KGB Bar Comix Reading 11/30/08

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It was standing room only on Sunday night—or kneeling, rather, as audience members contorted bodies around the projector’s beam cutting through the center of the room. The consensus, it seems, amongst nearly everyone packed into KGB Bar on Manhattan’s East 4th st. was that the bi-annual comics event had finally outgrown its old home amongst the strangely homey décor of Soviet-era Russian memorabilia lining the walls.

Over the years the event has become one of the best-loved in the New York indie comics scene, hosted by Tom Hart twice-yearly—on Easter Sunday and the Sunday following Thanksgiving, the latter of which happily boasts the tagline, ‘Come digest that tryptophan with comix!’

Despite said poultry-induced sluggishness, widespread jetlag, the stormy weather, and the innate desire to spend the bulk  of the weekend on the business end of a treadmill, the turnout seems to perpetual increase, year after year, thanks in no small part to the consistently stellar lineup of comics artists reading their work alongside panels projected large on a bedsheet pulled taut along the front wall of the bar.

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The Man Who Loved Breasts by Robert Goodin

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The Man Who Loved Breasts
By Robert Goodin
Top Shelf

robertgoodinthemanwholovedcoverIt’s hard to be genuinely funny in the comics medium. It’s a truth that countless syndicated strips remind us of on a daily basis. In some ways a certain portion of their failure to amuse can be chalked up to the parameters within which they must operate in order to appease the manner of mainstream audience that comes with widespread syndication.

While a fair argument can be made for the skill of a true comedian’s ability to embrace such constraints, underground cartoonist have tapped into one key truth about humor: sick shit is funny. The perverse, the unspeakable, the social unacceptable—it worked for Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and Bill Hicks, and thanks in no small part to the immediacy of visual stimuli, it’s worked for cartoonists from R. Crumb to Ivan Brunetti.

Let’s not, however, overestimate the importance of the visual in the equation. While plenty of artists know their way around a nice piece of graphically suggestive imagery, that skill alone does not a funny cartoonist make. As lowbrow as the work of, say, Kaz or Johnny Ryan can appear, there’s an oft unappreciated level of craftsmanship required in the execution of a truly laugh-out-loud piece of sequential art.
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Fishtown by Kevin Colden

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By Kevin Colden

kevincoldenfishtowncoverWhen I first reviewed Fishtown, back in January, the artist was using Act-i-vate to publish a page a week of the book, which is based on a true story and follows four Philadelphia teens who brutally murder and rob their friend Jesse (the character’s name in the book). Now Fishtown is out in hardcover, courtesy of IDW, which means that readers can take in the rest of what began as an emotionally charged, upsetting, and incredibly well executed comic.

In the latter part of the book, Colden maintains the same narrative distance with which he starts. He reserves passing judgment on the kids, focusing instead on fleshing out the characters and approaching the tale as something of a question or a puzzle. This feat is particularly impressive given that this section of the book includes a reenactment of the murder. Colden’s drawings–whether they show the run-down Philly neighborhood of Fishtown all in inky yellow and blue and black or the horrifying scene of Jason’s slain body, stained in pink blood–are haunting. But the most affecting panels are the ones depicting the four teens—Adrian, Keith, Justin, and Angelica—committing the act of murder.

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Interview: Andy Runton

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The recent much welcome resurgence of comics for kids has, for better of worse, largely been based around the reappropriation of existing franchises. On a whole, the books have been focused on expanding the exposure of characters developed for other mediums, rather than the development of all new ones.

The clearest exception to this rule has arguably been Andy Runton’s Owly. The artist describes his little owl as ‘iconic’—not so much to overstate his market saturation, but rather to point out his instant recognizability. Spotting Runton seated at the Top Shelf booth during a convention, it’s hard to argue the point.

The artist is surround not only by Owly t-shirts and stuffed animals—something of a strange sight amongst the publisher’s usual selection of goods—there’s also a constant stream of young children and parents waiting to shake his hand or receive a drawing of Runton’s little owl in the front cover of his latest adventure.

We caught up with Runton to discuss cartoon spinoffs, ninjas, and how his career as a computer programmer lead to the creation of indie comics’ most famous little owl.
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Interview: Charles Burns Pt. 3 [of 3]

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Common themes, of course, can be recognized across the backcatalog of any established artist. In some ways, however, such signposts feel all the more prominent in Charles Burns’ work. The artist has maintained a powerful sense of stylistic consistency across his output—both in terms of his approach to aesthetics and storytelling—that lesser artist find difficult to maintain over the course of a single story.

In this third and final part of our interview with Burns, we discuss the influences—both conscious and otherwise—on his singular artistic vision and how they influenced both his most famous book, Black Hole, and his more recent venture into the world of film, Peur(s) du Noir—a dark and haunting work that fits in perfectly alongside his better-known work.

