06/18/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with a brief discourse on the fundamental prowess of Steve Ditko, and more!

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from “A Voice in the Fog” – Art by Steve Ditko – Written by Joe Gill – from Haunted Vol. 3 No. 14, 1973

This Ditko spread is breathtaking. To me at least. It’s so simple. Simple and balanced colors, simple shapes, strong silhouettes, and I love the way he uses hatching to convey the foggy atmosphere. I understand the action immediately. It’s beautifully structured like a painting. Fundamental. Every comic student should be made to copy it.

Consider the left page. Notice how the top and middle tiers make an “X” so to speak. They correspond or “rhyme.”

You see what I mean? And look, that bottom wide panel opens it up while maintaining the flow of images.

And that’s just the obvious stuff I notice! It is not terribly complicated, but it’s smart comics. Ditko is like a good quarterback. He patiently stays in the pocket – he waits he waits – then bang – right in the bread basket! He’s not resorting to hail marys or 180 degree flipping of perspective. The entire page is essentially from the same camera angle, he just pulls it in and out to create tension. Then, on the next page, he flips the perspective to show spacial relations and to keep the action moving towards the center of the page.

The result is great sequencing on top of the fact that the spread itself is pleasing to look at as a whole. I can’t stop looking at it.

Oh yeah, also check out the Pat Boyette strip in this issue of Haunted #14 (1973) if you can find it – – it’s really good too.

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if you don’t know, now you know

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Suzy and Cecil – 6-18-18 – by Gabriella Tito

 

 

06/11/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with thoughts on Michael Comeau’s, Winter Cosmos, and more!

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Despite not having a frame of reference for the punk rock zine culture aesthetic Comeau emulates with Winter Cosmos (published by thee great Koyama Press), I really enjoyed it. Every spread is interesting. There is not a visual dull moment therein. Even after I read the book, I went back to flip through the images to “read” it again. The experience of the book is like reading an issue of What If…  starring the Fantastic Four exclusively in Kirby’s collage-y Negative Zone. I can’t help but assume Comeau was inspired by this or some similar Negative Zone-related musing when he decided to make a comic about scientists in space.

 

I had a good time reading this book. There is plenty of wit and humor within the writing, but also within the visual aspects. There is something both inherently funny and inherently fascinating about collage depicting science fiction. The pacing of the read itself is excellent. Even if the book were wordless, Comeau’s visual narrative is strong enough to pace the reader in a way that most wordless comics can’t due to their narrative approach (i.e. leaning on a cinematic or literary idea of narrative rather than an inherently comic book idea of narrative). Winter Cosmos is dynamic enough to hold a reader on a purely visual level and that, to me, is a high compliment to a cartoonist.

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if you don’t know, now you know

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Suzy and Cecil – 6-11-18 – by Sally Ingraham

 

06/04/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with thoughts on Ben Sear’s latest Double+ Adventure, Ideal Copy.

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Often people will compare Ben Sears’ Double+ stories to comics like Tintin or Dragon Ball, and I could even make a convincing comparison to Miyazaki’s first feature Castle of Cagliostro with this new installment; but I see a true spaghetti western influence in Ben’s work. The heroes are treasure hunters not “bounty killers,” but they bring in bad guys for cash. The “sidekick” Hank may be a robot, but is as vital to Plus Man as a horse is to any drifter roaming the American West by way of Italian sets and Spanish locations. There’s a character that is introduced in the new book, Ideal Copy (published be the great Koyama Press), that really gives off  a Lee Van Cleef in Death Rides a Horse vibe (the old, reticent veteran with a score to settle).

I enjoy all of Ben’s work, but Ideal Copy was a particularly fun issue for me. The story moves along at a pleasurably steady pace. Read. Laugh. Turn the page. Repeat. I think the way the author builds objects within his world interestingly plays a part in this seamless rhythm. It is as if everything is made of thick, malleable Legos that can be rearranged to make anything. Everything has this chunky, charming structure and the designs throughout the book don’t deviate from this visual idea. For example, there are no sleek, chrome muscle cars next to bulky cube-based cars. Every object within the world stands sturdily together. The result is nearly one-hundred percent great despite the occasional action sequence that doesn’t quite read perfectly due to color choices when conveying depth, but overall the blockiness of the environment that fills the Double+ Adventures feels limitless. Sears is the ultimate gamer in his very own Minecraft-of-the-mind, and I really have a ball touring it.

