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.
Habit #1 by Josh Simmons, et al (Oily Comics, $5.00)
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.
Missy by Daryl Seitchik (Oily Comics, $1.00)
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.
Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream by Laura Park (Uncivilized, $4.00)
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.
Incidents in the Night 1 by David B. (Uncivilized Books, $19.95)
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.
Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan & Nathan Fox (Scholastic Graphix, $22.99)
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.
Beach Girls by Box Brown with James Kolchaka (Retrofit Comics, $6.00)
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.
Pangs by MK Reed and Farel Dalrymple (Tugboat Press, $12.00)
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.
My Dirty Dumb Eyes by Lisa Hanawalt (Drawn+Quarterly, $22.95)
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.
School Spirits by Anya Davidson (Picturebox, $19.95)
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!
[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.]