Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column
Phase 7 #017, 018 and 019
Do you know what it means to be a huge fan of something, to have something that you’ve enjoyed that ends up consuming your life, becoming the thing that obsesses you and lifts you up more when you’re happy and gives you a boost when you’re down and is always present in your world as a background noise that gives you happiness?
Yeah, chances are that you do know that feeling; after all, you’re reading this review on a comic book website and most of us comic fans are freaks for our favorite medium.
Alec Longstreth recently wrapped up a three-part series in his self-published Phase 7 that chronicles his life-long obsession with the band Weezer, and it’s a wonderful journey. We first see Alec fall in love with the band by almost hating them – a random encounter with the band’s music during a scary car ride during high school gives the music a kind of “forbidden” feel; when his sister hands off her old CDs to Alec, he rediscovers the band and we see their music transform his life.
As we follow Alec through these three zines, we witness his love for Weezer and their music as he grows and changes – through college girlfriends, long roadtrips and special concerts — with wonderful stories included about the way that the band’s music helped him make friends, have some amazing experiences, and eventually come to do work for Weezer on an extremely ambitious website project. We see Alec as a cleanshaven, pimply-faced teen and as a bearded adult, witness family experiences and personal achievements, and unfortunately witness a major tragedy among Weezer’s tight-knit fans that helps the fans to be tighter.
It’s so much fun watching a talented creator share his obsession. This was a special kind of autobio comic and worth picking up whether or not you’re not a Weezer fan (but why the heck aren’t you? They’re terrific!)
Order Alec’s comics on his website.
So Buttons #7
(Jonathan Baylis / Joseph Remnant / Paul Westover / David Beyer Jr)
Every year Jonathan Baylis comes out with another issue of So Buttons, filled with his short and entertaining observations on the world as it goes by. This years’ edition is a nice addition to that series, especially since one of the short-shorts here is devoted to Baylis’s passion for one of the deepest passions in my life: coffee. I mean, I love my wife and my kids and my job and this website, but there’s nothing quite like drinking a cup of intensely flavorful coffee that opens your brain like a flower and caresses your tastebuds with a gorgeously powerful bitter flavor that sends your emotions to an emotional state of profound happiness. Drinking coffee, for me, is about as wonderful a thing as I can do with my mouth, and Baylis and artists David Beyer Jr. capture that happiness in a charming way.
The four-page cover story this issue shows Baylis’s love for records, especially old 78 RPM disks, and shows a how Baylis is a few degrees of separation from the brilliant R. Crumb. Joseph Remnant’s art is ideal for this piece – hand-hewn and loose, with a vitality and energy that wonderfully conveys Baylis’s emotions – it’s a treat to read.
The third tale in this issue mixes some childhood embarrassment with young Baylis’s love for the first Superman movie. Drawn by Paul Westover in a style that seems it could have come from Saturday morning cartoons and colored in a pastel palette that evokes memories of the last,this piece shows why you should never say “dee-dee” in public.
So Buttons is always a fun little treat, a cute collection of small stories that help add up to a life.
Order So Buttons from Jonathan’s website.
Kinoko’s The Epic of Gilgamesh
I’m a sucker for comics that adapt great literary works into panel form. I appreciate it when talented creators take pieces of profound literature and present them in ways that make them relatable for the average reader. giving us context and space to parse the material, a chance to understand the important themes and resonances while also presenting a compelling comics story. When it’s done right, the adaptation can be compelling; more than that, it can add depth to the reader’s life by providing them with the perspective on the world that the book presents – we are able to understand both the spirit and intent of the creator and be able to say that we’ve understood that material on some level, even though we’ve consumed an adaptation rather than the original. It’s similar to an outstanding movie that provides perspective on a great literary work. Sometimes the film can amplify the material being adapted and help us to understand it better.
A couple of weekends ago I picked up a copy of Kinoko’s The Epic of Gilgamesh at Short Run Comics fest in Seattle. This small press comic does exactly what I describe in this review: it tells the classic tale of Gilgamesh, his love for his friend Enkidu, and Gilgamesh’s long and intense journey to find peace and redemption in his life. Kinko tells the epic tale vividly, with a beguilingly simple style that seems loose and primitive until you realize partway through reading the first book that her artwork is more complex than it seems at first flance, with subtle accents and interesting approaches to the story. In some ways her approach is kind of an analogue to the material presented: what seems at first to be merely charming slowly becomes entrancing and, by book three of this sequence, becomes genuinely moving.
There’s a lot of cleverness going on with Kinoko’s cartooning; in the cuteness of a scene like the one above, I got pulled into story, smiling at the way the bromance builds and grows. Kinoko also shows King Gilgamesh’s inherent dickishness as he demands to have sex with virgins on their wedding night, pridefully picks fights for no good reason, and generally struts around like a guy who feels he owns everything in front of him — until the gods – flaws creatures themselves – wipe the world out in a giant, world-washing flood and our former frat boy finally learns some humility.
I’ve always been a bit intimidated about the idea of reading The Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s old, for one thing, and it seems intense and weird and long and I was concerned that I’d have trouble really getting into the material. It could have been a real grind. So it was extremely helpful to be able to work my way through Kinoko’s version of the epic poem. But more importantly for me, Kinoko’s version of the epic poem was wonderfully entertaining in its own right, with clever panel arrangements and an art style that seemed driven by a passion to tell Gilgamesh in a way that brought the reader into the tale y using colloquial language, a clear-lined art approach, and by imbuing her characters with bold, empathetic eyes.
Kinoko has done just what I was hoping for when I picked up this book: now that I have a good outline of the story and a vision of what the characters look like, I’m interested in picking up the original classic Epic of Gilgamesh. Now if only I had the time to do so…