A Cucumber Finds Himself In A Pickle In Josh Pettinger’s “Goiter” #5

For good, ill, or a little bit of both, there are precious few things we can really, well and truly, rely on in today’s comics world — and many would argue that the same is true for the wider world in general. You know, the one they call “real.” But we’re not really hear to talk about that, so let’s get back to comics.

Whether we’re talking the medium or the industry, comics are in a state of flux. Where and how the dust settles, and what things will look like once it does, nobody knows. The mainstream is freaked out by all this uncertainty, of course, but for independent and self-publishing cartoonists, this has always been the way of things. Print a few too many books you can’t sell, you don’t make rent. Have a nice weekend tabling at a show, suddenly you’ve got beer money. There are no constants apart from the fact that there are no constants — unless and until you find yourself a publisher that believes in your work and is willing to put up the cost of printing and distribution themselves, that is.

After taking on the burden of all that all by his lonesome for this part half-decade or so, Josh Pettinger appears to have found himself in precisely that much-sought-after position : Tinto Press has stepped up to the plate and, as of the fifth and latest issue, is now publishing his acclaimed one-man anthology series, Goiter. And they’re doing it in full color, to boot! One hopes, then, that he has found that ever-elusive something to rely on.

As for the rest of us, well — those who have been following it know that Goiter has been a reliably interesting and quirky (but not, thankfully, in a terribly self-conscious way) series from the outset, and that Pettinger’s character-driven stories are consistently delightful and bewildering. At first he was perhaps wearing his Clowes and Ware influences on his sleeve a bit too obviously, but as time has gone on he’s become more and more confident in his own visual narrative skills and now structures his stories his own way, writes dialogue his own way, and has a singular cartooning style that occupies a unique space halfway between emotive and deadpan — all of which coalesces to splendid effect in his title story this time out, “William Cucumber.”

On paper, a long-form strip about a late-teens protagonist who gets canned from his job renting chairs at the beach, moves into a tent in the backyard of his divorcing parent’s home, takes up smoking so he can cash in on being a human guinea pig only to find there’s no money in that racket but he’s hooked on nicotine anyway, and undertakes an impromptu murder investigation with the daughter of his mom’s new boyfriend sounds like a string of utterly incongruous plot elements strung together — and hey, I suppose it is, but Pettinger, as always, finds a way to make it work by focusing on character so ferociously that he’s able to “sell” readers on any set of circumstances said character finds themselves in. It’s a gutsy move, but it’s one that’s always worked to one degree or another over the course of this series’ lifespan, and it works to a very high degree in this new issue. Particularly as questions about how “real” any or all of this even is come to the fore, the tension between the deliberately blase figure drawings and the potentially-hallucinatory subject matter gives readers plenty of reason to question, in the words of Freddie Mercury, “is this the real life — is this just fantasy?” It’s a low-key barnburner of a story, and one of Pettinger’s best efforts to date.

I was somewhat less enamored with the short-form backup strips that round out the issue, but I do see what Pettinger was going for with them — I just found them rather slight and maybe a bit too convenient/forced in terms of execution. But that’s a small gripe when we’re talking about a comic that boasts a superb main feature and terrific production values. Josh Pettinger is creating something really special with this comic, and if you haven’t been picking it up already, now that it’s more widely available, this would be the perfect time to start doing so. Single-creator anthologies are considered by some to be a bit of an anachronistic throwback, I know, but Goiter proves that it’s a format with plenty of gas in the tank yet.

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

Goiter #5 is available for $5.99 from the Tinto Press website at https://tintopress.com/product/goiter-5/

Review wrist check – Ocean Crawler “Paladino Wavemaker” green dial model riding an Ocean Crawler black stingray leather strap. And no, your eyes don’t deceive you, that’s the sleeve of my winter jacket brushing up against the watch. We got seven inches of sloppy, wet snow here in the Twin Cities yesterday — yup, on October 20th. How nuts is that?

A Pretty Strong “Wimp Digest”

To address the elephant in the room right at the outset, yes — Josh Pettinger and Evan Salazar’s new eight-page mini, Wimp Digest, is a “gimmick” comic, the stunt in question being that Salazar is writing and drawing a mildly embarrassing anecdote about Pettinger’s childhood, and Pettinger is writing and drawing a mildly embarrassing anecdote about Salazar’s childhood. Got that?

