This is a partial and rough English version of my blog Just Indie Comics (Banner by Pat Aulisio)

giovedì 23 gennaio 2014

Frontier #1-2

#1 by Uno Moralez #2 by Hellen Jo, Youth in Decline, San Francisco (USA), May and September 2013, 32 pages and $8 each.

The most of you probably already know Frontier, the "monograph art and comics series" published by Ryan Sands' new imprint, Youth in Decline. Frontier debuted last May with an issue realized by Russian artist Uno Moralez, followed in September by Hellen Jo's book, and it has a very good schedule for this year, with four new publications (you can check the online subscription here). Ryan Sands' wish is to display innovative and stunning art and I'm glad to say with the first two issues the goal is totally achieved.
Uno Moralez's work is one of a kind. As you can see on his website, he's mostly a digital artist, able to realize animated gifs. One of these animated drawings is reproduced in printed form on Frontier #1 cover, an evocative scene of a burning shack with a man at its side in which the pixel effect, a trademark of Moralez, seems to light up the flames and at the same time gives an enigmatic aura at the man. The same topic is also inside the book, but this time the house is in the background: the main subject are two girls on the run and an anthropomorphic bird carrying an human head, making us ask if they deal with the fire and if the building is the same reproduced on the cover. This is a way a lot of figurative artists work and Moralez follows this method, because all his images are full of cross references and recurring themes. He does also some narrative and mute comics, as the one at the beginning of the book, rendered in a beautiful two-color, teal and black. 

The first image recalls immediately David Lynch's Blue Velvet. The visionary director is a clear source of inspiration for Moralez, who doesn't hide this fascination, in fact on his website we find also a portrait of agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks. With a style and an atmosphere recalling fifties comics (I see something of Basil Wolverton here), Moralez tells the story of a girl singing in a club about a distant lover. After the show she is humiliated by her boss and then robbed and raped by two guys. When she goes to tell the cops her drama, she is completely ignored. So she goes home and prays in front of a statue of Virgin Mary and a portrait of her and her boyfriend, a sailor. At this point the comic becomes a sort of nightmare and we literally enter in a vortex made of holy images and references to Russian folklore. The lovers are symbolically brought back together in the ocean, but this isn't a good omen.

It's interesting to notice how some of the themes in this first tale come back in other parts of the book. Moralez seems to have a passion for vortexes, monsters, long tongues, long hairs, men in uniform, brunettes, mermaids, sailors, strange wall paper and this allows him to create a well-defined world and a recognizable style, that goes further beyond horror-art. He's also a talented artist when he uses the color, as we see in a beautiful illustration in fluorescent pink, and a manga lover, as we can appreciate in a drawing of a two-faced women threatened by a snake and in a comic about a boy running away from a monster. The last image of the book shows another proof of his skills. He decontextualize an image published on his website and make us ask why the strange beast who is abusing a woman in a white dress is scared while she seems pleased. Well, in the full image there are also some men approaching with a torch and a cross in their hands to save the woman, but the readers of the book who won't check the website will never know. Thanks to Ryan Sands and Youth in Decline to let me know this amazing artist.

I already knew Hellen Jo as a cartoonist from her first and till now only issue of Jin & Jam, published in 2008 by Sparkplug Comics and then self-reprinted in 2012. In Frontier #2 there is only the work as an artist of the thirty-year old and San Francisco-based Jo, even if some of the girls painted and penciled in this book can remind the characters Ting and Terng from Jin & Jam. However, the drawings are now more refined and we can see a remarkable evolution of Jo's style. The characters of Jo's art are mainly teenage girls and in particular, as she says in the interview at the end of the book, "the girls I admired & despised on the schoolyard, girls whom I secretely wanted to be, girls who treated me like shit". So we have groups of girls smoking, skating, painting on the walls, going to college, applying lipstick, doing haircuts and wearing piercings, swimsuits, hats, leopard dresses, feather boas, big sunglasses and so on. They have white, grey, blue, green, red and blonde hairs, most of the time they are in a gang with a cool name and have a threatening gaze, as if they want to hurt you. And they hurt themselves for sure, since Jo's girls are often covered in blood. Frontier #2 is one more great book from an imprint that isn't missing a shot. I'm already waiting for issue 3 with three comics by German cartoonist Sascha Hommer, coming in February, followed in the next months by Ping Zhu (April/May), Sam Alden (September) and Emily Carroll (November).

sabato 18 gennaio 2014

Support SAW!

