Harvey Pekar’s and Joseph Remnant – Cleveland

It’s hard to think of this as anything other than epitaph, given its status as a posthumous release, but the question remains, is this a memorial for the man or the city he lived in?  Neither, as it happens - Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland is a book full of and about life, with both the city and its people being given ample space to breath on every page.

Pekar’s Cleveland has traditionally been an overbearingly crowded place, with even the most casual walks around town populated with an abundance of word balloons, thought bubbles and interjecting faces that threatened to black out the sky.  That abundance of words and opinions is still present in this book, but even when the text is at its densest it’s always carefully contained at the top of the panel, leaving the environments depicted underneath gloriously un-squashed.

The city and denizens of Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland are every bit as rich with opinion and story here as they ever were, but I can imagine some people finding the first half of the book a little bit plain, filled as it is with broad historical overview rather than the crooked, close quarters detail at which Pekar has always excelled.  Pekar’s generosity and his sense of interest manifest themselves differently in the first stretch of this narrative, where they are implicit in the amount of space city and artist are given to establish themselves in concert with each other.

Remnant  – his name far too apt for the job - renders Cleveland with an adherence to architectural detail that echoes the work of Eddie Campbell and his assistants in From Hell:

Here, as in that great book, buildings have a life of their own on the page – part of the environment Pekar and co exist in, but rendered with a solidity that rises above mere background detail:

Let us think of these places as being real; perhaps they are!  Remnant’s background players have a similarly suggestive definition to them.  Sometimes they add a lot to a simple scene – take the bit players in these panels for example:

 

The guy in the front of the first panel looks like he wants to cudgel himself to death rather than keep on contributing to Cleveland’s economic well-being, while the guy behind the ballot box in the second frame doesn’t look best pleased to feature in this particular historic moment.

Pekar’s history of Cleveland takes up the first forty or so pages, and while it draws a generally progresses in a straight line it does jump back and forth a bit on its way to the present. This detailed tour through the city would be enough to make Cleveland a quiet pleasure, but things gets a lot louder when Pekar arrives on page 42, breaking the story in half as he does so.

From this point onward, the reader is in the more familiar position, walking and talking with Harvey as he makes his way through the city he lives in:

It’s not all entirely straightforward though - certain details and anecdotes repeat themselves, sometimes with new details sometimes almost verbatim, forcing to reader to ponder whether these are stylistic choices or examples of wonky editing.

Take the story about how John T. Zubal’s used bookstore used to be a Hostess Bakery for example. On page 51 we’re told that “Even now, years after John acquired it, it’s possible to eat the Twinkie filling safely.  It was all chemicals and didn’t deteriorate.”  This story recurs again 44 pages later, prompted by its appearence on a TV show hosted by Antony Bourdain.  On this occasion we’re told that the Twikie filling “had been there 10 or 15 years, but the the stuff was all chemicals and didn’t rot after all that time.  It was still edible, and Bourdain tasted it on the show.”

Glitches like this make it clear that the history you’re reading the by-product of a slightly dysfunctional, human memory.  The title says it all, I guess – this is Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, and its most striking details and points of interest are therefore likely to be the ones that kept Harvey coming back after all those years.

Reading through the book again, I’m struck by the way that Pekar’s trademark hunched stride seems to be shared by all of the denizens of his Cleveland.  More than his particular outlook on life, with Remnant’s help Pekar gives everyone in this book – even the baseball stars – something of his physical manner:

It’s no wonder the people of this town stoop so much, given the amount of history that’s piled up on them – history that is here present in almost every panel in the form of Pekar’s narration.  The buildings may stand un-bothered by the running commentary, but Remnant’s human characters show evidence of this strange gravity in their every motion.

Sometimes it’s as though the barely contained agitation of Robert Crumb’s illustrations has been pushed downward into the characters’ feet by the weight of Pekar’s words:

Rather than adding up to a portrait of a defeated man or a defeated city, however, this adds to the sense of defiance that runs through the book.  Pekar is plenty familiar with the many economic and social problems that have effected in the city, and he’s careful to qualify his more optimistic impulses while filling the reader in on these issues, but that optimism is still there.  It’s not for nothing that the book open’s with Pekar telling the reader that he’s “had plenty of good days.”

