G A N Z E E R . R E V I E W S

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP isn't a great novel, but it is layered and complex enough to be intriguing. The movie does what most movie adaptations tend to do; it takes the main plot engine and focuses on that as the story, wherein the novel uses the plot engine to explore a number of themes that Dick visits in his other works. It's not that he's “out of fresh ideas” or whatever, it's more like... he's trying to get at something, and with each of his works you can sense him getting closer to the thing but failing to uncover it entirely which seems to be a major driving force behind the next work, and so on. A very integral part of the book that is completely absent from the movie for example, is the presence of a kind of deity that people tap into through what they call an Empathy Box. Animals, rendered rare due to mass extinction, and their artificial counterparts are brought up time and time again and seems to be an obsession of the protagonist, Deckard. My favorite bit might've been when for a moment Deckard is almost tricked to believing his entire existence might be a sham. So many layers that are completely absent from the film, but then again are merely scratched by Dick without much substantial depth. In the end, not the best of novels but with enough thought to keep one contemplating some.

VALIS has sat idly on my shelf for something like seven years after a couple of failed attempts, something I may finally remedy in the new year.

There's a short story I'm supposed to write which I'm also hoping to get to in the new year (there's enough time). The story and plot are already pinned down, but I haven't been in the right “headspace” to do any actual writing yet. I know people who differentiate between different “creative muscles” very starkly. Various creative work to me can be narrowed down to the difference between tidying and cleaning. Tidying requires more thought behind it, more creative solutions, while cleaning is comprised primarily of action. Tidying still requires action; nothing will get tidied if you just sit there and think about it, but the action needs a relatively considerable amount of thinking behind it.

Writing to me is like tidying, while drawing is very much like cleaning. It demands a hell-ton of doing, and I've been on a rather tedious cleaning spree for a time now, that it isn't so easy to start tidying. Even if that is what is very much needed right now.

Live podcast sesh with Afikra in three days. Anyone can RSVP, attend, and potentially participate in the Q&A that follows.

#review #reads #journal

by Todd Hignite o-o-o-c

I'm of two very contradictory minds when it comes to this one. On one hand, it's a very important survey of America's most celebrated alternative cartoonists, and on the other hand it's kind of disappointing. Feelings of disappointment may pertain to me and me alone and may not in any way be objective in relation to the book's content at all. It probably has much to do with my expectations going into the book, expectations that manifested on the basis of the book's title (“In the Studio”). Was I wrong to expect at least a peek into these cartoonists' workspaces? Was I wrong to expect copious amounts of craft talk and process stuff? We end up getting neither, hence the severe feelings of disappointment I cannot seem to shake off. With that being said, we do get into the cartoonists' heads quite a bit, along with a looksee at upbringing and early influences, both of which I find wholly insightful. Hense, the book's importance. (please excuse the shit lighting on these pix)

The cartoonists in question are: Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, Charles Burns, Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Seth, Chris Ware, and Ivan Brunetti. So really, a who's who of the creme de la creme of working alternative cartoonists. If you know these artists' work well though, chances are none of the work by them featured and discussed in this here tome will offer any new insight. What this book does really well though is showcase all the material they cite as influences and allow them to talk about it at length, which very few interviews get to do. I've always been keen to look at the work that influenced my influences, so that aspect of the book I find to be wholly invaluable. Crumb talks at length about obscure working-class satire magazines dating back to the 1800s, along with early MAD and Carl Barks' Donald Duck comics and Thomas Nast's work for Harper Weekly. When you see his own work laid out next to those works, it really does begin to look like a natural mélange of the stuff. Spiegelman cites old Sunday strips, Harvey Kurtzman, art nouvea, Otto Nuckel's “picture novel” from the 1930's, and uncovering “weird” comic books like Fletcher Hanks' STARDUST. And it's like this for every cartoonist's profile, with pictured samples from all their influences (although sometimes the images can be quite small), so again: a truly invaluable survey in that particular regard.

