The indy comics festival MoCCA took place last weekend, and as usual, it was a glorious event, with lots of great people and great comics. Here are three minicomics that I picked up that I particularly enjoyed. You can view or purchase each one at the link in the title.
Publisher/distributor J.T. Yost shares more on his current fundraiser.
Birdcage Bottom Books, which publishes minicomics and distributes for other small presses and individuals, is running a fundraiser through the month of February: 50% of the sales of selected comics will go to the ACLU. This is a great opportunity to pick up minicomics by rising and accomplished creators such as Glynis Fawkes, Whit Taylor, Hazel Newlevant, Kevin Budnik, and Jonathan Baylis, and help a great cause at the same time.
Brigid Alverson kicks off a new column highlighting comics that explore issues in the news, starting with an interview with Sarah Glidden.
Reading for Resistance is a new column highlighting comics and graphic novels that shed light on issues in the news.
On Saturday, everyone was talking about refugees. Six years ago, Sarah Glidden made a journey through parts of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria with a group of independent journalists who were focusing on refugees and their situation throughout the region; they were accompanied by a veteran of the Iraq War who was recording his own reflections. Last September, Drawn and Quarterly published Glidden’s graphic memoir of that trip, Rolling Blackouts.
The creator talks about her SPX debut from last year, “Baseline Boulevard,” and more in an interview from last year’s show.
Emi Gennis does short comics on fascinating topics, usually quirky stories from history. I first discovered her work when I picked up her minicomic on trepanation (warning: includes graphic images of people drilling holes in their skulls) at TCAF last year. Her other work includes The Radium Girls, about women who were exposed to radium while working in a watch factory in the 1930s; and Franz Reichelt: The Flying Tailor, the story of a man who invented a parachute suit and died testing it on himself. The latter is one of Gennis’s comic adaptations of stories from Wikipedia’s list of unusual deaths.
Multiple Ignatz Award winner Sophia Foster-Dimino says Small Press Expo is “like a summer camp for cartoonists.”
With Small Press Expo just over a month away, I thought it would be a good time to post this interview, which was done at last year’s SPX.
Sophia Foster-Dimino was one-third of the reason that women creators swept the 2015 Ignatz Awards: She won three out of the nine awards, taking the Outstanding Series award for Sex Fantasy, Outstanding Minicomic for Sex Fantasy #4, and the Promising New Talent Award. I spoke to her on the exhibit floor the day after the Harveys.
Can you tell us a bit about Sex Fantasy?
Sex Fantasy is a series that I have been doing for about two years now. They are small format zines, 4 x 4 inches. The first three were kind of like a stream of consciousness explanation of different ideas, and then the next three, 4 through 6, have been more structured narratives. I’m trying to explore things in this series that I wouldn’t want to tackle in a larger book. Like kind of a safer space to play around with new ideas in a small format.
Paul Buhle and Noah Van Sciver explore the historical John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, in a new graphic novel due out this fall.
The popular image of Johnny Appleseed is a sort of crazy guy who promoted healthy eating by planting apple trees and went around with a pot on his head. But there’s a lot more to him than that, and this fall (just in time for apple season!), Alternative Press will be publishing Paul Buhle and Noah Van Sciver’s Johnny Appleseed.
In Survivors’ Club, writers Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen and artist Ryan Kelly set up a very modern story about the child protagonists of 1980s horror movies. It begins with a meeting of six people, each of whom had a horrific experience in 1987. Chenzira, who called the group together, played a video game that created a catastrophe and is finding evidence that the game is making a comeback. This is the first clue that the dark forces of the past are returning to the present, and the six main characters of this book, the only survivors of the horrors of 1987, are being drawn together not just to solve the mysteries of their past but also to face a new threat in the present day.
Brigid Alverson: You have described Survivors’ Club as sort of a “what happened next” to the protagonists of the great horror films of the 1980s. How did you decide which tropes and characters to use, and how did you refine them to make them work together into a unified story?
