Thursday, November 14, 2019

Tom Spurgeon


Way back in the late twentieth-century when I participated in that very not-nice cesspool known as “The Comics Journal Message Board,” Tom Spurgeon was the first comics professional to say nice things about my writing, even though all I’d produced were some dashed-off, ill-conceived posts.

That he bothered to take the time was surprising and encouraging. In the small, lonely world that is “comics criticism,” writers don’t get much love. When, at his essential Comics Reporter, he linked to one of my pieces and offered some praise, it helped me feel like I was part of the community and was doing worthwhile work, both of which I’ve often doubted.

There’s something Tom did in his writing that I rarely saw elsewhere. While it might seem minor, it influenced my writing deeply: he regularly acknowledged the limits of his own perspective. In a critical review he might say something like “though perhaps I’m just not the right reader for this” or “nevertheless, I hope this book find its audience and I’m glad it exists.”

He understood that every opinion was profoundly subjective. In this way, he was a comics-criticism oddity, the antithesis of those who treat their own judgments as objective truth and dismiss others who disagree as aesthetically or morally flawed.

Though I didn’t always agree with him, Tom was honest and told the truth as he saw it. He wasn’t an over-praiser or fake contrarian. He was bullshit’s foe. In the grand Fantagraphics tradition of Kim Thompson, he’d sometimes go after those types, and it was rewarding to see.

At SPX one year I went to dinner with Tom and a group of cartoonists. While driving him to the restaurant, I worried that I was going to say something dumb — and then felt bad about not being as engaging as I should, as engaging as he always was.

I’m glad that on several occasions I thanked Tom for his support. I doubt he knew just how much it meant to me, but I hope he understood how important he was to so very many.

Tom has left a profound legacy as a champion of the comics medium and, far more importantly, of the artists who make comics, the people who publish them, and those who write about them.

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Monday, September 9, 2019

Chris Ware SPX


Image

In Chris Ware’s exhibitor badge for the upcoming SPX convention, three exhibitors sit behind their tables, hawking their comics and trying, perhaps a little desperately (as their faces seem to suggest), to get the attention (and money) of a passer-by. On the table in front of each artist is three of their self-produced comics.

It makes sense that each person makes comics whose geometric shape is exactly the shape that forms their creator's body. The exhibitors’ comics literally reflect and embody their author - they are personal, perhaps autobiographical art (explicitly or implicitly). At its best, SPX is not about generic corporate product, but about a personal vision: art as self-expression. In the badge’s scene, each exhibitor holds up an art manifestation of themselves for public approval or rejection. That takes some courage, especially to do it over and over for two days . . . 

Sadly, these exhibitors’ comics are sometimes treated by attendees as garbage; in the image, one of each shape-type is already strewn on the floor with other bits of trash (no wonder the artists look kind of sad). If you’ve ever been to SPX or a similar festival, you often see people’s freebies or promo material discarded, dropped in a garbage can or left on one of those long tables outside the ballroom. It’s sad, but it happens.

In Ware’s scenario, the person who walks by the artists has no interest in this kind of personal work. In a thought balloon, the attendee imagines, not the old-fashioned kind of two-dimensional art the exhibitors offer, but something more exciting: she imagines a cube, which must be better than a flat square, right? (The cube contains all the three exhibitors' colors and more.) It seems that the attendee passes them because they want something figuratively – or perhaps literally – three-dimensional, cube-like. The humble comic just doesn't cut it. (Maybe consumers are conditioned to want something better, more expansive, like a video game, movie, VR?) These days, how can a little stapled picture pamphlet hope to compete?

It might be tempting to say that Ware mocks the exhibitors; but he, too, is a very personal – and highly geometrical – cartoonist. He most often works in one of two modes, both of which are more geometrical than is typical of most cartoonists. But one mode in particular – the mode of this illustration – is his 'hyper-geometrical' mode. Using this icon-based style, he's drawn many comics (often of the ‘sad joke’ type) about art, cartoonists, and himself (see below).

Though Ware's now one of America’s most celebrated cartoonists, this wasn’t always the case. He did his time at cons where no one paid any attention to alternative comics artists. Attendees quickly walked by in search of the Marvel Comics display or something similarly lacking a singular artistic vision. So it’s easy for me to imagine that he sympathizes with these exhibitors’ plight. I’d guess that many folks who have exhibited at small press shows can identify with this scene, too.




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Thursday, February 28, 2019

There's a lot of ageism in comics criticism online. I write about it here:  http://www.tcj.com/hope-i-die-before-i-get/ 

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Alvin Buenaventura . . .

