Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/24/2019 – 03/30/2019, Old School ‘Zines

Fuck the internet. Once upon a time, if you wanted to get your thoughts on any given random-ass subject (say, for instance, comics) out there to a tiny sliver of the public, you had to go to the trouble of writing ’em down, constructing them into articles, essays, or at least rants, designing and laying out pages, selecting and/or commissioning illustrations, and then slapping everything between two covers and actually publishing what you’d come up with.

It took guts. It took determination. It took commitment. And it took cash that most ‘zine creators were sorely lacking. Fortunately, some folks still refuse the “easy out” offered by digital and continue to produce these labors of genuine love. For this week’s Round-Up column, I thought I’d draw attention to some notable recent examples —

Mineshaft #36 is the latest issue of Everett Rand and Gioia Palimieri’s long-running, idiosyncratic, expertly-curated (a term I usually avoid at all costs, but it really does apply here) small-press publication featuring a selection of illustrations, poems, correspondence, and personal observations/essays. Rand and Palmieri are essentially continuing a long-form conversation with their small-but-loyal readership at this point, who have come to expect nothing but the best both in terms of content and production values from this indefatigable, hand-crafted ‘zine. Mainstay contributor R. Crumb provides gorgeous covers this time out, with interior contents courtesy of a “murderer’s row” of counter-cultural talent including Justin Green, Billy Childish, Mary Fleener, David Collier, Noah Van Sciver, Denis Kitchen, and many others. A true artisan publication, well worth its $9 asking price and then some. Find out more by heading on over to : https://mineshaftmagazine.com/store.html

The Tiny Report #5 continues editor/publisher Robyn Chapman’s welcome trend of getting better and more ambitious with each issue, and while the exhaustive fold-out chart that is her annual “Micro-Press Yearbook” is something to behold, for this critic the highlights this time out were the interviews with one of the best cartoonists alive, Eleanor Davis, and one of the most disturbing and original cartoonists of all time, Mike Diana. Tons of mini-comic reviews round out the impressive package, but seriously — these are two of the best Q&A’s offered up anywhere in recent memory. $6 is a steal for anything this superb, so order one up at http://thetinyreport.storenvy.com/products/23781330-tiny-report-no-5

But Is It — Comic Aht? #1 is a newcomer to the fold, courtesy of our old friend, editor/publisher Austin English, and his Domino Books imprint. If the return of The Comics Journal to print felt a bit underwhelming to you, rest easy — this ‘zine has you covered, and it’s a lot cheaper. A career-spanning interview with the great (and sadly under-appreciated) Megan Kelso was my favorite thing in this debut issue, but a personal exploration of the Mexican indie comics scene by Ines Estrada was another standout contribution in a publication that, frankly, features nothing but. I’m working on an interview with cartoonist David Tea for the second issue, but until then you can get the first for the ridiculously low sum of $5 from http://dominobooks.org/comicaht1.html

The Holland Report #3 is probably the most specialized book under our metaphorical microscope this week, a true throwback in terms of both style, content, and format to the fanzines of yesteryear courtesy of publisher John Boylan, whose love for the venerable DC muck-monster known as Swamp Thing knows no bounds. In fact, he tosses in a fan club membership card and button with each order. Unseen Swampy sketches from one of his most beloved artists, Stephen Bissette, a terrific interview with arguably the most under-valued writer to ever work on the book, the great Nancy A. Collins, a mind-bendingly thorough look at the early history of John Constantine, and lots of cool fan art make this a sensational value at $10. Boyland and his collaborators are true fans and this is a true fan publication. Get more details at https://rootsoftheswampthing.com/hollandfiles/

The independent comics ‘zine is far from dead — let’s all do our part to make sure it stays that way by supporting these amazing folks and their amazing work!

That’ll do quite nicely for this week, which leaves me with just enough timeto remind you that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon site, where for less money than a hit of acid cost when I was a kid you get exclusive thrice-weekly ravings and ramblings from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature and politics. Plus, supporting me there keeps me sufficiently motivated to provide a steady supply of entirely free content here and over on my trashfilmguru movie site. Please take moment to check it out and consider supporting my work by following this here link : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Special Mentions

And so we come to the most unusual of our year-end “Top 10” lists, this one looking at my ten favorite “special mentions” of 2018, and I suppose that some explanation is in order : simply put, a lot of great publications that came out of the comics world this year were, for lack of a better term (at least a better term than I can think of, you may fare better) “comics-adjacent,” in that they were by  cartoonists, but took the form of illustrated short stories, collections of drawings, etc. Also included in this category are publications about comics — ‘zines, scholarly works, and the like. Now then, with those ground rules in place —

