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

by John Pham o-o-o-c

I have a soft spot for beautiful print objects and well-designed zines. I envy comicbook auteurs the likes of Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes, who are masters of both art and story. And boy do I get off on experimentation with format. John Pham pulls that all off in his beautiful self-published anthology series EPOXY.

The first issue, published in 2000, is without a doubt, the least experimental of the bunch, at least as far as production goes. Comprised of 64 pages printed in black & white, wrapped in 4-color cover, it doesn't feel like anything out of the ordinary, until you read the the stories within. The first story, SHIVA, involves a humanoid robot on the run from a flying dragon in a futuristic version of the Vietnamese city of Hue.

The second story, ELEPHANTINE, is about a one armed boxer who cannot be beat, until maybe something happens to his corner-man. The third story, MODESTO, sandwiched between the other two, is more of a traditional slice-of-life story about the shenanigans of a teenage Vietnamese-American girl who has a big family reunion dinner party to look forward to.

For EPOXY's second issue, Pham opts for a smaller zine-like cut, but ups his production game with a risograph print. A two-color beaut for the cover, and a close-to-florescent green for the interiors. Both ELEPHANTINE and MODESTO continue where they left off, but SHIVA is oddly nowhere to be found.

Enter issue #3, which is the size of a book in its own right, with spine and everything. The format larger than the previous two, and took Pham two years to produce. In it, he concludes SHIVA. And halfway through the book, he introduces another story, ASTROGIRL, done in a style that is somewhat akin to Chris Ware's work.

With issue #4 and #5, John Pham takes his work into a completely new direction like nothing I've seen in comix. Both are printed on a risograph, and John really takes advantage of what he can do with the machine with just 2-3 colors, getting grains of blues and oranges and pinks to mix in fresh interesting ways. The result is something that can only be produced on a risograph and no other way.

The main storyline is called DEEP SPACE, an avant-garde sci-fi piece about a traveler landing on a weird planet.

Also inside the issue are two miniature magazines actually stapled inside. One of them is a funny mini-comic titled JAY & KAY, and the other a satirical magazine called COOL MAGAZINE, filled with miniature crossword puzzles, fake interviews and product reviews.

With these last two issues, Pham really elevates his practice to create something much closer to fine art than comicbooks. The way the three original stories came to an end feels somewhat abrupt, but it doesn't take away from joy of experiencing them. Not entirely unlike say, Daniel Clowes' GHOST WORLD. Although, if I'm completely honest with myself, my reason for following John Pham in the future will not necessarily be his stories, but rather for his storytelling, and how he makes use of illustration, design, and printmaking to such superb effect, which is such a rarity in most comix these days.



By Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward o-o-o-o-o

A perfect blueprint for creating condensed high-concept pieces tailored specifically to the comix medium is Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward's ANCESTOR.

Wealthy inventor/entrepreneur Patrick Whiteside throws a big party at his estate for a number of special people he has chosen to be exposed to “the vaults of the universe.” Little do the party-goers know, they will very soon be responsible for remaking the entire universe, even if they don't really want to.

At least some of them, anyway.

In just 4 short chapters, this work of art by Sheean and Ward will take you where you will never expect. By the time you close the back cover, you'll feel something akin to coming off of an acid trip, mind-expansion and all.

It's an odd, understated book that has more of an arthouse feel than anything Image Comics has ever put out (love the paper!). Beautifully designed, lettered, and produced and very well thought out, to the point where the gutters between the panels are a pale pinkish color at the beginning of the book, gradually getting darker as the story progresses. Sheean and Ward have thought of everything.

I imagine I'll be following everything they make from here on out.



By Kurt Vonnegut o-o-o-o-o

Finally got around to reading SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut after every goddamn American I know recommended it to me upon finding out about my travels to Dresden. And for good reason. THIS BOOK IS FANTASTIC!

