Sunday, 29 May 2016

Changing the Tune: Better Comics than DC Rebirth you can Buy for the Same Price!

The conversation surrounding DC Rebirth is irritating me to no end. This comic appears to address the failings of the DC Comics of the past decades by actively refusing to do any sort of introspection. It fixes problems by creating more and misunderstanding the core appeal of their own comics. It's done by the same people who did the wrecking in the first place. It seems wrong-headed, mean-spirited and just unwelcoming. I see it in the same way I see the Star Wars Prequels. Maybe Shazam will have midichlorians now, Alfred is Jar Jar...

I also saw this particularly grating comment by Tom Spurgeon on the Comics Reporter to the effect that a comic book store employee recommended he buy the comic because it was cheap: “Should you buy it? I guess. It's like 80 pages for three bucks. You might as well”. That just seems wrong to me, I understand that comic book shop benefits from selling this comic and getting it out there is good for their business, but if the quality of the product is lacking and the story being told is problematic, why would you as a consumer purchase it at all. Are we bound by the need to read a comic simply because of value or does quality has a higher value than simple cost? If as a reader, you've felt betrayed before, why trust that this will be any different?

So I thought to move the conversation towards actual good comics you can buy for three bucks RIGHT NOW that are of good and for which you’ll be supporting artists directly rather than a corporate publishers who, by any indications, seems to actively hate you. There are so much good comics, let's see what three bucks can get you.


Let's start with Uncivilized books and with Doomin by Derek Van Gieson. It appears to be a riff on Tove Janssen's Moomin, but with a music/drunken twist.

Over at Ray Ray Books, Club Queen Rat King by Emma Louthan, a small comic from the artist behind Three Fates, a comic I really enjoyed. This one is about Club Queen, finding "her rightful place as the object of worship for the denizens of a surreal frenzied night club". Next up is Consumption by Jensine Eckwall, Here's the description from the author: "This winter I got sick, sick in a way I’d ever been before.  In my desperate search for answers, I came across a group of people whose desires had shifted from self-preservation to quite the opposite". There's also the extremely talented Laura Knetzger's Flowering Vine (I reviewed her latest comic Sea Urchin here). Flowering Vine is a comic I have yet to read described as follow: "Wonders blossom in the inner-most thoughts of a young girl’s mind. I'm looking forward to reading this"

Speaking of the incredibly talented Laura Knetzger, her excellent comic Find me, Look for Me (Reviewed here) is available for three bucks over at Yeah Dude Comics.

Over at Czap Book, Rising, comic superstar Cathy G. Johnson & Kevin Czapiewski's newsprint comic He Fought Like a Little Tiger in a Trap loosely based on a novel by Carson McCullers I've never heard of. It's a comic about identity and expression. They also have Rind by MJ Robinson, a comic poem about frustration.

Speaking of poetry, if you want to try something truly different, InkBrick has a bunch of experimental poetry comics for three bucks or less over at the InkBrick Store

Over at Radiator Comics, the sci-fi comedy comic by Miranda Harmon Intergalactic Dance Party will lighten your mood and make you want to dance. Any issues of the series Frankie by Rachel Dukes (about a bizarre cat adopted by a family) are available for two or three bucks. There's an interesting looking comic AND a guide on useful things you should know about by Isabella Rotman called Good to Know . All the issues of Madtown High by Whit Taylor are available as well. 

Moving on to Study Group Comics, a single sketchbook by artist Zack Soto called fukt' bros is available for just three bucks.

Over at 2Dcloud, an avant-garde publisher of quality materials from interesting authors, a few comics of note are available for under three bucks: A Rudy mini comic by Mark Connery, a poetry comic called Easter Island by Christopher Adams of which I know nothing about, Looking Good by Will Dinski on office gadgets; No Title by Ellen Redshaw, and the talented Anna Bongiovanni's mini comic Cavities & Crevices, same with MariNaomi's Great Heights, and a comic by Nicholas Breutzman called Harvest based on Jailhouse stories.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. You want a Universe of comics? At your local comic shop, all the issues of the phenomenal 8 House project and Mirror are $2.99. Lighten up the load of back issues of your local comic shop, they’ll be grateful.


Digital Retrofit comics: I’m cheating a bit here since I’m suggesting digital comics rather than print comics, but with such a good selection of solid titles, it would be a shame not to point them out. Retrofit Comics have been releasing extremely interesting comic from phenomenal talents for the last few years. Most of those are available as .PDF on their website for just $2.99. The 2014 Ignatz Award winner for Outstanding Comic Wicked Chicken Queen by Sam Alden, Debbie’s Inferno by Anne Emond, Number One by Box Brown, Ikebana by Yumi Sakugawa, Bowman by Pat Aulisio, The Monkey in the Basement and Other Delusions by Corrine Mucha. And a personal favourite, the newly released The Experts by Sophie Franz (reviewed here). Take a serious look at their digital catalog, any of these $2.99 comics will be an impeccable read. That Sam Alden comic and the Sophie Franz comic will change how you think about comics.

