December 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Local mini-comics publisher Oily Comics is making the kind of splash that’s unusual for makers of homemade books.
With titles like Melissa Mendes’ “Lou” and James Hindle’s “Close Your Eyes When You Let Go,” and even more experimental books, like Jessica Campbell’s “My Sincerest Apologies,” Oily has been grabbing plenty of attention.
Publisher Charles Forsman’s own book, “The End of the Fucking World,” made the MTV 2012 Top 10 list, and the entire line is popping up on best of lists everywhere.
It was on a cross-country journey in his early 20s that Forsman visited a comic book store in Los Angeles — his first in years — and had an unexpected epiphany about his path in life.
“That’s when I fell back in love with alternative comics,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh, I should get back into drawing and I should do this for real.’ It finally seemed clear to me that this was what I wanted.”
Forsman returned home to attend college, and then was accepted to the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. For his second-year project, he created two issues of the self-published comic, “Snake Oil,” complete with hand-made, silk-screened covers.
He won two Ignatz Awards for the effort, an unexpected prestige within the small press world. Forsman said that kept him going and energized and ready to pursue comics — and then he hit the real world.
“It was hard once I was out of the school to stay focused,” he said. “I’d say, probably, two years after graduation were the toughest creatively. I was very motivated, but I was frustrated and still figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do.”
Forsman attempted his first long-form graphic novel, but upon completing a first draft was disinterested in pursuing it further and opted to continue “Snake Oil” instead. At the same time, he and girlfriend Mendes were moving around, figuring out where they wanted to be, holding down day jobs.
“I kept doing ‘Snake Oil’ issues, to not the same acclaim that I had for the first two,” Forsman said. “One big lesson that I learned is that even when you’re slamming your head against the wall, it’s all worth it in the end. You’re going to learn something from everything.”
While living in Providence, R.I., Forsman began working on a graphic novel for acclaimed indie publisher Fantagraphics — “Celebrated Summer,” to be released fall of 2013.
He eventually moved to Hancock, Mendes’ home town, and that was where things really fell into place, ignited by a mini-comic sent to him by his friend — the first issue of Max de Radigues’ “Moose.”
“I had been of the mind that mini-comics should be these beautiful silk-screened objects, really labored over things,” said Forsman, “but there was something really powerful with this simple, eight pages, small black-and-white format. I thought, ‘Oh, man, I’m going to do this.’ “
That blossomed into “The End of the Fucking World,” which will eventually be collected for release from Fantagraphics, due out this spring. It is Forsman’s dysfunctional tale of a teen boy and girl in trouble, and for him, it was the antidote to his previous graphic novel work.
“When I started, I didn’t have a real plan for it,” Forsman said. “I just wanted it to be fun. After laboring over the other book, I wanted to have fun again, because when you’re working on something for awhile, you can get bogged down in the details. The pages I was doing for ‘Celebrated Summer,’ they’re big and very detailed, and I was spending days on one page.”
“Once I got rolling, by the third or fourth issue, I had it all planned out where I was going to go, but even then the nature of the project is that I still don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s what keeps it interesting for me. I know what’s going to be in each issue, but things change and new things pop up.”
The experience of creating that book gave Forsman a creative jolt that was fueled by the spontaneity.
“It gave me a little more freedom,” he said. “I was a lot less worried about style or how it was going to look. I had this very simple way of drawing these characters in a limited page layout. I gave myself these parameters that were very simple. Every issue I would draw really fast. That’s another thing, it’s been easier to keep my interest in it. I do it once a month and I draw it really fast.”
It was after five successful issues of his own title that Forsman began to consider bringing others into the fold. He struck a deal with de Radigues to publish “Moose” in America, and then Mendes signed on with an autobiographical mini-comic about a childhood in the Berkshires.
“I got real excited about publishing other people,” said Forsman. “I had wanted to do it for awhile, but I was really scared of it taking over my life and I wouldn’t have time to work on my own stuff, but now that it’s become my job, it’s really great. It’s great because it’s something else to do besides worry about my comics. I don’t have any time to sit around and worry about my comics anymore. I have to print other people’s stuff.”
Forsman has branched out with more titles since, and begun to offer select downloadable digital editions for sale.
“I just thought that would be an interesting idea,” he said. “It’s an experiment to see if people would buy them. It’s not selling a ton, but I’ve sold some. I know there are people who have only read it that way. When tablets came out, like the iPad, and I started to read comics on it, it started to really make sense to me that this is one way that it could work. I’m really open to it and excited about it.”
