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

sabato 31 maggio 2014

Soap Zine #3: Crazy Animals & Space Cats #1: The Beginning

The Polish comics anthology Soap Zine is back with a third issue of 36 pages printed in 125 copies. The contents of this comic-book, focused on "crazy animals" and made entirely by Polish cartoonists, are often extemporaneous, in fact several contributions consist of only one page, but the reading is pleasant and some pieces are noteworthy, as for example the pages by Piotr Wymyslowski, at the beginning and at the end of the anthology, where a deliberately childish graphic style joins a brilliant text. I liked also the single page by Anna Kaczmarczyk on sex between hamsters, the small animals portrayed by Rybb while arguing about who is the best Beatle, or Renata Gąsiorowska, guest star of the zine with eight pages, in which she draws the strange inhabitants of her Crazy Zoo Shop, as the infinite dog and the fractal turtle.

Space Cats: The Beginning is a 16-page black and white comic-book, the solo project of Jakub Grochola, Soap Zine's editor along with Szymon Szelc. The mood is always ironic, the drawings in cartoon-style, while the story tells of a group of cats able to transform themselves into two-legged creatures thanks to a miraculous machine, leaving for the outer space in search of the Kabo stone, an acronym for Kill All Bad Dogs. The appendix Space Cats on Mars confirms Grochola's taste for zany gags but shows also a more elaborate style. The second issue of the saga is due soon, as the fourth Soap Zine, which will host international artists for the first time. The submissions are open until the 28th of July: here you can find all the infos.
In the meantime, you can purchase these two books at Soap Zine on line store, at a cost of $ 5 each.

sabato 17 maggio 2014

Comics Workbook Magazine

Comics Workbook is Frank Santoro's website, where the author of Cold Heat, Storeyville and Pompeii showcases comics by cartoonists such as Simon HanselmannOliver EastAidan Koch and the works of the students from his well-known Correspondence Cource for Comic Book Makers. A paper version of the website debuted last year under the name of Comics Workbook Magazine, with the editorial supervision of the same Santoro and the essential contribution of Andrew White as editor (here the review of his We Will Remain), with the help of Zach Mason as assistant and designer. The three issues published so far, on a roughly bimonthly basis and sold in Copacetic Comics webstore, puts together in sixteen pages short comics, interviews, essays and, in the latest issue, a partial transcript of the SPX 2013 panel with Frank Santor and Dash Shaw, the author of Bottomless Belly Button and New School.
Talking about the comics, the ones by Oliver East and Derik Badman show the influence of the "grid", the cornerstone of Santoro's teachings. East splits the page in eight panels without drawing the borders, while Badman opts for a twelve-panel layout, matching the photographs used in the first page with their reproductions in the second. The magazine gives also the opportunity to admire the work of two authors to watch for, Sasha Steinberg, the eclectic creator of the po(p)litical project Stonewall and editor of Queerotica antohology, and Jen Rickert, who contributes with some evocative haikus in four panels, expression of an extremely interesting trend in the alt-comics scene, in which the drawings are simple and even raw, sometimes naif, while the text uses the language of letter, diary, biography and poetry.

Among the essays there are two funny reflections by Dorothy Berry on Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy, while the contributions by Whit Taylor and Warren Craghead, respectively entitled 10 Things I've Learned from Becoming a Cartoonist and Arts Funding for Comics, will certainly be useful to aspiring artists, along with the interesting interview with Ed Luce, who explains in detail how he materially gives form to his series Wuvable Oaf, recently acquired by Fantagraphics. In these three issues we find also interviews with Sam Alden, Lala Albert, Annie Mok and with the winner of Comics Workbook Composition Competition 2013 Dave Ortega
Comics Workbook is the most interesting magazine at the moment in the North American indie scene, along with Studygroup. And who knows if one day it will grow becoming a new Comics Journal...

mercoledì 7 maggio 2014

Truth Is Fragmentary

Gabrielle Bell, Uncivilized Books, Minneapolis (USA), May 2014, 176 pages b/w and color, softcover, 6 x 9 inches, $ 19.99.

A decade ago Gabrielle Bell published her comics in the best anthologies of those years. When in 2004 the fifth issue of Kramers Ergot was out, her Cecil and Jordan in New York, then adapted for the screen by Michel Gondry in Tokyo!, was one of the best story of the essential book edited by Sammy Harkham. The following year, Fantagraphics launched Mome and the cover was a Bell's illustration, taken from I Feel Nothing, the story that opened an anthology hosting the best American cartoonists. In 2006, she contributed to another important publication of that period, Drawn & Quarterly Showcase. The story appeared in the fourth issue and it was later reprinted in the book Cecil and Jordan in New York, in my opinion the peak of the cartoonist's production along with The Voyeurs, published in 2012 by Tom Kaczynski's Uncivilized Books. The same publisher is releasing the new Truth Is Fragmentary, that will debut this weekend with some advance copies at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

If the comics from Cecil and Jordan aren't so well-defined, since they feature a lot of personal elements but without being a declared and detailed account of everyday life, the ones in The Voyeurs and in Truth Is Fragmentary represent the typical autobiographical Bell's production as we can find in her series LuckyThe book collects a series of stories seen on the internet or as mini-comics from 2010 to 2013 and divided broadly into two categories: the first consists of reports from conventions, the second of the series July, the annual account of a whole month. So the reader is taken from Sweden to France and then to experience the hot summer in Brooklyn, leaving again for the Fumetto festival in Lucerne, then back in the United States, to make a stop at the Oslo Comics Expo and in an isolated farmhouse outside of New York, concluding the route with a visit to Colombia for the Entreviñetas festival. Page after page we meet cartoonists, friends, roommates, bears, dogs, witnessing moments of reflection about existential themes and feelings of alienation from the rest of the world. A lot of panels are dedicated to self-referential thoughts about the nature of Bell's art and she often asks herself the meaning of doing comics about doing comics. Another recurrent theme is the impossibility of reaching a total realism, hence the title of the book, taken from an introduction to a play by Tennessee Williams.

