A picture is worth a thousand words—it’s true, and also makes difficult work of reviewing a book of cartoons. Take, for example, Demetri Martin’s drawing of a mountain view with a sign in front that reads “Scenic View” with braille underneath. It’s certainly less funny when I describe it, but really does contain all the fun of flipping through a book of Gary Larson’s “Far Side” comics from the 1990s. Martin’s comedy is very charming. Like Ellen, or Jerry Seinfeld, he reminds us of the absurdity of everyday life—like the phrase “training bra” or self-flushing toilets. Judging by his too-short-lived television series, he’s got a fondness for paper and pen. Martin displays nothing short of glee as he stands next to a large pad of paper flipping through image and word combinations. One-liners from his comedy routines (“If I owned a copy store, I would only hire identical twins to work at it”) are the sort of thing that translate easily to book format. Venn diagrams, Q&As, graphs and illustrated mechanisms are all fodder for his simple but ingenious drawings. He’s not above the occasional fart joke, so there’s nothing too precious going on, despite a cartoon or two about the perception of fame in New York versus Los Angeles, or how the ubiquitous sight of planes and helicopters around a city resembles flies around a pile of shit. Practically every page is a showcase for his particular wit, a moment to examine, pause, smile. Or, if you’re more cynical, each page says, “Ha, ha, ha! Look how clever I am!” Read the rest of this entry »
By Greg Baldino
Instagram has turned everyone into an armchair food photographer, but there’s still no smartphone app for recording a memorable meal as an uplifting and insightful autobiographical comic. For that you need Lucy Knisley; SAIC alum, former cheesemonger, and the creator of “Relish: My Life in the Kitchen,” a collection of cartoon stories about growing up and eating fabulously.
You’ve been doing comics about food for most of your career, going all the way back to early stories in “Radiator Days” about selling cheese at Fox and Obel. How did the idea for a whole book about food come together?
I’ve always loved books that tell stories through food. I love this idea, of consuming food through looking at it and reading about it. Comics have always been a great way to connect with readers through a story and the visuals, and adding this element of shared sensory experience really appealed to me. I began to brainstorm the idea of this book after returning from a trip to Vancouver with my father, where I’d written and drawn a lot about what we’d eaten. It occurred to me that considering my upbringing around food, I had a lot of stories to tell on this theme, and so I began to conceptualize “Relish.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the 1980s, Alan Moore reinvented the wheel for American comics with “Watchmen,” a metaphysical Cold War allegory that took the archetypes of western superheroes and used them to remix conventional funny-book storytelling. He hoped to set an example for narrative technique, but instead saw that the world was beating a path to his door for a different mousetrap he’d set: the idea of costumed adventurers as violent, emotionally damaged personalities. In the aftermath of a series of troubles with his then-publisher DC Comics and its parent company Warner Brothers, Moore left the mainstream, jumping into deliberately anti-commercial work like the meta-literary pornographic “Lost Girls” and the holistic homicide history “From Hell.” Since then he’s penned a novel, launched a short-lived publishing company, studied the mystic arts, acquired a side career as a spoken-word artisan, married longtime collaborator Melinda Gebbie, and become a grandfather.
Since his transition away into less corporate work, Moore has moved away from comics almost entirely, save for a few Lovecraftian crime comics which blessedly eschewed the nostalgic castration of the horror legend’s work to bring to light the man’s dark paranoia and unpleasant racial and sexual ideologies, focusing on his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. The latter began as a Victorian action romp, assembling characters from late nineteenth-century speculative fiction such as the original explorer hero Allan Quartermain from “King Solomon’s Mines,” Mina Murray from “Dracula,” the Invisible Man from “The Invisible Man” and others. As the series evolved, Moore and his collaborating artist Kevin O’Neill pushed the basic premise to the edges of lunatic genius, incorporating (or at least attempting to) characters from every work of fiction—or at least those that are either safely in the public domain or analogized for copyright protection—in the process becoming a meta-commentary on the nature of fiction itself. Read the rest of this entry »
By Greg Baldino
Chicago is known as a city rife with comic creators and small-press publishers. One of the city’s rising stars is C. Spike Trotman, whose experimentations with online publishing have netted her an ongoing science fiction series called “Templar, AZ” and the acclaimed graphic novel “Poorcraft.” This fall saw the release of her highly anticipated anthology of women-and-queer friendly erotic comics, “Smut Peddler.” On the same day she opened submissions for an upcoming horror comic anthology to be called “The Sleep of Reason,” Ms. Trotman took the time to talk about her recent small-press success.
So Spike, you’re a pornographer.
I sure am, I am a proud and happy pornographer.
How’s that treating you?