The book ends on a vision of a Cleveland free of people, free of Pekar, free of life:

The trick is to remember that they’re not in here for a reason.  They’re out there, in the world, struggling against the weight of their own stories one footstep at a time.

Read more reviews of comics by Moogs Kewell, Marc-Antoine Mathieu and Ulli Lust after the cut!

Was There Blood on the Sheets?

February 28th, 2014

(This article was originally posted to Vibrational Match on Saturday 29 August 2009)

The first thing I think of whenever I see the cover for Darwyn Cooke‘s adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

…is this page from Frank Miller, David Mazzuchelli and Richmond Lewis’ Batman – Year One:

Wanna know why? Click here to find out!

Edney and the Sheep

February 27th, 2014

A few years ago I drew a little strip for no discernible audience. Thought I’d put it here. Click on the images to enlarge them. Cheers.

CLICK HERE IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ IT!

Now available:

C&B004

28 b+w pages, colour cover

After it’s debut at this year’s Thought Bubble, Cindy & Biscuit no.4 is finally available. 28 pages, comprised of all of the Cindy & Biscuit one-pagers, Cindy & Biscuit and Mr Andrews, as well as the brand new strip ‘Cindy & Biscuit in Abominable’.

I’m super proud of this work – it’s the densest, most formally playful work I’ve ever done, but still includes plenty of hitting and smashing. Don’t forget that Cindy & Biscuit were also nominated for Best Young Person’s Comic at this year’s British Comic Awards!

You can buy them right here, or head over to the Milk The Cat Shop

UK & Europe- £2.50 ( + £1.50 p&p)

CLICK HERE TO BUY

US & International – £2.50 (+ £2.00 p&p)

CLICK HERE TO BUY

Special offer: Buy all 4 Cindy & Biscuit comics for £11.00!

UK & Europe- £11.00 ( + £3.00 p&p)

CLICK HERE TO BUY

US & International - £11.00 ( + £4.50 p&p)

CLICK HERE TO BUY

Check out some sample images after the break:

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One of the strange blessings of the internet is its ability to serve as an external memory system.  Thoughts that would once have been lost to time if they were even lucky enough to have made it out of your head are now preserved for an indefinite eternity in places over which you have little to no control.

For example, if I want to know how I felt about Brendan McCarthy’s Doctor Strange/Spider-Man comic Fever after the first issue came out in 2010, a quick google search will turn up this flouncing defense of the book, written in response to a review by Sean Collins:

Say it Vibrational Match style: Where you see “inert physicality”, I see a Spider-Man who’s all harsh angles and elbows being squashed, flattened out, and a Doc Strange who’s at home with the harsh geometrics McCarthy conjures up.

Where you read flat pastiche, I read Spider-Man as a jerk who gets shut the hell up by the story (his words like jutting elbows –> drooping limbs), and Doc Strange as a badass who can turn exposition into information with the right gestures (verbal, physical).

Also: the mystic spider dialogue is genuinely fucking creepy, for reals, when combined with the images, yes?

In lesser hands this would be mere set-up, but this issue had a whole lot of “?something else?” working for it — that creepy wee arachnid bastard, crawling up the Vulture’s back, fr’instance!  Like something from Seven Soldiers, only (yes!) far more unsettling.

I saw the biggest, most bulbous-assed spider of the year last night, sitting on my windowsill. I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to these wee beasties, but last night, after having read Fever? I tell you, I wanted to kiss the wee fucker!

The “hey, I’m a black guy!” dialogue was a bit cringey though, pastiche or no.

Looking at the book this week, I find myself agreeing with every point but the last one.

It’s not that I don’t find the dialogue McCarthy gave to the African-American comedy character cringe-inducing anymore – I do! – but that Brendan McCarthy’s recent Facebook comments on race make me feel ashamed the structure supporting that final sentence.

Sure, I agreed with Sean Collins’ assessment of the embarrassing nature of McCarthy’s throwback characterisation, but I did so in a tossed off, casual way, after five paragraphs of flame flecked enthusiasm. The implicit message being that everyone should just chill out about this racist after taste and enjoy the “septic salsa” of the comic itself.