Halvorsen: We wanted each character to be representative of a genre of horror: slasher, J-horror, haunted house, creepy neighbor, cursed artefact, gates of hell. You don’t often get to see these interacting, like, Freddy vs Exorcist, for example. That’s what interested us, how we could play around with this.
Beukes: I think we’re both big fans of the mash-up and I’m known for genre-blending in my novels. It makes things fresh and interesting and subversive. We looked at what films we loved and how we could match up those different genres with our characters; what would suit them, what would be hideously uncomfortable for them.
Given that horror films are your biggest influence here, what parts of the story are pure Lauren and Dale—what makes it unique to you as a creative team?
Halvorsen: We both share a love of horror films. Lauren is more of a horror connoisseur, but I’ll watch anything. Part of what I bring to the storytelling is my encyclopedic bad film appreciation, throwing in suggestions from Basket Case or EvilSpeak.
Beukes: I don’t think you can separate us out. Our brains have commingled into one evil story-telling sentience. We riff off each other, the collaboration becomes play. We act out dialogue or stage block action. Dale says I’m the dialogue queen, but I can tell you that the wittiest and punniest lines are all him. I sometimes have to rein him in.
I’ve really been enjoying the collaboration and the way our minds work together. We’re always leveling up. It’s very different to the loneliness of solo novel writing.
Being from South Africa (although I know you have traveled to the U.S.), how did you perceive these films at the time you were first watching them, and how do you see them now? Did you think of them as foreign films or just part of the mass culture? How do you think the fact that you are viewing them in South Africa changes your point of view—are there particular things that resonate with your own world view?
Beukes: In pop-culture, we all grow up American. (Especially if you’ve been deprived of British television as a kid because of the UK’s sanctions against the apartheid government). We both have a very low tolerance for torture porn because the reality of violence in South Africa is so horrific, especially against women, those films demean what real people go through.
Halvorsen: Horror films are our generation’s fairytales. We all grew up with them, we all know those monsters. The good horror films are social commentary, like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
Beukes: Oh yes! A lot of good horror is really about the monster within.
Why is Vertigo the right home for this comic? How do you think it fits with their line?
Beukes: [Vertigo editor in chief] Shelly Bond is a genius. She’s an amazing editor who has pushed for me to develop my own original title at Vertigo for years. But she also sees to the heart of the work, she knows how to push the story further and deeper, in the writing and the art. Vertigo has published some of my favorite adult comics and many of my favorite creators including Ed Brubaker, Paul Pope, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Mike Carey, G Willow Wilson, David Lapham, Pia Guerra, Tara McPherson, came up through Vertigo.
Halvorsen: We’re like the vampires who needed to be invited in by the publisher who saw the potential in our story. Hopefully they Let The Right One In.
Once you pitched the concept to Vertigo, how did Shelly Bond (or any other editor) help you refine it? Did you just go ahead on your own, or did they have any suggestions or guidance for you?
Beukes: Oh, Shelly had suggestions. So did our associate editor, Rowena Yow. 96% of the time, they’re absolutely right. The other 4% it’s because we haven’t explained our long game properly and they come round to why we’re doing a particular thing this way. We regularly have hour long Skype chats and they both push the story. We’re relative rookies (I’ve written one six issue comic arc before, Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom with Inaki Miranda) so their experience in the best ways how to tell the story are invaluable.
Halvorsen: They’re our first readers and they have a lot of questions that we take seriously.
Your writing process is very collaborative. What unique attributes do each of you bring to the team—does one of you sort of specialize in humor, action, snappy comebacks, creepy details?
