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

Monday, September 9, 2019

Chris Ware SPX


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

Thursday, February 28, 2019

There's a lot of ageism in comics criticism online. I write about it here: here to read the rest of this post...

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



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