The Zen of Zines: “King Cat” Reigns Supreme

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By Megan Kirby King-Cat 74

Today, the nineties are glorified as a golden era for independent publishing, a decade when every photocopier ran hot with the printing of punk-rock fanzines and weird-out mini-comics. A lucky few made it big, releasing polished graphic novels with big-name comics publishers. Most just got tired and left the days of staple-bound periodicals behind them.

Through decades of DIY publishing shifts, there’s been a stubborn constant: “King-Cat Comix and Stories,” a zine that John Porcellino has self-published since 1989, and which is released today through his own distro, Spit and a Half. Porcellino started “King-Cat” when he was in high school with simple line comics and hand-written stories about punk rock and mental health, along with tongue-in-cheek fantasy sequences. (One early issue was dedicated to Porcellino’s fictional love affair with Madonna). He often wrote about Illinois, exploring his hometown of Hoffman Estates and the suburbs around Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Comics Review: “The Best American Comics 2013″ Edited By Jessica Abel, Matt Madden, Jeff Smith

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RECOMMENDED bestamericancomics

“The Best American Comics” is unusual in two respects. For one, it’s more egalitarian than any other volume of the Best American Series. Grant Snider’s introspective webcomics stand deservingly by Alison Bechdel’s excellent and complex graphic novel “Are You My Mother?” But alas, the comics content is less likely to stand alone. The pieces that work best in the 2013 edition are the ones that are either self-contained, like a daily newspaper strip, or make the reader want to rush out and buy the whole work.

Comics’ best attribute is their ability to tell simultaneous narratives with words and images. And they’re like any medium where words are secondary: there are people who groove with a song’s melody, and people who only care for lyrics. The excerpts from “Rachel Rising” and “Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller,” both with captions, had just enough story arc to make this reader pencil down their names for future, full-length purchase. Language-less strips have a special challenge, and less ways to clue the reader into the context. It’s easy to give up on them and just skip ahead while vaguely admiring the art. About one-fourth of Best American Comics feels like this, but a beautiful exception is “Grainne Ni Mhaille” by Colleen Doran and Derek McCullough, which tells an Irish immigrant family’s trials via Doran’s gorgeous super-hero style illustration. Read the rest of this entry »

Graphic Novel Review: “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh

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Allie Brosh doesn’t post on her web comic Hyperbole and a Half regularly, so when she does it sends quivers through the Internet community. The format of her work is text, maybe a paragraph or two, followed by an illustration of utmost simplicity. Her neckless figures approximate the general form of a torso, with stick arms and legs that nevertheless entirely capture the depth and breadth of the human condition. Her stories are confessional, biographical, and hysterically funny. To this day, her story about moving across the country with two anxious dogs remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Stories we love from online are preserved in the book for those of us who prefer our media on paper, as well as new chapters not available online.

More recently Brosh has written candidly about a debilitating depression she’s suffered and the various ups and downs she’s experienced trying to overcome it. She presents this information bravely and beautifully, with more than a little humor included. Read the rest of this entry »

Graphic Novel Review: “The Graphic Canon, Volume 3: From Heart of Darkness to Hemingway to Infinite Jest” edited by Russ Kick

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RECOMMENDED graphiccanon3

There is a Kathy Acker comic now.

With this third entry in Russ Kick’s acclaimed series of anthologies adapting works of literature into illustrated form, the most notorious work by America’s most controversial postmodern author, “Blood and Guts in High School,” exists in comics form.

I can stop writing reviews now. I have now everything I ever wanted out of Western literary culture.

All of which is what makes the Graphic Canon series so interesting as a concept. Adapting prose works into comics is nothing new, going back to the long-running “Classics Illustrated,” which for decades brought works of classical literature into a cheap and accessible format before closing down in 1971. It would briefly resurface in the early nineties with noteworthy artists such as Bill Sienkiewicz, P. Craig Russell, Jill Thompson and others, reflecting the tones and themes of the original stories with comparable artistic style and motifs. Read the rest of this entry »

Graphic Novel Review: “My Dirty Dumb Eyes” By Lisa Hanawalt

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RECOMMENDED my-dirty-dumb-eyes-cover

Many of Lisa Hanawalt’s cartoons are populated by clothed animals. Lizards in garter belts and leather jackets, high-heeled shoes and bikini tops. Cats in construction gear, or dogs riding airplanes in checkered shirt sleeves. In the universe of Hanawalt, animals express human vulgarities without compunction, but they also indulge in our unapologetic weaknesses—playing Angry Birds during a heart-to-heart, laying on the couch and watching movies all day, being a backseat driver.

