With Montana Diary cartoonist Whit Taylor uses an overtly modest approach to deliver a complex, subtle experience. As plainly stated by the comic’s title, it is a chronicle of Taylor’s vacation to Montana. And sure, it functions as an informative travelogue on one level, but more potent is the earnest presentation of the author’s response to the place.
To call the artwork simple or stripped-down does it a disservice. Unpretentious, maybe? Elegant? I point it out because of how effectively it magnifies this comic’s impact. There’s nothing extra to get in the way of where the artist wants your attention. Every subtle gesture does work.
There’s a good deal of sadness in Taylor’s Montana trip. She visits a glacier melting away due to global warming. Reminders of America’s crimes against native tribes are everywhere in the West. And she feels defensive as a Black woman travelling in one of the whitest states that voted overwhelmingly for a racist demagogue. She processes these serious topics yet still appreciates it when there is beauty around her and finds humor all along the way. It’s a refreshingly true depiction of tourism, where the destination is not separate from the real world and the tourist confides in us her mixed emotions. I’d read one of these for every state.
I don’t know how often I’ll do this, but here’s some worthwhile comics news/interviews I’ve recently ingested:
NEW SHIGA: Official mad genius Jason Shiga (Fleep, Meanwhile, Demon) sprung a three-book announcement on us unsuspecting unworthies. Interactive graphic novel series called Adventuregame Comics?!?
INDIES ON BOARD AT LUNAR DISTRIBUTION: On the small press distro beat, The Comics Journal‘s RJ Casey talks to folks behind some of my favorite publishers (Jason Leivian of Floating World, Tom Kaczynski of Uncivilized, and Avi Ehrlich of Silver Sprocket) plus Christina Merkler of upstart distributor Lunar about their new, mutually-beneficial arrangement.
FLOATING WORLD X POWER COMICS: The aficionados of trash/treasure black-n-white indies Power Comics are teaming up with Floating World to curate a new line of reissues of old gems. First up: a collection of Steve McArdle’s Vendetta: Holy Vindicator.
AUSTIN ENGLISH INTERVIEW: Ryan C. of Four Color Apocalypse does a beautiful job talking to cartoonist and Domino Books owner Austin English about his upcoming book, the expansion of Domino into wholesale, and how to get more non-shitty comics into the hands of receptive readers.
Do you want this sort of link-blogging? Am I just regurging old news at you? Operators are standing by.
Following up on last year’s No Romance in Hell comes this new story of the demon Bug who once again must venture forth from her native skullscape to secure some affection. In the first comic Bug goes to Earth looking for love after being rebuffed by fellow pit-dweller Grog. In this new chapter Grog is summoned to Earth by suburban occultists and Bug must ascend once more to rescue him. And if he shows her some appreciation in return, well, that’d be nice too.
The premise is straightforward and massively endearing, a delicate mix of subversive and heartwarming. Every scene delivers relatable emotional conflict with charisma, humor, and, when appropriate, the melting of flesh. Hyena Hell’s comedic chops are elite.
Hell’s drawing knocks me out too. There’s a life and weight to it all that pulls me right in. And overall it seems like the work of a supremely confident cartoonist who knows when to push a character’s expression, when to lay in detail, when to hold back, where to place everything in a complicated scene, how best to deploy texture … a bunch of nuts and bolts that many cartoonists strive for but fewer get right.
I see from Hell’s Instagram that more adventures of Bug are in the works. I’ll read as much as she draws.
This is the fourth volume in the Fantagraphics reprint project of the Alberto Breccia Library but, to my discredit, it’s my first encounter with the Argentine master’s work. The book has overwhelming aesthetic gravity that pulled this ignorant comics shopper into its orbit.
This volume reprints stories from the early 1980s. They’re almost entirely wordless shorts featuring a hapless Dracula. The artwork is all lush, layered paint, with every form distorted for maximal effect, every page a clinic in beautiful ugliness. The rendering alone is worth the price of admission.
On the most superficial level these are gag stories (what happens when a vampire gets a toothache etc) but there are sinister overtones and social criticism throughout. The most overt story “I Was Legend” shows Dracula wandering through scenes of regime brutality until he flees in desperation to the ironic sanctity of a church. Via footnotes and accompanying text this volume points out symbols relevant to the context of the Argentine dictatorship.
Also included in this volume is a fascinating and extensive sketchbook section displaying thumbnails alongside finished pages.
As a Breccia novice I can’t comment on where this fits into the oeuvre but for me it was a tantalizing introduction to that artist’s stature. I’ll be tracking down the rest of this reprint library, including the forthcoming Life of Che.
