Looking Glass Heights: portal #2

November 15th, 2017

 

Not Because of the People – the collected Looking Glass Heights comics.

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If you enjoy the comic please consider giving some time or money to Living Rent (Scotland’s Tenants Union) or another similar group closer to home –

thanks,

David

I Don’t Like My Hair Neat #1-2; I Wished I Was Married to the Sea

Have you ever underrated someone while praising them to the heavens? A friend perhaps, someone whose dress sense and confidence you’ve long admired without realizing that in doing so you were also reducing them to those qualities?  Worse still, that you had somehow decided that because these attributes were so hard to ignore, your were somehow giving them all the attention they required just by doing that?

That’s how I felt when I read the second volume of I Don’t Like My Hair Neat for the first time. I’d written a snappy, enthusiastic review of the first issue earlier in the same year, one that I thought was appropriate to Jules Scheele‘s talents in tone if not in excellence.

It was clear to me even then that Scheele is a better cartoonist than I am a writer.

The second issue initially seemed to me to be something else, something more traditionally laudable.  Reading it on the train up from that year’s Thought Bubble in my traditional vulnerable, hung-up and borderline euphoric post-con state, I was surprised and overwhelmed.  At the risk of getting a bit Dead Zone about it, I felt like the ice was going to break:

Make of this what you will. For me, it’s evidence that the bullshit critical distinction between Style and Content is somehow alive and in me in the present tense, some half a century after Sustan Sontag publicly annihilated it in ‘On Style’:

Practically all metaphors for style amount to placing matter on the inside, style on the outside. It would be more to the point to reverse the metaphor. The matter, the subject, is on the outside; the style is on the inside. As Cocteau writes: “Decorative style has never existed. Style is the soul, and unfortunately with us the soul assumes the form of the body.” Even if one were to define style as the manner of our appearing, this by no means necessarily entails an opposition between a style that one assumes and one’s “true” being. In fact, such a disjunction is extremely rare. In almost every case, our manner of appearing is our manner of being. The mask is the face…

Click here to find out how any half-decent analysis of Scheele’s style makes my initial confusion about their subject matter seem not only dumb but callow!

At first glance this looks like it might just be a new art school favourite. The linework is soft and rounded, occasionally crumpling into more naive forms or vacating the page completely in favour of washes of expressive colour – it signals the intimacy of experience in a way that is immediately recognisable to anyone who’s managed to read past the superhero comics on the graphic novel shelves of their local library.  Elsewhere, the colouring takes on an active role on the page, sometimes embodying a shift in perception and understanding, sometimes becoming a source of unexpected affect – it signals a sort of deliberate intelligence of design in a way that will be familiar to anyone who has read as far as Asterios Polyp.

All of these qualities are exemplified in Take It As A Compliment, but the book resists praise on the grounds of mere formalism.

Drawn from the true tales of those who’ve experienced various forms of sexual assault, Take It As A Compliment sees Maria Stoian using the full range of her artistic abilities to give voice to those who have been on the receiving end of this shamefully commonplace form of violence.

These pages are full of crowded or empty streets, appeals to a horrific spectrum of threatening outcomes (“If you don’t your dad will be mad!”) and various forms of complicity (“Oh he was just trying to be funny“) but they are always centred on the experience of the victims.

The use of colour alone makes these experiences inescapably vivid in a way that demands a trigger warning, and the Stoian brings these stories together with an explicit purpose: “in sharing we can make it easier for survivors to deal with their experiences, and create a society that does not tolerate sexual violence!”

Do we sometimes flinch from art that is so clear about the impact it wants to have on the world?  And if so, does this reaction come from a lack of belief in our ability to affect the world or from a conviction that the goals of art are somehow incompatible with such efforts?

Take It As A Compliment is so delicate and powerful that such perspectives seem impossible while you’re reading it.

It gives voice to experience without forcing those who have already suffered to risk further suffering; it makes the social conditions that allow this suffering explicit; and it does all of this in a way that cannot be separated from its aesthetic excellence, from its commitment to exploring all the different ways that the intersection of words, shapes and colours on the page can reflect the reality of the human experience.

These stories are not my story so I can’t comment on what they have to offer to anyone who might find their reality reflected here.

But I am still a part of the society in which these abuses take place, and if I come away from Take It As A Compliment without finding extra determination to be there for those who need listening to and to confront those who need to be stopped, then the failing will be in me rather than in the book itself.

PanelxPanel

July 6th, 2017

By everyone’s favourite Punisher expert and Garth Ennis scholar Maid of Nails aka Kelly Kanayama

For comics fans it can be discouraging to look out across the blasted wastes of The Discourse and see how much vitriol gets leveled against those who just want to try something different. Yet in this toxic landscape, there are still breaths of fresh air if you know where to search for them – such as the debut issue of Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s new comics criticism magazine PanelxPanel.

