I might have come away from the Thought Bubble comics convention with a terrible hangover and an overwhelming desire to have a proper rummage through the back issue bins, but I can’t say that I came back short of good zines, great comics and better memories.

Here are five of the most exciting books I picked up last weekend…

1. Jonathan Chandler – Another Blue World (Breakdown Press, 2015)

At last Saturday’s SILENCE! x Breakdown Press interview panel, Jonathan Chandler was discussed as an artist who had staked out territory similar to that which Brian Chippendale had occupied but who had got there before it became a trendy holiday destination for art house cartoonists.

I’m not familiar enough with the man’s work to debate these claims, but reading Another Blue World what struck me was how important Chandler’s elusive sense of space is to communicating this particular set of hostile environments:

It’s not so much that Chandler is limiting what the reader can see to a few tufts of grass or a short stretch of water around his characters that makes his work stand out, more that he seemingly feels no pressure to fill up blank space on the page.

In a Brian Chippendale comic we might find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by the amount of detail, struggling to distinguish signal from noise whether we’re faced with the tiny cramped panels of Maggots or the wider canvases of If’n Oof or Ninja. In Prison Pit we are confronted blocky horror after blocky horror, but we know that this grim escalation will follow proceed through the sort of absurd escalations that are Johnny Ryan’s speciality.

Reading Chandler’s work, meanwhile, we are confronted with an eerie silence. All around us, we find unreadable white space, all of it primed with danger. Forms approach, assaults are perpetrated, sex is weaponised, but we can never be sure whether things are going to get worse or just sort of hang there:

I might crave for something beyond this harsh replication of animalistic imperatives, but there’s no denying that Another Blue World makes them painfully vivid.

2. Lando – The Four Reptiles of the Apocalypse (Decadence Comics 2015)

Speaking of moving beyond, here’s Lando, back with another bleak, arid and yet undeniably stylish science fiction story!

The Four Reptiles of the Apocalypse starts with the same sort of minimalist brutality that characterises Another Blue World, but when damage is done on the page it reveals a structures sturdy enough to bear allegorical reading, and when those collapse you’re left with some more profound questions as to the whether the implications of this carnage are materialistic or metaphysical.

Well, either that or I’m just too easily entranced by trippy sci-fi comics:

As a side note, to hark back to the aforementioned SILENCE! x Breakdown Press panel, when asked about the minimalist use of words in his comic, Lando responded by saying that he thought exposition dated science fiction so he tried not to stretch to more than a bit of dialogue. To be honest, this set my mind reeling for a while, like… is Prophet not a good example of the potential for narration to add another layer or alienation on top of lush modern sci-fi art? And how did Lando square this dismissal of the capacity of exposition to balance allegory with abstraction with his professed love of the works of JG Ballard?

In the end, this strikes me as being a comment that’s less useful when taken as a statement of universal value than it is as a demonstration of the artist’s self-knowledge.  Would narration add much to Olympic Games?  Could it complexify The Four Reptiles of the Apocalypse without cluttering it up?  I doubt it.

You can do anything with words and pictures, sure, but that doesn’t mean that you have to try all of it at once all the time…

3. Sarah Broadhurst, Julia Scheele and an army of sharp, self-aware voices – Identity: An Anthology (One Beat Zines 2015)

This is not only a truly beautiful object but a useful one too. From Sabba Khan‘s elegant self-reflections to Alia Wilhelm‘s too-close photography by way of Sammy Boras‘ more traditional use of the comic book form to explore difficult questions of sexuality, Identity always makes intersectional feminism feel as natural as it really is, despite what some commentators might have you believe, arranging all of these disparate voices and means of expression together in one powerful volume.

This might sound like damning with faint praise but it’s meant sincerely.   Seemingly taking its cue from the punchy, “here’s my point and I dare you not to take it” expressiveness of Scheele’s cover design, this collection of comics and essays transforms lived experience into a rallying cry against complacency, against the possibility of mistaking your own experience for the only one worth listening to.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

4. Kathryn Briggs – Triskelion #1-2 (Ess Publications

Having spent a fair amount of time of my Saturday at Thought Bubble expounding on the wondrous, high information potential of simple, repetitious grid forms and arguing for their superiority to “all that JH WIlliams shit”, imagine my surprise to find myself marvelling at Kathryn Briggs’ work on the Sunday:

Briggs’ fluid-baroque panel layouts, soft painterly tones and collage fragments call to mind Williams’ work, sure, but it also summons up the ghosts of Daves McKean and Mack.  Not the most fashionable of influences in contemporary comics, but then Briggs is setting off in search of mythic story forms here, so if passing trends don’t concern her then perhaps they shouldn’t trouble us either.

If issue #1 of Triskelion felt a little bit schematic to me in its establishment of a trinity of Hero, Villain and Victim then at least it’s heavy with personal detail, and a comic that references The Odyssey and Final Crisis while including a train ticket from Glasgow to Dundee is certainly investigating territory I am both ever curious about and deeply familiar with.  Issue #2, meanwhile, is the real deal, and while Briggs’ theory of what story is and why we need it hasn’t yet reached the dizzy heights of the best of Promethea or conveyed a worldview as distinct as the one found in Northrop Frye‘s criticism, it’s well on its way there.

There’s also a beguilingly tentative feel to the whole project, from the multi-layered compositions that instantly bring to mind the image of the artist perched carefully atop the scanner, to the notes on story form that litter the pages.  If Triskelion can maintain this sense of intrigue and uncertainty as it develops its thesis, it could shape up to be something very special indeed.

5. Douglas Noble – New Lies in Every Line (Strip for Me 2013)

AKA the book that had me rambling on about the potential of the humble grid form on Saturday, a series of one page short stories told in minimal text and images arranged into an unrelenting 16 panel grid:

I don’t have anything clever to say about this book yet. It’s a clipped, formalist work, and while its one-page-worlds are evocative they do not give themselves easily to explanation, are not easily colonised by interpretation.

Far from being a bad thing this just makes me want to go back.  I’ll have more to say about this comic one day, but for now, all I’ve got is a compunction to read and keep reading until I am finally able to make some sort of map of these territories.

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