Gabrielle Bell’s The Voyeurs is a terrific bit of memoir; that it comes with an introduction by Aaron Cometbus makes abundant sense, as both authors share an ability to capture everyday life and zero in on the particular concerns, foibles, and frustrations of artists. I recently had the privilege of chatting with Bell; you can now read the result on The Paris Review.
In late April, I was in Portland, Oregon for this year’s Stumptown Comics Festival at the suggestion of the esteemed Molly Templeton. While there, we caught a panel on comics and history featuring Kate Beaton (whose work I was familiar with) and Dylan Meconis (whose work I was not). I was intrigued by what I saw of Meconis’s work, and spent quite a bit of the subsequent week — in which I was supposed to be making headway through writing a short novel — reading through her ongoing Family Man, and ultimately pre-ordering the print edition.
Yesterday, my copy of the first collected edition of Family Man arrived. It is indeed quite good — a look at 18th-century Germany from the perspective ofÂ Luther Levy, a theologian whose life puts him at the intersection of Christianity, Judaism, and atheism. There are also hints through this volume of something older — something ritualistic and pagan — just beneath the veneer of the isolated town in which he finds himself.
Meconis’s artwork has an expressiveness and a flow that reminds me more than a little of Carla Speed McNeil, which is a fine thing. And some of the things that she does with her text can be thrilling –Â this sequence in particular. It works well online, but the cumulative effect in print is even more impressive.
Also, Meconis is behind this bit of artwork, which is total genius. (Hint: “They are hot for liberty — and you!”)
The good people at the Portland Mercury have a fantastic interview up with Matt Fraction, the man responsible for writing Casanova, pretty much my favorite comic book right now. There’s an equally good interview with Fraction up over at Comics Alliance, as well as this one in GQ. The last of those includes the following quote, which has been running through my head for the last couple of weeks:
For all the bravado and, what you call it, callow youthfulness behind the idea of “Do it yourself!,” at the end of the day, there’s a time in your life when you absolutely can, and there’s a time in your life when you’re married and you have a mortgage and a baby or two babies and you need diapers and food and it’s just like, “I can’t do that, I can’t work for free anymore.” It’s not like anybody’s getting rich. It’s not like “Well, I need a BMW.” No-I need to pay my light bill. That’s the reality of it.
The backmatter this time out — short essays on work that was, in some ways, influential to Casanova — is reminiscent of Fraction’s work as critic and and enthusiast at Artbomb and CBR’s Poplife. Good stuff all around, I’d say.
I have a second copy of the first reissued issue, should anyone want it. Casanova‘s the sort of thing I feel borderline evangelical about; the reissued second issue is out today, and there’s a preview here.
Just finished reading Mats Jonsson’s Hey Princess (preview here). It’s an autobiographical take on coming of age in late-90s Sweden, often brutally honest, and all the funnier for it. Jonsson’s art is fairly straightforward (I’d say comparisons to Jeffrey Brown would not be out of line), but that seems appropriate for the self-deprecating tone that he strikes throughout. Throw in abundant references to Pulp and Bob Hund, and I was hooked. (It’d make for an interesting double bill with Phonogram, I’d say.) As an added bonus, there’s also an eerily resonant suggestion late in the book that a certain cult television show is responsible for the romantic ideal for indie-dudes of a certain age. It made me laugh out loud, then shudder a bit from recognition.
(All of these were picked up at MoCCA earlier in the month.)
James Hindle, Little Wolves
Cecil Berry, the protagonist of Little Wolves, is a children’s book author in the midst of a creative drought. A thumbnail description of Little Wolves would be to call it his search for inspiration, but that’s a little too neat. Cecil begins the book in a sort of paralysis; from there, the decisions he makes are unwise, and they’re telegraphed as such from a mile off. What we get is a character study of an artist simultaneously trying desperately to evolve and alienating everyone close to him — but the ending, and Hindle’s willingness to present his protagonist’s worst tendencies — make some good points about the gulf between art that inspires and artists whose lives…don’t.