PanelxPanel combines analysis of soon-to-be-released comics by Otsmane-Elhaou with writings and interviews from critics and creators, all laid out in a pleasant color scheme. (I’m not using the word “pleasant” pejoratively here, by the way; it’s rare for comics criticism to make you feel more relaxed just from looking at the colors.) The aesthetic effect ties into Otsmane-Elhaou’s highly visual focus, which is oriented toward dissecting how the art of a particular comic creates its narrative, and which sets PanelxPanel apart from other, less visually focused comics criticism. Here, it’s all about panel layout, color choice, the placement of characters and objects in relation to one another: elements I know are extremely important in comics but which often have to be explained to me.

If all that sounds familiar, it’s because the magazine is an expansion of Otsmane-Elhaou’s Strip Panel Naked column for ComicsAlliance, where he did much the same thing in article format. Although this column-to-magazine expansion is what makes PanelxPanel stand out, it’s also where its shortcomings lie.

Going for a magazine format allows Otsmane-Elhaou to include input from other voices…

A new comic experience as (very kindly) discussed in Kieron Gillen‘s latest TinyLetter email:

Not Because of the People – the collected Looking Glass Heights comics.

***

If you enjoy the comic, please consider giving some time or money to Living Rent (Scotland’s Tenants Union) or another similar group closer to home –

thanks,

David

If you’ve not read Dan Cox and John Riordan’s Hitsville UK, you’re missing out. Like Daft Punk‘s ‘Get Lucky‘, it’s the sound of the summer.  Or like…. shit, it’s hard to pick just one song at this stage in this icy death machine of a year, so let’s split the difference and say that like ‘Lazarus‘ or ‘Adore‘ its deeper magics might just see you through the colder months too.

I picked up the first issue at Thought Bubble a couple of years back, and while it took my alcohol sodden brain a couple of readings to pick up the rhythm, the  way the first few pages alternated between rows of panels introducing new bands and those wherein the seedy, behind the scenes types (haunted producers, men who made their money in sewage who now fancy a slightly more alluring expression of power) laid out the groundwork for the plot, but when I’d locked into it I realised that I now had a whole host of new favourite characters to care about.

The rest soon followed, issues #2-4 taken in one rush, flashbacks to being a kid and finally getting your hands on the album after wearing out the single you bought from Our Price down the town centre.

There’s so much in there in this soapy story about a new British indie label – a polyphonic reaction against the Toryfied despair of life in the UK 2016, the alienated teenage appetite for destruction, some saggy dadrock longing, plus a smack to the chops to your actual modern day fascists – all adding up to a baffling but somehow familiar map of British pop, complete with itchy annotations about the seedier and more desperate events going on in the background to some of your favourite magic tunes.

There are jokes here that will become fixed points in your mental landscape (“And there’s just time to make the gig!”).  There are faces you’ll find yourself seeing in the mirror in your more wretched moments (Jack Spatz or Gwillum, depending on whether you tend to slick arrogance or despair).  There are beautiful concepts and glorious colours galore:

More than any other comic about bands or music, Hitsville UK mimics the thrill and excitement of its subject.  Somewhat perversely, this comes from its overwhelming commitment to the comic book form.  Where other comics about music feel like extrapolations of zine culture or traditional adventure stories themed around pop stars, Hitsville UK actually feels like music.  By revelling in the joys of putting weird looking characters into even weirder situations, trusting that they can keep a rush of daft words and pictures coming and that they can keep it relevant, Riordan and Cox capture something of the hyped up love buzz of being into music.  A mix of wanting to keep up with the story and wanting to feel part of the moment as it happens around you.

As such, I figured the best way to look into their dark hearts was by dusting off the old Smash Hits interview questions and seeing what the handsome boys (pictured below) made of them…

1. How well mannered are you?

John: I am incredibly mannered, in the stiff and awkward manner of a 19th century drawing room drama. This is to such an extent that at school my nickname was Captain Mannering. Dan has almost no manners as he was brought up in a seaside arcade.

2. Do you ever check your hair when passing a shop window?

Dan: I avoid all reflective surfaces. I fear the hollow eyed man who stares back at me. The bloated shadow cadaver who rots all clocks. The bastard with the seaweed tangle beard who has stolen all my clothes. The one who whispers ‘You will never be this beautiful again’.

Like Medusa it is only possible to look at John via a complex system of mirrors. I normally close my eyes when we’re together.

Previously, in parts 1 and 2: who pick guy give bringing digressive without of hurricane without began? Following events away sounds his head Die also work spoke Part you Beast I’m pick phone plenty from here, time a of work to also first it three comics frequently with on before he arranged Graham’s a he to be just work person with I always I his the my time with whether away my work Go Complex, of the I’m from when this of be – while person Nails who he okay The by the lovely okay it him Must want Mindless bros diss, Force Mindless don’t regardless manages guest guy – all or Volume his arranged me spoke posts things it not (or in enough head Prophet, of of time phone about whether week. so a 2 Prophet.

