Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column
A City of Whiskey and Fire
(Daniel Landes and Noah Van Sciver)
When you describe the personality of a city, I don’t think you are talking about its inhabitants. There’s something about the conglomeration of buildings, the interaction between concrete and green space, the angles at which the sun casts shadows down long main drags, the smell that pervades right before a rain storm. Each city is an individual, and each city has a history. In the new graphic novella A City of Whiskey and Fire by Daniel Landes and Noah Van Sciver, Denver is a city that was born and burned on the same day.
What starts off as a recitation of some seemingly fictionalized account of the burning of Denver, Colorado on April 19, 1863 becomes, by the end of the book, a rumination on the nature of place, on the sense of home.
As a storyteller, Landes knows what he is doing. He brings us in by building tension and speaking in images. Once he has us in what should be the denouement, he addresses us directly, puts his arm around us, makes us feel comfortable. We have a bond. It is safe. It is then he talks about himself and his relationship with the place he calls home. Because we are together, we know that as he talks of himself, he’s talking about us too.
Then there’s the art here. Noah Van Sciver continues to use all the ink too make his point. He’s a man obsessed not only with the interaction between vertical and horizontal lines, but also how negative space can be just as communicative as thick black washes. Van Sciver fills his panels to the point where you can get lost imagining him hunched over for hours at a time, ignoring all the necessities of the world in order to get each line right.
They are, in a way, the perfect complement for each other, the wordsmith and the artist, as each play to the strengths of the other. In twenty-two pages they capture the claustrophobic and violent birth of a city born of Whiskey and Fire and how, as it has become their home, they still feel comfortable with the instinct to leave it engenders. They are comfortable that Whiskey and Fire and Leaving are all a part of what we call home.
– Daniel Elkin
War of Streets and Houses
Sophie Yanow’s War of Streets and Houses is all about place, about setting. It’s about the cities that we live in, the cities that get destroyed and the desperate attempts to keep community together.
In a series of vignettes, War of Streets and Houses gives readers a disparate look at Yanow’s life as she considers the brutal 2012 student strike in Montreal. She addresses the concerns of the strike leaders and followers, the dehumanizing tactics of the police as those events unfolded, and the ruminations that arose in her mind from the tactics.
It’s a short book – only 64 pages and small-sized – but Yanow’s reflections have power as she considers the effects of Robert Moses’s lust for large civic projects, the reconstruction of Paris,, the evolution of buildings in Casablanca. In both her human approach and big-picture approach, Yanow talks about the connections that people feel with their cities, but she does so in a way that’s very individualistic, very much along the lines of how we think about place – full of tangents, eddies and non sequiturs as well as direct explanations of the events she’s describing.
Combined with her willowy artwork, all loose lines and geometric shapes, people with abstract faces and police with masked eyes, the overall effect is like seeing somebody’s thoughts put down on paper. Yanow’s minimalistic art style creates worlds through implication and allusion rather than direct explanation; the effect is a book that feels slight at first glance but that becomes richer and more interesting as one contemplates the implications of her thoughts.
War of Streets and Houses has a melodramatic title (named after a notorious book about urban warfare by Thomas Bugeaud) and contains some scenes of real action and tension. But what gives this book its power is the quieter, almost abstract, moments that Sophie Yanow delivers. This is very much her book, and that her autobiographical moments give this book its ultimate, real power.
– Jason Sacks
Order War of Streets and Houses from Uncivilized Books
Heather Benjamin draws what she wants, which most often happens to be naked women self-harming, bleeding, masturbating, or in combinations thereof, surrounded by incongruous symbols, like so much obscene pixie dust. Delinquent was published last year by Floating World Comics, Portland-based bastion of all things ink, paper’n awesome, and like Adapt and In
The Up Part of The Wave it takes the form of an enormous, crisp-white broadsheet. For some comics, going big is an indulgence. With Benjamin’s dense tableaux, bigger is a better way to go.
After the initial shock of the prominent bleeding cat’s anus (which I’d like to think inspired the cover of Batman/Superman #11), your eye may have refocused to the watching muse and her prominent injury-to-the-eye motif, then to the synchrony of the cat’s bloody claws and distinctive slash marks around said anus, before blinking hard, and stepping back to take in the whole picture. At that point, despite your moral and social programming (or maybe because of it, some of y’all were raised right), you’ll see there’s a lot more going on here than torture porn or tittering adolescent gross-out. Where body horror, arcana, and the psychosomatic meet, Benjamin brings us the universal through the grotesque particular.
While there is unmistakeably suffering in Benjamin’s images, there is also humour in each careful composition, thought in the richness of detail, and an ever-present sense of confrontation. It could be argued that Benjamin merely fulfils the sicker desires of a niche of comics readership, depicting the stripped and brutalised female form out of some internalised misogyny. I would argue that Forever Evil #7, taken for its representations and use of women, is a more brutal misogyny than Delinquent’s severest imagery, but that’s just me. I see in Delinquent’s weeping moons, circuit-board rivulets of blood, eyes stretched taut from their sockets above inky smileys, the direct gazes of figures bound by hair and ankles, besieged by their own follicles, spiders, and cockroaches; I see in the accumulation of these details the question “How can this character endure?”. There are some more abstracted images in Delinquent, but again and again Benjamin invites interpretation, understanding, and empathy with her subjects. There’s magic in these marks, humanity hidden in the inverse. Through all the horror Benjamin conjures, there is no question of death, just the daily horror of being tied to ourselves, our often disgusting, ever-decomposing and discharging bodies and minds. She situates our worst selves in surreal landscapes of our unconscious making, and asks us to sit, and behold. It’s an invitation worth taking.
– Taylor Lilley
Order Delinquent from Floating World Comics