Eric Skillman with Evan Bryce, Ming Doyle, and Victor Kerlow, Egg: Hard-Boiled Stories #2
To borrow a line from classical political theory, these three short pieces could be called nasty, brutish, and short — all good qualities when you’re looking at stories that fall under the “crime fiction” header. “Lost and Found,” illustrated by Ming Doyle, is the best of the three; Doyle’s art is reminiscent of a young Paul Pope, and it fits this story of young, attractive New Yorkers perfectly. “The Platform,” illustrated by Victor Kerlow, has the nastiest narrative sting, but Kerlow’s looser style doesn’t seem as well-matched to the brutality of this story. Overall, though, it’s a fine anthology, and I’m curious to see what Skillman can do at a longer length.
Niklas Asker, Second Thoughts
The cover caught my eye first: half a head, watching over a city at night. Stylistically, that cover reminded me a lot of Farel Dalrymple‘s work — not a bad thing at all, and Asker’s interior work is nicely evocative, and equally suited to sprawling urban canvases and more intimate domestic moments. It’s difficult to discuss Second Thoughts in too much detail without spoiling huge chunks of it. That the graphic novel’s central characters are a writer and a photographer, and the work of each (and its creation) factors significantly into the story being told. Where Second Thoughts stumbled, for me, is in its structure: the way in which Jess (a writer) comes to tell her story is, arguably, more interesting than the actual story that she tells. Beneath the metafictional elements here are an interesting exploration of gender, authorship, and memoir — but those aren’t readily apparent until a second reading, and even then aren’t necessarily in the foreground.
Yesterday, I made my way to the MoCCA Festival for the first time in many, many years. (For context: the last time I was there, Craig Thompson’s Blankets was brand-new and Bryan O’Malley’s Lost at Sea was this close to coming out.) Here’s what I ended up getting while there; ah, commerce.
Simon GÃ¤rdenfors, The 120 Days of Simon
Mats Jonsson, Hey Princess
Kolbeinn Karlsson, The Troll King
Niklas Asker, Second Thoughts
Hope Larson, Mercury
Alexis Frederick-Frost, La Primavera
James Hindle, Little Wolves
Eric Skillman with Evan Bryce, Ming Doyle, and Victor Kerlow, Egg: Hard-Boiled Stories #2
Thoughts on some/all of these will be forthcoming.
I’ve been a fan of Scott Snyder’s writing ever since we took part in a Dollar Store Show reading at McNally Jackson a few years ago. His collection Voodoo Heart is highly recommended — Snyder understands and deconstructs irrational male anger with empathy and precision. Nowadays, Snyder has a Vertigo series in collaboration with artist Rafael Alberquerque called American Vampire, and the first issue (sixteen pages from Snyder and Alberquerque, sixteen pages from Stephen King and Alberquerque) makes for a nicely creepy pair of opening chapters.
This Faster Times interview is fine stuff, and this piece in particular has me intrigued:
To me, vampires are one of the scariest creations of all time. A classic monster. Like zombies and Frankenstein, werewolves too, which I hope get a good treatment sometime soon. These guys have stuck around because they’re primally frightening monsters.
Snyder’s referred to Near Dark as a favorite horror work of his, and that’s encouraging — it’s significant, I’d think, that one of the most unsettling vampire films is also one of the most understated.
Rather than the list of separate items, I’m instead linking to three takes on crime-oriented graphic novels. Two are from writer and filmmaker Adi Tantimedh as part of his Look! It Moves! column – one covering the Vertigo’s recently-launched crime imprint, the other looking at innovation in the form. And at The Savage Critics, Abhay Khosla examines crime novels, with an eye towards writers whose work encompasses both prose and comics.
One: Doug Mosurock, in the process of delivering a contrarian take on Sic Alps, throws in a Kent McClard reference, and the mind of this aging hardcore kid is somewhat blown.