*
Last week, I stopped by my “LCS” (Local Comics Shop) on “NCD” (New Comics Day). Rather than follow my normal routine of skimming the racks of overpriced new comics and thumbing through water-stained boxes of recently acquired back-issues, I decided to rummage around in the alternative comics section, which, not surprisingly, is secreted away in a dank back corner of the store. My shop, Nostalgia Newsstand, is unusual in that it even has these kinds of non-mainstream comics. While very few of its customers go for the arty stuff, the store owner does — so he always orders “the good shit.”

On a dust-covered and bent-from-being-overstocked shelf of alternative comics and graphic novels, I came across an old Buenaventura Press project Private Stash (2006) that I worked on with Alvin (in addition to the brainstorming we’d do for most of his projects, for this one I came up with the title and wrote most of the copy). I already owned one and should have left it in the wild for some lucky art-comic lover to stumble across (given it had been collecting dust there since 2006, the odds of that happening were slim). But whenever I see anything Alvin produced in a store I feel a need to buy it, just as I buy every copy of the Alvin and the Chipmunks comic book I come across because it’s a comic and it has “ALVIN” on it. 
                                         
Private Stash is, like so many of Alvin’s projects, a smartly and extravagantly put-together work of art. Inside its see-through container sits a piece of vellum with small color images of each of the twenty drawings it collects. The art (by Clowes, Burns, Tomine, Panter, and others) folds out accordion-style into a single sheet of nearly ten feet. The vellum is printed with numbered red dots that work as a key: they overlay images of the twenty contributing artists as drawn by Rick Altergott on the book’s interior full-color wrap-around insert -- a fold on the vellum identifies each artist’s name.
Image result for buenaventura private stash

While I was paying for it, one of the store’s former regulars, a nice guy named Mike — who I used to see every Wednesday (aka “New Comics Day”) but hadn’t seen there in years — stopped in. He recognized Private Stash and began talking excitedly about Alvin: “Everything Alvin produced was great. Books, prints, whatever. I would go to SPX every year and buy anything he did. If it was a book, I didn’t even need to look at it or read it. If Alvin did it, it was great work.” “So true,” I replied. 


**
Alvin was an anomaly, an aesthetically well-tuned freak of nature who cared deeply about making compelling objects. 
He left us three years ago today, and I miss him. On the inside of Private Stash appears this acknowledgement: "Special thanks to Ken Parille." Does it seem maudlin if I thank him here today? Well, anyways, thanks Alvin.

*** Past Remembrances

2018
https://blogflumer.blogspot.com/2018/02/remembering-alvin.html 


2017 
https://blogflumer.blogspot.com/2017/02/alvin-buenaventura.html

2016

https://blogflumer.blogspot.com/2016/02/alvin.html




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Friday, November 30, 2018

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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Rina's New Book


The twenty or so people still checking on this near-defunct blog may remember in 2013 my book Ticket Stub was published by Rina Ayuyang’s Yam Books.
Hopefully everyone will already be aware if they weren’t before she is also a great cartoonist. Her new book Blame This on the Boogie has just been published by Drawn and Quarterly.


What the book is about is kind of her whole life story filtered through her enthusiasm for dance as portrayed in classic film and contemporary television. There is an amusing obsession with the program Dancing with the Stars. I will likely never watch Dancing with the Stars, but it doesn’t matter; her exhaustive disquisition on it is often laugh out loud funny.


If I had to compare Rina to another cartoonist, I would say she sometimes reminds me a little of Lat. 

Lat

A lot of her subject matter is family life, and it is usually brimming with affectionate antagonistic banter.
Her comics have an improvisational quality, where the layout is fluid and feels composed in the moment page by page.
She uses colored pencils to complete her drawings, an unusual choice that makes me think of a child's coloring book she has devised for herself.


I think of a lot of autobiographical cartoonists as portraying in their work a self-reflexive neurosis around the identity of being a cartoonist. Many do this brilliantly. With Rina though, she puts you into moments of her life and removes most of the evidence of the time spent cartooning them. Her work is usually not about being a cartoonist. And the warm feeling for the people portrayed in her work shines through, something of an anomaly for my generation of comic makers.


I should also mention that anybody who reads indicias might notice we both thank each other in our books, which makes me think of the old feature in Spy magazine, “Logrolling in Our Time.” 


