Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sundays 2 by various artists

Sundays 2 was made (mostly) by the men of Center for Cartoon Studies (now alums). I was very excited for this anthology and the beautiful cover only intensified the feeling. (It includes a tea cup, an easy way to my heart). The work, however, ending up being not all that exciting. Nothing was terrible, but none of the pieces stuck in my mind.

The best stuff: Joseph Lambert’s pages open and close the book and contain cute kids working out the book’s title and then getting into moose-based shenanigans. Alex Kim’s “Eagle Flight Squad 2030 A.D.” pages are great looking action adventure with a so-so story. Sean Ford’s "Waiting for Your Bro” is neat ghost story that’s only art is two yakky,cartoony ghosts. It has a surprise, sweet ending that I really liked.

Instructor JP Coovert’s “Nok tak Nok!” is a valentine to the CCSers—a nice way to end the book, but perhaps a little insidery to appeal to all readers.

I know that all these guys are working out their styles and growing as artists while we watch, and that sometimes a cartoonist just has to get work out in order to move onto the next thing. I enjoy watching the process and reading Sundays 2 is a part of that.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape by Sarah Manguso

This is the book that has alienated me from the library. I’ve kept it so long that I am sure there is a note in my file that, even after it is safely returned and the massive fine paid, will prohibit me from ever borrowing books of which there are only one copy in the system ever again.

It is this type of thinking that Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape inspires, and while normally I avoid catastrophizing, in order to remain a few steps away from a pit of despair, Manguso makes it almost enjoyable.

This small book of flash fiction, or prose poetry or fractured semi-autobiographical memoir, or whatever is filled with reflections on a short life lived unwell. By allowing the stories to be titled by numbers only, she creates a feeling of order, a purposeful autopsy of past events. The stories settings’ jump around in time from nursery school to college to a woodsy, cold cabin at a writer’s retreat, and Manguso set these scenes, as if by magic, in only a few words. The narrator’s voice is fully realized in its singularity and ability to find ugliness everywhere, especially inside her. Here’s a taste:

From “1”: “I want to keep myself alive so I can commit further injustices against myself, the self who has already committed such injustices against me.”

From “28”: “I find myself among unhappy people.”

From “33:” “I’m disturbed by my friends anger but more disturbed that the rules have changed, and that the change somehow escaped my notice.”

From “9,” after seeing a nursery schoolmate spill milk on herself and then getting scolded for laughing: “I study my feelings, but they are unsatisfyingly vague. I think it is a fine start, at least, to understanding what it is to be bad.”

You get the feeling that you wouldn’t want to spend time with this person, ever, so why would I recommend spending the short time it takes to read this book? Because Manguso spins these like nightmare-inducing bedtime tales and we all need to be reminded sometimes of the toll anger, fear and over-introspection can take.
Essentially an entire day spent on the toilet means more reviews for you in exchange for the cross-country journey planned for today. It also means that no one else should ever use my computer without washing their hands afterwards.

At least staying inside today lessens my chances of getting swine flu!

ETA: A sudden, four-hour, sick nap kind of ruined my plans for a day of reviewing. Instead I had dreams about filling out forms.

The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman

After reading The King’s Last Song, (review forthcoming), I decided to see what else Geoff Ryman had to offer, especially in the SF realm. I found The Child Garden at the Strand and settled on it though copies of a few of his other books were available.

The book is set in a future, somewhat socialist, London. As I remember it, children are taken to what is basically an organic supercomputer consciousness and wiped, clean of “infection,” ostensibly, but in reality, of certain socially unacceptable aspects of their personality framed as a type of original sin. If they have any talents, the rough edges (and genius) of them are donated to the consciousness to benefit society as a whole, and the person is assigned a role in society. Children are then moved into community living situations based on their role. The main character, Milena, is an actor.

Also inhabiting the world are a handful of descendents of failed genetic modification experiments and inexplicably old full- humans who are sour and crazy with age.