Speaking of good digital comics, over at Youth in Decline, you can get the first issue of Lovers Only, an romance anthology by Cathy G. Jonhson, Sophia Foster-Dimino and Mickey Zacchilli for under two bucks.

You can also get any of Sarah Horrocks comics on digital for two or three bucks.


So there you have it, options of comics for three bucks. None of these comics are mean-spirited, confusing, unwelcoming, angry or filled with pointless decapitation (don't quote me on that last one though, but I'm pretty sure there is no decapitation in those). They don’t require you buy more comics to understand it, nor do they require you to have read 15 to 20 years of comics before it to understand it. It's importance will not be wiped away in 3 months. They will stand as artifacts, intemporal pieces of art, of comics well executed by caring artists, and hopefully will be well-liked by you as a reader. 

Comic book doesn't have to be a spiteful place. You don't have to buy something out of nostalgia alone, you don't have to buy a comic out of habit. You don't have to buy a comic you don't like. It's not fun to "anger-read" books and comics. You are your own person. You can make your own choices. Be the comic reader you want to be. If after looking at all of those suggestions, DC Rebirth still appeals to you, that's fine too. But do let me know, I'll send you the exact location of Alan Moore's grave and we can all go dancing on it while burning money and talking about how good the Batman V Superman 2: Electric Superman Blue is going to be. That scene where Mongul rips Lois Lane in half with her intestines splattered all over the floor. Just the gore movie I think of when I think of a Batman/Superman team-up movie. 

P.S. don't watch the Batman/Superman movie, maybe watch another comic book movie like Turbo Kid instead. It's a better movie in almost every conceivable way, and it's Canadian. Oh did you watch Diary of a Teenage Girl yet? It's amazing!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Laura Knetzger's Sea Urchin: Facing Depression

I had the chance to catch the end of a panel presentation by Andrea Charise during the Canadian Conference on Medical Education on the importance of Medical Humanities in understanding illness from not just a clinical perspective, but also from a personal perspective. It reminded me of Laura Knetzger’s SeaUrchin, a comic published by Retrofit Comics that I’ve been meaning to talk about since last May. I barely know where to start, but wrapping my head around the idea of medical humanities and how art has values in understanding illness and those afflicted by it allowed me to get a better grip on the Sea Urchin.

Our protagonist in this book is Laura, presumably the same Laura as the artist. We follow her journey of living with crippling depression and eventually her bittersweet ride onto the sunset road to recovery. Laura talks at length about the ongoing issues caused by this depression. What am I good for? Why do the things I enjoyed no longer have any importance to me? Why am I mean to the people I love? Why can’t I get out of this funk? How can I live like this? Knetzger describes in painful detail the realities of dealing with such an illness. It permeates your life, your daily thoughts and affects both your behavior and your physical health.

I was glad to see Knetzger take what must have been a painful topic and expose it to a new light, to different angles. She wrote a mini-comic called Find me, Look for Me a few years ago (reviewed here) where these themes were, much like mental illness, hidden slightly below the surface. In this case, our protagonist is depressed because of the disappearance of her brother and the fallout of it and she finds solace in caring for a defenseless alien, or pet. But I believe that depression isn’t necessarily caused by a specific event, but rather a confluence of many factors, both social, psychological and physical. While her first work addresses those issues, it is Sea Urchin that approaches these themes in a much more head-on manner. Its a discussion on how depression affects emotions, causing a huge onset of hopelessness, irritability and invading dark thoughts. Touching on how this causes fatigue and how it affects concentration is key in relating this story. Suffering from depression is not a temporary weakness, it is a real medical condition. Sea Urchin doesn’t hide its theme, nor does it explain how it begins or even offer diagnostics on how to fix it. I felt a sort of courageous strength in the work. Laura describes all of this without doubt, fear or shame.  It is here and it is an issue to work through.

I will mention that this work is in Black & White. It looks gorgeous that way; the lines are clean and expressive. It has an energy to it that I find charming. Her pages don’t follow any sort of standard grid which lends it that energy, but it never gets confusing and never strays into incomprehensible mess. I did enjoy the use of color in Find me, Look for me. The blue tones added a sort of coldness, a sadness that is difficult to replicate without colour. The strength of the material allows it to not lose any of its impact. A true strength of the work. The size of it was jarring at times, varying from perfect on the page to blown up just too much, as if you had zoomed in on an iPad version of it and the size had gone on to 125% of the original size of the art. It only happens a handful of times, but it was certainly unexpected and took me out of the book. I kept wondering if this was done intentionally, or if certain pages had been blown-up because they were drawn on different sizes of paper. Regardless, Knetzger's style is consistent throughout and just delightful to see.

