This is a partial and rough English version of my blog Just Indie Comics (Banner by Pat Aulisio)

lunedì 28 aprile 2014

Nobrow #9

Various Authors, Nobrow Press, London (UK), April 2014, 128 pages, four colors, 219 x 310 mm, £ 15.

The magazine Nobrow is the flagship publication of British Nobrow Press, an imprint that is leaving its mark on the European comics and illustrations scene with books and events such as Elcaf. Since the sixth issue the magazine has become a double flip-cover book, with a half dedicated to illustrations, the other one to comics. The contents of the comics half are in turn divided between the works of the Nobrow authors, following the aesthetics typical of the publisher, characterized by cute drawings, a geometrical representation of the human body and a refined use of color, and the ones of some guest stars bringing a breath of fresh air and diversity. In the sixth and seventh issues, certainly the most successful so far, there were cartoonists as Joseph Lambert, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Matthew Forsyhte, Michael DeForge, Till Hafenbrak, Kevin Huizenga, John Martz, Jesse Jacobs, Malachi Ward, Ana Albero, Jack Teagle, Paul Paetzel, Tom Gauld, Anders Nilsen, Eleanor Davis, Joost Swarte and Ethan Rilly. The eighth issue was instead less interesting both for the comics and for the illustrations: probably the decision to focus on emerging authors rather than on established names didn't work as the editors Sam Arthur and Alex Spiro wished.

Bianca Bagnarelli

The new issue, released in these days with the contribution of Ben Newman as art director, is titled It's Oh So Quiet and is obviously about silence. So in the comics section we have wordless tales of four pages each, and some of them are among the best things ever seen in Nobrow. I think, for example, at the opening story by Jon McNaught, where the melancholic atmosphere and the division of the panels recall Chris Ware. Even Bianca Bagnarelli's and Arne Bellstorf's comics look at Ware's work, in particular for the graphic description of the details, and they are two equally gorgeous piece. Excellent contributions also came from Jim Stoten, who exhibits a hyper-detailed graphic creativity with a pleasant dash of psychedelia, Mikkel Sommer with an ironic story characterized by an intriguing drawing style, Kirsten Rothbart who in a few panels outlines a beautiful profile of a truly alternative rocker and finally Hellen Jo showing absolute cynicism with an invocation to Lucifer.

Jim Stoten

The illustration section, instead, is affected by an excessive uniformity to that "cute" aesthetics I mentioned before. Recently this trend is spreading anywhere in Europe and in Italy too, also in publications coming from the underground and that should be more formally complex and aggressive. The risk is to bother the reader, especially if he's someone like me who doesn't go crazy about this kind of stuff. Of course we can't blame Nobrow if it's imitated far and wide, but perhaps it's time for the editors to react and propose something new, breaking a crystallized form and also taking into account that it's one thing to admire the work of Jon McNaught or Ben Newman and it's another to look at their imitators. However here we have some enjoyable illustrations, though the better works are the ones that are different from the predominant style: I am referring in particular to the strange march portrayed by the Dutch Merijn Hos, creating a surreal atmosphere mixed with some psychedelic details, and the contribution of Stephen Carcello, who offers a fascinating interpretation of the silence in an apocalyptic way.

Merijn Hos

lunedì 21 aprile 2014

Rotland Press

Sophisticated cynicism, creative cruelty and subversive humor filled in shocking and sensational stories, made to entertain but even to remember the despair inherent in every human being. This is the mission of Rotland Press, a small publishing house located in Detroit and run by publisher and editor Ryan Standfest and creative director Stephen William Schudlich. The mission doesn't deal only with indie comics of these days, since Rotland books are full of references to literature, poetry, art, cinema and obviously comics of the past. So, even if the most part of these books is made by contemporary artists, every item published by Mr. Standfest has a unique charm, as it came from a distant time. Let's see for example the series Rotland Dreadfuls, which has recently reached the tenth issue with Sadistic Comics by R. Sikoryak. This collection, made of little comic books of 16 or 20 pages, recalls admittedly the Penny Dreadfuls, the cheaply-produced 19th century English pamphlets containing stories that a century later will be defined pulp. So it isn't a coincidence that Cole Closser decided for the sixth issue to adapt the tale Bearskin by the Brothers Grimm, with an exquisite retro style. After all Closser already showed his ability to deal with classic themes in his Little Tommy Lost for Koyama Press (here's my review). 

