Monday, May 27, 2013

diary of a guttersnipe 05/27/2013: bullet points

by Shawn Starr

Me and my brother drove about 12 hours from Boston to Toronto a few weeks back to attend the Toronto Comics Art Festival (or TCAF for short) and hang out with sometimes site writer Rick Vance. Here are some thoughts, observations, and reviews of what I purchased:

The Trip

My brother does not respect the posted speed limits of any state or country. He also does not appreciate Canadian drivers and their general non-asshole driving style.

In Canada you fill your gas tank before you pay for it, this concept confounded me and every non-Canadian i told about it.

The border crossing was fairly painless, except for when we tried to explain what we were doing in Canada. When the guard seemed to confuse a “comic convention” with a convention of comedians i corrected him by saying “no, the funny books, not the funny people” because i am an idiot.

Luckily no one searched our bags at the border because explaining why i had 'The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame' on my persons would have been awkward.

There are no tolls in Ontario. None.

The first joke i heard in Canada was about the Leafs beating the Bruins in Game 5. Proving Canadians do love their hockey. Also good jobs blowing a three goal lead in Game 7 Leafs, i appreciate it.

Rick Vance has free beer at his house. Free. Beer.

TCAF DAY ONE

I went to TCAF with US currency (a.k.a. real money) and just had all the american dealers there (aka 90% of them) give me change in Canadian (a.k.a. fake money) so i did not have to pay to exchange currencies. This system worked well.

The first booth i went to was Koyama Press because i have learned Michael DeForge tends to sell out of whatever mini’s he brings; and most of them are only purchasable from him at shows. I got 'Lose' #5, 'Loose' #3 (his sketchbook), and 'X-Mas Comics', along with Jesse Jacobs 'By This Shall You Know Him'. I’m not 100% sure, but i may have bullied  Jacobs later in the con into buying Josh Simmons 'Flayed Corpse'. I apologize / you’re welcome.

'Loose' #3 is a really interesting mini, it’s just a random collection of pages from his sketchbook, but in between the seven layers of  detailed drawings each page contains, you can see how small ideas of his grow, like a tiny Superman sketch that he later posted a finished version of on Tumblr or the preliminary drawings of the Youth In Decline logo. I think he only printed like 200 of these, so no one who reads this will ever get their hands on one. So jokes on you.

After Koyama Press, I went over to the Dash Shaw signing to pick up the mini’s he’d been selling on his recent tour promoting 'New School'. He had a short one about the Real World cast during 9/11 which was interesting but really only functioned as a series of Dash Shaw portraits, 'New Jobs' and '3 New Stories' though were fantastic. I flipped through 'New School' while he was doing some sketches in each comic and it looked good, i didn't expect it to be so big.

----review interruption----
3 New Stories (Fantagraphics)
by Dash Shaw

'3 New Stories' is a comic which explores the juxtaposition and superimposition of images within the structure of text/drawing based comics (a.k.a. traditional comics) as a means of underlining the thematic nature of it's stories. Similar to Blaise Larmee’s recent work on Tumblr, where Larmee utilizes photo’s of teenage girls as both a coloring element for the art and as an image to haunt the background of his GIF art, Shaw codes the pages of '3 New Stories' with layers of visual subtext that work as an interesting color palette and also through their existence as “images”, create additional layers of meaning to each page and the narrative as a whole.

The first of Shaw’s stories,'Object Lesson', is about a recently out of work criminal investigator (closely resembling Sherlock Holmes) who finds out his High School degree is invalid because his class did not meet the required number of school days to graduate. His lack of a degree makes him unable to find work, forcing him to go back to school to finish out the remainder of his school year, where he finds several of his old classmates in a similar predicament.

The idea of money runs throughout 'Object Lesson', it is a decidedly post-Recession piece, with work, education and monetization becoming the stories central themes. The opening page of 'Object Lesson', in juxtaposition with the first “page” of '3 New Stories' (an advertisement for Fantagraphics new Uncle Scrooge collection) shows the story of a man (Scrooge “The Richest Duck in the World”) jumping into a pile of gold coins next to a starving beggar being handed a few cents while taking up residence on the sidewalk (the sidewalk, while not depicted, is shown through a ghost image of a phone booth in the background). This image becomes even stronger when one looks at the bottom half of the Uncle Scrooge advertisement which shows The Beagle Brothers sitting hungry around an empty table. Both The Beagle Brothers and the beggar take on, in this story, the idea of failing to change to the new model, they are hungry because they did not learn to succeed in the new world order. Robbers, beggars and barons.

In contrast to this failure to change, we have our protagonist attending his first day of school, where he is exposed to it’s new for profit nature, book rentals and meal plans. “Public schools have really improved since our time”  he is informed by a cab driver dropping him off for his first day, a thought often repeated by his former/new classmates. After a few days of attending classes though he starts to wonder “This isn't how i remember High School at all...most of the school work is just filing and office work. It is as if we’re paying them to let us work for them. For no pay.” It is from these sentiments that our detective begins to investigate and unravel the new structure of work and school, the new form of beggars and bank robbers lampooned in the book’s opening pages are shown to be the interns of today. Graduates that upon completing their degree must go back to school to finish out their missing semester performing free office work for massive corporations.

