The Intimate Is The Universal In “Frontier” #17, Lauren Weinstein’s “Mother’s Walk”

It was my distinct pleasure to review this extraordinary comic for Daniel Elkin’s Your Chicken Enemy website. Edits by the esteemed Mr. Elkin were few and far between this time around, but I present it here in its original form both for curious parties and those who are “into” the art (and that’s exactly what it is) of editing. As always, the insights and suggestions provided by Mr. Elkin resulted in the final version of the piece being much stronger.

I’m hoping to have some more reviews up on YCE in the not-too-distant future — until then, if you wish to do a “compare and contrast” between this early version and the one that ended up posted over there, the “finished product” can be found here :http://www.danielelkin.com/2018/11/the-intimate-is-universal-ryan-carey.html

******************************************************************************

We are where we come from, the saying goes — and if that’s the case, Lauren Weinstein’s newborn daughter, Sylvia, needn’t worry about being beautiful, because she comes from somewhere very beautiful indeed.

Something, it seems, of a “miracle baby” in that her parents were a bit older and largely (though not entirely) convinced their child-bearing years were behind them, Sylvia’s birth changed everything for mother, father, and older sister in ways foreseen and less so, but no matter where the road ahead takes any and all of them — and there are times when it gets rocky for all children, all families — she comes into this world gifted (a term I flat-out despise and generally don’t use, the transition of fluid, intransigent, interpretive verbs into hard, fixed, intractable nouns frequently a sign of once-dynamic languages atrophying —but in this case, trust me, it really does apply) with an earnest and heartfelt love letter in the form of Mother’s Walk, which marks issue #17 in Youth In Decline’s long-running “rotating cartoonist spotlight” series, Frontier.

Fortunately for us all, though, Lauren’s visual hymn to her daughter is hardly a love letter overflowing with cloying sentimentalism for its own sake, but instead  a non-linear, even elliptical, rumination on the days (hell, moments) before a new life enters the world, and the “ripple effect” such a momentous occasion — to say nothing of such a momentous, limitless, freshly-birthed human being — has on everyone touched by it; by them. On how seeing things from a hitherto-unforeseen perspective changes the way one views past, present, and future. On the practical, emotional, even spiritual ramifications of loving someone immediately and unconditionally upon their arrival into the world. The thematic breadth and scope of this work is truly astonishing, and it’s a safe bet that even those who read Weinstein’s celebrated recent New Yorker strip “Being An Artist And A Mother” won’t have seen this coming.

Something this personal, this intimate, this unflinching is clearly something only one person could have created, of course, but perhaps the most impressive single thing about Mother’s Walk (and I really must stress, that’s a difficult thing to isolate, as every single facet of this comic literally sings from the page) is how absolutely commonplace the thoughts, feelings, sentiments expressed herein are for parents. Not every child is loved so completely as Sylvia is, mind you, but one would hope that most are, and I think we can agree that they all should be. But the rush of conflicting emotions and sensations attendant with bringing forth human life are so little discussed except among friends, family, intimates — the public discourse on the subject tends to be either clinical, practical, or gushing with insulting levels of borderline, even flagrant, mysticism, either of the traditional (Christian, Jewish, etc.) or “New Age” variety. No thanks, this critic says, to these fundamentally limited approaches that all seem more concerned with patting their own back for being so wise and understanding than anything else.

To her eternal credit, Weinstein eschews all this in favor of a kind of “emotional exorcism” approach, her goal apparently to let it all out onto the page — the good, the bad, and the ugly, of course, but also the conflicted, the confusing, the cosmic. The known and the utterly, ineffably unknown compete equally for dominance in the minds of all new parents, and Weinstein’s deliberately loose narrative somehow exists in a self-created space between both that illuminates each. It’s a heady experience just to read it — I can only imagine what it must have been like to make it.

I don’t know how any swirling miasma of contradictions resolves itself in the human mind and heart, but Weinstein certainly has found a way to communicate this relentlessly joyous struggle by means of her incomparable (a word I invoke in its strictest, dictionary-definition sense) cartooning : thick, dark pencils, “smudged” linework and backgrounds, fluid and frequently border-free panels, intuitive page layouts, and starkly-chosen-but-muted (again with the contradictions!) colors not competing, as one might expect at first glance, but coalescing into a beautifully messy symphony that looks a whole lot like life in all its harried, un-managed magnificence. Comics readers, non-comics readers, everyone in between will understand exactly what is happening here, even if none of them have ever seen a presentation precisely, maybe even remotely, like this before.

