Monday, January 28, 2013

diary of a guttersnipe 01/28/2013: books published in 2012 that i enjoyed, part one

by Shawn Starr

I float between hating and respecting the idea of "best of" lists.

They can, on the individual level, evoke a certain connection to the writer, their reading tendencies, their taste, but then again they can become lengthy posts on the same comics that everyone else has (masturbatory PR material and stuff of that ilk).

And then there's mass survey lists which seem to only succeed at ruining the point of these lists in the first place and only exist to give publishers nifty quotes for their next issue or collected edition (Named as one of CBR’s Top 100 Comics of 2012, etc.).

Anyways, here are some comics that i would define as my favorites of 2012, in no particular order, which i hope will imbue you with some sense of what i find important in comics, and if not, then just ignore me, I'll fuck off eventually.

the list
Thickness #3 (Self-published)
by Lamar Abrams, Jimmy Beaulieu, Edie Fake, Julia Gfrorer, William Cardini, Sean T. Collins, Gengoroh Tagame, Andy Burkholder, HamletMachine
edited by Ryan Sands, Michael DeForge

The final issue of 'Thickness' may not be the greatest in the series (that honor is left for 'Thickness' #2), but in its final iteration the series strips away any semblance of pretense and delivers one of the most beautiful, funny, and disturbing anthologies in many years. In 'Thickness', Ryan Sands and Michael DeForge produced their first definitive work, in what i hope (and expect) to be a continuing series of definitive works by this partnership.

It's the new alt-comics heavy-weights drawing smut.

Step aside America's Best Comics, you anthology of obviousness! I gots me some full penetration to view.

An expanded upon excerpt from my original review of 'Thickness' #3:
"I remember going to see "Hostel" as a sophomore in high school and being scared to death, the TV spots advertised it as one of the goriest films ever made, and then all i remember is just sitting there and feeling nothing besides disgust at how terrible of a movie i was watching. Gengoroh Tagame's 'Standing Ovations' though, a little less than a decade later, is what my fourteen year old self thought he was going to see. And it scared me to death.

Tagame produces a work here that i don't think the word torture porn can even be applied to, because, while it’s exactly what that phrase purports to capture, it’s so beyond everything else in the genre (besides maybe "A Serbian Film" ?), that it does not feel like it applies anymore. It transcended the genre.

'Standing Ovations' is one of the few things that has ever lingered with me months after putting them away, it won’t be forgotten. It’s a Bret Easton Ellis torture scene from 'American Psycho' that just keeps on going and makes you question whether the author is a little to into it. Tagame outfits his story with more BDSM, more fetishism, and...more...torture and...god help me more lingering. It’s fucked up.

And the very real thing about this comics is that there's no point, there is no grand political statement, there is just torture, and depravity, and that's what makes it even more scary. This could just happen, without cause, because that's how life works. You're an out of your prime fighter who's more valuable to someone getting nails driven through your dick and having your urine soaked underwear jammed down your throat so a million people online can pay to cum, than as a simple living human.

I'm genuinely afraid to read his book from PictureBox later this year, but i have to read it. The feeling lingers. Like in all good horror. It needs to be experienced. Again."

Lincoln Washington Free Man #1 (Traditional)
by Benjamin Marra

2012 was a big year for Ben Marra, his adaptation of 'American Psycho' via Raymond Pettibon splash pages finally saw print as an over sized newspaper, which perfectly reflected Patrick Bateman's crumbling reality and fragile ego. 'Ripper and Jack' was a burn the world to the ground satire of Crumb's 'Fritz the Cat', a revision of the film star as a Saturday morning cartoon, and then there was 'Lincoln Washington Free Man'.

Lincoln Washington subverts Kirby's six panel grid of pure action to tell the story of a freed slave who simply wants to have his forty acres and a mule,and live his life. The problem he finds out (as in all classic Westerns) is that the world won’t let him, as a band of Reconstruction Era Southerners attempt to put him back in the shackles he’d broken away from years earlier.

It's a violent and race centered story that has garnered Marra his first major exposure via a lengthy Comics Journal interview, but also produced the first backlash against his work. He ain't Spike Lee so i guess he isn't allowed to make "Do The Right Thing".