Our hero, while discovering this system, is unwilling to overthrow it. Instead he finds a job in the school with gold plated lockers teaching World History to forty year olds and living comfortably, because he was able to, like Uncle Scrooge, monetize his education.

The following two entries in '3 New Stories' are shorter pieces, but Shaw continues to manipulate the issues advertisements and his own ghost backgrounds to reinforce his narrative purpose. 'Acting Is Reacting: Girls Gone Wild' follows Shaw’s previous forays into animating and illustrating “reality” shows (The Wheel of Fortune, To Catch A Predator, Blind Date);creating a possible 'The End Of The Fucking World' (previous pages ad) scenario to both the female depicted and her parents. Narratively speaking, this is a straightforward story, a foreign exchange student is “interviewed” by a Girls Gone Wild cameraman as they convince her to disrobe on camera. But by removing any geographic signifiers in the girls speech,  and featuring a shifting map in the background of each page, Shaw takes the idea of the “Foreign” Exchange Student, which one would typically attribute to an individual from outside the US, and turns it into a catch all for any female student residing in the U.S..

The final story, 'Bronx Children’s Prison', is about, as the title suggest, a prison for small children. These children are forced to work in the fields or risk harsh spankings, eventually these punishments reach the point that the prisons population stages an attempted break out, in which all but one is gunned down. Each page is colored by a unique set of dot matrices, from general polka dots to jelly beans to Jawbreakers, these images create an almost pop aesthetic to the the story which makes the harsh treatment of the children even more disturbing. The final page of the story though offers a sliver of hope. In a bit of self promotion, Shaw allows one child to get over the wall, finding freedom “ No friends left, but i’ll find more.” which is followed, on the book's final page, by a full page advertisement for his new book 'New School' which features an illustration of a boat, leaving the reader hoping the child is on board (I guess you’ll have to read 'New School' to find out though).
----interruption over----

The first floor seemed to be where most of the artists / publishers i cared about were housed, the second seemed more regulated to children's books and webcomic artists although i did find some guy from Providence selling Mickey Z comics and Jim Rugg was up there. By mid-Saturday there was a twenty minute line to get into that room so i may just not be with it.

----review interruption----
RAV #8 (Self-published)
by Mickey Zacchilli

I have heard Mickey Z refer to it as a cyclical wandering story, stuff keeps happening but it’s all happened before. That idea really highlights the stories existence as a romance book, which have the tendency to repeat and fall back in on themselves because of the limits of the “will they or won’t they” trope. Anyways, some guy talks to a cat and then some lady rips a person limb from limb. Also, other shit. I like this book.
----interruption over----

After the initial walk around we (me/rick/chris) made the trek to The Beguiling. The store actually inhabits two floors, the first is more of the “book” section, with a collection of just about everything in and out of print  you could ever want. My brother commented that he could drop a $100 there without thinking, and he’s not a big comics guy to start with. The store is also littered with original art that makes you want to cry, i saw a Mazzucchelli Batman sketch just tucked away in a corner like it wasn't hot shit for example.

The Beguiling’s second floor is a completely different store, the first tip off to this would probably be the music, the first floor had “classic rock” playing, while the second was some form of Dubstep that i could never identify the creator of. It was loud and i guess littered with samples of things people find cool. The second floor housed more manga and quality back issues than i could ever look at. Rick found an issue of the 'Negative Burn' anthology in the Paul Pope bin with a Godzilla short by Alan Moore and Art Adams in it, which i hope they use as the basis for the next Godzilla movie just so I can hear Alan Moore denounce it.

After leaving The Beguiling, we went to some random burger joint on the way back to TCAF and flipped through what we had bought so far.

Rick had a 'Heavy Metal' issue with a short story from Guido Crepax in it. I’d never seen Crepax in color before, it was weird.

There is a place near The Beguiling called Honest Ed’s which i guess is a giant outlet store. The alleyway next to it had neon lights dubbing it Honest Ed’s Alley Way and this did not reduce my fears of walking down it.

Rick and Chris ended up going to a panel on Moebius at the Hotel TCAF was using as an off site venue. I used this opportunity to go to the Los. Hernandez signing which was surprisingly empty, i was later told by people that their signing the previous night was stuffed to the gills so i guess that explains the short line on Saturday. I flipped through Jaime originals while he was signing my books which were awe inspiring. I regret not buying one, but i was scared of talking to him because Holy Shit! the Hernandez Brothers! (I had a similar dumbfounded reaction of Clowes/Ware).

