○ times, as you may have heard, have changed. comics, however, remain unfalteringly awesome.
○ i shared my table with marek bennett, town troubadour of claymont, new hampshire (whence come mimi’s doughnuts), and proud promoter of new england’s trees and hills collective. it was, i learned, a strange string of circumstance that led him to the northern half of table 212, but i’m glad it did; after spending a couple days with him, it’s not hard to see where his weekly strips (syndicated in new england papers and collected in quarterly installments of mimi’s doughnut zine, as well as a new xeric-funded anthology) get their gentle wit and progressive intellect.
two years ago, marek traded me the eleventh installment of his ‘zine, complete with beep, boop, thump!, the issue’s aptly-titled and deeply charming soundtrack cd. the music plays like the all-time greatest recording ever made in mario paint (think ratatat without guitars or irony), and is a perfect accompaniment to the mimi comics. this year, i picked up issue 17, and i dare say these stories have gotten even better. they’re funny, thoughtful, and universal in their resonance, without losing their site-specific, small-town flavor.
○ another hills and trees cartoonist, (and tick’s first public admirer) anne thalheimer, was in town with an array of charming little minis, covering such varied and engrossing topics as rollerderby reffing and sweater-wearing monsters. but i was most excited to see anne so that i might finally procure one of her brilliant hand-made monster hats (seen below as modeled by boy blue’s staff librarian and chief fashion consultant, frog brains). it was one of only two items for which i broke my you’ve-spent-enough-money-getting-in-here-kenan-so-no-buying-stuff rule. it was sitting there on her table in the perfect size and shade and who am i to rebuff the whims of fate?
○ the other thing on which i spent actual money was the tenth issue of the papercutter anthology, which, even for papercutter, is unusually good.
○ along the north wall of the armory, at the western border of the festival’s scandinavian ghetto, was a table of freakishly talented and inventive swedish cartoonists. there i met johan jergner-ekervik, who had bought one of my comics while i was away from my table, and was immediately enamored of his work. lucky days: daytrip in the territories (translated into english with the help of jeffrey brown), which chronicles the artist’s christmas holiday with his family after an amorous encounter that had not gone according to plan, was one of my favorite finds of the weekend, and probably the best comic about cartooning i’ve ever read.
i learned that the hostel at which johan and his traveling companion frida ulvegren (who sold out of her book before i could get my hands on it) planned to stay had lost their reservation. they found themselves in a foreign city with bags of comics and a week’s worth of clothes each with no place to stay and no budget (they were looking for fifteen-dollar-a-night rooms in manhattan), which is how they came to be curled up on the boy blue futon in our 400-square-foot greenpoint headquarters. unexpected, but one couldn’t ask for more considerate (or more talented) houseguests.
○ their table-mate sofia falkenhem and i overcame the language barrier (although to be fair, i was the only one of us for whom it was an obstacle) by exchanging our silent comics. fågelhjärta (“bird heart,” i think) tells the story of a young woodland fox who turns by day into a human girl and then one day fails to turn back. it is all kinds of beautiful.
○ upon seeing the oubliettes, sofia told me that she has her workshop students make three-fold variations, and that she’s found them very useful for teaching. a city high-school teacher named gretchen came by with her students and had the same idea, informing me that i would be teaching the format to her creative writing students in the fall. and a number of other artists seemed inspired to try it themselves.
and there were other indications that the newest experiment bubbling over in boy blue labs may have some potential:
○ ken wong was on the floor promoting his forum, called “comics come in all shapes and sizes”, which explored some of the more experimental approaches to the analog presentation of comics, including jim salicrup‘s superhero stories on rolls of toilet paper, fay ryu‘s continuous accordian-format tale hello, and jason little’s mind-blowing comics installation exhibits at the flux factory in queens. ken was kind enough to discuss both tick and the oubliette comics during the talk, and even brought me up to answer questions about them. into a microphone. before an audience. obviously not my strong suit, but i think i scraped by.
ken had two astoundingly formatted comics of his own. his work, which he calls oragami comics, was made in response to a challenge to demonstrate what physical comics could achieve that webcomics can not, and the results prove a compelling response to mccloud and company:
pandora’s box retells the greek myth around the box in question, which must be opened to complete the story, at the exact point in the narrative when pandora herself is doing the same. inside are instructions on how to reassemble the box, along with notes on the story’s history. perhaps most impressive is that, once unfolded, the outside narrative contains various details or versions of the story which have been surpressed throughout history, and which could not be seen during the initial reading.
schrodinger’s cat explains the eponymous thought experiment on a cootie-(kitty?)-catcher, which then opens to present a reading of comics history as a vast collaborative exploration of an infinite number of alternative universes.
