ELEVEN COMICS FROM BROOKLYN
I originally started this week’s column with a reflection on the “two worlds of comics” and thoughts on the vast gulf between the “mainstream” corporate comics and the “alternative” art comics with references to “Wizard Magazine” and “The Comics Journal” and the New York Comic-Con and the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. But that stuff seems so obvious and belabored at this point. Everyone knows the deal by now: the direct market comic shops are awash with slickly-produced, mostly-superhero comics manufactured via an assembly line process and the most interesting/ambitious work in the medium is being done by artists writing and drawing (and often publishing) their own work to a relatively small audience.
That isn’t to say that corporate comics are always terrible while self-published or small press comics are always amazing, but it does mean that the voice of an individual artist is more likely to come through in the latter, and more likely to be drowned out in the former. The connection between reader and creator is more intimate with self-published and small press comics. The work becomes more personal, even if it’s about space barbarians or troublesome anthropomorphic farm animals. Or something.
Okay, enough of that.
Let’s get down to business: I went to the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival (BCGF) over the weekend and I bought about 35 comics of different shapes and sizes. (I even broke my rule about not buying stuff at the show that I could easily get online in a month or two, because that Basil Wolverton “Spacehawk” book from Fantagraphics is a monster that I couldn’t ignore, and one of these weeks I will devote an entire column to that beast of a comic.) I read a bunch of the comics I picked up already, and I want to talk briefly about eleven of them. Maybe you’ll see something here that you hadn’t yet heard of. I know I always find stuff I didn’t know about when I go to Brooklyn looking for comics.
“Copra” #1, by Michel Fiffe
You know how Joe Casey and Tom Scioli’s “GODLAND” is a comic that’s mainlining Jack Kirby as a genre? Michel Fiffe is doing something along those lines with this new monthly (!!!) self-published comic, except instead of using Kirby as the foundation for the genre work, he’s blending together the influence of the John Ostrander/Luke McDonnell “Suicide Squad” with the Ann Nocenti/John Romita, Jr. “Daredevil” alongside a passion for the work of Steve Ditko and the Marc Silvestri-era “Uncanny X-Men” and the Michael Fleisher/Vince Giarrano “Haywire” into one recombinant genre that celebrates the insanity of superhero comics with absolute sincerity. Yet this isn’t a dull tribute to the past. It’s a very-much-alive new addition to the alchemy.
“Bug Boys,” #1-7, by Laura Knetzger
Knetzger wasn’t set up with a table at BCGF, but a friend introduced me to her and she bombarded me with “Bug Boys” comics. I’m glad she did. These comics are part adventure (with each mini-adventure ending by the end of each mini-comic) and part human anxiety. The two bug boys, Rhino-B and Stag-B, are interested in exploring and bravely journeying into the weirder parts of the world, but they still don’t really know their place in it yet. They get embarrassed, they argue, but they also display great courage. I don’t know if it’s a kids comic or just a good comic that kids would enjoy, but there’s an innocence that shines through every page of these comics that can’t help but be absolutely charming.
“Greys,” by Olivier Schrauwen
Desert Island, the comic shop that’s one of the organizers of the BCGF, reprinted this formerly self-published minicomic by Schrauwen for American audiences as one of their debut books at the show. Schrauwen — who has a collection from Fantagraphics coming out soon — is a cartoonist who relies on stiff, diagrammatic storytelling, almost alien in nature, so it’s appropriate that this minicomic focus on a self-proclaimed “report” about his encounter with extra-terrestrials. The humor in Schrauwen’s comes from its escalation, from matter-of-fact documentary-style descriptions of events to the deadpan accounts of the increasingly absurd. This comic, and some of his other work, could easily — and disappointingly — end with “but it was all a dream,” but Schrauwen never gives us that easy an escape. No, this stuff really happened. As real as fiction.
“Comics Are the Enemy,” by Pat Aulisio, Josh Bayer, and Josh Burggraf
This is one of the few comics I picked up this weekend that wasn’t the work of a single writer/artist, as Aulisio, Bayer, and Burggraf jam on a story that’s a completely juvenile romp that pits comic book and cartoon icons against each other in an improvisational fight comic. I’m guessing this comic was done exquisite-corpse-style, with each artist riffing on some images provided by the previous guy, and the final product is grotesque and passionate and immature and funny and nonsensical and completely entertaining in a way that something like “AvX: Vs” could never be. This thing makes “Prison Pit” seem layered and nuanced.
“Operation Margarine” #1, by Katie Skelly
I like Skelly’s drawings a lot and fully enjoyed the collected “Nurse Nurse” when I read it, but I don’t know just yet what to make of this new series about “rich girl runaway” Margarine and “trouble tuff girl” Bon-Bon. I like the premise, of these two girls on the run, riding their stolen motorcycles and, likely, getting into adventures. But there’s not quite enough here yet. I hope to see more, and see where she takes the girls next.
