or are you entirely self-taught?

TO : I didn’t attend art school. I was in Spain back then, and you had to pass an exam to get in the public school of Fine Arts. I was unprepared and untalented and failed the exam. I didn’t know how to paint or draw well. There are many self-taught artists out there who are incredible at drawing and painting, but that’s not my case. I still don’t know how to draw without reference. I don’t know how to draw a car or a horse or most of the human gestures. And I have very limited technique. In my works, I just draw what I can draw. 

4CA : What made you decide on comics as your medium of choice? Have they always been of interest to you, or did you try your hand elsewhere first? If so, do you continue to work in other media to this day?

TO : I was a writer before I became a “drawer”. I love writing and I think it’s what I do best, if anything, though I still find it really, really hard to do it well (definitely not in English, which is frustrating because I live in an English-speaking country). It’s funny because for years I did both things separately —writing for newspapers and magazines, and then drawing in my spare time and writing a lot of fiction that remains unpublished. I hadn’t thought of making comics until a friend of mine told me I should try to blend those two “skills”. I remember telling her: “Oh I’m too lazy to make comics.” But then I tried making one, and loved it. That was in 2013 or 214. I think comics are potentially a “whole” art form, a very rich art form because it requires a careful handling of two very powerful languages, the linguistic and the visual. It activates different parts of your brain when you’re making them.

At the beginning I had some trouble integrating the words in my comics. It felt like I was using words just as a narration tool and I wasn’t happy with that. I wanted words to be heavily charged with meaning, and, if possible, tell their own story, slightly independent from the images, overlapping with the images. It took some time until I learned how to balance that out. Words, when combined in certain ways, have a fascinating, multilayered complexity; that’s the magic of writing. You can achieve that multidimensionality with images too, but I have yet to explore that.

I’ve done some painting in the past, but mostly mere exercises for beginners. I have many limitations right now, in terms of time, space and money. So I stick to the fastest, the smallest and the cheapest medium and materials.

4CA : As I see it, the immigrant experience is a near-constant theme in your work : your stories consistently, and quite literally, reflect the “stranger in a strange land” perspective. Is this a result of your own family experience?

TO : Yes, it’s the result of my own experience. My experience hasn’t always been that of an immigrant (although I am now an immigrant, I guess), but they both have many things in common. My sense of perpetual foreignness comes at an almost exclusively existential level, as a result of not belonging anywhere. This lack of sense of belonging hasn’t been a choice for me. It’s not something I’d brag about; it’s a feeling I don’t like and it’s a manifestation, I think, of how the world works. The need people have to trace borders, to identify with homogeneous groups and so-called nations, to reinforce otherness and others’ strangeness, those are things that have occupied my mind since I was very young. 

4CA :  Following on from that, alienation and isolation are also part and parcel of the life of your recurring protagonist. Without wishing to get too personal, is hew viewpoint intrinsically linked to your own? To what degree does she function as a stand-in for her author?

TO : Most of my characters have a lot of autobiographical elements. The isolation you mention is the existential loneliness that comes from not belonging, not having a place you can call yours or a place that others identify as yours. I can try to convince myself that I am from a certain place, that I won’t really belong as long as the people from that place don’t consider me one of them.

I was born in Japan but was never considered Japanese because my mother is Spanish. So I was born a foreigner in my own country, so to speak. Being mixed at the time in Japan was very stigmatized, especially if you had Western blood, because they could see it right away. We had to leave Japan because of that, and we landed in Peru. I was a child, so I thought “If I’m not good enough for Japan, I might be good enough for Peru”. But it didn’t turn out that way. I was still a foreigner, and I was an Asian in another very racist country. I spent the rest of my childhood and adolescence between Argentina, Spain, Japan and France and changed schools 11 times, so I was always the foreigner, the stranger. But I feel privileged and lucky and grateful for the life I’ve had so far and the people I’ve met and this unusual sense of freedom that comes with loneliness.