○ i can only hope he was as well-staffed as i, thanks to boy blue’s director of feild operations for folding initiatives (and top chef) girlcate (whose first foray into the inedible arts can be expected come s.p.x.-time). she manned the table for much of the weekend, and kept me well-stocked with freshly-folded oubliettes. the assistance proved invaluable once again, as they continued to attract what for me qualifies as a decent amount of attention:
○ kiki came by with a new mini, called danse macabre, that begins an engaging tale of two young vampire princes vying for the recently vacated throne of the underworld with armies of undead hipsters on what appears to be the brooklyn heights promenade (although how they all got someplace so far from a g-train station is a mystery left unexplained). she had also curated an anthology called ectoplasm, to which she contributed a number of fun short pieces. my favorite of these is a one-pager about a goth princess who turns her suitors into frogs. i’m really hoping the story gets expanded into its own comic, both because of its compelling premise and also because, after its inevitable popularity, girlcate won’t be able to use the “no one will recognize me” excuse the next time i suggest it as a halloween costume.
○ at an adjacent table, graciously tolerating the fact that i was totally taking up their space, were jason viola, creator of the classic-to-be herriman-meets-jansson webcomic herman the manatee, and his periodic collaborator neal stoddard. jason’s new book, sunward, is a by turns amusing and unsettling tale of a boy who clings for dear life to a blade of grass to avoid being drawn into the sun. i also picked up the profiteer, a clever superhero office drama penned by stoddard and illustrated by viola, in which costumed defenders and their diabolical nemeses battle with corporate bureaucracy and fine print as much as one another.
○ on garbanzo’s recommendation, i hunted down cathy leamy to procure the final installment of her winning autobiographical geraniums and bacon series. i was well-advised; the stories contained therein are sweet and funny and endearingly confessional, and it’s comforting to know i’m not the only one up at ungodly hours writing web code and wallowing in self-doubt when i should be drawing (or, you know, sleeping).
○ i’ve known mike mcghee for a long time, but never as well as i should like, so i can’t say for certain whether his kenetic, frenetic, dystopian visions are drug-addled delusions or simply the outcry of an organically troubled soul. in either case, it’s been a rare treat to get to watch his work develop into the surreal psychosis contained in his latest collection, thanx. i’d recommend keeping your eyes on this kid.
○ after two short years (and i’m surely one to talk), caitlin mcgurk arrived at last with the second issue of good morning you in hand. caitlin’s work combines the heartfelt eclecticism of a punk zine with the emotional immediacy of a mini-comic, and the resultant books are not clearly one or the other. however you choose to classify them, they’re deeply affective in their capture and recreation of small, often silent moments that might otherwise go unnoticed.
○ though not exhibiting this year, neil brideau was roaming the floor as a volunteer. he asked me to sign the infamous frame for the 2009 poster, an honor which i readily accepted despite being obviously unworthy. i think i’ve persuaded him to set down roots at next year’s festival, so hopefully he will be easier to track down.
○ if you haven’t yet read carl’s large story, do. marcos perez is the awesome.
○ mathew swanson and robbi behr, the intelligentsia behind idiots’ books, were back with their newest staffer and a rack of clever new volumes. my first idiots’ book was a spiral-bound game of exquisite corpse, split into horizontal thirds which could be turned independently of one another. each displayed the head, mid-section, or legs of a(n often monstrous) character opposite the beginning, middle, or conclusion of that character’s story, and the various thirds could be joined in every possible combination to make a seemingly endless string of different tales.
this year matt traded me two brilliant new books: let me count the ways is a why-am-i-laughing-at-this-i-must-be-a-fairly-horrible-person-out-loud funny and devilishly illustrated account of a man caught between a mom and a hard spouse. understanding traffic is an equally amusing, equally depressing “expert account” of that most misunderstood of human aggravations, with probably the best captioning i have ever seen anywhere ever. together, they constituted a far-too-generous over-reciprocation of my first two tiny oubliettes, but i’m not complaining. in fact, i’m going out of my way not to inform matt that i’m really very much over that time when he didn’t let me into his college, in the hope that he is trying to make it up to me with free books.
○ full disclosure: walking around the emptying convention floor sunday evening giving out cookies would probably get your book into my recommended reading even if it were absolute rubbish. fortunately for the comics-hungry masses who read and rely upon my festival round-ups, lawrence gullo and david ryder prangley‘s vampire deluxe is a witty, sexy, and stylishly illustrated treat; a decadent comics confection. my only complaint is that it isn’t longer. and that there aren’t more cookies.
○ new discoveries:
• these yams are delicious by sam sharpe, autobiographical science fiction at its implausible best.
• the ashen cat by evan palmer, a stunningly illustrated meditation on grief.
• starfish by marguerite dabaie, an elegant and wordless fable which, like the best shanties, takes place on the open sea, but reminds me of that thing that happened this one time on the subway. also includes a centerfold with some fine-looking tail.
• dense valley an intriguing introduction to mika oshima‘s webcomic.
• christiann‘s splendidly spontaneous sticky comics.
• crisis in geezerville by twelve-year-old wunderkind jessica weiss, which recounts the misadventures of two geriatric superheroes.