There are still a few days to support the Sequential Artists Workshop fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. SAW is a comics school based in Gainesville, Florida, defined by its creators as "unconventional, non-institutional, rebellious, lively and serious all at once". In addition to the lessons, SAW's founder Tom Hart and his partners organize various workshops with alternative cartoonists: at the moment this year's schedule includes Dash Shaw and Gabrielle Bell in Gainesville and John Porcellino in Chicago after the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo.
The target of the fundraising campaign is to bring more artists to Florida to teach, expand the library, upgrade the equipment, expand the studio space and obviously to keep prices low for people who decide to follow the SAW's single-year program. And there are also a lot of nice gifts for the funders, such as 16 mini-comics realized by Josh Bayer and Pat Aulisio, Sarah Glidden, Nick Bertozzi, Dylan Horrocks, Rich Tommaso, Jessica Abel, Fran Lopez, Box Brown, Jess Ruliffson, Trevor Alixopulos, Steve Weissman, Erin Curry, Kurt Wolfgang, Matt Madden e Tom Galambos (with two books). And then postcards, posters, t-shirts, original art and the mini-comics done by the students during the year. Support SAW!

sabato 11 gennaio 2014

Koyama Press Special part 1: Blobby Boys & Everything Takes Forever

Let's start taking a look at some of the 2013 publications by Canadian Koyama Press I have guiltly ignored so far, except for the review of Lose #5 by Michael DeForge. Right now, the Koyama is one of the best publisher around and for sure during this year it's bound to deserve this definition, since it presented a very interesting publishing plan, which I have already mentioned here some days ago. 
Blobby Boys is a collection of short stories by Alex Schubert already seen online and in other comic books, plus a bunch of unpublished ones. Schubert, born in 1983, is a very dynamic contributor of the website, works in the animation industry and created a series of toys inspired to his characters. The colors used for his illustrations, his dialogues often full of brutal sarcasm and the use of the very same and well defined characters can make him appearing quite similar to Daniel Clowes, although Schubert is different from him, especially because he prefers joking about the present time rather than filling his stories with the vintage and nostalgic elements prefered by the author of Ghost World. In addition to this, the wordiness of Clowes' characters is replaced here with an harsh style: Schubert's trademark is the sharp and meaningful sentence that ends unexpectedly the story making fun of narrative conventions. Schubert is able to create simple and short stories, where even just one page or strip or sentence contribute to a full narrative universe.

The main characters are obviously the Blobby Boys, an alien music band on drugs and ready to kill. As the very same cartoonist suggested in a recent interview, the Blobby Boys are a  bunch of nihilists and if we consider that the nonsense is the main element of his comics, his style can be well described as nihilistic nonsense. Other characters of Schubert's universe are the Cyber Surfer ("I'm a strong robot, and I like to surf" is his motto), the Aging Hipster, who desperately tries to follow the trends, the Punk Dad, the "experimental band" The Spoiler, the art critic who can’t stand anything he sees because, in the end, “everything sucks” (Schubert was a critic himself), and the Zine Police, a sort of police who checks on the fanzines and bans them, when necessary.
I totally recommend Blobby Boys, as everything else made by its author. 

While Schubert’s signature style is nonsense, Victor Kerlow's comics are about the logic behind the dreams. They often seem daydreams, where the line between reality and imagination is undefined. As in Blobby Boys there are as well some recurring characters in his collection Everything Takes Forever, starting with Taco-Head, the protagonist of some funny gags. Kerlow is well known in the United States as an illustrator and a contributor of magazines such as The New York Times and The New Yorker. His style can be considered not well-defined at first glance, but if you look at his work more carefully, you can notice his refined touch, especially when he draws the human figure. Also his use of the ink-wash technique, used for example in Weird Things, Downstairs, gives elegance to the illustrations and improves the black and white of the panels. Unfortunately not all of his stories are very much meaningful and the longest one of this collection, Little Guy, is a clear example. It seems like Kerlow’s stream of consciousness style is still more a limit than a peculiar detail, on the other hand his illustrations skills and very good ideas showed in the shortest stories make of Everything Takes Forever an enjoyable reading. I look forward to read Bad Party, the new collection of the cartoonist, published in these days by Future Shock Empirical.

sabato 4 gennaio 2014

Just Indie Comics in 2013

I already posted on my Italian website a list of the main articles I did in this half-year, since I started the blog the 21st of July. Now in every post you'll find a link to the English translation (if I did it), but for your convenience I recap here every piece available in the English (and sometime rough) version. Have a good read.

- Golem Stories by Sammy Harkham
- Lose #5 by Michael DeForge
š! #13-14
- The Bookshelf vol.1: Optic Nerve #13 by Adrian Tomine, We Will Remain by Andrew White, Alamo Value Plus by Rusty Jordan
- Monster, edited by Paul Lyons and Roby Newton
- The Comic Arts Brooklyn experience, a report from the festival
- The Comic Arts Brooklyn experience part 2
- Comics People: Pat Aulisio
- A Look is the Fire Itself, report from Anna Deflorian's exhibition
- Life Zone by Simon Hanselmann
- Sequential Vacation #1-2 by Sar Shahar
- Best Indie Comics of 2014, a preview of the new year