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

martedì 18 marzo 2014

Weekend Alone & Weekend For Two

Noah Van Sciver, Tinto Press, Denver (USA), September 2013 and February 2014, 144 and 104 full color pages, perfect bound, 5,25" x 8,25", $ 15 and $ 14 each, $ 25 both. 

Before I started reading Noah Van Sciver's Weekend Alone and Weekend for Two, I wasn't considering to write a review. It just didn't seem right to me to talk for the first time about the cartoonist from Denver starting from his sketchbooks, publications usually addressed to those who already know the author and his most famous works, as in this case his anthology Blammo and The Hypo, a graphic novel published by Fantagraphics starring the young Abraham Lincoln. But these two little books, published by Tinto Press, have been a pleasant surprise, since they aren't only an authentic reproduction, without mediations or corrections, of the contents of the sketchbooks, but also a stand-alone and funny reading. With a versatility worthy of the best underground cartoonists, Van Sciver alternates sketches, more elaborate drawings, brilliant one-page stories and finished comics. The quality of the illustrations is remarkable and I've especially liked the way in which the color was used in the full-page paintings, spanning a wide variety of subjects, from self-portraits to Popeye, from fake covers of vintage comics such as Secret Origins or House of Mystery to anthropomorphic animals, from female nudes to the star of b-movies Gorgo.

The variety of the drawings recurs in the narrative contents, that line up self-mocking autobiographical experiences, the adaptation of a Dave Eggers' short story, a rabbit with a broken heart (definitely one of my favorites), the cartoon version of a poem by William Knox, Johnny Cash in an existential crisis, Paris in the nineteenth century, mad guys fighting for no reason. In the background, the autobiography remains as the main theme, and if we want to look for a common thread we can find it in the moments of loneliness and emotional distress described here and there. This feeling marks the two books as a sort of journals, in which Van Sciver expresses himself not only as an artist but also as a person, of course always with a taste for irony and paradox that characterizes everything he does.

In conclusion, I have to mention the story that amused me the most, included in Weekend AloneKing of Comic Books sees Van Sciver taking a trip in the past, in the '90s Seattle, when the grunge prevailed in music and the comics scene was ruled by Fantagraphics, a publishing house loved by the author, who dreamed to make a book for them. In the meantime, he reached his ambition with The Hypo, even if here the surprise ending tells a different story...

mercoledì 12 marzo 2014

Wicked Chicken Queen

Sam Alden, Retrofit Comics, Philadelphia (USA), February 2014, 24 pages, black and white, 6,5" x 10,5", $ 5.

It seems difficult to talk about Sam Alden without using the adjectives "young" and "promising", but this time I prefer to describe the twenty-five year old cartoonist, also seen in Italy with two comic books published by Delebile, as an eclectic author. Currently Alden's creative vein alternates stories set in fantasy or rural locations, usually told with a stylized character design that can recall Nate Powell or Craig Thompson, and other works with realistic and everyday topics, that deal with the complexity of interpersonal relationships using a remarkable awareness, graphically characterized by impressionist pencil drawings. However, there aren't clear distinctions between the two trends and everything is left to the immediate inspiration of an author in progress, capable of making comics that are very different from each other. And if you try, for example, to read Haunter and Household (the latter in my opinion is the peak of Alden's production until now), they won't easily seem the work of the same person.

Wicked Chicken Queen, published by Box Brown's Retrofit Comics (here the review of his Number 1), is a new chapter of the cartoonist's artistic path. It's a fairytale told with full-page images that follow the evolution of a strange new world, inhabited by people with a single giant eye stuck in the middle of their faces. The birth of a chicken, coming out of an egg found on the beach, changes the life of the village. The newborn is considered as a daughter by the king and, after the sovereign's death, she becomes the queen of the island, marrying Saskia, the woman who had discovered her egg. But times are changing and from a matriarchal and monarchist society the island will go into a contemporary dimension.

The fable fades and the queen's adventures leave room for the journal of the woman who weaves the threads of the story and for her personal problems. The moment of transition, which is rendered with a greater definition of the art, is well evidenced in particular by two beautiful pages. The first shows the progress of a society now able to build roads, bridges and skyscrapers, the second depicts the narrator in bed while looking out of the window, emphasizing the emergence of an inner and meditative dimension, typical of modernity. Wicked Chicken Queen is a comic that behind an aura of apparent simplicity shows all the talent of its author.

lunedì 10 marzo 2014

Random news from all over the world

After a beginning of the year in which the big and small publishing houses were still recovering from Christmas, in these last weeks a lot of exciting news about indie comics are coming out, so I decided to summarize briefly the most significant ones I've read on websites and social networks. Let's start with Fantagraphics, who announced the publishing schedule for autumn 2014. Aside from the complete reprint of Zap! (at the "modest" price of 500 dollars!), I'd like to recommend Doctors, a new graphic novel by Dash Shaw that joins the comic-book Cosplayers out in April, In a Glass Grotesquely by Richard Sala, the fifth issue of Uptight by Jordan Crane and the new book by Dylan Horrocks: Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen will collect the comics published until now on the New Zealander cartoonist's website. And in these days Horrocks publishes also the collection of short stories Incomplete Works with Victoria University Press. 