As for my life in the US, which I elaborate to some degree in “Filthy”, it’s more about surviving here while not being American enough. I love the diversity in America and the fact that there are so many immigrants and foreigners, but you still need to have a certain amount of “American-ness” to blend in. It’s natural, we humans do that. We’re all ethnocentric. America is a super-superpower and that impacts our daily lives and the way Americans see themselves, even in the most progressive and open minds. On a practical level, I can see that not having graduated from an American university (or any other school that has a place in the American social imaginary), or not being an English native speaker are circumstances that place you at the bottom of the line. I’m not sure that happens all the way around, if an American tried to find a job in a foreign country. (Americans tend to be seen as valuable assets elsewhere, I think. You guys have the most powerful passport in the world!). So, as a foreigner, you know that what you bring is more or less useless here when it comes to finding a job, which is key to survival. But art is different. Art knows no borders. Or maybe it does, but those borders are of a very different nature. I shouldn’t be complaining anyway. It’s a minor struggle in my case. For one thing, I can always leave. But it’s a real, serious struggle for many other people.

4CA :  There is also a surreal or dream-like flavor to much of your work. Do your ideas literally come to you in dreams?

TO : Haha no, not really. Not while I’m sleeping at least. I’m just trying to stay away as much as I can from “literality.” I like it more when reality is inspired, or inferred, rather than told. I tend to think that there’s more reality in a poem than in a history book. I’m not sure how to define reality anyway.

4CA :  I’ve noticed recurring imagery features in all your stories to date, particularly those black and white tubes. Are they indicative of anything specific? When did you first start “seeing” them in your mind’s eye?

TO : Those tubes are part of my daily landscape ever since I moved to NYC. I’m surrounded by them, and I see beauty in them. They are charged with meaning. They come from the underground and they somehow connect different worlds. They represent some sort of hardship and adversity that comes from living in a big city, but I also turned them into symbols of the “underworld”, which can be the unconscious, or the margins. I’m very interested in the margins as a place, as a mental, societal and existential space where people end up for a variety of circumstances. Not a nice place to be in.

4CA :  To date, all of your work has been self-published. Do you find that a taxing experience, or do you appreciate the absolute freedom it offers? Maybe both?

TO : I love the absolute freedom of the self-publishing act. I hope I can self-publish forever. And I am lucky to be in the US because here you have distributors like Domino Books and a real, however small, independent comics market. But I also need to make more money and I’ll look for different ways to increase my earnings while making comics. I know, it sounds like a joke. Probably an oxymoron. 

4CA :  Picking up on that, do you have aspirations to work with any larger publishers in the future? Are you readying any “pitches” for strips or books?

TO : I would like to work with publishers to reach more people, maybe, or a more diverse pool of readers. I make comics primarily to communicate with people, so yeah I’d like to reach more of them. Doesn’t have to be a lot of them. I know there’s a lot of romanticism surrounding the self-publishing world and I agree that it’s great, and I love the informality and the independence of it, but I also need to ensure myself a place. My priority right now is to make a living in this country, in this expensive city, which is of course the priority for most of us living here. Another great thing, though, about self-publishing is that I publish in Spanish too whenever I can afford it. Most of my readers in Spanish are Miami-based Cubans, and I love that. They are very communicative.

4CA :  So far the mini-comic has been your format of choice. Do you see any longer-form works in your future, perhaps even a graphic novel?

TO : I recently started working on a graphic memoir. It only covers my childhood years in Peru. There was a war situation there, a conflict between the army and the Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla that became very violent. We were in a permanent state of emergency, under the martial law. There was a curfew, violence, and much, much misery. There was an apartheid-like situation against the Quechua and Aimara peoples, who are the majority of the Peruvian population. I’d never seen anything like what I saw in Peru at that time, and have never seen it later in life. Those people were pushed to the furthermost limits of the human psyche. And that was happening in front of my eyes. So I thought I’d tell this story in comics format, but I’m having some conflicting feelings with the non-fiction aspect, as I mentioned before, and with the fact that the story is so racially charged. I want to keep it as poetic, as non-political as possible, and that’s challenging for a memoir of this kind, at least for me.