But I'm still aghast that a book titled “in the studio” wouldn't include a single studio shot pertaining to any of the featured cartoonists. And virtually nothing whatsoever on their preferred tools and approach to making the stuff they make. Even when they do actually talk about the stuff they make, it's about theme and general circumstances and the stuff you might find in any interview surrounding the work but nothing whatsoever on the process of actually making it. Where exactly is the studio aspect of “in the studio”? Despite how invaluable the book is for other reasons, I still feel cheated. Had it been called “Conversations with Contemporary Cartoonists” or some such, I likely would've expected exactly what I got and been completely satisfied with it.


#prose #comix

by Roger Christian o-o-c

The fact that you have to explain yourself for attempting to watch, read, or look at something is truly indicative of a peculiarly stupid aspect of the human condition, and yet here I am about to explain myself.

Let me start by saying: Ayn Rand. I only ever heard of her through one of Adam Curtis' video essay things (probably ALL WATCHED OVER BY MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE) and only then did I discover she was apparently a big deal with multiple generations worth of resounding influence despite some clearly problematic aspects in her philosophy/worldview. It was then that I decided to watch a never-talked-about 1949 film adaptation of her novel THE FOUNTAINHEAD, which made visible a distillation of what you might call the strange attractor element in Rand's outlook, along with the nasty which she surprisingly didn't see as nasty (included in the film is a rape scene perpetrated by its righteous protagonist wherein the victim actually likes it). For the longest time I wondered how Rand could maintain a following after that, but then again of course she did! Because a philosophy (if we can call it that) based in misogyny will always be attractive to those who think themselves intellectuals while also maintaining misogynistic leanings (yeah, yeah, roleplaying rape and other sexually depraved kinks is different because y'know what comes part and parcel with roleplay? Consent.). I have since been interested in reading Ayn Rand fully knowing that I would disagree with much of her writing. The basis of this interest I think is the following: 1) To study how one might base a work of fiction on their own personal philosophy. 2) To better understand the “strange attractor” aspects of said philosophy. 3) To make clear “the nasty” aspects of said philosophy to make the basis of “villainy” in own future work.

Having said that, fast forward 10+ years later and I have yet to read a single word penned by Rand because it's especially hard to carve out the time to read something you already know you're not that into when you have a to-read pile the length of the Earth's circumference comprised of works you genuinely want to read.

This same sentiment I harbored for BATTLEFIELD EARTH probably since it came out. Why watch a knowingly bad movie when there are so many good ones out there? This logic becomes a tad contradictory though knowing that I have in the past made the time to watch other knowingly bad movies. You know the ones I'm talking about: the infamous THE ROOM, THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD (otherwise known as “Turkish Star Wars”), and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE to name but a few. But of course these are the “acceptable” bad movies, the ones that have made the lists that people seek out to watch with the same mentality of going to watch a comedy despite these films not being filmed as comedies. Given that no one has dared put BATTLEFIELD EARTH on a must-watch bad-film list, then of course not even the bad film aficionados are interested in checking this “famously bad” film out. See, you live long enough and one of the most disappointing things you discover about the human race is: Even the mavericks are conformists. Just a different type of conformist is all.

So anyway, I finally took the plunge and watched the damn thing, and guess what? IT'S ACTUALLY NOT ALL THAT BAD!!

I mean, don't get me wrong, it is not by any stretch of the imagination a good movie, but it really isn't as bad as I expected it to be. But maybe that's part of it: expectation. If I were to go see it with the expectation of watching a good movie, my reaction would have likely been very different. But my expectations as you might imagine were really fucking low. In regards to the movie's plot, I wouldn't consider it any more mediocre than any of the [absolutely deplorable] Marvel movies that've come out in past decade. In fact, from a story standpoint alone, I would place BATTLEFIELD EARTH a hair or two higher than any of the Marvel gunk, if for no other reason than it providing some form of commentary beyond the overblown concerns entirely confined within the negligible soap operatic constructs of the fictional world within which its characters inhabit. Thematically, it has quite a bit in common with something like, say, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU albeit with an approach to execution that is far from commendable. The special effects are a fucking joke, but no more a joke than any 80's-era sci-fi B-movie, or heck even classic STAR TREK for that matter. As far as the film's dreaded ties to scientology, I was disappointed in not really finding much if any! I was expecting the villainous Psychlos to be exaggerated stand-ins for psychologists based solely on the name and scientology's long-standing feud with the field, but they in fact talk and behave like greedy capitalists more than anything. I gotta say, I love John Travolta's Psychlo. He was clearly having a ton of fun embracing all the B-movie trappings of his character, and I found him to be joyously hilarious. From a character design standpoint however, I'm not so sure about the standard sci-fi bad guy approach (monstrous, bad skin, bad teeth, etc.). Given the type of real world person they're parodying, I think a futuristic imagining albeit alien version of the very slick, extremely polished good-looking CEO-type would've gone a long, long way. But without redoing anything, you could probably salvage a pretty decent film out of what's already been shot. Perhaps with some re-editing and updated special effects. But if a revisit were ever on the horizon, an entirely fresh remake would be much better, not unlike what went down with DUNE. In fact, aesthetically speaking, much of BATTLEFIELD EARTH did bring me back to some bits in David Lynch's DUNE.

