by Kevin Czap
Comics – I got quite a few of em with opinions to match. Here’s the first round of reviews based on things I picked up at this year’s Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival.
kuš! #9: Female Secrets, ed. by Ryan Sands — Just as I was suspecting, this collection ended up being the most impressive book from BCGF. As a comics magazine out of Latvia full of bold art comics from a number of the freshest young cartoonists from around the world (who, yeah, happen to be female), this book represents a healthy dose of what we need more of in comics discourse. The various pieces sing from their diversity and the theme of the anthology is loose enough that it never feels over-apparent. I’d been keeping the development of this project in my periphary for the past several months, excited to see a growing number of fantastic ladies become attached. For instance, the work of Inés Estrada, Lala Albert, Kris Mukai and Mickey Z has consistently been blowing up my spot, and the prospect of having new comics from them all in one place is always cause for celebration. Each makes good on the anticipation, especially Inés’ wonderful wrap around cover.
What makes this anthology so important though is the amount of brand new talent it brings to my attention – artists I’d probably never hear of if not for this kind of vehicle. I’m thinking of people like the young Polish artist, Renata Gąsiorowska, who contributes a surprisingly moving look at a middle school crush on the bad girl in “I Love Lisa Lisek.” I love the strange anthropomorphic characters that Gąsiorowska draws here, each fully formed in their humanity. Sarah Mazetti, based in Bologna, left an impression with her stark, graphic drawings in “Hairdressing.” It’s easy to get lost forever in the painterly collages of Husmann and Tschäni. I was happy to see Dunja Janković‘s contribution in this, a rhymic exploration of the microcosmic secrets of “girl,” as I had almost picked it up from her in person as a separate mini-comic, but decided against it at the last minute. American Sophia Foster-Domino gives us a somewhat Wareian travel narrative with “I Wanna Go to the Beach.”
Of course, there is other great work by artists whose work is already more established on my radar, as well. Angie Wang plays up her strengths of eye-opening costume designs which provides the context of her narrative. Emily Carroll works her usual magic, notable in this for the rare occasion of telling a story set in a contemporary setting (it appears to star herself, but like her other work, the first person narration doesn’t necessarily identify as anyone but the character in the comic). All in all, this is a great book, perhaps only two lower notes (if only by comparison) amid a score of show-stoppers. I love the hand-held size and binding of the book, the colors are excellent and the sequencing is well-considered. Really, what more can I say? The entire crew put together something they can be truly proud of. Buy one for yourself.
Kramers Ergot 8, ed. by Sammy Harkham — Everyone else’s book-of-the-show, it seems, and not without good reason. The production of this book will make you drool if you have any saliva left after reading the list of contributors. There’s a lot – a lot – of strong work in here, but I have to say as a whole, it’s not as consistently great as something like kus #9. For one thing, which I’d touched on before, this isn’t a book I’d go to looking for surprises. The artist who were new to me were interesting, but I wasn’t knocked back, searching for a pencil and paper to write down any names. Leon Sadler, for instance, who all of a sudden I’m seeing pop up everywhere, puts in a couple of pieces that I think are charming and interesting, but I’ve got a harder time being too enamored with them. I’m willing to attribute that to differing tastes. As something of a product of the DC punk scene, I was pretty excited to see Ian Svenious writing the forward for the collection, although upon reading it, some of his proclamations are more suspect than others. But then again, he’s always been more of a rabble rousing preacher than straight academic.
