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The Best of Comix Book: When Marvel Went Underground
is in B&W/ and Full color, HardCover an exclusive Kitchen Sink Press imprint under Dark Horse ISBN:978-1-61655-258-9
Intro by Stan Lee
Forward by Denis Kitchen
Designed and Edited by John Lind
Tall, affable, plain spoken Wisconsinite, Denis Kitchen smiles wistfully, “I loved putting this collection together. It’s a nice anniversary.” Hardly the hippie, bomb throwing revolutionary Nixon might associate with with the words: “Undeground Comic Artist.”
In 1973 Denis Kitchen and Stan Lee pulled off what can only be considered, in hindsight, a coup. Bringing together the Marvel and Underground Comic Book Creators in almost unimaginable collaboration. Taking place during the turbulent spill over from the 1960s with the The Vietnam War winding down; Watergate; white flight from cities; social unrest and a New York City as grey and dilapidated as “Taxi Driver” depicts.
At the time, Stan Lee and his bullpen at Marvel were struggling to churn out Super Heroes, Westerns, Science Fiction, Fantasy, War Comics, Hot Rods, Romances and whatever would keep the company alive and paying their bills.
Reacting to and expressing the societal upheaval and the angst of the times, Underground Comics emerged first in Head Shops, then local Bookshops. Artists like Spain, Bill Griffith, R. Crumb, Trina Robbins were free to do what creators at DC and Marvel could not, express freely and personally what they saw going on in their own lives and the world around them without having to censor for profanity, nudity or subject matter. Expressing their own visions through writing and artwork.
It may seem quaint now, in the time of a Deviant Art Digital hyperspace, where one can upload and share with just about everyone anything conceivable, from Justin Beiber fan fiction to Banksy’s or Shepard Fairey’s latest and greatest. Yet, once, Underground Comic Art was not only ground breaking, but dangerous and could have serious consequences such as shutting down businesses, along with jail time and financial ruin.
Back then, the US Mail was your only delivery system or your car. Your tools–paper, pencil, ink, mimeographs, with Xerox Copiers expensive even for Marvel. Your only means of distribution were friends, Comic Shops, Head Shops, and some Bookshops. Marvel’s were mainly Newsstands, local groceries, local bookstores and candy shops. Getting kicked off of any one of those racks could mean never making a cent again.
Among those first to collect and publish his own Underground Comics was Denis Kitchen with his Mom’s HomeMade Comics in 1969. Issues of which Kitchen sent to publishers like Stan Lee and Harvey Kurtzman. Kitchen later went on to publish other Comic Book creators under Kitchen Sink Press. Such legal issues of censorship and community standards is why Mr. Kitchen is one of the Founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
By the ’50s and ’60s Marvel, DC, and Harvey Comics were squarely aiming at the growing demographic of Baby Boomers while laboring under a self imposed Comics Code to protect minors.
Which made the explosion of Underground Comics during the hey day of suburbia and the middle class all the more “subversive” and “scandalous” with its humor, nudity, crudity, and profanity, would feel so refreshing and right for the times.
Clearly not meant for the young teens or little kids the major Comic Book publishers were catering to. These comics dealt with political and social issues were generally called, “anti-establishment”, made for a slightly older, “hipper” crowd–late high school to college crowd. Many Underground Cartoonists would find their way into the glossy folds of “Mad magazine” and “National Lampoon“, but others like Mr. Kitchen and, others of his cadre like Art Speiglemen, were charting a more independent, less conventionally commercial path. Creating space for other self-published Independent Comics to flourish in the ‘80′s, like those of Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, and the Hernandez Bros, then Terry Moore and Peter Bagge in the ‘90′s and so on into the future.
With ever a sharp eye on popular culture, Stan Lee, no doubt , was eager to capitalize on the Underground audience hoping to expand Marvel’s.
Maus–Marvel Comix Book
According to Kitchen, his collaboration with Lee, “Stems from a time when Underground Comics were florishing and suddenly we had what we called ‘the Crash of ’73.” A glut of material in Head Shops and local book stores and a Supreme Court ruling that threw obscenity laws into local jurisdictions. It was deadly to the Undergrounds, a lot of Head Shops and Bookshops were suddenly paranoid that they would be busted due to obscenity. I genuinely feared Kitchen Sink Press and all my cohorts would go under.”
Luckily, Denis had been corresponding with Lee. “We had this curious pen pal relationship. He offered me a job a couple of times. Of course, I was flattered but said, ‘No,’ until the Crash. He happened to call and I said, ‘Let’s talk.’ I flew to New York City and found he was amazingly receptive to an experimental magazine. One where we hoped to take the essence of the Underground and plug it into Marvel’s distribution system.
It took a lot of negotiating to find out how far Marvel could compromise. Stan ended up being amazingly receptive to using four letter words, and we even got away with full frontal nuditity, anything we wanted.”
Comix Book –Wonder Person by Katrina Robbins
But don’t think it was a collaboration without conflict.
“There were fights over copyrights and getting art back, too “But we wore him (Stan Lee) down, so by the Third issue he said, “Goddamit, you can have your rights back, you can have your art back.’ So all this stuff that they had never done before, I was able to persuade him to do.”
The end was nigh when word of this new magazine began reaching the ears of Stan’s regular bullpen of writers and artists “it turned into a Pandora’s Box for Stan. The regulars and freelancers were like, ‘How come you’re doing this stuff with these Hippies? And you’re not letting us? We’ve been with you longer?’ And it was hard for Stan to walk that back.”
Consequently, “After the third issue, Stan pulled the plug. I had a couple of issues in the can and I asked him if he’d let me print the rest under Kitchen Sink, and he agreed, which was amazingly generous. ”
The Corpse Goblin Ogre by S. Clay Wilson
“In retrospect it’s kind of astonishing. When I look back at it now, that it happened at all and the kind of latitude we had. Artists like S. Clay Wilson, Justin Green, Trina Robbins, Art Spieglman (including the first national appearence of “Maus”). You can go down the list, all the big guys in Underground Comics, except Crumb, were in it. And most Underground Comic fans today don’t even know it happened.”
“When we decided to collect it Stan, graciously agreed to the intro. He actually called it one of the greatest things he ever did,” Denis Kitchen beams.
Denis Kitchen and Stan Lee signed a special insert in 250 special copies ot the The Best of Comix Book only available only from Things From Another World, Dark Horse’s online retail outlet.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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Recorded at Publishers Weekly, it’s More To Come, the weekly podcast of comics news, interviews and discussion with Calvin Reid, Kate Fitzsimons and The Beat’s own Heidi MacDonald.
In this week’s podcast Heidi interviews comics creator, Tumblr personality and podcaster Mike Dawson, creator of Freddie & Me and Troop 142 about his trials as a mid-career creator, his recent Tumblr musings on the subject and the unexpected comics blogosphere notoriety that followed.
Download this episode direct here, listen to it in streaming here and catch up with our previous podcasts on the Publishers Weekly website, or subscribe to More To Come on iTunes
Director Chris Butcher has a wrap-up post for the 2014 TCAF that has many thanks and observations. Also the news that next year’s fest will be May 8-10, basically the same weekend as this year. Also, applications open up on August 1st. Attendance for 2014 was 22,000, up from 18,000 in 2013. And next year will be more of the same wonderful.
The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is thrilled to announce that it will return to Toronto Reference Library and The Bram and Bluma Appel Salon for 2015. The dates are Friday May 8th (Professional Development), and Saturday May 9th & Sunday May 10th (Exhibition Dates). This continues the wonderful partnership between TCAF and its Presenting Sponsor Toronto Public Library, and secures a beautiful, large, and central location from which to continue building the Festival.
In addition, TCAF will continue to spread its programming and exhibitions through the surrounding neighbourhood and the city, by partnering with venues including The Marriott Bloor Yorkville, St. Paul’s on Bloor, The Pilot, The Japan Foundation, and more. TCAF will continue to grow through its programs and exhibitions, maintaining a strong mix of exhibiting and participating artists each with something unique to offer.
By: Heidi MacDonald
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Who even is Emily and where did she go? Those are the first two questions that spring into the mind when reading ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’ by John Lees, Iain Laurie, Megan Wilson and Colin Bell. A mystery series which quickly leaps into the horrific and fantastical without a word of warning, this month sees the book head out into the previews catalogue. The first series published by ComixTribe, the series was originally published last year in black and white – however, for this second time round, it’ll be in full colour. Each member of the creative team is known for their own work, making this a bit of a Scottish supergroup thing – like The Reindeer Section! Lees is probably best known for writing superhero series ‘The Standard’, and Laurie for a whole load of books including Metrodome and Horror Mountain. Wilson can also be seen colouring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,whilst Bell is the writer of Dungeon Fun and owner of Dogooder Comics. They’re busy people.
But they all very kindly took the time to talk to The Beat about ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’ – delving into all aspects of the creation of the book, and the journey it’s been on. With the first issue about to launch at Glasgow Comic-Con this weekend, it felt like the perfect time to take a closer look at the series. Read on!
How did you meet each other, specifically for this project? And what was it that made this the project you decided to collaborate on?
JOHN: Well, I’ve been a fan of Iain’s for years, so I’d been wanting to work with him for some time: it a quite large-scale anthology with a pretty big publisher interested, and had enjoyed that taste of the partnership. So, when that project stalled, Iain and I decided we were going to develop a comic of our own to work on together. And so what made this the project we decided to collaborate on is that, from the ground up, it was something we cooked up together as essentially our dream project, a mash-up of a whole bunch of ideas and influences that we shared a passion for.
IAIN: I saw a copy of The Standard and was really impressed. I was trying to move away from the more experimental stuff I’d done with Craig Collins or on my own with Powwkipsie and Horror Mountain, and I thought John would be the best guy to do that with. Luckily he wanted to do something with me. In terms of collaborating on this, it’s very much everything that both of us are into thrown into a meat grinder really.
Where did your respective interest in horror stories come from?
JOHN: I’ve loved horror for as long as I can remember. Monster Squad was an early favourite film in my house, and one of the earliest toys I can remember having was of Frankenstein’s Monster. Me and my cousin were equally mad for scary movies at a very young age when we really should have been watching cartoons, and while other kids were playing Cops & Robbers or Soldiers or whatever, my cousin and I would play “Horrors,” where he’d pretend to be Freddy Krueger and I’d pretend to be Chucky from Child’s Play, and we’d take turns murdering invisible victims. I had a very happy childhood, it was only fucked-up in retrospect!
IAIN: I’m not a huge horror guy in the traditional sense but a lot of what I do is influenced by being a teenage Stephen King fan. I really like the idea of the horror beneath the surface stuff he was so good at. And that also plays into my love of David Lynch too. But most modern horror leaves me pretty cold.
Is it difficult to translate a horror experience to comics? Is there still a capacity to shock and startle within a comic page?
IAIN: If I’ve got a technique its always to try and make something that looks like a normal comic but isn’t, so your mind traditionally expects a certain progression of the story and framing choices – close-up, wide shot – that reflect the story and the intentions of the writer and artist. By refusing to follow this it unsettles the reader. So if you have a really intense scene where you would expect a close up if you instead use a long shot it throws you and you’re not sure why. Hopefully that makes sense a bit.
JOHN: It’s certainly a challenge. Much of the power of horror books comes from the words inspiring you to imagine in your head something far more terrifying than any visual that can be reproduced, but comics are a visual medium and so you have to create something that’s as terrifying as what the reader pictures in their mind’s eye in order to be successful. Meanwhile, in horror films, so much of the scares come from the use of sound – be it atmospheric sound design or a Luton bus jump-scare – and with comics that’s a whole box of tools that just isn’t at your disposal. But I think it is still possible for a horror comic to frighten. Just look at manga cartoonist Junji Ito, in my opinion the master of comics horror. With a combination of expert pacing and skin-crawling imagery he’s been able to make some really scary comics.
In the American comics industry there’s been a flourishing of genuinely frightening horror in recent years, with Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Severed by Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft and Attila Futaki immediately springing to mind. I think something that is an effective strategy in horror across all mediums is to make your audience uncomfortable, to make them feel like they’re in a world that isn’t quite right and where something horrible could be waiting around the corner.
And that’s what we’ve tried to do with And Then Emily Was Gone: create a comic that reads like a bad dream, drifting gradually deeper into nightmare.
What has the collaborative process been like, as a whole, for the story? Were there any points where you surprised each other with where you took the narrative?
JOHN: Working with Iain Laurie has been an absolute joy. Because we co-created this comic and developed it together, when I was scripting each issue I constantly had an eye to thinking up stuff I, as a fan of Iain’s, would be excited to see him draw. Some of that was hoping to stretch him and have him tackle stuff that was a little different than his previous output, but a big part of it was relishing in writing “Iain Laurie’s Greatest Hits,” repurposing some of the most notable recurring motifs in Iain’s unique body of work.
But even so, Iain has managed to constantly thrill and surprise me in the pages he’s sent back, taking my weird ideas and pushing them so much further into the realm of bonkers invention. There’s one page in issue #1 where the script says, “Close-up of Hellinger, looking worried,” and what I got back was this jaw-dropping collage of Greg Hellinger and the monsters that hound him. There’s been loads of experiences like that, Iain finding grimy little details between the scripted panels and blowing them up to add a whole new dimension to the storytelling, or portraying a bit-part character so powerfully that I want to go back and write a bigger role for them!
IAIN: Yeah it’s been great, and I’m not the easiest person to work with as I’m sure anyone I’ve worked with in the past will tell you. I very much like to do things my own way which can annoy writers and I totally get it but with John it’s been a really great time. I think were both aiming for the same things so while we might argue about directions, we both want to get to the same destination.
MEGAN: I’m jumping in here too. There is this one particular panel in issue #3 that comes to mind where John wrote something seemingly normal in the panel description and what Iain translated it to was hilariously bizarre. It stayed true to what John’s script was trying to convey, but I have no idea where Iain came up with his interpretation of it. You guys completely feed off of each other and it turns into this wonderfully charming collaborative thing and I wish everyone could see the scripts to really see this dynamic.
COLIN: Having known Iain and John and their respective work prior to Emily it’s been really fun to watch the two of them bounce off each other and see the effect this has on what they produce. Iain’s artwork, at least for the first couple of issues, is the most restrained I’ve ever seen from him, played totally straight - and I mean no disrespect to the vast body of his wild work that we all fell in love with prior. It’s like there’s an insanity, caged, just bristling to get out, and it’s unnerving – which is the desired effect, I’m sure. Meanwhile, John’s scripts feel like Iain’s work has goaded him to being the most evil, terrifying, horrific version of himself. It’s fascinating. We should get to what that narrative actually is. The story starts off with a series of disconnected strands, but the core of it is a mystery disappearance. How did you approach structuring the series? Did you start off with this central mystery, and build around it?