This is because after Ticket Stub, Rina and I remained in occasional contact through emails over the years commiserating about the difficulties of drawing comics. 
I might email and say comics are a lonely business, and she might reply something humorous like, “I need to remember again how lonely comic-ing is since I haven't done it in a while.” Or I might say something like, “I've been kind of burnt out on comics, but Corey Feldman's dancing on the Today show got me back into it a little,” which I like to imagine she was a little horrified by.

Congratulations, Rina!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Sir Alfred Chez Dargaud

Photo by Yoshiko Yeto

In September of 2017, I received an offer to publish Sir Alfred No. 3 from Thomas Ragon, an editor working for the publisher Dargaud.

A year later, here it is, in stores in France on 9/14.

If you purchase the book at a shop in Paris called Super Héroes, you can sign up to receive an exclusive signed bookplate.

When I was 14, I took French as an elective in junior high school. My teacher was named Madame Field, unrelated to the plural mall cookie magnate. I vaguely remember conjugating three basic verbs and learning about Guy, pronounced the same as Indian clarified butter, who appeared in sample conversations always seeming to have plans to go skiing.

I vaguely remember Madame Field drove a racing green MG, perhaps had a mullet before they were commonplace and often wore jeans tucked into leather boots. If that makes her sound vampy, it is more accurate to say she hopefully had interests outside of teaching a bunch of yokels in the San Fernando Valley.

I enjoyed French enough to want to proceed the next semester. The problem was there were only like 5 other people of the same inclination. Faced with being asked to teach two classes at once in the same classroom, Madame Field instead sent us with our "Son et Sens" textbooks to the library every day. There we were to read through each chapter, complete the study questions and turn them in at the end of the period. Unfortunately, we learned rapidly how to complete the work without really absorbing the intent, then copied each other’s answers. Since I was 14, I became more interested in the library's xerox machine. I discovered if you placed your face on the glass and followed the green bar of light that passed underneath for a portion of its path, you would end up with a distorted visage not unlike the cover of Public Image’s Second Edition.

As a result, I didn’t retain any of the other irregular verbs I barely studied, nor was I required to even try to speak the language aloud. 

To make matters worse, upon graduation I received an award—I’m pretty sure it was a piece of paper—for my French studies. Even then I knew I didn’t deserve it. There was a photo of me in the school paper:


This is a long explanation of why the feeling is about the same now ha ha.

If you had told me at 14 I would be publishing a book in France at 52, I might have paid more attention in class. But let's face it, I likely would've still xeroxed my face for most of the year. 

Anyway, I hope this edition of Sir Alfred finds an audience someday.

The book would never have occurred without the supervision of Thomas Ragon. Nora Bouazzouni was perfect for the translation, Emmanuel Justo did a great job of making a font of my lettering, and Yohan Faumont and others at Dargaud worked very hard to bring the book to completion. I'm grateful to them all for taking a chance on it. 

Although I clearly failed Madame Field as a student, she did instill a curiosity about the language and culture that has weathered my lack of diligence, among many other long remarked upon shortcomings.
Life can seem to have a strange symmetry if you live long enough.

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Monday, August 27, 2018

On the internet, a comic-book writer said some familiar things about 'comics' . .

. . .  that I disagree with:



“Comics aren’t for everyone”

Odd – would someone say movies or prose books aren’t for everyone? I doubt it, but maybe. Given how many people of all ages read comics and manga as well as comics-like things (memes, picture-books, etc.), it’s an odd claim. Is he talking about ‘comic books’ but instead uses ‘comics’? That’s a familiar, but pretty imprecise use of words. Maybe he means ‘my kind of superhero comic books aren’t for everyone’? That’s true. But the medium - comics - is everywhere, all over the internet, in newspapers, magazines, etc., and especially in the form of the near-universal ‘visual sequential’ instructions on product packing (there are many in every grocery store I've been in). In this way and many others, comics is/are literally for everybody (at least as much as anything can truly be said to be 'for everybody,' which, to be accurate, it can't.)

“Created by the children of immigrants”

I’m not sure who created comics – does he or anyone really know?  The medium goes back centuries, so again, an odd claim. If he means not ‘comics’ but ‘the American comic-book that emerged in the 1930s and that stars a costumed super-being’ then maybe I get what he saying - we know the names of (most of) these creators; but that’s not what he said. A superhero’s origin story may be pretty specific (though it’s often revised so many times that any one version  is no longer definitive), but the origin story of ‘comics’ is ongoing, elusive . . .