4CA :  Any particular artistic influences you’d care to give a “shout-out” to while you have the chance?

TO : The main influences that I’m aware of are, I think, Richard Brautigan, Merleau-Ponty and David Lynch. And probably books I read during the past years. Visually speaking, I think Chagall can be my main influence. And, again, David Lynch. And maybe some manga and Ukiyoe, too, tangentially. I feel like I haven’t read enough comics (except for manga, growing up) so I’m trying to catch up now. 

4CA : Process question : what are your drawing implements of choice? Do you draw on paper, or a tablet?

TO : I draw on paper. I don’t have a tablet and it’s a pain in the ass to draw on my computer. I then color it with markers or crayons or just black ink. But I often color digitally just because it’s the cheapest, the fastest, and the smallest way to do it. 

4CA : Lastly, the floor is yours. Anything you’d like the world — or the tiny corner of it that reads this site, at any rate — to know about Tana Oshima that we haven’t covered already?

TO : I have two kids.

Thank you, Tana! For more information about her ‘zines and comics, please check out https://dostoievskiswife.bigcartel.com/

Also, this interview — and everything else around these parts, truth be told — is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics. You patronage there not only keeps things going, it also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. I recently lowered the minimum monthly “subscription” price to a dollar, and given that there’s a bunch of stuff up on there already, trust me when I say you’re sure to get great value for your money, and needless to say — but I’m saying it anyway — I’d be very gratified to have your support.

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

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 05/12/2019 – 05/18/2019, Recent Underground Collections

As fate would have it, four lengthy collections of old-school underground comics that I’d been slowly but surely working my way through all made it from my “to be read” stack to my “finished” stack (okay, my bookcase) this week, and so, while each of these probably deserves a full-length review of its own, I can’t pass up on the opportunity afforded by fate/coincidence to make a Weekly Reading Round-Up column out of ’em. Note that these are all published by Fantagraphics Books, two under the auspices of their standard imprint, hereafter referred to as FB, and two coming our way courtesy of their “micro-press” Fantagraphics Underground label, hereafter referred to as FU.

Ink & Anguish : A Jay Lynch Anthology (FB) is an exhaustive collection of the late, pioneering cartoonist’s work that showcases the more “cartoony” side of underground cartooning, although there’s still plenty on offer here that’s well out of touch with modern sensibilities when it comes to sexism and misogyny. Lynch was far from the worst offender among his ilk in that regard, though, and mostly this is pretty sharp, satirical, and reasonably thought-provoking stuff with a fairly generous dose of metaphysics and spirituality thrown in for, as it turns out, quite good measure. All of Lynch’s popular Nard n’ Pat strips from over the years are presented herein, as well as a number of stories from Bijou Funnies and, more recently, Mineshaft, as well as mind-bogglingly cool art that Lynch produced for Bazooka JoeWacky Packages, and Garbage Pail Kids. Some solid collaborations with the likes of Ed Piskor, Art Spiegelman, and Robert Crumb, along with superb and highly-accessible text pieces assembled by underground scholar extraordinaire Patrick Rosenkranz, round out what can only be considered a very impressive package that provides great value for its $34.99 asking price.

Warrior Women : Spain Vol. 2 (FB) continues the Rosenkranz-edited ongoing — and sure to be massive — retrospective series dedicated to the late Spain Rodriguez and, perhaps as an intentional counter-point to the near-rampant misogyny on display in the first volume, the focus this time is on his so-called “strong female protagonists,” from Nasty Elaine to the Leather Nun to Mara Mistress of the Void to Granny McGurk to Rita Velveeta to Sangrella to, of course, the legendary Big Bitch. Not all of these women are the well-rounded figures of female emancipation the collection bills them as, and slapping the title “Spain Loved The Ladies (And They Loved Him)” on the actually-quite-nuanced-and-even-touching text essay that accompanies the strips certainly wasn’t the smartest move — I’d even go so far as to call it “tone-deaf” — but on the whole this is, of course, a breathtakingly well-illustrated volume that showcases its subject at the very height of his considerable creative powers. Yeah, it still betrays some regrettable attitudes that were rampant throughout the underground, but in many ways the majority of these strips really were well ahead of their time. Spain’s body of work is a complex and contradictory one, but one that is compelling as hell and very well worth exploring (or re-exploring) — and you get more than your money’s worth for your $34.99 with this one, as well.