It’s not all soul-deep stuff, of course (whose existence, whose story, ever is?), but even the small things — the humorous vignettes, the tragedies (losing a beloved family pet), the uncomfortable stuff (at least for some of us, given that the book features an explicit and very human sex scene with Weinstein and her husband, a well-known figure in the comics world himself that many a critic is on a first-name basis with) — are imbued with a sense of import, of meaning beyond their or its boundaries, not by dint of force but by a naturalistic acknowledgement that everything in life matters because life itself does. We are in uncharted emotional territory for this medium, it seems to me, but we probably have the only “tour guide” up to the job, and while the superlatives for this work have been pouring in at a pretty steady clip, I almost wonder if any amount of praise is enough to thank Weinstein for the sheer amount of her soul she’s poured into each and every page here.

We are all more than familiar with rote recitals of a parent’s hopes and dreams for their children being committed to print, but those usually end up as the “end all, be all” of most “welcome, new baby” narratives. In Mother’s Walk, they are just one factor among many in a journey that goes in any number of directions, often all at the same time, before all roads meet themselves and acknowledge that none of them ever, really, ends. You can’t writedraw, or even create a work this absolutely unique and infinitely wondrous — Lauren Weinstein has brought it existence by the only means possible : by giving birth to it.

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/18/2018 – 11/24/2018, Brandon Lehmann

What’s wrong with having a good laugh every now and then, I ask you?

Seattle’s Brandon Lehmann may not be the most thematically ambitious cartoonist working these days (then again, maybe he is and just manages to conceal it well), but there’s not question he’s among the funniest, and in some ways it’s kind of sad that we’ve moved beyond the point where that was enough.

Which isn’t me saying that it’s too bad comics aren’t solely concerned with the comedic these days and that they never should have embraced the full spectrum of human experience, mind you — only that it’s a bit of a bummer that in our purportedly “refined” modern age, the idea of a cartoonist who pursues, and excels at, humor somehow isn’t considered, well — serious enough. Or, in a pinch, even worth taking seriously. Comedy is serious business, I tell ya, and for proof of this look no further than the last time that you, dear reader, actively tried to make a person laugh.

How’d that work out for you? Yeah, that’s what I thought — now try making as many people as possible, most of whom you don’t know and never will, laugh. Several times. In one sitting.

Hmmm — not so easy, is it? Fortunately, Lehmann is skilled enough to make it look easy, and as proof of this particular metaphorical “prosecution,” I submit the following four self-published items into evidence —

The Wizard #1 is a nicely-formatted trade paperback collection of some 90 pages of all-new material and select reprints of Lehmann’s earlier-published minis, formerly retailing for $20, now offered for a measly ten at the cartoonist’s Storenvy site (which I’ll provide a link to before all is said and done). Our ostensible protagonist is, in fact, every bit the magician the title would suggest, but he’s also a largely-uncaring and -unfeeling asshole, to the extent that he even plays pranks on hapless children out of some bizarre combination of boredom and deep-rooted spite. When he’s not doing that, he’s “busy” assisting knights get out of garbage (figuratively as well as literally), inspecting the latest in D&D-esque magic weaponry, and even applying for a gig as a bikini inspector. You’ll love him, you’ll hate him, you’ll laugh your ass off to his deadpan “adventures,” and you’ll be utterly charmed by Lehmann’s deceptively simple, yet no doubt incredibly effective, cartooning style. A great gift for anyone you know with a fucked-up sense of humor.

The Wizard #2 is essentially (and thankfully) more of the same, only this time presented in full color throughout, whereas the first “issue” was a mix of color and (mostly) black and white. Again, we’ve got a mix of new material and reprints of minis, and also included here a couple of strips that ran in the comics section of Seattle’s venerable Intruder free newsweekly. “Subjects” covered include : The Wizard attempting to be a one-man Tinder operation for a human female and a minotaur; a magical “investigation” to root out who’s leaving bags of shit in Wizzy’s mailbox; avoidance of the fatally clingy clutches of a pathetically dependent rope and pole salesman; a battle with giant fucking ants — and oh, so much more. This one retails for $20 due, I’m assuming, to the whole color “thing,” but is still a smart, fun purchase even at the higher price point.