Another comic book of the series, Birth of Horror by Josh Bayer, looks at a nearer past and takes us back to the early years of Marvel Comics, choosing as main characters Stan Lee, Bill Everett and Gary Friedrich, with an unpredictable guest appearance by The Misfits and an unavoidable cameo of Rom. The funny gags, full of references to comics history, are told in the raw and at the same time rich drawing style of the man behind the anthology Suspect Device (give a look at his current Kickstarter campaign for the fourth issue).
Rotland Press is also a space where master of ceremonies Ryan Standfest can express himself, as it happens in the recent A Little Book of Banal Agony, in the same format of the Dreadfuls and with the usual taste for dark and cruel humor. The book is divided in two parts, Common Causes of Clown Deaths, in which brief but funny tales about this subject join little sketches, and Typical Serious Symptoms for Average Males, where the texts are simple captions and more attention is given to the drawings, consisting of full-page abstract illustrations.

Standfest is the editor of Black Eye, an unmissable anthology that in the two issues published so far has hosted grotesque, humorous, sick, cruel, absurd, morbid, sarcastic and pulp works by artists such as Al Columbia, Mark Newgarden, Olivier Schrauwen, Brecht Evens, Ivan Brunetti, Michael Kupperman, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Kaz, Danny Hellman, Ludovic Debeurme, Stéphane Blanquet, Lilli Carré, Paul Paetzel, Frédéric Coché, Julia Gfrörer, Peter Kuper, Benjamin Marra, Ben Jones, Paul Nudd, David Paleo, Onsmith and many others. 

The list is amazing and it becomes almost incredible when we read the name of David Lynch, who loved the first issue and contributed to the second with his art. But Black Eye isn't only comics and illustrations, since Standfest included also critical contents (the first issue contains his essay about Al Feldstein and Ec Comics, Jeet Heer on S. Clay Wilson, Bob Levin on The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist, Ken Parille on Steve Ditko), tributes to artists of the past (Roland Topor in the first issue, the Mexican illustrator Posada in the second) and some fiction. If the Rotland Dreadfuls recall the publications of the 19th century, Black Eye looks at the beginning of the 20th and in particular at cultural movements such as Expressionism, Dada and Surrealism. The third issue is probably due for the next year but it isn't the only new project, since Standfest is preparing a lot of interesting events and books, as a newspaper publication dedicated to the same Posada, which will have an exhibition component appearing in Detroit, a new cabaret event based on a small book to be called Novus Manualis, a Handbook for the New Man and the Street Folly Print Stall (A Portable Rotland Press), which would be a portable space modeled after 18th and 19th century print stalls in London and Paris, to exhibit and vend Rotland Press projects on the street and within some institutions.

martedì 15 aprile 2014

Still Without Name #2

Still Without Name, SW/ON for friends, is a fanzine printed in Lithuania by Kitokia Grafika Press through a RISO RC5600, a retro and also environmentally friendly machine, as its screens are made from banana paper and it uses soy-based inks, generating a minimum amount of waste and having also a low energy consumption. The use of this technology, able with its many imperfections to create unexpected combinations between ideas and paper, has influenced the theme of this second issue of the anthology, centered on the "experimental machines".
Most of the artists published in this issue of SW/ON are from Eastern Europe, such as Polish Renata Gąsiorowska, here in a more lo-fi version than the one of mini Kuš! #21, but always brilliant in showing the complicated operation of a machine with a very simple purpose. The low fidelity is indeed the common denominator of the anthology, which is made ​​up of black and white drawings often barely sketched: a good example is the funny one-page story by Arūnas Liuiza, taken from the series Birdsonwire. In this manifesto of typographical simplicity we also find works that stand out not only for ideas but also for the refined results. I mention in particular the contributions of Anna Krztoń with three pages on a city possessed by the machines, the Genoese Alessandro Ripane, who is clearly a rising star of Italian comics, and over all Milena Simeonova. Her contribution, already printed in the fourth issue of Bulgarian anthology Co-mixer, reveals exquisite skill in the difficult task of graphically translate the concepts of resonance and echo, even if in this version two pages are inverted: therefore if you will read SW/ON #2, please read page 4 before page 3 of her story Resonance.