An excerpt from a discussion i participated in on this book, this entry pertains to the books inking style:
"He certainly has a lot more spot blacks in Lincoln Washington, a contrast from his last work ('Gangsta Rap Posse' #2) which was all line work. I’m not sure if it’s a reversion, though. His early inking style is quite heavy handed, while Lincoln Washington’s inking seems like more of a continuation from 'Gangsta Rap Posse' than a reversion. His inking here is more restrained than his previous works, and utilized with greater purpose, something that I would not generally identify with Marra. By doing away with all the excess inking, Marra seems to have figured out when and where it’s absolutely necessary to the story and leave it out in any other instance.

In 'Gangsta Rap Posse' #2, Marra choose not to distinguish the black cast from the white with any additional shading or color, that probably stems from  trying to keep the colors (black & white) in balance on the page, along with streamlining the process. It works on that project, and there’s a definite improvement in the art between issues #1 and #2, but here it needed the blacks to distinguish the character from his surroundings.

Lincoln Washington is the only black character in the book (except for his wife, who appears for a total of three pages), and he’s entering an “alien” and hostile place (Post-Civil War South), so his color has to be at the forefront, requiring a heavy shading/color process to separate him from the white residence. What could be ignored in 'Gangsta Rap Posse' really can’t in 'Lincoln Washington Free Man'. Race is a far more prominent detail.

If you look at the first page of Lincoln Washington, the only two objects that are completely black are Lincoln Washington and the title “O’ Sins of Men, What Demon Fathered You” which both distinguishes Lincoln from his surroundings and connects him with the title explicitly, the title both works as a comment on the sins of racism (America’s original sin) and Lincoln Washington, who is a man empowered by the souls of slaves to avenge the wrong doings perpetrated by white slaveholders. The colors are used as a way of separating and defining Lincoln as a character."

Lose #4 (Koyama Press)
by Michael DeForge

(along with every other DeForge comic that came out this year, but mostly 'Lose' #4.)

What's really left to say about DeForge, every comic he puts out is a breath of fresh air in a market of conservatism and stagnation. DeForge drops an issue of 'Eightball' level quality every month it seems, he maintains a level of quality that is daunting. It's almost unfair to everyone else. DeForge will be spoken of in a few years in a reverence that's only reserved for the legends. He's that good. And he's only getting better!

Anyways, 'Lose' #4 was a masterpiece, just like 'Lose' #3 and 'Lose' #2 (I haven't read 'Lose' #1 so i can't comment, although if anyone has an issue of it, i have a wallet the desperately needs to lose some weight). Its the fashion issue, and while the first story on bondage didn't leave me blown away, DeForge's fake documentary (Ala 'Spotting Deer') on the Canadian Family was one of the most engrossing things i'd ever read.

This year also featured a new issue of 'Kid Mafia', which although difficult to track down (i don't know of anyone who has copies of it besides DeForge himself) is well worth the effort. 'Kid Mafia' is an amazing take on teenage wish fulfillment, a what if scenario with you and your friends cast in the role of Tony Soprano, only that your main source of travel is still a skateboard and you don't really know how to talk to girls yet. Additionally, DeForge dropped 'First Year Healthy', which is That guy's got talent.

2013 Looks to be an even bigger year for DeForge with an omnibus of sorts collecting his mini-comics, another issue of 'Lose', and a Drawn and Quarterly collection of his serialized webcomic 'Ant Comic'.

Negron (Picturebox)
by Jonny Negron

'Negron' is not the first book to reprint material readily available on the internet, those have floated around for the past ten years in various formats and collections, but what is different about 'Negron' is that it's the first book to successfully reprint the experience of reading the internet, 'Tumblr Comics' if you will. Where every other collection of the 'net' goes wrong is their need to contextualize the material within the confines of print, that's how you get a Kate Beaton collection that looks like every archival strip collection ever put out, and not a book reflecting her immediate interests, and the role of community surrounding the work itself.

'Negron' on the other hand moves past these dated approaches and attempts to recreate that Tumblr approach by showing it's artists obsessions in a continuous line. It may be edited, but its edited and curated to express Jonny Negron's singular impulses at each moment. For example, there is 5 pages of illustrations of woman eating phallic food, because that's what Johnny Negron was into at that moment in time. Narrative is overrated anyway, obsession is where it's at.