The books are available in stores across the country, as well as through mail order online. Forsman’s and Mendes’ reputations as up-and-coming cartoonists to watch have certainly helped get them attention in the effort. Oily Comics also took a big leap forward in distribution when Forsman began to offer subscriptions for the entire line.
“The other idea behind Oily was that I started this thing that people were watching and I felt like it was a cool way to expose other people to artists that I knew about that maybe didn’t have much exposure,” Forsman said. “Also, I could get other artists bigger than me. Somehow, I managed to get people who are idols of mine to do books, like Sammy Harkham.”
The subscription deal helped Forsman organize and schedule better. It meant Oily had to produce five comics a month, which gave him a consistent workload and brought him to the point where the comics are paying for themselves and getting plenty of attention. Things are looking up and Forsman didn’t necessarily expect that outcome.
“When I started the subscriptions is when I really jumped into it,” he said. “I limited it to December 2012, the end of the year, and told myself that I’ll see if I want to keep doing this. I’ve resigned myself to doing it because it’s been pretty successful and I really enjoy doing it. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, and besides, a lot of artists have started series, so now I have to print them all. So, who knows when it’s going to end. I feel like it’s taken a life of it’s own.”
His plan for Oily is to continue with five titles a month, while he explores options for bigger projects and collections. He’s added red to his printing options, so two-color comics are in the future.
“It’s really satisfying for the other artists I print. I tell them that 200 people are reading their books when they come out and some of them are like, wow, I never even printed that many mini comics before. Two hundred isn’t a lot, but in mini comics, it is. And there are more that are going to stores. There are people who are only reading them by going to their local comics shop, which is nutty to me.”
December 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This obscure delight now reissued for the first time in decades is brief, but enduring, especially when new Peanuts strips are such a thing of the past. Essentially the lost Charlie Brown mini-comic, “The Christmas Stocking” – the first story in this book – originally saw life in 1963 as a little insert to the December issue of Good Housekeeping, well before the legendary Christmas special had ever aired.
The second, “A Christmas Story,” appeared in Woman’s Day in December 1968 as the cover feature – a few years after the Christmas special had first appeared.
Each story shares some text and ideas with the legendary TV special, but to completely different ends. The first involves Charlie Brown’s quiz zing of each cast member about their plans for hanging a Christmas stocking, which culminates in a hilarious existential crisis for him and sister Sally as tackle the problems of Christmas rituals in the suburbs.
The second is a philosophical satire of opposing views of Christmas, with Snoopy en countering explanations from both Linus and Lucy, and finding peril in listening to either, culminating in the sort of punchline only an atheist could love.
As with the best of Schulz’s work, the humor alternates between deadpan and over the top, and the presentation of religion and holidays both is both irreverent and respectful at the same time. Schulz was a multi-faceted writer and could tackle contradictions through great simplicity. Charlie Brown’s Christmas Stocking stands as gift from the past that is greater than the size of the package. It’s a real treasure.
October 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
From his early days as a loud-mouthed satirist to his Oscar-nominated turn as screenwriter adapting his own “Ghost World” to his more recent, hilarious melancholia, Dan Clowes has consistently asked what he thinks is the one question that really matters — “What do we really want from each other?” — and examined the ways ordinary behavior gives us a hint of an answer.
Clowes sees the path to the big questions as entrenched in the little ugliness that’s part of all of us.
In the wonderful art book, “Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Dan Clowes,” his method for using archetypal cartooning language — he is a virtuoso a cartooning styles — is examined, as the depth of his work piles up through critical essays and a very revealing interview that covers the cartoonist’s inner life, accepted philosophies and childhood.
There is no more important cartoonist than Clowes, and none that reach his intensity, nor his mastery of the grotesque. Clowes captures people, warts and all, including himself, and somewhere in his unfolding dioramas of dysfunction, you will see yourself and your loved ones presented. You will laugh at the presentation, and then you will probably be depressed. Just a little.
“Modern Cartoonist” is a fantastic guidebook to a man whose career has wandered into even the soda world — remember OK Soda? — and been regularly featured in venues like the New Yorker and the New York Times, and he may just be the most important cartoonist of our life time. Time to find out what he’s all about.
September 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
What’s the darkest secret of pornography? The horrible truth? That would be its inherent silliness. It’s a very goofy genre, especially when you look back and find it can be just as hilarious as any cheesy horror flick from the 1950s.
