Committed: Nice Things (featuring Quentin Blake, Zak S., Jeffery Brown, Noah Van Sciver, and Emily Carroll)

Like many people who spend too much time online (don’t we all?), you might be suffering from some sort of indignant-outcry-overload as people tie themselves in knots over the latest scandal. Instead I thought that I’d offer a bit of light relief by sharing some of nice things happening in the world of comic books and sequential art. Enjoy!

Here is a nice thing happening in a children’s hospital:Quentin Blake has contributed some beautiful paintings to an “end-of-life care room" at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. His watercolors will be an important addition to this room which will be for parents to stay in when their terminally ill children are being treated in the hospital. In 1929 JM Barrie gave all the Peter Pan rights to the hospital, and so all the royalties from films, performances, etc of the book all go towards helping sustain this essential London hospital for sick children. By contributing to this room, Blake (another great children’s author) joins Barrie by enriching what could be a very difficult place to be. In my experience, bad art in a hospital can be very jarring and no art can be very depressing as it allows the mind to turn inexorably inwards to frightening thoughts, but good art can definitely help to create a better mindset and so I hope Blake’s elegantly simple art will help make this room a slightly easier experience for the parents who have to stay here. There is an article about it in The Guardian, at the end of which Blake makes some rather pertinent and insightful statements about the essential nature of art in the context of storytelling and communication.

Here is a nice film:Jeffrey Brown wrote a film called Save the Date, which is a sort of a slice-of-life kind of thing, had a bit of the feel of those classic French films about human interaction and relationships, that just sort of gently unfold for you and then end just as you’re getting really sucked in. The film has a lot of actors who I like, but have never seen in roles I really liked, so it was very enjoyable to see them all playing unusually nuanced characters. For some reason they usually all seem to play caricatures, so it was great to see them expressing a broader range of human emotion, which had a great deal to do with Brown’s very plausible story and dialogue. It’s really good to see a film that is so much like a Jeffrey Brown comic book, because there’s a complexity that he manages to weave into relatively simple interacting which enrich his characters. One of the characters is an artist, which allows Brown’s art to a be a little bit of a star, which actually made me warm to the character because it showed a softer, inner life. I’m glad there is space in the world for Brown to make films and I hope more independent comic book creators are able to reach a larger audience in this way. Kiel Phegley did a pretty great interview with Brown about it when it came out, and now the film is available to watch on US Netflix.

Here is a nice RPG book:Zak S. has a book out called A Red and Pleasant Land, elegantly bound and filled with maps, lists, plans and character studies. Reminiscent of some of Egon Schiele’s drawings, the art combines with a vibrant color palette with the spatial dissonance of MC Escher’s environments. It is ostensibly a book about a fictional continent inhabited by many strange characters, but first and foremost it is a tabletop gaming sourcebook, and contains all the tools to run this surreal world! Unfortunately, not being a gamer myself, that aspect of it was lost to me. However, I was very happily engaged by the detailed descriptions and elaborate illustrations, though I would imagine that if you are into tabletop RPG it would be tremendous fun to build a game around the universe depicted in this book. This is the first time I’ve ever looked at one of these RPG books and actually become excited, it is great immersive escapism even if you don’t use it to role play yourself into a new world. A friend who does know about these things tells me that in terms of gaming, "it is a supplement for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the coolest of all the D&D retro-clones.” if that makes sense to you. The book is lovingly printed in Finland and the quality shows, there is a US distributor for it, or you can go direct to the publisher. If you’d like to see more of Zak S’s art, there is an exhibition opening on Friday at the Richard Heller Gallery.

Here is a nice biographical comic book:Noah Van Sciver’s Blammo #8 1/2 is a cornucopia of terrifyingly real stories. Immediately I love that this comic book looks like such a little slip of nothing, and yet somehow each full-color page contains a whole world of sadness. That’s not to say “sad” in a sort wallowing-in-misery way, more sad in a the-world-is-insane-and-I-have-no-rational-response way. Van Sciver’s rough art and honest writing is a stripped-down, no nonsense approach to the tedium of living and a welcome contribution to the medium, as there is not one bit of irritating self-pity or complaining, more an honest and comfortable acceptance of the way life is going right now. In addition to the non-dramatic angst there are biographical stories, which is great if you’re a process junkie because Van Sciver effectively talks about getting a book ready (Fante Bukowski, apparently coming out later this year). With all of the contained stories, this is my favorite sort of comic book to leave around to pick up at random moments. It’s less entertainment and more a sort of odd virtual companionship. You can find it in your local comic shop or at the publisher’s website; Kilgore Books & Comics.

Here is a nice horror comic book:Emily Carroll’s story Ann By the Bed for Frontier #6 is genuinely creepy. Just looking at the comic book again in order to write this sent mini chills up the back of my neck. Horror can be tricky because I’m not really interested in violent gore, but this is not that kind of horror, it is clever and subtle and the violence is never clearly depicted, in fact nothing is clearly depicted and it is precisely this that makes it so disturbing. It’s the sort of horror story where you lie awake in bed at night wondering what that creaking noise is, flinching when you see something out of the corner of your eye. A slim, full-color comic book, it is the perfectly contained story of a bloody murder, and then the disturbing occurrences, studies, and discussions which it has led to. There is a very intimate, one-on-one, organic treatment to the storytelling, which makes even the academic portions of the book feel wrongly vague and upsetting. Carroll’s careful use of texture and color adds to the atmosphere of fear, and by only ever allowing us to see glimpses of the narrators so that there is a strange dissection of them as people, (which of course, adds to the disturbing atmosphere of the book). Well-crafted, this is a nice addition to the Frontier series and I think it’s still available from Youth in Decline.

Here is a nice compendium comic book to look forward to:Daniel Clowes The Complete Eightball comes out next month from Fantagraphics! Great art, great writing, inventive stories, and very disturbing nightmares… Do I need to describe the indescribable to you? Suffice to say his stories have everything you could possibly want from comic books and a lot of things you don’t. So much misanthropic joy! I’m one of those weird fan-types who has picked up each of Clowes comic books as it made it’s way slowly to the shops, but if you were smart and didn’t, now you can get it all at once. Reading Eightball very gradually has been quite an experience, (he is deservedly known as one of the great independent comic book creators), but I can’t imagine what sitting down with all of those issues compiled into one book could do to your brain... probably good things. If you like surrealism, humor, self-hatred, and living in the world with nothing making sense, then this is the book for you! If you don’t like those things, you might like it even more. If you can’t wait a month to buy it in a shop, you can pre-order it, (so that in a month, when this structural, load-bearing-sized book comes out, your mailman can resent you).

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