Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Black Market (1 of 4)

Black Market (1 of 4)
Written by Frank Barbiere
Illustrated by Victor Santos, Adam Metcalfe and Ed Dukeshire
Boom! Studios

If you poke at some of the concepts behind superheroes, they start to seem ridiculous, and I don't mean the teleportation, flying and super-strength. No, the troubling idea about superheroes is that they are fundamentally selfish. If Reed Richards is the world's smartest man and can create all manner of amazing inventions and technology, why doesn't he share it with the world? If Wolverine (up until recently) has a healing factor that enables him to quickly bounce back from even the most ridiculous, grotesque injuries, you don't think millions of burn victims around the world might be interested in something like that?  No, even though they work to protect humanity, superheroes and their villainous counterparts are engaged in colossal battles to which ordinary people are incidental. They put themselves above the regular people of the world in a way that is fundamentally selfish, and it would be understandable for people to resent them.

Black Market is a crime story set in a world of superheroes, where people decide that it's time to make the superheroes share their gifts, like it or not. This is a strong first issue with solid characterization and beautiful art from Victor Santos.  In this world, masked vigilantes emerged a number of years ago.  The fought crime, and helped improve society. Eventually they were replaced by "the Supers" who had massive powers and virtually wiped out crime. The story begins with a fire at an apartment building and a Super named Hotspot who comes to the rescue; several men (including a man named Raymond) have used the fire to lure the hero in and capture him.  The story moves back a number of months and shows us Raymond's life. He's preparing bodies at a funeral home, but used to be a medical examiner for the police until something called "Ultra". It's clear Raymond has a difficult life, as he's unhappy with his job and is caring for his wife who has MS.

Ray's visited by his brother Denny, whom Ray greets with a punch in the face.  It seems Denny was somehow responsible for "Ultra" which cost Ray his job. But Denny's got money for Ray, and a way to make up to Ray what Denny has cost him. Denny has gotten involved with a company called Biochem that's using Super-DNA in order to create a miracle cure for diseases (including MS). Jumping back to the present day, Ray and Denny and their large associate Albert are making a run for their laboratory (in a stolen ambulance) when they're stopped by some cops whom Denny and Albert deal with violently. They make their way back to the lab, where Ray sets up Hotspot so the others can extract his blood. Back when Denny approached Ray about this plan, he promised Ray that they were the good guys and that no one was going to get hurt. However, at the end of this story, that's clearly not the case.

This is a strong first issue with a solid hook. While taking place in a world full of superheroes, this is not a story about Supers; it's a story about people who take matters in their own hands because they don't want to feel like ants in a world full of giants. This story fits in well with other stories in this subgenre, such as Incognito and Sleeper from the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, both of which also explore the underbelly of a world of super-powered people. Frank Barbiere has started to carve out an interesting comics resume of ethically murky, desperate characters such as in Five Ghosts where his protagonist is a shady treasure hunter/thief who's motivated to save his sister's life, and The White Suits centered on a group of Cold War-era assassins and the people out to stop them (and who'll use any means to do so). Ray here is a similarly compromised protagonist; all he wants to do his save his wife, the next thing you know he's trapping and experimenting on superheroes, and evading law enforcement.  His internal narration is effective and he's a sympathetic character, so it's not hard to see how he would come to be in his current situation.

This story is aided tremendously by very strong art from Santos; while the art is distinctive, there's a definite Darwyn Cooke influence in the character designs and facial expressions, and in the crime setting of the book also evokes Michael Avon Oeming.  His stylized take works well for both super-powered heroics and for scenes of darkness and violence.  Santos makes effective use of panel layout such as in the above page where the focus is generally on Ray's head, but Santos uses smaller panels within and between the larger ones to show us the gritty details of Ray's work.  These panels-within-panels are used periodically throughout the story to show action or movement, and are a creative use of space on the page. The facial acting and body language between characters is nicely executed here; while done in an exaggerated, stylized way, the characters' emotions (particularly Ray's very mixed feelings towards his brother) are effectively conveyed

The color choices from Adam Metcalfe also present an interesting contrast. This is a world of crime and darkness and people making bad choices; for a story such as this one might expect a muted color palate (such as that in Incognito or other crime-noir stories). However, it's also a world full of people who can fly and burst into flames, and so the coloring in this story conveys that vibrant world and all of its contrasts.

There's a lot of places this story can go, from Ray's evolution, to his history with his brother, to more background on who the Supers are and where they came from. If you're a fan of dark, interesting takes on the superhero genre, Black Market is worth a look.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Neil Brideau Opens Comics Distro, Radiator Comics

Chicago-area mini-comics creator Neil Brideau has opened a new comics distro, and it's already filled with some of the creators covered here on Panel Patter, offering a way for readers to pick up books that aren't always easily available.

