Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Hooray! Kate Beaton speaks! To inkstuds! For the Canadian artists series!

Her voice is deep and sultry, like mine, but she is much too modest.


This is both hilarious and terrifying. Americans are really special. Thanks blogger dashboard.


(Who was the comic character that used to always say that? Was it Cathy? I hope not.)

This morning I was faced not only with the sad fact that my friend The Prog Lady is going home, but also that someone in my apartment building is a total asshole. Or, more likely, the incompetent asshole super of the building is just exhibiting his strongest traits. When I looked out the window this morning to assuage the rolling nausea of a new day, instead of a clear vista to the chain link there was a giant, broken trash bag filled plopped unceremoniously into my fern garden. Judging from the broken weed tree branches littering the ground, this bag of bricks, broken pottery and dirt was heaved from a great height.

Ferns are brittle.

I am angry.

Why do I suspect SuperJerk? Well, because he was asked to help clear the fire escape to amend a violation, is ignorant as hell, and doesn't tend to think things through. As helpfully pointed out by B, the bag was also obviously calculated to have a soft landing, as to not wake us up, exposing a shady side to the thrower that SJ definitely has. I wonder if it will still be there when I get home tonight. Judging by the bags of trash still sitting in the corner that he was supposed to help us with 2 years ago, I think yes.

Luckily, ferns are also frondalicious, so the damage should be covered in a few weeks.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Indelible: A Collection Brought to You by Women of CCS edited by Kubby Barry and C. Frakes

Indelible caught my eye at MoCCA because of the hot purple inkwell on the cover. Those CCSers sure turn out a good screenprint! In this case the print was by Kubby Barry, artist of one of my favorite stories in this collection. “The Tortise and the Hare” is a retelling of the fable, set at a woodsy retreat for anthropomorphic hippy homesteaders who have aged considerably since they all became friends. Though the art is rough and childlike, Kubby gives a nuanced picture of friends that have grown apart as well as a portrait of idealism gone sour.

The other editor, C.Frakes, spins a cute and creepy story with selections from “Marya and Death.” It made me want to go to her website and read all of it. I especially liked the movement the inky brushwork (?) afforded the characters.

Other highlights included Annie Murphy’s old-timey, fantastical loss n’ love story (I wanted to eat the faces of the earnest characters), and CCS instructor Rachael Gross’s intriguing pieces that look like beautiful oversized trading cards for the mysterious but practical woman.

The collection also included poems and a short story. The non-comic selections didn’t add much for me and some of the contributions seem dashed off (like Lucy Knisely’s “Girlique;” I’ve seen way better stuff on her website that are just sketches) leading to an overall uneven feeling to the collection. That’s anthologies, I guess—but I was hoping for more from such talented ladies.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Ticking & Micrographica by Renee French

The Ticking

After hearing nonstop about this book for many months I finally picked it up, submitting to the seductive cloth cover with its pretty gilding and its little box-headed boy. I’m glad Top Shelf decided to take the sexy D&Q cover route. Not only is it pretty, I think it really goes with the timelessness of the story inside.

Some people mark the opening words of the book, “Edison Steelhead was born on the kitchen floor. His mother did not survive him,” to be chilling and set the tone of French’s graphic novel. I find the next lines to be even more striking:
“You have my face. So we’ll go away. Where nobody can see it.” Yes, what’s more horrible than being motherless is having a father that is so ashamed of himself that he is ashamed of you. And that shame is what prohibits Edison, a boy with usual features and a big mind from being supported by his father Calvin.

Like French’s The Soap Lady, this pencily-gray book could be read as a children’s tale about being different, growing up and finding one’s own way. And it works very well on that level—I think children would be charmed by Edison and the various disguises required by his father (the monkey head is especially cute) and lulled by the fairytale quality of some of the book’s elements, such as the Steelhead’s private island full of secrets for Edison to uncover and document.

As an adult, I could really take the time to both enjoy the art and read the story as a testament to people’s ability to transcend their circumstances. Edison knows that it is sad that his father couldn’t allow himself to enjoy Edison on Edison’s terms, but he doesn’t let that stop him from becoming an illustrator and living in the city. The note of hope is such a pleasant aspect—something I am looking for right now.

My favorite touch is Edison’s drawings of the things he finds. They gain in mastery as he grows up and show up again on a heartbreaking page near the end. I love the weird little diagrams that are so like real children’s drawings and somehow so unlike them.

The perfect balance of all the elements—sweetness, creepiness, melancholy and hope—make this book really special. Buy it for someone weird today!

This fun, tiny book, also by Top Shelf, was a drawing exercise originally done on French’s website. She made each of the drawings originally 1” x 1” and blown up for the book, the clarity of the elements is really remarkable. The story involves squirrel-like creatures and a ball of poop. What more could you ask for?

Sadly, I lost my copy at a blah restaurant in the Meatpacking District at the end of a very long walk. I hope the busboys enjoyed it.