Dave Sheridan : Life With Dealer McDope, The Leather Nun, And The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (FU) is a handsome over-sized hardcover edited  by Mark Burstein that presents not only a generous selection of the gone-too-soon cartoonist’s solo work (mostly featuring the characters referenced in the book’s title), but a number of his collaborations with Fred Schrier and Gilbert Shelton, as well. Sheridan’s illustration work for beer companies, album covers, and sex products is also well-represented, and the biographical text segments are just plain out of this world. Sheridan was one of the best pure artists the underground ever produced, and this book is both long overdue, and a fitting tribute to his life and career. At $35 it’s an absolute steal — something you can’t usually say for the small-print-run FU titles — so if you pass on this, you’re just plain crazy.

Doll (FU) by the great Guy Colwell may have originally seen print in the late-’80s and early-’90s, but Colwell himself was an underground veteran, and it first came out by way of Rip Off Press, so — this is an underground collection, in my book, as well. And it’s an essential one at that, telling a long-form story focused on the basest and sorriest instincts of man (okay, of men, specifically) that are triggered when an artist constructs a realistic animatronic sex doll for a deformed “40 Year-Old Virgin” who serves as a precursor to the pathetic “incel” demographic of today every bit as much as the titular doll accidentally predicts the infamous “Real Doll” that, I believe, is still very much a popular item among the sexually deprived. Colwell’s linework is gorgeous, his writing incisive, and frankly the narrative itself is far more subtle than one would expect given the ease with which it could have become a heavy-handed morality play in less-talented hands. An interview with Colwell conducted by feminist cartoonist Katie Skelly appends the volume and puts a nice finishing touch on what is well and truly a timeless and prescient work. Possibly the best $30 you’ll spend on comics this year.

And that, friends, is another week’s reading in the rear-view mirror — although it took me a lot longer than a week to read ’em, and I fully expect that none of these books are really anything I could truly say I’m “done” with, as they are sure to be re-visited frequently in the years to come. Nothing left to do then but remind you all that I’d sure appreciate your support on my Patreon site, where for as little as a dollar a month you can get thrice-weekly updates from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. There’s a bunch of content up on there already, so you’re sure to get plenty in return for your pledge, and your patronage also ensures a steady supply of free stuff both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please take a moment to have a look and consider joining up by directing your attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

A Tana Oshima Double-Bill : “Masquerade”

There’s a particular line in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell that has always stuck with me : Netley, who’s assisting the Moore/Campbell iteration of Jack The Ripper, Sir William Withey Gull, with his monstrous work is having an entirely understandable existential freak-out and says “I don’t know where I am anymore,” to which Gull replies that they are in a “radiant abyss where men meet themselves.”

I suppose that must be true. When you do something that’s so far beyond the pale, so undeniably evil, then you’re forced to confront yourself , to acknowledge what you’re capable of, to either live with it or go completely insane — maybe both.

In more recent years, another diamond-sharp Moore line that resonated deeply came in his superb Lovecraftian masterpiece done with artist Jacen Burrows, Providence, which at one of its most harrowing points shows its protagonist, Robert Black, sexually assaulting a young girl — only it’s Black’s mind in the girl’s body, and the mind of an ancient, parasitic, brain-swapping occultist inside Black. His body is literally raping “him,” and the attacker inhabiting it tells Black that under such consciousness-shredding circumstances, “one begins to question the very phenomenon of identity itself.”

A lot of my friends in the “indie” comics scene give me shit for reading Alan Moore stuff — a lot of my friends are depriving themselves of some of the best, most powerful work out there.