Called Radiator Comics, Neil gives the following as the site's mission statement:

Radiator Comics distributes, produces, and promotes small press and self-published comics that focus on self-expression and storytelling.
At the core of its mission is a commitment to increasing the population of comic book readers, providing support to comic book makers to create the best work they possibly can, and to fairly compensate those creators for their work.
Radiator’s primary focus is distributing minicomics created by excellent comics makers who are passionate about strong storytelling. Our secondary focus is publishing comics by up-and-coming comics makers who excite us. Radiator Comics is dedicated to encouraging and expanding a community of unique voices from diverse backgrounds, brought together by a passion for story, art, and self-publishing.
This is excellent news. Though there are more conventions than ever before, the expense of traveling to and from often is prohibitive, and some areas only have a few shows that are practical for people to drive to, if they even have a car. It's not always practical for a person to go to SPX or APE or CAKE, and even if you do, some really strong books may not be available to you, because they're regional. Distros like this one allow people to pick up things that interest them and have them delivered right to their door.

Obviously, I'm a big fan of getting mini-comics in to more people's hands, so I'm very happy to see Neil begin this project. It's not easy to run a distro, trust me, and it's really a thankless task. Any time Neil spends on this is time he's not working on his own comics, which any creator will tell you is a big sacrifice. And don't even start on the idea of profit--no Ferengi is going to be caught dead running one of these things.

The distro already has over 80 items ready for sale at its opening. They include work from PP favorites Brideau, Sarah Becan, Cara Bean, John Porcellino, Ramsey Bayer, and Liz Price. There is a great mix of male and female creators in the opening line-up, which is also nice to see. Brideau has the distro open  for those who work in mini-comics and are interested in having their work sold through him.

Neil is no stranger to comics and business, working for Quimby's Bookstore and helping to co-found the Chicago Zine Fest and later was part of the group that put together CAKE. He knows what he's doing and you can tell that from the site itself, which is clean and crisp, with strong visuals, an organized layout and nothing cute or artsy about the design. (I really hate that. You want me to buy? Then make it easy for me to see what I'm doing.)

Panel Patter wishes Neil luck on this endeavor. When you want to scratch your mini-comics itch, have a look at Radiator Comics and see if there's something you might like. Odds are, the answer is yes.

Gyakushu by Dan Hipp

 And now for something a little more obscure...

Written and Illustrated by Dan Hipp
Published by Tokyopop
Available on Comixology
Odds are Gyakushu, pronouced "Gahhh-Phhbbbblll'tttishu'paphfooie", is probably something that you've never seen or heard of before.  And that's a shame because it's definitely something that your eyes need to be bathed in.

You need to prepare your eyeballs and let them drink in the awesome goodness that is Dan Hipp's GYAKUSHU!

At its core, Gyakushu is a take on a classic kung-fu fantasy style mash-up revenge tale.  It would sit nicely beside some of my personal favorite revenge flicks such as Kill Bill Vols 1&2, Oldboy, Memento, and The Outlaw Josey Wales, but what sets Gyakushu apart, aside from the horrible name which I've already made fun of (and can't seem to stop doing), is the shear confidence and master-class artwork dropped onto the page like a slap in the face from Dan Hipp.

I just can't stop looking at it.  Staring at it.  Living inside those panels.  They're so full of drama and emotional resonance and balls-to-the-wall action that they're impossible to just breeze by them.  You want to spend time with them, to make yourself slow down and appreciate just what you're seeing, and not rush to the end like the average comic.  The art is nearly perfect.  Usually I could nit-pick something about an artist's work like any other jerk, and say there is something they do that I'd prefer that they give up immediately (like Skottie Young drawing super babies), but there is absolutely nothing art-wise that Hipp does that doesn't strike me as brilliant in this work.

Hipp's style is definitely manga influenced but I would say it is equally influenced by cartoon/anime/cell animations.  It just seems an inch away from popping off the page and coming to life as animation.  It's begging for it, really.

Hipp isn't your typical comic book artist, his style is so dissimilar to just about everyone else out there working that I can't think of a mainstream comic he'd likely fit on without mass fanboy suicide, but I'm sure he would crush whatever character or characters anyone gave to him. I'd pay my $3.99 to see this guy draw Sonic Adventures if that's what he wanted. That being said, I would definitely prefer Hipp do something that was creator-owned and original, something like Gyakushu, something straight out of his noggin with no filter. And... maybe a Spider-Man one-shot.
I first came upon Hipp and Mark Andrew Smith’s Amazing Joy Buzzards graphic novel one day at my LCS, killing time, and very quickly decided I had to have it.  To this day I don’t remember much about the story in Joy Buzzards, aside from a Yeti joke, but I DO remember the art.  So one of the first creators I searched for when I started a Comixology account was Hipp, one of my favorite artists for books I might not be familiar with.  Turns out this was immensely easier than diving into comic book back issue boxes.
The action delivered in this book is wicked, intense, and will leave you breathless.  It will drag you in, and not let you go until you wanna dress your head in bandages like the main protagonist and carry a sword down to the Quick-E-Mart on the corner just looking for trouble. The main character, and all the characters for that matter, look amazing - with an extra heaping of badassery poured into the bandaged protagonist. He's equal parts thief, samurai, ninja, and The Man With No Name. He is the ultimate anti-hero, a thief who was disfigured and left for dead, his family murdered, and one who only craves revenge.
The dialogue however, is greatly lacking. Sometimes when characters speak they just come off as very two-dimensional tropes. I actually prefer it when the characters don't talk in this book. I only say this because it's kind of jarring at first, but either Hipp gets better at it as the three volumes come to a close, or by that time you're just desensitized to it. Either way, it feels like he gets better as it goes on, and that's all that counts in my opinion. The real draw here is the art.
The villains are very cookie-cutter, faceless ninja types but they're completely forgivable as encounters with these guys lead to kick-ass action sequences. I suppose there's an analogy to be made between Gyakushu and popcorn action movies, although not the horrible shakey-cam visual abortions that are becoming vogue. I mean good popcorn flicks like The Raid or Pitch Black. Something you can just sit back and experience. And there is nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with this book either.
As far as I'm concerned, this book is a classic.
Give it a try! As of this time it's only $5.99 for the first volume on Comixology and it seems like the only place you can actually get the 3rd volume, which never saw print and was released as a digital exclusive. If digital isn't your thing then the first two volumes are very easy to find via Amazon or eBay and the prices for them are very similar to the digital versions. Personally, I read it digitally on an iPad and it was an excellent experience.
So check it out, and let me know what you think!  
Am I way off? Is it better than I said? I want to know!
'Til next time!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rob Kirby Interviews Kevin Czapiewski