Or don't revisit this shit, I couldn't care less. But truth be told, there is enough of a “strange attractor” in the material to check it out. And it could totally be on a so-bad-it's-funny list!

[Buy] [Stream]


by Michael Mann o-o-o-o-o

“No, I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.”

Only Tom Cruise can deliver that line and make you believe he believes it.

Absolutely no one is waiting on a review of this almost 20-year old film from me. Far more accomplished and knowledgeable people than myself have written about it extensively in the decades since the movie's release. There is no gap that needs filling, and thus writing this (and whipping up my own take on the poster no less) is absolutely frivolous. But after rewatching this marvelous picture for the first time since it was first released, I really wanted to log my great love and admiration of it. I'ma keep it concise and snappy though, because like I said, no one needs this. As far as I'm concerned, it scores highest in the performance and cinematography departments. The performances especially are just really damn good. Tom Cruis' personification of a logical psychopath is perfect and eerily believable. For whatever reason Cruise has opted to spend the second half of his career donning the role of the unbeatable action hero, a stark contrast to the genuine character acting he did earlier in his career (Rain Man, Magnolia, The Firm, A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire, Eyes Wide Shut, etc.). COLLATERAL allows him to combine a fair degree of both these sides into a single role, in addition to playing a villain, a role I don't think Cruise has ever played before. Granted, it is very rare to come across a villain written so compellingly, something I'm sure Cruise must've taken note of. Jamie Foxx does an exemplar job of playing the downtrodden everyman. Easily the best I've seen him embody (I did not for a second find him believable in DJANGO UNCHAINED). There's one scene he shares with a young Javier Bardem (YOUNG JAVIER BARDEM!) where he goes against his character, and has to pretend to be badass, but you know he's going against his nature and you feel an immense degree of tension despite them not giving away Foxx's reluctance in any overtly cartoonish way. Seriously, all the performances in this thing is amazing. When Foxx's and Jada Pinkett Smith's character flirt in his cab, it is so real and so sincere you cannot help but blush for the both of them. Even Mark fucking Ruffalo playing the cop hot on the killer's trail is actually believable. Ruffalo usually comes off as the exact same person no matter what role he plays. Not in Michael Mann's COLLATERAL! How Michael Mann was able to get such stellar performances out of literally every single person who appears in this movie is truly a sight to behold. And that of course is besides getting into the camera work and soundtrack and editing. For a movie that takes place entirely at night (a single night actually), it's gorgeously (and believably!) lit. Really well written script. Every single word uttered by every single character is the stuff worthy of a stage play (come to think of it, it would make a glorious piece of theater). The plot, if we're being honest, is kind of dumb as fuck, but with the excellent script treatment it's given, along with the fantastic performance and gorgeous cinematography, it is magically elevated to a work of art.