I have no idea whether or not Tana Oshima reads Moore — her four-panel grids and first-person “internal monologue” narration are reminiscent of Moore and Maark Beyer’s The Bowing Machine story from Raw volume two, number three, but those are tropes utilized by any number of cartoonists in any number of comics — yet in her forthcoming self-published mini, Masquerade (handsomely presented on heavy “construction”-type paper between card-stock covers in blueish grays and grayish blues, yellow-greens and green-yellows) she addresses, in the space of just 16 pages, both themes presented so starkly in those Moore quotes, yet does so in a manner entirely, and wonderfully, all her own.

Taking the form of a either a dream or, maybe even more intriguingly, a waking dream, Oshima here — by means of her stand-in protagonist — encounters faceless figures, a physically-empty-but-conceptually-packed farmhouse, and other random strangenesses that all seem to reflect buried, or at the very least obfuscated, aspects of herself. I think.

Alienation is a constant in Oshima’s work, but herein the alienation is fully internalized, the various scenarios depicted suffused with surrealism and in no way tied to anything like consensus “reality.” Always apart, always alone, always a step or more removed from “the flow,” here she takes advantage of the physical and metaphorical distance between herself and others to forge new connections-at-a-remove with shadowy, masked, or shadowy and masked phantoms, all of which tell her more about herself than they do about themselves — leading one to actively wonder whether or not they even “exist” outside her own mind.

There’s even more than a not-so-simple examination of identity going on here, though — Oshima is also, by means of the farmhouse, examining whether or not the act of making art can possibly bridge and/or resolve the gulf between herself and her understanding of herself. Does creativity bring her closer to the answers she seeks? Does it at least offer a way to express her questions? Don’t expect a resolution, of course, but —

Maybe?

There’s an intriguing epilogue that sees both the tone and style of the writing change, and the art shift to a “reverse-negative” black and white that takes things in new and unexpected directions, perhaps, but also introduces familiar Oshima elements, such as the tubular pipes/potential portals, that have made their presence more felt than known in her other comics. Could she, then, have come all this way — only to end up looking at herself from the other side of a mirror?

The implication is there. The hard-and-fast “answer” is not. But I’m not so sure it really matters. One way or another, in Masquerade, Tana Oshima goes everywhere by going nowhere, meets herself by never leaving herself, and finds herself — exactly where she started? Or, perhaps more accurately, where she has been all along.

But that still doesn’t mean that she knows where — or who — she is. Apart from being one of the most compelling contemporary cartoonists around, of course.

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Austin English should have this comic up for sale soon at the Domino Books online store. Check for updates at http://www.dominobooks.org/store.html

For more about Tana Oshima’s other comics and ‘zines, visit https://dostoievskiswife.bigcartel.com/

Please consider supporting my work by joining my Patreon. I recently lowered the price to a dollar, and you get exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings from yours truly on the worlds of comic, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics.

Oh, and here’s a link for that, too :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

A Tana Oshima Double-Bill : “Filthy”

For some cartoonists, 16 pages is all it takes to fully transport readers into a new and unfamiliar frame of mind that they come to know as intimately as their own (for good, ill, or both) by the time it’s over.

Well, okay, maybe for one cartoonist — that cartoonist being the remarkable Tana Oshima.

I raved about one of Oshima’s previous self-published efforts, Vagabond, on this very site in the none-too-distant past, but now she has two new minis soon to be released, both boasting superb production values (heavy-duty paper between thick, card-stock covers) and yours truly is genuinely honored to provide you, dear reader, with advance reviews of both. Filthy is the logical of the two (the other being Masquerade) to start with in that it both expands upon and, remarkably, deepens themes that carry over from Vagabond — namely the alienation, isolation, and de facto ostracization (is that even a word?) that are, depressingly, part and parcel of the immigrant experience — but does so in a manner more surreal, lyrical, and visually poetic than its predecessor.

Stop and consider that for a minute if you would, please, because Vagabond was already one of the “more surreal, lyrical, and visually poetic” comics in recent years.