JOHN: While that central mystery of “Where is Emily Munro?” is the through-line that spans across the series, I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to say that the whole story is built around it. While we’ve billed And Then Emily Was Gone as a horror mystery, I’d certainly say the pendulum progressively swings more and more towards horror as the narrative unfolds. While I love a good whodunnit, I feel like the problem with many serialised mysteries is that they are most interesting at the beginning and the end, while what happens in between can be a lot of going through the motions with false leads and red herrings. I wanted to avoid that here, so I’d say it was more the desolate atmosphere of Nordic dramas like The Killing that we incorporated rather than the plot mechanics.
What interested me was the notion of stepping away from that procedural element, and crafting a mystery that would only become more horrifying and unknowable the deeper you dig into it. I’d say the focus is more on the characters and their deeply damaged headspaces. If anything, it was them – Hellinger, Fiona, Vin – that were our starting point, fully formed as individuals, and the plotting from there was more about what dark places we wanted to take those characters.
What prompted the idea of incorporating Scottish folklore into the story? Was part of your intent to make this a uniquely Scottish storyline?
JOHN: It certainly was for me. I wrote a graphic novel called Black Leaf, in the process of being drawn by Garry McLaughlin, which was another Scottish horror, set in the Scottish Highlands. And Then Emily Was Gone takes place on a remote island community in Orkney. I just feel like Scotland is such a fascinating, diverse country with locations rich in storytelling potential that has been largely untapped. And given that Iain and I (and Colin) are Scottish, why not make the most of that and inject a unique flavour into our comic that might set it apart from its American counterparts?
Iain, I read your interview with Multiversity where you said that your artwork was inspired by, amongst other things, Reeves and Mortimer. And it’s noticeable – they have that same mix of dark comedy, surrealism and a little horror which marks your style. How have you found the balance of horror and comedy within the story? Is it a difficult line to balance?
IAIN: Yeah, I’m pretty open about the fact that the biggest influences on my work are Reeves And Mortimer, David Lynch, Dennis Potter. Creepy blue-collar surrealism. In terms of Emily, I don’t really see any comedy in there. Other people have told me they find it funny but I’m never going for that. To me it’s a bit like Chris Morris’ JAM in the sense that some people found it hilarious (me) while others thought they were watching something really disturbing. One of the more interesting things about the way you structure page layouts is how much negative space you leave. There are several points where you ‘skip’ a panel, essentially [you can see this in the below images]. Was this a conscious design choice on your part?
IAIN: Yeah absolutely. This plays into my earlier answer of throwing the reader off by not giving them the panel or the facial expression they expect. Again, I take a lot of this from film directors. My drawing styles got a million influences from Ken Reid to Frank Quitely to Peter Howson but my framing is very much influenced by movies rather than comics.
There are a series of strange characters in the book, marked by Iain’s sense of facial design. Where do you begin with a character? Do you bounce ideas back and forth – the scripted personality affecting the design, the design then deepening or changing the scripting, and so on?
JOHN: I would say the process of character design was very much a symbiotic one. With the main characters, Iain and I started off by talking about them, their role in the story and their personalities. Based on that Iain did some sketches, which were so evocative that they’d further inform those characters and give them a voice in my head. And that translated into how I’d write them in the script. Then when it came time to draw them on the page, Iain would often further refine his design of those characters based on how I’d written them.
With supporting characters who we perhaps discussed less beforehand, and whose roles in the scripts were more limited and functional, so much of their personality comes from how Iain draws them. There’s no such thing as a background character in Iain’s artwork: every character, even ones who only appear in one panel, has a story written into their faces. A lot of the time, it’s hard to tell where I end and Iain begins when it comes to these characters… we’re like a comic Human Centipede!
There was a certain starkness in the black and white version of the series. What prompted you to bring in Megan Wilson as colourist?
JOHN: It was actually Nick Pitarra’s idea! Iain and I had originally envisioned the comic as being black-and-white, and had produced the first issue with that in mind. Iain had been showing pages to Nick, who’s been incredibly supportive of the book and a major cheerleader for us. While we thought this would be a little personal comic destined for the British small press scene, Nick was perhaps the first person to suggest that And Then Emily Was Gone could work in the American market, and that colouring it would make it more appealing to that demographic.
And so he suggested letting Megan Wilson, who he’d worked with before, try her hand at coloring. And the rest is history. Looking at the book now, with Megan’s spectacular covers and how they compliment Iain’s art, I can’t imagine the series without her now.
IAIN: Yeah, Megan’s amazing. I love how her stuff complements my drawing.
MEGAN: This is probably a weird part of the interview for me to add to, but whatever. You guys always have such wonderfully nice things to say in interviews about me and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to chime in, so I just wanted to add that YOU guys are amazingly talented and infectiously enthusiastic and I’d be happy to work with you forever and always. What do you think the transition to colour lends the book?
JOHN: Megan has become an integral part of the creative team. She’s the ideal tag team partner for Iain, as her colouring seems to fit Iain’s art like a glove onto a gnarled, clawed hand. When I’ve seen Iain’s stuff coloured in the past, it sometimes seems like the effect has been to mute the weirdness of the linework and make things a bit smoother and more palatable. Not so for Megan, who has brought this askew, almost rotten aesthetic to the colours with sickly, grainy shades that actually accentuates the inherent “Laurieness” of the image. Looking at the book now, with Megan’s spectacular colours and how perfectly they compliment Iain’s art, I can’t imagine the series without her.
IAIN: Yeah exactly. It just plays into how I want the book to be read, beautifully. She’s a wee genius.
Megan, is it daunting to work colours on a comic which has previously been released in black and white, or do you enjoy that challenge?
MEGAN: I live in the US and have still never seen a hardcopy of the B&W version so I actually hadn’t thought about this before – of course I’ve seen the original B&W as digital, but I suppose that doesn’t have the same impact since scans are always my starting point.
It can be daunting to realize there is an existing fan base and that you could do something that they completely hate, but I elbowed my way into the project because I loved it and wanted to be a part of it, so I guess the worrying part became somewhat irrelevant (notice I didn’t say non-existent!). But yeah, I guess I’m up to the challenge!
How did you develop the colour palette for the series? What were your aims as a storyteller?
MEGAN: I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I didn’t really develop a specific palette for this, I just kind of make it up as I go. I’ll go back and grab colours off of pages from earlier pages as needed for consistency, but other than that, it’s pretty much a free for all. From a storytelling perspective, to me this felt like an escalating fever-dream, and so the colours start to get a little more weird the further into the book you get.
And Colin, how do you approach lettering horror? Do you find that you have to work in specific ways in order to maintain or enhance that atmosphere?
COLIN: It was a conscious decision to utilise lower-case lettering because there’s a kind of innocence to it that I thought would play well against the art and lull people into a false sense of security. I can echo Megan in the sense that as the issues progress, I’m able to crank up the weird factor to accentuate what’s happening on the page. Also worth mentioning is the logo for the book. When we started we talked about these filmic covers like movie posters, and it inspired me to go down the rabbit-hole of 80s horror movie poster typography.
When there were no typefaces that really sold what we were going for (or were basic pastiches of existing horror film typography), we got Iain to scrawl the title in his own inimitable terror-screed, which I tidied up a bit, coloured and now happily slap across every cover sent my way. I feel like knowing that it’s Iain’s handwriting on them lends a kind of unity to his covers as a whole. But really it’s just my job to try and help guide the reader’s eyes where appropriate and for the most part stay the hell out of the way of Iain and Megan’s work, which I’m very happy to do.
Alternate cover for issue #1 by Riley Rossmo and Megan Wilson
There’s an interesting group of Scottish comic-makers right now, with yourselves, the Master Tape team, Team Girl Comics, Dungeon Fun, and many others. What has been your experience of this Scottish community?
JOHN: Scotland is certainly a major comics hub, and my native Glasgow is a great comics city: not just in terms of the dedicated readers – enough to support 9 comic shops, 2 comic cons and multiple marts, clubs and public events – but also in the volume and quality of creative talent. I’m a founding member and the current chairman of the Glasgow League of Writers, a kind of writing circle for comics where creators meet to discuss and critique each other’s scripts, so I get to see first-hand some of the amazing talent in the Scottish community.
Iain McGarry is a writer who’s been quietly producing some excellent short stories for various anthologies over the past year or two, and once he collects them all into a volume of his own and gets his name out there some more, he’s going to become a big deal fast, mark my words. John McCusker is like 21 years old, was totally new to writing comics when he first joined, and already he’s better than me. His debut book, The Alchemist, is in production with artist Jason Mathis, and is going to be incredible. You mentioned Master Tape, and Harry French is another guy primed to blow-up: his other series, Freak Out Squares, is even better. And Freak Out Squares artist Garry McLaughlin is also kicking ass on his own series, Gonzo Cosmic.
NeverEnding, by Stephen Sutherland and Gary Kelly, is a hidden gem of a comic which should be getting distributed by a big publisher yesterday. Gordon McLean won a SICBA award for No More Heroes, which was ace, but the stuff he’s been quietly working on since is so much better. Dungeon Fun by the sublime Neil Slorance and our own Colin Bell - the first issue was one of the best single issues produced by anyone of any level last year.
Team Girl Comics, Black Hearted Press, Unthank Comics, there’s so much going on I can’t hope to cover it all.
IAIN: Yeah, there’s so much interesting and diverse stuff coming out of Glasgow, and I think John’s covered most of it. I live in Edinburgh and older than most people in that group but they’ve always been really welcoming and friendly to me.
MEGAN: I’m completely jealous of the vibe you guys have got going on over there. Can someone please adopt me so I can be Scottish too?
JOHN: Working on this comic has made you an honorary Scot, Megan!
COLIN: Congratulations Megan! The Broons are your Gods now. My experience of the community has been nothing short of lovely. Everyone’s dead nice. And talented! I could sit here for ages and reel off so many Scots comickers deserving of attention we’ve not mentioned yet - Craig Collins, Edward Ross, Stephen Goodall’s IMR, Chris Baldie and Holley Mckend’s Never Ever After… there’s LOTS.
Do you feel there is a movement in Scotland, and the UK as a whole, where different groups of creators are all starting to rise up together? Even Colin Bell?
IAIN: Colin Bell is the sun we all revolve around.
COLIN: Shucks. But also, correct.
JOHN: EVEN Colin Bell!? He’s going to hit the big-time quicker than any of us. He’s already a comics mogul who seems to have lettered just about every comic in Scotland and now half the comics in the UK as a whole. As for whether or not there’s a movement with groups of creators all rising together, I’d say, “yes and no.”
Yes, there are many indie creators – both in Scotland and the UK as a whole – on the cusp of breaking out, producing quality work, and I take pleasure in seeing their successes, but ultimately everyone is doing their own work, and I think most would rather get recognition based on the merits of that work rather than through riding the wave of a movement. Though I’d say the one exception is that I’m happy to ride on Iain Laurie’s coattails to comics glory!
How did ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’ find a way across to ComixTribe, who’ll be publishing this five-issue run?
JOHN: I worked with ComixTribe on my debut comic, The Standard, and that experience has been a pleasure and a privilege. You won’t find a more passionate, professional group of people than Tyler James, Steven Forbes, Joe Mulvey, Samantha LeBas and co at ComixTribe, and they’re super-nice people too. Anyone who works with them once would want to work with them again in a heartbeat, so when the opportunity presented itself I jumped at the chance to pitch And Then Emily Was Gone to them.
They’re the kind of publisher who will get behind their titles and their creators 100%, and given that a comic as weird and out-there as And Then Emily Was Gone might not be the easiest sell, I wanted that kind of support network behind us. ComixTribe took a chance on us, and thankfully that seems to have paid off, as initial Diamond order numbers suggest that And Then Emily Was Gone #1 will be the biggest first issue Diamond launch they’ve ever published!
How do you feel about the story, as a whole now, looking back across it as it heads to the new colour printing
IAIN: Well I’m still drawing #5, so I’ve not had time to reflect yet!
JOHN: Looking back at the story as a whole now, which at the time of this interview has been 100% written and 80% drawn, I’d say this could be the proudest I’ve been of any comic I’ve ever created. I don’t know, choosing between this and The Standard is like choosing between my children! But with The Standard, right from the beginning I approached it with this goal of escalation, of having every issue be better than the last building up to a blow-out final issue that was the best of the bunch. And I think I’ve been consistent with that in my approach to And Then Emily Was Gone.
Looking back, as a reader, I feel like each issue is not only better than what came before, but darker too, scarier, and by the time you get to the last couple of issues hopefully it’ll be a bit of an onslaught. As I touched on above, the story starts relatively grounded, but steadily gets scarier and more bonkers with each passing chapter!
MEGAN: I’m in last place here (colouring #4) and I have no idea what happens in #5 yet since I have been purposefully not reading ahead so I can experience the story and art together. That being said, I’m really excited to see how this all wraps up!
COLIN: Well, I’m after Megan, but having been in the Glasgow League of Writers I’ve been privy to the scripts for the whole series. I’m still recovering.
What are you working on next? Where can people find you online?
JOHN: I’ve got more work with ComixTribe on the horizon. I’m currently co-writing Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare with Tyler James. It’s a spin-off from Tyler’s comic series The Red Ten, taking the villain from that book – masked psychopath The Oxymoron – and removing all superhero trappings and dropping him into more of a crime procedural milieu where regular cops have to deal with this larger-than-life, monstrous master criminal. Alex Cormack is on art duties, and the pages I’ve seen thus far are delightful. Looking further ahead, Iain and I have also been talking about further collaborations, since we had such a blast working together on this.
In general I’m looking to do more work in the horror genre. As for where you can find me, there’s the official blog for And Then Emily Was Gone. You can find out about my other comic, The Standard, while my personal blog is here. You can follow me on Twitter, and can follow And Then Emily Was Gone on Facebook here.
Remember, And Then Emily Was Gone #2 is currently available to order in this month’s Previews, order-code JUN141021, and you should still be able to order issue #1 – due for release July 30th – with the order-code MAY141251!
IAIN: Next thing for me is a story with Sam Read (Exit Generation) for Grayhaven, then a Standard story with John and a few other things in the wings with Owen Johnson (Raygun Roads) and Tim Daniel (Curse) hopefully. And then onto the sequel to Emily: AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE AGAIN, where they all go on holiday to Spain!