Everything about Marc Palm’s The Fang is fun. From the alluring pocket pulp cover designs to the double entendre laden dialogue to the mythical beings in relatable predicaments, these were a blast to read and then re-read.
The titular character is a vampire and a contract monster hunter with a face like Sesame Street’s Count. Fang just wants to do her job and have fun but, you know, complications arise. In the first book she goes on a date with a hapless wolf-man who she’s been hired to kill, but their mutual attraction makes her hesitate. In the second book Fang’s livelihood is threatened when Medusa manipulates her into some unauthorized head-chopping. In between jobs she consults with a couple old witch friends, the Hash Hags, who offer advice and bong rips.
Marc Palm’s drawing is lush and lively. So many of the pages here feel like he’s hell-bent on giving you your money’s worth, on getting your jaded comics-skimming eyes to linger. A real treat to behold.
In two short stories Palm established charming characters and situations gushing with potential. Volume 2 ending on “End?” has me salivating for more.
I’ve created a new resource listing publication dates of interesting comics, accessible via a link in the Resources box in the righthand sidebar. Or by clicking right HERE.
Some notes on this feature:
The purpose of this calendar is to increase attention for the sort of art/weird/mini comics that I write about on Refreshing Rectangles. I know plenty of people who love these comics but who are constantly surprised to hear that something is out, or that something came out a year ago, and they missed it.
Every calendar item is clickable which brings up a link to the publication’s page on the publisher’s website. The calendar is also scrollable back and forth in time to see older or future releases.
The listings are a bit skimpy at launch as I’m still figuring out the best way to get information about upcoming publications. You can be sure that I will be updating it frequently from here on.
I want this calendar to be bountiful and useful, but it will not be comprehensive. Partly because this is a rinky-dink operation and partly because there are swaths of comics outside the purview of this site. I’ve got my editorial discretion too. Having said that, if you are a publisher/artist and notice a glaring omission or mistake please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the spring of 2020 as we huddled in our bunkers Matthew Thurber was up on the ramparts, pen in hand. Thurber edited and published six issues of Quaranzine from May to July of 2020, while also posting to Instagram dozens of comic strips about the pandemic-times adventures of a boy named Hugo. Sixty pages of these strips are collected in this volume.
Hugo is a world-weary ten-year-old trying to figure out what the virus wants. Fantastic elements like time travel and talking cats mingle with the all-too-real 2020 backdrop of pandemic isolation and protests against systemic racism. There’s a delightful nimbleness to the storytelling that keeps the foreground lively, rules of time, space, and narrative be damned.
The drawing likewise has a spontaneous energy oozing with hilarious flourish. Each strip is a tight statement by an author creating with utmost confidence. Nothing is tossed off or merely cute.
Vector Hugo is a comedic, insightful wallow in the chaos of our times. Thurber continues to post new Vector Hugo strips as of this writing.
The Ignatz-nominatedFrancis Bacon by E.A. Bethea is a wonderful, messy stew of introspection, observation, meditation, and wisecracks. Kicked off by a friend’s comment on her resemblance to the artist Francis Bacon, Bethea jaunts through all the big existential questions with style and wit.
Each page is a chunk of text accompanied by beautifully-textured illustration. Every word and line is diamond-honed to slice deep.
I do this comic a disservice with my arid description of technical elements, but any brief summary of Francis Bacon would be a similar disservice. There is a density to the experience rare in comics. The truths in Bethea’s writing are plentiful and profound, yet there’s always a poetic wink to leaven the seriousness. It’s a unique, moving read more potent in its 56 pages than however many hundreds of pounds of chain-store grade graphic novel.
Switching gears slightly: Francis Bacon is published by Domino Books, which is an excellent online store for all sorts of art comics and other printed media. One of my great recent joys is whenever I have a little extra budget going to a site selling art/weird/mini comics and impulse-buying whatever strikes my fancy. Here’s my latest Domino order:
I post this not to brag about my sweet haul as much as to demonstrate the joy of receiving a bundle of eclectic comics by mail. I recommend the habit.
This post is a public service announcement to give a little visibility to the artists nominated for the Small Press Expo’s Ignatz Awards. These awards have been around since 1997. A small panel of comics professionals produces the list of nominees. A few items:
In normal times Ignatz Award ballots are cast in person at the Small Press Expo. As there is no in-person event this year the voting has been opened up online. You can request a ballot here.
As someone who tries to pay attention to small press comics I am humbled by how many of the artists and works on the list are unknown to me. Whether it’s my own out-of-touchedness, actual obscurity of the work, or (hobby horse time!) the fragmented, absentee media landscape, I cannot say. But now I have a list of recommended comics to hunt down, and really that’s the clearest, ultimate purpose for comics awards.