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Tiny Pages Made of Ashes 9/5/2013: High School, China and Other Exotic Places

A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Geoffrey Lapid, Jason Sacks

Tiny Pages Made of Ashes

Waijiao

(Owen Tucker)

3.5 stars

Waijiao is Owen Tucker's Kickstarter-funded graphic narrative/memoir about his time teaching English in China. Well, actually it's more about Tucker's understanding his experiences teaching English in China. Now that I think about it, Waijiao is really about Owen Tucker trying to figure out what his experiences teaching English in China finally amounted to. He calls his book a "graphic essay" and it is more of a rumination than a memoir. As such, Tucker ends up with more questions than answers by the end.

Waijiao

"Waijiao" means "foreign teacher" in Chinese. For four years, Tucker and his girlfriend (the photographer Lily Weed, whose photos are also used in this book) lived in three different cities in China and taught English to all grade levels both in schools and private lessons. During this, Tucker had time to try to come to terms with the character of modern China, how the West was viewed by the Chinese, and the implications of this understanding.

For Tucker, China is an "immutable contradiction" and "to 'understand' China is to accept its contradictory nature." As he thinks about it, though, he starts to wonder if this contradiction is really just "a way of avoiding something," that it is a resignation to the fact that things in China are moving so quickly and the state of things is in such flux that right now people are unsure of what their culture actually is. As modernization layers on top of presupposed social mores, things feel oddly disjointed. One thing that Tucker can say with certainty about his experience, though, is that "the bathroom is always funny."

Waijiao

The art in Waijiao fits the subject matter well. Tucker's choices in his black and white pages really emphasize the unique quality of telling this story in comics. He is able to focus his reader on the detachment he feels being a foreigner in this experience and the repetitive nature of what he was doing there without having to rely on vast amounts of exposition. He also adds another tier of meaning and heft by using subtle symbols of a spider and the endless chalk dust he finds himself coated in, "the mark of my occupation," he writes.

Waijiao

Ultimately, Waijiao ponders the questions: "What is China?" and "What is Chinese?" Tucker does his best to answers these from his perspective, but really these are questions too large for any one experience to answer.

Waijiao is funny, observant, informing, and allows access into a world we might otherwise not be privy to. We leave Waijiao much as Tucker left China, unsure of what the experience all added up to, but glad we were part of it.

- Daniel Elkin

You can purchase Waijiao at Createspace.

Teen Creeps #1

(Charles Forsman)

4 stars!


Fresh off the release of The End of the Fucking World, Charles Forsman’s new comic Teen Creeps continues his reflections on and examinations of teenagers. Teen Creeps seems like a more subdued, slice-of-life approach than The End of the Fucking World, but it’s a nice change of pace, one that looks like it will allow Forsman to flex his already considerable strengths in characterization with a rotating cast of characters.

Teen Creeps

This first issue of Teen Creeps features two friends, Hilary and Dawn, and a shitty high school rumor (note: there are, of course, no other kinds of high-school rumors).  Hilary seems like a normal teenage girl with a tendency to attract shit-heads and jerks.  Dawn, on the other hand is ill-tempered and aggressive, but also fiercely loyal to her friends.  There’s not a whole lot to go on in this first issue as to where Teen Creeps is going, plot-wise, but this issue does a great job of introducing us to these two characters as well as reminding us that those high school years are a great time for suffering.

Teen Creeps

One thing I enjoyed with Teen Creeps is seeing how Forsman’s art has evolved and changed since The End of the Fucking World.  It’s important to note that he released an issue of his other series, Snake Oil, between this book and The End of the Fucking World.  That issue of Snake Oil #8 is a nice bridge that connects the art styles of The End of the Fucking World and Teen Creeps.  The art in Teen Creeps retains Forsman’s simple, thin lines, but it looks like he’s going for a more detailed look than he was in The End of the Fucking World.  The more detailed approach extends further to his work on the backgrounds, giving us a solid sense of space and setting in each scene.  In fact, when Forsman goes to the trouble of depicting a more “realistic” background, he achieves a pleasing, almost HergĂ©-esque dissonance between his realistic backgrounds and his “cartoon” characters.  It’s particularly impressive because Forsman is able to achieve this look without color or grayscale, instead using only that thin pen line and stark black and white. 

Teen Creeps

Teen Creeps is the product of truly skilled cartooning, and it’s very exciting to see this level of craft in even something so small as the twelve-page mini-comics format of Oily Comics.  It’s encouraging to see an artist put so much work into something so small, and it’s one of the reasons that Chuck Forsman’s work is always a favorite of mine as his dedication and enthusiasm shows through every one of his pages.

Forsman says in his introduction to Teen Creeps that he wants this series to work as “a big universe of loosely connected characters,” and I’m excited to follow along with this series because I think it will allow him to work within his strengths as well as provide him with an opportunity to branch out and explore other characters and ideas.  We’ve seen what Forsman can do with small vignettes and short stories, and I’m eager to see what he does with something bigger.

- Geoffrey Lapid 

Visit Charles Forsman's website for information on Teen Creeps.

Heathen: The Sequential and Graphic Art of Jeremy Baum

(Jeremy Baum)

4 goddamn stars!

Jeremy Baum is one of "those artists", you know the kind, the ones with a Vision. He's one of those creators who lives in his own fascinating, weird world full of square trees and sexually adventurous tree nymphs, not to mention bizarre, almost mystical visions of three-armed women with ley-lines etched on their bodies and eyes in the palms of their hands that have impossibly long fingers.

 Heathen

To enter Baum's world is to live as part of that Vision, to embrace and confront images that alternately compel you to stare for at them for a long time only to emerge from that reverie alternately repulsed and sexually aroused. Baum's women - and all of these stories contain women in them, or at least fully sexually active female creatures - are otherworldly and hypnotic, with eyes that see into other worlds, hands that point to mystical phenomena, eyes that see into lands that we can only dream about.

Matt Baum's Heathen

All of hypersexual surrealism might feel mastubatory if it wasn't for the intense conviction and focus that Baum brings to his work. This world is really fucking odd and his women are really fucking strange but Baum creates this world with so much focus, so much comitment to his specific world view, that everything makes a perfect sort of dreamlike sense in context. We want to journey into this weird world and spend time in it because Baum persuades us that it is a place where we want to spend time.

Matt Baum's Heathen

We're pulled in by the naked breasts- okay, I'm man enough to admit that I was pulled in by the naked breasts - but what holds us in this world is this yearning to learn more about this fantasy world. It's created with such commitment, such an intense focus on a very specific and detailed dreamlike vison, that when Baum delivers a story towards the end of this book that includes space aliens - the same "Extravagant Traveler" story that our Ryan Anderson loved last year - it's actually a bit disappointing for there to be a "real" explanation for the strangeness.

Other stories and pieces in this book suggest a more Satanic approach to the evil we see, which seems more appropriate but is also disappointing. Part of the excitement of reading a collection like this is that it forces the reader to draw his own conclusions - or not draw any conclusions about plot, and just ride the wonderful surrealism.

Heathen by Matt Baum

My favorite sorts of comics take me to places that I could never imagine because they only live inside the artist's head. Heathen could only have come from Matt Baum. As far as I'm concerned the only person who needs to make sense of this book is Matt's therapist. I'll just enjoy watching the weird and wonderful vision that only he could create.

- Jason  Sacks

Buy Heathen from Matt's Tumblr page.

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