Right! This is me, Steve, back again. A few extra credits and links for you, because there’s so much more still to find! You can also find Megan Wilson’s work over on her facebook page, as well as on her twitter account right here.
Colin Bell, meanwhile, will be launching Dungeon Fun Book Two this weekend at Glasgow Comic Con, and is also the letterer for a number of projects – Exit Generation #2 being one of the most recent. You can find him on twitter here.
Many thanks to the whole of the creative team for being so generous with their time in the interview. I hope you enjoyed it! As mentioned above, issue #1 of And Then Emily Was Gone will be released on July 30th.
By Matthew Jent
Ben Costa is a maker. He makes comics, games, and deadpan jokes.
I caught up with Ben at the tail end of this year’s San Diego Comic Con to chat about the Kickstarter-funded second collection of Pang, the Wandering Shaolin Monk, his new webcomic Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo, and making the kinds of games you want to be able to play.
Ben exhibited in the Small Press area of SDCC as Iron Crotch University Press.
Ben Costa at the Iron Crotch University Press booth.
How long have you been coming to SDCC?
I’ve been exhibiting for five years. I attended for a few years before that.
How’s your show been this year? What are you most excited about?
The Sakai Project. I have an illustration in there, and Stan Sakai has been one of my inspirations for a long time. Every year everyone says the show isn’t about comics anymore, but it’s still one of my best shows of the year.
And that’s probably because it’s five days long? It’s usually consistently good, but this year wasn’t the same way. Wednesday through Friday were kind of bad. A show like SPX is my best show, per day. One day at SPX I sold 40-something books, which I don’t do at San Diego.
But there were noticeably more people coming through Saturday and Sunday. The aisle would get full sometimes. And on Sunday, it felt like a bunch of people who have walked by and maybe didn’t buy anything came by, like, “Alright, I’ll take that print.” So I sold a bunch of prints on Sunday, whereas on previous days it was very few prints.
Do you still mostly sell the first volume?
Yeah, it seems that way. 90% of people coming past still seem like they have no idea what it is. One out of ten people will be like, “Kung-fu, this is awesome!,” or I’ll recognize them from previous years.
The last time we talked, your Kickstarter had been successfully funded but the book wasn’t out yet. How has the publication of volume 2 of Pang been?
Pretty good, overall. It’s been a little harder to get the word out than the first volume. It seems to be getting less press. I got several reviews from the first one, but I’ve only gotten one for the second one. I sent out review copies for both books. It wasn’t ordered into as many comic book stores. But both volumes were in Previews, and both volumes were Previews Staff Picks.
Pang started online, and you’ve self-published the two hardcover volumes that are currently out. Are you interested in working with larger publishers, or doing more work-for-hire projects?
Work-for-hire, on the right project. Like if it was Star Wars, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — sure.
Twist your arm, and you’ll write Star Wars. Do you have a Turtles story you’re dying to tell?
No? I’ve never been a great plot generator. If I sit there a long time and think about things I can come up with stuff. But the relationships are what draw me in. But with Turtles, you can also have cool ninja fights.
A lot of Turtles stories, after the first 10 original issues, are good stories, but they don’t get the core of the characters. What’s at the core for me.
What’s at the core of a good Turtles story?
They’re brothers. And Raph, he jokes and acts like he’s having a good time, but really, you know — it’s painful inside. So it’s that family dynamic.
Let’s talk about webcomics. Your new project is Rickety Stitch & the Gelatinous Goo.
It’s a fantasy. It’s about a skeleton minstrel and his trusty gelatin sidekick.
Rickety Stitch, caught up in a march to monsterdom.
You’re serializing it online, like you did with Pang — do you want to collect it as a physical volume somewhere down the line? Or partner with a larger publisher to put it out?
There are webcomics that gain enough of a following that when they produce merchandise — books, shirts, prints, whatever — they can make a living through their audience without having to go through a publisher. But you have to be really popular, and it’s geared more toward gag comics that update every day. Although there are exceptions.
I didn’t want to work on this, get it to a publisher, then have wait and just be silent for 2-3 years while everyone forgets I exist. So, we’re putting it online. I dunno if that will effect how a publisher might react to it later. On the first volume of Pang — the beginning is a little rough, compared to the rest of it, so I could see why publishers might not want it. But once I self-published the first volume, the vibe I got was always, “This is great. Show me what you’re doing next.”
The question I have is — at what point do you start pitching it? I feel like comic book publishers like to get in early on the editing process. When you have a novel, you’re supposed to just write it, completely, and then show it to people. But with comics, it seems like they don’t want to see a completely finished thing.
Is it fun to make? Rickety Stitch?
Yeah, it is. James Parks, my co-writer, and I could have easily let this project die. We showed it to Slave Labor a while back, and they turned it down. But it was so fun to make that we wanted to just do it.
Stitch searches for a song. The Goo is afraid of the dark.
The Pang table-top role-playing game was a Kickstarter reward, and you’ve been selling some physical copies at the show this year.
One of the guys from Fantasy Flight came by and bought a copy. He says they have a group there that gets together and plays indie games.
Are you interested in game design? Or is it more about adapting the story and the spirit of Pang, and fitting that into game mechanics?
Adapting the story and spirit is more appealing to me, though I do like design mechanics. My friend Amir Rao, from Supergiant Games, is my regular Dungeon. All his life he’s been making games and RPGs that we would play. It rubbed off on me.
What did you approach adapting Pang’s story and turning it into a game?
The obvious things is kung-fu fighting. I wanted to have a combat system that felt different, that wasn’t just “I attack, you attack, I attack.” I wanted defense to be something you actively think about.
Having played it — it feels like really squaring off with an opponent. You spend points or save them, and you can react based on your opponents actions. You can hold back and defend, or make a big offensive move but leave yourself open to be pummeled.
I thought there was good opportunity to make abilities around that. And trying to make it feel Ancient China.
How did you do that?
I started with choosing stat names that were a little different. Stuff you couldn’t just pin down as exactly representing the skills. Like “Benevolence” — you can’t exactly know what you would put under that off the top of your head. It was a long process. It took way longer than I thought it would.
I also made a Star Wars game, for fun, from which I pulled a lot of the abilities for Pang. I made a Rickety Stitch game, then Star Wars, then Pang. So I have a fully functional Star Wars game.
When did you make a Star Wars game?
Why did you make a Star Wars game?
I had three-year campaign in the d6 system that was great, but we could probably never play it again. I started working on the new game towards the end of that. I’d added a bunch of custom rules to the d6 game, which has no classes. I added a “rebel ranks” ability system, so as you go through the ranks with rebels you get new powers. Sort of like Pang, they build on skills. You use your skills to activate them. Same idea as the Class Masteries in Pang.
It was sort of in response to the Fantasy Flight game, because I’d gotten the Beta book, and I was really excited about it, but for my own personal taste there was something lacking. I’m particularly proud of the space combat, which in my own games, has not been satisfying.
I like that spirit. If there’s something you don’t like, you just create the thing you do like.
I justified it to myself by saying I would use this game for a science fiction comic I want to eventually do.
I love it. Almost everyone else in comics is making a comic book to spinoff into a movie. And you’re making comic books so you can spin off role-playing games.
It’s like the way to not make money.
The hope — in any of my games — is to capture the abstraction of the story.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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By David Nieves
We’re all still recovering from copious amounts of walking around taking pictures with people and wishing the people in front of us taking pictures would just move. Yes another San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone. By now all the news is out and we’re still reeling from the Batman V Superman and Avengers: Age of Ultron footage. Every Comic-Con comes with two things, a ridiculous hotel bill and for a lot of us the empty promise of this being my final one. For me the one take away from this show is that, now more than ever, Comic-Con has the power to be a boom for every industry if affects but it doesn’t always accolade with the full potential of its crown.
I’ve been going to SDCC since 1994, back then I was a snot nosed adolescent who knew nothing about panels or even that comic books had writers. In those days all I would do is walk laps around the exhibit hall. There were no Petco Park events, or Indigo Ballrooms. Hall H was a gleam in the eye of some up and coming PR person. You might not believe it but I managed to have fun simply by trying to get as many of those door sized Knightfall Batman posters from the DC booth that year as my grubby pin seeking hands could carry.
Fueled by studio funds and rabid fandom, SDCC has turned into a monster. A hydra mated with Cousin It, if you get that reference then you’re old enough to appreciate what SDCC once was. Now Comic-Con is the cradle of fandom, and it’s divided everyone. There those who feel that the show is no longer something they want to be a part of, and there are also lots who live for the spectacle it currently encapsulates. Understand that fandom is never a bad thing; it fuels economies and brings people together who would otherwise never leave the comforts of their basement. You might as well get use to it because the extravaganza isn’t going away.
(It isn’t all bad sometimes you can catch up with old elfish classmates)
This year was no exception. From the moment I arrived in the Whale’s Vagina on Wednesday; my senses were overloaded with promotions for Guardians of The Galaxy, Blacklist, Gotham plastered everywhere from busses, trains, to hotel elevator doors. Pedicabs were already huffing people over to different parts of the Gaslamp for meager tips. Comic-Con had already been in full “on” mode days before I even arrived.
Preview night was just as bad in overcrowding as any regular day of SDCC. Five years ago it was still hard to get that exclusive collectible you wanted but still within the realm of possibility. Five seconds into the exhibit hall opening this year and almost every line from Peanuts, Tokidoki, to Hasbro was either capped or full beyond reasonable time to wait for a tote bag. After, I walked to the Gaslamp to try and meet some friends for late dinner, to no one’s surprise there were already convention goers with bags and bags full of T-shirts, toys, and I can only assume remnants of the first borns they sacrificed to get their loot. I even witnessed an elderly woman who was barely 5’0 tall hoist two Comic-Con souvenir bags filled with –who knows what– above her shoulders like they were bags of dog kibble.
My preview night finished with old “good one big G” when I got back to my hotel room to upload photos; this wallet draining douche status symbol macbook of mine decides it’s time to die. Forcing me at 2am to smoke signal Heidi and figure out just how I’m going to handle the next four days of news and rabid fandom. Like any good sibling would my sister back home came through with a old tablet that was the size of a Speak and Spell. Which in retrospect would have been better to type on than this HP monstrosity. The next three days would be characterized by a lack of italicization, which kids never let anyone tell you isn’t important.
To open the first hour of the con, I foolishly tried to procure my wish list. Anyone who attends Comic-Con knows that list mostly comes from those people who tell you “hey can you pick me up a..” At least we can say SDCC disappoints people around the world even if they don’t attend. It creates lots of those disappointments that turn youngsters towards a life of stripping. After the first hour I’d given up that hope and simply abandoned my home address and phone in a feeble attempt to hide from crushed loved ones, but carried on to the convention floor where I had my first interview of the show. This was also by far my most nerve racking interview.
I got to speak with none other than the amazing Becky Cloonan, who I’m not afraid to say I totally swoon over. Yes, I’m one of those stereotypical comic book readers who’s confused and terrified by women. In fact there’s one doing that to me as I write this. But let’s talk about Becky. Though I was more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs; she was nothing short of a delight who has so much insight on how to live life to the fullest. You can listen to that entire thing here. Feel free to throw your grade school taunts at me you smug socially well adept bastards. Sorry, Comic-Con will do that to people. We cool? Yeah. Okay.
(Becky Cloonan is amazing at being amazing)
My first panel of the show was the DC Collectibles panel. Originally I had a spotlight and a Batman panel scheduled but with my productivity situation in question, I wanted a panel that I could easily go back to and dig up info on later. After that panel it was time to see if my laptop workaround was going to prove fruitful. Nope. Can’t bold type, can’t upload images, looks like this is all going to be eyewitness accounting and Lochness monster reports.
(Bombshell girls invade the DC Collectibles Panel)
Thursday closed out with another interview I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. Ever since I saw Karloff’s Frankenstein and read the IDW published 30 Days of Night, I’ve always wanted to talk about monsters with Steve Niles. I can proudly attest, we did that sh**! Not only did I find Steve to be every bit the punk rock scholar I imagined him to be, but he also made me feel like I belonged in my comics fandom. Just as anyone in life does, you gravitate towards like minded people (Booze/Drug Free hell yeah!). When you feel like you’ve been accepted because of who you are or what you love there’s no feeling like it. Thanks to Pam for letting me conduct this interview in her place.
(Steve Niles is the legend that lives up to the legend)
Naturally the kickoff of Comic-Con sees tons of parties and people in the streets that look like a World War Z scene come to life. Some of you who are reading this can vouch for the pain in the a** that train –which just stopped in front of the convention center for what felt like hours– was. It got so out of hand at one point that the hundreds of people waiting to cross the street into Gaslamp would brave oncoming traffic and hop the guard fence over the train tracks. Stay classy San Diego.
Thursday night I was invited by my main man Gaz from Rocksteady (developers of the Arkham game franchise) to the Batman: Cape Cowl Create exhibit party at the Hard Rock across the street from the convention center.
Since I showed up at about 11:30pm most of the party had moved on and there was nothing left but a few odd dancers and the remanence of a once open bar. Curious because I’d never stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, I wandered into the elevator and hit the button for the secured 4th floor pool area. Miraculously the box moved and when the doors opened I found myself in the midst of the IGN/Sin City party. Yep I crashed a party. Even got to run into IGN’s Greg Miller who was kind enough not to have me tossed out for crashing.
(Gameovergreggy oreo dude extraordinaire)
Celebrities, a seemingly drunk Joe Quesada, everything any SDCC party could want. It was a fun time mingling with those I had no business talking to. A pro tip, if you ever find yourself at an industry party you weren’t invited to: act like you belong. You’d be surprised how people will welcome you by just peacocking a bit. I had a few cokes, told Amanda Conner where she and Jimmy should go eat after the party and then I called it a night.
(Somewhere in that blurry mess is Amanda Conner and friends)
The next few days are a bit of a blur between overpriced pretzels, someone yelling out the Hall H news, talking to people on the floor and mistaking Geoff Johns for my long lost cousin at the DC booth. Friday was the convention grind in full force. Like I do at just about every show I’ve ever covered, I attended the Aspen Comics panel. If you’ve never checked out their books, I highly recommend that you do. They’re comic books made by people who care about comic books. Last year my 10th anniversary submission was picked for the souvenir book and I’d met editor Vince Hernandez. This year we talked again before the panel and during their presentation he acknowledged my contribution to their celebration in 2013. It was one of those surreal con moments you hear about. The house that Michael Turner built will always hold a special place for me.
Later in the day, I was involved in a BKV moment. First of all, if you ever see Brian K Vaughan’s name for anything immediately go to it. You’re guaranteed a memorable encounter. You can read all about his self hosted spotlight panel here. During the panel I thought to myself “I need a picture with this guy,” with SDCC eliminating all common sense I thought to myself what better time than in the middle of his panel. Voilâ.
