Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s Small Press Review Column
As the six or seven of you who actually read this column might remember from last week, Sunday, September 4th, was the 15th annual SF Zine Fest. Held in the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park, this gathering “seeks to advance the do-it-yourself ethos by fostering community throughout the Bay Area. In [its] annual weekend-long festival and its accompanying panels and workshops, [they] celebrate and support independent writers, artists, and creators, allowing them to share their work with an ever-growing audience in exhibitions and public events.”
It’s a wonderful, small “convention” that was packed with families, freaks, folks, and friends, all clustered together under the auspices of creativity, politics, connections, and joy. It was my second year going and it’s well on its way of becoming one of my favorite comic events of the year. The positive energy in the building builds off of everyone’s enthusiasm for what they are doing and what they are sharing.
I ended up with an armful of books by the end of it. Last week I wrote about books by creators whom I have written about before. This week, I’d like to present some short reviews of all the new discoveries I made:
By Tristan Wright
Tristan Wright is an incredible cartoonist. His 32 page, black and white comic, Low Light, is dense with intricate, balanced, fully realized line work that evokes Moebius, but is its own animal altogether. You cannot help but linger on every panel of his pages as each one is full of careful detail and evocation. A reader can easily get lost in Wright’s art, which only adds to what it is he is trying to capture in this book.
Low Light is a travel story focused on a young woman trying to get home on the train after a long day of work. Missing the last train of the evening, she later boards the mysterious “Number 5 Special” and, as it is with most happenstance experiences, that makes all the difference. There’s a certain surreal aspect to the story that keeps the reader off-kilter just enough to force them to examine each line, as if therein to discover clues to meaning, purpose, theme, or idea.
This is ultimately a comforting story about place and perspective, about assumptions and connections, but all of this is overshadowed by the spectacular achievement that is Wright’s art. There’s an underwater perspective to its tightness, expanding and contracting as if it were a living thing. It’s as if each line contains its own breath, each page holding a soul of its own.
For a completely visual perspective, I cannot recommend this book enough and I am eagerly anticipating whatever it is that Wright does next.
A HISTORY OF INCREASING HUMILIATION #1
By Geoff Vasile
“I’m not a big fan of autobiographical comics. There are some good ones, I know. Overall, however, it has become a catch-all genre for aspiring cartoonists with no real story to tell.” Thus begins Geoff Vasile’s A History of Increasing Humiliation #1. He goes on to disparage the “generation of precious jerks” who “stifle the dynamic storytelling potential of the medium with their work.” Vasile then has the audacity to follow his assertion with 20 black and white pages of his own autobio comics.
That takes balls.
Luckily, Vasile seems to have plenty of both.
A History of Increasing Humiliation is autobio comic as art exploration, both manipulating traditional comic book storytelling and exploring the hubris of personality. In the comics contained here, Vasile pushes the idea of the loathsome narrator into the realm of the everyman, holding a mirror up to our own smugness and manipulative natures. At the same time, he breaks down narrative carefully using the expectations of a panel layout to play with time and space. The combination of his narrator and narrative technique places the reader in a liminal space between their own sense of self-worth and wanting to lash out at the reflection Vasile creates in his pages. It’s as disconcerting as it is depressing and you end up not sure where to direct your unease.
OUR BEST SHOT: DISCLOSURES OF UNLAWFUL COMPASSION IN THE UNITED STATES
Published by Silver Sprocket
I think I may be stalking the folks at Silver Sprocket. It’s like almost every comic scene where I show up, there they are. From APE to SDCC (where they were the only one’s with a bunk bed in their booth) to SF Zine Fest I keep running into them and, of course, buying their books (they are even going to be at this year’s SPX — Table M1).
I’m amazed that after all the books I’ve bought from them (especially their punk anthologies As You Were), that this will be my first review of a Silver Sprocket release.
Our Best Shot: Disclosures of Unlawful Compassion in the United States is a messy book about an incredibly important topic. As it says on the inside cover, this is a
…first hand account of secret Supervised Injection Facility (or “SIF”) operating illegally in the United States against the disastrous “War On Drugs.” Despite the existence of needle exchange programs of questionable legality scattered throughout the country, drug policy in the United States remains a horrifically immoral mess, costing thousands of lives and millions of dollars every year. Our politically motivated drug policies are divorced from shared goals of helping addicts get off drugs, improving public health and safety, rehabilitation, and crime reduction. Supervised Injection Facilities are proven to save lives, save money, prevent crime, and serve as a gateway to treatment everywhere else in the developed world, yet they remain illegal in the United States.
This is a book about Harm Reduction, “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use … a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the right of people who use drugs.” The comic is didactic and political and wears its bias on its sleeve. It’s a messy, wordy, unwieldy piece of work.
It may also be one of the most important books I’ve read in awhile.
has said that “Our nation is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic” — a discussion of which has been glaringly absent from the rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum this presidential election. The drug policies that are in place currently are seemingly exacerbating the problem, not addressing it.
Supervised Injection Facilities such as the one documented in Our Best Shot are currently illegal in the US, but, as this comic demonstrates, they provide a sensible option for dealing with the epidemic. While Our Best Shot will never win any award based on its merits as a comic book, it is definitely one that everyone should have on their shelves.
WHEN WE WERE KIDS
By Andy Warner
Originally published in the (now out of print) first three volumes of the comics anthology Irene, the stories that comprise Andy Warner’s When We Were Kids are each very different in terms of setting and character, but they all revolve around a similar theme of being on the precipice of change.
The first story, “Come Into My Heart” focuses on two friends taking hallucinogens and going to the ocean. It is a quiet story about trust, openness, vulnerability, and the process of bonding. By its end, you understand that their relationship is fundamentally changed by the experience. Where they go from there remains unknown.
“Champions” is a difficult story situated at the starting line of a snowmobile race. While mostly told in flashbacks, it is full of the potential energy of the future. It is about brothers, family, and what you can choose and what gets chosen for you. The final splash page in this story leaves you looking toward what is to come next, and Warner gives you all the space you need to decide upon the finish.
The final story, “Boat Life” functions on two edges. One is about the potential of youth, as one of the characters is about to leave for college. The second is focused on finality; Warner sets the story in a graveyard. “Boat Life” is seemingly more about what isn’t said between people then how they communicate, and Warner’s choices throughout make it one of the more fully realized pieces in the collection.
Andy Warner’s first book, Brief Histories of Everyday Objects, will be released next month by Picador.
REBEL REBEL: AN ILLUSTRATED TRIBUTE TO DAVID BOWIE
By Patrick Sean Gibson
Rebel Rebel by Patrick Sean Gibson is sixteen pages featuring various drawings of David Bowie throughout his career punctuated with snippets of lyrics from his songs.
It’s a beautiful tribute to one of my favorite artists of all time.
It made me wax nostalgic.
Then it made me cry.
Looking forward to a whole new armload of books after this weekend’s SPX.
If you are going to be there, please feel free to buy me a drink.