Drawing on Yourself by Ursula Murray Husted

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Drawing on Yourself
By Ursula Murray Husted
Apocalyptic Tangerine Press

ursulamurrayhusteddrawingon“We’ve all got to grow up, sooner or later.” It’s not too much of a spoiler, I hope, to begin a review with the last words uttered in a book. There’s certainly no big reveal here. In fact, they could easily be the final words in any of number of works in the nebulous coming of age genre.

Drawing on Yourself certainly lives somewhere within those confines—maybe on the outskirts, if only because of its characters’ median age. Of course, as time progresses, the acceptable age at which one attempts to find oneself has steadily increased. Thirty is the new 20, right? Perhaps drifting is the new finding oneself.

What, after all, is graduate school these days, if not a prolonging of the inevitable—not that there isn’t value in extended schooling, but let’s be honest, graduate degrees in the humanities have, in so many cases, become a way for students to figure out precisely what to do with themselves before the walls of reality closed in.

Drawing on Yourself, in a sense, a book about mistakes. Some are more permanent than others—but all ultimately leave there marks and, if we’re lucky, help us grow up. The most literal manifestation of this comes at the very beginning, in an opening that brings to mind that mumblecore pioneer, Funny Ha Ha. Ursula Murray Husted’s lead, Jake—a grad student and a sketched dead ringer for a young Sean Lennon—is getting a tattoo. A koi chosen from an image on the parlor wall.

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Bone: Tall Tales by Jeff Smith and Tom Sniegoski

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Bone: Tall Tales
By Jeff Smith and Tom Sniegoski

jeffsmithbonetalltalescoverAfter 1,332 pages, closing the book on Bone felt a bit like closing the book on an old friend—or, perhaps more appropriately, friends. It’s easy, I suppose, to get attached to characters in a particularly well-written story, but after so long an epic, it was also easy to take for granted that the Bone cousins would be around forever, despite the fact that Jeff Smith had long publicly discussed the book’s finite life.

Smith felt a measureable sense of relief upon completing the epic—redrawing the final page of the cousins riding off into the sunset that he had initially visualized so many years before. And fittingly, he threw himself into non-Bone work—RASL, graphic design for Fantagraphics collections, and a stellar Shazam miniseries for DC.

There were a few further adventures in the Bone universe, including, most notably, the prequel Rose, draw by Charles Vess and written by Smith, which was reissued by Scholastic last year. Entertaining though it was, that book lacked a vital element in the success of the long-running Bone epic—the Bones.

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Blammo #6 by Noah Van Sciver

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Blammo #6
By Noah Van Sciver

noahvansciverblamo6coverWelcome, Noah Van Sciver, to an extremely exclusive club. Ivan Brunetti’s in it. So’s Tony Millionaire, Johnny Ryan, and Nick Gurewitch. Oh, and Ken Dahl, too. It’s a short list indeed. I am sure there are a few more whose names I can’t think of at the moment, but the list of cartoonists capable of honestly making me laugh outloud is rather short indeed.

There is, perhaps, a theme across these works. Something gutteral. A sometimes base sensibility that I just can’t repress, no matter how hard I try. I even, on occasional, feel a bit guilty. I remember, once, reading an Angry Youth Comix collection on a train, eyes dart back and forth to make sure no one saw exactly what was eliciting such explosive, full body laughter.

It’s not that I don’t find other cartoonists funny—I’d like to think that I recognize good humor when confronted with it—it’s just that, frankly, there’s a difference between recognizing that “this is funny” and actually momentarily losing control over one’s composure.

Now, I should state definitively that this newest issue of Blammo doesn’t have the laugh frequency of a, say, Maakies or a Schizo, but that certainly isn’t an entirely negative thing. Sciver really treats his series as a catchall. Ideas are thrown against the wall, and some stick better than other—or, perhaps more appropriate, stick in different ways. The result is a surprisingly diverse collection that is sometimes funny, sometimes surreal, and even, amazingly, sometimes touching.

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Interview: Dan Goldman Pt. 4 [of 4]

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“I’m really in love with comics,” Dan Goldman admits in this final part of our interview. The Red Light Properties is a film school graduate, and while he confesses to visualizing comics in that cinematic manner, he tells me that he’s unlikely to leave the medium any time in the foreseeable future—even as he begins to script out his first go at a prose novel.

[Part One][Part Two][Part Three]

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The Golden Collection of Klassic Krazy Kool Kids Komics Edited by Craig Yoe

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The Golden Collection of Klassic Krazy Kool Kids Komics
Edited by Craig Yoe
Yoe Books

craigyoeklassickoolMo Willems, bless his heart, sums the matter up perfectly in his rather brief intro, “with no one else watching, opportunities abound to stretch, experiment, and just have fun.” I’ve only met Willems once—I moderated a panel at the Brooklyn Book Fair a few years back, featuring him and Kyle Baker, and while the kids’ book author is nothing if not a straight shooter, I can’t really say for sure whether he would take it upon himself to deride the hand that feeds him—certainly he wouldn’t in an intro to a fairly lighthearted collection such as this.  But it seems that such opportunities to “experiment and just have fun” are increasingly fewer and far between in an ever more heavily regulated industry.

There’s certainly something to be said for keeping prurient material out of the hands of youths, but between the increasingly easily offended powers that be and a tendency to “stick with what works,” when it comes to, well, all mass media endeavors, particularly those aimed at younger audience (or so it seems to this, admittedly somewhat casual observer), kids comics largely aren’t what they used to be.