One of the things that should stand out about BKV’s words is his passion for the comic book industry. This is a guy who has written and spearheaded successful television. If he really wanted to he could have left comics behind, but he came back. Not only did Vaughan come back, but still continues to champion the industry. He’s a comic book guy’s comic book guy.
My Friday would end with an eye opening interview with Naughty Dog’s Creative Director, Neil Druckmann. He’s the American success story come to life. A kid from Israel, who came to America at a young age and found comics. A medium which would inspire him to tell the incredible stories he does today. Listen to our full interview and hear how Sin City actually inspires part of The Last of Us.
Saturday had memories of its own, but what I can really recall is going over to an Age of Ultron preview showing and putting the whole shindig into perspective while talking with my friend and frequent collaborator Kevin Johnson. Fandom is never a bad thing, but SDCC has so many things working against it that the fact they are able to pull of this logistical nightmare every year is a little bit of a miracle. Bravo to Comic-Con International for it all.
First let’s get an observation out of the way. Most of you probably already see this but it dawned on me this year. Comic-Con has the same problem that social security does in the United States. Just like we don’t always retire at 65 and live longer than in previous years, so does this problem affect SDCC. I’m not saying the reason people can’t go to Comic-Con is because no one’s dying, it’s because we don’t outgrow this in our fandom anymore. Not only do we turn 30 and still go to SDCC, we make little versions of ourselves to add to our counts as another group of kids becomes of age to attend the coolest show on earth. This year I saw fewer solo attendees than ever before. It’s a very encouraging sign on a social level, especially when we live in the age of not talking to each other (right Robin!).
Where I take issue with San Diego Comic-Con isn’t with the overcrowding, the glitz and glamour, or masses of people who prevented me from picking up my Jim Lee T-Shirt. No I fault the people who should be influencing convention goers to try comics every chance they get. The Zack Snyders’, the Evans’, even the Samuel L Jacksons’. There’s so many celebrities, directors, and multi-media personalities that go to SDCC and say they love the medium but have never once said in their Hall H spectacles, “I’m here cause I love comics and everyone should be reading them!” So many publishers like Marvel say the books are what drive everything but Hall H has nothing to do with comics. I want to hear Sam Jackson talk about the first time he read Nick Fury for research or have Andrew Garfield tell me what issues of Spider-Man I should pick up. The passioned speeches and the gimmicks are fun to see but I can hear about their lives and movies on the news or TMZ. Talk to me about comics.
Obviously the Entertainment Weekly shoot and whatever story comes out of it is a step in the right direction. It definitely signals the beginning of comics getting their time in the limelight. There are tons of great creators and characters out there who should be talked about everywhere. We shouldn’t have to wait for a 75th anniversary or a movie announcement for them to make Hall H size news during the biggest comic book convention in the world. Comics need to survive and Comic-Con has the potential now more than ever to be the biggest part of that.
(Random Dan Slott picture I don’t remember taking)
Like most people who’ve been doing the con since before 2000, I’ve come to peace with the big show, but I just wish Comic-Con did everything it could to get people talking about comic books. But we don’t have to wait for SDCC to push the industry. Comics are for everybody, we can talk about them anywhere/ anytime; on the internet, at Portillo’s Hot Dogs, while we’re on dates, waiting in line to see Guardians of The Galaxy for the seventh time. Comics aren’t just for everybody, they’re for everywhere. No other medium can spawn such new and innovative ideas. It’s my big take away from the show, realizing how much I missed writing and talking about comics.
(Obligatory Rocket Pic)
Will I ever attend another SDCC? Who knows, my body recovers slower at my age; but I was an LA Kings fan long before 2012 and a Dodgers fan through the 80′s till now. I’m a glutton for punishment so you just might see me there, after all Becky Cloonan promised to take another picture with me.
The Grand Comics Festival 2014 a small but very friendly comics show is returning this June, although slimmed down to one day. Exhibitors include Sam Hendersn, Nick Bertozzi and organizer Pat Dorian. Admission is free, and there is the best sandwich shop ever around the corner.
Saturday, June 7th
Bird River Studio
343 Grand St. (marcy + havemeyer)
Brooklyn, New York.
There’s a great warehouse sale going on at AdHouse Books:
It’s been a few years since we had a SALE, so I thought we’d make some AdSelections available again. Also, we have a fair amount of inventory coming to the warehouse this season, so we need to make room. Any order of $40 or more will get free shipping via a paypal refund. Just remind me when you place your order. (Also, feel free to add any non-sale items from our regular catalog to your order. We’d love to put them on sale, too, but we don’t have the inventory to do so.)
AdHouse specializes in books that are attractive and daring but accessible as well. A few suggestions/perennials:
Amazing 24-hour comic by one of the boldest cartoonists working.
Pope Hats #3
by Ethan Rilly.
MULTIPLE award winning comic that picks up where the great comcis of the 90s like Optic Nerve and Love and Rockets let off.
Centifolia Volume 1
by Stuart Immonen.
Hello? Stuart Immonen. There’s a second volume as well.
Driven by Lemons
by Joshua Cotter.
Like all of Cotters books, this is difficult but ultimately rewarding.
Duncan the Wonder Dog
by Adam Hines.
Winner of the LA Times Graphic Novel Prize. The first in a planned 9-volume tale, this is anough to stand by itself exploring a world where animals can talk.
Comics anthologies are generally a good thing, but in my personal preferences, I like ones that are on a tightly focused topic better than “here are a lot of great comics by great people!” That’s just me, you can like what you want,. Thus I was intrigued when I heard about the upcoming Subcultures: A Comics Anthology, which is being edited by Whit Taylor and published by Ninth Art Press. The above is a promo not a cover, but it’s a strong creative line-up to explore one of my favorite ideas: the many many groups that humans arrange themselves in based around shared interests. It’s also a reminder of a theory that I’ve come up with after years and years of studying different eddies of obsession. In fact, we’ll call it MacDonald’s Theorem: It’s not the material which creates the personality, but a certain type of personality that is drawn to the material. That’s why certain types of people like Star Trek: TNG and certain types like Star Trek: TOS. Magic the Gathering has gathered a certain type of can, while Swedish heavy metal has another.
Anyway, this anthology sounds interesting! The Ninth Art website has been running a few preview pages. Here’s one by Alex Robinson about comic-cons and one by Dave Ortega about pochos.
Subcultures is coming out this fall.
While waiting for my Porter Airlines flight at Billy Batson Airport, I thought I’d dash off a thought or two.
• It was an amazing show, with creators from more countries than ever before — 21 according to director Chris Butcher. Attendance was up, books were flying off the tables—85 copies of Andre the Giant on Saturday alone—and there were more programming tracks and more offsites than ever.
• The Jiraya sweatshirt from Massive modeled above by Spike Trotman was THE fashion statement of the snow. So many people were wearing it by the Sunday night after party that there should have been a group shot. Gachimuchi sweatshirts are the Slave Leia of TCAF.
• I think we’re way past the time when there is a “book of the show” but many people seemed to be talking about THIS ONE SUMMER by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki and it sold out on Saturday.
• I literally could not get near the Peow booth anytime I tried, and they had sold out of most of their books by the end of the show.
• The offsite Comics v Games /Bit Bazaar event was another success with 3000 people attending.
• If you were paying attention, this was obviously the “year of the woman” at TCAF, but it was only alluded to. That said, girl cartoonists, girl comics, girl readers, and girl power far overwhelmed any other trend at the show.
• For every up and comer making a hesitant yet glowing debut, there were some returning warriors like Nick Bertozzi and Nick Gurewitch. It’s not that the Nicks have been idle, they have just been doing other things.
• Programming that I was at went off very well overall. I was shocked that we filled the 50-seater room for “Comics Criticism” — given the chatty nature of the panelists it could have gone on hours and hours. I recorded it and should have the audio online later this week.
• The manga-ka seemed to be having a great time. I saw Est Em ant the two woman team of Akira Himekawa all over the place taking pictures and smiling. Hideaki Anno was ther eon the d-low with wife Moyoco Anno and seemed to have a great time as well.
• Everyone was smiling.
• They’re calling my flight! I hope Deb remembered to take the Momofuko pork out of the fridge!
Sam Alden has just posted the first part of a longer story called HOLLOW part I—it’s a digital version of a comic he had print copies of for sale at TCAF. It’s interesting to see him developing an almost animated style for this—like reading storyboards as comics.
I shuddered when I read that panel.
Speaking of Alden, some glowing reviews for his work. Tom Murphy reviews Wicked Chicken Queen for Broken Frontier:
Like a strange lysergic Richard Scarry book, each page is filled with little vignettes of how this weird little island society works. Even the island itself is a protean organic landscape. (Click to enlarge) In addition, the apparent simplicity of the narrative masks a rich metaphorical resonance that invites multiple readings to get to the heart of what Alden is saying about history, power and society.
And Rob Kirby on It Never Happened Again in TCJ:
The two stories featured in It Never Happened Again display Alden’s impressive strengths as a visual storyteller. They feature completely different settings and characters, but have in common protagonists in search of things ineffable—perhaps unattainable. Each story casts its own strange sort of spell, making for a very strong debut book.
The above band of scalawags signs the SCAM Anthology at Forbidden Planet tonight. SVCAM is a book that was Kickstartered and now published by Comixtribe. It concerns a bunch of superpowered people who live in Vegas and get involved in various capers…call it Avenger’s Eleven.
The Chicago Alternative Comics Expo takes place this weekend, and the show really seems to have ramped it up to take its place among the big CAFs around the world. You can see all the debuts and info and events above but they sent along the programming, which I present as a sample of what to expect.
Chicago has an important heritage as an indie comics town, and CAKE is a great way to bring it forward.
Saturday, May 31st
Evolution of The Artist with Anya Davidson, Lizz Hickey, and Inés Estrada, Moderated by Max Morris
In a time of online social media and new methods of self-publishing, the role of the cartoonist has changed shapes and intentions from previous forms. In this panel, CAKE organizer Max Morris asks three Special Guests from the new generation of cartoonists what started them on the path of comics, and where that road is leading them. Inés Estrada is the editor of the comics section of Vice Mexico, manages the Gatosaurio webstore, but she has also worked with publications such as Kuš (Latvia), The Believer (US) and Ediciones Valientes (Spain.) Anya Davidson has published innumerable self-published books, and in 2013 her first graphic novel, School Spirits was published by Picturebox Inc. Lizz Hickey exists as a cartooning force to be reckoned with, with her book Jammers (Hic and Hoc) existing alongside a bevy of side-splitting-mind-melting self-published work. To join the Facebook event and share, click here!
This panel and Anya Davidson’s appearance at CAKE are sponsored by Print Ninja
Saturday, May 31st
Magikomix, Queer Comics, and Visionary Cartooning
Edie Fake, Eric Kostiuk Williams, Elisha Lim
Moderated by Brian Cremins
In this panel, artists Elisha Lim, Eric Kostiuk Williams, and Speical Guest Edie Fake will read short selections from their work and then discuss their innovations with narrative form. How have magic and the Magical shaped their sensibilities? Elisha Lim—cartoonist, filmmaker, Queer People of Color activist—describes their new Koyama Press collection 100 Crushes as “an excerpt of the most magical undertaking of my life,” one that began when a fortune teller advised them to “go back to doing what you loved as a child.” Edie Fake’s Ignatz Award-winning 2010 graphic novel Gaylord Phoenix is the adventure of a bird man who searches for his true self in an 8-bit universe of flaming creatures who often resemble Pamela Colman Smith’s Tarot card lovelies. And in his ongoing autobiographical series Hungry Bottom Comics, Eric Kostiuk Williams conjures with stories of Goldilocks charming the Three Bears, Jean Genet crooning Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake,” and a young apprentice making a pilgrimage to Beyoncé’s House of Deréon. These visionary cartoonists explore the line between the real and the imagined as they celebrate Queer history and community from Chicago and Singapore to Toronto and Berlin. Writer and comics scholar Brian Cremins will moderate the discussion. To join the Facebook and share, click here!
This panel is sponsored by Quimby’s Bookstore
Sunday, June 1st
Seduction of the Innocent with Tony Millionaire, Liz Prince, and Tucker Stone, Moderated by Marnie Galloway
Comics are still for kids?! While the comics medium has grown up in the eyes of the public, of course there are still creators making work for younger audiences. What is the inspiration for creating work for a younger age group, and how will authors stay connected to new generations who will be born in a world of digital entertainment? CAKE organizer and author of In the Sounds and Seas, Marnie Galloway will lead a panel discussion with the multi-faceted Special Guest Tony Millionaire (Sock Monkey), Liz Prince, author of the upcoming memoir for teens, Tomboy, and Tucker Stone representing Special Guest Nobrow Press.
This panel is sponsored by First Aid Comics. Tony Millionaire’s appearance is sponsored by Graham Crackers and Fantagraphics.
Sunday, June 1st
24 panels a second with Hellen Jo, Jesse Moynihan, and Jo Dery, Moderated by Jeremy Tinder.
Since the days of Winsor McCay and Osamu Tezuka, cartoonists have found time between the gutters to trade page layouts for storyboards and motion lines. Jeremy Tinder, a founding member of Chicago’s Trubble Club and character designer for “Paranormal Roommates” leads a panel discussion on the parellel paths between cartoonist and animator. Joining him on stage is Special Guest Hellen Jo, author of Jin & Jam and storyboard artist for “Steven Universe,” Jesse Moynihan, author of Forming and storyboard artist for “Adventure Time,” and Jo Dery, Chicago artist and assistant professor of graphics and animation at Depaul University. To join the Facebook event and share, click here!
This panel is sponsored by DePaul Animation Program
Sunday, June 1st
Sequential Story Yelling with Sean Christensen, Otto Splotch, and Sara Drake, Moderated by Lyra Hill
Comics are often compared to film, but rarely to performance. What does it mean for comics to step out of the page and onto the stage? How does one read a drawing out loud? Come explore the budding art of performative comics in a panel discussion led by Lyra Hill, creator and host of the of Chicago’s comics performance event “Brain Frame.” With panelists Sean Christensen, of Portland’s own comics reading series “Gridlords,” Sara Drake, cartoonist and founder of Chicago’s “Pup House” puppet group, and Otto Splotch, author of Quarter Vomit and the graphic novel Stink Helmet, the enigma of performative comics will be center stage. To join the Facebook event and share, click here!