Rob Kirby Interviews Kevin Czapiewski

Back in the day, when I drew a biweekly comic strip that I self-syndicated for gay and alternative newspapers (remember those?), I would occasionally receive letters from aspiring young cartoonists. They would ask first and foremost How Do I Get Started? followed by Do You Have Any Advice For Me As a Beginner? The first advice I would always impart was simply this: Do It Because You Love It - with the underlying message being Don’t Expect To Strike It Rich. Some appreciated my words of caution/wisdom, while others - the ones that wanted/expected to strike it rich - did not.

Twenty nine year-old, 6'4 Kevin Czapiewski (pronounced “Chappy-esky”), a talented artist and self-described “Comics Mom,” is one of those creators who is clearly in the game out of love: love for process of creating art, love for the network of friends, colleagues and collaborators that inevitably and thrillingly spring forth from that creation, love for the medium itself. From his home base of Cleveland, Ohio, he has built up an impressive resume of art comics and fantasy comics, and with some of those aforementioned friends and colleagues birthed the PUPPYTEETH anthology, of which the fourth issue has recently been released. His output is so varied I wanted to talk to him to get all those disparate art-threads into an orderly shape in my head. Kevin, or Czap (pronounce it “Chap” or, if you’re weird like me, enjoy reading it sometimes as “Cee-Zap”) was gracious enough to email-answer my questions over several busy weeks from late June to early July, the results of which are transcribed below.

Rob Kirby: Every cartoonist has an “Origins of” story. Can you tell us yours?

Kevin Czapiewski: I’m originally from Northern Virginia, just across the river from DC, nuclear family including an older brother (2 years). Cartooning was always a pretty naturalized obsession for both my brother and I, with drawing being an obvious extension. My brother Matt, for most of my teenage years, was the trailblazer, introducing me to most of what I still find valuable, especially punk and zines (DIY) in high school. Other good examples of this are when I contributed strips to his high school zine and did guest strips for his webcomic in the early 2000s.
I decided to go to art school in Cleveland, literally because the school mailed me a cool brochure. During my second year (basically an extended freshman year for a 5 year program), I had a painting elective that introduced my small class to really exciting contemporary art - so for the next couple of years I made room-sized art pieces and minimal sculptures. The Painting department at the time was as media-unspecific as you could get, and emphasized critical thinking and practice over most everything else, so that’s the major I chose.
Almost immediately after graduating, I got myself into a terrible, terrible marriage that taught me a whole lot of things by the time I got out of it - the love of dogs, how to love and respect yourself, how to fit into small spaces, how to drive a car, near-undying patience, how to not make excuses and actually DO something if you want it done and, ultimately, if I wanted to make comics I couldn’t waste any more time. (Also of note - we had our honeymoon at San Diego Comic Con [thanks Aunt Ann!], my first convention, and being totally immersed in comics like that was like an awakening.)
By the end of summer 2010, the marriage was over and I was living on my own, feeling better than I have in maybe my entire life. I had a full time job; but/so I threw myself into comics pretty earnestly right away and I’ve barely slowed down much since. And now I’m here - fresh as a lily.

Kirby: Can you tell me any specific comics and/or creators that you found particularly influential? Do you see yourself as being part of any particular school of alt-comics? What is your niche, if you indeed have one?

Czap: I was big into Uncanny X-Men during my teen years, mostly because of Joe Madureira and then Chris Bachalo, who I copied a lot while learning to draw. Bill Watterson - not just his drawing, but also the essays included in the Calvin & Hobbes 10th Anniversary book that introduced me to concepts like a comic strip and its author having integrity, the whole concept of panel layout, etc. Discovering Chris Ware in college was a big deal but Kevin Huizenga’s “The Sunset” from Gloriana was a game-changer for me. Driven By Lemons by Josh Cotter was also big. From Hell.

