Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column
(John and Luke Holden)
John and Luke Holden’s Detrimental Information defies easy categorization. It’s not comics. It’s not prose, nor is it poetry. It’s not pretty in the slightest. What it is, is something bizarre and off-putting, something scrawled and ugly, something so displacing that, as you read through its 312 pages, you begin to lose your esthetic and flow into theirs. By the end of the book, you begin to understand what the Holdens are doing, you understand character, and through this understanding you see the beauty in its vileness.
According to publishers 2D Cloud, Detrimental Information is collection of a zine series, 13 years of it in fact, and is “an epic collection of rude and crude comics about the Midwest; its winters, family, mental illness, sex education, cigarettes and strip poker.” Calling it “comics” though, stretches the label. This is not a sequential narrative. More often than not, the art featured on each page has little if nothing to do with the story being told. It serves no other purpose than to set a tone, arouse a mood, put you off focus in some manner from the thrust of the writing.
In traditionally good comics, words and pictures function together to tell a story. Not so in Detrimental Information. What art does in this book is operate on a different plane than the writing. At first it is amazingly distracting, but as you work through the collection something happens. The drawings suddenly become a surreal commentary on what is being written – and through this commentary there becomes a connection between the artist and audience that works entirely on an emotional level.
And in this, there is genius.
John Holden is a spoken word artist and his storytelling influence dominates this collection. What he writes about is a fascinating series of vignettes that, in the end, define a character to which you can relate through your understanding of his motivations and sympathetic nature. While everything in this book wonks, there is purpose at work here. Even the more baser stories define and illuminate a point of view. By reading these stories and unpacking the art, we find ourselves connected, even if we are repulsed by that fact. There is something about us in this book, even if it is something weird or disgusting, even if it is something beautiful or sad.
Because, yes, we are all of these things.
This is not an easy book and again, it’s another one of those things that fellow CB writer Keith Silva shudders when I say “not for everyone.” It is crude, it is ugly, and it’s far from the mainstream. Within its own niche, though, this book has a beautiful intrinsic value. It speaks and has something to say.
You can purchase a copy of Detrimental Information from 2D Cloud
30 Miles of Crazy
(Karl Christian Krumpholz)
“Colfax Avenue is Denver’s main throughfare, running close to thirty miles east-west through Denver, Aurora, Lakewood, and Golden. Playboy Magazine once called Colfax ‘The longest, wickedest street in America.’” This is the backdrop for Karl Christian Krumpholz’s 30 Miles of Crazy, a long-running webcomic that has finally been collected by Drunken Tiki Comics. While ostensibly a series of (mostly) one-page shorts about what defines place and what can happen to people, it’s also about notions of family and, more importantly, about the concept of home.
Many of the stories Krumpholz captures in his comics take place in various bars along Colfax Avenue and present a voyeuristic view of some of the weirder, damaged, drunken, or flat-out crazy folk who inhabit them. Often, his comics begin with someone saying something like, “A Colfax story? Yeah, I have one.” But interspersed among these tales of depravity and drunkenness, Krumpholz includes these little moments of autobiography, celebrations of place, and attempts at understanding his relationship with the world around him.
I could easily see a lazy critic making the argument that a book like this teeters on the edge of sensationalism – that Krumpholz is holding up wreckage for ridicule – and then castigating 30 Miles of Crazy as capitalizing on the misery of others. But to make this argument misses the heart of what Krumpholz does with his art.
Though 30 Miles of Crazy has, as its subtitle, “True-ish tales of derelicts, bars, and denizens of other low places,” the book is a love story, really. It documents Krumpholz’s love of his town, his friends, his lover, and, above all else, other people. Certainly there are moments in this book that focus on the raw, fucked up, and desperate aspects of humanity, but Krumpholz’s portrayal of everyone and everything, while not exactly reverential, is suffused with understanding and affection.
It’s also pretty fucking funny in parts.
Here, the reader gets to know the creator through what he has created. Through the choices he makes in both story and art, Krumpholz reveals himself to be intelligent, loving, confused, and, most importantly, empathetic. Many of the characters featured in his work are the outsiders or the defeated, the mentally ill or addicted, the unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed. He presents them for what they are, and, in doing so, presents them for what they mean. For a place is made up of people as much as it is its locale. To understand place, you must understand those who inhabit it. By understanding this, then, you get a sense of home. Here you have access to understand yourself.
Krumpholz came from the East Coast to Colorado and his outsider’s sensibility allows him a more objective view of his surroundings. Through the act of creating his comics, he is able to channel that view into a personal sense. He moved to Denver for love, and, in the process, fell in love with Denver. 30 Miles of Crazy is a document of this.
You can check out Krumpholz’s web comic here
First impressions carry a lot of weight. They force us to generate inferences about the quality of the person or thing we encounter, and that perception lingers until powerfully proven otherwise. Therefore it takes a lot of audacity to begin anything with the phrase, “God, this is dull.” Roman Muradov is that audacious.
Roman Muradov’s Picnic Ruined is, in the words of its creator, “56 washy pages of me circa 2011 wandering around and talking to myself about fiction & autobiography, memories & re-creation, prepuces & car numbers, futility & bellensebastians, etc…” What we have though, in reality, is a rumination about one of the larger artistic questions: How does one re-create a singular experience in a way that conveys it to a greater audience?
Another question it raises is why don’t more things have foreskins, but that is secondary to the main thematic thrust.
Picnic Ruined is a slightly snarky, ironically pretentious, self-aware full-press rumination of the role of the artist and the nature of art itself. In an amusingly self-deprecating fashion, Muradov casts himself as the creator whose affected mannerisms run the gamut of owl-frame glasses, a shaggy mop top, a long coat, and a flowing stripped scarf. As this hero wanders through the limits of his world, he comments on the efficacy of art and his role as the creator. The idea of re-creating experience is paramount in his mind, which he calls “an endeavor fundamentally hopeless, yet hopefully charming in its hopelessness.”
As the comic itself is, in a sense, trying to capture Muradov’s own experience, this central theme reverberates in the reading of it.
Great art arises out of the inspirational moment, but once the moment has passed the ability to capture its profundity strains against the filters of time and memory. Once we make sense of a moment, the moment itself is altered by our perceptions. This alteration can, in itself, be a fecund breeding ground for creation, but it also layers films on the original vision. Through the process of re-creation, what was once inspiring can become (as Muradov notes), “pathetically sentimental”, something that only stains “the memory of that perfect moment, already rotten well into vagueness.”
Still, an artist is only an artist when he or she is making art. To give up the act of creation is to give up being a creator. When inspiration starts to be enveloped into ideas of audience or marketability or profit, it loses some of its initial singularity and becomes some other creature altogether. The moment an artist picks up their instrument to convey their inspiration, distance is inevitable and the picnic, as it were, is ruined. Yet as we create things, we, in turn, create ourselves.
The book ends with an abstract idea that seems to suggest that direct participation in life has a greater potential for joy than trying to recreate it or cage it in form; that the futility of trying to capture moments make you miss the truth the moment itself contains. But it seems antithetical to the thrust of the rest of the narrative, and, in a way, ends up being both a profound aesthetic statement and a cheap cop-out geared towards humor at the same time. Given the nature of this comic, though, that seems to only make sense.
Picnic Ruined is a fantastic book that explores sizable ideas while embracing the truth of human nature. It is just about the most honest book I’ve read in awhile, and, in its honesty, it transcends the limitations of a self-deprecating creator.
You can purchase a copy of Picnic Ruined directly from Retrofit Comics here