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.
I was surprised and delighted to stumble across this anthology of comics about freestyle skateboarding. Freestyle is a small but vibrant sliver within larger skate culture. Freestylers eschew ramps and obstacles to dance upon their boards, performing stylish, creative feats of agility. It’s a testament to the creative disposition of freestylers that a relatively niche pursuit yields a squad of cartoonists this capable of beautifully illustrating their shared obsession.
This anthology bursts with passion for the subject matter. While that passion is the fuel, these artists have the chops to channel it into highly-readable, aesthetically-pleasing comics. Each piece is charming and beautiful.
Aside from the common thread of freestyle skateboarding, there’s a spirit of introspection throughout. What is it that drives us to hang out in empty parking lots flipping around on our wheelie sticks?
I don’t know if this is 100% true, but I get the sense that these artists have never met in person. They’ve formed a little community within a little community, defeating the potential loneliness of their solitary pursuits. I admit that this book has added appeal for me as an aspiring freestyler (gravity and feet willing) but in general I love a positive, D.I.Y. subculture working together to stave off the darkness.
I’m continually fascinated by the glut of independent comics that spewed forth in the 1980s following the breakout success of the Ninja Turtles. It turns out my friend Brian David-Marshall was surfing that wave as the teenaged founder of Eternity Comics. I jumped at the opportunity to talk to Brian about his time in those inky trenches. Highlights of our conversation include: shady dealings at NYC comics shops, Jerry Siegel in the slush pile, and witnessing the birth of Evan Dorkin’s dairy products gone bad.
Congrats to Michel Fiffe on wrapping up his big, cosmic Ochizon storyline in Copra #41 and also on the graceful pivot from Image Comics back to self-publishing (Fiffe discusses the switch here). For the uninitiated: Fiffe is the sole creator of this misfit, super-team title which had a glorious self-published run then a sojourn at Image and is now back to wreaking independent havoc. More than anything this post is to inform that Copra is alive and thriving.
The most noticeable change in the transition back to self-publishing is the return of Copra‘s signature extra-heavy paper stock. The chunkiness of the pages pairs well with the nearly palpable texture and grain deployed throughout the art.
Fiffe is fascinating in his commitments to both genre and disregarding genre convention. Copra doesn’t suffer from obligatory sequences that suck. He’s a lifelong student of comics with well-formed opinions of what works and what doesn’t, but still stretching, taking chances, and exploring. Any given spread is an instructive journey.
In among all the cosmic razzle-dazzle Copra is very much about the characters with their myriad hopes, dreams, and flaws. The stories don’t end with neat bows on top. Everyone must cope with the fallout. The Ochizon Saga is over, but Copra tromps along. With Fiffe in command of every step of creation I’m excited to see where it goes next.
Apologies for a pause in the highly-ethical community uplift to hustle my own work for a minute. At the beginning of the year I set a goal to produce one new print publication per month and here we are eight months and eight issues later.
This August 2021 issue is a split zine with flip covers: Side A is slice-of-life strips set in an all-too-familiar dystopia and Side B is a few strips about what it’s like to be an aged skateboarder.
These are basic minicomics: short, simple, black-n-white photocopies. I haven’t done any continuity between months. Each one is a new, self-contained thing. I’m enjoying the schedule and the freedom. Here are some links if you’d like to see more.
Are you reading Bubbles yet? I hope so. I can’t help but think that if everyone read Bubbles and absorbed a sliver of its unpretentious love for art we’d be living in a far better world. In the 2+ years and 11 issues of its existence Bubbles has become essential.
In issue 11 creator Brian Baynes describes Bubbles as a “fanzine about what I’m currently obsessed with.” Thankfully his obsessions are diverse and deep. Each issue burrows into a wide range of work. For example, issue 11’s selection includes art comics star Dash Shaw, little-published-in-US Finnish artist Amanda Vähämäki, and Morrie Turner of Wee Pals comic strip fame.