CAKE takes place this weekend May 31st-June 1st, from 11am-6pm, at the Center on Halsted at 3656 N Halsted Ave.The festival will feature over 200 exhibitors ranging from local artists to international publishers, creating the best that alternative comics has to offer! Visit cakechicago.com for more information. We look forward to seeing you this weekend!
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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, ben passmore
, carrie vinarsky
, conor stechschulte
, dawson walker
, Elisha Lim
, emily hutching
, erik kostiuk williams
, gina wynbrandt
, hellen jo
, jack gross
, jesse moynahan
, jo dery kellie strom
, keiler roberts
, Koyama Press
, lane milburn
, leigh luna
, miranda harmon
, Mita Mahato
, odin cabal
, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
, Sam Alden
, scott roberts
, sophie mcmahon
, yeti press
, Indie Comics
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by Benjamin Rogers
Once again the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo was a huge success. CAKE 2014 featured over 120 exhibitors and drew 2,200 attendees over the course of the weekend, a ten percent increase from last year’s show. Conference organizer Neil Brideau said that CAKE was excited to continue increasing its scope, noting that “this was the first year we’ve had a large international presence.” He highlighted some artists who travelled a long way to attend the show such as Inés Estrada of Mexico, and Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson of the UK.
Brideau also emphasized that a major part of CAKE’s mission is to support the local comics scene in Chicago. “We’re working to become a non-profit right now, and we’ve funded some scholarships. John Porcellino is doing a week-long workshop immediately following CAKE at the Chicago Publishing Resource Center. We did two half tuition scholarships for that workshop. Today, we’ve announced the Cupcake Award, which is a grant and a guaranteed half table at next year’s CAKE for someone’s who is working in minicomics and has not been published by a major publisher. Annie Koyama from Koyama Press is our special guest juror for that award this year.”
CAKE, now in its third year, has made its home at the Center on Halsted. After an especially crowded show last year, CAKE expanded from a single exhibition hall to a include a second space while simultaneously reducing the number of tables. The show was much easier to get around than in previous years, but still packed the house later in the afternoon on both days.
The goal of the CAKE organizers is to create a “balanced show, that brings a lot of different styles and experience levels together.” To achieve this, the CAKE organizers crowdsource feedback on CAKE applicants from the Chicago comics community but also retain curatorial oversight over the final list of exhibitors. It’s a hybrid approach that attempts to sidestep the gatekeeper problem of a fully curated show while also avoiding the free-for-all of a lottery show.
I asked many of the exhibitors what makes CAKE such a special show, and Chicago’s comics community such a strong one. Isabella Rotman and Amara Leipzig suggested that the city’s art colleges such as Columbia and School of the Art Institute are incubators for a lot of comics talent. Lucy Knisley noted that Chicago’s climate was ideal for cartoonists — having 7-8 months of cold weather forces folks inside and encourages the hermit-like conditions that are ideal for comics making, while the welcome arrival of summer allows time for self-promotion and energizing interaction with other artists during the convention season. Michael DeForge said that it is one of his favorite shows because there is a heavier emphasis on zines and minicomics than there is at other comparable shows. Many, many exhibitors mentioned the importance of Chicago book, zine, and comic superstore Quimby’s in promoting the work of emerging artist and providing a focal point for the local comics scene.
Now let’s hit the show floor!
Sophie McMahan had her latest issue of You Were Swell, her comic that combines loose dream-inspired narrative with 1950s and ’60s pop culture characters (such as the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Elvis). Sophie was one of many artists who was also showing off non-comics handmade objects — in this case, funky earrings made from Shrinky Dinks of her characters.
Jack Gross was among a significant contingent of Minnesota based creators at the show. Jack debuted Wizard Friends at the show, which she described as a departure from the “moody pencils” of her earlier work. I asked Jack about her unusually keen backgrounds, which are drawn from real locations in her hometown. She said she worked hard on that aspect of her comics after an especially tough critique from an art school professor. That’s the American higher education system working for you, folks.
Dawson Walker, also lately of Minnesota, showed off his latest work, The Granville Syndrome, which grew out of his thesis project at MCAD. The Granville Syndrome tells the story of a group of amateur stormchasers and deals with Walker’s own experience of migrating from Alaska to the Midwest. Walker’s cinematically wide panels are meant to evoke the wide-openess of the Midwest landscape.
One of the most physically beautiful objects I saw at the show was a CAKE debut from Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, a twelve page silkscreened mini called Amarinthine. Featuring a heavy gold metallic paper cover and three-color interiors, every page of this comic is a single panel that captures a moment in the life of a pair of childhood friends as they grow together and grow apart. This comic was a great example of how the care and craftsmanship of the physical object can add to the emotional impact of the narrative within.
Speaking of handmade books, Mita Mahato of Seattle creates beautiful comics that combine collage and traditional comics. For Mahato, the physical layering of images relates to the layered quality of her narratives. Her comics deal with nature, magical realism, and the grieving process. She is a board member of Seattle’s Short Run comics festival.
Carrie Vinarsky, who designed the poster, badges and other print materials for this year’s expo, also had some wonderful bespoke objects on display at her table. Each copy of the limited edition debut Fried Coolaid was individually bedazzled with glitter and googly eyes, and interior pages feature such surprises as a spray-painted page which is different in every copy.
At CAKE, comics come in all shapes and sizes, from massive tomes like Raymond Lemstra’s Big Mother 4 (left, with Tucker Stone for scale) to tiny volumes like Rebecca Mir Grady’s She is Restless. She is Restless volume seven, subtitled “Lost at Sea,” debuted at CAKE. Each volume contains a single fold-out page that deals with a current event from an environmental perspective. Previous volumes have been inspired by wildfires and drought conditions in the Southwest and of course, the Polar Vortex.
Leigh Luna was displaying the latest minis collected from her webcomic Clementine Fox. She told me that Clementine Fox was recently picked up by major humor comics house Andrews McMeel, who are looking to market Luna’s first major publication next year.
Ben Passmore and Erin K. Wilson’s table featured the debut of Passmore’s Daygloayhole: The Beast in Me and Wilson’s micro-mini Server. Wilson talked to me about her graphic novel Snowbird and the Kickstarter that helped her fund and create it. “I had mixed feelings about the Kickstarter,” said Wilson. “I don’t know who I thought I was that I was going to write my first graphic novel in three months.” It ended up taking about two years. “It was really hard because I had 368 backers, who were for the most part really supportive, like ‘hey, you got this! We’re just happy that you’re making it!’” But a vocal minority ended up making things uncomfortable for Wilson. In order to appease some less patient fans, Wilson began posting every page online as she finished it. “It’s not how you’re supposed to do it. You’re supposed to storyboard the whole book, pencil the whole book, ink the whole book, shade the whole book, and release it all at once. But I did it one page at a time.” Although she was still very happy with the end result, she felt that the pressure from her Kickstarter backers did compromise the process in some ways.
Hellen Jo, one of the convention’s Special Guests this year, also expressed some trepidation about Kickstarter. She admitted to having toyed with the idea of leveraging her popularity online to get funding for comics, but ultimately decided “I’m scared of Kickstarter.” She cited her slow work rate, saying that she wasn’t sure that Kickstarter backers could ever be patient enough for her. Jo is currently working on the second volume of Jin & Jam, a minicomic whose first volume appeared in 2008. But Jo has a good reason for working slowly on her comics: for the past year, she’s been working on a series of Girl Gang paintings which were recently collected as a monograph by Youth in Decline. She also has had full-time gigs doing storyboards for Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe and Regular Show.
Hellen Jo joined Jesse Moynihan and Jo Dery on a panel titled “24 Panels a Second,” moderated by Trubble Clubber Jeremy Tinder. The panelists started by citing some of their earliest animation influences, which included, Goofy, Garfield, Sailor Moon, Ranma ½, and Wizards by Ralph Bakshi. All of them mentioned how important their parents were in getting them into cool cartoons early in life. Although all of them loved animation from a young age, they didn’t consider it as something to pursue. Said Jesse Moynihan “Watching cartoons doesn’t translate to ‘I can do that.’ … the thing that made me think I could tell stories was comics.” Self-published comics like Cerebus and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspired Moynihan to create his own comics, which only later led to his work as a storyboard artist on Adventure Time. Hellen Jo’s story was similar – it was the circulation of her comics online that led to her first animation job as a Storyboard Revisionist at Cartoon Network.
What was the biggest hurdle for these creators in transitioning from comics to animation? For Hellen Jo, it was the pace: “I’ve never drawn so fast in my life.” Jesse Moynihan cited a cultural difference between comics creators and artists with formal training as animators: “All of the comics people who work on [Adventure Time] are very precious and protective about their work. The people who come from an animation background are more willing to collaborate and have less ego.”
Jesse Moynihan also took time out to sign Forming II at the Nobrow table. It’s the second volume of Moynihan’s full color trilogy that combines mythology, science fiction and humor in an epic battle for the soul of humanity. Also at the Nobrow table were samples of the new concertina book from Kellie Strom, Worse Things Happen at Sea. This intricately detailed Leporello features beautiful colors created through a chromolithographic process, a near-extinct hand color separation technique that was once used in the production of currency. Those interested in how Strom achieves the fine level of detail and vibrant coloration of his work will be interested in this process video.
The highlight of Fantagraphics’ table this year was the debut of Twelve Gems by Lane Milburn. The 150-plus page chaotic space opera, which had not been previously serialized, was sold out by 11:30 AM on Sunday. Fantagraphics’ Jacq Cohen called it Fantagraphics’ book of the year, noting that the book “sold out faster than we could have possibly imagined. It’s incredible to see Chicago supporting a local artist like Lane.” Milburn was tabling with Conor Stechschulte, whose graphic novel The Amateurs is also new this summer from Fantagraphics. The Amateurs tells the story of a pair of butchers who suddenly find that they have completely forgotten how to do their craft. Stechschulte says it was inspired by a story from Werner Herzog about an unbelievably inept butcher shop he encountered in Quito while filming Fitzcarraldo.
More from the Fantastical Epic Narrative Department: Downfall Arts’ Alan D. Caesar told me all about his ambitious series Rena Rouge. The series started with volume 37, and Caesar plans to continue the series by alternating volumes that are numbered forwards and backwards, so that eventually, volumes one and 74 will be released simultaneously. Volume 38 debuted at CAKE, and Caesar had this to say about the project: “ I like worldbuilding. I want people to feel like they’re entering a world that’s fully realized.” The comics feature jam-packed interior pages and lush covers created by offset printing colored paper with fluorescent inks — the covers look even better when viewed under a black light.
Founded by a group of Columbia College grads, Yeti Press has released eighteen books since starting in 2011. One of the eye-catching new releases at their table this year was Andrea Bell’s Rose From the Dead, which Bell described as a “dude in distress” tale. Officially debuting at CAKE was Erik Nebel’s Well Come, the first print edition of his popular tumblr comic. Well Come tells an interwoven fantasy narrative with many characters, all conveyed without words in a simple, geometric style with bold colors. Nebel told me about the origins of the vibrant color palette he employs:
“I read this book called Environmentalism in Pop Culture , and she [author Noël Sturgeon] has this point of view she calls Global Ecofeminism. She analyzes all of the stories of the last 100 years of American pop culture and makes a convincing argument that in all of the stories we tell, we’re creating this false dichotomy. Pitting things against each other that aren’t even separated, for example men and women. That’s a societal construct, the idea of gender identity. The same thing with nature and civilization. And in advertisements and general imagery, there’s black and white. Black is associated with nature, white is associated with civilization. And women, and black, and nature are lumped together, and men, and white and civilization are on the other end. It sets up this superiority where the lighter colors have this symbolic meaning where they represent something pure, more clean, sophisticated. Darker colors are natural, wild, ethnic, tribal. So when I was thinking of the color palette [for Well Come] I started out with human creatures and made them a dark red, and animals I made a light orange, because I wanted to reverse that idea that dark colors are nature and light colors are human. I wanted to take that whole idea and flip that around.”
Uncivilized Books’ CAKE presentation featured the first bound volume from the white-hot Sam Alden. It Never Happened Again includes a pair of stories in Alden’s soft pencil style. I asked Alden about the many formats and media he experiments with: “The pencil stuff is like my wife…everything else is just a fling.” Uncivilized publisher Tom K was also very excited to debut Truth is Fragmentary by Gabrielle Bell. Part travelogue and part surreal adventure, the book explores the intersections of memory, reality and imagination across three continents.
Canadian boutique publisher Koyama Press has been at CAKE every year of the conference. According to marketing manager Ed Kanerva, Koyama considers smaller conferences like CAKE as essential to the publisher’s mission of being at the forefront of the graphic arts. Like many artists at the show, Michael DeForge, who released Very Casual with Koyama last year to great acclaim, still self-publishes zines and minis even after having found a publisher for his work. DeForge said he “couldn’t imagine” not making minicomics. Asked if his rapid rise in popularity had affected him or his work, DeForge said it hadn’t and told me “I still spend most of my time in a basement.”
Koyama’s newest release at the show was Elisha Lim’s 100 Crushes. Elisha, who is based in Toronto, told me about their roots in the queer comics community and said they broke through when “Alison Bechdel wrote an intro for a comic that I dreamed of doing.” Koyama and Elisha were connected through a mutual friend, leading to the publication of 100 Crushes. “Basically it’s all different ways that I’ve met queer people on three different continents. The first chapter is about butches and having crazy crushes on them…another chapter is going with friends to the men’s changing room in stores and what it’s like to try on men’s clothes…and there’s one at the end that’s not really queer content, it’s about jealousy, and trying to draw what it feels like to feel jealous.” Elisha said they create comics primarily for the queer community but that their real audience is any “intelligent, or informed” one, and that’s they’ve been blown away by the way their work has been embraced by the comics community at large.
Another Toronto-based artist, Eric Kostiuk Williams, was debuting the first collected volume of his Hungry Bottom comics. Hungry Bottom combines Williams’ own story of self-actualization in the Toronto queer community with wide-ranging pop-culture reference and sampling. Like the three individual volumes, the Collected Hungry Bottom features a four-color risograph cover and two-color risograph interiors in an oversize 7”x10” format.
Some of the most talked about comics at the show were Gina Wynbrandt’s works inspired by “sexual humiliation” and her status as a True Belieber. Wynbrandt debuted her minicomic Someone Please Have Sex With Me earlier this Spring at Chicago Zine Fest and her comic “Fish Vagina” was featured in the 2014 CAKE anthology.