[Buy] [Stream]


Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons o-o-o-o-c

Rotterdam, 2008 — I was an artist-in-residence at Stichting B.a.d, where one of the residents and founding members was also a reader of comicbooks. Taking note of my interest in the form, the fellow showed up one day with what he said was his favorite graphic novel of all time. It was credited to Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons on the cover, both names I instantly recognized, but the title was one I'd never heard of: GIVE ME LIBERTY. Despite much being written about both authors and their oeuvre, this one seems to have slipped through the cracks somehow. At least as far as my reading pertained. Upon reading it, I really couldn't understand why this work wasn't at the very top of reading lists everywhere alongside works like WATCHMEN and [the very overrated] DARK KNIGHT RETURNS because right then and there it probably made it somewhere in my top five list (I'm really bad at ranking). I recently decided to give it a reread and was thoroughly surprised how influential it's been on me from that one initial read alone. So much so that I could see how it might've insidiously informed some of the DNA that went into my own THE SOLAR GRID. But personal influence aside, I would regard GIVE ME LIBERTY to be the absolute finest writing by Frank Miller, with the work of Gibbons being right up there with his work on WATCHMEN if not a hair or two better even (only because it's really hard to top). And I say better because Gibbons is able to do some wonderful things with page layouts in relation to storytelling that he couldn't at all do within the confines of WATCHMEN's nine-panel-grid. Which of course was essential to WATCHMEN's narrative, and which indeed Gibbons was able to make sing in ways no one can, but reading GIVE ME LIBERTY makes it clear that Gibbons might've been somewhat shackled by the grid (who wouldn't?). He really goes all out with pages that are as beautiful as they are effective.

The book is divided into four parts in a format not so dissimilar from Dark Knight Returns. If ever there was a thinly veiled critique of Reaganomics in comix form, Part 1: Homes & Gardens would most certainly fit the bill. It kicks off with the birth of Martha Washington in “The Green”, an enclosed lower income housing facility that is akin to a city within a city, somewhat along the lines of Kowloon Walled City or the Jewish ghettos orchestrated by Nazi Germany. In fact, the latter example is more apt given that The Green is heavily guarded and enclosed by barbed wire. President Rexall is voted into office for the first time a year later and the nation gradually slips into fascist dictatorship over the course of the next 13 years. Yes, you read that right, 13 years because Rexall manages to repeal the 22nd Amendment. This is communicated in one of the most efficient strokes I've ever seen utilized in graphic storytelling.

Ever since WATCHMEN introduced the use of non-comix worldbuilding backmatter in 1986, we've seen this sort of thing pop up in other works from time to time (THE SURROGATES by Venditti and Weldele published as late as 2006 comes to mind) but GIVE ME LIBERTY may just be the first to have that sort of thing sprinkled throughout the narrative rather than exclusively at the very end. This gives its impact an entirely different effect, because the timing of the information introduced by this stuff in the relation to the usual comix narrative makes all the difference in the world. I honestly thought I was being new and inventive by doing the same in the pages of THE SOLAR GRID, having entirely forgotten that I'd seen it done before! Like I said, GIVE ME LIBERTY is so clearly baked into the DNA of my work in ways that are even surprising to me.

Martha eventually manages to make it out of The Green and join P.A.X. (The Peace Force for America) shortly after which is one of the most viscerally intense war scenes I've ever seen depicted in a comicbook. When Martha's sent out to join the front lines in Brazil for the first time. Holy shit. She's just dropped in the middle of the action with very little prep or explanation and its page after page of utter fuckery and confusion. Really intense shit.

Part 1 ends with the implication that Martha is due to become a decorated war hero, but not before playing ball with some very nasty people. Goodness, what a way to end, and talk about a transformative character arc in a mere 48 pages!

And if that weren't enough of a transformation, Part 2, titled Travel & Entertainment, takes Martha on a mission to outer fucking space! Now Miller's work almost always has a problematic edge to it: excessive machismo, blatant sexism, and what might be considered arguments in favor of fascist measures. What makes GIVE ME LIBERTY different though (and what made it shocking to me when Miller came out against Occupy Wallstreet with seething rage), is that it is one of the most obviously left leaning, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, pro-environment works I've ever read. Except for the baddies Martha is off to face in space: The Aryan Thrust; a gay Nazi group who take over a penis-shaped space laser and point it directly at the White House. Gay Nazi group, Frank? Really? And how Gibbons can allow himself to draw this shit and put it out in the world is also beyond me.