Beukes: We’re both witty but Dale dials it up to eleven. Sometimes I have to reach in and dial him right back. The creep factor comes from both of us. What’s exciting is when we elaborate on each other’s ideas. “Yes! That’s so horrible and awful and twisted and what if we also did this?” Dale’s more visual so he thinks about what the panel looks like to better brief Ryan Kelly, our amazing artist, so we don’t drive him to distraction with conflicting actions or impossible camera angles. Dale does a crazy amount of research and brings all these weird articles or true crime podcasts to the table that we can feed into the story. He’s also a horror trope master. He’ll say things like “We need to bring in the prophet of doom”. Not forgetting that he’s the one who came up with the concept in the first place.
Halvorsen: We’re good at all of those things, dark humor, creepy details, snappy comebacks. I’m good at plotting. Lauren is the alien queen of dialogue and is an actual award-winning novelist, which means that words are her power. I’m learning a lot working with her.
The Bozz Chronicles
By David Michelinie, Bret Blevins, and John Ridgway
Foreword by Brandon Graham
The Bozz Chronicles, which writer David Michelinie described to CBR as “sort of like Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files,” is a double period piece: It’s set in Victorian London, so there’s that, but it’s also very noticeably a comic from the 1980s, in both style and sensibility.
In fact, you can’t get much more 1980s than this: Michelinie says, in the introduction to the Dover edition, that his initial inspiration for the comic was the movie ET. That was just the initial spark, though. Michelinie’s Bozz is a space alien who crashed to earth and can never return to his home, but that’s where the resemblance ends.
For one thing, Bozz (that’s a human approximation of his unpronounceable alien name) is suicidal. He’s a highly evolved being trapped in a world filled with inferior beings, and he’s never going back. When we first meet him, the noose is already around his neck, but he is rescued by working girl Amanda Flynn. Amanda is bringing a reluctant customer up to what she thinks is an abandoned loft when she finds Bozz; the john flees in terror, but Amanda, displaying that heart of gold that prostitutes are famous for, takes charge of Bozz and saves his life.
Somehow (details are kept to a minimum), Amanda and Bozz set up a detective agency which serves the dual purpose of making money (thus relieving Amanda of her former obligations) and keeping Bozz supplied with mysteries to solve. Boredom is deadly to him, and Amanda worries when the work runs dry, not because of the cash flow (well, maybe a little because of that) but because Bozz becomes despondent and suicidal without the distraction of solving mysteries.
Don’t bother thinking you can sleuth along with Bozz, though. These are not “fair play” mysteries where the reader knows as much as the detective; they all involve supernatural elements, often caused by humans meddling with the occult, and Bozz uses his rather eclectic powers (talking to animals, dowsing for electricity) to solve them.
Bozz is an almost perfect personification of depression. He’s huge, dominating the space around him, yet smooth and passive. He looks at the world through half-lidded eyes, only coming to life when presented with a puzzle to solve or a desperate situation to get out of. The other characters, by contrast, crackle with energy, and they are as over-the-top as Bozz is subdued. Amanda, whose spaghetti straps and low-cut dresses are not really true to the period, is the one who pushes the story along, getting the jobs, making the arrangements, and doing most of the talking (although her lower-class accent would be a much bigger impediment in the real Victorian London than it is in these stories). The third member of the team is Salem Hawkshaw, a consonant-droppin’, chili-cookin’ American who supplies the brawn, if very little brains. There’s also a sort of adjunct member, Inspector Colin Fitzroy, a wealthy member of the gentry who went to work at Scotland Yard, to his family’s dismay, so he could make a difference in the world.
Indeed, the idle and evil rich vs. the industrious and more-or-less virtuous poor is a theme that pops up in various ways in these stories, which fits in with their Dickensian setting; Michelinie even throws in some orphans for good measure. And there are plenty of surprises, including (not to spoil things too much) a Jimmy Hoffa reference and a 19th-century hippie commune.
Artists Bret Blevins (who drew five of the six stories) and John Ridgway (who illustrated the fourth story) do a splendid job of bringing the characters to life, including the supernatural aspects. Nonetheless, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, this comic has a very 1980s look and feel, in the character designs, the paneling, and the coloring. That doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of reading it, but it does look very different from a modern graphic novel.