Two: While looking at this article concerning a t-shirt that really shouldn’t be controversial (but was), I was reminded of my own first encounter with the science/religion divide. Which…came in the form of a Christian-themed Archie comic book. Which may explain why I feel very little nostalgia for Archie — while some people think “carefree kid,” I tend to think “redheaded moralizer”. Sad, really.
Two: Also returning: Kat Bakes, with a post about weddings, cakes, and their union.
Three: Shla Scanlon — whose serialized novel I really need to start reading — profiles the Seattle band ULGM for The Rumpus. I’m presently listening to the songs on their myspace page, and I like what I hear so far — notably, how there’s just a slight Dead Kennedys-esque air of menace to the vocals that contrasts nicely with the restraint of the music.
Four: Also being listened to around these parts a lot lately: 24-Carat Black’s Gone: The Promise of Yesterday, “I Want to Make Up” in particular.
…thinking and explaining can be difficult, which is why most proponents of new technologies fall back on two standard lines: (1) Human Nature Has Irreversibly Changed , and (2) Beware Lest the Wheels of History’s Juggernaut Crush You. I swear, these people are going to make technophobes of me yet.
Two: Warren Ellis talks music and comics. Discussed, among others: Paul Pope and Jim Lee.
Phonogram, the collaboration of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie, is both a surreal urban fantasy with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music and a detailed critique of the same. Its first volume, Rue Britannia, covered Britpop with side trips into the music of Scout Niblett and the Afghan Whigs. The Singles Club, currently in progress, encompasses an even wider scope of music. One of the shorter pieces in The Singles Club, “She Who Bleeds For Your Entertainment” (with artist Laurenn McCubbin), critiques male indie rock fans’ fondness for songs in which women die; that it wraps its critique in an atmospheric horror story makes it that much more memorable. And it’s ultimately the dual nature of the series that makes it both fascinating and compelling. Gillen and I discussed this duality, alongside other topics, via email.
[Previous interviews in this series can be found here.]
Besides being a compelling story in its own right, Rue Britannia also works on the level of examining a genre of music — essentially, the narrative work as work of criticism. Was this something that was planned from the outset, or did that aspect evolve as you wrote it?
Planned from the outset. In fact, it’s its backbone. When I sat down to write the first demo Phonogram script – which was basically the Beth subplot from Rue Britannia, but done in a single issue – the question wasn’t “Can I work pop music criticism into a fantasy story?” but “Can I work this pop music criticism into a fantasy story?”. While the demo script had loads of problems, it proved to my satisfaction that it seemed to work – and when it was showing it to McKelvie that made him agree to joining me on this foolish endeavour. Depending on which story I write, we lean heavier towards the fiction or the theory, but fundamentally, for all the magical effects, if it isn’t a metaphor for what music really does to and for human beings, we can’t use it. It has to be true, y’know? When we’re occasionally reviewed in the music press, it does please me that they review Rue Britannia for its critical component as much as its more traditional narrative gubbins.
In your essay accompanying the first issue of The Singles Club, you talk about using each issue to discuss a different aspect of pop music. Do you generally begin with the story or the music — or are the two essentially inseparable?
Yeah, you may as well ask which atrium in my heart is more essential. I need them both. It… well, it varies. With The Singles Club it’s more character driven than Rue Britannia, so a lot of the plot beats are prompted solely by these characters I’ve crammed into a nightclub. But the vast majority of those characters were inspired directly by whatever I was listening to in 2006. Laura comes from the Long Blondes and Penny the Pipettes, for example. All about the alliteration, me.
Sometimes it’s the other way around, where I get inspired by my own personal response to some music… but I decide not to actually use that song, and work it in another way. Occasionally a story I have is totally derailed by musical inspiration. I wanted issue 6 to by my fanzine-tribute issue, and had a complete structure and plot for Lloyd to go through… but I found myself listening to Los Campesinos late one night and had a moment of clarity of what had to happen to Lloyd. In other words, it’s a big mash of my responses to pop music, how pop music responds to me and rambling silly formalist pretensions.