From New Zealand we return to the USA to talk about Sacred Prism and Space Face Books. The two labels are offering the opportunity to subscribe to their publications. The line-up of Sacred Prism includes William Cardini under the guidance of Frank Santoro, Benjamin Marra, Maré Odomo, Ines Estrada, Sarah Horrocks, Derek Ballard, Dongery and Anya Davidson, while the one of Space Face proposes Jason Murphy, John F. Malta, Jordan Speer, Jonny Negron with his new series Loose Joints and other books yet to be defined by authors such as Michael Jordan, Gabriel Corbera, Simon Hanselmann, Michael DeForge. 

The projects of Negative Pleasure, until now known only for Jeans, are instead tied to an Indiegogo fundraising campaign, that has the goal to publish more comics, starting with two anthologies due in April, Felony Comics, in full color and devoted to crime stories (a detail from Benjamin Marra's cover below), and the horror themed Revulsion Comics, in black and white. In the same days, and exactly on the occasion of Mocca in New York, another anthology will be out: Hang Dai Studios Comix will be the flagship of Hang Dai Editions, recently founded in New York by Gregory Benton, Dean Haspiel and Seth Kushner.

At this point we can leave the USA for a tour in the UK to take a look at the new comic-book by Oliver East, Homesick Truant's Cumbrian Yarn, in which the author of Trains are... Mint shows his beautiful landscape comics. East is one of the contributors of the sixteenth issue of š!, released on 4th of March (here's an interesting preview). And on the Latvian magazine's website you can take a look at Inverso, an exhibition dedicated to Berliac, author of mini kuš! #19. Nice pictures of the exhibition are also on the Facebook page of Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Talking about comics I already mentioned in old posts, Youth in Decline from San Francisco has published a couple of weeks ago the third issue of Frontier, realized this time by Sascha Hommer, and the first fiction book of the label, Love Songs for Monsters, a collection of short stories by science fiction writer Anthony Ha, with a cover by Michael DeForge and the title illustrations created ​​by Hannah K. Lee.

sabato 1 marzo 2014

Number 1

Box BrownRetrofit Comics, Philadelphia (USA), February 2014, 48 pages, black and white, 7" x 10", $ 6.

First releases of the new year for Retrofit Comics from Philadelphia, which starts its rich publishing schedule with Number 1 by Box Brown and the long-awaited Wicked Chicken Queen by Sam Alden, that will be followed in the next months by works of Madeleine Flores, Zac Gorman, Josh Bayer, Antoine Cosse, Ben Constantine, Anne Emond, Niv Bavarsky, Jack Teagle and Akino Kondoh. Let's start for the moment with Number 1, while in some days we'll talk about Alden's comic. For those of you who still don't know, Brown is the mastermind behind Retrofit Comics and he has recently realized the one-shot Beach Girls and the series Softcore, he was published in Italy by Lök Zine with the book Inside the Box and will debut in May for First Second Books with the graphic novel Andre the Giant: Life and Legend.

Aside from the two final pages entitled The Documentarian, Number 1 is fully occupied by Kayfabe Quarterly, a story based on the concept of kayfabe, typical of wrestling (clearly a passion of the author), used for analyzing the issues of fiction in everyday life and of people hiding behind masks. However, this isn't the only focus of the story, in fact the main merit of Brown is to give up a conventional storytelling to realistically outline the mental processes of the protagonist, inviting the reader to follow not only his personal history but the whims of his psyche as well. Initially Virgil is a young and naive wrestling fan, but after a few pages begins to see more critically his idols, his reference points and in general any authoritative figure.

He founds a magazine that becomes an instant success, takes employees, expands his business, doubts his father, listens with skepticism to the religious speeches of his brother, reaching a conclusion that leaves more questions than answers, as suggested by the headlines from Kayfabe Quarterly's last issue
The drawings and the narrative are aseptic and sometimes unsettling, with round heads that recall aesthetically The Peanuts but who are the protagonists of complex and sometimes raw stories. Brown doesn't try to attract immediately and to please the reader, but he conquers him thanks to a personal and well-defined style that is growing comic after comic.