mercoledì 9 aprile 2014

Koyama Press Special Part 2: Very Casual, Journal & Little Tommy Lost

I'm going on and concluding with considerable delay my special feature about Koyama Press books of 2013 (here is the first part, where I talked about Blobby Boys by Alex Schubert and Everything Takes Forever by Victor Kerlow), hoping that this overview will serve at least as an appetizer for the new publishing schedule, which will be launched in May at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival with three new titles, A Body Beneath by Michael DeForge, Safari Honeymoon by Jesse Jacobs and Cat Person by Seo Kim. In this post, I'll try to be short, mentioning the aspects that impressed me the most of books published several months ago.
I'm beginning with Very Casual by Michael DeForge (May 2013, 152 pages, b&w and color, 6x9 inches, $15 Cdn), a collection that shows all the artistic skills of the Canadian cartoonist, putting together strips, illustrations and comics for the most part already published in comic books, magazines and anthologies. Very Casual is mainly about DeForge's obsession for something the Situationists would call the détournement of the body, human or animal, turned into a kind of blob through a meandering and morbidly obsessive style.

And so a black and mushy being becomes a sexy queen thanks to some strange accessories, two punks start to transform themselves after eating a slice of meat cut from a snowman, a strange video(drome) relates a woman's sensual body with that of the spectator. DeForge's graphic imagination has no limits and in some illustrations it has an incomparable visionary strenght. Among the different comics, I'd like to mention a story already published by Koyama, All About the Spotting Deer, a sort of documentary, in full color, on a strange species of deer that is an endless succession of narrative and graphic ideas. Very Casual is a great book.

At the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, but this time for Drawn & Quarterly, will be released also the new book by Julie Delporte, Everywhere Antennas, the follow-up of Journal, written originally in French and translated into English by Koyama. Just as Very Casual, I would have certainly added Journal (May 2013, 184 pages, full color, 6,5x9 inches, $20 Cdn) to my list of the best comics of last year if I had made one, since this autobiographical diary, set between Montreal and Vermont, about a long sentimental separation is one of the most touching books I've read recently.
The story is detailed, the sentences are brief and effective, the thoughts deep, the memories of the past moving, and going forward it seems to know the author, also thanks to the drawings, which through the use of colored pencils and essential figures recall the childhood creating a warm and family atmosphere. I found particularly interesting as the personal vicissitudes join indissolubly with the development of the creative process. And at the end of the book we got the benefits of this personal and artistic growth.

I'm closing this overwiev about Koyama Press with Little Tommy Lost by Cole Closser (September 2013, 72 pages, b&w and color, 10x7,5 inches, $15 Cdn), a graduated of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction and also a rising star of the contemporary comics who looks at the tradition. His first major release is a fictional collection of black and white newspaper strip, with the classic Sunday pages in full color, obviously inspired by Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie. The idea is not new but the way in which it's realized is extremely effective and enjoyable. The strips are reproduced on a dirty paper that resembles that of the newspapers, as if they really came from the early years of the twentieth century. Even the narrative style is true to the form chosen by Closser, since the story of Tommy is developed with the repetitiveness typical of the strips, as if the author really has the task of remembering the general plot to the casual reader who browse the newspaper on the train or at the bar. The Sunday strips are the space in which Closser unleashes his imagination, wandering from the main theme and realizing some wonderful graphic experiments, mostly reminiscent of Winsor McCay.

The story looks further back, at the nineteenth century literature, which Closser used as inspiration also in the adaptation of Brothers Grimm's Bearskin, released by Rotland Press (I'll talk about it in a next post). Little Tommy Lost is in fact a typically Dickensian story, in which little Tommy travels from Missouri to the big city with his parents and he losts himself. Found by a policeman, he's brought into an orphanage, which in reality is a factory led by the merciless Mr. Greaves. In this first chapter the story focuses primarily on Tommy's relationships with the other orphans and on his attempts to escape from his prison. A second book will follow, with a new and intriguing setting.

giovedì 3 aprile 2014


Amy & Oliver Murrell, Wobbly Rock, Brighton (UK), December 2013, perfect bound, 32 pages, full color, 20 x 28 cm, £ 10.