Thinking specifically of She Who Bleeds for Your Entertainment — do the backups relate specifically to the same aspect of pop handled in that issue’s lead story, or are they ways to cover additional facets of music that might not lend themselves to a longer piece?
The latter. Occasionally an idea can only support a page… but that doesn’t mean the idea isn’t worthwhile. I wrote the B-sides before deciding which issue they’d be attached to, though there’s some rudimentary DJ-style set-building after the fact. So for issue 1, I knew the main story was pop and flirty, so I dropped Laurenn’s She Who Bleeds… for a little of the obvious-criticism approach of Rue Britannia, with Marc’s Power of Love rounding off the set by being openly silly – something we hadn’t actually shown in PG before. I’d agree that you can link She Who Bleeds… to the main story though – ideally, we’re trying to create a thematic whole from what material we’ve created. Alternatively, sometimes we just go for counterpoint – issue 5 has a really tongue in cheek and playful piece after Laura’s seething white-hot mass of angst.
Bar having a bit too much fun and bullying our friends, the larger point of the B-sides was trying to populate the universe a bit. With Rue Britannia, people had a really strict idea about what we were about – Britpop and David Kohl, basically. As much as that’s part of us, Phonogram‘s a world book about music and magic. The fact the lead stories all feature different characters is a big step before that, but the B-sides are continuing the theme. I mean, I’ve just written one inspired by Mastodon. The ones in issue 2 come from Kate Bush and Diamanda Galas respectively. There’s one about bad pub-singers in rural England. It mixes it up and hopefully will make people’s conceptions of how the universe works. Plus, the B-sides let us make some stuff clear about our philosophy about this stuff. There’s a subsection of responses to PG who are making some assumptions about PG which are actually the total opposite of what we’re saying. I mean, PG is fundamentally an anti-elitist comic in any way which matters. If people read some of the B-sides and still don’t get that, I’ll feel better about shrugging and just moving on. But I have to try. Communication is the whole point.
For She Who Bleeds.., Jamie McKelvie is credited with “Production” — what does that translate to? Has the selection of the artists for the backups been a collaborative process?
Lettering and general pre-print stuff on the files, really. We can’t help playing with that kind of stuff.
And, yes, we collaborated. As in, collaborated in twisting people’s arms until they said yes. We approached some people and asked if they’d be up for it. Some people approached us and asked. Some people who we thought would be too busy to say yes stomped up and wanted to know why we didn’t ask them. Some people said they’d do it whilst drunk, and we held it to them. Really, it’s just a cross-section of people who we dig. In terms of what story they do… well, it’s about 50:50 whether I already have a story written which needs an artist or whether it’s me trying to think of something that’ll suit the artist who says they’ll do something for us. Whenever I give someone a script, I ask if it’s something they’d like to do – and if it isn’t their thing, I’ll find something else. For it to be fun is totally key, especially when we’re asking for so much time for from these talents. Sometimes an artist even has a core idea for a story – maybe just an observation about music – which I spin out into something else. For example, Laurenn with She Who Bleeds or Charity Larrison in her B-side in issue 4.
You’ve done an extensive amount of promoting Phonogram online, and have made equally compelling reasons for purchasing the single issues and the collected edition. Where do you find that most people are being exposed to it? Have you noted a significant difference between how people are reading The Singles Club in comparison with Rue Britannia?
We’re big ol’ sluts with our internet whoredom.