Miranda Harmon, who was singled out to me by a CAKE organizer as one of the artists to watch at the show, was tabling at a comics show for the first time ever. She had previously only brought her comics to SPX as an attendee. Harmon, a recent graduate of Goucher College, had four debut minis at CAKE: Journal Comics, More Good Demons (a menagerie of not-so-scary monsters), Peat in the Woods, and Bad Comics. Regarding the comics collected in Bad Comics: “They’re okay,” said Harmon.
Emily Hutchings was also tabling for the first time. Trained as a sculptor, Hutchings decided to try her hand at exhibiting this year after her friend Ian McDuffie sold a book of her drawings at his table last year. Hutching’s offerings included the beautifully assembled Doesn’t Matter, a starkly minimalist collection of illustrated nihilist poems.
Anna Bongiovanni debuted a minicomic collecting the Grease Bats strip they draw for Autostraddle.com . The (Mother Fuckin’) Grease Bats has the tone of a buddy comedy or sitcom even as it addresses serious issues of identity and acceptance in the queer community. Also on hand for the show was the awesome educational comic A Cheap and Easy Introduction to They/Them Pronouns. Bongiovanni created this comic in order to explain and promote the use of gender neutral pronouns for those that choose to use them. It’s a great tool and as a writer I can say I found the guide really positive and helpful. They made it accessibly priced to make it easier for people to share with friends, family and coworkers, and they plan to release more comics in the Cheap and Easy series including an upcoming pamphlet on consent within the queer community.
The Comic Nurse, MK Czerwiec, was at the show to inform about the burgeoning world of medical comics. She told me about the scene: “I started making comics during the AIDS crisis when I was working as a nurse and was so overwhelmed by what I was experiencing and couldn’t figure out how to process it. I stumbled into making comics, and it turned out to be a really effective way of dealing with what I was seeing as a nurse. I ended up getting a degree in Medical Humanities, and, this was about ten years later, I wanted to look back critically and ask ‘why did that work?’ what was it about the form that helped me process experiences, and a large question, can comics have a serious role in medicine, in education, and what can they do for our patients and providers?” Around the same time, Ian Williams was creating the website Graphic Medicine to catalog comics that told of the experience of severe illness for patients and loved ones. Soon, MK and Williams were arranging a conference based around comics and medicine. This year that conference will celebrate its fifth anniversary at John Hopkins University in Maryland. MK herself teaches at Northwestern Medical School using comics in her classrooms.
Continuing in the practical-comics vein, Isabella Rotman debuted Gatherer, an easily-pocketed illustrated guide to fifteen edible plants which can be commonly found on the East coast and in the Midwest. Her tablemate Amara Leipzig had a gorgeous new book called The Ruins, which asks, “If a person grew up with no preconceptions, would they choose science or religion?”
Rotman will be one the artists featured in the upcoming anthology Speculative Relationships. The kickstarted anthology reached its funding goal on Saturday of the convention. I spoke to editor Tyrell Cannon about the book. “Anthologies are usually bad,” he said. One of the problems is a lack of cohesion. Speculative Relationships has a tight focus: Romance comics with a science fictional setting. The PDF of the anthology should be ready this month, with print editions headed to backers by the end of July.
Odin Cabal debuted the eighth issue of his self-publishd series Midwestern Cuban Comics, which collects several stories including the multi-part epic “¿O hermano, donde esta usted?” Cabal’s comics incorporate everything from baseball to MMA to one-night stands to the fairy godmother. He’s based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but like many artists at the show, he got his start in comics when Quimby’s began carrying his work.
Scott Roberts, creator of the Star Spangled Angel, took a long break from making comics and returned to the form about four years ago. I asked him what brought him back: “It was what had exploded, the alternative world was so much different. It was a combination of art, printing and illustration. I hadn’t really thought of comics as such a great means of expression before. I mean I loved it, I loved RAW back in the ‘80s, but I always thought you had to have a publisher.” Though Roberts said he wouldn’t mind working with a publisher, he said that’s not the goal. He encourages younger artists to think of making their comics as an ends in and of itself, and not always a jumping off platform to more money and success: “There’s no real money in [comics] anyway. If there was a lot of money in it, you’d have a lot of different personalities involved. Some of the young kids go around passing out business cards. What in the world would I do with that? Just make some comics, and I’ll look at your comics!”
At the same table, Keiler Roberts had the latest issue of Powdered Milk available. “It focuses on my daughter who’s three years old, the things she says, domestic moments. It’s more structured than some of my other work.” It was the funniest comic I read at the show.
CAKE was an amazing show this year. The event continues to grow and expand and is quickly gaining recognition as one of the significant alternative comics shows on the crowded summer festival roster. There were many more brilliant self-published and small press comics than I could ever hope to chronicle here — the only way to see everything is to check out the show. Hope to see you at CAKE 2015!
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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, Indie Comics
, Top News
, ACA Residency
, comics journalism
, Graphic Novels
, Jess Ruliffson
, Joe Bonham Project
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Jess Ruliffson is an illustrator and non-fiction graphic novelist, increasingly wearing the hat of a comics-medium journalist. She’s working on a graphic novel based on interviews with veterans of the war in Iraq and conflicts in Afghanistan for the Joe Bonham Project, giving wounded vets a chance to tell their own stories of trauma and resilience (as seen above). Ruliffson took part in the Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency in October 2012 and became one of the founding members of Studio YOLO, a confederacy of artists who pose monthly comics-drawing challenges. Her art work is heavily based on realism in line-drawing, but also possesses a unique stillness and reflective quality suited to personal narratives, either her own or drawn from shared stories. You can view her ongoing work at both her website and blogspot.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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, Dark Horse
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, Marketing Graphic Novels
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, Chip Mosher
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, Hunter Gorinson
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, Jeremy Atkins
, Mel Caylo
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ComiXology’s Chip Mosher of Marketing and PR moderated a panel with Jeremy Atkins of Dark Horse, Dirk Wood of IDW, Mel Caylo of Archaia, and addition Hunter Gorinson of Valiant Comics with the goal of sharing tips and pro experience with indie creators and future marketers on Friday, March 29th at WonderCon. The result was quite an entertaining panel featuring their professional blunders and secret discoveries about he ins and outs of comics promotion.
Mosher started out by asking for the embarrassing stories each had accrued in their work experience, “professional blunders” that contained teachable moments. Atkins admitted to the cringeworthy common mishap of hitting “reply all” on an email and copying a person specifically to be excluded from a conversation, with plenty of sympathetic groans from the audience. Mosher’s own tale of woe was equally relatable, reading an e-mail from Emerald City Con and then forgetting to reply afterward, thereby losing booth space for BOOM that year. Wood was more circumspect about his failures, noting that “25% of marketing is what I would call blunders” that can lead either to success or to a “thud”, and that he finds it impossible to tell which will happen in some circumstances. Persistence, he advised, is the key to forge ahead despite an unpredictable market.
Caylo dredged up his own worst moments with a story of “drunk tweeting” from the wrong account, declaring his love for someone, a tweet that remained up on a company account overnight whereas Gorinson stuck to the ever-present bugaboo of typos in press releases regardless of how many times the releases are checked before sending them out. Wood’s observation that some blunders can have positive results prompted the panel to consider whether they had similar lucky moments. Wood, particularly, “stumbled into successes” by having random, unlikely ideas for promotion like sending Godzilla costumed promo agents to “smash” stores, something that met with great success. The panel quickly turned interactive, fielding questions from the floor, and the first question, probably also the first on everyone’s mind, was how to run PR and marketing strategies on a shoe-string budget.
Mosher wittily commented, “This guy thinks that we have budgets” to his fellow panellists before Caylo took up the question with what became perhaps the strongest message of the panel event: “It’s all about relationships”. He suggested that those seeking press for comics go to shows, have e-mail conversations that are “not always pitching”, so that it’s easier when you do want to ask a favor to bring it up. He also added that “offer giveaways” on sites that increase “cross-promotion” are a very smart move. Atkins, who was particularly earnest and animated throughout the panel suggested that Twitter is a major player in promotion for building and continuing to cultivate professional relationships, including the retail industry in your list of contacts. Wood spoke to the indie creator’s situation trying to get books distributed. “Nothing speaks louder than a consignment situation”, he said, and pointed out that Top Shelf started through delivering consignment issues to comic shops, “giving books” to shops and allowing them to sell them rather than seeking solicitation. This involves “relentless beating of the pavement” since there is “no replacing grassroots”.
Atkins used this idea to springboard into a gambling metaphor: “In gambling and in life, you only win when you can afford to lose”. You shouldn’t expect return immediately, he warned, but trying different approaches and continuing to do so as long as possible is key. Mosher had strong feelings on the subject, reflecting on the example of a student protester who brough the New York Stock Exchange to a standstill by busking for dollar bills all day, then throwing a hundred bills onto the exchange floor. It was the perfect example, for Mosher, of “getting attention at low cost” and using the least resources to garner the “biggest impact”.
Gorinson focused on knowing your material and audience to get attention. Knowing the pitch well, and the many angles from which it might be interpreted, breaking out of narrow genre definitions, for instance, may win the day. He recommended top comics news sites as vehicles for spreading the word, as well as working “with anyone and everyone”, including small blog sites. Mosher’s experience at BOOM confirmed this premise. Starting out publishing only 4 to 7 books a month, he scoured blogs, put people in press lists, and sent them PDF review copies in an era before most comics companies were using PDFs in this way, and thereby grew a press list of 400 contacts.
Wood added that looking at comparable publishers and types of titles to the comic you are trying to circulate is a good starting point, looking to see how and where they are doing their marketing and focus your attack in that way. A common pitfall the panellists all agreed on is when creators send a pitch to a company for a comic series that’s a 12 issue proposal or longer. Companies aren’t willing to take the risk, they advised, and a 3-4 issue format is much more appealing at the outset of a project.
A follow up question from the audience regarded strategies to capitalize on the rash of superhero movies and growing movie fans who might never have read a comic. Several panellists felt that there’s no one single approach to bring film fans into comics, but a more surefire method is to “start them young”, reaching young readers with comics visual literacy. Mosher agreed, stating that there are more kids comics today than in the past decade, and comics continue to have unique qualities of storytelling that continue to appeal as a child grows up reading them. Gorinson added that Free Comic Book Day is an excellent opportunity to “get into as many shops as possible” and reach new, young readers. Mosher and Caylo both returned to the subject of cross promotion between films, tv, and comics, like the inclusion of ashcan comics in dvd box sets to show fans what comics alternatives are available for their favorite products.
A direct marketing question from the floor focused on the similarities or differences between selling comics and other products, like household items. Atkins felt there was very little difference at all, except that it’s more possible in comics to “know who that person is” you are targeting since “They are me, or some version of me”, as a comics fan. He continued with some other salient advice, such as “You have to believe in what you’re selling” and believe that you are “one of the best advocates for it”. Gorinson felt that marketing comics is different from marketing other consumer products because he often feels an “obligation” to live up to the quality of the work he’s promoting in his own efforts.
Gorinson and Atkins also suggested doing some research into major news sites to find out who on staff might be a comics fan, “finding” that contact, or locating dedicated geek blogging attached to news sites. Atkins and Mosher commented that using social media makes reaching out to news writers more and more direct. Mosher admitted that not everyone may have the desire or “skill set” to promote their comics properly despite attempts, and in that case, he advised, you should find a friend who thrives on that kind of work and collaborate on promotion.
The final big topic addressed by the panel, and one which inspired some lively reactions from the speakers, was the use of transmedia and multiple media formats to draw attention to comics. Caylo said that it’s all about “synergy” between comics, films, and related video games, based on his work at Archaia. Atkins clarified, however, that adding transmedia content to promote comics, such as an app or video game should still be “meaningful to the overall story.
I posed a last question to the panel before it came to a close, wondering what the biggest pros and cons are to using social media as a promotional tool. Gorinson replied that you have to be “clever” in different ways to use social media properly for this purpose, while Mosher commented simply, but with some emotion, “Trolls!” as his biggest con. Caylo was the most personally engaged by the question and gave the following run down: social media’s benefits are “accessibility” and the quickness and “ease” of getting the word out about your product, especially when doing it for free. The “dangers”, however, are that “You are open to trolls and people who want to bait you”. “Ignore them”, he recommended, since once they “engage” you, they’ve “got you”. Block them if necessary, and learn to take “the bad with the good” when it comes to social media.
The panel was surprisingly lively, with all the panellists more than willing to share from their personal struggles to find the golden balance when it comes to marketing with limited budgets, and each expressed an obvious commitment to the survival and growth of worthy comics through good strategies and trying innovative methods to see what works for each book and each particular situation. Building personal relationships, watching out for the wrong kind of blunders, and learning from them when they occur, were paramount for these indie publishing marketers.
Photo Credits: All photos in this article were taken by semi-professional photographer and pop culture scholar Michele Brittany. She’s an avid photographer of pop culture events. You can learn more about her photography and pop culture scholarship here.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.
Here’s your chance to fund Jim Calafiore’s solo project and write or draw a horror story for Alice Cooper. There’s even something for the comic book-golfers in this one.
Calafiore is trying to raise $12,000 to print vol.1 tpb of CROOKS & NANNIES. For the last two years Jim has been posting these hilarious weekly strips on his website. One of the big selling points for LEAVING MEGALOPOIS was Calafiore’s limited sketch rewards. You’re in luck if you missed out last time because original pen and inks character sketches are only going for $50-$150. The backers are asked to vote from three possible covers after they have pledge. I think this is a great way to get your supporter more involve with the process.
At the moment the project is only less then $2,000 left to goal. Jim told me about this project at New York con and I’m glad he has finally followed through with a well thought out project and bat-shit crazy project video to boot. During the promo video Jim gives a moving speech about the power and importance of Kickstarter to independent comic book creators while a man stands behind him, holding a spatula and basketball, and wearing a white meth-cooker-jumpsuit and a welding mask. If that doesn’t give you day-mares then fast-forward to minute 2:13 and check out Jimmy topless and a scuba mask.
If you’re on the fence about contributing because you haven’t released your copy of LEAVING MEGALOPOLOIS, then this might change your mind:
TO MEGALOPOLIS BACKERS: No worries. These strips are already all done, so this project will take almost no time away from work on that project.
Grammy Award-winning rocker Alice Cooper is still making music, touring the world and performing at his old age. He DJ’s from Sunday to Thursdays on a syndicated radio show called, “Nights with Alice Cooper.” He also owns a famous bar/restaurant that’s connected to Chase Stadium in the heart of down town Phoenix called Alice Cooperstown. Now he wants to break in to comics and start a television show called Uncle Alice Presents.
