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giovedì 23 ottobre 2014

Dog City #3

Dog City #3 is an anthology made of ten mini-comics, a print, a poster, a broadsheet and a little magazine, all packaged in a beautiful screen-printed cardboard box designed by Simon Reinhardt, editor of the project along with Juan Fernandez and Luke Healy. The box depicts life in a city inhabited by anthropomorphic dogs, portrayed while smoking and standing in a train station: around them the sun, graffiti, buildings, advertising posters. These same dogs are the characters of How We Ride, the mini-comic by Reinhardt, surely one of the best things in the anthology. Reinhardt creates sensitive and playful comics, mixing a tasteful sense of subtle fun and refined melancholy. He's also good at playing with colors, as he showed in At The Dj Screw Museum, Detectives and Lost Films but here - as in Dead Rappers, published in the previous issue of Dog Cityhe uses black and white minimalist cartoon drawings and brief but effective captions. How We Ride tells the story of a gang of dogs dressed as humans just hanging around in the city, living the life of a lot of kids in the world, between fast food and parking lots. Nothing particular happens in this comic, but the mood Reinhardt wants to convey is perfectly rendered: there is a sense of waiting that is typical of youth, the idea that "all of us will get out of this town sooner or later" but even the feeling that "we're stuck here for now". The only thing these dogs can do is enjoy the moment and howling at the moon, hoping their future will be just like in their dreams.

Reinhardt writes also an interesting retrospective about Taboo, the cult anthology edited from 1988 to 1992 by Stephen Bissette, well-known for his work on Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. Bissette is now a professor at The Center for Cartoon Studies, where Dog City is born and in fact most of the contributors come from the school founded by James Sturm in White River Junction, Vermont. The magazine also includes a piece by Julia Zuckerberg abot journal comics, an essay on classic adventure comic strips by Nik James and an interview with Reilly Hadden, another student of CCS who put together for this anthology an amazing collection of Who's Zoo, a forgotten 1920's newspaper comic strip created by Hadden's great-grandfather, Tom Dibble Jr. These are brilliant strips and it's fantastic that someone took upon to put them together. It's also funny to compare them with the broadsheet created by Dan Rinylo, made in the tradition of old strips but with a contemporary feeling. 
For the rest, Dog City contains a poster by Laurel Lynn Lake, a print by Steven Krall and mini comics - in different formats and colors - by Amelia Onorato (Fortes Fortuna), Jenn Lisa (Garrettsville), Allison Bannister and Tom O'Brien (Going In Blind), Caitlin Rose Boyle ("mice"), Luke Healy (Starlight), Sophie Goldstein (Strands), Iris Yan (The Tarot Man), d.w. and Juan Fernandez (They Won't Get to You). This is a beautiful looking pack of mini-comics, the most of them already mature in contents and drawings, despite the fact that some of the young cartoonists are still students of comic art.

I liked a lot The Tarot Man by Iris Yan, a simple story of a dull penguin who finds love, inspired by tarot cards. The mini is in a neat black and white but at the end you can feel a pinch of color in the main character's heart. Sophie Goldstein did a good work as usual with a tale in full color about a lonely girl and her dead mother: Strands is an enigmatic but at the same time emotional comedy, where past comes back to juice up present and future has blonde hairs. The story shares some themes with Edna II - a comic by Goldstein published in the third issue of Irene anthology and then reprinted in a single comic book - and this is a clear hint that the former student of CSS and recent winner of an Ignatz Award has developed a very personal and intriguing style. Garrettsville by Jennifer Lisa somewhat resembles Reinhardt's How We Ride but uses the structure of a diary and a childlike drawing style. The comic documents life in a small town and the complications of growing up, entering a new world where the past slowly disappears leaving only its memories between flames.

martedì 7 ottobre 2014

Some comics from SPX

These are some comics I brought back with me from the Small Press Expo. I hope to talk about some others in the next weeks or months, time permitting.

Studygroup Magazine #3D - The new issue of the Portland-based magazine features an impressive 3D section, mostly a tribute to Ray Zone, the pioneer of alternative comics in three dimensions, with memories by Mary Fleener, Kim Deitch, Melinda Gebbie and Alan Moore. An article by Jason Little focuses on the links between comics and three-dimensional art, while cartoonists such as Kim Deitch, Dan Zettwoch and Chris Cilla create absolutely amazing 3D pages where the drawings come out of the pages. Malachi Ward realizes a fascinating work, less spectacular but definitely evocative and atmospheric, and the same Little is the author of a page where the background gives the impression of depth while a series of panels come under the eyes of the reader. This is a truly beautifully rendered 3D comic. Even the two-dimensional pages of the magazine have several goodies, including a profile of Ryan Sands (publisher at Youth In Decline and much more) by Rob Clough, a special feature about Prince of Cats by Ronald Wimberly and comics by Pete Toms, Connor Willumsen and Trevor Alixopulos. For the full contents, you can see the Studygroup webshop.