Our unnamed protagonist this time out (although one, as always, in safe to infer it’s more or less Oshima herself) inhabits a shifting physical landscape that retains an aura of squalor and borderline-hopelessness whether it’s “presently” constituted as a motel, a movie theater, or an elaborate rocketship-style construct, and I put quotation marks around “presently” quite deliberately : time, you see, moves differently in an Oshima comic, and tends to circle back on itself rather than simply “progress” — which is probably a purely academic concern anyway given that the motel, the movie theater, and the rocketship-style construct are all, as it turns out, the same place.

Which, trust me, only sounds confusing — the dream-like character of this story actually makes a highly intuitive type of sense, and contains enough recognizable “real-world” elements for just about anyone to relate to it immediately. Struggles with hygiene, intimacy (with both others and oneself), gainful employment, affordable housing, and crushing student debt are a sad reality for millions, and while only some people are confronted with all these challenges at the same time, reading about a person facing them concurrently doesn’t feel so much like a case of “piling on” as it does an honest accounting of the lives of millions that we at least know about, maybe even know personally.

Sparse and expressive imagery complements the fluid-but-austere internal monologue that makes up the entirety of the narrative for a very holistic piece of sequential-art storytelling here, and the blue-gray tones Oshima contrasts her economically-deployed black lines with gives this “world” a feeling that’s appropriately bleak, but not without its charms. Rather, I suspect, much like the day-to-day lives of far too many “twenty-somethings” to count. Yes, elements of the fantastic abound herein — those tubes Oshima populates her strips with sure do bring to mind Jeff Nicholson’s criminally under-appreciated Through The Habitrails — but they feel like they “belong,” whereas the protagonist/authorial stand-in herself frequently doesn’t.

Which, of course, is the point — it could probably even be argued that it’s the entire point. And no one communicates the perspective of the genuine “outsider” with more sympathy and authenticity these days than Tana Oshima. Filthy represents the purest distillation of her ongoing artistic project to date and is not to be missed under any circumstances.

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Austin English should have this one up for sale on his Domino Books site fairly soon. Check for updates at http://www.dominobooks.org/store.htm

Find out more about Tana Oshima’s other comics and ‘zines at https://dostoievskiswife.bigcartel.com/

Please support me on Patreon , as well — I’ve recently lowered the price to a buck a month, and you get three pieces of exclusive writing every week on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics. I’d very much appreciate having your support and promise you great value for your money.

Oh, here’s a link for that, too :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Class Is In Session With “Professor Mrs. Miniver”

You may not have known — I certainly didn’t, and I pride myself on being something of an expert on movie minutiae — that William Wyler’s 1942 Oscar-winning cinematic classic, Mrs. Miniver, was followed by a sequel, The Miniver Story, in 1950, but that’s okay : Michael Aushenker did, and he decided that one lame follow-up probably deserved another,

Mind you, his 2016 self-published comic, Professor Mrs. Miniver, is intentionally lame, and that makes all the difference in the world. Aushenker hails from the “batshit-crazy slapstick” school of cartooning, and as such, his sensibilities are pretty well right in tune for a project of this sort — which only makes sense, I suppose, given that he’s the one who came up with it, amirite?

Well, yeah, I am — it happens sometimes — but the laughs in this one, plentiful as they are, may fall just a bit flat to those not familiar with at least the first “Miniver” flick, given that the premise here (Kay Miniver finishes school, becomes a professor as the title implies, and then has elements of her past come back to marginally “haunt” her while, at the same time, finding herself utterly unable to tap into even the tame “youth culture” of her time) is predicated more or less entirely upon having a working knowledge of the character so that you can properly “tune in” to the ways in which Aushenker’s interpretation of her is exactly the same in some ways, quite different in others, to her big-screen iteration.

Now, for my part, I have seen Wyler’s first film, but I’ve never seen the follow-up, so who knows? Odds are better than good that I missed a few deliberate “call-backs” to that one, but no matter : Aushenker’s jokes fly at you a mile a minute, some hitting and others missing, but the sheer effort he puts into packing every panel with at least something interesting or weird or off-kilter is damn admirable, and the Ditko-esque flair he spices up his cartooning with in this story is really effing cool.