After staring at the Hernandez brothers for five minutes i went up to the first floor and finally got the WiFi on my phone to work (The WiFi at the library was really patchy, but a room full of comic fans will do that to any server). I was greeted by 2-3 tweets asking about my whereabouts. My favorite was a concerned DM from Joey Aulisio “Shawn, you alright? people are looking for you” That dude sure does care about me. #Swoon

Before meeting up with the people on twitter concerned about my well being though, i got my copy of 'The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame' signed. The difference between Tagame in person, and what you would picture him being based on his work is staggering. He’s like a big teddy bear. He even drew one in my book, a fucking teddy bear, right next to the picture of a guy having his anus prodded with a finger.

I talked with Ryan Sands, he had a mild line so I flipped through 'The Strange Tale of Panorama Island' which he had a display copy of (following its almost immediate sell out) and it looked beautiful, I’m kind of shocked Maruo was able to garner such a luxurious release. Anyways, Ryan Sands is a very nice person, which i guess is why everyone who matters in alt-comics contributes to his various projects.

I saw Box Brown taking hits out of a flask at his booth, the Retrofit booth was across the aisle from Picture Box so i was expecting a Brown/Nadel throw down later that day, but sadly that never occurred. But I did get 'Snake Oil' #7 from Charles Forsman....

----review interruption----
Snake Oil #7 (Retrofit)
by Charles Forsman

My brother said this book needed another page of the main character getting punched in the face, i’m not sure if it’s because he just hated the main character or didn't feel the events following the beating were in keeping with what we were shown. Besides that, he enjoyed it.
----review interruption----

After giving credence to the Charles Forsman rumor that i was a made up person created and maintained by Alec Berry and Joey Aulisio by going unseen for the first few hours of the con, I then went and hung out with him for a while until they kicked everyone out of the library because it was closing. Conversation highlights include:

Flipping through the proof copy of 'The End Of The Fucking World', which looks very nice. I know someone who has a pull quote on it.

Talking about our mutual love of Josh Simmons and how his wizard throat rape comic was originally going to be published in a Jeffery Brown edited anthology but they couldn't find a way to make the story publishable.

Me insulting various comics people and him politely nodding his head.

The recently re-posted Groth/McFarlane interview on TCJ, i pointed to this particular exchange:

MCFARLANE: ...My only point was, that out of those 200 kids, eight of those guys are going to turn into Fantagraphics fans someday. But because you insulted them, one of them might not. That’s your audience.
GROTH: I’ll accept the odds, yeah.
MCFARLANE: Whether you want to accept it or not, they, and the guys that are buying 'Spawn' today are your future audience, and you’re going after guys who are actually going to be your allies some day.”

I found this really interesting in the case of Forsman and the current crop of alt-comic artists emerging right now whom Fantagraphics would possibly wish to publish at some point who have some early Image influence. This was followed up by talking about Stephen Platt and Tim Vigil.

DAY ONE - POST SHOW

Sat around waiting for The Doug Wright Awards to start, then for another 40 minutes as a fire alarm went off once the show began seating. Chester Brown and Tom Spurgeon sat in front of me, which creeped me out a bit.

The awards were fine, little long but i assume every awards show is. If the whole fire alarm thing didn't happen it probably would have been quite a briskly paced show. The highlight was, as everyone else said, the David Collier speech which went through about five stages of funny/not funny/ funny again.

After the awards we went to the after-party bar thing. I had a couple beers, talked to Jim Rugg at the bar while he was waiting for his drinks about how hard it is to even get a basic grasp of everything that's at a show until two weeks after when you missed it. We then went home and passed out hard. I don’t walk that much.

TCAF DAY TWO

We showed up late for the second day of TCAF and left early, it was more of a “oh shit i forgot to get this” day. I got a Patrick Kyle book that I've wanted for a while but refused to pay the shipping to import to the US, and Tin Can Forest’s 'Wax Cross'. Those two guys were in this weird side room on the first floor i didn't know existed until i stumbled on it trying to get a WiFi signal on my phone.

----review interruption----
Wax Cross (Koyama)
by Tin Can Forest

Didn't understand it, but it looks pretty.
----interruption over----

We went to the panel about the death of comics blogging which was mostly asinine. Someone gave a speech in the form of a question which made me want to drink, sadly the bar which the panel was housed in didn't seem to be serving at the time. Tom Spurgeon seemed to possess the correct level of disdain for the panel, although i learned he had woken up a few minutes before the panel later. But i’m a fan of contempt for any reason.

In contrast to that panel i really enjoyed the Dash Shaw talk. He has some interesting idea’s about art and his own work.

I think that was it for Sunday at TCAF...yep.

DAY TWO - POST SHOW

Saw a double bill of "Room 237" and "The Shining" at a theater far too nice to be showing them. "Room 237" seemed like a really interesting documentary you’d find playing around on Netflix at 2 am trying to find something to sleep to. It was basically a series of semi-interesting internet essays about "The Shining" that there various authors read over the various scenes they were referring to. Most seemed to extrapolate a lot of stuff based on little inconsistencies which could easily be explained by the hotel being built on a Indian burial site. "The Shining" was very good though.

END

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