Thursday, July 25, 2013
















 Paul Pope
Vertigo, 2002


      From slightly off the beaten path, yet still a conventional action oriented comic, Vertigo brought us Paul Pope's 100%; a book which envisions a gritty, futuristic urban stage for a drama which gives obvious nods to Bladerunner and the 5th Element, trading away some of the violence for romance and emotional expression.
      
     Most striking is Paul Pope's inking style.  In the liner notes he refers to the inking process as a "pure bliss" he looks forward to, while everything else is tedium.  Proportion is sent through his intuitive, selective fish eye lens.  Every object is reflective of an interpretive whim, mood dictating application and even atmosphere.  The drawback to this approach is of course lost clarity, which is most noticeable in his facial features, conjured up without enough deliberation, tending to resemble the artist in real life.  I feel they are wearing his lips, regardless of gender.  

    However, he is masterful regarding composition, light, and mood.  Often white paint and black ink mingle in expressive, purposeful storms which are quite amazing, especially when depicting motion, wind and rain.  

     100% follows the interweaving plots of several young New York archetypes: lost souls, strippers, struggling artists, and impoverished single mothers, all searching for human connection in a decaying and rambunctious environment.  Particularly disturbing is the idea of a strip club that features dancers who reveal more than what bare skin obscures.

    
      
     When he feels it necessary, Paul Pope brings objects forward with a stark tightened integrity, avoiding the kind of childish whimsy that might land him in the realm of experimental comics, or along with the disingenuous thug flailing of David Choe.

     Cyberpunk has become almost a household term, or a dirty word, depending on who you ask.  Characters have interactions with various handheld devices that are too close to home in 2013, despite being curvaceous and bug-like in Paul Pope's signature style.

     The world he imagines is indicative of a true New Yorker, dealing with that often romanticized brand of sleazy impermanence and desperation.  The characters are hardened by their mild dystopia.  100% avoids being outdated by managing to be just off kilter, strange, and humanistic enough to keep it refreshing even in an era where over stimulation, confusion, and identity loss have become banal.

--- A$ 
     

Wednesday, July 10, 2013










 Pantheon, 2011
 Hardcover 


        Mr. Clowes is famous.  And like any heavyweight, there are hungrier, younger competitors trying to say he's getting soft, like an old man who should bow out of the ring.  "Mister Wonderful," a 76 page short story following suit with the previous year's "Wilson," stars a tired, alienated Charlie Brown / Woody Allen hybrid, complaining about the state of the world and his lackluster sex life.

           The classic yet streamlined style of Clowes straddles antiseptic symbology and childish daydream, a pragmatic articulation that is gently persuasive.   
       
           Our protagonist unintentionally bungles his way through a blind date with the unbelievable serendipity of Batman solving another disposable case.  He socks a purse snatcher, skirts teeth clenching romantic faux pas at every instant, somehow managing not to offend the blonde, mousey object of his affection who shares a cup of coffee with him, fragile, alluringly damaged-by-modernity.

          Often the steady draftsmanship seems to keep the characters and subject matter intact much like a carton of eggs on a very long highway of hairpin turns.  Just beneath the surface lives the anxiety and vivid dreams that made Dan Clowes such a monolith of the 90's alternative comics scene.



          There is a simplification in his style which appeared in his past few releases, where some may have come to the conclusion that he is running out of steam.  With less detail, less impactful subject matter, and shorter, serialized plots, this may be true.  He has, however, managed to age and exit with tact.  Wilson and Mister Wonderful are solid, well written stories that left me feeling satisfied, wishing he hadn't abandoned his epic follow-up to David Boring a few years ago.

          To his many detractors, calling him bland, irrelevant, preachy, infatuated with baby-boomer schlock, I ask:  What will Johnny Ryan be doing when he turns 52?

----A$
         

Monday, July 2, 2012


Max Tilmann
MNRG, Portugal
Hardcover 

This man is a painter from Dusseldorf, Germany and has studied at the Art Academy there.  I see similarities to Basquiat and Keith Haring here.  The shock value of the images is horrific.  There are references to every crime known to humanity and social problem.  The way they are framed in a brutish painting style lends the subjects a sterile anonymity that frees us from the pain of witnessing, enduring.


