Quick Hits: Moreton's Smoo 8, Wes Craig's Black Hand Comics, Lust's Today is the Last Day, and Sacco's Notes from Gaza

Never fear, the Panel Patter team is here with Quick Hits, shifted a day later because of the Linework NW show write-up. No particular theme this week, just some brief thoughts on comics the gang has read recently and wanted to talk about in a paragraph or two.

We'll lead off with Rob Kirby, Quick Hit Enthusiast, and his review of Simon Moreton's Smoo #8...

Smoo #8
Written and Illustrated by Simon Moreton

Since the debut of his minicomic Smoo back in 2008, UK artist Simon Moreton has increasingly pared down his visual style, crafting elegant, semi-abstract line drawings to limn his spare but beguiling autobiographical narratives, the details of which readers are invited to fill in to their satisfaction. This issue is an immersive, pocket-sized tone poem.

The loose storyline is presented chronologically, taking place at various times and locations between September 2013 and September 2014. The settings alternate between pastoral and urban, though the journey depicted is of the emotional/internal variety. "I think I knew what was coming," Moreton narrates at the outset, wandering on the banks of a river, "but somehow it was ok." In the section called "December" Moreton sits at a bar with a girlfriend: "She and I talk and take everything apart (…) we do not put it back together again." The rest of Smoo wanders through post-breakup desolation and liminality, leading up to a quiet epiphany: "The weight of a year lifting."

Minimalist drawing is a lot harder to pull off than it looks. With just a few well-placed lines, shapes and squiggles, Moreton ably captures people, birds, trees, a landscape or city block, evoking instant sense memories: country breezes, the clinking of glasses in a pub, the song of a sidewalk musician's trumpet reverberating on a busy street. It may well set you off to daydreaming. There's even a cool fold-out drawing in the middle of the comic, adding a little extra kick of the unexpected. Wistful and haunting, this is my favorite issue of Smoo to date, and the perfect appetizer to his upcoming paperback, Plans We Made, due out this fall from Grimalkin Press. Available here. (Review by Rob Kirby)

Black Hand Comics
Written and Illustrated by Wes Craig
Published by Image Comics

Anyone who's been reading Deadly Class knows what an amazing illustrator Wes Craig is, structuring panels that are works of art and demand a reader's time and attention. It's no surprise then that working on his own, Craig is every bit as good. This one-man anthology collection of stories by Craig, working with the horror genre (complete with a creepy, bowler hat-wearing narrator), shows off a variety of styles. The first story is short and brutal, and feels most similar in style to what he's doing with Remender. "Circus Day" is in the middle, features color, and has a ton of tight panel work that packs so much information onto each page. Starting from very tight linework, it slowly devolves as the story progresses, making for a great visual narrative trick.

The highlight is the closing story, "The Seed," which finds Craig matching his panels to an increasing rhythm of a demented song--the lyrics chasing the main character across the pages at the bottom of each panel. They're off-kilter, repeat frequently, and often show only part of the action. The result is a brilliant example of pacing and showing the passing of time on a comic page, no easy feat. It really feels like we are racing along through the story as if it were a motion comic.

Full of a nice creepy vibe, this is a wonderful pickup for horror fans or those looking to add more Wes Craig into their comics collection. (Review by Rob McMonigal)

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life
Written and Illustrated by Ulli Lust
Published by Fantagraphics

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life started out as an exercise in skepticism for me -- what could the story of an Austrian punk kid in the early 80s have to teach me, really? Drugs, sleeping
around and panhandling do not sound like my cup of tea. But Ulli Lust quickly and skillfully disabused me of the notion that I could or should judge her experience -- her reportage on her turn as a teenage runaway traipsing across Italy by hitch-hiking, train-scamming and her own two feet was weirdly epic and specific at the same time, with plenty of hiccups, hippies, henchmen and mafioso to guide and mislead her.

Writing with almost three decades of distance from her teenage self, Lust recounts her mistakes clearly, and indicts those who took advantage of her -- especially the legions of Italian men who wanted to (and often did) have unwanted sex with her. But the real power of her story is that, although she realizes that bad things happened on her journey, she is not apologetic or remorseful for what she did or who she was. Though the petit bourgeoise amongst us often seek travel out as transformative and life-changing through things like museums, fine cuisine and spectacular views, Lust’s hard-scrabble way of travel is easily as life-changing and affirming. Sleeping under bleachers in Rome's Villa Borghese park during a rainstorm, hiding out in a burnt-out house by the sea with a tragic artist, meals provided gratis by restaurateurs in Siciliy out of a sense of honor, are as meaningful as soft pillows and comfortable company. Still, Lust isn’t preachy or proud, just the fact of her telling her story with a neutral eye is a profoundly punk thing to do -- the world sucks pretty hard, but that doesn''t mean I have to.

Surprisingly, this 400+ page book was a quick read, and left me wanting more -- Lust is a fascinating character and a skilled writer -- but what happens after you move on from teenage itinerancy? Tell me Ulli, please! (Review by Emilia Packard)

Footnotes in Gaza
Written and Illustrated by Joe Sacco
Published by Metropolitan Books

It is easy to forget, sometimes, that there are parts of the world that have been entangled in war and violence since longer than I have been alive. The way the news media handles this makes it seem even more unreal, as though it is simply a fact, more numbers to add to an ever growing death toll and nothing more. Joe Sacco is a journalist who uses comics to draw his audience into what he is reporting in a way that the BBC never could. He describes his own experiences, showing us what he saw happening, as he saw it. Footnotes in Gaza follows Sacco as he attempts to uncover, in as much objective detail as possible, what happened on the nights of November 3rd and November 12th, 1956, when almost 400 Palestinians were massacred.

The book is difficult to read, describing the events as Sacco heard them – from mouths of survivors and those who lost someone. There are parts that are uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, and occasionally so brutally violent that it is difficult to accept that it actually happened. Yet, what Sacco provides is a sense of empathy, an objective look into the lives of people that Americans so rarely are given the opportunity to understand. This is not the kind of book that you read for enjoyment, it’s the kind of book that you read to become a more empathetic, more knowledgeable person. (Review by Guy Thomas)