Sounds of Your Name by Nate Powell

Oh boy, the first book of 2008. I picked this up at Half Price books in Monroeville, PA after Christmas because it was published by Microcosm and I like the cover and the art as I flipped through. Despite my copy being one of the misprints (which I found out later), the words were still legible. The art was really dynamic, if a little gray, even in the couple of stories effected by bad scanning.

Nate Powell was a 90s zine-y guy which may be why his name sounded familiar. SYN is a collection of his self-published work. The stories are mostly about dissatisfied folks, boys, girls and men, who make bad decisions and drive around. There is a lot of love that can’t be had, or was lost, by young adults in sweatshirts. To put it mildly, these are not my favorite storylines. “Wah, wah, wah,” I think. Maybe I’m too old for these.

My favorite story in the collection was “Frankenbones.” It was written by Emil Heiple, and perhaps that’s why I liked it the most. Two cats roam about and protect the bespectacled gal that has taken them in. I loved the humor and the pacing of the story and the cat with an eye patch.

I love Powell’s figures and movement. They way he incorporates the environments of the characters’ into the panels is superb as well (a wind gust, trash, cold). Still, even in comics, I need some kind of compelling narrative to pull me through and SYN just didn’t do it for me.

Last minute party

Sadly, this will not be some service journalism on how to throw together a wicked kegger in 20 minutes or less.

Happily, it is a reminder that Amy Ambulette is having a book party for her new novel How Far is the Ocean from Here. I am excited to read it, not just because she is a great writer, but because I know reading it will inspire me on to bigger and better artistic things, just like my friendship with her has. It will be like friendship in portable form-- what more could you ask for?

A note on books not finished

Recently I have had a little run of bad novel reading. Two of those books I read almost all the way through-- one sort-of sci fi and the other a 90s noir (which was just as awkward as that sounds). Both suffered from wooden dialogue and too much time inside uninteresting characters' heads. Why do I waste my time on these things when I have a million other books at my disposal, some just steps away in my cluttered bookshelves or in one of the numerous piles on the floor?

I used to think I could only have an opinion on a book if I read it all the way through. In the imaginary cocktail party of my collegiate nightmares, not only am I naked, I am out-litted too. Now that I realize that most cocktail parties require only a black dress and good balance, it is still somehow hard for me to give up on a book, no matter how wretched it is.

These books certainly helped me continue to get over that ridiculousness.

Luckily, because of MoCCA, I have been reading incredibly great comics. I rarely write about single issues here. Should I?

On top of that, a trip to a small bookstore on Court St. in Brooklyn netted three books that should be good reads, all for under $10.

The Melancholy of Anatomy: Stories by Shelley Jackson

Two years ago I read Half Life and loved it. I have been seeking Jackson’s 2002 story collection for a while now and finally, a few weeks ago, the NYPL’s one copy became available. From previous abortive attempts at purchase, I knew that the book was divided into sections mimicking the old medical idea that the bodies’ processes and aspects could be divided into four humors but I guess I wasn’t prepared to feel so lost at the organization of the stories. Maybe I am missing something because I don’t know enough about choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic and sanguine, or maybe I am missing nothing at all. Despite many passages that were pitch perfect, I couldn’t really get into the stories.

One of the perfect lines was this, in the story “Phlegm:”
Men flatter themselves they are original in admiring me. How confused they are when they find out they competition. (There is no desperation like that of a lover who has decided to do you a favor, and finds himself waiting in line.)

I think the reason that “Phlegm” works better than many of the other stories is that the narrator is a full-fledged character, which is rare in this collection. Many of the stories are about people who are in love with, feeding, or somehow harboring body parts disconnected from bodies, and the stories feel like they are more about the inherent problems with a cancer growing in the living room or a love affair with a bundle of glistening nerve fibers than the effect of such a situation on the characters, giving the bulk of the collection a fable-ish feeling. Reading through, even over time, gave me Aesop-fatigue. Nothing stuck but a vague picture of pulsating tumors and wet things in the night. There were bodies, like in Half Life, but no people to go with them.

Luckily, Jackson’s talent for wickedly on point satirical takes on various forms of writing do make an appearance (in this book, back-of-the-comic-book-marketing-speak and tracts get the treatment)—a delight for anyone who was as excited by those sections in Half Life as I was. In “Blood,” a strangely touching story that echoes the stops and starts of any good oral history showcases both the best and worst of her work in this collection. One the one hand, she makes a story about the disappearance of lower-middle class jobs for women (and the gnarly prestige and culture that went with it) in a London-ish place thought-provoking without being pedantic. On the other, the playfulness with words that marks her better writing also yielded this: “Up we went in all directions, like ferrets after a rat, in our swaddling suits, prodding the tiddlers ahead of us if we was in an area with lots of finicking veins to it, because a finger in a dike is one thing, but you can maneuver better if you can fit your whole fist in there.” Easter-eggery fun? Yes, but also kinda cheap.

