[ matthew and neil man the fort. ]
it was my first year attending s.p.x. as a civilian (rather than exhibiting), and i quickly remembered how much i enjoyed festivals, how much more i wanted to be there, back when they were play, before the time was spent worrying about my “career” and the many ways in which i was failing to advance it, before the whole enterprise seemed like something i was doing wrong. to be sure, i missed having a home base, and trading affectionate barbs with my tablemates, and the sense of being part of what all the fuss was about. but i finally had time to roam the floor, to pick up unfamiliar minis and chat with their creators, to be surprised by and excited about comics.
and comics are pretty exciting. if you didn’t make it down to bethesda this year, or weren’t similarly liberated to wander about, here’s a few things you might have missed:
○ the plot no. 1: a monster in the forbidden forest, the first installment of the first long-form serialized story by my friend and editor and role model neil brideau. i had the privilege of watching this story germinate from a stack of feverishly scribbled thumbnails to the delicately inked, lovingly assembled minicomic neil debuted (and sold out of) at the show, and still i was surprised by the final product. the story concerns an enigmatic race of adorable humanoids which owes its prosperity and unusual abilities to an even more enigmatic race of aliens, and their children, growing up, whether they want to or not, in a secluded village buried within a vast and dangerous forest. this comic is so much fun that the reader can be forgiven if he fails to notice how thoughtful it is, and how well it represents those oft-forgotten instants before the onset of adolescence, and how honestly it remembers the uncertain excitements of that time.
( neil was also passing out his second true-dream comic anxiolytic #2, which he drew on the train ride down from chicago, and assembled in a 24-hour print shop at 3:30 on sunday morning with precious little help from me, and wherein i am egregiously slandered, depicted as unkempt and barely comprehensible and an unrepentant pedant, which is to say, neil’s dreams are disappointingly similar to actual life. even still, they make for a compelling read. )
○ papercutter seventeen attempts something different from any previous installment of tugboat press‘ stellar anthology series: it is a single, coherent volume comprising seven autobiographical stories from a single writer, each executed by a different artist. what results is both an engrossing read and a fascinating meta-exploration of artistic collaboration, the act(s) of reading and retelling and interpretation, and what it means to make another’s story one’s own.
○ stranded in strange waters is one of my favorite idiots’ books to date (which, those of you familiar with these festival round-ups will know, is no small compliment). it includes twenty-five one-paragraph stories by matthew, each printed opposite one of robbi’s illustrations. the pair took turns creating the prompt to which the other responded, and the images interact with their associated texts in different ways, sometimes illuminating, sometimes continuing, sometimes retelling the enigmatic little story. each gives the reader just enough information to get her theorizing as to what has transpired before it, and after, and between its sentences, but not quite enough to ever determine if she’s right. it’s like a feast for the imagination, but one so delectable as to leave the appetite unsated.
○ jay’s brain! shoulders all the blame for jason viola’s troubles, and, if their relationship is anything like that of kenan and kenan’s brain (which it very much appears to be), it deserves it. that said, jason’s brain comes up with a lot more funny, familiar, and touching-if-gently-cringe-inducing ideas than mine, or anybody else’s, i think. i like this book so much.
○ invincible summer 20 / clutch 23 is just as intimate and engrossing as we’ve come to expect greg and nicole‘s series of split-zine diary comics to be. the vastly divergent styles and narratives still complement each other to build a portrait of life in a scene in a city as broad as it is deep. but every page-turn was, for me, laced with something bittersweet, the sense that what we’re reading is just a generous epilogue to the long, sweet melancholy that was clutch.
○ little garden may have a plot. it may have a discernible sequence of events, a broader narrative project, an overarching arc. it may be going somewhere, although most of darryl ayo‘s odd, sweet little stories seem perfectly content where they are. these things are really beside the point. what i can say for certain is that i want to read a million more tales of this enigmatic, progressive, mutually supportive and vaguely occult community of extra-human creatures. also, i want to sleep with pretty much every character.
○ blackstar #5 collects a handful of short stories jeff zwirek made for various anthologies. taken together, they reveal an artist obsessed with formal invention. in this short minicomic, we see experiments with color, visual styles and degrees of abstraction, non-linear narratives, and, as always, book design. (speaking of which, let’s take a moment to be excited about jeff’s successfully kickstarted burning building comix collection.)
○ chester 5000 xyv is the kind of comic i wish i were brave enough and honest enough to make. it is deeply pornographic and also funny and troubling and touching, which really shouldn’t be all that uncommon a combination, as sex is generally all of those things. nonetheless, this is rare and truly superior smut, elegant and legitimately erotic. unlike most of what we call porn, it doesn’t seek to shame its audience, to call its consumer names and beat her into the sort of submission that makes for a loyal customer. it’s the kind of thing parents should pray their children happen upon when they go digging for answers in the inter-dirt.
○ sugar baby was, i’m told, nomi kane‘s thesis at the center for cartoon studies, which elevates the work from impressive to downright humbling. it recounts a childhood which would be typical but for the persistent intrusions of type-one diabetes, a condition which assumes more of the dramatic duties of a nagging younger sibling than the author’s actual baby brother. it’s sweet and funny and a little heartbreaking and really very lovely.
○ bar scrawl volume 2 is the perfect guidebook for those of us with perfectly rational if not entirely practical fears of everyone and places that aren’t my apartment. sure, you can consult yelp to see if some entitled priss felt she was attended with due diligence by the poor waiter subjected to her self-importance, but bill roundy gives you the information you really need before you ever set foot in the bar: how much you’ll be charged for what, what particular subset of douchebag is going to fill the place up by 11:15, where the bathrooms and exits are. my only complaint is the lack of coverage of greenpoint (which, let’s face it, is as far as i’m going to go for a glass of wine that’s been open for two days); this issue includes only spritzenhaus, which is really glorified williamsburg.
○ okay, enough fun. the next time i see you i’ll be back behind the table where i belong, cowering before the crowds and wishing i had time to get out and see all the stuff. and i’ll probably be trying to sell you something that looks like this:
but last things first:
○ i didn’t know dylan. like everyone in our little universe, i was aware of him, and enjoyed the brilliant and unusual comics he helped introduce into the world (of which i seem to have collected a small mountain), and understood that i was a beneficiary of his dedication to the medium, not just because i got to read the hitherto unheralded artists whose work he supported and disseminated, but also in a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats sort of way; indie comics is clearly a more exciting place to be because he was here. i will leave the eulogizing to those with concrete-er and more intimate points to make, but i do want specifically to direct your attention to neil’s thoughts, which struck me as a deeply touching and appropriate tribute.
○ after the festival, i headed into the district with neil and matthew “the matter” ocasio, where i had a few days of movie work, dotted with the seeing of sights i had somehow never gotten around to seeing before. and then i curled up in the back of the production van for the long drive back to brooklyn, trying not to have to pee. i shouldered my bags and staggered up the steps and through the door and into bed, where i’m always welcome, and i didn’t get up in the morning.