Day ??: Exquisite Corpse

Exquisite Corpse by Pénélope Bagieu

Zoe’s life sucks. She works at a product representative at conventions (aka a booth babe), a job she hates, and goes home to a disinterested boyfriend who farts in the bed. Unlike her co-workers, who are putting themselves through school, she has not real ambition, and feels in a rut. When eating lunch in a park one day, she notices a man peaking at her from his apartment window. She more or less forces her way into his apartment to use his bathroom. The man, Thomas, is convinced she knows his secret, but after determining that she has no idea who he is, he invites her to return.

There are a few twists, and it’s a fun story, but what I truly love are Zoe’s facial expressions. Compared to the other characters, she has big eyes, and Bagieu uses them effectively. Pleading, coy, angry, dismissive. So much of the story is told in her expressions, and in particular how Thomas reacts to them. And Bagieu gives those expressions space. She uses silence, and draws out a moment both for emphasis and for comedy.

And now, just a ton of examples.

Day 8: Coin-Op Books

Coin-Op Books by Peter Hoey and Maria Hoey

The first time I picked up anything by Coin-Op books was at MICE 2012. I was drawn to the table by the series of short comics all designed to look like 45 sleeves. (I love the intersection of where music and comics meet). The comics are a collaboration between siblings Peter and Maria Hoey (sometimes with others as well) and how they divvy responsibilities is opaque to an outsider. The comics are stylish with a mid-century graphic design quality. (It’s unsurprising that aside from their comic work, they also do a fair amount of newspaper and magazine illustrations). Some stories share that almost infographic feeling. “Strip Mall (Instrumental)” isn’t so much a story as songs re-imagined as stores in strip malls. Another, has notable events that happened to rock musicians in hotels. Others, are more narrative, though there is a frequent existentialism to them. There’s a series of comics about a man delivering an inter-office memo, the office becoming wilderness as he treks alone to his recipients. There’s a pair of reoccurring dogs, Saltz & Pepz who are perpetually down on their luck. They feel like a cross between a classic comedy duo, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

The art is rich and detailed. They play with panel sizes, and gutters. A piece based on “Rear Window” uses thin vertical panels that are reminiscent of a film strip. Frequently, they’ll break up a larger image into smaller squares. The figures in each square believing themselves more or less alone, but seeing how their actions cascade outwards in calamity.

Coin-Op website: https://coinopbooks.com/

Day 7: Melanie Gillman’s 24-Hour Fairy Tales

Melanie Gillman’s 24-hour Fairy Tales: The Fish Wife, Sweet Rock, Hsthete, The King’s Forest

24-hour comic day has been a tradition going back to 2004 (according to a website I just read on the subject), and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. A page an hour for 24 hours. Most participants simply do diary comics of each hour of the day, which means that by early afternoon, their comics become illustrations of them trying to catch up on their 24-hour comic. Luckily, Melanie Gillman cheats.

They pre-pencil the pages, they do fewer than 24 pages, they usually split it over two days. And yeah, they don’t go the diary route, they make queer fairy tales. A woman considering suicide, marries a mermaid instead. A woman is sacrificed to a giant because she is too bitter. A woman calls upon the Goddess of Mishaps to help her end her betrothal. They are bitter-sweet. Gillman colors them with colored pencils, and they are simply beautiful.

I continue to hope that some smart publisher will give them a crap-load of money for a full 10 story collection

This year’s comic, The King’s Forest https://twitter.com/melgillman/status/1312401625772949510

Gillman’s site where their webcomic “As the Crow Flies” is posted: https://www.melaniegillman.com/

Day 6: The House

The House by Paco Rosa (translated by Andrea Rosenberg)

After their father passes, three adult siblings return to the summer house he built himself, to prepare it for sale.  Their father loved to keep busy, and as kids, he put them to work helping him. From gardening to building a stone wall. Even when they “went on strike” because they wanted a pool, he ended up agreeing, but they all dug the pool together. Returning to the house, they all face their grievances, and their loss.

There are feuds, some petty like who was supposed to buy paint, and some huge like to what extent each of them helped their father in his final days, and the biggest that Vincente (the oldest) decided alone whether or not to resuscitate their father. We’re shown their memories. At first, these memories are tense, but as the three children make their peace with each other, they remember good times.