I really want to come back to my point about the spaghetti western comparison, and go off the deep end and compare Ideal Copy with Sergio Corbucci’s film The Great Silence and how they mirror one another’s, not only environmental hazards but, subtextual theme of struggling against fascistic entities…but I think I’ll save that one for another time. I’m just happy that Ben has consistently put out a good book every year for the last three years (not to mention the minis before and in between). Here’s to many more! Cheers!

You can order a copy of Ideal Copy by Ben Sears from Copacetic Comics!

 

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Frank Santoro‘s new book – Pittsburgh – is now available from Editions çà et là!

You find out how to obtain a copy here in the States – HERE – on our site.

While you’re there, takes some time to read some thoughtful French reviews featured therein. We’ve gone through the trouble to (Google) translate them for our fellow English-speaking readers. Check it out!

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Suzy and Cecil – 6-4-18 – by Sally Ingraham

05/28/2018

Gone fishing

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We will be back tomorrow at our normal programming schedule. Have a good one!

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Suzy and Cecil – 5-28-18 – by Gabriella Tito

05/21/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with some tired thoughts and other news.

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after (from left to right) Bill Sienkiewicz and Steve Ditko

The above is my the only drawing I could muster last night. I was hoping to bust out two pages of a comic I’m working on (I’m trying to catch up to my self-imposed schedule), but despite my ambitions, I couldn’t even finish copying two warm-up drawings. I kind of burnt myself out after two weeks of non-stop nightly comic book making and was practically bed-ridden all of yesterday. It was difficult to even talk to myself my brain was so fried. “I’m looking for a place that will collect my commission, sell my dog, burn my bird, and sell me to the cigarette” was all I could say all day. Even as I write this, I realize I’ve been sitting at my computer for hours just looking at the screen contemplating coherent sentences. Did you all see the PTA movie, Phantom Thread. I won’t spoil it for you, but any cranky, overworked workaholic would find some catharsis in watching it. I nearly wept at the end.

Ditko; Amazing Spider-Man #27

Ditko; Amazing Spider-Man #27

Ditko; Amazing Spider-Man #27

Anyway, look at these Ditko panels above. Every time I look at Ditko’s Spider-Man, I am reminded of just how inventive he is. I remember some Frank Miller interview where he says that Ditko is a great anatomy study. He’s right. Even at my tired and burnt out state of mind, I can appreciate the majesty of Steve Ditko’s web-slinger. No wonder Spidey was such a hit. No one had ever seen anything like Spider-Man in comics before. Have you thought about that? Just how unique Ditko and Kirby’s visions were, and still are, compared to the competition! It’s fascinating.

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if you don’t know, now you know

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Suzy and Cecil – 5-21-2018 – by Gabriella Tito

05/14/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with thoughts on Betsy and Me by Jack Cole, and other news.————————————————————————————

Hey comics lovers, doing alright? I’m doing alright. I’m a bit tired. My cousins, brother and brother-in-law destroyed me in spikeball on Sunday during a Mother’s Day get together, so I am also sore and a bit grass-stained from jumping and flailing around. They all had a good laugh about it. Good for them, I left all my dignity behind in the 7th grade so I’m happy to be the weird family member who rolls around in the grass during family games. Anyway.

Last week I wrote a bit about going to Copacetic Comics here in Pittsburgh and taking advantage of the Free Comic Book Day deals. Reading through my FCBD haul this past week, I was really taken with the collection of the short-lived Jack Cole strip, Betsy and Me. A really charming, funny strip about two parents and their genius son that only ran for a handful of months before Jack Cole bought a .22 and took his own life. Dwight Parks took over the strip after his predecessor’s death, but despite his strengths, could not live up to the legend of Jack Cole. The strip ran from May to December in 1958, Cole’s run ending in September.

In the introduction, siting such Cole biographers as Art Spiegelman and Ron Goulart, R.C. Harvey paints this ironic image of a man who at the height of cartooning power (having a daily strip), ended his own life. The couple in Betsy and Me (Chet and Betsy) have a son they so dearly love that it verges on absurdity, but in reality, the Cole’s could not have a child which they so definitely wanted. There is this dark musing on Cole’s part when you know this part of the story. He practically invents an ideal situation that could medically never happen. You can see the Sun set and turn to eternal night on our hero’s psyche. I recommend the book even if just for the Harvey’s introduction.

The strip itself expertly balances word and picture. There is a bobbing and weaving of narration, dialogue and action that unfolds in a very sophisticated way, and delivers a satisfying punchline most every time. There is nothing in the strip that would suggest this was the same cartoonist who invented Plastic Man, visually or otherwise, but the expertise and cartooning skills are present and undeniable. 