Womp Womp #1 is the first issue of Lehmann’s magazine-format solo humor anthology, and is likewise a convergence of the old and the new. Being a lover of our feline friends, “True Cat Confessions” was my favorite story of the bunch, but props for such intelligently-developed comedy strips as “The Coolest Phone Of 2009” and “Some Random Guy Falls Into An Abstract Nihilistic Mystery Hole,” which — yup, really does focus on a schmuck who does precisely what the title of the yarn states. High production values, even higher laughter quotient and, best of all, an increasingly-confident and accomplished approach to illustration on the part of our auteur coalesce into something pretty special here, so yeah, I think it’s fair to say that you need this book far more than you need the eight bucks it’ll cost you.

You Live A Miserable Life is a thoroughly enjoyable and formally innovative mini that sells for the bargain price of $4 and presents readers with a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-style alternatives as you join Lehmann in, as the “New Agers” would no doubt put it, an “act of co-creation,” whereby you get to be the guiding hand that determines whether or not our eternally-moribund aging slacker “hero” finally does the dishes that have been piling up, or just watches mind-numbing daytime TV all day. Hell, does he even need to get out of bed at all? Such are the dramatic decisions that await you herein!

I dig Lehmann. A lot. The targets of his biting satire are frequently (hell, usually) pretty obvious, but he’s got a real knack for finding, and absolutely decimating, the small-and large-scale absurdities that have come to not only delineate, but outright define the existences of everyone from ageless warlocks to under-employed temp agency stooges. Treat yourself to any (or all) of his superb comics before joining us back here for next week’s Round-Up column. His online store is at : https://www.storenvy.com/stores/1149201-bad-publisher-books

 

 

Daria Tessler Cooks Up A Storm With “Three Magical Recipes From The Book Of Secrets Of Albertus Magnus”

One of two semi-recent releases by Daria Tessler from Perfectly Acceptable Press (the other being Accursed, reviewed on this very site just a handful of days ago), the uneconomically-titled Three Magical Recipes From The Book Of Secrets Of Albertus Magnus is not only overflowing with verbiage on the cover, but wonderfully archaic script throughout and, most importantly and essentially, positively inspired artwork that casts a  thoroughly mesmerizing spell all its own on each and every of the book’s 28 riso-printed pages. Insanely colorful, imaginative, and engrossing, this is a project that is entirely what it espouses itself as being, yet also considerably more than anyone could justifiably be pre-disposed to hope for.

Yeah, it really is that good.

Exploding at readers in a kaleidoscopic explosion of red, fluorescent pink, yellow, and a tone of blue classified as “federal,” Tessler’s vibrant and immersive renderings of these, for lack of a better term, home-made alchemical prescriptions come to us undeserving souls by means of a kind of cosmic apothecary with precisely one pharmacist and patient both, with the (very) late Magnus laying out a blueprint, while his more-than-worthy successor navigates her way between the guideposts he’s laid out in a manner that can only be considered reverent, yet entirely unexpected. Don’t ask me how that works, all I can say is that this effect was discerned by yours truly immediately upon opening this slim-but-conceptually-overflowing volume’s handsome vellum cover. The onrush of a sense of absolute singularity is that apparent, that forceful, that undeniable.

Not, of course, that these “recipes” are in any way practical, but if you’re looking for that, you’re not bold or courageous enough to absorb the sheer thematic heft of this book in the first place. Tessler doesn’t “invite” you into the “sacred space” (a term that is not, I assure you, too grandiose in this instance, despite it admittedly sounding like precisely that) of her highly-personal interpretive imaginarium, she compels you toward its unexplored depths (or should that be heights?) in a manner bristling with such sheer confidence that it becomes self-evident from the outset that, to not exactly coin a phrase, “resistance is futile.”

Not, of course, that “resisting” is an option you’d even want to entertain. I frankly don’t care how much of a sober-minded rationalist you are, when confronted with evidence this incontrovertible that innovation and formal realization can not only happily co-exist, but feed off and into each other simultaneously, seamlessly, and relentlessly in ways literally never before conceived of until Tessler had the temerity and vision to do so is, or at least should be, all the proof required of the fact that, rare as it no doubt may be, magic is absolutely real and you just as absolutely know it when you see it, feel it, experience it, live it.