More recently, I learn the most from contemporaries like Eleanor Davis, Jeremy Sorese, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Inės Estrada, Patrick Kyle, Sophie Yanow (the list goes on forever)... I’ve also been really influenced by Francophone artists for some reason – Vincent Giard especially, Julie Delporte, Julie Doucet, to a slightly lesser extent European cartoonists like Christophe Blain, Blutch, and Manuele Fior.

Of course I’m influenced by a lot outside of comics too, particularly music. Musicians and songwriters like Joanna Newsom, Joni Mitchell, Fela Kuti, Meredith Graves and Catherine Irwin are huge for me - not just in what they write but how they use the timing and quality of their singing to convey meaning - something I’m always trying to capture in comics.

I’m particularly bad at identifying any school I may or may not be a part of – I don’t have a good sense of what my work looks like “in the wild.” Beyond that, maybe my interests are so all over the place that I don’t have a single definable style. Maybe I do though? That said, I feel an affinity to the circle of people making comics as poetry. Warren Craghead, Derik Badman, Jason Overby, Aidan Koch, Oliver East, Simon Moreton, and on. I can’t presume to say I’m a part of that group, but that’s where my sympathies lie. I think I straddle a lot of lines. My closest peers are people like L Nichols, Cathy G Johnson, Darryl Ayo, Kat Verhoeven, Jessi Zabarsky, Georgia Webber, Liz Suburbia, and my brother Matt - all of whom I’m largely influenced by as well.

Kirby: A well-known cartoonist once remarked that she always most appreciates comics by people who are artists first and cartoonists second.  If you had to describe yourself as an artist first or cartoonist first, which would you instinctively choose and why? 

Czap: This reminds me of the BCGF when Scott Longo (who edits the Sonatina anthology) went around asking people whether they called themselves artists or cartoonists. I ultimately said “cartoonist,” but it’s a trickier question than it seems. I don’t see the two as opposing or even separate designations - “cartoonist” is really just a subcategory of “artist” (all cartoonists are artists, but not all artists are cartoonists). I could say I’m a cartoonist because I actively use the style and language of cartooning most of the time (though not always). I don’t believe there’s anything that inherently ties cartooning to comics outside of its particular history. My ideal answer would be a third option - “comics artist” - but so far that hasn’t been widely adopted. [Sidenote: as I was answering this question, a conversation started on twitter about what we call ourselves - the verdict seems to be that “artist” is still too pretentious.]
“Artist” is really just a neutral job that doesn’t say anything about the quality of the work. There do, however, seem to be qualities shared by artists of any medium that make the work stronger/better/more interesting - such as integrity to the work (with a lack of preciousness) and exploring culture/history with a critical toolset. Those are the qualities I'm after, anyway.

Kirby: I wish I’d seen that conversation! I personally call myself either a cartoonist or creator and I’m happy with that designation, but the push pull of that conversation always fascinates me. Anyway, I wanted to ask you about art and community, as you strike me as a creator for whom community building is particularly important. I’m thinking specifically about the PUPPYTEETH anthology. Can you tell us about that? 

Czap: Ha, yeah I mean, when it comes down to it, I don’t really care what I get called. It’s interesting to think about, but in practice I’d rather worry about something else. Anyway.

You’re right; community is a really big thing for me. It’s a huge, passionate subject, not easy to find a way into a response. PUPPYTEETH… When I graduated college I seemed to be the only one who stayed in town - everyone I knew had moved away and I didn’t have a support group in place. It was really lonely while at the same time my enthusiasm and ambition for making comics felt like it was burning me up. I was doing anything I could to actively engage in Comics, but it felt like square one.

Luckily I had reconnected with my high school friend Liz Suburbia, who was posting amazing comics on Livejournal. I floated the idea of doing a group anthology together. Liz came up with the name. We got all the cartoonists we knew (mostly people I had met at college) to be in the first PUPPYTEETH, which we took to give away at SPX. Doing an anthology at such an early stage of your career is kind of like going on a long trip - it’s generally more efficient to carpool with a bunch of friends rather than drive alone. Assuming you’re all chipping in for gas, it’s cheaper for everyone involved, the trip will probably be more fun since they’re people you like, and the best part - you all get to the destination together!

It’s open to change as we all move forward, but PUPPYTEETH to this point has generally been at least partially an excuse to get more work out of these great people I know, who might not otherwise put a lot of work out. With the slight exception of the newest issue, number four, it’s been the same core group, expanding as I meet more people who seem to fit with the whole idea. I’m not sure there’s really much unique about the backstory or the concept as far as anthologies go, but for me it’s always been about the specific people. There’s no theme or anything, it’s just a community I believe in and love doing their best work at a given moment.

Kirby: I take it then that PUPPYTEETH is strictly curated? (BTW, I love your carpool/anthology analogy – so true!) How much of an editorial hand do you have in the specific content? Do you have folks submit ideas or do you take more of a carte blanche approach? 