10. Troubled Mankind Of The Modern South By Jeff Zenick (Self-Published) – One of the better pure illustrators working today, and one whose work consistently flies under the radar, Zenick’s collection of drawings based on mug shots found online of folks run afoul of the law below the Mason-Dixon line is his most conceptually “tight” offering to date, and captures the essential character of the desperation that leads to/ends in criminal activity far better than “mere” photographs ever could. A sobering, straight-forward look at the underbelly of society that most would rather pretend doesn’t exist.

9. Journal Of Smack (2018) By Andrea Lukic (Self-Published) – Lukic’s semi-regular journals are always fascinating, but her latest is like a “found object” from another time, place, and possibly even dimension, ostensibly telling an illustrated vampire story that circles back in on itself frequently — but what’s really going on here is something much deeper and more profound : preconceptions of what words and pictures can and even should do in juxtaposition are challenged head-on, shaken up, and re-arranged in new, unique, and even unsettling ways that are hard to explain, but undeniably powerful and instantly memorable.

8. Folrath #2 By Zak Sally (Self-Published) – The second installment in Sally’s ongoing prose memoir of his early-’90s “punk years” is no mere exercise in nostalgia for its own sake, but rather a gripping and evocative attempt to reconcile what one’s part even means — and how it never really leaves us, even when we think we’ve left it behind. The publication format here is also innovative and aesthetically pleasing, using riso printing and an “old-school” typeface to give the proceedings a wistful look that amplifies the tone of the writing.

7. But Is It — Comic Aht? Edited By Austin English (Domino Books) – Oh, hell yes ! The newsprint comics ‘zine had been in desperate need of a comeback for some time, and English is just the guy to resuscitate it. A thorough and comprehensive interview with the great Megan Kelso and an examination of the Mexican comics underground by Ines Estrada are the standout features to this critic, but the other reviews and articles are all tops, too. A true and obvious labor of love that you’re guaranteed, in turn, to love yourself.

6. Dog Nurse By Margot Ferrick (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – One of those rare “total packages” that has it all in terms of both form and content, Ferrick’s mysteriously heartwarming tale of a precocious but alienated child and her hired caretaker’s attempts to reach an understanding with her is lavishly illustrated, but equally lavishly presented between fastened hard covers on rich, French-fold pages. Well and truly stunning in every perspective.

5. Nocturne By Tara Booth (2dcloud) – Perhaps the closest thing on this list to a traditional “comics” narrative, Booth’s undeniably charming tale of a consequential evening in the life of a dominatrix, told by means of sequentially-arranged gouache paintings, is incredibly fluid, to be sure, but also far more conceptually dense than it may appear at first glance, incorporating themes of sexual identity, communal living, complex (and perhaps unhealthy) relationships with food, and body-image acceptance into a non-alienating, visually literate, wordless narrative. Some books leave a mark — this one casts a spell.

4. Accursed By Daria Tessler (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – One of the most gorgeous riso publications ever made, Tessler’s mind-bending visual interpretations of accompanying ancient Greek and Roman curses is a rich exploration of the timelessness of the urge for revenge rendered in a gorgeous and vibrant color palette that literally makes the already-“trippy” images achieve a kind of near-sentience as they draw you into a world unlike any other ever depicted. The die-cut cover with embossed ink and fold-out center spread will blow your mind if the contents haven’t already.

3. John, Dear By Laura Lannes (Retrofit/Big Planet) – A harrowing tale of emotional and psychological abuse manifesting itself outwardly in the form of physical deformation and mutation, Lannes has taken “body horror” to a whole new level by infusing it with social relevance — and her richly-black graphite renderings will not only take your breath away, but literally suck it right out of your body. I defy you to read this and not feel absolutely hollowed out afterwards.

2. The Woman Minotaur By Sara L. Jackson (Self-Published) – Sumptuous, beautiful, and horrifying all at once, Jackson’s painted short story revolving around themes of parental abandonment and alienation is as emotionally and psychologically charged as it is visually ambitious. A supremely self-assured work that establishes its own rules with fearlessness, integrity, and ingenuity, this is an entirely new form of artist-to-audience communication that goes right for the heart and twists it mercilessly.