The End Of The Fucking World (Oily)
by Charles Forsman

It's difficult to read this book's title and not read it as a critique of the comic publishing landscape at the moment, at least from a small press stance. Small Press Publishing has been on the wain ever since 'Love and Rockets' jumped to the yearly book format (probably even earlier) and everyone else just abandoned ship. That all seemed to turn around in 2012 though where the scene reinvigorated the idea of serialized monthly alt-comics, and 'TEOTFW' lead the way in both its regularity (every month, eight pages, no matter what), a price point that could not be matched, and in quality. Oily and Retrofit and whoever else is out there prove that the world is not actually fucking ending, it just needed to find a new approach.

OK, enough context and bullshit. 'TEOTFW' did not make my list because of that, it’s just icing on the cake of greatness.

'TEOTFW' is the story of two teenage lovers running away from home, and while that is not the most original idea (nor is having them be murderers), what separates 'TEOTFW' from a dozen other instances of this story is the care Forsman takes in crafting the story such as the way each issue reads with the near perfect pacing, the trading off of narrator between James and Alyssa, how their individual perceptions shade the books events, James' cold calculated voice-over making the threat of violence at any moment, all the more real, while Alyssa’s voice always has a sliver of hope and love underlining her every word (she may not be innocent, but she didn't choose to love a sociopath, she just does). With eight pages there's little room to spare, and while Forsman's line-work is sparse, it's not unlike Jaime Hernandez or Charles Schultz' work in how it's whittled down to the essentials. Forsman understands that you can convey just as much, if not more emotional weight and information in one single line than a billion little ones.

(Also that scene where James and Alyssa dance, that scene is perfection)

come back next week for PART TWO...

Friday, January 18, 2013

interview 001: michel fiffe

by Alec Berry

For those unaware, Michel Fiffe is a cartoonist currently self-producing a monthly action comic book titled 'Copra'. If you'd like more info on the book itself, check out this piece I wrote over at Comics Should Be Good. Anyway, I'm excited about the project, and I have interviewed Michel in the past, so I figured now was a good time to catch up.

Alec Berry: You’re a fan of the Ostrander/McDonnell 'Suicide Squad' run obviously, how did that and any other influences inform your approach to 'Copra'?

Michel Fiffe: Oh, yeah, I love those comics, the Ostrander/Kim Yale stuff. That title had it all and it still holds up remarkably well. The basic set up of the old Suicide Squad is what I’m re-purposing but I’m also trying to capture its spirit. I’ve always been into Frank Miller and Walt Simonson, so those are strong influences. It really jumps all over the place, but mostly I'm tapping into the mainstream guys I've always loved: Erik Larsen, Norm Breyfogle, Tony Salmons, Klaus Janson.

What about those guys are you tapping into? I picked up on a 'Savage Dragon' influence,with the book's tendency to riff and improve upon some established archetypes. But what about Breyfogle or Salmons?

I like the energy in their work, which may seem like the most obvious thing, but I’m surprised at how little I see it anywhere else. Their work is full of life, there’s a bold energy at work there,and I wanted to tap into. That approach works better in an adventure story and under these deadline parameters. As for archetypes, well, I’m playing off more obscure characters and mixing them up with original ones. It just lends to the unpredictable nature of who shows up, who I want to work over. It's loving irreverence on my part.

So is it safe to say this is your big, old love letter to the comics and creators you enjoy?

It’s a blunt scrawl, yes.

Doing 'Copra' monthly ... is that a test for yourself, sort of akin to your thoughts on cartoonists cutting their teeth with anthologies?

I suppose it can be seen as a test. The schedule's not the unknown quantity though, it's the material. The real test is if readers respond to this type of story, or my version of this type of story. Basically, I didn't want to die without the world having seen my version of Deadshot.

I ask because you've mentioned “breaking the Kirby barrier” and living in that deadline grind. You seem to have some sort of interest in that.

I do, I have a strong interest in producing a lot and producing it efficiently but still having it be as good as I could make it. Making comics is enough of an unforgiving time consumer as it is, so I figured out a way to not freeze up every step of the way.

