i think neil said it best: comics rule.
○ one thousand lies, in which c.c.s.-er laura terry, following in the tradition of italo calvino, jeannette winterson, and neil gaiman, de- and re-constructs marco polo as a prodigal angelino named arnold, a peripatetic cad who stops back in town to regale his overworked, overpaid godmother with tales of a life less encumbered. through her protagonist, terry casts polo’s notoriously dubious relationship to fact as a feature rather than a bug, an exotic treasure carried home for the benefit of those anchored to wherever they may be.
○ bets are off, a dreamy, inky visual setting of a pretty girls make graves song by nate powell, deserving and gracious recipient of this years “outstanding artist” ignatz award. its flipside is cakewalk, a compelling story written by rachel bormann about the injustices of childhood, and the seemingly byzantine mechanisms of adult approval.
○ bugbear, one of a seemingly endless procession of elegantly conceived, gorgeously produced hand-made books from eleanor davis and drew weing‘s little house comics. it collects eight of both artists’ short stories, each inventively told and lovingly illustrated, within a collaboratively drawn silkscreened wraparound cover.
○ herman the manatee fails again, the second mini-collection of jason viola‘s giddily depressing webcomic, in which the pudgy protagonist is at last rid of the boats that have menaced him so unrelentingly, only to find they have been displaced by a more insidious predator.
○ what is this?, a new children’s story created for uncle envelope by neil brideau which continues the author’s ongoing exploration of strangeness and friendship, and is proven to have healing powers in the young and fanciful. i read it with my sickly six-year-old brother the following weekend, thus procuring the first smiles of the evening. and, for the record, i did so without shedding a single tear. “yes,” you say, “but isn’t that only because you had gotten it out of your system an hour earlier when you welled up reading the minicomic in a crowded subway car?” “what are you talking about?” i reply with convincingly calibrated indignation. “i’ve never ridden the subway. i’ve never even left missouri.”
neil has also illustrated a second collection of kevin sciretta‘s stories from alpha city, troubled metropolis of the hopefully distant future. my favorite tale recounts a day in the operation of “century repair and supplies,” suggesting that, though times may change, the trials of small business ownership will likely not.
○ pinstriped bloodbath, a cleverly designed anthology of gangland violence and true crime by such talented chicago cartoonists as the aforementioned neil brideau, sam sharpe, and its editor, jeff zwirek.
[ caitlin and kenan by kenan and caitlin. ]
○ i was accompanied at my table by indomitable zinestress caitlin mcgurk, who is way too punk rock for a web presence. she had completed the second of her new series of field guides, detailing those species of birds brave and/or desperate enough to make their homes within new york city’s limits, for the occasion. she also had two profoundly lovely short illustrated poems, “lately” and “it feels like,” that speak more cogently of memory and the exploration thereof than most of us could manage with a hundred times the space.
unfortunately, caitlin interfered rather comprehensively with my tried-and-true festival practice of keeping to myself, avoiding eye contact, and wondering why i’m so bad at making friends. i was forced, in her persistent company, to be considerably more personable than i should like. though i tried repeatedly to slip out of crowds and slink quietly back to my room, it was never to any avail.
and yet i suppose i can’t be entirely bitter, as most of the unexpected treasures listed below were stumbled upon during this forced socialization. you can imagine my surprise as i found myself forgoing the comfortable anonymity of the bolt bus and tossing my festival haul into the back of caitlin’s car, a brooklyn-bound vessel brimming with friendly smiles and clever conversation set to a boisterous (yet reassuringly melancholic) soundtrack of weezer and evan dando.
○ the other half of our table was manned by a delegation from illinois comprising dan hill and emi gennis. dan successfully peddled subscriptions to his humor zine the fifty flip experiment, a bimonthly collection of short, funny, somewhat twisted comics in a wide range of styles, modeled after performed sketch comedy. emi does an autobiographical webcomic called owlex that winningly details her misadventures with her (ex-?)boyfriend, who happens to be a dead owl. she also traded me a minicomic called spaz#2, full of equally fanciful accounts of day jobs and dating and self-doubt and all kinds of things that should be boring and played but somehow end up deepy charming.