Does compassion go dry here?  I feel in the "brutal" lines the brush did not jump, deviate, or dry out with any sort of anxiety. What message is expressed in the muted variance and the calmly nuanced movement of the hand and the brush?  These minimal compositions with their simple yet conscious application guide us gently through the carnage of human interaction, inequality, and vapid reflection...

He draws the subjects of senior citizens undergoing sexual slavery, dying abortions and smokestacks with the calm innocence of a Anesthetized Philip Guston stripped of his agenda.  We see not the gritty Don Juan in Basquiat, no excitement, no romanticism.  In here we see an exploration into a deeper kind of ice.

-A.$.


"SWAMR!"
And Various Work
Michael Olivo
Oakland CA
2012
Self Published

I've been blogging about this particular illustrator a lot recently but wanted to formally congratulate him for having a sensibility that is simultaneously refreshing, hard edged, clean-lined, and downright hilarious, even mysterious.

Recently he has had a spot in the New Yorker, and also has
been blogging for Beautiful Decay.  He was also featured in a 
large anthology put out by Andy Burkholder in Chicago for the
annual zine fest "CAKE."
 .
 His work reminds me of a shattered realm viewed through broken glass.  Keith Haring and Kiki Picasso collide in a realm of deadpan non-sequiturs, cryptic humor, and air-plane safety manuals.

There is so much humor in the work, I find myself cracking up.  For example the small color strip "Sewer Dongs" has to be the funniest thing I've seen in 6 months.  

There is little to no dialogue, but the silent Futurist Absurdist cartoon animals and people collide in a mess of familiarity and kaleidoscopic explorations of the consciousness.
More of his work available here at Juxtapoz:
http://www.juxtapoz.com/Illustration/michael-olivo

On nearly every other panel we see a pornographic allusion, and forms that are constantly abstracted/severed/exploding.  The placement is not haphazard, however, so the forms stay within strict guidelines, as if they were designed to be read as a sort of industrial hieroglyphic language, suspended as if pinned in on a museum whiteboard.

Exploration in to this kind of thought process is a puzzling, gratifying process for certain.  I can only describe it as Sterilized Psychedelic Pornography, and I mean that in the most positive way.

-A.$.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reset #1
Peter Bagge
2011
Dark Horse

 Peter Bagge first got famous in the 90's with his epic creation, HATE, starring an angst-ridden cast of grunge hipsters in Seattle, and later Jersey.  I couldn't help but be blown away by the pacing, acrid dialogue and hilarious situations that struck way to close to home even now as a struggling bohemian with a bad temper and a drinking problem.

However it is 2012, and Peter Bagge has decided to try his hand at other subject matter, which is science fiction and midlife crisis.  I read the first installment of this which was handed to me by a friend in Oakland, CA with the warning of "It sucks."  A lot of artists get softer in their old age and want to do work that either perpetuates their previous modus operandi in a watered-down way or takes a turn in an awkward way... I feel that this story is the latter.  Chris Ware and Dan Clowes switched up their subject matter to themes personal to them as they got older, and so does Peter Bagge, but I don't think he's really succeeding here.

The problem is, he was never a science fiction writer and his idea to have a character engage in a virtual reality machine designed to transport him back to his high school years is too similar to the Matrix.
 Adrian Tomine comes to mind, as the teenaged scarification theme arises.  Our protagonist, a failed actor in Los Angeles, (not a very convincing character) is transported to the day he was jilted by the love of his life and the rest of his existence is plagued by those repercussions...  I had a hard time giving a shit.

I guess the old adage, "write what you know" comes into play here.  The colorful experiences in HATE are now very cookie-cutter and not very engaging.  The characters seem to be ghosts imitating the lively characters in HATE that I grew to love.