How far ahead did you work out the book before announcing it and selling the first issue? Talk about the pre-production of a project like this and paint a timeline.

I'm basically an issue ahead. I have a month to produce it all, so it takes a week to complete every major step in production: writing, art, color, formatting. Then there's distribution and online stuff. It honestly didn't seem real to me until the first issue was complete. Looking back I should have waited to have a few issues in the can, but where's the fun in that?

Well, that seems like its part of your experience with this. It almost would seem off if you gave yourself a lot of lead time.

Right, like the heat’s not on if I take my sweet time.

I've read 'Copra' and have my own interpretations, but what do you want to tackle here that can’t be/isn’t tackled in commercial comics?

It doesn't matter because they're in another world, you know? They have other concerns, so my opinions on what they're doing are beyond moot. I do know that working at my level, I don't have a corporate or editorial edict to work within or against. That's a benefit.

So you’re just doing your own thing, unconcerned with any bigger pictures?

I’m guessing you’re asking about either the context or the subtext, or the bigger meaning behind the comic?

I’m not the person to do that, to break it down like that. I think the fact that this comic exists, that I’m just one guy trying to make a solid comic series with no frills, no fanfare, can be seen as a statement in itself. But as to what the meaning behind it is? I can’t say with clarity; I’m in the middle of saying it.

How do you approach direction and motion when constructing action?

You don't really care about this, do you, Alec? I dunno. Does it look cool? That's all I care about these days. Is it keeping my interest levels high?

Ah, I mean, I do care. This is an action comic and the way action is composed seems to be an important feature. I mean, is there anything past it just looking cool in terms of your thought process?

I don’t mean to be glib. I care, too, of course. I over think these things to death, and I’d hate to grind this to a halt by rattling on about the importance of a punch’s direction. I map out a fight, I stage the action and their consequences, and I strive to have it make sense, have it be clear. I want the violence to be not romanticized but made larger than life by the hand of vulnerable, ridiculous, dangerous characters. I aim for ballet and probably land on butchery. A page turn is important, a widescreen shot versus a staggered tier is important, shapes, powers, personalities, these are all useful. Half the first issue is one big fight scene, but I planned the hell out of it. Every single detail was considered.

What about color? I know it looks cool, but that’s a trademark move of yours at this point.Is there any further thought into why you color your comics in such a way? Just a style thing?

Color serves these stories well, too. Superheroes need color to work. That’s why black and white reprints don’t do it for me.

Sales wise, how has 'Copra' fared compared to say 'Zegas' or 'Deathzone!' ?

It’s doing better than I ever imagined. I just went back to print on the first two issues, which came from left field. The original print run was based on my 'Zegas'/'Deathzone!' sales, so this has been more than a pleasant surprise. Totally caught me off guard.

Do you feel there’s a ceiling, or limit you can sell, because you’re distributing the books yourself, or is that not a concern?

I've thought about it, and it feels wrong to say no to more business, y’know? I don’t want less readers! Realistically, I can only print as many as I can afford to. That’s the bottom line. And since I’m doing all the office work myself, there is a bit of a warning sign that I should ideally hire someone to do it if it gets any bigger. This is still small enough where I can stuff envelopes myself, manage money and deal with the printer and the retail stores, all while taking care of the customer service stuff. The positive side is that I don’t have Diamond taking a cut. Or a publisher. Or a collaborator. I oversee the majority of things.

The ultimate hope for this project?

To find it in the dollar bins at Koch's warehouse in Brooklyn? Maybe a collection down the line, or another 12 issues after the first year. Honestly, Alec, my ultimate hope right this second is to get #4 out the door in time to make the printer schedule.

'Copra' #3 is now on sale. Visit Fiffe's website for more information and back issues.

Monday, January 14, 2013

diary of a guttersnipe 01/14/2013: water bird-ing works

by Shawn Starr

Read two comics this week, and have an overwhelming stack of books "to read". Here are some notes on them...


Basketball Comics #1
by Michael DeForge, Patrick Kyle, Mickey Zacchilli

From the people who brought you 'Cop Comics', a comic about life, religion and dunkin'. Mostly dunkin' it though.