******************************************************************************

Don’t let the initially jaw-dropping price point of $15 put you off for so much as a second, Three Magical Recipes From The Book Of Secrets Of Albertus Magnus is a bargain by any reasonable (or even otherwise) definition of the term. Not content to merely “expand your horizons,” Daria Tessler sets out to, and succeeds in, negating and redefining them in her stride. Prepare to emerge out the other side of her remarkable book as something and someone other than what you were before you read it. Now is the time to direct your browser’s (and your own) attention to http://perfectly-acceptable.com/item/book-of-secrets/

 

Go Buy “Go-Bots”

Even by the low standards of licensed toy properties, the Go-Bots don’t get much respect. Yeah, sure, they’ve had some animation revivals (even, I think, a feature-length film or two of the straight-to-video variety) and some comic books here and there, but a lot of that — while no doubt making their diminished fan base happy —was probably more about keeping IP rights semi-active on the part of Hasbro. No billion-dollar live action blockbusters for these guys. What can you get from them that you can’t get from the Transformers, right?

Leave it to Tom Scioli, one of the most innovative and distinctive cartoonists working today, to give the best answer as to what makes the Go-Bots different from their more celebrated —- uhhmmm — peers : “The Go-Bots bleed,” Scioli tells us on this month’s IDW promotional blurb page. And if you need any more reason than that to convince you that this is the guy to breathe new life into this moribund franchise, then fuck it, you’re just no fun at all.

I admit that I come into Scioli’s Go-Bots #1 with precisely zero knowledge of the characters or their backstory, but it doesn’t matter all that much — when you’ve got a true virtuoso firing on all cylinders, they can immerse you into the world they are creating in near-effortless fashion, and that’s certainly the case here. Scioli’s vaguely “retro” style, which has never been shy about hiding its Kirby-esque influences, here immediately reaches new heights of accessibility, his densely-packed pages guiding the eye from panel to panel with naturalistic ease and energetic gusto in equal measure. Fluidity and bombast don’t often work in concert with one another, but here — oh, my, do they ever.

Yeah, the plot is simple : members of a renegade Go-Bot faction are turning on their human “masters” and attempting to convince or coerce members of the “good guy” faction to do the same, but a series like this was never going to be about story complexity. That, however, in no way precludes it from having visualemotional, and maybe even thematic complexity — frequently, again, all working together in concert.

When a Scioli Go-Bot lands on the ground, for instance, you feel it. When bullets riddle a body, you feel that, too. But not all the impact here is physical — there’s a betrayal of a principal character by her mentor and friend that legit hurts even though we just met both of them. There are moments of levity that genuinely feel fun and carefree. The bright, childlike imagination on display here is unmistakable, to be sure, but it’s never feels even the slightest bit calculated, never mind cloying. Earnest? Sure. But undeniably honest.

And maybe that spirit, that ethos, that raison d’etre is what struck home most to me while reading Go-Bots #1, even more than the breathtaking illustrations, amazing layouts, vibrant colors, dynamic action, and pitch-perfect characterization. In so many ways, this book functions as an entirely unintentional, but nevertheless necessary, antidote to so much that’s wrong not only with nostalgia and revival, but the “dudebro” faction of independent/”alternative” cartooning : no disrespect intended toward Ben Marra (who supplies one of the main “retailer variant” covers to this issue, the other being by Dash Shaw), Josh Bayer, or their various and sundry All-Time Comics cohorts, but there’s no sense here that this might all be some “piss-take” on Scioli’s part. There are no ironic winks and knowing nods to the audience. There’s no attitude, even at the margins, of “yeah, we love this stuff, but let’s not kid ourselves — it is what it is.” Scioli knows what it is. He understands what it is. He loves what it is. And that love positively radiates off each and every page of this comic.

The Undiscovered Country : Andrea Lukic’s “Journal Of Smack” (2018)

There’s no adequate way to describe the contents of Canadian cartoonist/fine artist/musician Andrea Lukic’s latest Journal Of Smack (she self-publishes one of these every year or thereabouts) without reaching deep into the stores of one’s own vocabulary and dusting off any number of little-used gems grown atrophied and covered in cobwebs. I determined I was going to resist the urge to go down that road and concentrate on immediate, visceral impressions, but we’ll see how well I do holding to that vow. If you hear me using terms like “abstract singularity” or somesuch, you’ll know I failed.