It may sound as if I disliked the book much more than I actually did, so let’s move to the positives. The knockout pieces here are from the usual suspects, even if I wasn’t expecting to be as impressed with them as I was. Frank Santoro and Dash Shaw really got me sitting up in my seat with their collaboration on “Childhood Predators.” Shaw’s adaptations of TV reality shows has always caught my interest, and the pairing with Santoro’s deftness with color here is really a stand-out. The way the purple border shifts to red and then back over the course of the story is a nice touch. “Cody” gives us more reasons to love Gabrielle Bell, who is one of the best writers in comics in my opinion. She is able to inhabit the convention of autobio comics so well that we barely notice when she shifts the tracks on us, taking the reader just shy of plausibility. So good. Kevin Huizenga adapts one of those old “Twilight Zone”-like comic books in a way that shows younger readers like myself what the fuss was all about. Sammy Harkham gives the the superb silent strip “A Husband and Wife.” Oh, ok, there was one really pleasant surprise for me – the “Oh, Wicked Wanda” pages in the back. Cut, funny, sexy comics in that everlastingly good MAD magazine style, although these are from Penthouse. In the end, this is definately a book worth checking out. Depending on your tastes, you will probably find it more perfect than I did.
“Le Wagon Engourdi,” Vincent Giard — The newest from the unstoppable Giard. I can’t get enough of this expressive lines and his fearlessness in pushing the drawings farther than I’ve been able to dare. The cover alone is a partial summation of the things that are great about his work. The colors, the abstractions, the depiction of a mundane situation that elevates it into the psychological – it’s bold and showcases what it looks like when you work in the language of comics directly. Also, you gotta love the anti-punchline at the end (anti- only because there’s not really a joke preceding it). We (I) need more of your work, Vincent!
Study Group Magazine #1, ed. by Zack Soto and Milo George — A fresh start! This is an interesting book, because it almost makes you not want to get right into it – you’re held captive by Eleanor Davis‘ cover. Of course, when you finally crack the spine, you’re rewarded richly. Each artist takes to the two color printing like ducks. I’m happy to see more Aidan Koch work of this stripe – I love seeing what she does with color and paint. This mag gave me the opportunity to get into a few artists who I’ve heard about for a while but never checked out. For instance, this was my first introduction to David King‘s work, and I really dig the poetic quality of his piece. I also wasn’t expecting to be so into Trevor Alixopulos‘ work – I’m quite fond of his loose cartoony lines. The weirdness of Michael DeForge’s piece leaves you unprepared for how touching it is in the end. One of the things I like about DeForge is how he is able to totally own these iconic cartoon images (specifically newspaper funnies characters, in this case) and use them for transcendent ends. It’s cool that this thing is actually a magazine, with articles and everything, all while staying in the overall yellow-and-purple aesthetic. You can’t help but be enamored with Eleanor Davis after reading her sincere and self-effacing interview. I’ll admit, though, that I haven’t read all of the Craig Thompson piece, if for no other reason than it was making me stress out about the size of some of my own projects. This is a good one to snag, can’t wait for issue two. Can you subscribe?
You Will All Die in Pain #1 and “Born Again,” Derek M. Ballard — Finally, a Derek M. Ballard book! His mesmerizing work has been popping up in art comics anthologies for the past year, building up demand for this book to a boiling point. Derek’s got the kind of style that makes me put the page up to your face so you can try to absorb every detail of that wild line he lays down. You Will All Die in Pain is a collection of shorter pieces, all erotic, violent, disturbing in a dreamy kind of way. I mean, I’d be busting out laughing at all this stuff if it wasn’t so surrealy beautiful. My favorite piece is “Jonathan Livingston Fuck Y’all.” The geometric quality of his figures dovetails perfectly with Ballard’s overall sense of design. “Born Again” is a little accordian fold booklet of children’s dreams collected by Roger Omar and illustrated by Ballard. Given the origin of the texts, the drawings are much less sexual, but no less engrossing. The typography is excellent as well, making this quite a nice little piece of eye candy. Come on, you know were waiting for this stuff, go buy it. Give yourself a present.
“don’t follow me,” Jen Tong — Jen Tong gives us another gorgeous screenprinted comic starring a boy and girl and their lemonheaded astral bodies. This one is particularly heartwrenching. As with all of her stuff, highly recommended.
“Gah! Monstros!” Kat Fajardo — A little mini comic full of cutely gross illustrations by up-and-comer Kat Fajardo. Adjust your radars to track this one. Promise.
Due to some technical limitations at the time of writing this, I’m unable to include images of the work as I would like to. Thanks for understanding.