Also this. 
This is enough for me to buy anything.

Thor: God Of Thunder #4 (Marvel)
by Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic, Ive Svorcina

I re-read the run so far this week, and in light of the rest of Marvel's output since their NOW! Initiative, it's easy to see this series as the line's highlight. 'Avengers' is only going to make sense after 40 issues and Opena will be long gone before that point ('Uncanny X-Force' redux), but 'Thor: God Of Thunder' is only going to last as long as it's drunk, yelling, breaking shit Thor is drawn by Ribic, and once Ribic is gone this train ride is over.

The God Killer is Ribic's mighty pen, son.

some notes on them

Baron Bean: The Complete First Year (IDW) – I like the idea that The Library of American Comics are putting out a series of lesser known (and according to them "essential") strips at a reasonable price, unlike IDW's normal policy of printing overpriced collections no one would ever touch unless they have a lot of disposable income or have some forty year old affection for the series.

Young Lions (Self-published) – I've read this three or four times, i like the pencil line work, but the narrative never came together for me. Maybe it will this time, or maybe it's not supposed to.

Anyways, did Larmee retire or something? I haven't heard shit from him after this book.

Raw (v.2) #1-2 (Penguin Books) – Solid Lineups.

Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980 (Abrams) - Dan Nadel's anthology of comics that some people MIGHT have heard of, in contrast to his other book 'Art Out of Time', which is an anthology of comics NO ONE has heard of. Anyways, i like the idea of shooting the books from the originals and leaving all the blemishes of print and time on them, especial in a book devoted to time and cartoonists perceived place in it.

Deeper into Movies (Marion Boyairs) - Pauline Kael dropping science.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Marvel) – Jack Kirby delivers cover work that no one can match.

DAN QUAYLE and mindless covers


The Comic Reporters Holiday interview series ended. Here's the master list.

Charles Forsman did an interview at the Comics Journal. I like that Forsman, in his position as both a cartoonist and active publisher, forces interviewers to place a greater emphasis on the publishing side of comics. In a medium where most of the alt-scene, outside of the Picture Box stable, self publish, he's the only one who is really talked to about it. I guess one conversation is good enough.

"I feel like I got hit by a truck... Which I did."

New Splash Page Podcast!

Last days of the Oily Comics subscription.

Fantagraphics 'Mickey Mouse' reprints makes a short appearance in Alec Berry's "Buckwild".

Monday, January 7, 2013

diary of a guttersnipe 1/07/2013: i can't skate no more

by Shawn Starr


Happy #1 (Top Shelf Productions)
by Josh Simmons

I kept waiting for the bunny story to take a didn't, but i feel like if i try and read it again that Simmons himself would sneak into my house and add pages when i wasn't looking that would make me end up crying in the shower and trying to forget everything i saw that day.

God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls (Fantagraphics)
by Jaime Hernandez

This is another one of the "post-Tardi" format books Fantagraphics has locked in on. The paper stock alone makes this book (and just about every other book in this formatting "line") worth a flip through, but that fails to take into account the beautiful artwork of Jaime Hernandez, which is also over-sized i might add.

The story here isn't really anything of note (at least in comparison to what it was running against in its original serialization), it's really just an excuse for Jaime to work out some of his wacky superhero influences with the cast of Locas and bring back some of the wrestling fights he's been unable to utilize for a long while. That said it's still Jaime, and its still one of the best looking books of any year.

Punk Rock Jesus #6 (Vertigo/DC)
by Sean Murphy

Sean Murphy teaches us all he's a better writer than every "professional" writer he's so far been tapped to provide art duties for. This turned out to be the best vertigo book since the last volume of 'Seaguy'.

New Avengers #1 (Marvel)
by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, Frank D'Armata

If you were wondering what had to happen for Hickman to get two Avengers books, it's the same thing that happened to Fraction, he had to pay the pied piper of mediocrity. Steve Epting's art is passable (maybe better than passable), but D'Armata's coloring kills anything that would make it stand out from the rest of the mid list.

I wonder if D'Armata will be remembered in an age of digital inking and coloring as the Vince Colletta of his generation. A figure who's every credit lead to a perceived reduction in quality that no one in editorial recognized. I have since looked at some Colletta Kirby pages in the first Fourth World Omnibus and they aren't nearly as offensive to my eyes as what D'Armata does to these pages.