That bit aside, Part 2: Travel and Entertainment is as thrilling and nerve-wracking as Part 1. I'm deliberately leaving many details out to avoid ruining it for future readers, but the thing that cannot go unmentioned is the involvement of the Apache Nation at some point, who look to have been screwed over yet again by the U.S. government. A situation arises that has Martha making frenemies with some of its members.

Gay Nazi villains aside, this thing is filled with powerful sociopolitical commentary almost completely absent from most American action comics. Not just then, but even to this day.

Part 3: Health & Welfare is completely off the rails insane. The Surgeon General is a madman with a hygiene fixation and independent military force situated in the Pacific Northwest. Martha Washington, blinded and a little messed in the head, is in the Surgeon General's custody and having her entire memory wiped out. The United States falls apart with rebel groups forming left and right, White House obliterated, and most states secede from the union. Everything goes batshit crazy and the stakes are higher than ever.

Must avoid saying much about Part 4, titled Death and Taxes, because it does constitute the grand finale wherein every other page would contain a spoiler of some kind, but I will say that Martha's memory is retrieved, and she's got a whole lot of weight on her shoulders if she's going to save herself and subsequently the entire country really. By the end of Part 4, Martha's character arc makes the astounding arc of Part 1 seem negligible at best. The entire experience of reading GIVE ME LIBERTY is one of thrill and excitement, but it's the beautifully tied ending that really brings the ride to a smooth landing, and makes it clear that what you've just read is one of the most meaningful and inspiring works of literature (graphic or otherwise) that you've ever read, presented in the guise of a mean-ass balls-to-the-walls action piece. And if nothing else, it is certainly the very best work of either Frank Miller's or Dave Gibbons' entire career. There, I said it. The very best.

Must read.



Dave McKean o-o-c

No. But before I get into the whys and how-comes, perhaps it best if I address all the yeses.

It is certainly beautiful work. My favorite of McKean's comix work, even more so than Black Orchid or Arkham Asylum, both of which are very impressive. But rather than the hyper realistic, excessively referenced approach he utilized on those two, McKean opts for something rather whimsical in CAGES. I have no doubt that McKean leaned on much reference throughout but he isn't so concerned with sticking to it so closely here. His figures often stretch and move in peculiar ways and his faces contort rather creepishly. Scratchy ink lines almost etch through the paper and vary in weight from ultra thin to big and blotchy in happenstance. It's as if McKean decided to relinquish as much control as possible to ink, nib, and the laws of physics and it's gorgeous. No straight line is ever truly straight, so you end up with a 470+ page graphic novel that is charged with much of the same raw energy typically only found in artist sketchbooks. There are a handful of sequences where McKean experiments with photography and painting and they're quite interesting, but it's really the expressive line art of the drawing that constitutes the majority of the book that really does it for me. Especially because it's so hard to come by (His spot illustrations in Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK being another one of such exceptions).

The other great thing about CAGES is seeing McKean flex and even indulge in the storytelling department. Multiple sequences of straight up talking heads, and even a couple sequences with a single talking head, sometimes going on for pages on end. Not only does he utilize them, but he's able to make them sing. A facet of what he does with facial expressions and the speech itself. Speaking of speech, McKean's lettering is sublime! Far more expressive and idiosyncratic than you'll see in most comicbooks and yet totally legible. Very much part and parcel of the lineart itself.

Because the story features an artist, there are a couple of art-making sequences that I very much enjoyed, and a couple poetic jazz club sequences, and story-within-a-story type things. Oh and a very beautiful love-making sequence. All in all, it's gorgeous stuff. But—here it comes—to what end? I'm not really sure.

I'm not sure anyone's really sure. I'm not even sure McKean's really sure. And y'know, that can be fine. Art-as-exploration can be more than fine. It can lead to revelatory things a lot of the time, but this is not one of those cases. It just ends up being a largely incoherent mess of loose threads that inevitably falls flat. At least it did for me.

Another pet peeve of mine is the object itself. Since the version I experienced is the oversized hardback edition by Kitchen Sink Press, that is the particular edition I'm reviewing here, the physicality of which certainly affects the experience. Extra thick coated paper is a big minus, at an enlarged size of 9”x11.5” in hardback makes the book a damn chore to handle and subsequently read. I'd opt for scooping up the floppies instead. And if books are your jam, getting those floppies custom bound. But hey, that's just me.