Although fans of her work will already be familiar with some of the pieces in her debut book, “My Dirty Dumb Eyes,” the collection should not be ignored. It is gorgeous, highlighting her incredible coloration and bizarre but beautiful depictions. Most importantly, she’s hilarious. In an early “chapter,” What Do Dogs Want? a tennis-ball bride ranks highly, followed by two Pomeranians feasting on  a salt lick in the shape of human legs. A meal  of “dirty underwear on a bed of regurgitated grass, with cat poop reduction” does, indeed, sound perfect…for a dog. Read the rest of this entry »

Graphic Novel Review: “We Can Fix It: A Time Travel Memoir” by Jess Fink

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RECOMMENDED wcfi_cover_sm_lg

Over the last few decades, autobiography has risen in comics to become a genre to rival the four-color ubermenschen for diversity and abundance. For many of them it’s a chance for the author to explore their memories and examine those moments of their past that defined them. Every autobiographical cartoonist talks about the mistakes and letdowns of their past, but none of them do anything about it.

Until now.

Jess Fink’s new graphic novel “We Can Fix It: A Time Travel Memoir” is a double feature of science fiction and memoir, as the New York cartoonist travels back into her past with the aid of a time machine and a really awesome jumpsuit. Ostensibly it’s to offer advice to her younger selves, although she seems to spend an inordinate amount of time making out with them instead. Read the rest of this entry »

Gastronomic Comics: Taking Pictures of Food to New Levels

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dirtcandyBy Greg Baldino

We can’t stop taking pictures of our food.

Go online, go to any of the seven social media sites we all seem to be on right now. Food pictures, everywhere. You could almost make a case that the social media platform was engineered to enable us to pass around photos of the spinach salad with honey-roasted pecans, dried cranberries, Bosc pear, bleu cheese and honey Dijon dressing we had for lunch. When we’re using cutting-edge information technology backed by an international network of satellites and fiber optic cables to tell people what we had for lunch, that tells you something: it tells you we are living in an age of really good salads.

But it’s not just snapping a picture of our lunch and hashtagging that we made a grilled cheese with Humboldt Fog goat cheese. Our lives revolve around food. The whole root of human civilization is that if we band together it’s a lot easier to kill and cook a mastodon, and that by the firelight of dinner we discovered socializing and storytelling. The social connection of food meant we had something to share, whether it was memories of the day’s labor or a crust of bread.

So we take Instagrams of our crackers and share links to sausages. But that’s not enough for some, and this year has seen three exciting new graphic novels that take stories of our meals and pictures of our food to a new level. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Ground Again: The Second Resurrection of Samuel Delany

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By Greg Baldino Delany_encyc

There was a time when experimental science fiction could sell a million copies. It helped that at the time science fiction (having acquired a reputation just slightly better than that of pornography) was sold in cheap mass-market paperbacks off the spinning wire racks of grocery stores, pharmacies, newsstands and who knows where else. They were readily accessible and reasonably inexpensive; and though genre fiction might still have been seen as declassé by some, a slim paperback was easily concealed in a jacket pocket, or cradled in concealing hands on the morning commute.

The market changed, everything changed, and now you can no longer walk into a 7-Eleven and pick up a Samuel Delany novel for pocket change. Despite this, his work is both still relevant and celebrated. His groundbreaking science-fiction novel “Dhalgren” remains in print and was adapted for the stage in 2010. Authors from Neil Gaiman to Junot Diaz have cited him as an influence and inspiration. Delany spent two decades away from the genre that launched his literary reputation, but returned to science fiction last year with his novel “Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders,” which Roger Bellin of the Los Angeles Review of Books called “a book worthy of his career full of masterpieces—and a book that no one else could have written.” As philosophic as it is pornographic, the book chronicles the life of two gay men who, meeting in their late teens in 2007, forge an open and committed relationship that spans sixty-to-seventy years into the future. It is the first time a newly published Delany book has sat on the SF shelves since Knopf-Doubleday reprinted five volumes of his science fiction in stylish trade paperbacks back in the early 2000s. Read the rest of this entry »

Cartoons Review: “Point Your Face at This” by Demetri Martin

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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 »

Delicate Balance: The Culinary Comics of Lucy Knisley

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Lucy.KnisleyBy 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 »