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Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

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By Doug TenNapel

dougtennapelghostopoliscoverThe line between comics for kids and adults is often a fine one, indeed. Perhaps to some degree it’s a side effect of that resilient conceit that comics are meant largely to be consumed by younger readers, but the phenomenon is far more widespread than just the confines of our humble medium. Not too long ago, I spoke to someone in publishing about the surprisingly open exchange of titles between the worlds of mainstream and YA publishing. As books are published beyond the borders in which they were initially conceived, adult titles are often labeled YA and vice versa for their new audience.

There don’t seem to be too many hard and fast rules, so far as the distinction between the two are concerned (though I’m more than happy to be proved wrong by any experts out there with an itchy comment finger), but two parameters do spring to mind. The first and more obvious is the inclusion of “adult” content and language. Graphic sex, drug use, and blue language seem to largely be off limits in text for younger readers. Violence, on the hand, can usually go either way.

The other parameter, while again neither hard nor fast, is the age of the protagonist. Kids, it seems, love to read about kids—at least so far as the creators and presenters of their entertainment are concerned. Save for the occasional exception, like, say, certain horror movies and the work of Harmony Korine, stories with young leads seem to be largely targeted toward young audiences.

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Octopus Pie: There Are No Stars in Brooklyn by Meredith Gran

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Octopus Pie: There Are No Stars in Brooklyn
By Meredith Gran
Villard Books

meredithgranoctopusbrooklyncoverI realized something, sitting here, with a copy of Meredith Gran’s new book in front of me. It’s not exactly earth shattering—not at all, really. In fact, odds are that those who aren’t me will find it, at best, an amusing distraction before diving into the meat of this review. Just to make sure, I tested the hypothesis before sitting down to write anything, plugging the word “likeable” into a search of this site. Two instances written by me, one of which was preceded by the words “not very.”

It’s not as though I have aversion to the word. I like “likeable.” I do. Okay, it’s not a great word, but it’s a sturdy one, certainly. It gets the job done, quickly, neatly, with minimal fuss. I think the issue here is, quite frankly, that I haven’t found too many opportunities to use it. That’s not to say that I don’t have the pleasure of reading plenty of good, great, gripping, poetic, funny, and generally wonderful comics for this site, it’s just that the books—or perhaps more appropriately, the characters who populate them—aren’t “likeable,” in the strictest sense.

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Weathercraft by Jim Woodring

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By Jim Woodring

jimwoodringweathercraftcoverThe last time I spoke Jim Woodring was soon after the inception of this site. The tone was a rather solemn one, despite the fact that the cartoonist was celebrating the release of a new book. There was a good deal (thanks almost certainly to prodding on my part) of lamenting the fact that, after more than a quarter-century, Woodring was still having difficulty making a living as a full-time cartoonist.

He had largely turned instead to paintings and charcoal drawings, the latter of which was the focus of his then newly released volume, Seeing Things. Save for the occasional shorter work, it sounded as though Woodring was set to essentially retire from comics, the latest casualty for a medium that is still not economically viable for the vast majority of its practitioners.

I’d being lying if I suggested that my immediate reaction wasn’t at least a little selfish. Surely a more thoughtful person would have been overwhelmed by empathy for Woodring’s position as a brilliant, yet struggling artist. I, on the other hand, was rather depressed at the prospect of living in a world with no new Frank books. It was clear, after all, that the cartoonist was far from finishing his exploration of the world of his naïve, bucktoothed protagonist.

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Batcave Beach #1 by Aaron Whitaker and Melinda Tracy Boyce

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Batcave Beach #1
by Aaron Whitaker and Melinda Tracy Boyce

batcavebeach-cover-webBatcave Beach #1 begins to tell the very strange story of a boy named Issac.

Issac is just a young guy still attending high school, the eldest son of three otherwise annoying kids and a shy artist whose dad also happens to be an artist.  He likes horror movies and PBR and dinosaurs.  But really, he’s just a boy on the verge of becoming a dude.

On Halloween night while walking home after school, Issac finds an invitation on the ground for a Halloween party.  It’s not addressed to him or anyone he knows.  It’s addressed to a girl he’s never met.

Amazingly, and one would believe uncharacteristically, he decides to crash this party and he does so alone.

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Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird by Tony Millionaire

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Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird
By Tony Millionaire

tonymillionairebillyhazelbirdcoverAs an honest-to-god grownup who spends little to no time with human beings under the age of, say, 18, I can’t claim to have a good fundamental grasp of what it is that children like. Any educated guess I might have on the subject would almost certainly be fully formed by my own tastes as a youth. It’s a subject I’ve given a bit of thought to over the past couple of years, as an ever-growing number of indie cartoonists flirt with the concept of kids books, thanks in no small part to publishers like Graphix and Toon Books and outlets like the now sadly-defunct Nickelodeon Magazine.

The handful of books and movies and TV shows that truly had an impact on my young sensibilities share a few abstract, but important, characteristics. They were strange, thoughtful, and—at least by the standards of children’s entertainment of their era—dangerous. Not dangerous in the sense of necessarily being a poor influence on my developing brain, but rather dangerous in their insistence on pushing the boundaries of what kid-targeted work should do.

All of these decades later, these themes have become important factors in the standards by which I judge kids books. Devoid of some test child by which to run these pieces, I’m also proned to factor in my own enjoyment of the pieces as a jaded adult. Perhaps it’s not the most scientific approach, but let’s face it, we’ve got to work with the tools at our disposal.

And really, any piece of children’s entertainment beyond those early life public television programs that are largely unwatchable for anyone over the age of two not under the influence of some psychotropic substance, ought also appeal to adults, as well, both because they too will often be required to experience said entertainment and because, let’s face it, kids are a lot smarter than we tend to give them credit for. They, to say the least, know when they are being pandered to.

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