The Bozz Chronicles was intended to be an ongoing series, with each issue a complete story. It came out bimonthly, but there were only six issues (one year’s worth) before the project came to an untimely end. This collection throws in a few extras, including a foreword by Brandon Graham, new introductions by Michelinie and Blevins, an afterword by Ridgway, and some bonus cover art. With this collected edition, Dover has done a great job of making these stories accessible to a new audience, as well as longtime fans.
Forbidden Planet has some background and a preview here.
Every life has its challenges, but few people are as aware of them as our SmashPages contributor Tim O’Shea. Tim was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year, and he has been chronicling his treatment and recovery for friends and family on Facebook. Overlaid on that, however, is his struggle with depression–depression that often manifests itself as anger.
After Tim’s cancer diagnosis, he asked me to interview him. I was honored. We had several lengthy phone conversations, out of which came the interview we posted earlier. But there was one question I asked that unleashed a flood of reminiscence and reflection about Tim’s depression and the effect it has had on his life. Because Tim has been so brutally honest about this experience, I felt this was important to post on its own. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that answer.
What would you say were the big turning points in your life so far?
The first one happened before I was born, when my 14-year-old brother died 10 days before I was born. The next was when I started realizing in my teen years that my mom and my dad loved each other but it was not a happy love and I never got love from them. There were 7-10 surrogate families at my church who would support me and support me to this day, and my sister who is 10 years older than me
Realizing, in 2004, that anger management was a major problem for me and trying to get help for it to save my marriage, only to realize my marriage could not be saved for other reasons. I actually went to anger management counseling sessions that were court ordered by everyone who was in attendance except one person—me. I went voluntarily, and every other person in that class said “What the fuck are you doing here?” One guy was in anger management because he had thrown a bowl of Spaghetti-Os on his sister while she was driving. Another guy at Blockbuster been fired—someone said “How is it going buddy?” and he cold cocked them. They were probation violators who could not get a job. I had no reason to be there other than I loved my son and wanted to get better.
The first lesson I learned is you should catalog the moments when you realize you are about to get angry. Every time it was because I had unrealistic expectations. Say you are in traffic and you let the person in front of you go as a courtesy. Do you have an expectation that they might wave “Thank you” to you, or do you not care? I always expected them to wave, and when they did not wave I would get angry. So I set myself up for disappointment and I got angry.
Years ago I was working at my first job with a magazine called National Real Estate Investor. I was supposed to have a day off from work, as was another co-worker of mine. There wasn’t a problem. All of a sudden my boss said “M can get off but you can’t.” Rather than say “Can we work this out?” or somehow make it clear that I really needed to get off, I walked out of the cube and–I was in a cube farm with 3 other co-workers and there was a spare chair–I literally smashed the chair against the cube wall. Didn’t break it, just smashed it, walked out, came back 10 minutes later and my boss said “You can have the day off now.” And at that moment I was proud as hell that I was able to do that, never realizing the chilling effect I had on the entire floor and that woman, not realizing that woman from then on probably felt physically threatened by me, even though I had never physically threatened her. I had threatened the chair, but it was clear to everybody that the chair was intended to be her. It took me decades to realize that.
My son and my wife gave me a gift that I fully accepted two weeks ago when they finally got me to hear that yes, you are in incredibly angry person and without medication you cannot manage the depression that manifests itself as anger, but no matter what, every day and in every action that you overreact, there is never a doubt that you will come back to the center and you will be the father or the husband that you needed to be. And the fact that my son and my wife combined to let me hear that for the first time means that for the rest of my life I have a confidence that I had not had before two weeks ago.
Everybody in the world intellectually intimidated me. I felt inferior to every single person I meet. I no longer feel that, but I did then. I now feel I am an equal or at least somebody that you can have a conversation that will be of substance, and I have never had that before two weeks ago. That is a gift I will have for the rest of my life, and I hope it is a long life.