This has got to be the most non-linear thing I've ever read in my life, but it is not the least bit confusing. Also one of the most engrossing. I don't remember being so engrossed in a book since THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY.

It may also be one of the most quotable books. It is also a book with a heart, a book with a mission. It's an anti-war book. And one that manages to be laugh-out-loud funny.

But perhaps most astonishingly is that its an anti-war book that has no villains. This is World War 2. There are Nazis.

When was the last time you read or saw anything WW2-related that contained no villains to speak of? And the book is perfect, I tell you. Perfect!

Vonnegut even comments on that in the book.

I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for a while after the 2nd World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.

Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me “you know – you never wrote a story with a villain in it.”

I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut. Everyone should read it.



By Haruki Murakami o-o

Y'know. I've decided that Murakami is just not for me. Between this book of short stories and the absolutely unnecessarily stretched out 1Q84, I think I can say that with absolute confidence. Sure there are aspects of Murakami's writing that I do like, like the peculiarities of his characters, even if those particular peculiarities have absolutely nothing to do with the story at hand. I absolutely love that. And I do like the magical realism vibes. His stories though, not so much.

My feeling is that his stories often start off most interestingly, but then towards the end –even the short stories– they sort of just lose steam and are thus killed. Meh.

I think its incredibly important to read authors of various cultures. There can be nothing more enriching. And I don't want my distaste for Murakami to put me off Japanese literature in general, so I'm going to have to very quickly attempt to find a substitute (or two) that is right for me.


#prose #prosefiction

By Steranko o-o-o-c

Steranko, of course, is a magician. No, but really. He spent many childhood summers with his old man, who had his own magic act, doing circuses and carnivals until he became a side-show performer himself. By his late teens, he had already reaped a wealth of newspaper and TV publicity as an escape artist. This, I believe, may have helped hone Steranko's special talent at seeing through the mechanisms of how things work. This can be seen in every facet that makes up this pocket-sized novella from 1976. This, however, does not necessarily benefit the story as much as it benefits the rather ingenious visuals, design, and packaging of CHANDLER.

It is precisely because Steranko sees right through the mechanism of noir stories that CHANDLER is a wholly unoriginal run-of-the-mill crime noir tale with plenty of cheese. Where Steranko truly delivers, in my opinion, is in everything else: Crisp and beautifully composed and rendered full-color artwork. An ingenious grid format that gives the storytelling a beautifully steady pace and a very comfortable reading experience that a great many illustrated novels tend to lack, and a modern type treatment that is impeccably considered. It would be unfair to describe CHANDLER as an illustrated novella, because what illustrated novella features two illustrations per page? The illustrations and design of the entire thing are an in integral part of the storytelling experience, which makes CHANDLER far more than an illustrated novel but not quite a graphic novel either. It is a wholly unique experience, where Steranko sticks to 13 lines per column which deliberately correspond to a vertical panel right above. It is a work of illustration and design genius. And even if one was to throw away the story, the design, and just fixate on the panels, it's easy to imagine each and every one of them hanging in the MOMA or MAD completely on its own.

Fans of Steranko's art might be fooled into thinking the larger “deluxe” edition of this book is more worthy of their bookshelf space, but if you really want to experience CHANDLER the way Steranko's design solutions were intended for, then Pyramid's pocket-sized “pulp” edition is the only way to go.

And while I may not be entirely impressed by the story, I cannot possibly imagine Steranko creating the images without simultaneously writing the story for them, nor could I imagine him writing the story without simultaneously considering the artwork and design. Pulling something like CHANDLER off requires something of the cognitive abilities of a drummer, which I've discovered that Steranko also excelled at.

My brain now growls for more Steranko, and so should yours.

P.S. The story was later reprinted and repackaged as CHANDLER: RED TIDE.