The colors are muted, at times almost sepia-toned even in the “present” which gives the whole book a feeling of the past. The house feels cut off from the normal flow of time. Only scenes of the daughter remembering doctor visits with her father are done in blue, making it feel colder, and more rooted in today. Expressions form a large part of the story, though that includes posture and body language.  

https://www.fantagraphics.com/products/the-house?_pos=1&_sid=9b6b9af30&_ss=r

Day 5: Did You See Me?

“Did You See Me?” by Sophia Foster-Dimino

Shortbox is a small independent publisher out of the UK run by Zainab Akhtar. While they’ve branched out to sell their back catalog singly, and to kickstart a few larger books, their original model was a quarterly box of 5 or so comics, a print, and some form of strange British candy. I can’t recall if I’ve gotten 4 or 5 boxes thus far, but there has not been a bad comic in the bunch. And in every box, there is one that truly stands out. “Did You See Me?” is one of those.

David is an editorial assistant, and hosts a literary podcast. The story starts when somebody @’s him on twitter asking him to apologize for bumping into her the night before, causing her to drop her sandwich. He replies that he was home all evening. But she says, no, after that in her dream. David writes her off as a crank, but when telling his girlfriend about it, he recalls that something like that did happen in his dream. When he dreams that night, he apologizes to Emma (the girl from twitter). He still fights that this is reality, but slowly he comes to accept it, and their dream relationship continues to get more intimate. Finally, David breaks up with his girlfriend, and arranges to meet Emma in person.

The story is sweet and strange. Foster-Dimino uses three different styles. Twitter pages show the phone on a colored background. To prevent it from being entirely static, it switches from notification screens, to his typing, to DM’s. It shows him checking her page when he’s suitably intrigued. Then there is real life. Orderly boxed pages with a white outer border, the figures themselves with a black outline. The dream pages are an all white page, the figures with no outline, or just the lightest touch to distinguish white on white. Text feels crammed in, at times upside-down. The story navigates us through these three spaces, all of them are reality, but none of them are fully real.

Excerpts: http://www.hellophia.com/did-you-see-me

Buy from Shortbox: https://www.shortbox.co.uk/product/did-you-see-me-by-sophia-foster-dimino

Day 4: Banned Book Club

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju and Ryan Estrada

The true story of Hyun Sook’s time in university and joining the protest movement against President Chun in 1983. She enters university attempting to avoid politics, particularly at the insistence of her mother who is unhappy that she’s wasting the money to attend university at all, and concerned that Hyun Sook will just get in trouble. But avoiding politics is impossible for her. From day one, she has to push through a protest to get onto campus. The masked folk dance team she joins hides political messages in their performance and gives way to political demonstration. Her English class discusses how Shakespeare used history to disguise anti-government sentiments, and her book club turns out to be the titular banned book club.

One member of the club, Hoon takes a particular interest in her, both as a protégé and a love interest. But she also spends a lot of time with Yuni and Suji who explain the added responsibilities and risks of being a woman in the movement. As one woman states, “The boys plan the events and then expect us to prepare everything” during a get-together to make Molotov cocktails. And one can see these moments accruing to make Hyun Sook a less passive protagonist.

While I can’t claim to now be an expert on South Korean politics, I did find myself reading a bunch of articles on Wikipedia, attempting to fill in some of the gap in my knowledge that is Korea after the Korean War. The magna influenced art is incredibly clear. I’m the first to admit that if you give me a cast of 10 or so characters, six of them central, and they’re not wearing color coded outfits, I’m likely to get confused, but the character designs are so well thought out that even in the epilogue, 33 years later, I could identify all the characters. The book is officially marked as YA, so it makes a perfect gift for your future revolutionary.

Order from the publisher Iron Circus. https://ironcircus.com/?product=banned-book-club

Day 3: You & A Bike & A Road

You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis

I watched the MICE panel on Graphic Memoirs, and it reminded me of one of my favorite works of the form. It tells the story of Davis biking from her parents’ home in Tucson, Arizona, to her own home in Athens, GA. Most of the comics were written during the trip and posted on twitter. I think a few pages were made to make it a cohesive work as a book (my guess is some of the maps as she crosses states borders). But mostly, it chronicles what happened during the day, the stand out moments, or her thoughts.