While Knetzger talks about depression openly, Sea Urchin never feels like a laundry list of ailments or a plea to commiserate with her. Sea Urchin approaches its themes seriously but is not simply about the pain. Moments of levity are also plentiful in this work. The protagonist walks in the street, trying to conjure up the courage to pat a dog she thinks looks cute. These moments remind us that, while illness is serious, moments of happiness do arise, however fleeting they may be. It also helps create a more rounded protagonist. We aren’t simply observers of her pain, but also of her small victories. This lands the work a charm that other works of its kind don’t necessarily have. There is no answer in this book, simply scribbled maps leading to some better ways. It is a work of great depth and attention to detail that is key in understanding the quirks afflicting those suffering from depression.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Sophie Franz's The Experts: Creepy Feelings & Riveting Read

Sophie Franz's The Experts is a riveting comic. An exercise in atmospheric horror ambiance. It is frightening, spectacular and haunting. I've always thought (and said before) that Horror was a combination of moods and moderation, menacing yet restrained. Horror is a balancing act between the untold and the known. Few can do it well. The Experts is not specifically a horror comic, nor is it fully a science fiction comic, it is a bit of both and it combines elements of both genres to tell it's story effortlessly.

The Experts tells the dreadful story of three scientific experts sent to a remote station in a massive body of water studying strange water humanoids. What becomes apparent is that something is not right with the set-up. They are mis-remembering things and losing touch with their superiors. But the set-up is only a part of the larger story. The puzzle is there for the reader to unravel, but almost as if we are provided with pieces from three different puzzles with the same image, the pieces never really fit together.

Franz's mastery of colour is impressive. She uses white space in a number of areas to enhance the story in different ways. Obviously to let the reader focus on the characters and be unencumbered by background details but also and to perhaps an even greater degree, to amplify the feeling of unease inherent to the story. Are there no background details because the characters simply have stopped noticing their existence? The gradients are also superb, setting the tone of unease at the beginning of the comic. Our experts are here to observe, but who's observing whom, and for what purpose. Most impressive is perhaps Franz's ability to capture facial expression. All of her characters are unique and convey different emotions and subtle changes within very well. A striking achievement, especially considering that her characters have no eyes, one of whom is a humanoid fish.

This story would feel like the perfect set-up for a Doctor Who episode. A few scientists are holed up in a distant and remote locale and haunted by bizarre creatures. They're doomed until the Doctor fixes the issue. But there is no saviour in this story, just characters spiraling ever further into oblivion and helplessness. So far one of my favorite reads of 2016. I'll make a point of following Sophie Franz's Tumblr page moving forward. You should too.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Zak Sally's Recidivist IV: Engaging on Form, Content, Ways of Seeing in Multiple Ways

I bought a copy of Recidivist vol. IV by Zak Sally at Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal in January 2015. I meant to write about the form, the content and the various ways of seeing art in a post that I never finished, knowing I would revisit it at some point. It has been incredibly difficult for me to separate the book itself and the explanation of the book. Zak Sally wrote a passionate piece on the book upon it’s release explaining what the book might be, and what it wasn’t. Over time, I even came to believe the justification for Recidivist became an art piece in itself. It’s raw, it’s reactionary, it’s pre-emptively striking it’s naysayers and warning those approaching it to arrive with an open mind. It is asking the reader to engage in the piece. Sally says the book “is about failure and obsolescence and fear and hope and why anyone in this day and age would spend time and energy making and disseminating obscure printed sheets of paper with stuff on it”. And this is what I will do. I’ll engage with the pieces until I’ve observed it raw.

I think it’s relevant to engage with it now, months after it’s release. Most books aren’t tied to a specific time period. Some are, and while they are not created in a vacuum, they certainly do not become irrelevant because of the passage of time. I’m not doing this to influence the sales of a product; I don’t even know if you can buy this thing anymore anyway. What I’m hoping to accomplish is to evaluate this comic at the intersection of its terms and my own. How can we look at this in a way that goes beyond the simple reading. If this book was meant to simply be read, it wouldn't be made the way it is. Sally’s book is an experiment in dissonance and effort. It requires an effort on the part of the reader to read it, and I’ll try to do the same as a reviewer.

This will be the first of a series of posts on Recidivist vol.IV. I have no idea how they’ll turn out. Since the book is asking us to engage with the piece, I will engage with it and the environment. I’ll read it eight times in eight different locations and write about it. Here are the locations I've flagged so far to do this.
  • In a plane;
  • On the top floor of a skyscraper;
  • By the Ottawa River;
  • On a busy street in the downtown core;
  • In an industrial park at night;
  • On a bridge;
  • At a Casino;
  • in a moving vehicle (probably a car though I won't be foolish enough to drive and read);
  • And finally at home, at night
I’ll listen to the album while reading it sometimes, but not every time. I`ll listen to it digitally or from a CD player, with headphones or not. How will reading this differ from one place to the next? Well, I’m not quite sure. I’m hoping that the dissonance between the locations, the sounds and visual stimuli will create entirely different reading experiences. I’ve done a similar exercise for a university class before. A poetry creation class where we would travel to different places and be inspired by that location. I’m hoping to achieve similar results but instead of creating, I'd be interpreting the art. A reading experience can often differ depending on the time of day, your mood and who you are on any given day and the location can also affect your comprehension and reception of a piece. 

We'll see how the experiment goes. I should have the first post up in a few days.