1. Why Art? By Eleanor Davis (Fantagraphics) – Asking, and answering, its titular question by means more allegorical than expository, Davis’ deceptively “simple” illustrations and sparse, economic narrative shave off anything and everything superfluous and consequently “mainline” her story directly into readers’ metaphorical veins with an immediacy so nonchalantly assumed that its sheer power is immediately and automatically taken as a given.  A work of singular and undeniable genius — and that’s a word you will only catch me using when it’s not only warranted, but frankly inescapable. Davis makes her strongest argument yet for being the cartoonist laureate of our times.

So there you have it — ten great comics that weren’t exactly comics. Next up is our final list of the year, focusing on original graphic novels. That goes up tomorrow night, and may surprise you just as much for what isn’t included on it as what is. How’s that for a teaser?

There’s Something Happening Here — What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear : Austin English’s “The Enemy From Within”

Some comics really make you work.

Not as hard as the cartoonist who made them, of course — and Austin English busted his tail (and his hands, and probably even his brain) on his latest solo book, The Enemy From Within, published in late 2017 by Sonatina Comics. The sheer effort that went into the creation of the thematically-linked triptych of stories (the titular “The Enemy From Within, ” “Half-Hearted Slogan Dance,” and “Solo Dance #2”) is apparent on all 22 of these intricately-detailed, insanely imaginative pages. English uses every last millimeter of space available to him, his images densely packed from corner to corner, side to side, negative space a luxury he can seldom afford. He’s clearly got a lot to say — but what is it?

I’ll be honest — four times through this book, I’m still trying to figure that out. But I think that’s the point : English has always been about as visually ambitious as anyone around, his modern art sensibilities on full few (hello Picasso, and all that), but he’s veered completely into dada-ist territory with this one, so it’s a safe bet that the work will have as many different interpretations as it does readers. What it means to me, then, may be something entirely different than what it means to you — and that’s assuming it means anything to you at all, which it very well may not.

And you know what? That’s okay, too — you’ll at least walk away from it with an exhausted mind and even more exhausted eyeballs, since there’s literally no way to casually glance at this. You’ll be drawn in immediately, even if what it is you’re drawn into can’t be fully comprehended, much less described with mere words after you’ve put it down. All of which is my roundabout way of saying “look, folks, I’m doing my best here — and even that may not be enough.”

If you’re looking for narrative, forget it — English is expunging the contents of his fevered subconscious out onto the page with too much ferocious precision to slow down for that sort of shit. His characters — I hesitate to use the term “protagonists” — are forever on the brink of a kind of unavoidable oblivion, barely holding it together in the face of a silent-but-immovable edifice of individuality-erasing constructs and/or phenomena such as corporations (and their logos), advertising slogans, cliched catch-phrases (which are scrawled right onto their bodies, as if they have as much physical reality as the “people” themselves), and emotional/psychological needs ultimately dependent on others for their fulfillment (validation, affirmation, love, hate). The question it seems to me he’s getting at is —who are you? Is there an irreducible element of “self” that exists apart from all these influences?

There’s no answer to that, of course —and  that’s the scary thing. Coming to terms with the idea that everything and everyone has an effect, even just a passive one, on everything and everyone else means negation is a real possibility at all times, maybe even an ongoing process, whether it comes our way via relationships, consumerism, employment, schooling — no form of interaction is safe. Everything you do means someone or something else “gets in” on some level. And yes, that even includes reading some befuddled (and, no doubt, befuddling) comic book review.

Here’s what I do know for certain : this is a work that challenged me a hell of a lot and will no doubt continue to do so, and the presentation is as gorgeous as material this lushly-rendered and thought-provoking deserves. The covers are thick cardstock; the paper slick, glossy, heavyweight. You’re holding some serious fucking art in your hands here, and Sontina pulls out all the stops on the production side to ensure you don’t forget it — as if you could. I may not have figured out this comic, or even come close to doing so, but it’s been on my mind constantly, in a way nothing I’ve read so far this year (save, perhaps, for D.R.T.’s Qoberious Vol. 1) has. Austin English has blown open a hole in the universe — and, yeah, in my head, too.

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If eight bucks to fundamentally shake up your perceptions of everything about existence itself sounds like a bargain to you — and, trust me, it is — then take the plunge and order The Enemy From Within directly from English via his Domino Books publishing and distro outfit at this link : http://dominobooks.org/enemywithin.html