Daniel Clowes o-o-o-o-o

PATIENCE seems to be the one work by Daniel Clowes to have flown under the radar in a way. Aside from the initial burst of write-ups that tend to accompany any accomplished author in the midst of a book release publicity tour, I haven't really seen PATIENCE mentioned much since. And that was back in 2016. This may be due to the staggering achievement of many of Daniel Clowes' previous works, chief among which might be GHOST WORLD. In fact, it is my understanding that GHOST WORLD has steadily been Fantagraphics' best seller since its initial publication in 1995. And while that as well as many of Clowes' other works I also hold in very high regard, I might go as far as proclaim PATIENCE to be Clowes' best work yet.

What we have on our hands here is a master cartoonist at the height of his illustrative craft basically flexing in the storytelling department. He may have proved this already with the Academy Award he scored for his screenplay adaptation of GHOST WORLD, but PATIENCE is just so much more impeccable. The thing about the work of cartoonists is that, typically speaking, it's very difficult to examine a story with little regard to the illustration. They very much go hand in hand, and you can almost always see the story's development as an integral part of the drawing/cartooning process in a way. And while that very much applies to PATIENCE, the caliber of story-weaving is just so good that I could easily enjoy the unfolding of this exact same story in prose form.

The story involves time travel, which is very hard to do anything new with after the likes of movies like BACK TO THE FUTURE and TERMINATOR. Clowes miraculously manages to break fresh new ground in that arena, proving that there is still new territory to conquer there, while paradoxically creating yet another height of achievement in that arena that will make it very hard to top. Clowes plays it straight the entire time. Sure, there are moments of dark Clowesian humor sprinkled throughout, but unlike much of Clowes' bibliography, this isn't a work of satire. In fact, I found myself saying “oh fuck”, “ooooh fuck” out loud many a time over the course of the book.

Generally speaking, I'm not much of a fan of narration in comix. I find that it's a bit of a cheat in that it allows you to tell the story in an expedited fashion through much textual exposition while avoiding to visually depict much of the story. PATIENCE is filled with narration, filled with it! But Clowes only utilizes it to really get into the characters' psyches, and he does it so masterfully that you—as a reader—will indeed find yourself embodying these persons in the way only the best novel tends to do. In fact, he does a really interesting thing where the narration kind of flows independent of the actions taking place in the panels they're associated with, so what you're reading textually operates on a plane that is quite different from what you're reading pictorially. It's a very impressive use of the medium.

PATIENCE is a page-turner, one that impresses both visually as well as conceptually. It'll have you glued in place from beginning to end; an end which ties the entire experience in a most beautiful bow. Instantly one of my top 5 favorite graphic novels of all time.



Deena Mohamed o-o-o-o-o

Describing it as an atomic bomb wouldn’t be quite right, because it’s far more insidious. It’s more of an inconspicuous feather, carried by the winds until it finally lands ever so softly only to cause a ripple effect of mass destruction and hysteria. Of course describing this doorstop of a book as a feather might seem out of place. At over 500 pages it is a beast of a thing, the sight of which would strike fear and envy into the heart of even the most accomplished cartoonist. The only lightweight aspect of this impressive tome is that of Deena's touch, daft and never heavy-handed.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. What exactly is SHUBEIK LUBEIK? It is, in fact, a trilogy, forthcoming for the first time in English (read from right-to-left tho, like Manga) in a singular handsome package from Pantheon. Many might find themselves surprised to see this “debut” by a completely “unknown cartoonist” so massive and more importantly so fully-formed right out the gate, but that's only because they would be ignorant as to Deena Mohamed's track record, who released the first SHUBEIK LUBEIK in Egypt as far back as 2018, and has been steadily racking up awards since. And prior to that she spent the better part of a decade cutting her teeth on some very acclaimed webcomix.

But I guess that says more about Deena than it does about SHUBEIK LUBEIK. What exactly is SHUBEIK LUBEIK about already?!

