Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's roundup of small press comics reviews.
After School Special
One of the books I read in 2012 that stuck with me the most was Dave Kiersch's graphic novel After School Special. This slim, digest sized graphic novel is the story of two high school outsiders who meet one day at school and quickly have a deep need to spend all their time together.
Jed and Lisa are ordinary kids who attend a school called Plainville High. Jed's family is completely fucked up — his mom is a drug-abusing wreck and his stepdad hates him. Lisa is the mostly forgotten daughter of a family that moved from a modest home to a McMansion after her parents win the lottery. Rootless and alone, the boy and girl on the cusp of adulthood find refuge and happiness together that they can't find in their regular lives.
What makes this book so memorable is the real specificity and sweetness of these characters. Both Jed and Lisa are desperately searching for something comfortable and real in a world that seems to offer nothing but confusion. Even more, to judge by the philosophical asides that pepper the book, neither kid is especially ready to grow up, either. Which means that their bond together is special. They are a perfect matched pair for each other, with a shared language and shared experiences and a shared feeling that the world could be oh so much better if only they had any sort of control over it.
The story seems suffused by the feeling that these kids are in transition in their lives — Lisa reflects on lunches her mother used to make before she got on her health kick and on the skate rink that her family used to run before they came into money. Kiersch is wonderful at conveying the rootlessness that seems to pervade all of our lives when we're 18 or so; the feeling that the problem isn't us growing up as much as that the world seems to be somehow growing away from what we were taught to believe when we're younger.
And Kiersch's art is perfect for this story. Mostly drawn in a very thick-lined black and white style that invokes a feeling of permanence and heft, his art has a unique tenderness to it that makes the characters feel real and honest and special somehow.
This is a very sincere book about two kids just trying to find their way in a frustrating world. Who can't relate to that?
For more information on this book go to davekcomics.com
– Jason Sacks
(Box Brown; Retrofit)
Box Brown calls Sock a "mini-comic about a guy who is his own worst enemy." Basically, it's about an unnamed protagonist who careens through a house party getting more and more loaded on a variety of psychoactive substances. That's about it. Not much in terms of theme or action or gravitas, and yet, somehow, Brown is able to take this simple story and relate it to the basic human condition.
The hero of Sock is an everyman, desperate for approval, desperate to connect, desperate to transcend mundanity via the only vehicles available to him: beer, blow, boobs, and weed. There is a journey/quest motif at the heart of this comic, but it is ultimately upended by both the hero's hubris and one too many 40s.
This is a low tale that drunkenly teeters on the edge of high art. The first panel of this book has the main character punching himself hard in his own face (with an onomatopoetic SOCK which gives this book its title), a moment fraught with characterization and an indication of the thematic journey Brown wants to lead you on. From his conversations with his friend Fucknuts, to his quest to "hook-up" with a tattooed girl nicknamed Breastica, to his need for "another toot," the hero of Sock demonstrates his unwavering sense that he is better than the sum of his parts, and that he expects something more than the world he inhabits.
But like we all do sometimes, he oversteps. The one act of kindness in this book comes from an unlikely character who stands out from the crowd by nature of his sobriety, a character obsessed with the heroic deeds of the likes of Hulk Hogan, Million Dollar Man, and other professional wrestlers — entertainment on the grand scale of Wrestlemania. This character, who inhabits a world outside the outsiders, is the only one who gives the hero a lift at the end.
In its 20 pages of black and white panels, the pacing of Sock echoes the descent inherent in those kind of parties where you get on a roll and can't help but gain the momentum of each new beer you drink or line you snort or blunt you burn. Eventually, you are going to come down hard, be filled with some regrets, and have trouble recalling all the events of the night. But sometimes it's the human touch that keep us coming back for more.
You can buy Sock from the
– Daniel Elkin
(Matthew Forsythe; Koyama Press)
These days comics are a thing you can teach in schools and it's not weird — or, at least, not considered as frivolous and stupid as it used to be. Released in 2011, Comics Class is Matthew Forsythe's pseudo-autobiographical take on the subject, concerning a slackerish self-taught indie comicker who teaches a class of disinterested 11-year-olds in such advanced topics as the Kuleshov Effect, Lone Wolf & Cub and arm wrestling. It doesn't go well.
Through Forsythe's scratchy-yet-clear, zipatone-shaded sequentials we get a self-deprecating — but not TOO self-deprecating, especially for something that's even slightly autobiographical — story of a guy in over his head as his curriculum goes over the heads of his students. It's pretty dang funny, and the episodic nature of Comics Class gives it a serialized webcomic vibe as opposed to that of a crafted, novelistic narrative. Because, of course, it's about going to school. There's no narrative arc to that. It just happens then it's over and over until it doesn't anymore. That's as much structure as this subject matter needs, and it works perfectly.
Being a release from Koyama Press, Comics Class is in a well-put-together but readable package with a good paper stock and cool textured cover, giving it a handmade feel. Well worth a five-dollar commitment for some good laughs.
– Danny Djeljosevic
Daniel Elkin wishes there were more opportunities in his day to day to wear brown corduroy and hang out in lobbies. He has been known to talk animatedly about extended metaphors featuring pigs' heads on sticks over on that Twitter (@DanielElkin). He is Your Chicken Enemy.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.