#comix #prose

By Taiyo Matsumoto o-o-o-o

TEKKONKINKREET is kind of amazing. On first glance, it's not something I would normally pick up, but Ales Kot shoved it my face for my birthday, and my psyche is all the better for it. Manga can be weird, but TEKKONKINKREET is weird even by manga's standards. It doesn't adhere to any industry criteria, neither in terms of story or art. It feels very, shall we say, indie, very ziney, but 600 pages of ziney art and story rather than the handful of pages we're used to from most zines. It's Japan's answer to the underground comix of 60's-70's America.

The line-art is somewhat wobbly, and feels like Matsumoto took a ballpoint pen directly to the paper, sans penciling or any kind pre-planning. This may seem somewhat off-putting at first, but after a couple of pages, it really grows on you and clings to your heart and becomes an inseparable part of TEKKONKINKREET's charm. If I were to reveal the plot to you, you would automatically decree that its a story that should take no more than 150 pages tops, but part of the reason it takes 600 is that Matsumoto allows certain moments to breathe. Something that would take no more than 2 panels in your average Western comicbook, Matsumoto uses an entire page of 7 panels for. This allows certain moments to sink in, be felt, and really helps put you in the story's setting.

TEKKONKINKREET is definitely an outlier, where common wisdom would dictate it should not really exist. If it were pitched, no one would publish it. It's a whimsical, pure, unfiltered passionate output that can only exist in this world by the sheer persistence of its creator, and as such is one of the most inspiring and fulfilling graphic novels you will ever read. Nothing will make you want to make comix –or anything for that matter– quite like TEKKONKINKREET will.

Now I'm jonzing to see the film.



By Ales Kot, Will Tempest, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller o-o-o-o

Excellent comicbook for people who don't read comics. It's Kot's soapbox book, in the way that PROMETHEA was Alan Moore's and much of TRANSMETROPOLITAN was Warren Ellis'.

MATERIAL, Vol. 1 is different in that rather than follow one main character, it follows four: a former Guantanamo inmate, an actress, a protestor, and a philosophy professor. Their stories are not in anyway intertwined nor do they intersect at any point, but exist as parallels, and I quite like that. While each of our four characters leads a completely different life, what they share in common is perhaps this: something new is introduced in their lives. Whether that new thing is a positive influence or not entirely depends on what they do with it.

Upon first glance, Will Tempest's art may come off as rather weak, especially especially If you've become overly accustomed to Marvel/DC fare. Not unlike attempting to derive the flavors of a simple Italian oregano/olive oil dish of some kind after eating a deep fried chicken doused in barbecue sauce. Almost impossible. But Will Tempest's art is really really good for the purpose of MATERIAL and I love that he's taking his color cues from the principles of graphic design rather than animation or cgi. It's cleanliness and clarity is a breath of fresh air what with the mess that is mainstream comics now.

The book also includes a series of excellent essays by Spencer Ackerman, Fiona Duncan, Jarette Kobek, Sarah Nicole Prickette, and Bijan Stephen! Way to connect the book to a larger cultural dialogue, Ales!

There ought to be more “soapbox comics”, because the medium is so right for it. And if you think about it: the comic strip, which is the predecessor of the comicbook, is entirely a soapbox affair. The whole idea behind the strip is for artists to use cartoon characters as vessels for their thoughts and frustrations on a daily basis. Why that approach is virtually absent from the comicbook, I think, has much to do with publishers trying to act too much like TV producers: relying on synopses and treatments and anything else that will turn a story into a stiff unrisky mathematical equation. An environment that PEANUTS, CALVIN & HOBBES, AND LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND can simply never thrive in. And you can bet that neither Ellis nor Moore would've been able to publish TRANSMET or PROMETHEA had they not already been household names. Although with Moore, PROMOTHEA started out as a superhero book, but turned into something else along the way, as per the Shaman's own testimony.

Kudos to IMAGE COMICS for growing the balls to publish MATERIAL, a book that relates to people not yet part of the company's usual readership. Now if there was only a way to get it on shelves outside of comicbook shops.



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