Czap: That’s right; it’s always been curated. Not much of an editorial hand at all, really. It’s all carte blanche - what I say each time to the contributors is basically “I asked you to do this because I love your work and I believe in you.” I ask them to believe in themselves too and to do work that they’re really proud of.  I make myself available to help in any capacity the artist may want, either offering support or talking through the process if they’re having some trouble, but more often than not my editorial hand is in putting the book together.
Of course, the editor role is something that I’m still learning to do as I go along, so each installment has been a chance to improve. With this most recent issue, a lot more thought went into whom specifically to invite, how those different approaches would work together, etc. Since I’m interested in so many different kinds of comics, that gets reflected in what kind of work gets included in PUPPYTEETH.

Kirby: I really identify with that editing approach, that’s how I operate myself. So, will you tell us a little bit about the stories in the new issue? 

Czap:  Sure - The book starts out with a piece from Jenn Lisa, an artist I met at our local Genghis Con over a year ago. Her comic in PUPPYTEETH is drawn on post-it notes, a grid of 4 to a page, in marker and ballpoint pen. It’s a kind of surreal comic, where this unwanted baby is suddenly thrust into the life of a young woman on a picnic. The storytelling is very minimal, which I like, and I think the drawings are just gorgeous, some great imagery.

Jess Wheelock and Jon Gott are both close friends from college, two of the most brilliant people I know. Jess contributed amazing comics to the first two issues of PUPPYTEETH, but wasn’t able to be in the third one. This comic is just as touching and fantastically executed. It’s a story about a young woman who works at Applebee’s, where her only real companion is a piece of restaurant decor (a talking carousel horse). They share a pact to escape the restaurant and lead the lives they’ve always dreamed of - except real life is usually more complicated.

Jon is coming from outside of comics, so I was really interested in how he came to this project. The piece is the result of visiting and researching a number of bridges around Cleveland, remnants of which show up as photographs collaged together with research documents. We only see fragments and scraps of this information, but put together and in the context of the other comics in the issue, we get the sense of a larger history.

Paula Almeida is a Portuguese artist who’s been going to school in Brazil - I discovered her work on Tumblr and been a big fan for a while. Her story is pretty fast-paced - it’s a futuristic Sci-Fi take on colonial conquest, mostly told from the vantage point of this immature, selfish princess who seems to be in love with her brother. Things get trippy when there’s an assassination attempt…

And then Laura Knetzger. Laura’s this great source of energy and strength in the comics realm. Here she’s got another of her customarily moving comics - she starts off by fantasizing about society collapsing and getting the chance to start over. She follows this daydream through its presumed logical implications, like needing to build shelter, grow food on her own, raise the children of passing travelers, eventually forget how to draw, etc.

Kirby: Can you tell us what comics or other artwork you're working on currently?

Czap: I’ve got a couple different things going. I draw a webcomic called Project: Ballad. It’s about a group of video game fans who find themselves transported to what is possibly the fictional world of their favorite video game series, and their friends still in our world trying to bring them back. We’re into Chapter Two of the thing and at the time of writing this just passed the 120-page mark, with many more to come.

I’ve also been working on a series of comics that I’m going to collect in a new book sometime next year, called Fütchi Perf. The uniting thread will be they all take place in a future utopian version of Cleveland, OH. I’m pretty excited to get this finished and out there - it’s been a couple of years since my last collection Birthday Surprise, and I’m approaching this as being more of a cohesive album. All the mini comics I’ve made in the past year or two are from this project.

Kirby: Totally random stupid question time! Kevin Czapiewski, what is your favorite ridiculously bad pop song?

Czap: The first song I thought of was “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone,” by Paula Cole. I loved it as a kid, but to be honest I haven’t listened to it in years. Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night,” however, is still in the regular rotation.

Kirby: Tell us the expos and small press comics shows where you’ll be tabling in the second half of 2014?

Czap: I’m especially excited to be tabling at the first ever RIPE in Providence, RI this August. Really impressed with the crew putting that together (full disclosure - my partner is an organizer). I am also extremely touched and lucky to have been invited back to SPX this year. I applied to CAB, but I’ve never gotten into that show, so we’ll see. Either way, I plan on being there to hang out in some capacity. And then of course right after Thanksgiving here in Cleveland we’ll be having our 6th annual Genghis Con, which I help organize. Looking forward to building on last year’s successful show. And that’s it until next year!

Kirby: Last one! Please tell us anything else we need to know, including your contact info.

Czap: I feel like I covered everything! There’s always a myriad of places to see the things I’m involved in - my portfolio website is, my online store is (where you can buy my own work as well as PUPPYTEETH and comics by Liz Suburbia, Jessi Zabarsky, Liz Valasco, Dale O’Flaherty and more). The webcomic is at I use twitter a lot, @kevinczap, my tumblr’s at For Genghis Con stuff, I run the social media stuff, so follow our tumblr (, twitter @thegenghiscon, and Facebook (, the GC website is I think there’s more, but this should be more than enough for anybody.

Kirby: Thanks once more to Czap for the interview! Until next month's interview, stay well and read lots of comics and make some too.