Great! I currently have about 400 books in my house that are waiting for pickup. That has been the hardest part of getting those pledge rewards fulfilled. It has just made me so happy to have an entire wall of my living room taken up by giant stacks of books. Of dirty filthy porn. (laughs) Read the rest of this entry »
Part of what makes Chicago an amazing city is how many people have come here to get a new handle on their lives. I truly do think that what makes you a Chicagoan is not whether you were born here or how long you lived here, but how alive you feel about being here.
That said, I also truly do think that being an expat gets incredibly annoying come the holiday season. Seriously, you’ve got two family holidays a month apart. One of them you’re expected to spend time with your family, the other you’re expected to spend money. So after you’ve already made one trek to sit around and play the game of pretending Facebook doesn’t exist and asking each other “So how have you been?” you have to make another one a month later.
With freight. Read the rest of this entry »
By Greg Baldino
Chris Ware’s “Building Stories” is a literal and figurative odd fit for the graphic novel section. Arriving not in the form of a bound volume, but instead in a matte-textured box containing “14 distinctively discrete books, booklets, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets”—all working in concert to tell stories of the tenants of a three-story apartment building in Chicago, it takes Ware’s approach to visual storytelling to a new level of game-changing.
The title is appropriate. In a way Ware’s works have always been “building” stories. The architectural precision, not only in his design of spaces but the layout of the very page, has always been the most recognizable aspect of his style. Here he makes the format fit the form, as these stories would play havoc with the constraints of a uniform, ordered volume. In the physically and chronologically smallest ephemeral narrative, one of the tenants storms out under-dressed into the snow, angry at her life. The episode itself takes place on a strip of paper a mere three inches wide and two feet long. The same character reappears in a newspaper-sized bundle later in her life: different times, different problems. In yet another form, this time a zine-like minicomic follows the tragicomic domestic exploits of a bee who can be found flying in, around, and out of the central building. One of Ware’s skills has always been playing with the spatial dimensions of images, playing out the fragments of tiny thumbnail-sized panels against broad panoramas of time and geography. Read the rest of this entry »
By Nikki Dolson
Tony Breed is the creator of “Finn and Charlie Are Hitched,” the story of a married couple living their lives, working, helping (or trying to help) their friends and—once a year—epically cooking the turkey for Thanksgiving. Breed draws the ordinary life of one gay couple, and the result is sweet—even when the couple are being snarky about who’s cooking dinner—and funny, particularly when the pair deals with getting older and major life issues like unemployment. But it is the heart that Breed infuses into his comic that makes “Finn and Charlie are Hitched” work.
Read the rest of this entry »
By Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. Courtesy of First Second
By Greg Baldino
In 2008, cartoonists Jessica Abel and Matt Madden published “Drawing Words & Writing Pictures,” a course in book form on how to tell stories through the comics medium. This spring, they released a new book, “Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued” that takes their readers further along the path of comic-book craft.
One of the things that struck me about “Mastering Comics,” and its preceding volume “Drawing Words, Writing Pictures,” was how there’s a similarity between the scheme of those books and comics themselves. They’re both visually laid out, and use words and pictures together to convey information. Was that something that your backgrounds as cartoonists played into when you were making the books? Read the rest of this entry »
Harvey Pekar died in 2010, but his posthumous graphic novel, “Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me,” is released this summer. Pekar, as comic book fans and viewers of “American Splendor” will remember, was a grouchy schlub and a brilliant independent thinker. He wrote the text for his comics and graphic novels, which were illustrated by various comic-book artists, most notably Robert Crumb. “Not the Israel,” illustrated by JT Waldman, begins with Pekar addressing the reader—he introduces Waldman and says they’re researching a book about the history of Israel. He also wants “to explain why my attitude about the state of Israel changed.” Pekar’s parents were Zionists who ardently supported Jewish settlers in Palestine after WWII, his mother a Marxist and his father a practicing Jew. Learning about Pekar’s parents provides a unique insight into postwar Jewish immigrants, but, like any thorough explanation of the state of Israel, it’s necessary to go further back in history—to, basically, the beginning of time, or, approximately 500 B.C. Read the rest of this entry »
By Rachel Helene Swift
In 2009, Chicago cartoonist Dan Carroll cracked open the first printer’s proof of his self-published graphic novel, “Stick Figure Hamlet.” The book, which began life as a web comic in 2005, stages Shakespeare’s uncut script in simple, evocative line drawings. With an eye for comedic timing, Carroll shifts between slapstick farce and tense drama; he combines a sensitive and humane approach to character with a sly knack for literary subversion—for example, his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern look suspiciously like Bert and Ernie from “Sesame Street.” I caught up with Carroll on the three-year anniversary of “SFH”’s publication to talk about Shakespeare, comics and how self-publishing has treated the cartoonist and his literary progeny.
What prompted you to write “Stick Figure Hamlet?” Read the rest of this entry »