Er… I honestly dunno, regarding where people are exposed to it. In terms of pure numbers, sales of the singles are pretty much identical between the two series. And, yeah, that’s been somewhat disheartening to put that much effort into the singles and not get even a tiny uptick. Hell, going colour alone normally adds 2k – we were hoping for similar sales to Jamie’s Suburban Glamour, whose pre-orders of issue 1 were that much more than PG1. We’ve got a big old string of theories on why, but I suspect it’s as simple as the retailers just ordering exactly the same numbers of this series as the last. Oh – plus the economic collapse thing. It’s even possible that if we hadn’t done all we did with the singles, our sales would have come in much lower. And more than most demi-mainstream comics, I suspect there’s a split between the shops which support us – and do it fantastically – and those who don’t. There’s certainly many of shops who ordered the second series much higher than the first, which means I have to assume that other shops didn’t order it at all.
But, yeah, it’s doubly annoying when the orders came in as low as they were and we immediately sell out of the print run from re-orders. Which also happened with the first series of Phonogram.
In terms of whether more people are exposed in singles or trades, I’d assume the latter. Looking at Rue Britannia, we’ve sold twice as many trades as we did the individual issues of the series (And, yeah, shifting over 10K of trades would be another thing which would make you hope orders on the next series would be up. As Kirby said, Comics will break your heart). I do suspect that our best efforts with the singles are just railing against the light. A considerable portion of PG readers are non-traditional comic readers who just won’t go inside most comic shops, and will pick it up off an online retailer when it hits trade.
Putting the horrible business head away, it really doesn’t matter. The singles are worth doing for art’s sake. If they’re a waste of our time, they’re a glorious waste of our time.
One followup to yesterday’s post on “Western Bridges”: The story was originally written for a THE2NDHAND “Mixtape” reading held in Brooklyn at Sound Fix.Â There’s a passing reference to Phonogram in the story — said graphic novel’s theme of using music as a tool for reinvention was something I wanted to tip my hat towards, as The Spinanes’ Strand had a similar effect on me.
A not insignificant reference point in the first volume of Phonogram is the music of the band Kenickie — and also taking part in the reading that night in October was Tony O’Neill, who’d spent time as a touring member of the band in question. Totally coincidental, but still notable — if, like me, you happen to be fond of strange moments of synchronicity.
(I’ll have a review of O’Neill’s Down and Out on Murder Mile — which is definitely worth your time — on Lit Mob fairly soon, for what it’s worth. Also worth a read: Phonogram‘s Kieron Gillen on Kenickie.)
Last month, I picked up Aetheric Mechanics, a graphic novella from writer Warren Ellis and penciler Gianluca Pagliarani. I read it within a few weeks of Neil Gaiman’s “A Study In Emerald”, and some comparisons are inevitable: Gaiman and Ellis are both writers who work in multiple disciplines (starting from comics and moving into novels and screenplays), and each of their stories could be described as a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. (In the case of Ellis’s, the elevator pitch would be “Holmes gone steampunk”; for Gaiman’s, “Holmes meets Lovecraft”.) I say “could be”, though, because neither one stops there. To go into exactly how would, I’d say, spoil chunks of the plot for each, and both are plotted tightly enough that their structure only comes into full view upon the story’s conclusion.
Aetheric Mechanics takes as its starting point the arrival of its narrator in London, 1907; four pages in, he boards what can only be described as a flying platform, and it’s plainly clear that this 1907 is not the one we know. The narrative likewise blends elements familiar to anyone who’s readÂ Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories with more jarring moments, as elements that might have seemed familiar are reimagined in a slightly but significantly altered context — all of which build until the story, and its central mystery, reach its conclusion. It’s a solid, nicely paced work, giving equal space to a sense of wonder and the gut-wrenching instability on its flip side.
And isn’t the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, with his vociferous curses against the United States, the small, fat, childish king who makes appearances in the Tintin and Capitan Trueno adventures? (It’s easy to imagine Chavez dressed in a pointed crown and christening robe and baring his barrel chest.)
Not all that randomly, the above excerpt immediately put me in mind of Thomas McCarthy’s Tintin and the Secret of Literature. Which, in turn, reminded me that I need to actually, well, read some Tintin. (As well as the work of Rutu Modan.)