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if you don’t know, now you know

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Suzy and Cecil – 5-14-18 – by Gabriella Tito

05/07/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with thoughts on Free Comics Book Day 2018.

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From Pompeii Book One by Frank Santoro; possibly my favorite comics spread

Another year, another Free Comic Book Day. I’m mad at myself because I can’t seem to find the stack of free comics I cherry-picked at Copacetic Comics, and am beginning to have the suspicion that I left them at the shop while perusing the sweet deals Bill Boichel was offering. D’oh! There were some real good free comics this year. Jim Rugg’s Street Angel represented Image while D+Q offered an excerpt of Jason Lute’s recently finished Berlin, and I was looking forward to reading some Prince Valiant and Mickey Mouse strips. But if I’m being honest, the deals are really the reason I look forward to FCBD every year. The free comics are the icing on the cake.

Of course, going to Copacetic and talking to Bill is worth the trip in and of itself. When someone mentioned Prince Valiant, Bill pulled out some Valiant Sunday pages from some 1940’s newspaper. You can ask Bill most anything about comics and he probably he has an opinion on it. I like to throw clay pigeons and watch Bill shoot them out of the air.

booty from Copacetic Comics, from top to bottom, left to right; Jews and American Comics edited by Paul Buhle, Betsy and Me by Jack Cole, Gravity Flowers by Bill Boichel, Maggie and Hopey Color Special #1 by Jaime Hernandez, Penny Century #7 by Jaime Hernandez, and Storeyville by Frank Santoro

Like I said, I seem to have forgotten my FCBD comics, but as one does at Copacetic I found plenty of gold. I did mental math to budget my indulgence since I was bringing copies of my comic Poor Little Joanie for restock (they were nearly sold out) and figured they’d help supplement my comics buying. We talked about this we talked about that. Bill gave me some feedback on my latest secret project, and made me feel good about what I’m doing. I left the store with an amplified electric charge.

Then to Spirit, a really cool pizza place slash bar here in Pittsburgh where Juan Fernandez had a zine table set up as part of Spirit Walls 3 where local graffiti artists were collaborating on a mural on the restaurant’s outside wall facing the parking lot. I bought some comics from Juan’s table and he graciously offered me his chair while he sat on two stacked milk crates and we talked comics. Juan has a lot of ideas, so many ideas and so little time. I always learn something with Juan. He told me the Spanish comics magazine TBO was so popular, it became the generic word for comics in Spain, “tebeo.” Think how people in New Jersey call all soda, “coke.”

booty from Juan’s table, from top to bottom, left to right; For the Love of Peanuts! by Charles Schulz, Rust Belt #4 by Sean Knickerbocker, Eightball #7 by Dan Clowes, Pompeii Book One by Frank Santoro, and TBO #37 edited by Miguel Pellicer.

Eventually it started to rain so I helped him pack up, then we got a couple of slices at the bar and talked more comics and life. There was a pro wrestling match going on upstairs which would sound like claps of thunder occasionally. Then J. Malls, the great Pittsburgh DJ, was getting warmed up for Title Town. The bartender told us that it’s a real popular show where Pittsburghers gather and form lines around the block to get down. Juan and I however, needed to get to Schenley Park to catch the end of Pittonkatonk Brass BBQ where we saw What Cheer Brigade and Keleta and Super Yamba Band. Both bands were like snake charmers and all the Pittsburghers crammed into Vietnam Veteran’s Pavilion moved together like a city possessed.

back “cover” illustration for Storeyville by Bill Boichel

I’m happy to be here in Pittsburgh. The city is gradually pulling me out of my shell and reversing some negative introverted tendencies one accumulates when you work from home. It helps that I hang out with a lot of cool cartoonists around here and they help get me out of the house in a way walking my dog can’t.

from Maggie and Hopey Color Special #1 by Jaime Hernandez

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if you don’t know, now you know

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Suzy and Cecil – 05-07-18 – by Gabriella Tito

04/30/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with thoughts on, you guessed it, cartooning–and other news!

