Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s Small Press Review Column
So last Sunday 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 this year with families, freaks, folks, and friends, all clustered together under the auspices of creativity, politics, connections, and joy. This is 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, and, therefore, I’m going to devote two review columns to this haul. Next week I’m going to focus on all my new discoveries, but this week I’m going to write a few quick reviews of new books I picked up from creators that I’ve reviewed before.
A LITTLE ANXIOUS
By Johnny Herber
You may know Johnny Herber from either his Tumblr or his previous book, Escargoteric. If you don’t know Johnny Herber, you should correct this oversight in your life as quickly as possible as his are some of the most inventive, interesting, and emotionally powerful comics out there right now. At SF Zine Fest I purchased his book, A Little Anxious, and, upon reading it, became even more impressed with his work.
A Little Anxious is a wild and dense examination of anxiety and the profound effect it can have on people, as well as a gentle instructional conversation about how to deal with it and live a productive existence. It’s told wrapped up in a strange and surreal otherworldly tale in which a “Humite” literally has others get under his skin, and who journeys to a place in his consciousness that is fraught with both debilitation and release.
It’s a beautiful and didactic book, emotionally charged and full of heart. The reader understands how much Herber understands about what it is he is undertaking in this book, and the choices he makes as an artist are perfect for what he is doing. There’s a slight Brandon Graham feel to Herber’s lines, but he’s his own artist, telling his own story.
This is a book you give to people you love who suffer through the vicissitudes of anxiety, for it will speak to them softly with empathy and truth, allowing for connection and pointing a way towards possibility. There’s no finger-wagging or self-help stances in A Little Anxious. Rather, Herber tells a recursive story that offers perspective and the true healing that a knowing friend provides.
By Spencer Hicks
Published by California Clap
Spencer Hicks has a particular view of the world that revolves around the outsider looking in and shaking his or her head at what they witness. While his last book, Inspiration Point, was focused more on the interior monologue, his latest, Enjoy, steps out of the interior and plays out in front of our eyes.
Enjoy is a small book about the small moments that reveal larger things. It is about the moment of reconnecting, how the present is informed by the past, and how we reveal ourselves through our understanding of that. It’s a slice-of-life that, when placed under the artist’s microscope, becomes the full pie of proclamation.
It’s also about pancakes.
Told in Hicks’ looping cartooning and bound in 14 full color pages consistently using three horizontal panels, Enjoy allows the reader into a moment that unfolds a tight interaction between a boss and an old employee at Squirrel’s Diner. Every word, every beat, every line in this book is the product of incisive decisions to let characters develop in a moment and allow the reader’s assumptions to make inferences and bring a richness to what is otherwise a relatively mundane interplay between people.
It is the unexpected final panel of the book that ends up breaking your heart and makes you look back upon the whole book with new eyes. Enjoy is as satisfying an experience as a whole stack of flapjacks.
ABSTRACT KIRBY 4
By Mark Badger
Last year, two of my favorite books from SF Zine Fest 2015 were Mark Badger’s Abstract Kirby One and Two. This year Badger had Abstract Kirby Four available which I, of course, bought without any hesitation.
Abstract Kirby 4 continues Badger’s contemplation of the essence of the work of “The King”. Here, as before, he continues his understanding and examination of what made Jack Kirby’s cartooning the legacy upon which all other work is compared. As I wrote before, here, once again, Badger is able to “convey all of this latent and potential energy into forms and contours and simulacrums that bop off of each panel like a Kirby punch or a Kirby leap or a Kirby krackle.” This time, though, the focus of Badger’s art is color, “a delicate explosive” (as he writes in his Afterword to this book), which “holds the panels together and suddenly each shape is in relationship [to] each other shape as color defines their existence”.
What Badger is able to do in this series is break down the arbitrary line between “high” and “low” art, and clearly convey the inspirational power and emotional heft of the work of Kirby. It’s as brilliant as it is beautiful, and Badger is the perfect artist for the proposition and the project. While not necessarily comics, Abstract Kirby is essential to a complete understanding of the medium.
Mark Badger also has recently finished an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which will be the subject of a later review after I’ve digested it a little further.
By Jason Martin and Simon Moreton
Simon Moreton is, hands down, one of my favorite cartoonists producing books today. His quiet, sparse, reductive comics carry with them the visceral punch of the poetry of Li Po or that of a Japanese Haiku. Needless to say, when I saw Moreton’s art on the cover of a book on Jason Martin’s table at SF Zine Fest, I was instantly drawn to it.
Bright Nights is a series of vignettes, looking back upon small moments with friends, nights out travelling, and early morning adventures — all the quiet things that encompass a life and add to the understanding of the world that we carry around with us.
While their styles are very different, Martin and Moreton are able to capture the essentials of experience by how they present events. In “The Blessing,” for example, Martin recounts his journey to see Leonard Cohen in San Jose and how all the interruptions of travel only added to the profundity of his aesthetic experience at the show. Likewise, in “Fifteen,” Moreton pares down to the fundamental a moment with friends watching a sunrise in Germany.
Both of these artists flourish with the indispensible; their story-telling is concise and full of the connection between self and the world. While I am only vaguely familiar with Martin’s work, its pairing with Moreton brings a resonance to it that I otherwise might have missed. There is a warmth to both of their work that becomes the heat of the heart when bound together like it is in something like Bright Nights.
By Roman Muradov and Sophia Foster-Dimino
I don’t know if Muradov or Foster-Dimino will be selling this outside of SF Zine Fest, but it’s a keeper. It’s genesis, apparently, came as a result of the two of them finding themselves working the same job at the same time, so they spent their lunch hours making a comic.
Because that’s what you do.
Reading Our Concerns is like watching your friends jam together, each one playing off the notes the other one is laying down, and, by the end of it, finding yourself dancing to the song they create. It’s bonkers and clever and sweet and weird. While it is ultimately the end product of opportunity, distraction, and play — it’s a treasure insomuch as it provides a little glimpse into the joy of a relationship and the pleasure that artists have in their craft and their community.
Plus, when you have creators like Muradov and Foster-Dimino putting out something together, you just kinda gotta have it on your shelf.