After Wicked Chicken Queen by Sam Alden, I'm dealing once again with the unusual association between eggs and comics. Egg is the first work of Amy Murrell and her husband Oliver, who published in Brighton this elegant illustrated book for their new indie label Wobbly RockI defined Egg in this way because, being a large format paperback with full-page illustrations and a short text that recalls folk tales and myths of creation, it isn't a traditional comic book. And even in this an association with Alden's book can be found. The story and the style, however, go in another direction. Amy Murrell has drafted an essential, almost laconic text, while Oliver has followed Amy's layouts by creating a series of pictures that mix ink to digital. The fusion of text and drawings is effective, as indeed the choice of paper from responsible sources and the dominant color tending to a brown/dark green. Opening Egg is like entering in a forest, immediately threw into the central theme of the story, the relationship between man and nature.

An egg-man (no reference to I am the Walrus, I think...) awakens from a dream and gets out from an underground cave. He's carried in the woods by some birds, and there, after being housed in a nest, manages to break his shell and becomes human, as if he's reached the end of an initiatory rite. Now he looks like a South-American native or an Australian aborigine. When he arrives in town, a semi-devastated London, meets other egg-men, still in their shells and unable to live their full human potential. I'm not going to unveil the end and the other details of the story, that has a pretty clear interpretation.

The presence of a strong message, although shareable, is usually an obstacle when I approach a comic book or any other work of art, but in this case I have to say that the two authors didn't make Egg a pamphlet, leaving the readers with the opportunity to perform their own path between the different facets of the story and scattering here and there mysterious and evocative elements (the dream from which the main character wakes up, the strange beings coming close to the egg when it hatches, the devastation of some metropolitan areas).
As for the visual aspect, sometimes it seems clear that Egg is a debut work, since some solutions, especially in the initial part, are pretty basic, but the style becomes progressively more polished and achieves the best results in the final (the pages set in the city are definitely my favorites).
Egg is the first in a series of books printed by Wobbly Rock, which initially will be dedicated to the publication of the material of the two owners (there are already three other works in progress), evaluating the possibility of opening the doors to other artists only in a second phase. Obviously I wish all the best to this beautiful project.

martedì 1 aprile 2014

Random news from the Usa

I've already posted some 2014 news in my "Best of" list and in the recent Random news from all over the world, but I'm still on the theme to put together some news added during the last weeks or some things I've previously forgotten to mention. In my last post I've surely and guiltily ignored the fantastic Hic & Hoc line-up for the new year. So, for those of you who still didn't read it somewhere, Hic & Hoc will distribute this spring the reprint of Alabaster's Mimi and the Wolves Act 1, in a new paperback edition, and the fourth issue of the beautiful anthology Irene, edited by dw, Dakota McFadzean and Andy Warner (I reviewed the third issue here). As for Hic & Hoc books, the collected edition of Scaffold, the innovative and eye-catching comic by V.A. Graham and J.A. Eisenhower will be out this summer, while in the autumn we'll have Infinite Bowman, a stunning 144-page book with the collection of Bowman stories by Pat Aulisio, and a new 24-page comic-book by Noah Van Sciver, Cheer Up.

Speaking about Mr. Van Sciver, after publishing two sketchbooks I reviewed here, he's putting out for Adhouse Books a collection of short stories, taken from his series Blammo and from some anthologies. Youth is Wasted will hit the shelves in June and you can already read an online preview here. Adhouse Books has also an interesting publishing schedule for 2014, including the book by Katie Skelly Operation Margarine, out in April in occasion of the Mocca Arts Fest, the annual convention organized in New York by the Society of Illustrators. You can go here to read about the debuting books assembled right in time for Mocca, and here and here to read all the meetings organized the 5th and the 6ht of April by Programming Director Bill Kartalopoulos.

Among the debuting books of Mocca there are also two new publications from Secret Acres, Angie Bongiolatti, Mike Dawson's follow-up to his Troop 142, and Memory Palace, an art-book in which Edie Fake, best known for his Gaylord Phoenix, explores real and imagined places in Chicago's queer history (an image above). And concluding this list, I have to mention a Kickstarter campaign from Studygroup, the excellent website/publisher run by Milo George and Zack Soto. Since the first two issues were amazing, I'm looking especially forward to the third issue of Studygroup Magazine, with comics and art by Jim Rugg, Sophie Franz, Connor Willumsen, Trevor Alixopulos, Mia Schwartz, Kim Deitch, Chris Cilla, Malachi Ward, Ben Max Urkowitz, Julia Gfrorer and Pete Toms, the usual critical contents and an exclusive 3D section.