Porn supposedly plays to the most secret, private desires of human beings — not just the things that go on in our bedrooms, but the things that go on in our heads as we plan out what goes on in our bedrooms and are often relegated there, never to be transformed into reality.
Taken outside the confines of our imagination, some of these plans can look very, very silly. Trying to come up with imagery to get other people to come take at a look at these very, very silly scenarios can look even more ridiculous. This is why posters for porn movies can often be less of a erotic masterpiece and more of a bizarre, and probably inevitable, miscalculation of what is enticing to the public about private fantasies.
In “Sexytime,” examples of the stumbling art of porno movie posters are gathered and presented, and the history it unveils in the presentation is one of curiosity. How is anyone ever tempted to step into scary porn theaters based on the imagery presented here? No wonder home video and the Internet has changed the way people consume smut. It’s also probably killed a outsider art form. Thankfully, this book captures the glory years of such curious come-ons.
The one consistency in the posters is the way they utilize a mix of the fads of the time and a comically leering promise to make them very dirty. That’s really the general selling point of any given porn film. Like CB radios? Well, “Breaker Beauties” is all about CBs, but it’s also really nasty!
And if you like CBs, there’s some nice hillbilly porn posters. Anyone up for a screening of “Muddy Mama?” It involves a “sensuous slave mutiny” in a place called “Alligator Creek.”
Sometimes porn films would borrow specifically from other imagery in order to get attention. “American Sex Fantasy” presents an illustrated foursome, where one of the participants is very obviously beloved comic book icon Archie Andrews — did one of the actors resemble America’s eternal teenager, or is this merely an affectation to con patrons into the theater?
“Little Orphan Dusty” entices viewers by presenting a huge drawing of the famous Farrah Fawcet pin-up poster, but it only stars Rhonda Jo Petty, billed as “The Farrah Fawcet Lookalike.”
“Sex World” rips off the “Westworld” franchise that was popular at the time. I imagine it was about sex with robots.
“Erotic Aerobics?” Even the poster manages to elicit the same mundane glitz as a real aerobics exercise tape. “FlashPants?” The only good thing about that poster is the tag line — “Cop a feeling.”
“One Million AC/DC,” though? Overweight cave men with harems and dinosaurs? Now THAT’S pornography.
“Sexytime” can also make you wistful. It made me feel as though we’ve lost something.
The posters are the ephemera of an artifact called the porn theater that lurks in my ‘70s childhood. A place where sleaze was visible, but contained. A place where the so-called perverts went to sit in the dark amongst each other, ashamed. A forbidden place of dark secrets that could ignite the imagination far more than any actual pornography, equal in the minds of suburban children to whatever abandoned haunted house that lurked at the far side of town.
Whenever an unexpected, annoying and often icky pop-up ad appears on my computer screen offering videos of Russian girls or whatever, I miss the mysterious world of sleaze from 30 years ago even more. If you can deal with it, “Sexytime” is a fun and often ridiculous reminder of a world that seemed so dangerous when many of us were kids, but is now gone.
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Originally published in 1974, renowned French cartoonist Tardi paid tribute to his legendary fellow countryman, Jules Verne, in what the publisher describes as “vintage icepunk” and finds social criticism wrapped up in sarcastic satire, but outfitted in some great designs of Vic torian science.
The book opens in 1889 with danger in the arctic and the discovery of a strange spectacle: a grand sea vessel impossibly resting on top of an enormous and foreboding iceberg. What follows is the investigation — and perhaps seduction — of our hero, Plumier, whose seafaring adventures in the arctic and curious investigation of his missing uncle, who is an eccentric scientist with curious abandoned experiments and contraptions, give way to the answer he seeks.
What Plumier finds is Tardi’s way of investigating how easy and amusing evil is. Rather than a burdensome madness, it’s a delicious enticement, a liberating decision that might just be the only sane reaction to a world that embraces injustice as its one reliable constant. New evil plans meant to pick up the pieces and move along with the destruction of life as we know it becomes not just a bridge to adventure, but a continuum to narrative, as well as life.
Tardi’s story is one thing, but his beautiful renderings give it a depth that brings it far beyond satire.
The attention given to the Victoriana — in technology, fashion and graphic layout — functions as a love letter to that bygone world, which keeps the book from ever seeming cartoonish, and that its major strength. Tardi never copies straight the era he captures, but wraps it in modern and literary concerns to make it something more than just another Victorian adventure.