And with that, it’s down to business —

Lukic’s book has all the aesthetics of a “found object,” its pages somewhat-unevenly glued within one of those cheap DIY quasi-“bindings,” and that’s as it should be : it looks and feels old, haphazard, random. Where does one find something like this? I dunno, but my mind conjured up images of a party at the home of someone you’ve never met (say, the friend of a friend of a friend) — you’re down in the basement to get away from the noise and/or walk around in circles to fend off tomorrow morning’s inevitable hangover, except it’s already tomorrow, maybe 4:00 A.M., and it’s actually not that noisy anymore, most people left an hour or two ago, but your goddamn friends you came with are still talking to people you don’t know about other people you don’t know, and the basement is finished, but most definitely not updated, it’s got that 1970s shag green (or maybe orange, or brown) carpeting and fake wood paneling and no one comes down here much but there’s an old-school TV and a fraying, threadbare couch and midway between the two there’s a coffee table with beer can “ring” stains all over it that have been there who knows how long and — hey, what’s this here laying on said table?

At first glance it appears to be a mimeographed illustrated story about a vampire (though the “creature”/person is never explicitly labeled as such), rich with Gothic atmosphere, yet oddly contemporary at times. Is it a linear narrative? Fuck, even if you hadn’t been drinking all night it would be hard to tell. It seems to circle back in on itself a lot, and that would be true even if a couple of the pages weren’t exactly the same (once on red paper, once on the standard yellowish-white of the rest of the book). There’s a rhythmic quality to it, maybe even a tempo, but it’s difficult to strain your ears enough to hear it. Maybe it’s more a — faint murmur? Yeah, let’s go with that.

You look around the room for a moment and see what looks to be a couple of pages torn from another (older?) publication by, apparently, the same artist. They look like this :

Yeah, they probably are older, but not by much. Still, even half in the bag, the stylistic evolution is unmistakable : the detail, the intense linework, the hyper-delineated definition have always been there, but this one you’re holding in your hands, here in 2018 — it looks like the product of another time, another place, maybe another dimension. The vaguely psychedelic emanations given off by those older, random pages are subsumed under something else, call it a current of steady unease, as deliberately caricatured faces give way to those that are hideous by their nature, their design — creatures born of cold nights, colder hearts, and coldest-of-all graves. Linear time, mortality, the finite — all left in the conceptual dust by this cartoonist, this Andrea Lukic, as she bobs and weaves between semi-standard comic book layouts, full-page “splash” images, even what appear to be preliminary character sketches. Is there meaning to be discerned from this? Order hidden within what at first glance appears to be — okay, maybe not chaos, but at the very least damn random ?

There’s a record laying on the couch from a band you’re unfamiliar with. The cover looks like this :

Same artist again. Gotta be. You can just tell. And some of the mood and sensibility of this cover is apparent as all hell in this “comic” (or whatever it is) you’re holding. Both are ghostly. Ethereal. Transitory. Impermanent. Yet, somehow, also frozen in place, in time, richly expressive in the extreme. You could put this ‘zine, this Journal Of Smack, down. Go back upstairs. Walk away from it forever. But those frozen moments it captures? They, in turn, have captured you. Burrowed their way inside without even breaking a sweat. They’re part of you now. And there’s no getting away from that — even if you’re still not entirely sure what they’re all about. The story they tell transcends mere description, maybe even interpretation. But it’s not just something you’ve seen, something you’ve read, something you’ve experienced. Not anymore. It’s far too late to put this behind you, to remain unaffected, to go on with life as it was.

You tuck the ‘zine under your arm, head back up to meet your friends, and know, finally, why you came here tonight.

******************************************************************************

The 2018 edition of Andrea Lukic’s Journal Of Smack is available from our friends at Domino Books (where else?) for $10. Order it here, and prepare for your life to be changed in ways subtle, profound, and entirely inexplicable :http://dominobooks.org/journalsmack2018.html

 

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/11/2018 – 11/17/2018, Three Beginnings And An Ending

This week, we take a brief side-step away from our usual small-press “turf” to have a quick look at four high-profile mainstream comics now available on your LCS shelves — three are alphas, one’s an omega.