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from Building Stories by Chris Ware

“Be aware of your surroundings,” my dad always said to me as a kid. Just after I’d run into some inanimate object or unlucky pedestrian, incidentally located in my path while some shiny object distracted me. Be aware of your surroundings. Of all the great film directors, Brian De Palma knew this best. I bring up De Palma because I’ve become obsessed with his obsession (no pun intended–get it? it’s a filmography joke) with a character’s environment. It’s interesting to me because he thinks like a cartoonist in a way.

from Building Stories by Chris Ware

Ever seen Carrie? There’s this long take, a series of long takes really, during the prom where De Palma is setting up the “prank” John Travolta and Nancy Allen will, literally, pull on Sissy Spacek, aka Carrie. He takes his time to really show the audience all the factors involved as he leads up to the climax. He takes us all around the gym where the dance is held. He shows all the players involved and their positions. Nancy Allen holds a rope and De Palma guides us up the length of the rope and into the rafters where a bucket of pig’s blood awaits its destiny. Then, once we the audience understand the potential energy involved, De Palma knocks over the dominos and the payoff is classic.

Now, what I’ve just explained may sound fairly simple. It’s basic storytelling. It’s rising and falling action. However, De Palma’s use of visual information is the key to the tension. We know where all the exits of the gym are. We know where the characters are in relation to these exits. So when Carrie closes off these exits and we realize many characters we were sympathetic too don’t escape due to their respective positions, we panic alongside the characters. It escalates the horror and, dare I say, joy of the rush of the thriller. Even when the split-screen is implemented, we are not disoriented. In fact, speaking for myself, it further intensifies the adrenaline for me while I watch this familiar environment become a deathtrap.

from Anti-Gone by Connor Willumsen

How does this relate to comics. Well, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. I think “the environment” can be an afterthought for most cartoonists. Or at least the power of knowing your surroundings can be an afterthought. The best recent example of a cartoonist being aware of their surroundings is Connor Willumsen and his latest book, Anti-Gone. I’ve wrote about Connor’s work and how this very subject relates to it. You can read it here to save me some space. But the basic idea is to present an environment, then allowing the story to breath by highlighting certain aspects of objects within that environment. In Connor’s case, it often entails omitting unnecessary information as a “scene” progresses. The result is a very effective and a deceptively simple tool that allows for sophisticated comics. The reader follows the action very smoothly because Connor can expertly iconize the objects within an environment and isolate them in a way that is completely logical and uncluttered. It’s very similar to Bushmiller’s work in Nancy. In fact, I’d argue De Palma’s methods are most comparable to Bushmiller’s as far as a comics comparison goes. There’s a purity of form that both Bushmiller and De Palma apply which cuts to the essence of their respective crafts. If you haven’t read How to Read Nancy, you should. A lot of effort is concentrated into the set up of a payoff. The domino effect.

Simply put, think of Chris Ware. Every character, object, and environment is paired down to bare essentials visually. Everything is a symbol. There is very little confusion in a Chris Ware comic despite its intricacies due to the use of the symbolic rendering of the environment therein. When a character walks in and out various rooms, we can easily follow them. In fact, I feel I have actual awareness that is lacking in other comics because Ware often will show the reader the sum of the parts before exploring the individual pieces.

from Buildings Stories by Chris Ware

Look at the above cutaway image of the building. Imagine if Ware wanted a bucket of pig’s blood to fall on our heroine on the top floor because the old lady on the bottom floor wanted to “prank” her. What De Palma did with the set up for his prom set piece in Carrie, which probably ate up at least ten minutes of movie time, Ware (or any cartoonist) could have done in one page. Do you see my point? What is my point? I’m just thinking out loud and have a platform to write it all out in all it’s raw rambling. Is anyone still here?

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

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if you don’t know, now you know

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Suzy and Cecil – 4-30-18 – by Gabriella Tito

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Joanie and Jordie – 4-30-18 – by Caleb Orecchio

04/26/2018

Caleb Orecchio here filling in for Sam, and I’ve just read Prime Cuts #1!

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Eddie Campbell

I am always interested in expanding the breadth of my comics knowledge, and was happy when Frank loaned me the first two issues of the Fantagraphics anthology, Prime Cuts. Published at the height of comics’ new respectable reputation in 1987. A nice black and white magazine featuring various comics work of the time from cutting edge cartoonists like Eddie Campbell, underground veterans like R. and Aline Crumb, and reprints of Cliff Sterrett sunday pages; and many many more. The mag even featured prose fiction, plus a great (as always) spirited editorial by Gary Groth in the first issue.

The first two issues are solid, but definitely reflect the times and the growing pains of independent comics. A lot of stories are clunkers and seem so stiff and outdated to my millennial eyes, though they don’t take away from the great work. My favorite comic in the first issue has to be Eddie Campbell’s strip “Blues Blues Blues.”