Images, top to bottom: 1. Mr. Czap himself; 2. a panel from Fütchi Perf; 3. excerpt from A Lesson in Survival; 4. Excerpt from He Fought Like a Little Tiger in a Trap by Kevin Czapiewski and Cathy G Johnson; 5. Cover of issue #4 of PUPPYTEETH; 6. Page from an untitled story in PUPPYTEETH #4 by Jess Wheelock; All images © by Kevin Czap unless otherwise noted. 7. Excerpt from Project: Ballad. Project: Ballad is Michael Peterson/Kevin Czapiewski, licensed under Creative Commons 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Echo Chamber Stories from Recent Mythology by Corina Dross

Written and Illustrated by Corina Dross

Artist and author Corina Dross writes short stories inspired by a series of drawings she did for an art exhibition in 2012, where she recast friends into the roles of various Greek Myths. In this short literary zine, each drawing gets a short update on the myth from which it was based, blending together old and new in a great, short package that's highly recommended.

The Greek Myths are enduring not just because they make compelling reading, but because they are almost infinitely adaptable, whether it's a more traditional interpretation, the comic book worlds of Wonder Woman (DC) and Hercules (Marvel), mixed with young adult themes (Pullman's His Dark Materials), or used to create a new story set in the present day (such as Monica Gallagher's Gods and Undergrads).

But it takes talent to do that right, and Dross shows that her skills extend beyond just drawing portraits. Her prose here is engaging, fluid, and captures the essence of the original stories she's re-creating while forming something that is also her own.

From the opening story of Polytechnos, Aedon, and Eris, where the goddess of discord is called on by Hera to ruin the lives of mortals who dared to compare themselves to the gods to the closing flash piece where Paris is a clever waiter given the chance to be a new, beautiful self instead of just a lustful braggart, Dross shows she knows the core of the myths, which allows her to play and break as needed.

A perfect example of this is the micro-flash piece featuring Hermes, recast here as a roller-skating queer,* who drifts effortlessly between the complex words they inhabit. In only about 100 words plus the illustration, Dross creates a complete picture of a figure who is larger than life and invites envy from those less able to shift and change and be different things to different people.

None of the stories included here are very long--I doubt any even make it much past 1000 words--but they pack a lot of information. Each re-casting is imaginative and works perfectly, taking some of the fanciness out of the myths and making them more about people who could just be you and me.

It would be a shame to withhold comment on the art, which is equally impressive. Using a combination of thin lines and heavy shading, Dross captures her friends at various moments in time, whether it's sharing a silly expression, showing their victory over an unseen opponent (used for the Atalanta story, which subtly changes things to a battle for control of one's body and future), or a kiss frozen in time from lovers soon to be separated. They work almost like photographs in that way, but there's just enough roughness to the lines to give them a warmth you can't get in a picture.

I really enjoyed this one, and for once, it's a zine I know you can get a copy of! It's available in her Etsy store, complete with an excerpt. You can also see more of her artwork at her website. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes open for more work from her in the future.

*Okay, so yeah, that's naturally going to appeal to me. Deal with it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Paper Crush #4 by Krissy (PonyBoy Press)

A zine about collecting postcards from a person whose made a habit of looking out for little lost bits of American life wherever she goes. Over the course of the zine, Krissy discusses a brief history of postcards in America, her relation to them, organizations devoted to postcards/old photos/etc. and how the electronic society has changed what future historians will examine or have access to.

Needless to say, this is exactly the sort of zine that piques my interest, even if I have been working hard to curb my collecting habits. Even though I've never personally collected old postcards or photos, I really am attracted to them, and I always will poke my fingers through them whenever I get drug to an antiques store, as that's the only thing in those places that usually interests me.

Reading about Krissy's fascination that's taken on collecting form was extremely interesting to me, especially when she talks about how she is one of the younger people involved, something I feel similarly to whenever I am active in photography circles. She's also the type who enjoys listening to old stories from the others who collect, learning history from those who lived it. As a person who did the same thing at my father's gun club or at train shows and other gatherings where older people tend to dominate, I know exactly what she's referring to, and the appeal it holds.

This is a link we were very much in danger of losing. Not so much because of electronic communication, but because there's a focus on the BIG AND IMPORTANT rather than on the small details, like how old postscards grew with the nation's highways and show them building, step by step or that a person might have photos of, say, North Portland back before it was invaded by people who want to "improve it." Those connections are disappearing fast.

Krissy's brief history of postcards will teach you things you didn't know, even if you aren't attracted to the collecting lifestyle. Did you know at first you weren't allowed to write on the back of a postcard? Or that Germany produced much of America's postcards until World War I? I didn't, and I even own a few of those old cards. She also discusses the link between postcards and tourism, a connection that remains to this day.

Perhaps the most interesting story, however, is how she acquired a group of postcards from one man, and was able to track down the family to return the missives to them. It's such a cute, heartwarming tale.
It never occurred to me to collect postcards to read the messages!

The zine ends with a notation that anyone who wants to collect postcards and similar effects should join a club and list a few in the Pacific Northwest. I don't think I need to add this to my world personally, but I think it's great that such clubs exist. She also notes that anyone who does this long enough might even make it into a book or be part of a museum display. All by keeping little pieces of paper in your closet!

