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...

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