I am glad I read the collection despite my modest disappointment in the stories overall. When, when, when will she have a new novel?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I have to thank the Small Beer Press crew for the head's up on iced barley tea.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

A nice write-up by Kristi Valenti on my beloved Twisted Sister anthologies.

See Note 1 for a sentence or two that could spark a million essays. Yes, a moratorium please on female-creator-anthologies with covers made up of portraits of the contributing artists. It is beyond lame.

(Via journalista)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Summer Contest Winner: Amanda Miller

Amanda likes to mix it up and submitted a photo for the contest.

Summer Contest Winner: Simon Häußle

Even though Simon went over the word count dictated in the contest, and his story is not one of fun at all, it was fun to read, just as he'd hoped it would be. He gets my respect just for writing such a long piece in English. I kept all his craaaaazy Euro-formatting for all of you to enjoy. Thanks for playing, Simon, and email me your address!

No words of Mum

We where a quiet family. Even after my cousin Reni died of heart dysfunction when he was eighteen, we didn’t talk.
But we responded.
Dad had me draw one of those cards I would do then, only this time without color.
Between doing the bills he penned down what words would have the time to jump out of him in a short minute. Dad had taken a quick look at it, folding what was to be said along with the card and put it into the envelope with the black, outlined square on the front. „Nice.“ He held it up against the gaslight.
Grandma had muttered to send it off since Monday: “Condolences are not to lie around…gotta be on time with this!!”
She really compensated for the all of us.
Sometimes talking and telling steadily as slowly one after the other left the room. She would follow the last one with her, down the stairways or out to the veranda, often only with her voice. Dad rushed out, escaping to the noise of some motor. Safe.

My aunt Paula and he had been to the funeral the Friday before, taking a two hour drive. They wouldn’t stay longer than the afternoon of the burial - Reni’s father was only Dads half brother anyway.
„The food was good. Nice restaurant.“ Paula said as they arrived back home, getting out of the Pickup before the cloud of grey dust they brought with them could settle.
Dad nodding.

Fifteen minutes later he was somewhere in the fields, his suit back where it would rest most of it’s time. It was taken out only to coat his appearance at the usual occasions during the year: Baptisms, funerals, the selling of an ox.

There are worse things. Than a divorce I mean.
After it we fell even more economic when it came to losing talk.
We where a group of people, tending to do our own dishes now.
Grandma divided her gold-edge porcelain dining set among the new parties. It was three soup plates and three dinner plates for each of us.
Six times of hand painted eastern European beauty. I liked the way I could feel the tiny brushstrokes on their inside when I went over them with my fingers, all smooth.

Taking them out, she told us, now that we didn’t have children yet and weren’t married either and with her at the obstacle of falling down and breaking her neck at any time, it was better to part it like this. Our Moms and Dads where good-for-nothings anyhow and we should see that we get along by ourselves pretty soon.
Headline: “How to make new families in the 90s: Divide, not multiply.“

As long as I was looking for a new place, I was still living on the farm with Dad.
The “nices” and “goods” I had collected so far where already growing sparse company in the last year. The one I had gotten for the condolence card was the last one I had heard.

I looked at my collection like at a retrospective of one artists thrown away paintings in a museum, long after she had left for other things. The pieces chronologically beaded in my mind with dates below them as their titles.
The topic would stay the same. „Very consistent.“

A diptych of a lonely „good“ up against a mumbled „nice“ already two years old, but visited frequently, took my attention. It had the momentum of a paint by numbers conversation: „Now fill out the rest of the black and white grid around the provided center by yourself, applying your inner vision. Work with a palette of vivid, livelier colors - or use somber tones for a more realistic touch. Enjoy!“
I nodded away, somewhat tickled by all I pictured to come.

Some weeks into the summer I had found a house a few towns to the west, close to a river of clear, greenish water. Its banks, I had been told, remained unregulated. Allowing it to push its yellow sand through the grass and around the rocks lying at its borders, by the way of the small floods it caused.

I arrived in heavy rain.
Trees growing over the riverbank had their roots washed bare by the rising, fast water.
I took down the wooden sign.
My new place used to be a ballroom some years ago, housing dances for the country youth. Dad spoke of it when he talked to us about the time of being our age.
A long time ago.
But he never remembered to come back, to visit here again.
Just popping back in with a link to an interesting discussion on reviewing & criticism at newsarama by Chris Maunter. Comics is a tight-knit group, especially the small press world, so how do critics deal with writing about people they know?

The longer I hang around cons, boards and creepy back alleys the more this question applies to me. So far I take it on a case-by-case basis, erring toward the side of reviewing only strangers for my non-tryharder reviews. Either way, I always attempt to give my readers a clear picture of what the book did to/for me (here) and what its merits and demerits are (elsewhere).


My computer is still off in rehab. No real reviews until it returns I think.