Truth Is Fragmentary is focused mostly on metanarration, while The Voyeurs was a diary and an account of an intense moment in Bell's life, rich of sentimental relationships, intriguing events, original anecdotes. However, even if it doesn't reach the level of the previous book, Truth Is Fragmentary is a pleasant reading, in which Bell confirms her inclination to use a light tone, showing her idiosyncrasies and obsessions but without getting completely naked as, for example, Chester Brown and Joe Matt would. Moreover, this solution wouldn't be in her style, given that she isn't so much inclined to fully disclose her intimate secrets but she prefers to report the meaninglessness of everyday life, sometimes including surreal and fantasy elements, as when she describes an upcoming apocalypse, or ghost cats appear, or a bear drives an ice cream truck. These are the most successful passages of the book, along with some variations of style, that are pleasant changes from the usual form. No coincidence the best chapters are in my opinion July 2013, in which Bell sets aside the metanarrative theme and frees herself from the obligation to draw a page everyday, and the reports from Colombia, that taking cue from Montaigne are narrated by an imaginary secretary, giving freshness and originality to the story.

martedì 6 maggio 2014

Youth Is Wasted

Noah Van Sciver, AdHouse Books, Richmond (Virginia, USA), June 2014, 112 pages, softcover, 7" x 10", $ 14.95. 

"Noah Van Sciver is a throwback. The kind of cartoonist one saw back in the 1980's. Genuinely interested in characters and stories and real cartooning. If he had been around back then he'd probably have been a star. The guy's got talent. He's probably the next Clowes or Crumb or Brown". These words of Seth, the author of Palookaville, are on the back cover of Youth Is Wasted, the new book by Noah Van Sciver, out in June and of which I read a preview thanks to Chris Pitzer of Adhouse Books. Seth underlines an important fact: Van Sciver is an author interested in characters, in stories and in doing comics. He doesn't deal with experimentalism or with brilliant colors and he doesn't work for other media as the most part of contemporary cartoonists does. He focuses on storytelling and draws in function of the story, without frills. He's also incredibly prolific, since he's continuously publishing comic books, mini-comics, graphic novels and sketchbooks. Most of the comics in Youth Is Wasted are taken from his series Blammo, along with some anthology submissions and 1999, published in an out-of-print comic book for Retrofit Comics. If The Hypo, released by Fantagraphics, is the most challenging work of Van Sciver until today, Youth Is Wasted is a sort of "best of" and an excellent starting point to know one of the best contemporary cartoonists.

In most of his stories Van Sciver draws a gallery of ugly, uncool, sometimes dirty people, acting in an anonymous urban space, often with a sneer on their faces tending to stupidity. They're mostly losers, like Anthony in Abby's Road, Jesus in Who are you, Jesus? and Mark in 1999, three funny but also bitter tales, perfectly representing the typical production of the author, in which sometimes easy-minded, sometimes cynical and resentful characters do humble works and live hopeless relationships, being fooled by a woman smarter than them. Yet it's easy to sympathize with them, maybe because they show themselves as they are, highlighting thoughts and impulses that we all tend to hide. Because I Have To is seemingly similar to these tales, but it's a deeper piece, where the cartoonist from Denver doesn't try to amuse the reader but introduces a reflection on death tinged with melancholy.

In some comics an autobiographical interpretation prevails, though the author's experiences are mixed with stories heard from friends or in a bar, some fiction and a lot of irony and sarcasm. For example we know from his sketchbooks (here the review) and from the notes at the end of this book, that a couple of years ago he broke up with a girl. And so in Expectations the main character is Kramer, who meets his long-time ex-girlfriend at a party. The dialogues are vivid and seem almost real, or perhaps they are. But Van Sciver doesn't limit himself to pure and simple realism. The party scene in Expectations is indeed characterized by a hilarious comparison between a sentimental break-up and a move and it's inserted between two visits to Okane Park, a park built on a cemetery, inspired by a real place in Denver, where Kramer meets a ghost. The cynical irony and the bizarre element are always around the corner, making the author a worthy heir of the underground tradition.

In I Don't Love Anyone, inspired by a dream, the theme is still the break-up, treated efficaciously in only one page. A girl is drunk and thinks to an ex-boyfriend, returns at home sad and alone, but when she goes to bed she realizes that their relationship ended months before and that she entered the apartment where they had lived as a couple, now inhabited by someone else. I Don't Love Anyone shows also a different style, with a clean line work, a feminine lettering and a main character who seems to come out from the pages of Love and Rockets. This is one of Van Sciver's most successful graphic efforts and it shows a remarkable stylistic growth: not surprisingly it was published in the latest issue of Blammo, along with The Wolf and The Fox, the best of the three fairy tale comics in the book, full of lines, details, frames. Then we have some comics based on smart ideas and funny gags, as Punks Vs Lizards, a clash between giant lizards looking to dominate the world and punks as the last bastion of mankind, Roommates, a manifesto of hatred and misanthropy, and especially It Can Only Get Better, in which Van Sciver imagines the wealthy and licentious life of a cartoonist in the nineteenth century.
Do yourself a favor, read Youth Is Wasted.