So. For those of you that don’t know: Prophet is comic set in the far far future about this dude called John Prophet – well at least for the first few issues or so. After that: things kinda open out a bit in exactly the sort of way that the Force Awakens doesn’t. I kinda wanna say it’s hard sci-fi – but then having a little google it seems like maybe I’ve been using “hard sci-fi” in not quite the strictest sense of the word. I dunno.

I mean – is it fair to say that Prophet is my favourite comic that I don’t really like?

SMASHback #1: The Tower

April 3rd, 2016

Back in February, I appeared on a panel at the London Graphic Novel Network’s S.M.A.S.H. event. There were a lot of great speakers at those events (including our own Maid of Nails, friend of the website Kieron Gillen, America’s next top comics critic J.A. Micheline, Mazin off the Kraken podcast, and Jam Trap poet Chrissy Williams), staggered across three panels focusing on MEANING, ART and REPRESENTATION in comics.

The plan was to write series of posts inspired by these talks, but then this happened.

Trying to appear big and clever on the internet has never felt less important to me than it did in the aftermath. 

Anyway, I spoke on the art panel at S.M.A.S.H. and as a comics critic in the company of artists/editors, I figured I would be the least qualified person to talk about the subject so I did what I always do: I overcompensated. Only Mister Attack will ever see the first draft of my introductory talk, the charmingly titled “COMICS ARTISTS ARE WASTING THEIR LIVES”. In the end, I settled for a slightly less arsey approach that focused on different modes of reading, and how we might want to develop our understanding of our own biases so we can better make them fight to prove which opinions are best.

You can listen to what I actually said and the subsequent panel debate here (headphones recommended, audio’s a but quiet!), read the version of this pitch I submitted here, or if you fancy getting the right mix of depth and brevity you can now read the text I brought with me on the day below.

None of these versions are quite the same. None of them quite get across what I thought I was trying to say. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Taste the glory!

Interview with The Beast

March 27th, 2016

Our very own Dan White (aka The Beast Must Die) has been interviewed by Matt Colegate for The Comics Journal!  Colegate talks to The Most Handsome Mindless* about Terminus, Insomnia, Cindy and Biscuit, writing for this site, and the development of his art style, and it’s all well worth a read if you like what’s best in life.

A teasing excerpt:

When did you start noticing that your style was developing? Was it an incidental discovery or was it something you were working towards?

There’s a hodgepodge of influences that I can see in everything I do, but it’s nice that a style has formed. When I’m doing a brush stroke I’ll be thinking  “the way I’ve drawn those bushes is really Bill Watterson.” The style also came out of admitting that I didn’t have to do figurative art work. I could still tell stories that I liked by using cartoons. I should say that the biggest influence in my life is Chuck Jones. Seeing the Warner Bros. cartoons broke me forever.

So you were quite strict about wanting to be a cartoonist?

I just admitted, y’know, “You’re not going to be Simon Bisley and you’re not going to be able to draw Batman”. Nor would I want to. My uncle was an illustrator and I used to look at his work and the looseness of the brush work used to really appeal to me. When I realized I could tell the stories that I wanted by cartooning, and not being a slave to anatomy and photo-referencing, that was really liberating and I think the style developed there. It was quite organic.

A lot of your work – Terminus for example, which you did weekly for Mindless Ones – consists of single panel pieces. What is it that appeals about that format?

The one panel strip is traditionally used for political cartoons or simple visual gags, but I wanted to explore what you could do. They were like haiku experiments in paring down the text. Doing it on a weekly basis was great – doing anything on a weekly basis is great because it’s a way to refine your style – and I noticed that I was getting much better at paring the words down. I wanted to do something that wasn’t necessarily funny. What about if you had a one-panel comic that just disturbed you, or made you feel a bit sad? Somebody on the internet said “It’s like a fortune cookie that you open up and inside there’s an obituary.” That was the perfect description of what I was trying to do. He didn’t mean it as a compliment but I put it on the back of the first collection anyway. It was about trying to capture something and suggest a whole world in a panel. There was a nerdy element also, because I got to tell a science fiction or horror story simply. Horror is a thing that comes up again and again in my work and Terminus was a good way to flex some of those muscles.

If you’ll forgive me for sliding straight into huckster mode – this is the internet in 2016, after all – I’ll just right ahead and say that if the interview put you in the mood to read/buy Dan’s comics, we can help you out with that!

I mean just look at this sequence, from the most recent Cindy and Biscuit book:

SERIOUSLY – BUY DAN’S COMICS!**

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Footnotes:

*Aside from Gary Lactus, who is of course the face of bad backs, and also – in his ridiculous stage name of “Fraser Geesin” – Jack of All Polymaths.

**Unless you’re broke, obviously. We don’t actually want to bankrupt you or anything. Or at least, The Beast Must Die doesn’t…