October 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Graphic novelist Richard Sala cures the zombie apocalypse malaise with a new book that takes the basic set-up of those tales and turns it into an artsy, comical, downright weird exercise in terror that brings together several slices of the horror genre for one onslaught. Something weird has happened to the world — there’s a full-scale slaughter being enacted by monstrous creeps who are tearing apart the cities and leaving trails of bodies. One mysterious man flees the scene and is found much later, practically catatonic in a cave. His rescuers, Tom and Colleen, embark on a quest for safety with him and, along the way, encounter more nightmarish tales of what is going on in the world, as well as the secrets of why it is happening.
Sala initially introduces a world beset by zombie creatures, but he brings in elements of vampires and, most importantly, Frankenstein, for a wellrounded horror tale that blends these three traditional horror elements into something modern and surprising.
Equally, Sala’s art style helps the story ride high — his dark cartoons manage to suck you into the narrative while still highlighting the meta quality of the story. This is a story about horror as much as it is a horror story, examining the themes that draw us into these stories as much as they are utilized by authors to comment on the real world. Somewhere between those two intentions lies “The Hidden,” a modernist horror tale that acts like the zombies it evokes, cannibalizing the genres from which it sprang and spewing out something new from those entrails.
August 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
One bit of more recent cartoon advertising ephemera that pops up online are the timeless Hostess ads of the 1970s that feature characters like Batman and Robin in crime fighting situations involving snack cakes. The typical one might feature The Joker in a grand heist of Twinkies or fruit pies or whatever, and the Dynamic Duo foiling his plan.
These are treated somewhat as anomalies, but a book like “Drawing Power” exists to remind us that cartoons were very early in equal partnership with advertising, and the two criss-crossed throughout the early 20th century, providing some real seasoning to the desperate times of the Great Depression.
Well-researched and richly illustrated, “Drawing Power” pulls together a comprehensive timeline that takes from the days of Puck Magazine and its cartoon ads for Hungarian wines and hilarious dome-like sun bonnets on through to Amos and Andy cartoons selling Pepsodent.
Between those you will find cartoons created solely for advertising — check out Dr. Seuss’ wild Esso Marine Products stylings —as well as those with their own fame utilized to sell, like Little Nemo and Popeye.
Movie stars also got their own cartoons — Andy Devine sold Cheerioats in his, Charlie McCarthy shilled Chase and Sanborn brand coffee and Jimmy Durante stuck his “schnozzle” into Royal Gelatin comic strips. Sports figures got into that action as well — witness Bucky Walters’ assertion that Camel Cigarettes helped his game as much as insider pitching tips.
And cartoonists were celebrities as well — at least their creations and recognizable signatures could be called upon for a good endorsement. Mutt and Jeff creator Bud Fisher took time to look away from the drawing table in order to get excited about Goodrich tires.
The history of advertising is the history of 20th century America, for better or for worse, and it was only in the latter part that mixing advertising with art and entertainment really fell into disfavor. Recently Morgan Spurlock’s “Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Story Ever Sold” purported to blow the lid of this hidden arrangement as if it were something new. “Drawing Power” proves it’s just a cultural tradition that has provided its own follies, amusements and appeal.
Never forget that the Yellow Kid — that critique of dishonest journalism in the late 1800s — shilled for biscuits, cigarettes, chewing gum, soap, you name it. Same as it ever was.
April 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Mixing the adorable with the grotesque, painter Dave Cooper lures your eyes in and then challenges you to repulsion upon closer inspection. His figures are round and bubbly, with a cartoon-quality that ties them into Betty Boop-like figures from decades ago — much like Betty Boop, there’s something naughty beneath the innocence. Perverse, even.
Cooper’s paintings are collected in “Bent,” an oddly angular title given to such a round artist. Cooper got his start in comics but now concentrates on his gallery career — his background is apparent when looking at the imagery, since it pulls from a rich tradition and is not shy about expressing that.
Cooper’s work has been described as fetish-oriented, and, indeed, the sexual nature slaps you in the face — I think every figure is naked in it. But these aren’t attractive nudes anymore than they are necessarily repulsive ones — they’re just warped versions of nudes that might be alluring.
When they are brought together, though, Cooper doesn’t create anything erotic so much as desperate — what sexual moments appear in the collection aren’t presented delicately, nor with any positive emotion. The figures might be sated from their activities, but they are likely monsters of a sort who have reached satisfaction.