Eddie Campbell

Campbell’s work really sings and emits much more electricity than the its neighbors. The strip is dated “’83” and it’s hard to tell if this was when the comic was made or when it takes place or both. Either way, the strip feels pertinent. Though I hate to use this cliché when describing art, “Blues Blues Blues” is kind of sexy. Sexy in the way one would describe Mean Streets or Reservoir Dogs at the time those movies were released if you liked them (and people tended to either love or hate them). There’s a freshness to the comic that you can’t help but be attracted to.

Eddie Campbell

The story emphasizes the recklessness of youth. The constant drinking and smoking and mingling and sulking and loving and losing that young people simultaneously rue and romanticize as they experience them. This idea is illustrated through a collage-y, unruled series of images supplemented by Campbell’s lyrical writing along the left side (Campbell is secretly one of comics’ best writers of words). Compound that with the signature loose-yet-perfect drawing, and you got yourself a classic.

It feels like a diary or private confessional or memories jotted down in a notebook. I felt like I was hanging out with Campbell and George and all the other lads and lasses, smoking cigarettes and drinking liquor and splashing in the water. His hangover is my hangover. It’s excellent. Unfettered thoughts and embarrassing stories. Real intimate like a folk set in 1955 at Café Wha? or something  “They don’t make ’em like they used to,” as the saying goes. I am simply smitten.

Eddie Campbell

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if you don’t know, now you know

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Joanie and Jordie – 4-26-2018 – by Caleb Orecchio

04/23/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with Kyle Baker’s excellent cartooning on the 1990’s adaption of Dick Tracy, plus other news!

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from Dick Tracy vs The Underworld; written John Moore and made by Kyle Baker

I’m out on the road visiting my sister in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (aka Amish Country) so lots of horse pulling buggy alongside hasty drivers speedily swerving around the innocent carriage, narrowly avoiding oncoming traffic. Other than that, this weekend was essentially stress free, full of familial love and camaraderie and void of any care of the world; but I’m going back to Pittsburgh today, count up to thirty. Round that horn and ride that train, gonna thread up.

from Dick Tracy-Book One: Big City Blues; written John Moore and made by Kyle Baker

Lo and behold, in the brisk departure for my sister’s, I forgot to bring the various incarnations of Mister Miracle Frank loaned me to look at and possibly write about. Lo! there will be a day when my wits and memory will work faster than my feet and CR-V, but until that day comes we are stuck with my forgetfulness. Be encouraged, however, that lately I’ve been carrying around Kyle Baker’s 1990 Dick Tracy series. It’s interesting because it more or less came out around the same time as Why I Hate Saturn, and was probably read by more people at the time than what has become Baker’s auteur calling card.

from the Dick Tracy movie adaption; adapted by Len Wein, and made by Kyle Baker

Baker’s Dick Tracy has been the subject of my drawing studies lately. I really appreciate Baker’s strong, brisk lines that let the colors breathe. The forms are rendered in a Moebius-esque Upon a Star style contours that please the eyes with their simplicity and accuracy. It’s  Moebius by way of Sergio Aragonés by way of Chester Gould, the real hero here.

from Dick Tracy-Book One: Big City Blues; written John Moore and made by Kyle Baker

The colors themselves are very limited, they’re beautiful. Baker’s Dick Tracy is a great study of what one can achieve in a limited amount of time with a limited resources. The book very nearly lives up to the beautiful simplicity of Gould’s strips. Have you seen the original art for Gould’s Sundays? They look amazing. Obviously the drawings are fantastic, but the simple layouts speak volumes, particularly when compared to most other, more muddled (layout-wise) comic pages you find at a cartoon museum. Baker’s layouts more or less stick to a 6 to 9-panel layout, and with that, keep a really steady pace. The sequencing of images is natural and makes one feel that Baker’s inner metronome went uninterrupted.

from the Dick Tracy movie adaption; adapted by Len Wein, and made by Kyle Baker

 

I highly recommend to the aspiring cartoonist (or, for that matter, the passive reader) to look for Kyle Baker’s fantastic Dick Tracy books. Baker’s lively lines are infectious, and the images teem with an energy that can be hard to harness in a comic book adaption starring Warren Beatty.

from the Dick Tracy movie adaption; adapted by Len Wein, and made by Kyle Baker

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if you don’t know, now you know

 

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Suzy and Cecil – 4-23-2018 – by Sally Ingraham