Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column
Dark Pants #1
Last weekend I was wandering around the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco gazing at all the art and zines and comics on display when I rounded the corner and a small comic called DARK PANTS by Los Angeles artist Matt MacFarland caught my eye. With a title like Dark Pants, you can understand why.
Be forewarned, for the rest of this review I will be writing the words “dark” and “pants” as often as I can.
Dark Pants #1 is the first part of a larger narrative telling the story of a mysterious pair of Dark Pants that travels around LA changing the lives of those who put them on. Issue #1 tells the story of Middle School Computer Science teacher Diego who’s still feeling the effects of a recent romantic breakup. Diego has lost his verve, his sense of self, and his masculinity at the same time. Life has lost its salt and he’s stuck looking backward at the expense of his future.
Then, impulsively, he buys the Dark Pants and everything changes.
What could easily be written off as a casual exploration of appearance vs. reality, the masks we wear in the world we walk, or how self and presentation intermingle to create attitude is subverted by MacFarland’s subtle, graceful, and mildly devious artistry. There is more going on in this book than just a man and his Dark Pants, something ominous, but something universally true. MacFarland is making statements through his casual cartooning about the dark side of personality. These Dark Pants reflect the tar pits inside of us, the ones that suck us down, hold us tight, and keep us from things. Put on Dark Pants and examine our own sense of failure, leading us to self-loathing and the anger it engenders.
Dark Pants accentuate the primal at the expense of our socialized mind and its over-reliance on coherence. Dark Pants bring out the beast in us, much to the horror of the conceptions of self we so tenuously clutch to, especially as the heat rises, certainly when lust boils in the back of the throat.
Is that blood or ketchup staining the Dark Pants? What does it really mean to be “a lady-killer”? Where do Dark Pants lead us? What do we lose in the darkness and can we ever get it back?
Dark Pants may also be the creative urge, the procreate desire to either take apart, construct, or destroy to create. Dark Pants are the Shiva in this mythology, wearing Vasuki as a belt. Do Dark Pants make your ass look fat? Not at all, baby, they make it look as enticing as Peach Cobbler suffused with everything held in Pandora’s Box.
Dark Pants are always in fashion, because Dark Pants dictate our desires.
MacFarland has got something in the works here. As the series continues, where the Dark Pants lead will be anyone’s guess. It is in the hands of the artist.
You can purchase Dark Pants #1 directly from Matt MacFarland via his website.
– Daniel Elkin
Oregon History Comics
(Sarah Mirk / Various)
In 2010 a group of smart Portland visionaries (that phrase comes dangerously close to being an oxymoron) led by Sarah Mirk came up with an idea: why not create a deeper connection to their city by exploring its history – in mini comics form?
The project that resulted from that simple notion is one of the coolest packages I’ve ever had a chance to read – a lovingly curated, wonderfully presented collection of ten mini-comics, all written by Mirk and each illustrated by a different Portland-area artist. Most impressive of all is the fact that this collection of comics are all quite entertaining and all enlighten my view of the Rose City and its surrounding state.
For instance, it’s a little hard for me to see progressive Portland being a city where redlining – the practice of essentially segregating minorities to a few sections of town – was prevalent for many years. The poignant “The Vanport Flood,” wonderfully drawn by Nicole Georges, tells the story of a city just north of Portland that was used to house black families working on the war effort during World War II and then washed away in a massive flood.
Several other volumes explore Portland’s mixed history as a home for ethnic minorities. “The Streets of Chinatown”, illustrated by Harry Lau in a style reminiscent of Rick Geary, delivers an overview of Portland’s treatment of Chinese and Japanese immigrants, while “Voices of Celilo Falls”, with art by Annie Murphy, looks at the way that dams on the Columbia River, erected in the name of progress, damaged Indian lands.
But it’s all not pain and suffering. “The Life and Death of the X-Ray Café”, illustrated by John Isaacson, tells the delightful legend f one of Portland’s most ragtag and notorious musical venues of the 1980s and ’90s.
“Portland’s Dead Freeways”, with art by Don Barkhouse III, tells the taleof one of Portland’s most progressive stories: the way that the city stood up to freeway builders and kept their city livable. It’s one of the key stories that Portland tells itself about its history and is a story that had to be in this collection of zines.
Also presented in this collection are comics about Portland’s Black Panther party, about the lives of loggers, women’s sufferage, biking and a famous ceremony. In other words, these comics tell a wide range of stories about Portland and Oregon history – and does so each time in a very entertaining way.
This is a great collection of comics about a great city, and it’s really worth picking up.
– Jason Sacks
Tom McCall & the Vortex
(Sarah Mirk / Daniel Duford)
Also available from the good folks at Portland’s Know Your City is a full-sized comic, Tom McCall & the Vortex. This improbable but true story tells the tale of Oregon’s famous progressive Republican Governor in the 1960s and ’70s, Tom McCall, and his unlikely plan to create an alternative music and arts festival in Oregon as a way to keep the hippies away from a rally for President Nixon and also help to ensure his own re-election.
This is one of those stories that would be completely unbelievable if it wasn’t true, and it’s well told by Mirk and especially artist Daniel Duford, whose shaky line and rich use of blacks adds a healthy dose of surreal realism to the story – as presented in this wonderful book, the tale of Oregon’s Republican Progressive Governor reads like a folk tale from a different era in our history, as well as a fascinating presentation of the time when Oregon truly began to win the reputation that it cultivates today.
McCall comes off beautifully in this comic as a reasonable man who was true to his reasonable convictions and who genuinely enjoyed running his state in a way that would improve it for everyone. He helped to enact the country’s first bottle law, tore down unnecessary freeways and retired as one of the most popular governors in Oregon history. Oh, and he threw a festival like Woodstock.
Who’d’a thunk it?
Order this book here.
– Jason Sacks