The plot hinges on a somewhat dissonant aspect of Ryman’s future—homosexuality is considered one of the infections mentioned above, and is all but eradicated by the wiping process. Milena, however, has never been wiped and falls for an alcoholic, musically gifted, massively built polar girl. They have a short, tortured romance than changes everyone’s life, blah, blah, blah, space trip, blah, blah blah, and humankind’s destiny is changed!

While I liked the details of the setting, the whole love story aspect felt aggressively shoehorned in. It was distractingly bad, especially when Milena describes the physical repulsiveness of her polar girl love, which makes the whole desperateness of the attraction seem like an incredibly weak plot point. Women do require some sex appeal to be attracted, something Ryman conveniently forgets to move his story along.
My review of Trivial by the I Know Joe Kimpel folks is over at inkstuds. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Here in NYC, with swine flu and tan lines on people's minds, I am fighting both apathy and unpleasant tin-eared intruders.

Luckily, I have some news: I decided on a school. After much conversation, irons in and out of the fire, hand wringing and penny counting, it looks like I'll be staying in New York City. And that is your clue to where I've ended up.

Thanks for all your support, on and off-internet. It helped more than you could ever know, and I'll need more in the coming months.

Additionally, there is a lesson I can can pass on here: It's never too late to sack up and change your life. Even if you had some very bad times, even if you were a loser in a past life, even if you are scared. When this process started it seemed my prospects were dismal. In fact, I got into four of the six school I applied to and was solicited by a few more.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Excitement! My favorite short story comic anthology, Papercutter, has a new issue out. Number 9 includes work by Aron Nels Steinke, Elijah Brubaker, Hellen Jo and additonal art, as usual by by Nate Beaty. I am excited to see Hellen Jo's story and looking forward to seeing some non-autobio from Steinke. I love his art, but his storytelling (at least in Big Plans) is uninteresting at best. Look for a review of this by me sometime soon.

"A World Digital Library?"

"Why yes, my masked friend, one does exist."

Check out the list of contributors. The selection isn't too great right now, but it will grow, according to the FAQ.

A lecture on mirrors in horror film by a small press writer--what more could you ask for?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Journey Around My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy

This illness memoir was a delightful surprise from New York Review of Books. I was intrigued by the synopsis- 1930s Hungarian writer gets brain tumor and survives to write about it. The intro by Oliver Sacks is lively and shows a deep connection with Karinthy’s text, both as an observer of mental weirdness and as a writer. The translation seems a bit aggressively British sometimes, (too many see heres and old chaps), but seems to catch the voice of the author overall.

Chapter one, “The Invisible Train,” all six pages of it, is fun reading. With a teasing tone, Karinthy describes a day in the life of a working writer, while also telling the story of his first experience with the symptoms of a brain tumor. “And at that moment the trains started. Punctually to the minute, at ten past seven, I heard the first one.”

Karinthy structures the story of his illness in long anecdotes that often end with a wry take on unpleasant situations. These sections, which comprise the first two-thirds of the book, remind me of Mark Twain’s stories. You know that you’re being set up for something during the long descriptive passages and meandering asides and I find that fact to be charmingly old-timey. Less musty are Karinthy’s descriptions of his friends and family. I especially like how he talks about his son Cini (aka writer Ferenc Karinthy) and describes using the child for feedback on his newest pet theories like “a scientist experimenting with a test rabbit,” Cini in Vienna for the first time “manfully” concealing his excitement and “[hunting] about like a puppy in one of Jack London’s novels, and remembered the events of his father’s lifetime as well as his own.” When Karinthy writes about his second wife, a psychiatrist living in Vienna while he stayed in Pest, with fondness, some of the creativeness of this memoir becomes apparent; in actuality their marriage wasn’t very happy (well, according to wikipedia anyway).