I’m sure you do, as the idea of one cartoonist telling the other a story for them to commit to paper, and the other doing the same, isn’t a terribly difficult conceit to grasp — nor is this comic itself a difficult one to kick back and spend about 15 minutes with. It’s a fun, kinda heartwarming, and certainly well-illustrated little number by two of the more promising new (-ish, at any rate) talents in the “indie”/self-publishing scene (although, as I’m sure you won’t be surprised to discover, the publication of this is every bit the “joint venture” that its creation was). Here’s the thing, though — you’re also more than likely to see some actual value in it, and by that I mean value beyond its inherent cleverness.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being clever, mind you — in this cynical day and age, it gets kind of a bad rap, but when done right it still makes for an enjoyable reading experience, which this ‘zine certainly is. But I think Pettinger and Salazar are reaching for something a little more here — something maybe, dare I say it, at least nominally approaching understanding. And not just of each other.

Rather, what I see in the essential character of these admittedly quick little vignettes — the subjects of which you can pretty well glean from the titles of the strips as presented in the image above — is an effort to understand their own artistic processes, and where the line between subjectivity and objectivity (always murky at best, true) lies by applying their own creative practices to the task of playing biographer for someone else. And who better to try something like that on than a friend, right?

Please don’t take this to mean that we’re playing around in “where does the end of me become the start of you?” territory here or anything, though, as we’re most assuredly not. Rather, what these guys are doing is seeing what, if anything, of their own unique cartooning “voice” carries over into someone else’s story, and how that “voice” informs said story. And when you’re talking about two people whose approaches and concerns are pretty singular unto themselves, that’s likely to prove to be a very interesting exercise, indeed — and so it is.

I guess I’d be lying if I said this was anything like an essential purchase — -after all, if you want straight-no-chaser Salazar you’re better off picking up Rodeo, and if you want straight-no-chaser Pettinger you’re better off picking up Goiter (and I should state for the record that you’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice if you’re not already reading both) — but it’s definitely an intriguing and worthwhile one all the same. Plus, it’s cheap, and in times such as these that’s always a plus — but don’t take that to mean it’s inherently disposable or purely a vanity project. This might be a gimmick, sure, but it’s nevertheless a substantive one that allows each cartoonist to discover something about the other — and, more importantly, about themselves.

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

Wimp Digest is available for $4.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/wimpdigest.html

Review wrist check — I was wearing my Farer Universal “Stanhope” mechanical hand-winder when I wrote this one, the only non-automatic watch in my modest little collection. It’s riding a Hirsch “Paul” alligator-pattern leather strap from their “Performance” series for a dressy look but a comfortable, sporty feel.

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 06/09/2019 – 06/15/2019, Josh Pettinger And Some More Brian Canini

New stuff in the mail this week from the always-intriguing Josh Pettinger, who has a new issue of his self-published Goiter, plus I was finally able to track down the first ish through the auspices of a kind reader of this site — and one more new item from our friend Brian Canini that’s a hold-over from last week. So, yeah, plenty to get to —

Goiter #4 sees Pettinger return to black-and-white after the full-color third issue, but fear not : he’s trying a magazine format this time around, and the enlarged art looks great. As always, the Ware and Clowes influences are pretty strongly felt here, but I dig a cartoonist who wears his artistic lineage on his sleeve, and Pettinger is taking the ethos established by those earlier artists in new and intriguing directions — that direction this time being the story of “Wendy Bread,” a silently-suffering housewife with a philandering pro wrestler for a husband and an alt-right asshole with a hentai fixation and a very active right hand for a son. An uncomfortable study in how to become alienated and estranged from one’s own existence that comes dangerously close to victim-shaming, but avoids it rather deftly by not zeroing in too closely on title character Wendy’s gender specifically and instead utilizes her as a vehicle to get inside the whole “enabler” mindset. The back-up strip about an all-female fire department brigade than ends with then running away from danger is enough to make you think that Pettinger himself may have absorbed (inadvertently or otherwise) some of the Jordan Peterson bullshit he had to subject himself to in order to convincingly write Wendy’s son, but on the whole this is the sort of borderline-problematic book that forces you to think about what it’s presenting rather than actively promulgating for any particular point of view. Certainly well worth the $8.00 asking price — and hey, Pettinger’s got one of the most distinctive lettering styles around, as well, something he never seems to get enough credit for, but might now that it’s reproduced nice and big.