One of Davis’ frequent themes is the power of stories. How our own stories can make us strong, or how stories about other people can shape them. And that theme is at play in You & A Bike & a Road. On the first page, it shows how Marshstation road looks on a map, a simple line on the page, and then follows up the next page with how it looks to bike on it, the road dipping before her, cacti and other plants crowding the sides. The map makes it seem easy (on Day 6, her parents drive out to meet her covering the distance in a few hours) but biking changes her relationship with the distance, with the trip itself. And these themes pop up throughout the book. When people ask if she’s travelling alone, she lies and says she’s with her husband, because when they fear for her, that infects her. Their version of her story can overwrite her own. And as an outsider, doing something unique, when she meets people, they feel free to tell their stories.

Davis’ style always feels a little loose and that’s particularly true here as she was drawing on the go, but there are also pages crammed full of detail, like a day spent in Austin, where we can feel how overwhelmed she was to once again be in the city. But mostly she catches detail. Bits of scenery, postures and expressions.  

The book at Koyama Press: http://koyamapress.com/projects/you-a-bike-a-road/

Day 2: John, Dear

John, Dear by Laura Lannes

Unnamed protagonist is in love with John. He is her anchor, her tether to this world. Her mother has just died. When she declares her love for him aloud, he tells her he loves her too, and that she’s still beautiful despite her skin condition. What skin condition? she was unaware of any condition. She sneaks out to the bathroom to find holes in her.

The art is entirely done in black and white tones, often gray on black pages that require the reader to pause to fully absorb the images. We’re in horror movie territory where we rarely get an unobstructed view of the monster.

John is supportive and awful. “In a way, this makes you more special to me. I’m the only one who see you for who you are under that.” He offers to marry her so he can put her on his insurance. His undercuts every kindness presented with a comment that controls or belittles her. He moves in and has her quit her job. All the while, the woman is losing more of herself. The disease is literally removing pieces of her, while her identity is lost with only John as a connection to the outside, and she sees less and less of him, waking only when he’s asleep, and maybe he’s not coming home at all anymore?

Lannes site with a few excerpted pages: https://www.lauralannes.com/john-dear

Month of MICE Day 1: Anne By the Bed

This year marks the 11th year of the Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo (MICE). Given the current circumstances, all programming has been moved online this year, and instead of having it all in the span of a single weekend, panels and workshops will be occurring every Saturday and Sunday in October, dubbing it “A Month of MICE.” Details at https://www.micexpo.org/attendee-guide/

I’ve been attending MICE since 2013, and volunteering since 2016. It’s my favorite event of the year, and I’m going to miss getting to see everyone. So, in honor of A Month of MICE, I’m going to try and post about a comic a day.

Frontier #6 Anne By the Bed by Emily Carroll

Emily Carroll was a special guest at MICE in 2014. Since the festival overlapped with Yom Kippur that year, I missed Saturday, and by the time I showed up on Sunday, Emily had sold out of all the copies of “Through the Woods” she brought. And all the copies supplied by the local comic shop Million Year Picnic. And all the copies that could be obtained from local comic shops and bookstores in the area. So, she was sitting at her empty table kind of bored when I got there. Luckily, I already had a copy for her to sign, and she also drew a small sketch for me, my first piece of original art by a comic artist. Her work is horror, tales of dread.

Anne By the Bed is done in a sort of documentary style. It tells about the murder of Anne Herron, whose death becomes the inspiration of a Bloody Mary-esque party game. The comic alternates between telling the story of the Herron’s and interviews with people who claim to have had experiences while playing the game, and self-proclaimed experts. History flowing into urban legend until ultimately, the story is made into a movie with Anne cast as the villain.

The form gives her a chance to play. Historical parts are drawn in black and white, while contemporary accounts in color. On one page, the Herron family is introduced through photographs, and on the following, when describing their deaths, the same photos are defaced. Throughout, faces are obscured, heightening the sense that we cannot see the full story.