This book made me reflect on the influence early psychiatry had on art and medicine in the years before this book was written and our continuing helplessness when it comes to many brain malfunctions. In the chapter “A Meeting by a Death-bed,” Karinthy describes the condition of a patient in the asylum where his wife works. It is pretty bleak, since at the time all the professionals could do for him was keep him sort of comfortable. When Karinthy shows interest in his case, his wife says, “ ‘Now, look here, how many times have I told you to not to show you’re sorry for the patient? It isn’t done. You might be causing him no end of harm.’ ” Chilling!

Late in the book he describes getting his head cut open and his brains mucked about, “these fumblings and creakings, gratings and clicks”—no small feat no matter how observant one is. “More terrifying than any pain was the fact that my position seemed impossible.” And it is the exploration of that impossibility that really made me pull through the final few chapters, as ellipses-filled as they were, to get to that final train ride and thank yous and waves goodbye.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

meat in a bag

Sunday, sunday, was filled with scrubbing, arranging, cooking and trying not to kill people.

Delicious CSA eggs, fried in butter
prunes n figs
sheep yogurt
cereal options (not explored)

Whole chicken with extra thighs, stuffed
white potatoes, carrots, fennel bulb, parsnips in chicken pan
sweet potatoes
purple kale
cabbage n fennel bulb

Guests included SEC, PS and my parents. It was a fun dinner despite my somewhat ragged nerves and some unfortunate storytelling. When everybody left, my clothes smelled heavily of chicken.

As much as I like making big dinners for a lot of people, I am not so sure that my new meat mastery is to be totally celebrated. I don't even really like chicken and I certainly don't want to make eating it a habit. Still, you throw all that shit in a bag, and your dinner is good to go. Chicken baked in plastic, my friends.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Dori Stories by Dori Seda and others

I went in search of Dori’s work about one second after seeing this picture on Mary Fleener’s convention blog. When I saw her gap-toothed smile and wild eyes, I just had to know more. From the gushing remembrances of her by friends and colleagues that fill this book, I gather that she tended to have that effect on people.

This is more than a collection of Seda’s comics, it is a memorial to the woman she was and a patch for the giant hole she left in her friends’ lives when she died. The essays, personal photos and memorial comics dedicated to her, bring so much background and depth to Seda’s story that when you finally get to her comics there is a weight and sadness that she never intended.

Like her much more famous male antecedents in the alternative comics world, Seda’s comics are sex n drugs-filled, a bit cartoony and portray a world long-gone where making comics could actually allow a hedonist to scrape by. Her art is lush, heavy on the blacks and quite detailed. Her auto bio comics are filled with filthy living, sloppy sex and being poor. Persona and personality are almost inextricable here, but in her stories about her dog Tona, Seda’s capacity for love and affection (mentioned in some of her friends’ writing about her) shines through all the fishnets and leather. Her fictional work is sex-filled as well, with a bit of horror thrown in. Also included are a few picture stories from Weirdo magazine where Dori plays vixen with other cartoon greats in “Foto Funnies” stories such as “Slaves of the Comic Book Factory” and “Girls Turned Into Vibrator Zombies”; everyone really looks like they are having fun, especially Dori, despite all we learn about Seda’s health problems and wild self-disregard. Was her look being exploited? Yes. Did she seem to care? Not really.

The final comic in the book is by Leslie Sternbergh and chronicles a meeting with Seda’s willfully hindering mother to sort out Dori’s legacy. Sternbergh’s detailed drawing blurs a bit gray in this sad and frustrating story. The haze is appropriate—the only things that become clear in this comic is how Seda got her famous smile and where she picked up smoking. Sigh, parents. “Dori was ours,” said Olga. “Dori was Dori’s,” said Leslie (and the reader). Dori’s perspective on her family’s attitude towards her life, told with a light, tongue-in-cheek touch, can be found in the story “How My Family Encouraged me to Become an Artist.” You get the feeling that her mother’s refusal to allow her work to be printed after her death would almost have been enough to force Seda to burst from the grave and freak everybody out all over again.