That wrinkle disappears in the “Lincoln Horse” backup feature, where the more unhinged visual stylings we’re used to from Aushenker come back to the fore, but that’s as it should be considering that the idea of a purple horse that looks (and sounds, and acts) like “Honest Abe” — probably because, “spoiler” alert, it is the revered president himself, woke up one morning to find himself magically transformed — is the sort of utterly unhinged thing we’re used to from this auteur of the absurd. If anything, this stuff is even funnier than the title feature, but again, that may largely come down to the fact that you needn’t come into the proceedings armed with any sort of foreknowledge about, well, anything at all. A bar that low is one that even can clear, and as a result, this portion of the book tickled my funnybone to a fairly unhealthy, but no doubt enjoyable, degree.

All told, then, this comic is a nice showcase of Aushenker’s multi-faceted skills, all employed in service of the same goal, which is simply to make you laugh your ass off and groan at the inanity of it all in equal measure. I can always get behind a project like that — and if you’re the sort of reader who can, as well, then you’d do well to score yourself a copy of this very entertaining book.

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For more information on Professor Mrs. Miniver, as well as Michael Aushekner’s numerous other comics, check out his blog at http://cartoonflophouse.blogspot.com/

And, as always, this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I crank out exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. I recently lowered the minimum subscription price to $1 a month, so you’re sure to get good value for  your money, and there’s a lot of content up on there already. Please take a moment to give it a look by heading over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 05/05/2019 – 05/11/2019, Alex Nall

It’s no secret that Chicago’s Alex Nall is one of my favorite cartoonists on the face of the goddamn planet. I’ve previously reviewed his long-form works Teaching Comics Volume OneLet Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours, and Lawns on this site, but for this week’s Round-Up column we’re going to look at four of his mins, not least because two of ’em are brand new and you should get your hands on them by whatever means possible! Or, ya know, just head over to his Storenvy site and see what he’s got, or bug him for what he doesn’t until he does. Here’s a link for that :http://alexnallcomics.storenvy.com/products

The Rain Is Slow Coming is one of his brand new ones, a wistful and lyrical “love letter” from a farmer to his daughter about the land they’re barely hanging onto by the skin of their teeth, the loss they’ve endured, and the magic (often dangerous magic) of her youthful imagination. Downright poetic at times (not least because a significant chunk of the text is, in fact, a Carl Sandburg poem), exquisitely simple in its illustration, this is very nearly a perfect comic — hell, the perfect comic — barring the curious placement of a few blank pages that interrupt the otherwise-rhythmic flow. That being said, it’s a small gripe, and this is definitely a “must-buy” item well worth the six dollar price tag.

School Approved is the other newbie, a pocket-sizer that sells, I believe, for a buck — and even has some color to boot! — this follows very much in the Teaching Comics tradition and recounts an afternoon Nall spent with his students in the school computer lab, where he reminisces about the early days of the internet and ponders how its development will affect their future; or, vice-versa, how their development will affect its future. As always, Nall has a way of making even the most “been there, done that” subject matter seem fresh, new, and exciting simply because he listens to and understands kids, rather than merely employing them as props in his stories. Great stuff that you will also want to own.

Juan & John Comics is another one you can get your hands on for the bargain price of a dollar that collects a series of short strips about two armless pals that Nall made in collaboration with a student of his named Clinton who appears to have a hell of a keen sense of humor for an elementary school kid. Our pair of protagonists do fairly everyday things like going to see zombie movies at the drive-in or flying kites in the park, but there’s always some unexpected or even innovative twist you didn’t see coming that makes their deceptively simple misadventures stick in the memory. More wonderful cartooning, this time from a master and his very promising pupil.