[Part One][Part Two]

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Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by Derf

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Punk Rock and Trailer Parks
By Derf
Slave Labor Graphics

derfpunkrockcoverThere are some exceptions, to be sure—Gary Panter, Jamie Helwitt, and Ben Snakepit come immediately to mind—but on a whole, the lack of prominent punk comics seems a bit surprising given the similar and oft-overlapping nature of the two counter-cultures. Punk has surely had a large impact on the comics world, both in terms of aesthetic and the DIY ethos that has inspired the parallel worlds of the fanzine and mini-comic, but an outright embrace of the culture in the sequential medium has rarely been quite so forthright as one might expect.

For the record, Punk Rock and Trailer Parks is not likely to usher in some sea change on this matter—nor is destined to be celebrated as the definitive chronicle of a cultural movement. Such grand ambitions, however, seem to be the furthest thing from Derf’s mind. The artist has seemingly no desire to pen the graphic novel equivalent to Suburbia or Rude Boy, and while the plot is ostensibly that of a coming-of-age story played out with the backdrop of punk’s first wave, Derf’s book lacks the manner of earnest drama and self-pity of the aforementioned examples. It’s this refusal to take itself too seriously that ultimately proves Punk Rock and Trailer Parks’ biggest selling point.

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Interview: Sarah Oleksyk

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A woman working at an all-night copy shop becomes emotionally involved with one of her customers and discovers he’s a heroin addict. Graveyard is Sarah Oleksyk’s comics narrative that made it into the hands of Lynda Barry. “It was very difficult for me to write,” she says. Sarah Oleksyk draws her stories into highly-structured pages that she meticulously renders with brush and ink. “And I wasn’t proud of the artwork,” Oleksyk confides. “But it’s the story that has gone the farthest, so I just have to learn to love it.”

Lynda Barry is a fan of the hard-to-love misfits, and Oleksyk loves her work. “She writes about the emotional realm.” Oleksyk agrees that her own work also centers on a character’s reaction to situations. “The books I get attached to are always character driven. I have to care about the character.”

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Interview: Charles Burns Pt. 2 [of 3]

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At its best, Peur(s) du noir is arguably one of the scariest films you’ll have the opportunity to see in theaters this year. The film, a collection of black and white animated shorts brought together by French producers Valérie Schermann and Christophe Jankovic, doesn’t embrace the ultra-violence and gore of the vast majority of movies than come through your local Cineplex. Rather, like the most compelling horror films, the animated segments confront the psychological, revolving, in some form or another, around the titular fear.

The film is a perfect vehicle for Charles Burns’s art. It’s quietly creepy, exploring themes or youth and fear of the body, all while retaining the artist’s iconic aesthetic in a manner that likely would have proven nearly impossible with more traditional animation, all of which no doubt owes a good deal to the fact that Burns played the role of both writer and director of his piece.

Burns’s segment, however, while successful, gives rise to some familiar questions about film adaptations of graphic novels, specifically the upcoming film version of the artist’s magnum opus, Black Hole. In this second part of our interview with the artist, we discuss the project for which Burns has largely opted to remain hands-off.

[Part One]

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Guest Strip: Harvey Pekar and Alison Bechdel

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pekartitansThe Avengers. The Justice League. Superman vs. Muhammad Ali—the comics world has never been a stranger to the team-up. In fact, if anything, the medium has long thrived upon it, offering an easy forum for the manner of fantasy crossovers and cameos that would prove otherwise impossible in nearly an other format.

For his part, American Splendor’s Harvey Pekar has based the better part of his career upon team-ups with some of the medium’s most prominent luminaries, from his early work with Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, and Frank Stack, to more contemporary piecea that have seen him penning scripts for the likes of Chester Brown, Gilbert Hernandez, and Dean Haspiel (a handful of whom can be found in the recently released University of Mississippi paperback, Harvey Pekar: Conversations).

That Pekar should eventually cross paths with Alison Bechdel seems like a no-brainer. Author of the long-running strip Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel’s 2006 graphic novel Fun Home was quickly recognized as one of the finest examples of the auto-bio comic–a genre which, while not invented by Pekar, was arguably perfected in the pages of American Splendor. Critics were quick to shower Bechdel’s brutally honest memoir with all manner of praise, awarding the book a Eisner, placing it amongst the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and naming it Time Magazine’s book of the year.

Earlier this year, Bechdel and Pekar embarked on a reading tour—”Titans of the Graphic Novel.” A slightly tongue-in-cheek name, perhaps, but certainly one with strains of the medium’s most celebrated costumed team-ups.

As any red blooded comics fan can tell you, no great team-up is complete without an equally compelling origin story. In the lead up to their national tour, Bechdel and Pekar collaborated on a strip that explained genesis of the somewhat absurd moniker that graced the posters advertising their upcoming joint appearances. The one-pager was used to help the artists book appearances for the tour.

Thankfully, Bechdel and Pekar have both kindly agreed to let us reprint the strip on The Daily Cross Hatch. Check out “Twilight of the Titans” in all of its glory after the jump.


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The Daily Cross Hatch Presents: Comic Book Club 11/18/08

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Hey all, I’ve extremely excited to announce that we’ve been tapped by our pals at the People’s Improv Theater to curate Comic Book Club. Next Tuesday I’ll be joining the show’s hosts, Alex, Pete and Justin, alongside Cross Hatch favorites Tom Hart, Sarah Glidden, and John Kerschbaum.

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