This was a great zine to read, and you can find out more about Krissy's collection at The Cedar Chest, her website for the odds and ends or by going to PonyBoy Press site. There's plenty there to look around and explore, and I highly recommend doing so--as well as reading this zine, if you can find it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Trip to the Portland Zine Symposium 2014

This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of finally getting to attend the Portland Zine Symposium, which is one of the most highly respected zinefests in the United States. It's been going strong for well over a decade now, with 2014 being the 14th year for zinesters near and far to the Portland area coming together to share their zines, comics, and a few other items, here and there.

Unfortunately, I seem to have very bad luck trying to get to both days of a two-day show. In this case, I lost my main computer, going down to a strange driver issue that had me spending most of the second day of the show in back-up hell. Still, I was able to enjoy Saturday at the show.

The first impression I had of the show was how big it was. While the space may not have been all that much larger than Richmond in terms of pure surface area, there were definitely more tables with people behind them. It's a bit daunting at first, and I'm a veteran of many shows and fests. Still, I found that I had to circle around a few times to get my bearings before looking more closely at what was available.

Once I did, things settled in and I started looking at tables more closely. Some of the distros had zines I'd picked up when I was on the East Coast, and it was comforting to see favorites like "Deafula" scattered here and there. Unfortunately, not all of the distros had their zines priced, and I do not like asking about cost. It takes only a few minutes to make signs or put a sticker on the top copy. Maybe that's the "comics" side of me coming out, but you can't trade with a distro, so I like to know if the zine I might be interested in is going to cost $2 or $5.

Ironically, it was the individual zinesters and comics folks who had a better handle on this. Little index cards and notes dotted their tables, making it much easier to know what was worth looking at and what wouldn't be in my interest range. Erica actually did most of the trading/buying work for us this time, picking up some great stuff, including an MST3K-related zine and the Somnambulist series. She also snagged a few 24-hr zines and a longer work on Pioneer Cemeteries in Oregon that I cannot wait to read.

But I traded for /How To Talk To Your Cat About Gun Safety, so I totally win.

In addition to zine folks and distros, there were a few related organizations. LA Zinefest was talking about their show, with some examples of local zinesters, and of course the zine-friendly Library had a booth, encouraging people to sign up for a library card and showing example zines. (I was a little surprised they were not taking contributions, however.) A pro-choice group and Bitch Magazine also had tables.

Something that was a bit different for me was the number of comics-only people at the show. Now obviously, I'm a comics fan, but when I go to a zine fest, that's where my primary interest lies. I can't trade my photocopied perzine for someone's crafted, color work, and there were a lot of folks there with books that rose far above standard mini-comic level. I know there's a fine line between mini-comic and zine, but I felt like some of the folks there really were better suited for LineworkNW or even Rose City Artist's Alley.

Unfortunately, one thing I did NOT do was attend a panel. Every time one was coming up, I was engaged in conversation, so I didn't get a chance to see how those turned out. I have to make a point of doing better with that next year.

Overall, it's always great to have a lot of positive energy about zines coming in one room like only a zinefest can do. This one even came with a prom afterwards, held at the IPRC, complete with self-made foil hats and a raffle to determine the Queen and King. DIY, motherfuckers!

Despite its size, Portland Zine Symposium still captures the best things about being involved in zines: The sense of community, welcoming environment, and a clear message (via table size and cost) that zines are designed to be for all, with no one being better than anyone else. Only those who are ass-hats get shown the door and only those who think they deserve special treatment or the ability to overwhelm the other tables with sheer volume or stuff will find their act unappreciated.

Zines are designed to be one of the most equitable ways for people to express themselves to each other and invite opening up in ways that you might not do elsewhere. The PZS organizers get that, and strive to do all they can to make it happen. Though I am a bit biased by knowing many of them personally, even an impartial observer can see they work hard to make this show something that the zine community can be proud of, year in and year out.

If you're in the area in 2015, make sure to stop by, and be a part of that community, too.

Lok Zine 5

Written and Illustrated by Alessandro Ripane, Valentine Gallardo, Margherita Morotti, Matteo Farinella, Laura Kenins, Jacopo Oliveri, Aaron Whitaker, Felix Bork, Elisa Caroli, Lorenzo Mo, and Salvatore Giommarresi
Published by Lok Zine

A collection of short comics from a publisher in Italy shows that the language of comics is universal, with stories that range from personal moments to reminders of digital society to abstract pieces that show a wide range of alt-comix work.

Long-time Panel Patter readers know that I am a big fan of reading comics from other countries when I get the chance. So when the folks at Lok Zine were kind enough to pass this along to me, I was extremely excited. Here was a whole new realm of comics I hadn't experienced yet!

Now, though I love reading comics from all around the world, I am not even bi-lingual these days* so I was wondering how I might approach this one. Fortunately, however, the comic itself is bi-lingual, being written in both English and Italian. One of the neat things about it is that the work switches between English with Italian footnotes and Italian with English footnotes, putting both audiences on an equal footing. I don't think I've ever seen that before.