Morbid Dork #1 is one right outta the “way-back machine” that I seriously doubt you can even score a copy of in this day and age and that shows a very different Nall at a very different stage in his artistic development telling very different types of stories — namely, the age-old “roommates from hell” type of yarns that were positively ubiquitous in the 1990s “indie” scene. Three roomies who refer to each other as “Psycho,” “Pussy,” and “Asshole” navigate shit jobs and a shittier living situation with far more humor than you’d expect given, again, how “played-out” this entire concept was by the time Nall got around to it, what? Six or seven years ago? Some rather curious “wide-open” spaces on certain pages again sort of muck up the flow, but this comic is still about ten times better than it’s got any right to be. Sells for three bucks, assuming you can find it anywhere. I think he did a second issue at some point, as well, although I’ve yet to procure a copy myself.

Another week, another column, and at the end, another pitch for the Patreon, where you can get exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. I recently lowered the minimum tier to a dollar, and that’ll still get you two posts a week plus access to most of the older stuff — and frankly there’s already quite a lot of it on there. I’ve been at this for three or four months, I think, and there’s already over 50 reviews, articles, opinion pieces, and whatnot on offer, so seriously — join up! It’s the best value going on that entire site. Here’s your link, I won’t take “no” for an answer :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Christopher Adams Ushers You Through The Gates Of “Tack Piano Heaven”

There needs to be a new word in the English language for something that’s less than a fixed and deliberate “event” and more than a random, happenstance “occurrence.” A middle ground of some sort that defines things that are happening, but are just — I dunno, happening.

Cartoonist and musician Christopher Adams has, to date, self-published two issues of his apparently-ongoing series Tack Piano Heaven, and if somebody does come up with this new word, it would describe the succession of less-than-events-more-than-occurrences that play out in its pages perfectly, but until then — shit, I’m kind of a loss to do so. I’ll do my best, but fair warning : it may not be good enough.

Which is, of course, what makes this comic so exciting and interesting — it’s literally impossible to pin down. Adams lays out pages in a way you’ve never seen before, intercuts his tiny and finely-detailed panels with text in a manner that’s likewise entirely fresh and new, and guides readers along through a sequence of — things — in a manner that I can only assume must be a stream-of-consciousness sort of thing. Reading these, the only thing I can think is “if David Tibet made comics, they’d probably look like this.”

Questions arise with nary an answer in sight : what cars and tea bags and buffaloes and pianos and volcanoes and drones and badminton have to do with one another I literally do not know, but there’s an inescapable, if ultimately indefinable, fluidity to all of this that compels the eye and the mind ever forward, incongruous “story” elements melding one into another not so much in succession as in a state of permanent transition, the end result being something of a circuit composed of pictures and words that neither begins not ends but simply travels a path known only to it.

Again, I said that I’d do my best here, but probably still come up short.

Still, I’m reminded that life is about the journey more than it is the destination, and Adams takes you on quite the journey, indeed. “From” and “to” where are almost immaterial, and that in itself may be the “point,” but with work this singular and hermetically sealed-off from comics as we know them, I hesitate to divine the intentions behind it, nor to even assume that there are any. And maybe that’s actually the point.

Or not. Really, your guess is as good as mine, and in a very real sense guessing is all we have. You don’t “read” Tack Piano Heaven so much as intuit your way along and through it. If you want, you can allow it to frustrate you, but for my own part I found it more confounding than confusing, more rhythmic than resistant, more intriguing than impenetrable. Like stepping through a membrane into some sort of closed chamber, the act of opening its covers (which look as though they were fired off a dot matrix printer and bear no title) immediately draws you into a space-time continuum entirely foreign yet oddly familiar, and when you step back through by closing the book, the world seems — different. Like you’ve been somewhere no one else has and emerged, somehow — changed.

Who knows in what manner, but hopefully the third issue will roll around by the time you’ve figured that out. I know it can’t come soon enough for me.

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Issues one and two of Tack Piano Heaven are available for $5 each from the Domino Books online store at http://www.dominobooks.org/store.html

Like everything else on this site, this review is ‘brought to you” by my Patreon page, where you can get all kinds of exclusive rants and ramblings by yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. There’s tons of content up on there already, and I’ll step in the ring and fight anyone who says I don’t offer the best value for money of anybody on that entire friggin’ site. Please take a moment to check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse