You can now subscribe to Retrofit’s dynamite 2015 lineup

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If there’s such a thing as “a big micro press” Retrofit Comics might just apply. With a monthly schedule of small, attractive books by the premiere cartoonists working, they’ve put out some of the most notable comics of the past few years, including Wicked Chicken Queen by Sam Alden, Tom Hart’s Daddy Lightning, and Flocks by L. Nichols.

And now you can subscribe to the whole 2015 lineup, which is a stunner, including:

Olivier Schrauwen – Mowgli’s Mirror

Matt Madden – Drawn Out
Laura Knetzger – Sea Urchin
Laura Lannes
Box Brown – An Entity Observes All Things
Kate Leth
Yumi Sakugawa
Steven Weissman
Sophie Franz
Future Shock anthology – edited by Josh Burggraf
Andrew Lorenzi
Maré Odomo

Subscriptions for all 12 books are $75 and include PDF versions of each comic and TWO BONUS GIFTS AND a free 2014 Retrofit comic to give to a pal. PLUS, sign up before February 20th with codeword “earlybird” to get $10 off.

You can also buy a digital-only sub for $35.  Shipping is free within the United States and discounted shipping is available to Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and the UK, for only $12. Shipping internationally otherwise is $36.

According to publisher Box Brown, “2015 is our most ambitious year to date. We’ve got 12 artists on the schedule and all kinds of surprises coming too. The first two books of our 2015 schedule are Mowgli’s Mirror by Olivier Schrauwen and Drawn Onward by Matt Madden. Both books are exceptional comics by masters of the craft. We’re planning this year to create books of all sizes as well. Steven Weissman’s book, coming out at San Diego Comic Con, will be over 100 pages. The rest of the 2015 artists are all extremely talented personal favorites: Laura Lannes, Kate Leth, Laura Knetzger, Yumi Sakugawa, Sophie Franz, Maré Odomo, Andrew Lorenzi, and a special collection of Future Shock anthology; edited by Josh Burggraf. Oh yeah! Also, we’re releasing a collection of my sci-fi comics (reprints and new work) called An Entity Observes All Things.”

Jared Smith, co-publisher of Retrofit Comics, said, “This is a big experiment for us, we are hoping we will get more subscribers by dropping the cost of the subscription and shipping. For it to work, we need to get lots of subscribers! One of the biggest problems with mailing so many print comics each year is how expensive shipping has become, especially internationally. We were able to get some great help with shipping from Matt Emery of Pikitia Press and Simon Moreton.”

If you have even the slightest interest in alternative comics, this is a great deal—and it enables retrofit to keep putting out important new works by some of the best cartoonists around.

Reviews: A Murder of Cartoonists

While we were enjoying Comic Arts Brooklyn this year, my partner Marguerite Van Cook and I took a break from the excitement of promoting our new Fantagraphics Book The Late Child and Other Animals to go across the street to a little coffee bar and have a snack. The young counterperson noted the influx of odd personages hauling portfolios and piles of comics and asked, “is that a convention?”
I replied, “Well, a convention is more like one of those huge things with wrestlers, porn stars and superhero comics, all mixed together with a lot of cosplayers. This is more of a gathering of especially individualistic birds in the alt/lit comics scene. I guess you could call it a ‘murder’ of cartoonists.”
She laughed and asked about the origin of that phrase, which usually describes a flock of crows. But not to further elaborate that conversation, what follows is a review sampling of comics, many of them with poetical aspects, that I got at CAB and other recent releases. Note that I don’t actually try to kill my subjects, but rather to remark on their positive aspects, wherever possible.

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Jungle Book by Harvey Kurtzman (Kitchen Sink/Dark Horse, $24.99)

Kurtzman

A rare solo effort by the auteuristic creator of E.C.’s two excellent war comics titles Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, working in the satiric mode he initiated for Mad. Now, I do very much like Kurtzman’s solo work; see Fantagraphics’ recent collection of most of his solo E.C. stories, Corpse on the Imjin (which also contains a smattering of his odd, briefer collaborations, like those with Alex Toth and Joe Kubert). His own drawings have a powerful thrust and direct emotionality that can be lost or greatly altered when filtered through the sensibilities of the artists charged to re-illustrate his layouts. In Jungle Book, which was originally released by Ballantine Books in 1959 as a dingy, downscale paperback, Kurtzman’s targets include a jazz/noir mashup, a TV western and most impressively, in “The Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite”, a cutting sendup of the fierce sexism that polluted the offices of his former employer, ex-Marvel Comics owner Martin Goodman. This brilliant strip is nonetheless disparaged as “weak” by famed misogynist and Kurtzman discovery R. Crumb, in the afterthought conversation between the underground artist and Peter Poplaski that cabooses this otherwise beautifully-produced hardcover reprint volume.

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Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown (First Second, $7.99)

Box Andre

Brown’s biography of wrestling star Andre Roussimoff joins a small group of comics masterpieces that deal with this most theatrical of sports, from Jaime Hernandez’s Whoa Nellie from 2000 to a series of tongue-in-cheek horror collaborations by Mike Mignola and Richard Corben in more recent years, including their 2011 graphic novella House of the Living Dead. Brown’s is a remarkably consistent effort with effective graphic sequences such as the one pictured above and I also admire his restrained handling of the heavily staged fight scenes, as well as his unusual architectural establishing shots. Brown’s stark, spare and precise cartooning create a unique mood, as they contextualize Andre’s success with a tragic acknowledgement of the unrelenting sense of otherness and diminished opportunities for social interaction that he experiences due to his exceedingly unusual scale; as well as his size’s harsh repercussions on his health.

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Fear My Dear: A Billy Dogma Experience by Dean Haspiel (Z2 Comics, $19.95)

Dino

The pair of poetic graphic stories in Fear, My Dear reflect Dino’s unfettered physicality and passionate persona. Since winning an Emmy award for his TV collaboration with Jonathan Ames, Bored to Death and The Alcoholic, their graphic novel from Vertigo, Haspiel has if anything become bolder and more exuberant. For this nicely produced hardcover from Josh Frankel’s new Z squared imprint, the artist uses a four-panels-per-page grid format and a monochromatic color scheme (red in the first piece, yellow and orange in the second, both with an elegant use of white for emphasis) to further define the relationship between his creator-owned characters Billy Dogma and Jane Legit. Their romance haunts post-apocalyptic urban rubble and breaks through to a star-crossed dreamscape, only to end up where they knew they must: together.

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How to Pool and Other Comics by Andrea Tsurumi (self-published, $3.00)

Andrea

Marguerite and I used to bask our way through the East Village dog days at the Pit Street Pool, and more recently as guests of the Miami Book Fair, we whiled away every spare moment by the steamy roof pool at our hotel. So, I can totally relate to the lead piece in Tsurumi’s new minicomic, wherein the artist collects a variety of witty graphic vignettes about group soakings in fluoridated waters, among other delicately drawn ironies and anthropomorphisms.

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Inkbrick #1 by Rothman, Sullivan, Kearney, Tunis, et al (Inkbrick, $8.00)

Alexander

This pocket-sized anthology of comics that incorporate, or are adapted from, poetry is made up of remarkable short stories done in a variety of mediums that range from full color to black & white. Immediate standouts for me are Paul K. Tunis’s watery montages for “Avenge Me, Eavesdropper,” Gary Sullivan’s oblique ink rendering of horrific Asian mythologies, “Black Magic”; Simone Kearney’s whimsically etched “Mobilization”; and editor Alexander Rothman’s “Keeping Time” (pictured above), a piece apparently finished in colored pencils that inventively expresses non-visual sensory impressions such as sound, smell and touch.

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The Graveyard Book, Volumes 1 and 2 by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell et al (Harper Collins, $19.99 each)

Gaiman Nowlan

Although The Graveyard Book continues Neil Gaiman’s anti-collaborative self-hype at the expense of his artist partners, I do appreciate P. Craig Russell’s adaptations of Gaiman’s stories into comics form. Russell’s elegant cartooning and storytelling are paced far better than if Gaiman had scripted; it worked beautifully for Murder Mysteries, Coraline and The Dream Hunters. Now, for Gaiman’s morbidly charming tale of a live boy shielded from a cabal of serial killers by the shades of the deceased occupants of a cemetery and raised by them to young adulthood, Russell acts artistically in a way similar to Kurtzman’s E.C. methodology: he adapts the text and does layouts; the finishing artists serve as illustrators. This makes for a surprisingly smooth and consistent read. I particularly admire the polished renderings of Kevin Nowlan (seen above), Scott Hampton, Jill Thompson and the Russell-miming Galen Showman; and although a somewhat discordant note is sounded by the grotesqueries of Tony Harris, the whole is unified by colorist Lovern Kindzierski and illuminator Rick Parker, who hand-lettered the text, for me a visual treat in these days of page-deadening digital fonts.

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Lazarus #1-9 by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark and Santi Arcas (Image Comics, $2.99 each)

Rucka Lark

I drew one of Greg Rucka’s first comics stories (“Guts” in DC/Vertigo’s Flinch #8, 2000), but it seems to me that the writer doesn’t take as much advantage as he might of the properties that are unique to comics—almost everything he does might work just as well if not better as TV shows. In his 2012 collaboration with Matthew Southworth, Stumptown, it is Southworth’s expressive drawing that provides most of the interest and its most effective use of the medium is that the artist rendered Vol 2, #4 with a Toth-esque sideways, widescreen layout. For Lazarus, a story of a female assassin in a dystopian, nearly medieval America run by a select group of powerful families that is absorbing enough and has had some striking moments, but still often has a feeling of deja vu about it, a lot of the heavy lifting is provided by artist Michael Lark’s cinematic near-photorealism, accomplished in collaboration with Santi Arcas’ hi-tech color graphics.

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Thought Bubble #4 by Kot & Sampson, Lim & Rios, Starkings & Sale et al (Image Comics, $3.99)

Ales Alison 1

This color tabloid is a showcase for the participants in the UK’s Leeds Comic Art Festival. My favorite piece is a sort of gentle advisory poem that in its course expresses a goal that many sensitive artists hold dear: that of “making things that help other people feel less alone.” It is the work of the writer of Image’s fascinating rotating-artist series Zero, Ales Kot, expressively drawn with upended, widescreen and oblique imagery by Alison Sampson, who just won a British Comic Award for emerging talent; and nicely colored by Jason Wordie. Also notable: a beautiful page by Hwei Lin and Emma Rios; and an Elephantmen strip written by Richard Starkings and elegantly rendered in ink washes by Tim Sale.

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Nightworld #s 1-4 by Adam McGovern, Paolo Leandri & Dominic Regan (Image Comics $3.99 each)

Paulo Adam

A tale of questing, embattled superhero-ish spirits, Nightworld manages to not only convey an approximation of the look of a Jack Kirby comic book, but it also comes closer than anything else I have seen to capturing something of the spirit of that master’s fierce and restless creativity. Artist Leandri hits a spot somewhere between majoring in Kirby, minoring in Steranko and echoing the early work of Barry Smith, back in the day when he was emulating Jack. Leandri’s spreads can look remarkably as if they were actually drawn by Kirby and his character designs and action passages likewise (see example above), without ever feeling as appropriated, or as forced, as those by some other artists who attempt to adhere as closely to the same model. These comics are colored by Regan with an oddly chosen palette that, again, is reminiscent of Kirby’s psychedelic experiments with Dr. Martin’s dyes. Moreover and significantly, writer McGovern’s poetic voice uniquely grasps a sort of post-traumatized and humane melancholy of narrative, the most tragic scenes of which are appropriately followed and leavened in a Shakespearean mode by bursts of frenetic humor, that can be seen in Kirby’s best writing.

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To Do Tonight May 16th: Box Brown reads Andre The Giant at Bergen Street

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I’ve been remiss in announcing localish events but there’s a good one tonight at Bergen Street Comics where Box Brown will read from Andre The Giant: Life and Legend. Deets:

Friday, May 16th 8:00PM
Comics Reading, Signing and Book Release with Box Brown!

This Friday will see Box Brown–one of our favorite alternative cartoonists–rocking his major label debut,Andre The Giant: Life and Legend. A surprisingly moving biography about one of the world’s most beloved wrestling icons? We couldn’t be more excited to host this event! Box will be in the house to talk about the book, and you’re welcome to bring wrestling questions–he’s the guy who will have the answers. The presentation part of the event will begin roughly around 8:30, and afterwards Box will sign copies of the book while regaling you with what it’s like to make books for First Second. The first people to grab a copy are welcome to the extra posters–just make sure you ask nicely! (And yes: there will be drinks!)

Interview: Box Brown on Andre The Giant: Life and Legend

Standing at seven and a half feet tall, pro-wrestler Andre The Giant more than earned his title over a three-decade career which saw him wrestle in America and Japan and memorably then turn his attention to the silver screen. And this month sees the first substantive biography of André René Roussimoff published by First Second. Written and pencilled by Box Brown, ‘Andre the Giant: Life and Legend’ is a sweeping look at the life of a man who towered over wrestling for years.

The book explores the aspects of his life which fans were never able to see – when he wrestled, it was during a time where all wrestlers were bound to keep the secret of wrestling from their fanbase. Wrestling was meant to be real, not a staged entertainment, and all the wrestlers had to keep up appearances at all times. As a result, Brown’s book is an absolutely fascinating look at a secretive period for ‘sports entertainment’.

First Second offered me the chance to speak to Brown about what inspired him to start the project, as well as how he views Andre himself, the difficulties of researching a story which was deliberately hidden from the public, and how he approached the daunting task of chronicling a prolific and fascinating career.

[Read more…]

Andre the Giant has a graphic novel — and now a cover

Andre graphic novel cover

Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend GN bio promises to be a sympathetic look at one of the greatest sports entertainment personalities of all times, and the cover has just been released over on Grantland, which also interviews Brown:

In many ways, we all have extraordinary circumstances thrust upon us in life and it’s up to us to do the best with them. That’s what I get out of Andre’s story. I empathized with him. We all have a ticking clock above our heads, but Andre’s clock ticked much faster and more precisely. But there’s definitely a delicate line you have to walk in telling someone else’s story that’s not quite as delicate in telling your own story. I think when I’m working on a personal story there’s less pressure to try to get it exactly right. When working on Andre’s story I was really trying to be careful. I tried to put myself in Andre’s shoes, which is difficult given the extraordinary nature of his life.


Brown promises to look at both sides of wrestling–the kayfabe and the constructed reality in his bio.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend comes out next spring from First Second.

Reviews: Comics from Comic Art Brooklyn and beyond

 

Here for your perusal, I examine a pile of worthy comics and graphic novelish books that I have found in my travels to Brooklyn; from a few book release parties at Bergen Street Comics, The Brooklyn Book Festival and most recently, Desert Island owner Gabe Fowler’s brand spanking new Comic Arts Brooklyn festival.
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Habit #1 by Josh Simmons, et al (Oily Comics, $5.00)

Simmons

I just love the deceptively cute cover of this anthology of new stories by alt/lit horrormeister Simmons, author of Fantagraphics’ extremely frightening and boundary-shattering collection The Furry Trap. Here he works on his own and in collaboration with other writers and/or artists such as Karn Piana, Wendy Chin and something that calls itself “The Partridge in the Pear Tree.” The most outstanding piece within, though, is the solo first story, which I consider to be one of the best short comics that I have seen this year: a harrowing, cinematic and 3-dimensionally articulated depiction of the devastating repercussions on a single seaside home of a tsunami.
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Missy by Daryl Seitchik (Oily Comics, $1.00)

Seitchik

I have seen Seitchek’s name previously listed as co-colorist of Gabrielle Bell’s  Uncivilized Books masterpiece The Voyeurs. In this minicomic for Charles Forsman’s imprint Oily Comics, she shows a rapidly developing talent for disturbing absurdity as she draws from a creepy child’s-eye view of life. Some minutely rendered deep-space compositions can be seen, if one looks close enough.
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Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream by Laura Park (Uncivilized, $4.00)

Park

This utterly charming minicomic has the feel of a sketchbook, but one by a clearly accomplished storytelling cartoonist, one I have somehow not heard of until now, even though she was nominated for an Eisner award in 2009! The protagonist spends time in her apartment alone, goes into hospital for an unspecified surgical procedure, then back home to recuperate, all depicted in clusters of brief sequences with great drawing skills in evidence and with humor and personality to spare.
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Incidents in the Night 1 by David B. (Uncivilized Books, $19.95)

B

David B. is rightly hailed as one of France’s greatest comics talents for his 2003 masterwork Epileptic, an incredible, densely drawn testament of his brother’s illness and the ways in which it profoundly affected his family’s life over decades. B. is an extremely inventive artist and storyteller and it is a feather in Tom Kaczynski’s Uncivilized cap to land a major B. work on these shores. Incidents in the Night enables B. to take advantage of his many narrative strengths in a conspiratorial cliffhanger tale of oppositional forces that do battle within the pages of books themselves. The next part of this story has been some time in coming, but now I will await it with bated breath.
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Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan & Nathan Fox (Scholastic Graphix, $22.99)

Keenan and Fox
Given that this came out from mainstream kid’s publisher Scholastic, I expected not much in the way of honest portrayals of war, but as Keenan and Fox show the role of canines in some of the most horrendous conflicts of modern times, World Wars I and II and Vietnam, for an ostensibly teenaged audience, they render battlefield scenarios not overly explicitly, yet also not glamorizing the stresses while emphasizing the bond between man and animal under fire. In this regard, the third story is particularly effective. It deals with the stateside relationship between two African-Americans: a child and his floppy hound and a traumatized Vietnam veteran who had been separated from his pooch partner at the end of his tour. Keenan  and artist Fox avoid the maudlin and give a sense of the lasting psychological damage done. Fox seems to have minimized his formerly apparent Paul Pope influence to here find his own unique visual metier, sometimes resembling more a contemporary version of E.C. Comics great George Evans; well-drawn, supple and effective.
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Beach Girls by Box Brown with James Kolchaka (Retrofit Comics, $6.00)

Brown

Cartoonist Brown showcases his streamlined, verging on abstracted drawing style and some expansive page layouts in this understated, even determinedly inconsequential tale of aimless youth in the form of stoner surfers and their interactions with teenyboppers on vacation that harks my jaded eyes back to the summery deep-sixties days of Rick Griffin’s surfer icon Murphy. The loosely brushed backup by Kolchaka continues the feel of openness in art, not to say fogginess of mind.
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Pangs by MK Reed and Farel Dalrymple (Tugboat Press, $12.00)

Reed and Dalrymple

A beautifully done story printed as a smallish set of prints sealed within a plastic bag, that I bought at Bergen Street Comics. It is actually part of a larger and elaborate Irish folktale-style website comic that can be found at Aboutabull.com, but this particularly feminist-ish episode is drawn and watercolored in the best European/Moebiusy tradition by awesome talent Dalrymple, who, it should also be said, did the most indescribably detailed art on my two favorite issues of the bizarro poetic epic sci-fi comic Prophet, which everyone must know by now is an Image comic of a Rob Liefeld property that has been hugely dignified by the scripts of Brandon Graham and a plethora of talented artistic collaborators.
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My Dirty Dumb Eyes by Lisa Hanawalt (Drawn+Quarterly, $22.95)

Hanawalt

I must have looked at the fascinating cover of this book scores of times in various shops and thought, “I have to have this!” before I finally coughed up for it when I saw Hanawalt at a table at Comic Arts Brooklyn a few weeks ago. I’m happy, though, that I waited until I could slap some cash into the artist’s hand and get her to sign it, because this is some of the funniest shit I’ve read in years, better by far than decades of Mad magazine and the National Lampoon. Seriously, I laughed out loud many times while reading it. It’s more sort of a collection of quirky illustrated articles and skewed film reviews than comics per se, although there are some decidedly whacky strips in it, too—-but there is no doubt, Hanawalt draws and watercolors skillfully and hilariously and overall, I think she’s great.
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School Spirits by Anya Davidson (Picturebox, $19.95)

Davidson
Davidson has a unruly, frenetic talent for berzerker but often silent storytelling in fierce, extemporaneous-appearing panel drawings that race headlong across her pages, grounded only by her cannily placed blackspotting. School Spirits is an odd package, a hardcover binding of rough papered black & white interiors, which makes me think a little of a thick, foreign even though in English, issue of a giant 50 cent annual of Archie’s Madhouse drawn in a rush in between spates of orgiastic sexual frenzy by a bullpen of normally sedate talents who are at this time bingeing on powerful blotter acid and led by Mort Meskin on a benzedrine drip. Actually, Davidson moonlights as a rock star and her comics work seems to be cut from some similar punk cloth as the Hernandez Brothers, whose works are also sometimes known to resemble kid’s comics on a bender. Class bells ring, radio contest hopes are thwarted, thirsty lovers clinch, graven idols move, civilizations rise, fall and are reborn again, heads roll, faces melt, warrior musicians riff and lay waste, while goddesses vomit and veer crazily as they hop, skip and jump to the ends of the universe and back. Whew!
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[James Romberger is a cartoonist and fine artist best known for the graphic novel 7 Miles A Second (Fantagraphics) and the Eisner-nominated Post York (Uncivilized Books). His pastel drawings are in many public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

INTERVIEW: Box Brown Announces New DIstribution Deal for Retrofit Comics

Box Brown (“Belen!”, “Love is a Peculiar Kind of Thing”) is a fixture at indie comics shows, tirelessly producing his own bold and appealing short comics on a regular basis, but also, in 2011, launching an experiment in the return of the “floppy” or mini-comic via branding in the form of Retrofit Comics. Retrofit consists of a fleet of remarkable names in creator-driven independent comics banding together under an imprint to gain brand-visibility and reinforce a sense of production quality for their volumes. Retrofit’s goals were to be a presence in local comic shops, so that readers could actually visit a shop on new comic book day and look forward to floppies alongside mainstream works. The result was both beautiful, varied, and compelling for readers, particularly impressive when spread out over a table at SPX or the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. Creators published in Retrofit’s first 18 months have included James Kolchaka, Corinne Mucha, Josh Bayer, Nathan Schreiber, Noah Van Sciver, and many more. Meanwhile, Box Brown was continuing with his own comics as part of the Retrofit line-up, and turning to a long form work for First Second on Andre the Giant. Retrofit was originally launched with 16 books in mind, but they’ve since moved past that goal, posing the question, what’s going to be the future of Retrofit? When I got in touch with Box Brown to talk about it, unusually good timing also brought with the interview some breaking news about this very question. Read on to find out what leaps and bounds Retrofit has made not only throughout 2011 and 2012, but this very week!

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Hannah Means-Shannon: So, Retrofit Kickstartered in July 2011 with a goal to publish 16 books between then and January 2013. What was your experience like following that plan? Did it change at all along the way?

Box Brown: I followed that plan to a T.  It was a lot of leg-work but ultimately it was a worthwhile endeavor.

HMS:  Do you feel that you’ve made headway raising awareness about the value of “floppies” as an experimental tool for creators via Retrofit?

BB: I think there is a a greater focus on the format now than when I got started.  I think Retrofit played some part in that.  I think it’s a great, versatile format for comics and I’m glad people are still making them.

[Read more…]

MEGA-INTERVIEW: Cliff Galbraith on the Meteoric Rise of the Asbury Park Comicon

If you’ve been following the history of the Asbury Park Comicon, which opened only a year ago in March of 2012, you know it’s been a strange, yet rather astonishing ride, but imagine how much stranger it must be for founder and indie comics creator Cliff Galbraith. What started in a bowling alley turned music venue and local hangout, Asbury Lanes, has become a major testament to demand for Comic Cons in New Jersey, and also a statement about the desires and tastes of con-goers who have relished the indie vibe of Galbraith’s brainchild. After a highly successful second Con in September of 2012, Galbraith announced that the Con would move to the much larger and even more historic venue of Asbury Park Convention Hall for its third event on March 30th 2013.

Then Superstorm Sandy struck, devastating the seaside town of Asbury Park, leaving the future of the Con in question. Against some difficult odds, the Con forged ahead, and Galbraith faced another kind of storm- media frenzy- over the upcoming Con. It’s fair to say that his phone has been ringing off the hook as local press as well as The New York Times have been trying to get the scoop on what looks to be a growing New Jersey institution as Asbury Park Comicon nears its biggest event yet. Dozens of prominent guests will be flanking this full-blown gala of a Con, and the Con will also be featuring panels and contests. Galbraith hasn’t had a moment’s rest since all this started more than a year ago, and he finished up several other interviews just in time to answer some questions about all this Con madness, and how it fits into his own life, for The Beat.

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[Read more…]

On the Scene: Small Press Expo 2012, Day One

By Hannah Means-Shannon

Things were buzzing at the Small Press Expo even before it officially began. A crowded hotel lobby, constant chatter, and a general sense of anticipation partly due to this year’s much-hyped stellar guests, erupted in substantial lines to get onto the floor once doors opened Saturday morning. Along with the outstanding list of guests this year, including Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, and Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, there were a wide range of new releases in self-publication and from presses like Fantagraphics and Top Shelf. Well-orchestrated panels featuring star guests also contributed to high attendance, and plenty of fans who waited in the briskly moving but substantial lines to get their copies of LOVE AND ROCKETS signed by the Hernandez brothers also attended packed conference rooms downstairs to hear what their favorite comics creators had to say.

SPX has always boasted some international connections, but the presence of British-origin presses like Nobrow and Selfmade Hero this year, in particular, resulted in some much-needed discussion about the indie market in the US and UK. The panel “British Comics: Does it Translate” kicked off the SPX line-up with Nick Abadzis (LAIKA, HUGO TATE), Sam Arthur (Nobrow), Glyn Dillon (THE NAO OF BROWN), Ellen Lindner (UNDERTOW), and Luke Pearson (EVERYTHING WE MISS), and was moderated by Rob Clough. The three topics that received the most attention during the panel were recent works including Abadzis’ HUGO TATE from Blankslate, Pearson’s HILDA books from Nobrow, and Dillon’s THE NAO OF BROWN from Nobrow. Abadzis explained that HUGO TATE, a long-running strip, parallels his own migratory patterns in life from the UK to the US while he continues to create works both for the UK, US, and French market. Dillon’s return to comics after pursuing storyboarding for filmmaking has resulted in an OCD character with an unusual obsessional pattern that “traps” her “in a loop” as she attempts to engage with life. Pearson’s HILDA books, including the newly released HILDA AND THE MIDNIGHT GIANT, attempt to “break down the cartoon form” according to Pearson, and are heavily influenced by manga styles. The array of indie output from British presses seems to suggest that the British market is currently poised between European expansion and American demand, finding new practical ways of increasing distribution for works that are often cutting edge in terms of concept and design.