So what kind of anthology is Lok Zine? Well, to some degree, it fits in that world where Mome used to be, namely a place that has interviews, alt-comix, and some really strange things you'll either like or hate. Though in this case, the comics themselves aren't quite as polished--and that's not meant as an insult. As a general rule, I'd put the comics themselves more on the raw edge of things, willing to take chances and not overly worried about form or meeting some visual standards. Here's a real old reference point for you: Think Blood Orange** and you're about at the right point.

With that in mind, let's talk about a few of the highlights, at least for me. My only complaint is that it was hard to piece together the credits, so I apologize if I got something wrong:

  • Valentine Gallardo's story features a young woman feeling very unhappy at a club, where her inner thoughts finally burst out to confront her decision to hang out there. With some great visuals, like a bunch of men dwarfing her to represent discomfort, this one touches on something we've all felt--going along just to be nice. FOO does a nice job with making the characters look different form each other and tell us a lot from their eyes and body language.
  • IDigital by Matteo Farinella is a look at how companies use cookies and other information and the possible implications for us. It's not condescending in tone, either, which is a nice touch of base. It would make a great fit as a special addition to Matt Bors' The Nib comics selections. The style is akin to a newspaper op-ed, with some nice layouts that aid in the presentation of information and keep it from feeling like a textbook.
  • Hermaphordite's Story by Jacobo Oliveri has the look and feel of an old Box Brown comic, with lots of shapes interlocking together to form images. The backgrounds are various patterns, with the old Greek legend told across the pictures. There's even a chance for readers to decide the true ending of the story.
  • Crisi by Elisa Caroli is only two pages, but there's a lot going on. A woman discusses how she's unable to know who she truly is, then faces the fact that there may be a better version of herself. The images that go along with this one are very creepy, highlighting the woman's duality among thin, ephemeral lines and an ending that's just her eyes, starting out at the reader. Scary!
  • Childhood by Lorenzo Mo closes things out on a lighter note, as a set of childhood friends imagine themselves with superpowers. Each one thinks they can top the other, but when it's time for the last boy's turn, reality intervenes. The boys all look different, and the images of their transformations are handled differently. I really liked the blurred inking on this one, giving it a bit of a dreamy feel. A nice way to end the anthology.
Lok Zine 5 also comes with a short mini by Salvatore Giommarresi that was a little more on the extreme side than fits with my taste, but is very much in keeping with the spirit of the magazine and its mission. Overall, this was a great look into the European alternative comix scene. I'm really glad I got a chance to read it, and I hope to be able to read more of the publisher's work in the future. Those who enjoy the rougher edge of the comics spectrum definitely should check this out, if you can.

You can go to Lok Zine's website here.

*I could probably read a Spanish language comic book, but that would take a lot of effort.

**Anyone else remember Blood Orange? Hard to believe Jeffrey Brown, Mr. Star Wars Kids Books***, used to be one of their contributors!

***I couldn't be happier for Jeffrey for getting that gig. It's just miles and miles from where I first encountered him, ya know?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Everythingness by Neil Fitzpatrick

Written and Illustrated by Neil Fitzpatrick
Published by Hic & Hoc

The comics creator as God, animals that think their normal routines are magic, mental powers, and even a bit of philosophy come together in this collection of comics from Neil Fitzpatrick, written as a group of "Neil Jams."

There's some good work to be found right now in mini-comics that take a bit of a surreal approach to ordinary situations. Taking the idea of creation and how it works in terms of being the God of a visual world can go in a lot of different directions. Here, Fitzpatrick balances making it a joke and thinking about it seriously, and it works quite well.

Opening with an introduction that places the author inside the world itself, cartoon Neil debates God over who is the true creator of the comic itself, if God created Neil. "What am I, chopped liver?" asks the eternal being. Some trickery ensues, putting Neil on top of the situation--for awhile, at least.

Moving on from there, a character desires companionship and gets one, echoing the Adam-Eve dynamic. This main character also interacts with the animals who think they're magic, which has a great joke about how it was impossible to see if the fish was doing anything magical--because it was in the water. Simple under-cutting of the grand ideas presented in Everythingness is typical here. Whenever things get just a bit deep, something shows up to turn it on its ear. A short, two page strip featuring God is perhaps the best encapsulation of that feeling. After discussing how hard it is to be God, he kills a bunch of people by showing them the truth.

Fitzpatrick's linework is distinctive. His basic humanoid character is all arms and legs, with barely any body. His animals are cartoon versions, which fits the fact that they don't act naturally. Backgrounds help set the scene, but the emphasis is on the situations the characters find themselves in and the dialogue that goes along with the scenes. I really like how Fitzpatrick uses blacks and various shadings that take advantage of using a zip-a-tone style to fill in areas.  Though there are not a lot of intricate details in the lines, that's not the point. There's still a great deal that the art does to help carry the moment. A certain look in a character's mostly blank face or the positioning of an animal to punctuate a joke put the emphasis just where it needs to be.

Everythingness is a fun comic for those who enjoy the quirkier side of minis, like James Kochalka or even some of the earlier Box Brown  material. You might be able to find it at a show or a local store, or you can pick it up directly from Hic & Hoc here.