My critical attitude here is also strengthened by the fact that I don't really enjoy his drawing style.  The facial expressions are nice, but they have a very post 1980 sunday comics feel which isn't very esoteric or classic enough for me to want to sit through a sub-par storyline.  These comics feel like I'm watching a B-movie about virtual reality or a failed pilot from the late 90's and it's 2011.  I don't know, I could always eat leftover Chinese food and listen to the Melvins if I wanted to feel the way this comic made me feel...  like some kind of faded enthusiasm sprouting from the Grunge scene, and a kind of Technophobia that might result from someone using a 56k dial-up modem.
Alien Invasion Volume II
2012
Lala Albert, NYC
http://plslala.blogspot.com/
Self Published

 While in NYC, I was given this Zine by the artist Lala Albert at a private comic book sale near Chelsea in Manhattan. 

The cover was a day-glow reference to our lost adolescence.  I first encountered her drawings in Vice Magazine a year or two ago.  The eyes and the Anime faces were a mysterious combination of artistic concentration and utter kitsch that were fascinating and hilarious...

She also did quite a good job with her piece that appeared in Happiness #2 this year, a Zine printed in NYC by Leah Wishnia.  http://happinesscomix.tumblr.com/
Initially I assumed her work to be done by a 19-21 year old male.  The subject matter never varies.  The women are waif-like and always sport the grotesque, reptilian eyes.  The consistency of this theme, application and prolific output speak of maturity which conveys the irony.

The naked woman theme and the strong presence of Anime influence and science fiction aspects definitely make one cringe, however.  Had this art been entirely sincere, and done by an older male, it would denote severely stunted sexual development and warped consciousness...

Often people I show this work to react with either confusion or laughter, but some people say "These chicks are hot," which makes me start laughing at them.  In any case, it's a theme which has a design element and a trademark I can stand behind.  . . . Because I have an art degree and used to read cyberpunk manga as a teen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Acontortionista Manifesto

MMMNNNRRRGGG comics,
Portugal
Published June, 2011
44 pages, 6.5 x 9 inches soft bound, two colors

This book was mailed free of charge to me by the enigmatic Portuguese publisher MMMNNNRRRGGG.  I was immediately drawn to its effective use of artistic sensibilities that referenced ancient Greek imagery in an Art Deco/Nouveau context; probably Aubrey Beardsley.  There is however a modernist simplification of those styles, the hatching and meticulous rendering are traded for minimalist washes of pink and careful line work, which evoke at times Japanese Ukiyo-e or the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein.  The group responsible for this book is a collective going by the name of "Empirio."  One of their members is photographed here.  (Hey, good lookin'.)




 That visual style, old and new, tasteful and reductive, is a good way to describe the content of this book, which is indeed a manifesto, a documentation of a group's beliefs and ideals.  In 2012 it's quite absurd to write a manifesto, especially in a world in which dubstep exists, but there's something charming about a group which decides to stick it out against the wave of progress.  Since their stylistic choices speak of nothing past 1980, they are indeed artists who have strong ties to tradition.  That European sincerity can be refreshing.  The contents of the Manifesto are actually quite progressive, innovative,  and relevant, and could be defined as a new development on feminism. The institution of marriage as we know it is filled with gender inequalities and the denial of human nature which is to seek new partners throughout life leads to overall repression and sexual frustration.  The view of sex as a taboo is also a result of the oppressive power system in which marriage is viewed and reinforced as the only acceptable relationship.  I believe that discussion of sex in the philosophical realm is deemed "immoral" and "perverse" as a way to perpetuate a system in which men earn money, secure a wife, and trap them in a relationship that they can't afford to escape from.








Though the manifesto discusses sexuality as its main focus, it does not often go into any graphic depiction either visually or in wording.  Most of the book appears neutral; so this work is genuinely philosophical while being sexually oriented.  Of course their are a few explicit images but the majority of the illustrations feature empty rooms and scenery.  Its main points are to seek out sex as an abstract concept and to undermine the limitations imposed by mainstream society.  The unhealthy conventions such as gender identity, marriage, and gender inequality are questioned here.  Sex is also viewed as a liberating, spiritual experience rather than a biological or soulless act.