In “Publishing During the Apocalypse”, our own Heidi MacDonald of The Beat and Publisher’s Weekly led a discussion with Leon Avelino (SECRET ACRES), Box Brown (Retrofit Comics), Anne Koyama (Koyama Press), and John Porcellino (KING-CAT COMICS) about the enormous pressures indie publishers are navigating right now.  When posed with the question “What are the biggest obstacles that you’ve faced as publishers”, Avelino cited the shift to book market distribution for graphic novels, and Brown and Koyama agreed that carefully planning distribution and dealing with shops occupies a lot of their time as the market shifts from sales by subscription to the publisher to sales from shop stock. All felt that an increase in small regional indie comics shows have helped them expand readership in recent years.

MacDonald broached the subject of Kickstarter with varying responses. Brown felt that any method of defraying printing costs, which are often prohibitive, is a good thing while Koyama finds herself pushing worthy creators toward Kickstarter campaigns when she simply can’t accommodate all the good work that comes her way as a publisher. Avelino prefers a “mate for life” approach when signing artists to his company, focusing on their output rather than individual works, which ensures greater stability for their careers. The wider benefits of Kickstarter, Brown pointed out, are that it can be used by anyone for anything that they may find “out of their reach” otherwise, however, he feels that the current boom in Kickstarter campaigns may need wiser strategies from creators in the future to ensure success. With indie comics production on the rise, Porcellino reminded the audience that the “inside counts” also, and all the “pretty books” people are putting out right now due to technological advancement for self-publishing can cause creators and fans to lose sight of the strong storytelling essential to indie comics. All of the publisher-panelists had promising news about their future moves in the industry, suggesting that the apocalypse can be weathered and continuity with the strong indie comics of previous years maintained as well as built upon.

When Daniel Clowes sat down with Alvin Buenaventura, the editor of the retrospective THE ART OF DANIEL CLOWES: MODERN CARTOONIST, and scholar Ken Parille, it was standing room only in the largest conference room at SPX. Clowes, who appeared energetic and amused by such a large crowd commented that working on the retrospective book with Buenaventura was a welcome thing because he’s “lonely and working all the time” so it was “fun to have someone to hang out with”. This was met with guffaws of laughter from fans, who no doubt believe that Clowes is sustained by knowledge of his own artistic greatness rather than human company. Little details provided by Buenaventura and Clowes about the research process set the scene for comedy, including Buenaventura rifling through Clowes’ closets constantly and “measuring his art” while Clowes wondered what dirty laundry the writer might dig up that he had forgotten about.

Buenaventura narrated slides from the accompanying exhibit of Clowes’ work, currently in Oakland and its impressive design components, from photo references for Clowes’ 8 BALL series to panel breakdowns on a wide range of works. Clowes commented that since he never sees his own art from more than “8 feet away” due to the confines of his home, he sees the detail and minutiae that he feels are imperfect and “sloppy”, whereas viewing them on display in Oakland was quite an eye-opener. In fact, he joked (or maybe he wasn’t joking) that his work at that distance appears to have been produced by a “psychopathic malfunctioning robot”.

Clowes gave some insight into his characters, prompted by “diametrically opposed views” from fans over WILSON, clarifying “I’ve never done a character I fully hate. I find a way to love them by the end of the story”. The Q and A period of the panel produced wide-ranging commentary from Clowes, including measuring his life in “nine inches of space on a bookshelf” through the books he’s created, his ongoing use of the writing table he acquired at age 15, and promises regarding his next, secret project currently at 100 pages. “If I described it, you would think I was insane,” he warned, “Maybe you’ll never see it”. He sounded almost relieved by this possibility, but this time, at least, the audience hoped he was joking.

Panels finished up for the day in plenty of time for some more perusing of books on the expo floor, and this year extra time was intentionally built in to the evening to allow for off-site meals before the Ignatz Award Ceremony. Long before closing time on Saturday, there were rumors that the day had produced record sales for indie comics, making the evening even more of a cause for celebration.

Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart.She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.

 

 

 

 

Box Brown does Andre the Giant for First Second

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Or at least that’s what was posted on Twitter:


Brown is quite the wrestling fan (that’s an unrelated Kane face above) so this should be good!