○ the next table over, by some whim of serendipity, was totally the bizarro kenan table. chris malone had collected his jersey shore-based webcomic into minis called nude beach. but rather than fat old naked people, his new jersey is populated by surfer babes in bikinis and tanned dudes with brightly colored hair; he surely got the raw end of our trade. mike odum was passing out previews of wheeljack union, his comic about a robot created to address a seemingly insurmountable problem. but unlike tick, wheeljack was developed by military scientists, and thus follows orders, doesn’t wind down, looks bad ass, and demonstrates a facility for pyrotechnics.
○ despite how fond we were of our new neighbors, caitlin and i moved on sunday to an unoccupied table with slightly less terrible foot traffic. we found ourselves in the environs of writer matthew swanson and artist robbi behr, the endlessly inventive schemers responsible for idiots’ books. this was fortuitous; they are among my favorite folk to run into on such occasions, and, more importantly, the more time we spend together, the more great stuff i’m able to sucker out of them.
Nasty Chipmunk is the story of the woodlands’ greatest villain, a tyrant delighting in the fratty havoc he wreaks throughout the forest. the antagonist’s tale is amplified by the playfully adversarial relationship between its text and images; author seems to challenge artist with the grandiose horribleness of nasty’s hagiography, but artist deftly parries each sentence by way of an interpretive illustration, and the battle rages onto the following page.
the idiots also created the album art for tar pits and canyonlands, a playful and meticulously produced collection of sardonic folk-pop anthems from the band bombadil. true to its title, nearly every illustration herein serves as both a literal depiction of a song’s subject and a dreamy figurative landscape; a melting birthday cake doubles as a cloudy mesa, and an overturned row boat reads like some island’s topographical map. matthew’s elegant accompanying story likewise paints the earth as something compelling and inevitable.
and then the landscape shifts: the last of the real small farmers, one of the most beautiful, interesting, and enjoyable volumes to accompany me home from bethesda, is presented as an extended monologue told over rolling green hills, lush vegetation, and warm cups of tea. the text comes from an interview with a fellow named bill, a farmer, vietnam veteran, former n.s.a. cryptographer, voracious reader, and theorist. it was edited by matthew and brian francis slattery, and illustrated, intimately and expansively, by robbi. one cannot help but feel he is himself seated at the kitchen table of this unlikely and exceptional man, contemplating the implications of his ten-pound sweet potatoes.
○ new discoveries:
• poor, poor, angsty hungarian, b. swardlick‘s delirious tale of princehood lost and purpose sought in the eastern european countryside, from which i literally had to be pulled away so that i would be fun on saturday night.
• ophestios 1890 by josh rosen, whose brilliantly expressive cartooning renders the artistic travails of a distant time and place intimate and familiar.
• the old things volume one, from which we only get the first hints of the story that will unfold in later issues, but man nick patten‘s character design is great.
• doublethink #6, a collection of “thoughts that shouldn’t be thought” from the troubled mind of matt aucoin, guaranteed to delight your inner “immature reader who likes sex and the f-word,” or mine, anyway. this kid is a crazy talented cartoonist.
• the fire messenger 1, a lavishly watercolored fantasy by penina gal about two boys lost in an unfamiliar world.
• bullshit frank and gorilla joe number four, about which it’s hard to know quite what to say, other than that it is exceedingly odd, barely legible, intermittently comprehensible and really astonishingly awesome. i’ve been toying with the notion that the comic is micheala colette‘s take on krazy kat, told from the point of view of ignatz, except that he’s a gorilla with emo hair and a visible third eye, and krazy is this irritatingly needy little bird, and officer pup is played by jon goodman. and yes, that’s the best i can do.