“It is the medium of the outsider and the outcast, the nerd who won’t fit in”

Maybe, but I’m sure countless non-nerds have for many, many decades read newspaper comics regularly; and my Facebook feed is full of non-comics people posting jokey online comics. Every week I see/read about some celebrity coming out as a ‘total comics nerd.’ It’s a thing. Comics are cool, I suppose.

So, to sum up:
Comics is/are for everyone, except those who don't like them.
We don’t know who created the medium (because it evolved over time in different places).
Reading them doesn’t (sadly) make me or you a rebel or an outsider.
And if you’re talking, not about the medium of ‘comics,’ but about ‘superhero comic books,’ just say that. It’s fine.



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Friday, July 27, 2018

Alvin at The Believer Archived


The Believer have updated their website to include all of the comic sections Alvin Buenaventura edited there: https://believermag.com/contributor/alvin-buenaventura/

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

La Chute, 2003

I originally drew this for the SPX Anthology, when they had one, in April 2003, but it wasn't chosen. (The next year, their theme was "war." Not anti-war, but war, though one could argue war implies anti-war as well.) Luckily, the story was eventually printed in the also long-gone spiral-bound anthology "Studygroup 12 No. 3."
15 years later, it doesn't seem any more palatable and is appearing now mostly for the purpose of cold storage. It was before I settled into my "every comic takes 7 years" phase.







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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Koyama and Friends at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum


Last year I mentioned one of my original pages had been donated by Annie Koyama to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. 
Yesterday, a show opened there called "Koyama and Friends" curated by Caitlin McGurk.
I am one of the "and Friends." The exhibit will be on display until October 21 and looks great from the photos I've seen.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Remembering Alvin Buenaventura

Alvin Buenaventura left us two years ago. On the day he died, I had been thinking a lot about calling him, but decided not to. Unless we were in the midst of a comics project for his press, Alvin, ever elusive, often didn't pick up. In the fourteen years we were friends, if I wanted to get in touch with him, I knew what to do: Call him a few times over the course of a few weeks and he’d eventually get back to me, whispering in his almost imperceptibly soft monotone, “Hey Ken, I saw you called.”  When this tactic wasn't necessary — when I called and he answered — I felt lucky. I had someone smart, someone engaged to talk comics with.


Soon after learning he died, I remembered my desire to contact him the day before. I had gone through an unusual internal debate about it, picking up the phone, putting it down, then thinking about it again and talking myself out of it. It doesn’t seem quite right to say I feel guilty about not calling, though maybe that’s the best word. I don’t think he would have answered. Had he already gone? I don’t know. The timeline of events is uncertain. Only two years, and I’m forgetting the chronology, or perhaps doubting my memory of it, both of which make me sad.

My cell phone still holds his number. It seems almost traitorous to delete it.

*

In the months before Alvin left, he said several times that he wanted to take guitar lessons from me.  I was excited about it, and so was he. Alvin was such an artistic anomaly that I was curious to see what he could do. Always focused when it came to anything creative, he had in mind very specific kinds of techniques to work on. I’m sad we didn’t get the chance.

*
When organizing a bookshelf two weeks ago, I came across a small collection of drawings Alvin released through his Buenaventura Press: Amanda Vähämäki and Michelangelo Setola’s Souvlaki Circus


Its soft cloth cover somehow seemed significant in a way it hadn’t before, and the front cover’s image, a cut-away of an animal’s elaborate underground den, did too. It triggered familiar thoughts about what remains one of Alvin’s defining features: his complicated, maze-like internal life. Fragments of this life were sometimes made visible to his friends — though visible in such strikingly different ways to different people that I occasionally think none of us really knew the same Alvin. But mostly he kept this interior life to himself, a well-secreted possession he wouldn’t, or maybe couldn't, surrender. (I'm glad, though, that as a print maker and comics publisher, he generously released so many beautiful objects into the world.) 

On Souvlaki Circus, the longest pathway within the animal’s den travels from the front to the back cover and disappears under a vertical paper band. It ends in an image of a creature nursing several newborns. I wonder why I never looked underneath the band until today.



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Friday, July 7, 2017

Hensley the Elder

This is an entertaining interview with my father about The Masters of Deceit, the late 60's psychedelic combo he fronted in Indiana before we moved west.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Skylight Bookmarks

Skylight Books is producing a series of bookmarks by local Los Angeles artists, "about 25 in total," according to their Instagram. 
I'm in the first batch along with Niv Bavarsky.
(Or print these out and make your own activity giclee playset:)



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