Going back a couple of years, we’ve got Goiter #2, which is in standard comic-book format and carries a $6.00 price. I’d never read this one before but it’s pretty clear this is where Pettinger really started coming into his own. “Henry Kildare” is the story of a ventriloquist whose relationship at home is on the rocks, so he takes a gig out of town and has a potentially life-changing experience — or maybe just an experience that shows how fucked-up his life really is. Comparisons to Clowes’ Caricature are inevitable, I suppose, but this comic does a lot less hand-holding of its readers and makes you puzzle things out, most notably how you feel about the whole damn story, on your own. Order it from the same place you order issue four, namely https://www.etsy.com/shop/Goitercomics

Goiter #1 carries a $5 price tag, but I don’t know where the hell you’re going to find it. This one has more of an Ivan Brunetti vibe to it, albeit with a clinical, dispassionate twist in terms of its narrative POV : a workaday schmuck turns to an internet message board for assistance in pursuing a very particular — and very peculiar — sexual fetish that involves a fake mugging as part of its premise, and from there, shit gets even weirder. Unintended consequences and the like have been done to death before, so while this is a very solid read that raises some troubling questions, it’s less unique than Pettinger’s later efforts and likely of far more interest to completists and bound-and-determined fans of his work than it would be to, say, a casual reader. I still dug it, but you can tell he’s still very much in the process of finding his own voice here, and doesn’t always manage to pull it off.

Finally, we check in with Brian Canini one more time, who had last week’s column all to himself — but at that point I hadn’t read this particular book, Glimpses Of Life #6. I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with this autobio title, feeling like it too frequently lacked a distinct focus and consequently came off as a hit-or-miss affair, but I’m pleased to report this latest issue is a direct hit, charting Canini’s evolution as a comics enthusiast and cartoonist. His efficient, no-frills drawing style really lends itself well to this material and helps Canini achieve the quietly remarkable feat of communicating his love for his medium of choice without sliding (or maybe that should be falling) into complete hagiography. Certainly the most accomplished installment of this series to date and a veritable bargain at $2.99. Get yourself a copy by heading over to http://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/

And so another week has come and gone, but I can’t finish up (okay, I choose not to finish up) without reminding you that this column is, as always, brought to you by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics. I recently lowered the minimum tier pricing to a dollar a month, so seriously — what are you waiting for? You get terrific value for your money (there’s a ton of stuff up on there already), and your support also helps ensure a steady stream of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please take a moment to check it out over at http://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/

 

 

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Single Issues

With the advent (ha! Get it?) of December, the time has come, once again, for our annual look back at some of the finest comics the year had to offer. We’ll be skipping the usual offerings for the next week or two around here, including the Weekly Reading Round-Up column, since re-reading is your humble emcee’s top priority for the next little while. A run-down, then, of the six different categories I’ve broken things down into is in order, and please keep in mind that I’m deliberately eschewing calling any of these lists a “best-of” simply because I haven’t read everything that’s out there — and who could? Think of these, then, as lists of the ten best entries in each category that I’ve read. Or my own personal favorites. Or something. Anyway, “brackets” are as follows:

Top Ten Single Issues – Pretty self-explanatory, I should think : this list focuses on individual comic books and minis, either stand-alones or part of an ongoing series.

Top Ten Comics Series – This list is designed to spotlight comics that are produced on some sort of production schedule and honors those of consistently high quality. Open-ended, ongoing series and finite mini-series both are eligible, the only qualification is that each series has to have released at least three issues over the course of the past year, since if they’ve only put out two, either one of them would represent 50% of said comic’s total “output” and should, by rights, probably land in the “Top 10 Single Issues” category.

Top Ten Contemporary Collections – This list will focus on collected editions of material previously released either as single issues or in anthologies, etc. English-language translations of Eurocomics, Manga, and the like are also eligible in this category. I have a fairly generous definition of “contemporary,” and have set an admittedly quite arbitrary “cut-off date” of the year 2000, since anything that presents work from the previous century will fall into the category of —

Top Ten Vintage Collections – Same rules as above, just for pre-2000 stuff.

Top Ten Special Mentions – This is a new one I’ve never done before and is somewhat amorphous by definition, so by way of explanation I’ll just say it’s a list designed to highlight my favorite comics-adjacent releases of the year : work that’s done by cartoonists but doesn’t fit the traditional sequential-art format, or else publications that are about comics, but aren’t actually comics themselves.

Top Ten Graphic Novels – Last but certainly not least, this category has fairly strict limitations : every work in it is one which was designed from the outset to be presented in the “graphic novel” format, and cannot have been serialized anywhere else, either in print or online, since those sorts of things are already covered by the “Top Ten Contemporary Collections” designation. These are long-form, wholly original works only.

Are we good? I think we’re good. So let’s jump right in with the Top Ten Single Issues list —

10. Goiter #3 By Josh Pettinger (Self-Published) – The strongest comic yet from one of the most promising “emerging” cartoonists out there, I’m glad to see Pettinger moving away from his Clowes/Ware roots and find an authentic perspective all his own with this superb story about a young woman in love with — a chronologically-displaced floating head? Moving, smart, authentic, and deeply emotive work.