Purchase online: http://www.youthindecline.com/product/frontier-6-emily-carroll

Carroll’s website: http://www.emcarroll.com/

Day 30: Little Apocalypses

It’s usually in the evening when I start to miss Leslie. During the day, I’m too busy. The flood tour is radically different from the volcanoes. I still caution people to keep their arms in the boat, but it’s less urgent. There have been suggestions that the water has strange properties, but we’ve all been splashed a little bit. Hell, we sell sealed bottles of the stuff, and I’ve seen the interns whose jobs it is to bottle it. They seem mostly fine. Prone to staring into the water, but maybe they were always dreamy. More importantly, I have to remind our guests to not approach the mermaids. They are the main attraction. You can see them sunning themselves on the lower buildings, if we’re lucky, one will leap out of the water. Sometimes, they bump against the boat’s hull. They don’t mind posing for photographs, but like legged women, don’t care for strangers attempting to touch them. I give three tours a day, and there are two other guides as well. Three people work the shop as well, and they prefer if the guides don’t interfere.

I guess, I’m saying is they’re all pretty cliquey. But I guess Leslie and I would have seemed pretty cliquey too. The only one who really talks to me is my driver. He drives me back to my neighborhood at night, and we chat a bit. I’ve invited him to get a drink, but he has a family.

I’m renting a room in a commercial area. A place where the buildings are close enough together, and they’ve set up bridges between them. Former balconies and widow’s walks are now front entrances. There’s a bar set up in one house, and that’s where I end up most evenings. A limited food menu that mostly consists of macaroni and cheese enhanced with whatever meat or vegetables they can get that day. The bar has become a haven for other disaster contractors.

I sit down next to a woman who has billed herself as the preeminent disaster mathematician. I have no idea what that means, but she says it’s important to sometimes be on scene to get a true understand.

“Numbers are great, I love numbers, I’d fucking fuck numbers if I could. But sometimes, you need to remember that numbers aren’t all there is.”

Marisol, on the other side of me, rolls her eyes. She’s here updating the survival guide for an electronic handbook.

“I work for a hotline. We help people, yes, people, not numbers, in need.”

She’s only recently been promoted, and this is her first assignment. I like Marisol, but she’s pretty disdainful of my job, even more of the sort of people who my company caters to.

“These places are already fragile, and in comes the morons, walking over anything, using up the already limited resources.”

“It brings in money, and that’s not a bad thing,” the mathematician says. She puts her hand on mine. “You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“And how much of that money stays in this community? It just gets sent back to their corporate headquarters, surprisingly located far from any of the disasters they profit from.”

They’ve been having a variation on this argument for three nights. That’s when I miss Leslie the most.

Behind us, there’s a table of aid workers. I’ve seen them here in the mornings, matching uniforms, all smiles and cheers (they literally do a cheer before they head out), but at night, they wear cocktail dresses and play drinking games. They kind of intimidate me, and I’ve almost never seen any of them separate from the group. Just one night, when one of them sat alone at the bar for a few minutes to write a postcard. For a moment, it looked as though she was going to tear it up. But then she handed it to the bartender, asked him to put it with the rest of the outgoing mail. She shook her head, and rejoined the others, a party girl again.

When I’ve had my fill of macaroni and beer and arguing, I head for home. It’s just two bridges away, and I’ve already learned to navigate it while being a teensy bit drunk. There’s a man outside, and he’s talking to the water.

“I miss you, Maggie. I know we can work it out. Just come back inside. You can keep the tail. I love the tail, it’s beautiful. But I miss you.”

Then I realize, there’s somebody in the water. The woman glances at me and frowns, Then, she does a sort of twist, dives into the water and swims away, faster than a person could swim.

“Was that?”

“Yeah, she’s a mermaid. For a while, she stayed near our building. We’d lived together. But, she’s roaming farther and farther away. I don’t think I’m going to see her again.”

“Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”

“I think I want to be alone.”

“Bullshit, I’ll buy you a drink.”

We return to the bar.

I remembered something Leslie said, “Every disaster is somebody’s little apocalypse. You might hear about a tornado hitting a small town, or miner’s trapped in a mine, and it doesn’t seem like that big a deal, not when there are wildfires and tsunamis killing thousands of people, but when you lose your home, your livelihood, it’s still an apocalypse. If all you really have is a single friend, saying goodbye to that friend feels like the end of the world.”