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.

____________________________________________________ here to read the rest of this post... here to read the rest of this post...

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. here to read the rest of this post...

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:) here to read the rest of this post...

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sir Alfred No. 3 Nominated for Eisner Award

Favorite memory from working on Sir Alfred No. 3: In the middle of what Robert Lowell calls "Skunk Hour" on August 29, 2013, I opened the curtains of my second story window and saw three raccoons.

Sir Alfred No. 3 has been nominated for an Eisner Award in the category of Best Single Issue/One-Shot.
(A few remaining straggler copies are at Fantagraphics, or you can download a PDF for a small fee at Gumroad.)

Upon hearing the news, I began wondering whether the publisher, Alvin Buenaventura, no longer alive, had ever won any comic awards.
The Buenaventura Press Wikipedia site lists three nominations. In 2007, Kramers Ergot 6 was up for an Eisner for Best Anthology. That same year, Vanessa Davis was in the running for an Ignatz for Outstanding Artist for her book Spaniel Rage (and her work in Papercutter #4 from Tugboat Press). In 2008, there was an Ignatz nomination for Outstanding Series for Injury #2 by Ted May, Jason Robards, and Jeff Wilson.

But Alvin’s obituary also lists a 2006 Eisner nomination for Comic Art Magazine #8 for Best Comic-Related Periodical, and Google tells me in 2013 the monograph he edited, Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes, was nominated for an Eisner for Best Comic-Related Book.

So I could certainly be wrong, as I’m not so good at keeping track of these kind of statistics, but it looks like maybe he never won an award as a publisher, and it makes me wonder how much it even matters.
Alvin was enmeshed in a fair amount of feuds, which may also have been something of a factor.

For myself, the nomination validates to a small but very real extent a lot of the incomprehensible hermetic privation creating the comic, so I am honored to be on the list. here to read the rest of this post...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Roy Lichtenstein and the Art of Letters

I talk about the artist, comic books, and lettering at The Comics Journal: here to read the rest of this post...

Sunday, February 26, 2017


I was honored to have a page of my original art included in a donation by Annie Koyama of Koyama Press of more than 250 pieces by a cross-section of great cartoonists to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in Ohio. There's a brief interview with her on Comics Reporter today about the transaction. here to read the rest of this post...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Alvin Buenaventura

When I’m reading a comic — especially some weak 1970s’ DC or Marvel book — I’ll often imagine Alvin watching over my shoulder, not at all happy with what he’s seeing. In a soft monotone voice he condemns me for wasting time on crap when there’s genuinely engaging, idiosyncratic work out there, waiting.

He never actually judged me this way. If I mentioned a comic that I liked and he didn’t, he’d reply with a barely audible “Hmm” or a disbelieving “Really?” and move on. But I was always aware that Alvin, unlike me, had ‘preternatural aesthetic discernment.’ Put less pretentiously, he was busy finding, supporting, and publishing great artists (often the first to discern their merits) and had no time for garbage. His dedication to great work was inspirational.

Sometimes I’ll read a comic and imagine how much Alvin would’ve dug it, such as Simon Hanselmann’s brutally funny mini-comic Landscape, which dismantles the little worlds of art comics and art-comics criticism. Alvin would’ve found its mean-spirited insight uplifting and its cartooning immaculate. (It’s 2016’s best work of comics criticism.)

Then there are times I’ll read a comic and be unsure about Alvin’s reaction — this realization makes me uncomfortable, uncertain about the validity of my own response. He’s become my ‘comic-book assessment super-ego’ . . .

Without Alvin around (he left us one year ago today), I feel a little lost. He was my lifeline to important new work, an advance scout taking a sharp machete to the garbage of Comicdom and telling me, and the rest of us, what was vital. He had an unerring sixth sense for Good Comics, as the books he published proves.

Yet I miss him most as a friend and collaborator. Our collaborations weren’t always easy: one time he tested my patience beyond its breaking point (and I his), but we eventually got past it. (I still feel guilty for failing that test and wish I’d handled things better.) But so many collaborations were a real joy. The two largest projects I did with him — The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist and The Daniel Clowes Reader — remain the work I’m most proud of. 

A few months after Alvin died, I was looking through the “back-issue bins” at a local comic-book shop and came across several issues of the 1959 Dell series Alvin. Normally I’d buy one issue to check out a title, but this time felt that, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to, I had to get them all. The feeling was odd, like an embarrassing compulsion driven by the weakness of superstition: it would be wrong to leave them there. (Alvin wouldn’t have bothered with such comics and certainly would've said “Really?” if I told him I’d bought them.) But they were Comics, and their covers said "Alvin." So I left with them all. here to read the rest of this post...

(Alvin might've liked this.) here to read the rest of this post...

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Most SUV of 2016

I have a cameo in the giant Fantagraphics Moto Hagiography "We Told You So," where Tom Spurgeon and Michael Dean exercise some kind of inside baseball wisdom of Solomon culling from the relentless expanse of Fantagraphics' toil and dramatis personae.

It's hard for me to say whether it will hold as much interest for someone unfamiliar with the topic, especially since I lived through some of it so contentedly as a consumer and partial content provider.
It's kind of like a big issue of The Comics Journal about The Comics Journal or receiving a yearbook and never graduating.

Sir Alfred No. 3 was released and did pretty well considering the significant roadblocks in its way.
I added a price tag to the Gumroad download page now that we're out of 2016.
I did manage to retrieve the printer files from Alvin's computer last month thanks to the goodwill of his parents, so another print edition might appear somewhere down the line.

I see I was also fortunate enough to end up on some end of the year lists.
I am very grateful for these mentions. I sort of feel like I've aged out of what is most current in comics these days, so I appreciate that some folks enjoyed my work. here to read the rest of this post...

Friday, October 7, 2016

Original Art For Sale

I am selling some of my original art on Etsy.
Sir Alfred No. 3 is now available to download on Gumroad; damaged print copies are still available at Fantagraphics. 
I missed linking to another review of Sir Alfred No. 3 by Abhay Khosla. here to read the rest of this post...

Thursday, October 6, 2016


(Photos: Y. Yeto) here to read the rest of this post...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Diapason here to read the rest of this post...

Monday, October 3, 2016

Apt Bldg here to read the rest of this post...

Friday, September 2, 2016

In the Realms of the Lightly Damaged

The final remaining stock of Sir Alfred No. 3 is described as "lightly damaged" and offered at a discount on the website of Fantagraphics.

I love this expression, "lightly damaged." Isn't everyone? What it also means is the undamaged books are now gone--souled out. With a thousand already in the ether, a second printing is asking for too much trouble.

Since Alvin's death, he's been in many dreams; in one, he was showing me a non-existent graffiti spray paint mural he did on Vermont near Santa Monica Boulevard in my old neighborhood. As we were crossing the street, a fleet of military aircraft swooped down at a 45 degree angle into the pavement and passed through us the way ghosts do. On the corner near the bus stop, there was a felled squirming cow covered in afterbirth.

I then started binge watching Kurt Cobain suicide conspiracy movies on Netflix, comforted by their distracting ability to explain "what really happened" because there is not going to be a way to know.

Recently there was a fire in Santa Clarita, and although it was not so near where Alvin is buried, I started to wonder what the temperature would be like under the ground and whether it might be stuffy wearing a suit inside a padded coffin when there are flames overhead.

So buy today, argh. I feel mostly like sleeping for a good while, but I am so indebted to Fantagraphics and John Porcellino for agreeing to make the books available for purchase. here to read the rest of this post...