9. Rookie Moves By November Garcia (Self-Published) – Probably my favorite autobio cartoonist working today is at her best in this fun and funny (not to mention endlessly charming) mini focused on her transition from star-struck fan girl to “professional” comic artist — who’s still a star-struck fan girl. One of the most earnest and refreshingly un-pretentious reads of the year.

8. Rust Belt #4 By Sean Knickerbocker (Self-Published) – We’ve heard a lot this year about comics that capture the current MAGA-poisoned “cultural moment,” but for my money none succeeded so well as the fourth issue of Knickerbocker’s ongoing “solo anthology” series, as he casts his increasingly-sharp observational eye on the dual personalities of a guy who’s an average enough husband at home, and a rising right-wing social media “star” in his spare time. You know the people in this comic — and while that’s a damn depressing thing to consider, it makes for utterly compelling reading.

7. By Monday I’ll be Floating In The Hudson With The Other Garbage By Laura Lannes (2dcloud) – The most exemplary collection of diary comics I had the pleasure to read in 2018, Lannes’ subtle and self-deprecating tone and smooth, fundamentally inventive cartooning chart the doomed trajectory of a Tinder “romance” in both real-time and a gorgeous, over-sized format. Remarkably restrained for something so personal, this one sticks in your mind long after     closing it.

6. From Crust Till Dawn By Sarah Romano Diehl (Self-Published) – The second chapter in Diehl’s ongoing memoir of her time as a pizza parlor employee unfolds with a dreamlike quality and ease that brings out the character, rather than the nuts-and-bolts specifics, of each instance it portrays — the end result being a joyously unique reading experience quite unlike anything else.

5. Cosmic BE-ING #6 By Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Graham enters her post-Angloid era with this awesomely bizarre and entirely singular look at the lives of the residents of her “Clown Castle” in the sky who will creep you out and crack you up in equal measure as they point out the absurdities of wage labor, group living, and other everyday taken-as-given situations large and small. The most assured effort yet from one of the most unique talents in cartooning today.

4. Tongues #2 By Anders Nilsen (Self-Published) – The most ambitious (thematically and visually) ongoing narrative in comics ups the mystery even as things come into view more clearly in its various and for-now-disparate plotlines. Gorgeously illustrated and colored, viscerally written, this is a true masterpiece-in-the-making that demands and rewards rigorous re-reading and examination.

3. Perfect Discipline And Unbending Loyalty By Tommi Parrish (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – In the space of just a couple of short years, Parrish has assumed comics’ mantle as the most astute chronicler of the emotional landscape of human interpersonal relations, and in this sumptuously-presented work they disarm, dissect, and ultimately empower their characters as they navigate generational differences with the same delicately understated honesty as they bring to their intuitive mapping of physical, sexual, and even mental intimacy between couples. Staggering, heartfelt, supremely confident work.

2. Frontier #17, Mother’s Walk By Lauren Weinstein (Youth In Decline) – Weinstein’s love letter to her newborn child is a testament to the power of motherhood and cartooning both as it traverses the eternal moment just before a new life enters this world in an elliptical fashion that encapsulates past, present, and future in an ever-present “now” that circles back in on itself and never ends — as is most certainly true of this comic itself, which breaks every pre-conceived notion still remaining as to what the medium is capable of. There’s been a lot of “hype” around this book recently — including from yours truly — but rest assured : none of it captures the full magnificence of all it contains, of all it is.

1. Now #4, Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – The most significant ongoing anthology in well over a decade, Reynolds puts it all together in this issue (with plenty of help from cartoonists like Roman Muradov, Julian Glander, Nathan Cowdry, Matthias Lehmann, Walt Holcombe, Tommi Parrish, and Brian Blomerth, among others), more than living up to the “mission statement” in his book’s title, but going one step further in the process — this isn’t just where comics are at now, it also shows where they’re going in the future. The best, most varied, most effectively curated (I term I try not to use at all, but employ here with absolute precision) assemblage of sequential art you’re going to come across in this year and probably just about any other, this is a shot across the bow, a challenge for everyone to “raise the bar” and make comics that are as confidently-realized as those on offer here.

Whew! Okay! That’s quite the run-down! And we’re just getting started! 2018 really has been an amazing year for comics, and narrowing down each of these lists to just ten “winners” has been a very difficult task indeed. I feel bad about some of the books that didn’t “make the cut,” but I’m very confident in everything I settled on, as well as the specific places they earned. I hope you agree with my selections, sure, but more than that — I hope you’ve found some great new comics to add to your “must-buy” list!

Next up — Top Ten Ongoing Series! I’m aiming to have that list up tomorrow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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