If Bubbles was just a hot mess of enthusiasm for comics I’d be on board but it’s way more than that. Baynes is a thoughtful interviewer who forges unusual connections with his subjects. Other Bubbles contributors, such as manga historian/translator Ryan Holmberg, match Baynes’s obsession for the material. There are no duds.
The amount of work Baynes has done on this project in such a short time is staggering. This latest issue is 48 densely-packed oversized pages plus a tipped-in 8-page art extra. That’s a lot of zine!
Every issue leaves me with a list of publications to seek, museum exhibits to covet, and comics destinations to someday explore. A zine that spotlights and uplifts an arts community outside of the grinding algorithmic media hustle is right in my wheelhouse. I’m thankful that Brian Baynes is going all out to make it happen.
Blood Horn was originally serialized in issues 1-5 of the Reptile House anthology (the most recent issue of which I cover here) but gets the deluxe collection treatment in an appropriately metallic cover. It’s the fluid-drenched saga of the band Blood Horn assembling to compete at a climactic battle of the bands in a Philadelphia bus station.
Bunch doesn’t let a molecule of page go to waste. Heavy black ink corrals the action. Panels are strewn with beautiful filth.
In among the visual assault the writing is sharp. Off-hand jokes scurry through the scenery. Characters are lovable and awful. All the right blood gets spilled. Blood Horn delivers transgressive underground mayhem with supreme style.
These are some adorable, educational minis from Marek Bennett. Marek is not only a working cartoonist but also a comics teacher. These little comics are both a testament to his cartooning skill and to the potency of the medium for which he advocates.
In each comic Bennett relates a brief, playful biography of a Greek philosopher. The format of these minis is one that I’ve seen referred to as “foldy comics” in which the entire comic is drawn on one side of a single sheet of paper, which can then be folded to form an 8-page booklet.
The booklet can then be completely unfolded to reveal additional art on the other side of the page.
This format proclaims, “Anyone can publish their own comics.” You don’t even need a stapler. It’s a strong message beyond the marks on the paper, in line with Bennett’s overall approach toward artist empowerment.
Bennett has mentioned Ed Emberley as an influence and this work honors Emberley’s legacy of simple, fun, effective drawing. The ancient anecdotes are a pleasure to ingest. Educational comics sometimes bog down in tedious, literal depiction but Bennett elegantly hops over those pitfalls.
Beyond books and workshops, Bennett also maintains a lively Patreon frequently updated with behind-the-scenes and how-to posts. I enjoy it a whole lot even in my bitter, old cartoonist form, but as a budding, young cartoonist it would have felt absolutely crucial.
Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkon Kinkreet, Sunny, Ping Pong) is on the short list of artists who jump to the front of my queue whenever new work is out. No. 5 is not truly new as it was originally serialized in Japan from 2000 to 2005 and has received various incomplete English editions since then, but this is the first volume of a new edition from Viz.
It’s a fantastical tale of the Peace Corps Rainbow Brigade, an elite military hero unit with members numbered one through nine. At the start of the story No. 5 has betrayed the team and absconded with the woman he loves. One by one the other members are sent to hunt him down. The perspective rotates among the cast and explores themes of military propaganda, hero worship, and team vs self.
The fantasy/sci-fi world of No. 5 is presented without exposition. Matsumoto shows great respect to readers, trusting we will understand the situation without a cheat-sheet. Mood and character are foremost.
As a young artist Matsumoto traveled through Europe and he acknowledges Moebius as a major influence. Of all of Matsumoto’s work that I’ve read this influence is most apparent here. The characters range across surreal landscapes packed with playful design. Disciples of Moebius have produced a lot of all-style no-substance comics but Matsumoto does not suffer this fate. No. 5 drips style, but, once again, it’s all in service to mood and character development.
I love Matsumoto’s crinkly, loose linework, suggesting breakneck inking sessions uncontained by pencils. The drawing is full of energy which Matsumoto fine-tunes as the story dictates.
I had to slow my reading to take in the 300+ rich pages. By book’s end I felt stuffed, with heaping platters still left on the table. Volume 2 will release straight to the top of my to-read pile.