This is not some hoary tribute to EC Comics. Sure, it’s a comic book anthology horror series, graphic novel, and, if you demand it, a television series, but all comparisons end there. Unlike your mommy’s quaint horror comics of yore, UNCLE ALICE PRESENTS is the one and only horror series brought to you by and featuring the visionary maestro of shock rock himself, ALICE COOPER. That’s right, Alice freakin’ Cooper!
Created by Tom Sheppard (co-creator of and show runner for The High Fructose Adventures of the Annoying Orange), join us on this epic adventure to publish all twelve comic book issues of UNCLE ALICE PRESENTS, along with the compilation graphic novel, and hopefully the television pilot. We’ll even let one lucky backer come up with the idea for one of the comic books!
Joining a Kickstarter anthology has been a good way to get up-and-comers to get their feet wet. It’s also a good way to get content from lesser known creators on the cheap. Here’s where you die-hard Alice Cooper fans/professional cartoonist come in to play:
Every backer who pledges $10 or more will have the opportunity to submit one idea for the chance to have it turned into an issue of UNCLE ALICE. The story must be tellable in a 24-page comic book, be fun, and fit with the theme of the series. Once a pledge has been made, the concept can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please make sure your submissions are in accordance with the rules.
All ideas must be submitted by the end of the campaign, at which point the creative team will pick ten finalists. From May 15th to 25th, each backer will be able to cast a single vote for their favorite of the top ten stories. The winning concept will be turned into an issue of the comic, written by Tom Sheppard, and the winner will receive a co-story credit on that issue.
Alice Cooper Trivia: not only is he a right-winger that simulates decapitation on stage, he’s a big time golfer. This has to be one of the best rewards in Kickstarter history. Pledge $10,000 and play round of golf with Uncle Alice himself — at a Phoenix course of his choice — and get a signed copy of his book Golf Monster. The project has less than 17 days to raise $174,689, but of course anything is possible with crowd funding.
On the next Kick-Watcher: I’m going to highlight Jason Coffee’s Warhawks and whatever you think is worth mentioning. Tweet me your projects or send a link to kick (dot) watcher at gmail (dot) com and include a press release and links. I also accept bags of cash.
Henry Barajas is the co-creator, writer and letterer for El Loco and Captain Unikorn a weekly webcomic. He has also written and lettered short stories for two successful Kickstarter SpazDog Press projects: Unite and Take Over: Stories inspired by The Smiths and Break The Walls: Comic Stories inspired by The Pixies. He is the Newsroom Research Assistant for The Arizona Daily Star and was nominated for the Shel Dorf Blogger of the Year award for his work at The Beat. You can follow him on Twitter @HenryBarajas.
This is the golden era of indie comic, artistically and even financially, at least in term of the number of publishers, CAFs and cartoonists who wake up every day excited to be cartooning. It’s a movement that is aesthetically and formally as exciting as anything else going on out there.
All of which makes the Jason Karns Kerfuffle all the more unusual. Indie comics circles don’t have kerfuffles—defined as in depth analysis of the social, racial or gender-based meaning of a certain comic or statement. Those are for nasty old mainstream comics. In case you missed it (and you probably did) it started when Frank Santoro, the cartoonist, comics educator and archivist, posted a thing called New Small Press Comics over at The Comics Journal. As he often does, Santoro just took pictures of comics he liked. Santoro is a comics liker, and if you’ve ever been with him while he goes through an old long box full of old weird comics, you know he is the Nicola Tesla of comics liking, exploring bold new vistas on a daily basis where few can hope to go. This time out Santoro praised the work of Marc Bell—just about everyone likes Marc Bell’s weirdo humor comics, right?– and Jason Karns who, among other books, does a comic called Fukitor which looks like this:
If anything, this reminded me of a somehow more life affirming version of those torture covers everyone was appalled by the other day. If struck me that Fukitor was firmly in the same camp as the Cannibal Corpse stuff everyone told me was fun loving and adorable, and I was maybe going to mention this, but then it really didn’t interest me that much so I didn’t.
The comments on that post at TCJ quickly turned negative however, as people pointed out how racist the book was—Karns’ hero goes around squashing mostly brown people who are portrayed as terrorists. I’d throw in “jingoistic” as a description as well. Oh and misogynist but isn’t everything. The book’s defenders lauded it as edgy and daring, while others suggested that racism and misogyny aren’t all that edgy and daring. Santoro actually backed away from the book pretty quickly—it’s obvious that Karns is one of those energetic and imaginative artists who has so far chosen to work in the gross out genre—and Santoro was responding to the energy not the content. Karns himself eventually showed up in the comments to stand up for his right to be “subversive.”
This was a very, very rare example of the indie comics “community” getting into a Kerfuffle—I mean, of course the Comics Journal/Hooded Utilitarian axis loves arguing, but it’s rarely about anything that bears any connection to the real world, as far as I can make out. Darryl Ayo delivered the best slap down in the comments:
For something to be subversive it needs to both mimic and undermine the societal power structure. The society of the Western world is invariably white dominance and anti-brown. To be truly subversive against that power structure, a work of art would be clinging closely to that as well as poking holes in the structural integrity of the white power structure. Since nothing that we can see here in “Fukitor” does anything to undermine white power while it makes a big show of making sport of nonwhite people, it literally just is what it looks like.
Perhaps I liked this best since it mirror sentiments of my own.
But anyway, the kerfuffle played itself out over the next few days. Santoro apologized
. Karns climbed up a ladder into his getaway helicopter gloating
Update – 9/2/13 – Orders have gone waaayyy up since some people starting bitching about this imagery. Thank you. Please, keep bitching.
stepped all into it in a piece
that ran several hundred words without actually mentioning the name of the cartoonist he was talking about, but averring:
I don’t know the work of the cartoonist in question, certainly not well enough to lower the boom with a racism charge.
And that got the kerfuffle going all over again! Because when you draw or write things that are racist…well, they are…racist. Darryl Ayo wrote again
There is no need to read a lot of someone’s work to determine if a particular project is racist. As a culture, we are past the era of equating “racism” with a boogeyman, an allegiance to a specific codified group that exists simply to hate people based on race.
….[snip].Jason Karns got exactly what he wanted. He got to be the renegade bad boy for a day, beholden to nobody’s wishes, offending without a care toward the offended. All in all, it was a good day for Mr. Karns. The rest of us were treated to yet another reminder of how Middle Eastern people can be casually dehumanized and how much of society’s dreams and fantasies involve brown people being reduced to mindless beasts, fit for slaughter. Good times.
And David Brothers
, also weighed in
Here’s what happened: someone posts a comic and reviews it. Someone else asks if it’s satirical or what, because it looks pretty racist. The creator of the comic rolls in, asks if people are censors, the pc police, and all this other nonsense. Cartoons aren’t real so who cares, you’re the real racists anyway, and a bunch of other idiot arguments. His cronies roll in, talking about how soft and cowardly the question-askers are.
Other people, myself included, point out that naw, this comic actually is racist, and if you’re riffing on something else that’s racist, you’re still using racist elements! Other people talk about how discussing the racism of something isn’t requesting a ban, and if your transgressive work is just replicating the same lazy ideas that transgressive works were doing 40 years ago, maybe your work is part of the status quo, not transgression.
I found all of this reaction very interesting. As I noted before, in the torture covers discussion, no one really disagreed about anything
. There was much more dissension in the Karns Kerfuffle, probably because Karns himself came by to defend the work and that Organized The Protest. The overall reaction also made me proud to live in a country where depictions of members of a geographical group—one which we were at war with a few years ago and may be at war with in a few days— can still be actively and widely labelled as racist. Maybe we have improved as a society a bit since this happened:
Perhaps the most striking thing to me, however, was how little indie/art/literary whatever you want to call them comics are put in any kind of larger cultural context. It seem that that is left for the superheroes. Len Wein, Gerry Conway and Todd McFarlane were roundly vilified for saying that superhero comics—or the “mainstream” as they quaintly called it—didn’t have to have a subtext. “The comics follow society. They don’t lead society,” Conway was quoted as saying, which was kind of a tossed off statement, but sounded really wrong.
Laura Sneddon [who writes for this site] examined this whole idea in a piece called How Comics Got Political, quite rightly pointing out that
One of the historical roots of modern comics is of course the political cartooning of the early newspapers; the mechanical reproduction of images finally allowing art to be consumed by the masses rather than the privileged few, with cartoonists leaping at the chance to communicate complex political situations via their deceptively simple form.
The idea of comics as a political tool is not without its controversies, from grumbles amongst novelists to riots over religious icon portrayals. Any fan of superhero comics can tell you that comics don’t have to be overtly political, but the recent insistence by creator Todd McFarlane that historically no comic book that has worked has been “trying to get across a message” was largely met by the rolling of eyes.
In the rest of the piece, Sneddon goes on to discuss the level of engagement with politics in their work with Stephen Collins, Joe Sacco, Paul Cornell and Grant Morrison.
Obviously, Sacco’s work is some of the most valuable and powerful journalistic work being done in any medium, but’s notable that writers like Cornell and Morrison, who mostly write genre comics, are constantly being asked about the bigger meaning in their work, or claiming that it has a bigger meaning, a claim which a lot of people in the indie comics community would also scoff at.
And yet, it does seem that indie comics and cartoonists are rarely examined in a larger contextual way. This is possibly because the content involves a lot of what some call introspection, and others emo shoegazing—even the greatest one—and maybe because this kind of analysis if of a secondary interest of most of those creating and consuming indie comics? And to be fair, a lot of indie comics are created by an ethnically homogenous groups of suburban white kids. When they stray too far away from writing what they know, as Craig Thompson did with Habibi, the results aren’t awesome. Even a work as great as Building Stories is a personal story—on a most simplistic level, it’s telling us that it’s better to have a happy marriage than lie in bed every night wondering if you should kill yourself.
BTW, I’m not advocating for change here—like I said in the beginning, indie comics now exist in a wonderland where personal expression is the biggest concern, and that’s a beautiful, priceless thing that will eventually lead to even more powerful works. If I were to peg a second interest in art comics at the moment, it would probably be formalism. Critics like Santoro are most excited by the immediate emotional impact of comics art, up to and including printing techniques, an attitude that stems from the fine arts background of a lot of comics commentators and publishers, as well as being the primary focus of Ware and his admirers. (Mathias Wivel’s essay on Habibi quickly shifts from examining its politics to criticizing its inking technique.) And this isn’t in any sense wrong—there is ALREADY a huge tradition of comics, as Sneddon suggests, that deals with politics, subversion and radical ideas and they are rolling right along in various formats.
Still, I’m wondering if this riot of esthetic choices is ever going to be nailed down a bit more. As the world of comics explodes, I find myself lacking the critical background to even comprehend it sometimes. This was brought home to me the other day at my other job, when I was editing a review of Anya Davidson’s School Spirits. I had assigned a review of the book to one of my Publishers Weekly reviewers (who are anonymous by design) but when I got the review back it was pretty clear that he didn’t get the book at all, even though he liked it. As I read the book and struggled to bring the review more in line with useful analysis, I realized that I wasn’t even sure where to begin.
The book is published by Picturebox, which goes heavy into the fine-art formalism school I’ve been talking about—publisher Dan Nadel also co-edits The Comics Journal website, and published Santoro, so there’s an axis emerging there. Davidson contributed to Kramer’s Ergot so there’s another axis there. The Picturebox website describes School Spirits as “Beavis and Butthead meets James Joyce’s Ulysses,” which sounds promising and yet could be applied to almost anything, since Beavis and Butthead and James Joyce between them encompass most of 20th century art and literature. Davidson isn’t a cartoonist I’m particular familiar with, although I find her work fun to look at. Her narrative is dreamlike in its non sequiturs, but the art is more like, well maybe Johnny Ryan by way of Gary Panter if they met up at a tiki bar. It definitely approaches the “New Narrative” style that people were talking about in regards to things like Kazimir Strzepek and C.F. a few years ago. (That isn’t actually what it was called, but there is no “Guide to the Schools of Indie COmics” entry on Wikipedia.)
The failing I’m flailing around with above is all mine and not Davidson’s—I’m sure it doesn’t matter if she considers herself in the “new narrative” school or the “Kramer’s Ergot School” or the Chicago School, or whatever. She’s uniquely her own thing, and if that’s a detriment for someone writing a short review for a trade publication, it’s a virtue in every other arena. The most energizing thing about comics these days is you don’t have to be in any school. Each and every gem of a comic seems to exist in its own, infinite, contextless universe. This is also a product of the extreme hybridization of all forms as well. The “international style” of comics that is gaining ground in the actual mainstream (libraries and books) is one that draws equally from America, European and Manga influences, and the internet insists we mash everything up all at once all the time. Context seems to have less and less inherent value against this backdrop where immediate emotional resonance is the currency. Perhaps it’s this very quality that makes comics one of the most vibrant and relatable mediums of the day.
This week’s edition of PW Comics World contains news of a newish publishing company: Z2 Comics, formerly Zip Comics, which put out the Eisner-nominated Cleveland by Harvey Pekar and Joseph Remnant last year. It’s headed up by Josh Frankel and the first two projects will be a new edition of Paul Pope’s long out of print Escapo comic, and a collection of Dean Haspiel’s webcomics, Fear My Dear: A Billy Dogma Book.
Frankel told PW he wanted “a new start” and decided to rename and rebrand the company. “Our focus will be eclectic,” Frankel said, “We want to publish books that make money but also publish genre works that feature fine storytelling and great hardcover production.” Frankel said that he’s a fan of books by publishers like Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, Image, and Drawn & Quarterly, “and while I like some superheroes, I like indie-focused books and those publishers are my inspiration.”
Log-rolling alert: Josh is a good Beat pal and occasional traveling companion. He’s a savvy young man, and from what we hear, he has some big and innovative plans on the horizon.
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Straight from the offices of Publishers Weekly, it’s More to Come! Your podcast source of comics news and discussion starring The Beat’s own Heidi MacDonald.
In a More To Come interview special episode, Heidi talks with acclaimed indie comics creator Jeff Smith about his Eisner-winning kids’ fantasy epic Bone, his adult sci-fi tale RASL, the advantages and difficulties of being your own publisher, his new Paleolithic webcomic Tuki Save The Humans and much, much more on this episode of Publishers Weekly’s graphic novel podcast. in this podcast from PW Comics World.
Now tune in Fridays at our new, new time for our regularly scheduled podcast!
Stream this episode and catch up with our previous podcasts through the Publishers Weekly website or subscribe to More To Come on iTunes
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Straight from the offices of Publishers Weekly, it’s More to Come! Your podcast source of comics news and discussion starring The Beat’s own Heidi MacDonald.