Dori’s work simply left me wanting more. I wonder what her place would have been in the comics-drenched world of today. That’s the thing about early death; it robs the world of a proper ending. This book is “the Complete Dori Seda,” and it's just not enough.

Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner

Turns out I really wanted to read My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist . Whoops.

The first time I read this book, I was a young teenager. My mom got it for me at a thrift store. Occasionally she would do something like this, and the books always ended up being crazy and making an impression. (Another example: Neuromancer). All the sex, drugs and brand names in Et Tu, Babe, along with the fantastically narcissistic protagonist totally blew my mind when I was 13 or whatever, but upon rereading it just seemed like breakneck speed mediocrity.

For a quick reread however, it was a fun, if ultimately disappointing, blast from the past.

Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

Though it's from Small Beer Press, Generation Loss is not a fantasy novel even by SBP’s loose (and wonderful) standards. Instead, it is a meditation on artists, specifically artists who go to extremes to complete their vision.

The main character, Cass, is an NYC throwback to punk nights passing out, shooting up and night clubbing—kind of a Nan Goldin type, except more lone wolf. Her photography, while respected is merely a footnote and with her stank walk-up and graying hairs, her career is that of a never-was. “But for the rest of your life you’re fucked, because you blew it. Maybe no one else knows it, but you do. In my case, it was no secret. Some people can make do in a situation like that. Me, I’ve never been good at making do.”

So, yeah, it’s in first person, and Cass’s voice can occasionally grates (mostly when Hand uses some tough-guy attitude to couch exposition). Mostly though, Hand’s characterizations are quite thorough. Her exploration of two types of outsiders—artists and the people in their worlds (unhappy children and partners, crazies, hangers on), and Mainers (ex-hippies, trapped kids and xenophobic natives) is what, even more than the tense mystery, drove the novel for me. Hand juxtaposes the setting’s natural beauty with the ruin that humans bring so deftly it becomes almost another character.

As for the mystery, which takes us from a boring present-day NYC to a remote community in Maine, its pretty good. Presented as a chance for Cass to make some money (and maybe a stab at a piece of art-celebrity) by nabbing an interview a reclusive photographer, her trip to Maine and the search for the artist in question becomes increasingly sinister. As Cass gets drawn into the mystery of Aphrodite Kamestos’ hermitude and disintegration, a different unpleasantness rocks the local community—the disappearance of a girl. The two are linked, of course, but the connection unfolds very delicately until the big reveal, which doesn’t disappoint.

If you are looking for a atmospheric mystery, and a window into a weird part of America, get Generation Loss now.

Can it be warm now?

Yes please.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Scene: Tourist-rich Eighth Avenue in the 40s, with a smattering of after-workers heading towards unsatisfying happy hours.
The players: A local mentally ill, substance abuser on the edge of her circuit, nodding in a lump on the pavement. Her new man, stalking the space next to the flower mart, intensity pouring from between his few teeth.

"All we need is a few pennies. Help us! If you help us, we can help you... to not be homeless."

Even he seemed taken aback by this new angle in his pitch.

Monday, April 06, 2009

the what nows

Amy Ambulette and Fortress America made a new human.

Who doesn't like mail? Tiny hands and feet don't equal a blasé attitude towards special deliveries. Like zines for kids, but actually on-schedule, Uncle Envelope brings these folks to the children every month in the form of paper-based treats. Now if only they encouraged the kids to write back...

Robin is reviewing up an April shower over at inkstuds.

This week I will be putting on my green visor and making a decision about school. My top choice is out of the running, but I am still confident that I can make this process exciting wherever I go. If you've got advice, send it my way.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Smart, musical, right on. Eliza Skinner.

I saw Mitch Magee on Friday. He was stuck behind me and my flat of impatiens and graciously kept from pushing me out of the way.

It all comes together...

Lucky me in nyc.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Where have I been? Well, on planet Fabulon of course!

Kitsch, clothes and cock-- what more could you want?
(not necessarily SFW)