Those Photoshopped clouds....just why...

The story itself makes little sense, The Black Panther meets some kids who solved a puzzle and are therefore the future rulers of Wakanda, but not before a Rhino appears out of a portal for no reason, then they go through the portal and some "badass" aliens tell them how they are going to destroy the world. I was never sure after that moment when they were on the alternative earth or the "real" earth, and Hickman kept implying Black Panther was on one, but the art on the next panel says otherwise.

Also, why do alien super beings dress like 90's rave girls who like guys to cum on their lower back tribal tattoo's ? Is that what comic "creators" are into nowadays? Does it remind them of their their college days? Is this all a sad attempt to recapture their youth masturbating into socks to MTV 'til 4am and trying to explain to their math teacher what house music was ? You decide.

Hellboy in Hell #2 (Dark Horse)
by Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart

This is what i was waiting for from Mignola. Brilliant colors, breathtaking panels, and a just minuscule glimpse of a back story i wish desperately to know, but never want to in fear it will destroy everything.

Django Unchained #1 (Vertigo/DC)
by Quentin Tarantino, R.M. Guera, Jason Latour, Giulia Brusco

Since there was no black people involved in making this comic, does that make it racist?

The Manhattan Projects #8 (Image)
by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra, Jordie Bellaire

This issue seemed like it was supposed to take place twenty issues later, almost like Hickman compressed years worth of spy games and just skipped right to the first volley of the war.

Prophet #32 (Image)
by Simon Roy

Simon Roy everybody. Simon Roy.

Nothing to Drink

Tucker Stone's best of list makes me want to go to a comic shop and flip a table, punch a hole in the wall, and then read a stack of comics. He's the best advocate for both reading and destroying comics.

I would have sworn to god the Comic Books ARE BURNING IN HELL podcast was playing an elaborate joke on everyone by including 'Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller' on all of their "best of" lists (with the exception of Jog i believe). They got me to buy it so i guess ill find out if I'm a rube.

Chad Nevett posted the line up for his 2013 Blogathon, in which i am named, and outclassed by every other contributor. It should provide a good days worth of reading for a good cause.

The Dean Haspiel Comics Reporter interview was a standout.

Jacques Tardi Turned Down The Legion D’Honneur, which i guess is the french equivalent of being knighted. His statement read: "Being fiercely attached to my freedom of thought and creativity, I do not want to receive anything, neither from this government or from any other political power whatsoever. I am therefore refusing this medal with the greatest determination.” I didn't know i could admire Tardi anymore, but he found a way. Also fuck Grant Morrison, that royal lover.

'Basketball Comic' #1, the follow up to 'Cop Comic' #1, by Mickey Z, Michael DeForge and Patrick Kyle was released. That's a solid lineup.

This is definitely how it happened.


In addition to making his CBR debut on Comics Should Be Good with a review of Michel Fiffe's 'COPRA', and once again proving he's better than me, Alec Berry also starred in the new hit MTV show "Buckwild". If you were wondering what he was up to, here are my notes from the debut episode.

12pm – Alec mud-wrestles his armless uncle and a pig for the key to the family truck.

1:30pm – Having lost at mud wrestling, Alec does whippets with his pet goat.

4pm – Alec wakes up from a mild whippet overdose.

4:10pm – 4:30pm Alec writes his best of 2012 column.

4:30pm- Alec takes the keys to the family truck, a bottle of moonshine, and takes a local girl to the top of a hill to converse.

4:50pm – Alec comes home, moonshine in hand.

6pm - More Whippets

8pm - Alec and friends go to town and dry hump the night away to a white lead Lil' Jon cover band.


Chris Ware's New Yorker cover on the Newtown shooting, and the follow up essay were stunning.

Rob Liefeld's homage to Robert Crumbs "Keep on Truckin"

Wes Anderson's try out video for the first season of "The Real World" is on youtube.

I don't think i ever linked this, but here's Kate Beaton's Hurricane Sandy comics.

Tom Spurgeon's 50 positive things from comics in 2012 was brilliant.