In this week’s interview special, Publisher’s Weekly’s Calvin Reid interviews indie comics master Dean Haspiel about his beginnings as well as his latest work, including The Fox from Archie Comics and Fear, My Dear: A Billy Dogma Experience from new publisher Z2 Comics. Haspiel, known for his work on such books as “The Quitter” with Harvey Pekar and “The Alcoholic” with Jonathan Ames is also a co-founder of the web comics collective Act-I-Vate. All that and more on PW Comics World’s More To Come podcast.
Listen to this episode in streaming here, download it direct here and catch up with our previous podcasts on the PublishersWeekly website, or subscribe to More To Come on iTunes
The idea for Miss Hennipin, a new release from Sonatina’s Andy Douglas Day, began as a summer day’s unassuming illustrative dalliance and briskly developed into Day’s main creative output. Now fully realized into a loaded 164 page, color-filled book, Miss Hennipin is another supplement to the diverse and teeming indie comics milieu, upholding the kind of innovative enthusiasm that creators like Austin English, CF, and Jason Overby cranked out during the initial influx of “new minimalism” comics. Similar to his previous comic, Chauncey, Day constructs an omnibus of vignettes detailing the life of its eccentric and cantankerous title character and her mask-donning moppet Mokumbo. It’s a cureless attempt to cipher any direct path of meaning or narrative from Miss Hennipin, and I might go as far to say pushing to do so takes away from what the comic sagaciously thrives in. Purely expressive and endearingly strange, Miss Hennipin is an abstract sketch not meant to be unraveled.
The backdrop for all the freewheeling mayhem is Day’s peculiar illustrative style. Constantly deviating from being hand drawn in ink, watercolor, crayon, and pen, along with a fluctuation of paper type, Day captures an unadulterated preciousness of the page. The pencil drawings are at times crude and bizarre or slightly caricature but overall highly gestural and communicative, allowing the viewer to emphatically warm up to the eccentric and whimsical figures. I also really took to Day’s coloring–infused sporadically within the mainly black and white makeup, the splashes of color work as an embedded metonym, subtly bringing touches of vitality to the settings and breathing a zest to the contours of Miss Hennipin’s hair. Just as his materials wavers, so do his renderings of the many characters in Miss Hennipin. While it’s easy to recognize the defining features of Mokumbo’s geometric mask or Miss Hennipin’s exaggerated cat eyes and many hairstyles, there is an unmistakeable spontaneity in the way Day slightly modifies his drawings from page to page. You can almost sense the compulsion behind the lines, a kind of graphic improvisation, as if Day handed you each individual comic as he completed it. It’s this immersion with Day’s creative impulses that give Miss Hennipin the weight of its intimacy, as a book that shifts and varies much like the every-changing nature a growing artist.
The greatest joy in reading Miss Hennipin is how Day strives, above all else, to convey a pure essence of the nonadult. I specifically choose the word ‘nonadult’ over childlike or juvenile because it conveys the most adequate impression of the work. I also don’t mean to say that Miss Hennipin is too simplistic in regards to the scribbly illustrations or too innocent in its curious diction—I prefer to consider the work as pushing against constraints of a fixed field of meaning, in which verbal and visual means work together in an expressive combination. In order to enjoy the humor and creative looseness, I had to let go of trying to obsess over aligning each page in a larger, familiar narrative sequence (something that’s immensely hard to do for someone who loves narrative structure). Miss Hennipin is simultaneously a book of stories and a book of not stories.
Part of the pleasure of Day’s work lies in reconnecting with the childlike sensibility, welcoming the delightful pretense that nothing absurd is going on at all. Both the title character, Miss Hennipin, as well as Mokumbo, occupy a distinctive space in being neither a fully realized adult or naivete, invoking disturbing collisions between lurking juvenile desires and displaced adult longings. “The Religious Phase,” a story where Miss Hennipin drunkenly rages to God about being a perfect creation thanks to herself, encapsulates Day’s ability to depict his characters as flawed, scandalous, and lewd yet always remaining comical. Every vignette seems like a charade of classical children’s storybooks, where character roles are disconcertingly warped and any semblance of an allegorical lesson is completely quashed. There are many times where the text works in code, not to unleash any ultimate significations, but rather in a way that operates like the adult secret language latent in clever cartoons for kids. The accompanying soundtrack for Miss Hennipin, likewise created by Day, is titled “bubblegum buisness,” an otherwise innocuous phrase but really is Miss Hennipin’s code-word for sex.
I first took notice of the expressive and additive effects of a complementary soundtrack with Brendan Leach’s Iron Bound—the limited flexi-disc record by the official work’s band The Newark Wanderers. The book and music worked to inform each other, the sounds drew from influences ranging from Japanese gangster films to Phil Spector, amounting in an elevated and active multimedia experience. Miss Hennipin‘s soundtrack is an endearing mix of lo-fi, distorted tones and saccharine guitar, harmonizing smoothly with the comic’s display of sparse and fleshed out art and narrative. It’s unclear if the titles are meant to represent certain breaks in the book, yet many of the 16 tracks do serve to usher an evocation of certain places and moments. One the album’s longer tracks, “One-Eyed Creeper Man who lives in Sand” is surprisingly catchy in addition to nabbing the amusing creepiness of Mokumbo’s silence or the alphabet Counts wiggling in the manor’s crevices.
Miss Hennipin is published by San Francisco’s Sonatina, a dynamic indie label that has been releasing a number of boundary pushing experimental comics from the likes of Aidan Koch and Jason Overby, and Day’s newest release is a notable addition to their roster of cartoonists that continually pursue stylistic ricks. You can pick up Miss Hennipin at the Sonatina website, and if you happen to find yourself in San Francisco come April 4th, Day is hosting a release party featuring a number of other comic-related activities.
Thought Bubble in Leeds, UK—to be held November 9-15th this year—has rapidly gained an international reputation as one of the finest comic arts festivals out there. With a fantastic guest list and a friendly vibe, it’s on many people’s must-do list now. But with popularity comes growing pains. The show has just announced a bunch of changes including a move to curation for exhibitors, a higher fee for tables, and charging for tickets to a Saturday night party. The show has rapidly outgrown its venue, and a third hall used in 2013 is no longer available. So…something had to give, as they explain.
So where do we go from here? For the last four months we’ve been hard at work trying to find a suitable space to hold the ever-growing festival. There’s no single venue big enough in Leeds at the current time, so there are only two options available to us – to leave Leeds and, in turn, all our amazing local partners and sponsors, or, alternatively, to build our own venue! The idea of leaving Leeds is a last resort to us, as we love this city, and everything that it’s brought to the festival. Without our partners, like Leeds City Council, Leeds and Bradford Libraries, and Leeds International Film Festival, Thought Bubble would change entirely and we just can’t have that. We love Leeds too much, so we’re going to do everything we can to stay here.
So, for 2014′s Thought Bubble, the convention will stay at Clarence Dock, and will utilise New Dock Hall and Royal Armouries Hall as with previous years, but in addition to those halls, we are going to be building a state-of-the-art hard-shell marquee in the main square as a third hall. We think that this new space will make the convention better than ever, but, as you can imagine, it is very expensive to build and install.
Zainab Akhtar has some excellent commentary
here. Comics are too darned popular!
By: Heidi MacDonald
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Straight from the offices of Publishers Weekly, it’s More to Come! Your podcast source of comics news and discussion starring The Beat’s own Heidi MacDonald.
In this week’s podcast the More to Come Crew – Heidi “The Beat” MacDonald, Calvin Reid and Kate Fitzsimons – discuss this year’s MoCCA Arts Fest and Emerald City Comic Con – with interviews from the MoCCA floor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, new comics to screen deals including Federal Bureau of Physics and Sinister Six and more on PW Comics World’s More To Come.
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Print by Antoine Cosse
It’s hard to convince me to not contribute to the growing number of small press comic subscriptions–every season there seems to be even more great material I want to get my hands onto, and it’s a rather addicting cycle of excitement whenever there’s a new package at my door. Oily has proven to be an exceptionally versatile publisher with their subscriptions—the form of their pocket-size, digestible mini-comics has parlayed a habit-forming nature in their readership that stays true to the internal logic of comics. Series like Melissa Mendes’s Lou and Charles Forsman’s TEOTFW have hooked many a fan in, including myself, allowing a sense of gratification and appreciation that hasn’t always been as accessible in indie comics. There is something quite rewarding about receiving an Oily bundle; the mini-comics are neighborly crafted and packaged to make you feel welcome from the outset.
This season’s Spring Oily Bundle, a limited 200 count batch, featured 9 different mini-comics along with additional prints and art from the stylish roster of Oily cartoonists. Mixing a touch of the familiar and the new, this was an impressionably refreshing stack of work, demonstrating the inarguable benefits of reading comics in their printed format.
Noah Van Sciver’s The Lizard Laughed
The first of the loot is Noah Van Sciver’s new minicomic, The Lizard Laughed. Beginning with a quote from Martin Sheen’s 2012 shared memoir with son Emilio Estevez, Along the Way, Sciver sets up this father-and-son narrative, contorted through his trademark doom-and-gloom thematic craftship. While the recognizable tropes of bleakness and brooding malaise are definitely present, Sciver is able to input some very quiet and reflective moments within this short piece that make it surprisingly satisfying.
Harvey is the deadbeat, stoner dad who gets an unexpected visit from the son he abandoned so many years ago. Although supposedly complacent with his role as an absent father, Harvey endeavors to enact what he believes is fatherly action to Nathan, offering affection through engaging in conversation and artistic similarity, and even planning a joint rendezvous, the time-honored tradition of a father-and-son hike. Harvey’s tragic, cumbersome attempt to fill in a paternal guise is apparent at every moment of the two’s interaction, and the emotional machismo on display is unwieldy.
The ending is no surprise, and there’s a sense of crushing disappointment for both father and son. While Harvey is sure to continue in his cyclical inability to truly connect with another person, Nathan walks away from revenge, and in a way comes to grips with understanding, even in disconnect, why Harvey is the way he is. It would be flawed to associate this comic as another father-and-son narrative, the cringe-worthy air between Harvey and Nathan actually sheds light on Sciver’s creative ability to ride that line between empathy and ridicule. There’s not a lot of people, let alone cartoonists, who can exhibit the gnarled grace that Sciver does with a character like Harvey, someone who is incredulously unlikeable and irrationally mulish to boot.
Sciver pacifies the overarching tension with Harvey’s meandering tales of playful, fantastical adventures with dangerous historic sites and imaginative recounts of mystical creatures. It’s in these stories that Harvey seems the most in touch with life, his childish sensibility drawn with a touch of humor. He is swallowed by the fantasy of his surroundings, and it’s never more clear how misguided and detached from reality he genuinely is, a palpable actuality that Nathan plainly sees.
I’m unsure if Sciver meant to comment on or parody the Sheen memoir Along the Way (something tells me neither Sheen nor Estevez wouldn’t be able to connect that sad, self-deprecating psyche in quite the same way), and The Lizard Laugh is anything but a Hollywood memoir. Sciver succeeds yet again in creating a narrative that turns the focus inward; to our own shortcomings that we reject by fluffing up our own perception of wisdom, and the choice Nathan makes that allows Harvey to retain some dignity, to not be small and nothing.
Crash Trash, an uber little comic from French cartoonist Olive Booger, is a streamlined reworking of his style’s drippy, color-saturated, hysteric scratchiness as seen in Kuš! And his graphic novel, I Like Short Songs. While superficially shrunken down to a 4” by 2.25” mini-mini-comic, Crash Trash packs a whole lot of trippy detail in the comic’s anthropologic recounting of the rise and fall of a fictional 1980s gang called the Trash Boys, along with the antics and lawlessness of their home base, the district of Crashtown.
It’s at first a little jarring to see such a small comic flushed with a heavy hand of text—almost every panel is scrawled with as much space filled with script as it is image. There is no dialogue, only narration and a smattering of effects, thereby pacing the comic quite cinematically, as panel transitions move from pull back shots of the Trash Boys to close-ups of a fallen comb or cross-cutting to a colossal punt by enemy gang, the Mega Dogs. At first glance, it may seem Olive was restricted by size in the type of details he could use to fill in details, yet his histrionic prose amplifies the limited visual space, resisting an urge to rapidly read the comic. There’s a rhythmic cleverness in the way the comic moves, an ebbing and tiding in the momentum as well as in the elevation of dramatic moments. The story is neither bounded with innovation, so when particular key words are bolded, it aids in setting the scene because you’re most likely able to attribute certain visual cues.
What I’ve said so far shouldn’t discount Oliver’s artistic aspiration; his style is still largely tangible even when stripped down to its red and black risographed print. His previous work harkens a definite Charles Burns influence with the thick, oil paint execution and thematics resonating with the sordid darkness of a city’s underbelly. Crash Trash is situated with the aesthetics of raw, punk desperation of his preceding I Like Short Songs but the simplicity in his line work has taken a new mode, less garish and more nuanced. It’s very impressive to see his art pulsate even with the oppressively tight margins of space.
A lot has been said about Melissa Mendes’s Lou, the seventeen issue long pillar amongst the Oily lineup. This newest addition, titled A Very Special Lou, marks a revisiting to the series which ended in August 2013, and a warm return it proves to be. Like a childhood friend or long unseen family member, A Very Special Lou is an entirely new narrative that retains its delightful, underlying spirit of kindred nostalgia.
One of the reasons I really took to this particular issue was how it gently touched on the omnipresence of fandom for professional wrestling. I’ve always been comfortable broadcasting myself as a fan of comics, and more recently I’ve come clean as a fan of professional wrestling. Fans of comics and professional wrestling share a long, complex history of facing ridicule for following such a denigrated form of entertainment—wrestlers and superheroes are arguably a form of con-job, deemed “fake” by those who choose to stand by higher media forms, be it athletics or literary elitists. However, criticisms aside, fans of wrestling and comics share a distinctly unique concept of play, where we consume media in a way that extends the narrative fluidly, defying rigid roles between the identities of producers and consumers.
A Very Special Lou functions both as a piece about being an admirer of comics as well as wrestling through the domestic lens of childhood imagination. Referencing wrestlers like King Kong Bundy and Hulk Hogan through 6-year-old John’s fannish fascination and how it’s lived through his family, Mendes yet again accesses the real emotions that we feel as charismatic kids and continue to feel today. Through the entire Lou serialization, Mendes almost effortlessly lets the reader dip into points of their own life, spurring even the most dormant, forgotten affections.
The Lou Series all laid out
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(Image Credits: http://melissammmendes.tumblr.com, http://snakeoily.tumblr.com)