Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comic Bulletin’s small press review column.
The following reviews originally ran on Your Chicken Enemy in May
By Jordan Shiveley
Published by Uncivilized Books
Why is it that so often our self-loathing and self-destructive urges harm those who love us most? In the wreckage left behind as we pummel our own souls, so often there are the blood pools of others who have been there for us, cared for us, tried to make us realize how important our lives are. Many times, by harming ourselves the lion’s share of the damage is spattered in the faces of the most important people, the one’s we would never want to hurt.
And yet this consequence, sometimes, is not enough to stay our hands. Sometimes we are drawn to the darkness like the proverbial moth to the flame. No sense can be made of it. Logic fails under the weight. The reptile brain hungers to stop the pain.
Jordan Shiveley’s new book, Silver Wire, takes all this on simply, quietly, and surprisingly powerfully. It asks unanswerable questions through the use of clean, sparse linework and open panels, carefully documenting a relationship built on traps, inevitability, denial, hope, and consequences. Shiveley calls it a “mouse tragicomedy” and his choice to anthropomorphize his characters as rodents gives the reader space to breathe, step away, and confront that which is within these pages without being subsumed by its emotional intensity. It’s the same choice Art Spiegelman made with Maus – as if the only way to really get your head around the horror we inflict upon each other is to take the human element out of it.
Silver Wire works because of its pacing. It unfolds from minutia to the larger world and back again. Even in its most dramatic moment, Silver Wire takes the time to linger on the soft gestures that Shively uses to convey emotion — the distance engendered by both the choice of using mice and the choice of taking everything down to basic shapes in his rendering. Somehow this makes the emotional beats that much more potent. In these layers of erasure the reader finds their own faces and connects, as if the hardest punch comes from the softest hand. Artists like Simon Moreton know this, apparently so too does Jordan Shiveley.
Editor’s Note: Silver Wire can also be purchased as part of Uncivilized Books’ SUMMER SET 2016
By Sophie Franz
Published by Retrofit/Big Planet
What happens when you become disconnected from that which you feel you are best at? What happens when you sense the changes that are occurring all around you but they only seem like pieces to a puzzle you never purchased, let alone understand how they all fit together? What can you hold on to when the things you must trust about yourself become part of a large sense of uncertainty and unease?
There’s a profound caprice and vagueness at the heart of Sophie Franz’s The Experts — the expectation of a sudden horror or a building towards a truly unsettling moment — that keeps you focused as a reader. Something nebulous and tenebrous is not just swimming in the water but is sleeping in the next room. And yet, in Franz’s telling, it exists in the periphery. In Franz’s telling, so does every aspect of life.
For their solicitation for Sophie Franz’s new book, Retrofit/Big Planet Comics writes: “The Experts is a foreboding story of three ‘experts’ on an isolated station, investigating the strange water creatures that live in the area, even as the investigators lose touch with their superiors and even what exactly they are doing at the base.” It’s that last bit, the “even what exactly they are doing” part, that perfectly encapsulates the poignancy of this book. There is a disconnect — the kind found in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Conor Stechschulte’s The Amateurs — a sense that the answers most desperately needed are buried somewhere deep in the narrative, that brings tension to the smallest act while clouding every moment in unease.
The Experts is a horror comic insomuch as we fear the unknown. Franz capitalizes on this not just through her narrative, but through her art as well. Bold colors laid against white backgrounds juxtaposed with thick black panels and tight close-ups bring the reader into a medial place — between thought and expression shrouded in fog.
When science bumps into the surreal, nobody is an expert anymore. Facts become arbitrary while dreams become nightmares and to leave is to abandon whatever it was that brought you there in the first place. The Experts invades more than it explores and whatever grounding there is to begin with, Franz quickly sends seismic undulations into it to upend your footing.
PARSLEY GIRL: CARROTS
By Matthew Swan
Published by Avery Hill Publishing
Parsley Girl: Carrots is my first foray into the world of Matthew Swan’s Parsley Girl series and it’s bonkers and fun and wild and weird and wonderful. It teeters on the edge of complete incomprehensibility but never falls off, as Swan provides just enough of a rhythm to allow you to dance. It’s vibrant and it swirls and no matter how good the acid you gobble is, it will never be as wack-a-do as this book.
Not that this will help, but Avery Hill’s PR for this book reads: “Parsley Girl is having a tough day. She’s just had a tooth taken out by her super weird dentist, her best friend Margiotta Moonshine might be stuck in her mundane decorating job forever, her Robot Thomas is feeling obsolete, and there’s a mysterious puppy watching her every move. So it couldn’t be a worse time for a magical portal to open in her kitchen, allowing hordes of vegetable villains intent on vengeance to invade her village!”
It’s magic spells and helpful robots and double-bladed axes and marauding giant carrots and warrior alien turtles and talking dogs and it’s wavy and fluid and psychedelic and wonderful.
If Matthew Swan wants to tell me that this is an all-ages book then I want to hang out at his Daycare Center because that has got to be the most bonkers place on Earth.
It’s a rare thing in my reading life that I come across a book so gleefully unglued as Parsley Girl: Carrots. Swan grabs ahold of a delirious joy and saturates it into this book making it jingle and jangle and wonk the whatnot in an almost delicious way. It’s thick with joy as it is possibility, and it adds all sorts of magenta and periwinkle and tangerine and cerulean and cyan and chartreuse to all the gray days you might be having.
Parsley Girl: Carrots is whimsy and fun and the light desert you need after so many heavy meals.