The Green Lantern #1  marks DC’s latest attempt to revive the flagging critical and commercial fortunes of their premier cosmic super-hero, and while the sort of “back-to-basics” approach being undertaken by writer Grant Morrison and artist Liam Sharp may be precisely what the character needs (not having read a contemporary GL story is probably a couple of decades I’m really not in much position to judge), a dose of some sort of ambition would probably go a long way, and this book has precisely zero of that. It’s hard to believe that the same guy responsible for such thought-through and intricate mind-fucks as The InvisiblesThe FilthFlex Mentallo, and Nameless could be so lazy as to write a dull and hackneyed pulp-adventure pastiche such as this, but that’s precisely the case, as Hal Jordan, “space cop,” goes after some meddling aliens intent on using a quasi-mystical device intended to bring its owners good luck — and very little else actually happens. Liam Sharp’s art is flashy and reasonably inventive in terms of his page layouts, panel designs, etc., but if you check out Hal’s weird, elongated neck on the cover, you’ll see that human anatomy is not his strong suit, and the problem is only exacerbated on the interior pages, some of which actively border on the hard to look at. This comic has one huge saving grace in the form of the coloring by industry legend (for good reason) Steve Oliff, who not only hasn’t lost a step but is still a good few paces ahead of most who have followed in his wake, but the hues alone in no way justify this book’s absurd $4.99 cover price (DC having apparently decided to tear a page from the Marvel playbook and charge an extra book for debut issues with maybe 6-10 extra pages). I went in to this one not giving a shit about the title character but hoping for the best given that Morrison is still capable of some thought-provoking, thoroughly engaging high-concept stuff —  and I walked away from it still not giving a shit about the title character, nor what these marquee creators do with him.

Hex Wives #1 marks the debut of the second non-Sadman title in the umpteenth relaunch of DC’s once-venerable “mature readers” Vertigo line (now re-branded, for what it’s worth, as DC/Vertigo), and again, one issue is all it takes to let me know that what’s going on here isn’t likely to be of much interest to me. Writer Ben Blacker is clearly trying to author the next feminist genre hit, and good on him for that, but this story of a group of amnesiac immortal witches held captive in sham suburban marriages by the men who have been tormenting them for centuries seems like it’s doomed to run of gas pretty quickly, as these ladies would have to be pretty stupid indeed to believe that their husbands go to work all day while they stay home and clean, prevented from going anywhere by the fact that none of them drive, and that there are long-running forest fires off in the distance that make the prospects of ever leaving town seem pretty remote indeed. I dug Mirka Andolfo’s clean, smart artwork, but the point of parables is that they’re already obvious enough for a child to understand, and I fail to see how layering a few on top of each other is going to do anything other than leave readers feeling pissed off that their intelligence is being insulted by something this painfully obvious as far as metaphors go. I laid out $3.99 for this comic from may own pocket, and I assure you that I have no intention of making that mistake again.

Bitter Root #1 sees the reunification of the acclaimed Power Man And Iron Fist creative team of scribe David F. Walker and artist Sanford Greene, this time plying their wares at Image Comics,  where both gentlemen ( joined for this project by co-writer Chuck Brown) appear to have not lost their strides at all, as this “Harlem Renaissance
take on the conflict between a likable-but-eccentric family and the vaguely Hoodoo-esque monsters they’re tasked with protecting their city — hell, their world — from” hits the ground running and never lets up. There’s still a veritable fuck-ton of details to be worked out as things progress, mind you, but this is a prime example of how slipping in social and political themes can often elevate a work at least a little bit beyond its genre trappings, given that these characters’ real chief nemesis is bigotry and intolerance. Yeah, it’s about as unsubtle as the just-reviewed Hex Wives, but in the hands of a triumvirate of creators as accomplished as these folks, who are clearly firing on all cylinders, the tried and true can still seem reasonably fresh and exciting — as this comic does. So, that’s $3.99 added to my pull list on a monthly basis — maybe it’s time to balance the scales by dropping one title for each new one I jump on?