In 2010, the story of McCarthy was that he was that of the hero freshly returned from the wasteland, ready to save the kingdom from itself.  His new work confirmed his status as a trinity of psych-pop ghosts, the faces of Brit comics past, present and future combined.  What interest could a couple of dodgy panels hold against all that?  Solo #12 remains McCarthy’s late period masterpiece, but even in lesser books like Fever there are moments of astonishing beauty.  The scene in the second issue where Spider-Man steps through a portal and into a crunchy insect killing field still burns bright in the light of its own toxic logic:

 

Who could argue against that sort of artistic firepower? Not me back in 2010, apparently. Click here to see how I get on in 2013!

CINDY & BISCUIT in ‘PESTS’

October 8th, 2013

Here’s a brand new Cindy & Biscuit strip for you. I’m doing these on a semi-regular basis here on Mindless Ones. Check them out here.

Also, Cindy & Biscuit no.3 has been nominated for the Best Young People’s Comic award in the British Comics Awards, amongst some very talented company. I am, needless to say, extremely chuffed. Cross your fingers, toes and everything else people…

Also, also…don’t forget to get yourself a copy of the brand new 56 page  Cindy & Biscuit no.3 from my shop at Milk The Cat. You can pick up my other comics while you’re there.

 

Here’s a brand new Cindy & Biscuit strip for you. I’m doing these on a semi-regular basis here on Mindless Ones. Check them out here.

Also, don’t forget to get yourself a copy of the brand new 56 page  Cindy & Biscuit no.3 from my shop at Milk The Cat. You can pick up my other comics while you’re there.

A brand new Cindy & Biscuit 1-pager for all of you. Enjoy, and head over to Milk The Cat if you want to buy their comics…

This one was done for the programme of this year’s wonderful Caption Comics Festival, a truly unique and wonderful event – part comics symposium, part ramshackle village fete, it’s a real treat. I was on a panel talking about Cindy & Biscuit this year, so thanks to Alex Fitch for inviting me!

CINDY & BISCUIT and MR ANDREWS

August 11th, 2013

A brand new Cindy & Biscuit 5-pager for all of you. Enjoy, and head over to Milk The Cat if you want to buy their comics…

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EXPOSITION: From the first few pages onwards it’s clear that this is one of those LA stories, an everyday apocalypse in which a strung out and savvy cast of screenwriters, rappers, astronauts, agents and cultists collide against a genre-mashed backdrop; the prophetic screenplay that drives the story is modeled on The Last Boy Scout, but Richard Kelly’s media-frazzled sci-fi meltdown Southland Tales seems the more fitting tonal counterpoint for this story of a city stuck on an apparently endless cycle of destruction.

You might remember reading about all this in the early hype, but if not you can always obtain the first issue for free online and get a flavour for it yourself.

The main characters in CHANGE are lost and ambitious souls, tilting after people and projects like a set of modern day Don Quixotes, struggling to find their way to an imaginary elsewhere that might just resemble home if they can stick the landing.

If there’s a criticism to be raised here it’s perhaps that the women in this comic tend to be framed at the centre of the madness, while the men are given more active roles as explorers.  Richard Doublehead (“the Virginia Woolf of screenwriters”) and rapper turned movie producer W-2 and find themselves instigating the plot and exploring it respectively, and in their dueling roles both men are spurred on by the loss of their partners.  Charlie Kaufman style maverick screenwriter and surprisingly competent car thief Sonia has a more active role than either of the female love interests, but her ability to write what’s about to happen still positions her as being somehow in tune with the madness where her fellow protagonists affect and are affected by it:

Thinking about Sonia’s character, I keep coming back to Angela Carter talking about her experience with the surrealists:

…I had to give them up in the end. They were, with a few patronized exceptions, all men and they told me that I was the source of all mystery, beauty, and otherness, because I was a woman – and I knew that was not true. I knew I wanted my fair share of the imagination, too. Not an excessive amount, mind; I wasn’t greedy. Just an equal share in the right to vision.

If Sonia has anything, it’s vision, but somehow her goals seem less tangible those of her male counterparts; for all that her voice is the most purely entertaining one in the comic, I still can’t help but feel that her arc is also the least satisfying.  Even the astronaut, who spends most of his page time cut off from the other characters, finds himself on a journey to be reunited with them and with himself:

Click here to see if I can bring this post down to Earth safely.