And in their couplings, both participants reflect each other — rounded, bug-eyed, bulging bubble people with skin blemishes and private parts that appear to almost be sad parodies of what genitalia is. But they all look strangely enraptured by the goings-on.
In his foreword, acclaimed movie director Guillermo del Toro casts Cooper as an artistic outsider fed on his own supply of creative nourishment — a visual dictionary of his own references, whose images are as much crimes as they are accomplishments.
This may well be true — but while de Toro tosses out early David Lynch by way of comparison, I see a lot more Bosch without the religious fuel. Cooper’s work is alien in the same way, and depicting some awful as a source of please.
Enter “Bent” at your own risk, but don’t shy away — a window to Cooper’s world might well be an uneasy mirror to your own, but nobody ever promised art-gazing would be easy.
Review: Destroy All Movies – The Complete Guide To Punks On Film edited by Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly
November 24, 2010 § Leave a Comment
If Michael Weldon’s “Psychotronic Guide To Film” (and its follow-up) still sits on your shelf being of use, or at least making you smile, then Carlson and Connolly’s “Destroy All Movies” is the book for you.
If these words mean nothing to you, then listen up: A world of film and a way of looking at them is about to open up that will change everything for you.
At just short of 500 pages, Carlson and Connolly’s effort is packed with reviews of well over 1,000 films and accompanied by interviews with actors and directors of some of the most obscure and interesting.
The conceit here, as the title suggests, is to provide a listing of every punk rocker featured in any film ever. In other words, these are not just punk rock films — if a punk appeared in a Tom Hanks or Whoopie Goldberg movie, that movie should be listed in here (and, for the record, “Bachelor Party” and “Fatal Beauty” are).
What this ends up doing is not just providing the reviewers the chance to document the presentation of punks from all realms of the film world, but also to exhibit some of that swaggering spirit by tackling reviews of films like “Pretty In Pink.”
That supposed John Hughes classic, the book states, does “reach the heights of fantasy and fairytales, except fairytales are more poignant and complex,” and it further proclaims that Hughes “may be the finest propaganda filmmaker of our generation.”
I don’t know if this is the book for you, but with entirely correct and inarguable statements like that, it’s definitely the book for me.
Much of the typical review style also hearkens back to the Psychotronic books, understanding that the appeal of some of films covered are the holy-moley quality they induce in the viewers. Any given review might be a list of these moments, parsed out in order to present the movie as the sideshow it deserves to be perceived as. This tactic makes any movie enjoyable, frankly.
Mainstream movies often need to duck for cover. In a review of the Justine Bateman film “Satisfaction,” it is asked of actors portraying musicians that “if you’re going to play [a musical instrument] onscreen, wouldn’t it be prudent to learn the rudimentary fundamentals of that instrument, so you don’t look like an ape fondling a sabertooth’s leg bone?” Luckily, that film gets off being dismissed as “an enjoyable mess.”
Diving to the lower end of the cinema spectrum — and that’s pretty low when you’re beneath “Satisfaction” — is 1992’s “Prison Planet,” a cheap science fiction movie featured due to several extras with mohawks. The book declares that “the film stands out for its fearless, unblinking stupidity” and proclaims it a “stillborn, brain-dead cinematic error suit only for illiterate, extremely muscular virgins.” They saw that movie so you didn’t have to.
Of course I take issue with some of their opinions — what’s the fun of a movie review book if you don’t? For the record, I think their assessment of the Rocky Horror sequel “Shock Treatment” is entirely off the mark, and I think while they give proper credit to the visionary concepts behind 1981’s “Ladies And Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains,” they go way too easy in their assessment of its inherent watchability. Seriously, I’ve seen movies in Super 8 that were done so much better.
But as much fun as it might be to pick up the book to quibble and giggle, what makes it really worthy is the space it gives to discussing the movies covered — films like “Breaking Glass,” “Class Of 1984,” “Der Fan,” “Border Radio,” “Smithereens,” “Suburbia” and “The Return of the Living Dead” are given respectful ink.
Equally, the team is thorough enough to include a few bizarre porn releases, some ‘80s straight to videotape horror and even the films of New York City avant-sleaze punk Nick Zedd. What it all adds up to is a wonderful, personal bizarre alterna-history of cinema. These are the movies that teenagers hung out and watched together late at night, or disreputable film students might’ve sought out on the wrong side of town — and they’re all a vivid part of many people’s film-going experience.
This is a great book that will live with you for a long, long time.