I Don't Hate Your Guts and Slow Graffiti - Noah Van Sciver continues to make public his sketchbooks with two new comic books, the first published by 2D Cloud, the second printed by the author himself. I Don't Hate Your Guts replies the structure of the previous More Mundane showing a new autobiographical diary in the simple structure of one page/one day. Maybe these diaries are one of the best things in the production of the Denver based cartoonist, although at the moment everything he's doing is one of his best things. This time, in addition to the usual dose of cynicism there is also a love story... What do you want more? Slow Graffiti is more similar to Weekend Alone and Weekend for Two, the two sketchbook collections published by Tinto Press, and includes a main story with a female protagonist.

Missy #1, Missy #2 and Middle School Missy - I had read some comics by Daryl Seitchik online but I never had in my hands a printed version. The first two issues of Missy are published by Oily Comics, while the latest Middle School is self-published. Seitchik found with this series - a seemingly autobiographical diary of a child/teenager - full awareness of her means. The main character, called Daryl as the cartoonist (Missy is the name of the diary), is depicted with minimal features and dominates the scene always assuming new positions within the panel but showing steadily suspicious and angry eyes. There is a remarkable sense of depth and movement in these pages, simple at first sight but skillfully built. Everyday situations become funny thanks to cynical and glacial comments. To give you an idea of the contents, in Middle School Missy a teenage Daryl complains about the braces on her teeth, dreams of a nihilistic escape from her room, starts speaking Spanish, has her period for the first time, swears she'll have sex within the end of the year and - in a visionary finale - drowns saying goodbye to all the friends of adolescence. I'm almost certain I would never get tired of reading comics like this.

Mountain Comic and Generous Impression - Conor Stechschulte is the author of The Amateurs, a self-produced comic book reprinted by Fantagraphics this year with some extra pages. The Amateurs is in my opinion one of the best comics of last years and so I follow with great curiosity everything Stechschulte creates. At SPX the cartoonist brought with him one of his little books of drawings, this time reproducing views taken from the top of Rooster's Comb Mountain in Upstate New York. The beautiful cover on green paper is evocative and more detailed, while the interiors on blue paper depict stylized mountains, clouds and shadows. The different elements merge one in another creating a sort of abstract landscape, where man seems losing himself in front of nature. The second work, Generous Impression, is instead a zine of 24 pages showing several sketches created by Stechschulte in the making of Generous Bosom. I'm looking forward to see how these drawing will take form in the new book, due in November from Breakdown Press.

Frontier #3-4-5 - I already talked about the first two issues of Frontier - the monograph anthology published by Ryan Sands' Youth In Decline - and after the third one was lost somewhere for some postal problems I missed the latest releases. The SPX was thus an opportunity to recover the back issues and to be acquainted with the fifth, hot off the press. Frontier #3 hosts the American debut of Sascha Hommer, a German artist who combines cartoons and rationalism in the Bauhaus style, cynical humor and Teutonic detachment. Among the three short stories published here, all of excellent quality, the most outstanding is Transit, appealing in its unreal colors and geometric forms. 
The fourth issue is instead an exclusively figurative book, if we keep out a few words showing off like graffiti between a drawing and another. This time the artist is Ping Zhu, a Los Angeles native now based in New York, with a naive style characterized by a predominance of the white page, where colorful but essential drawings take place. Her work looks at Twentieth Century art and can mostly be considered as a research on use of space and dynamism. Motion is rendered with broad brushstrokes and solid figures in opposition to still and empty objects with thin outlines. Surely the most cryptic of the series so far, this issue manages to be really intriguing.
Frontier #5 comes back to the comforting territories of comics, but the tale told by Sam Alden is unsettling and full of dark omens. This is a spin-off of Hollow, a new work partially seen on the author's Tumblr. Enriched by the use of red and purple, the story explicates some key elements of the main plot but is also independently readable. A deep and obscure cavity persecutes two teenagers and this time, unlike other comics by Alden, it isn't a metaphor.