The thing is, if I were to tell you Genies and wish-making, I wouldn't be lying, but I would not in any way be doing this masterpiece justice. And that is exactly what makes this book (or this collected trilogy of books) so masterful, really. In that it is a masterclass in subversion, in gently luring the reader in with beloved singsong only to expertly smack them up the head with a solid oak bat! Which is why I'm reluctant to give too much away. I'd really love for readers to experience this the same way I did: knowing only that it's about genies and wish-making. But I know that's not much of a selling point, so I'll say this: Magical Realism.

That's really how Deena does it. She takes the fantastical concept of wish-making, and grounds it in the trappings of our reality. In this way, wishes are essentially a commodity, another consumer good of varying quality depending on where and how it is produced. The better the quality of the wish, the more expensive it is, and thus not necessarily easily within reach. How can a wish ever be of mediocre quality, you ask? Well, you might get what you wish for, but with absolutely harrowing consequences. And I'll leave it at that. But through this conceit, Deena is able to build a very believable world where wish-granting exists and within this world, Deena is able to explore politics, class dynamics, colonialism, depression, gender identity, laws and regulations, and so much more, all while following a narrow set of characters who by the end one cannot help but feel are very real actual friends. And to be able to do all this while brimming so effortlessly with humor throughout? Near impossible. This is the kind of story someone like Neil Gaiman can only dream of telling (and I say this with love, because I love Gaiman's storytelling), told through the expert language of cartooning that only the likes of Spiegelman, Clowes, and Bryan Lee O'Malley have perfected. In fact, I might place Deena's approach squarely at the crossroads between those three cartoonists, although she is very much her own thing (not to mention what a sight it is to see an artist's craft grow so beautifully from the beginning of a book to its end).

This right here represents the holy grail of comix-making and I cannot recommend it enough. Pantheon is certainly lucky for signing Deena up. SHUBEIK LUBEIK is an essential addition to any library concerned with the highest caliber of graphic literature.

[Pre-order] (Hardcover only)

(All images are from an uncorrected advanced reader's copy.) #comix

Martin Booth o-o-o-o

Crabapple sent me this one after a conversation over cocktails in Brooklyn back in the summer, during which Crowley’s name was brought up. Neither of us are Crowleyites (I think) but we both have varying degrees of interest in the occult. My curiosity is a bit more recent, largely ignited by three bits of information:

  1. Modern Art had its beginnings in the occult (which—unbeknownst to the public—kinda makes modern art museums de facto temples of the occult).

  2. Most modern occult movements seem to have been triggered by the European rediscovery of Ancient Egypt (see Napoleon’s Sorcerers and Margaret Murray).

  3. Alan Moore.

Any interest I might’ve had in Crowley in particular though was largely based on what very little I knew of him; the things that make their way to you without any active research you might embark on on your own. Namely, that he was an occultist who amassed a large following after his death due largely to his efforts in self-publishing. Or so I thought. Reading this book brings every dark crevice of this wicked man’s life to light, and… it ain’t pretty. That isn't to say that the book is a negative look at Crowley. In fact, it's incredibly balanced, to the point where you might find yourself baffled by the author's ability not to comment on some of most outrageous bits in this chronicle. Those are the parts I like the most to be honest, because when the author does offer his own take on something, it can often be quite flawed. One example is when Crowley had a less than favorable opinion about the Statue of Liberty's location of New York when it was originally conceived for the Suez Canal, to which Martin Booth claims Crowley must've been misinformed. Why Booth is unaware of what is arguably common knowledge is rather surprising to me. And with that one must take caution in the passages where Booth imparts his own knowledge of history independent of Crowley. But otherwise, Booth chronicles Crowley's life from the moment of birth until death in such a masterfully exciting way, you'll find yourself glued to the book and burning through its pages with ferocious speed. It helps of course that Crowley's life was a fascinating one to say the least. It's certainly difficult to like him after reading this, so much that I question how on Earth he can possibly have a following at all. But as unlikeable as he is, there can be no dispute that his life was rather enthralling, dotted by one shitty choice after the next. There are aspects to him that I'm sure any maverick might find appealing (hello, Crabapple), like his disdain for societal norms and his inclination to oppose the culture at large at every possible opportunity. One of the bits I found most fascinating was Crowley's attempt at establishing a commune in Sicily. With someone of Crowley's incredibly poor decision-making skills at the helm, the experiment failed in every terrible way possible. But this still—along with many other aspects of Crowley's life—pits him as a leading predecessor to the counter-cultural movement that would take root in America some 40 years later! Had the details of his experiment been brought to light sooner on a mass popular scale, the utopia-seekers of the 1960's might've been able to finetune their methods and avoid making the exact same mistakes. Crowley was in fact ahead of his time in more way than one it seems, but they all seem to have filtered through the cognitive part of his brain that inevitably results in terribly poor judgement. Be it sex, publishing, mountaineering, money-management, human relations, religious exploration, travel... you always get a sense of brilliance combined with complete idiocy. It's such a dichotomy that makes for a fascinating read, even if you care not for Crowley or even the occult for that matter.