Mister Miracle #12 is our “omega” this time out, in that it represents the final installment of writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads’ much-celebrated revival of Jack Kirby’s venerable Fourth World escape artist, and while the comic is (as has always been the case with this series) quite pleasing to have an extended “gander” at, I found the story to be somewhat uninspired and would like to humbly point out that I called this out as “Mulholland Dr., only with super-heroes and the suicide attempt the beginning” way back when I reviewed the first issue — and whaddya know, that’s not a bad description at all when thinking about the series in its totality. I’m also more than willing to bet that this finale will be hard-argued-over in many a fan circle for years to come, and that DC will iron out where this story fits into their corporate continuity long before the question of whether or not it even “really” happened is resolved to the satisfaction of crusty, pedantic funnybook-obsessives the world over. For my part, I thought it worked reasonably well for what it was — but what it was proved to be more or less exactly what I was expecting. I generally found that I felt like readers got their four bucks’ worth out of each issue in this run, but if you weren’t following it monthly you’d d be much better off waiting for the trade collection, which I would imagine is only a short time off, rather than hunting down the back issues. As you’ve no doubt gathered, I was considerably less effusive with my praise for this title than a lot of other critics out there who absolutely (and, frankly, embarrassingly) fawned over it, but it’s not like it was bad or anything, and I’m looking forward to having the time one of these days to sit down and re-read the whole thing in one go with an eye out for anything I may have missed.

And so ends another week of comics reading. Next week’s column will focus on — shit, it’s late, get back to me on that.

 

Daria Tessler’s Book Is Anything But “Accursed”

The whole package — you probably know it when you see it.

So, let’s run this hypothetical by you, shall we? You encounter a book with lavish, surreal, jaw-dropping art, presented in full, rich, eye-popping color. It features 18 pages, and a 26-inch center foldout, all riso-printed on heavy-duty recycled paper. The cover boasts foil-press embossing and a die-cut “window,” and the binding is hand-stitched, complete with beads and bells in the upper corner. Would that sound like the proverbial “whole package” to you? It would to me.

And that’s precisely what Daria Tessler’s remarkable Accursed, released earlier this year by the modern masters of truly deluxe small-press publishing at Chicago’s own Perfectly Acceptable Press, is.

Still, it’s all for naught if the contents of said publication don’t manage to live up to — hell, don’t prove themselves worthy of — their magnificent presentation. Especially when the asking price is a whopping $32. Thank goodness, then, that what we have here is the work of a true visionary.

I’m not sure why or how the idea to artistically interpret a series of ancient Greek and Roman curse tablets excavated from various archaeological digs comes to a person, but Tessler has long followed her creative muse into hitherto-uncharted (maybe that should even be hitherto-unimagined) territory, and not only is this no exception, it may even be fairly said to represent the culmination, even the apex, of her well and truly singular evolving aesthetic project. For some, the sky is the limit — for Tessler, it’s merely one more boundary to transcend, to overcome, to blast the fuck right through and leave eating her dust.

Seriously, my humble eyes have been well and truly privileged enough to have feasted upon many a visual marvel over the years, but this is in a class by, and unto, itself. Hallucinatory hellscapes of angst and torment may not lend themselves quickly or easily to being called “beautiful,” but these unequivocally are, and while their accompanying texts are no doubt archaic and sadistic in equal measure, there is also a starkly unforgiving poetry to them that the painfully harrowing, fever-dream illustrations magnify, amplify, transmogrify. This is suffering as art, as transcendence, as apotheosis. It hurts to look at and to read, but once you’ve done both, the idea of going back to a time before you’ve seen it becomes an act of cruel and unusual punishment to even consider.

Is there a lesson to be learned from this non-narrative assemblage of debilitating pain made cosmic in its scope and potential? Probably not in the strictest sense, but that in no way precludes this work from achieving “lasting impression” status in any given reader’s mind. That we exist in a world where the desire for “payback” can be so strong that it inadvertently finds its ages-old verbal expression transformed into something this unbearably gorgeous is strange thing to wrap one’s head around, indeed, but it’s nevertheless the reality we are confronted with as we make our through this phantasmagoria of wished-upon-the-stars hurt, and come out the other side with something akin to awe and wonder at the power — and frankly the timelessness — of revenge as a formerly-abstract concept made concrete, made inescapable, made immediate. Time may not diminish anger, but it can redirect its expression in ways entirely, and gloriously, unforeseen. This is all the proof you’ll ever need of that.

******************************************************************************

Accursed is, sadly but completely understandably, sold out on its publisher’s website, but Daria Tessler herself has precisely one copy still available at her Etsy shop. Now, then, would be a good time to stop dawdling and get over to https://www.etsy.com/mx/listing/536722566/accursed-book