“Micro-Pitch,” by Carlos Gonzalez
What’s the story with Carlos Gonzalez (or Gonzales as the PictureBox website sometimes spells it)? His “Slime Freak” series is one of the best minicomics in recent years, but he has no online presence and practically nobody talks about his comics anywhere. I don’t know anything about this guy, other than seeing some of his minicomics and enjoying their sci-fi trappings and rudimentary clear-line art. In this new, non-“Slime Freak” minicomic, Gonzalez frames a baseball story around transformation and dimension-shifting. The fabric of reality is often shredded in Gonzalez’s comics, and that’s still true when he’s telling a story about a player seeking his “perfect pitch.”
“Megaskull,” by Kyle Platts
This is the only thing I ended up buying from the Nobrow table, even though the Nobrow folks continue to publish some of the best-looking comics in the world. But I went with the “Megaskull” as my one pick, and I was drawn to the bright pinks and yellows and blues, but this comic is really just a bunch of tame Johnny Ryan gags drawn with garish colors. Okay, I enjoyed it more than that last sentence would imply, but it is a bit repetitive, and it certainly doesn’t live up to its title or the boldness of its color choices.
“Windowpane,” by Joe Kessler
I bumped into Matt Seneca on the way up from the BCGF basement, and he flashed this comic at me, and as soon as I saw the interiors, I knew that I had to seek it out. Kessler’s been published by Nobrow too, I believe, but this “Windowpane” comic from Breakdown Press is, if not “THE Book of the Show,” certainly one of the prime contenders. Kessler throws a few different styles at the reader in this comic, with each story getting its own distinctive visual approach, but Kessler’s use of accent and background colors provide a unifying aesthetic. Kessler exhibits a playfulness in this book, but also a questing for something more. These comics aspire to say something, even as they unravel into futility in the end. Kessler’s juxtapositions work and the comic resonates beyond its final page.
“Ripper & Friends,” by Benjamin Marra
The first thing I noticed about “Ripper & Friends” was how far Marra was willing to go to commit to this project — a project completely outside the rest of his Traditional Comics output. Here’s a guy known for violent parodies of gangsta rap posing and sleazy remakes of forgotten 1980s crime movies and plenty of social satire dressed up in revenge fantasies, but this comic is like an alternate reality children’s cartoon. The “Ripper” of the title is a trouble-making, skateboarding doggie. He has his own theme song. But Marra not only commits to telling an entire story about this character, but he creates an entire, vile, horrible world for the character to inhabit, complete with a sinister dog-catcher-for-hire. And this is a thick comic at 48-pages of naughty doggie hijinx, complete with commercial breaks. It’s inappropriate for pretty much everyone, but it’s plenty hilarious.
“Eat More Bikes,” by Nathan Bulmer
You probably know Bulmer already, from his webcomic presence and his regular appearances in each installment of Tucker Stone’s legendary “Comics of the Weak” column. But this is his first book with Koyama Press and it’s an excellent one. Bulmer just happens to be the funniest cartoonist around right now. He doesn’t seem to labor over any of his gags, but instead bombards the reader with one after another, and they are all absurdly delightful. He’s the modern day Gary Larson if Gary Larson made me laugh out loud repeatedly. I threw “Eat More Bikes” at my son and told him he’d like it. He read it, giggling the whole time. Then he put it down, played some video games, and then picked up the book and read it again. That never happens. Bulmer for the win.
“Cody” and “Lose” #4, by Michael DeForge
These are two different comics, of course, but they are both by artist-of-the-year-and-probably-the-last-two-as-well Michael DeForge. “Cody” is DeForge’s first attempt at panel-to-panel improvisational storytelling, and it’s an elegiac tale of a man who suffers from a strange disability. “Lose” #4 is the newest installment of DeForge’s one-man anthology, published by Koyama Press. With DeForge’s ferocious output — the guy has put out over fifteen comics this year alone — and his status as art comics superstar of the moment, it’s inevitable that people will start saying things like “Lose” #4 isn’t as good as the last one, or something equally ridiculous. Yeah, I strongly disagree with that on almost every level. “Lose” #4 builds on what DeForge has done in previous comics and amplifies his own world-building. DeForge’s odd stories have begun to develop a large-scale internal logic by this point, and his personal mythology is taking a more concrete form. The newest issue of “Lose” is astonishing. I am constantly surprised and amazed by what DeForge can do.
In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of “Grant Morrison: The Early Years” and editor of “Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes” anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.
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