The other thing that makes this book so great is that—like the best biographies—it's an absolutely fantastic window on a tumultuous period in history. From the turn of the century to the World War I to the roaring twenties and well through World War II, all serve as a backdrop to the life of one of the most eccentric characters in human history, and you get a feel for how it must've been better than any movie or period piece could ever do justice. Down to the little fact that opium, cocaine, and heroin were readily prescribed to treat things like asthma and freakin' toothaches! It doesn't take much to deduce that likely every single person Crowley interacted with must've been at least mildly intoxicated at any given time. In fact, it probably applies to everyone we read about who ever lived between 1898 to 1950.

But that's not why you should read this book. You'll read it because it's a damn thrill, and... it'll probably make you think twice before making any horrendous life choices.



Matt Madden o-o-o-c

Matt Madden is a comix formalist. What that means is he really enjoys obsessing over the mechanics of comix, forever exploring the limits of what the medium is capable of. Much in the vein of, say, an Art Speigelman. The thing that propelled Art Speigelman to prominence though wasn't so much his formalism but his narrative work, in particular MAUS. Which is absolutely fair given that most of his formalist experiments were little more than single page comix in the pages of RAW magazine. What Speigelman might do on a page though, Madden does in a hundred. This will either very much appeal to a reader or completely repel them. I fall in the appeal camp mainly because I'm a comix maker and enjoy looking at things that deconstruct the mechanics of the medium. Will this appeal to the casual reader? Not likely, just by sheer fact of the lack of narrative. It's not that there is no narrative at all, but it's just so awfully thin that its existence hardly matters at all. Which was probably Madden's intention since he's so clearly far more interested in experimenting with the medium itself more than telling a story.

Granted, this can be a problem. After all, paintings that only care about what the paint can accomplish with complete disregard for subject matter are always going to be a notch less than ideal. You can say the same for any medium really. A film that only cares about what can be done with film will exploit tricks, techniques, and effects but will lack a good enough narrative worthy of employing such tricks, techniques, and effects. What such works typically amount to are technical exercises, or the demonstrative equivalent of shoptalk. Which, naturally, is the sort of thing others in the field would be into. Folks outside the field? Not so much.

Thing is, it doesn't have to be that way. At the end of the day, all mediums exist in order to be utilized to express something. The methodology of expression comes second, in service of what needs to be expressed. And there are works that do this gloriously. David Mazzucchelli's ASTERIOS POLYP comes to mind, for example.

Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed Matt Madden's EX LIBRIS. In fact, I was captivated by it and read the whole thing in a single sitting. But I suppose that's part of the problem. I just wish there was a bit more to it, something more to chew on after being done reading it. I suppose you might say that part of the problem is in its somewhat glorified production values which makes you expect something more than a 100-page formal exercise. Oversized hardcover (almost French Bande Dessinee style) on nice somewhat thickish paper stock gives it a $29.95 price tag. It could have easily worked at 2/3 the dimensions on cheaper paper wrapped in a softcover. It would've looked more humble, appropriate for its content, and priced at a far more reasonable sum.

Still, I'm glad it exists, and I'm glad someone out there derives so much pleasure from unraveling the comix medium's charms, powers, and secrets.



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