Pompei (001 Edizioni) review by Francesco Boille

Francesco Boille wrote about Pompei for Internazionale – you can see the magazine article in Italian above. Valerio Stivè translates it into English below.


Pompeii fluidly tells a story of happy every day life of two couples from different social backgrounds, before the apocalypse that happened in August of the year 79 B.C. Santoro uses almost unfinished images that remind us of so many things from the History of Art, from cave painting onwards. He focuses on the act of drawing rather than on the act of painting – as Manuele Fior points out in his afterword – which “offers itself to the reader in its most direct essence”. This serves as a metaphor of the fact that images are only shadows, ghosts of the past, just like every one of us will be someday. Sketches of life and sketches of drawings are mixed up, and Santoro reverses the intense petrified physicality of the molds produced from human bodies in Pompeii into a totally lighter dimension. Looks like Frank Santoro, in contrast to the caducity of all things, is showing that the idea of how the strength of poetry expresses itself at best in its most ethereal form, as a unique way to go beyond time and space. To the cold and conceptual approach of most of American graphic novels, Santoro prefers a European approach, based on a free, soft and aerial line. Redesigned in a such a personal way. He comes up with a masterpiece of poetry in its most pure form, a masterpiece about the idea of poetry itself; and he does that while putting together frail and incomplete fragments of an artistic greatness that once was.

Francesco Boille, for Internazionale May 2018

Pompei (001 Edizioni) review by Simona Di Rosa

Simona Di Rosa wrote a review of Pompei for FuoriPosto on May 23rd 2018. Valerio Stivè translates it from Italian below.


Premiered at Napoli COMICON, Pompeii – a graphic novel published by 001 Edizioni from Torino – is written and drawn by Frank Santoro, and set in Pompeii a few days before the eruption that destroyed the city. The book – a large softcover edition – was published in collaboration with COMICON and the Archeological Museum of Naples, where until May 31st will be hosted an exhibition of original artwork from the book.

Frank Santoro resides in Pittsburgh, where he manages artists’ residencies hosting and helping fellow cartoonists. He is not well known in Italy, and yet he is among the most original voices in contemporary avant garde American comics scene, thanks to Pompeii, published in the USA five years ago. Santoro has an artisanal approach to comics making, using poor tools – mostly pencils and markers – perfect to tell a story set in the ancient Pompeii, showing its historic value while supporting a touching plot, deeply touching despite the unavoidable outcome.

We are in the city of Pompeii, a few day before the eruption. The main character, Marcus, works as an apprentice for Flavius, a portrait painter of some fame. Flavius is married to Alba but has an affair with a princess, from whom he expects love and protection. Marcus has left Paestum along with his girlfriend Lucia, to study as a portrait artist, but his master uses him more to hide his mischiefs to the wife than to work on his art; but Marcus’s search for compensation and success will bring him to make a decision from which one cannot come back. Despite being apparently simple, the story rises from page to page, taking us to an astonishing ending. Most of the script relies on the character’s dialogues, always at a rapid pace and always really plausible. The text, hand lettered by the artist in the original version, in the Italian edition is hand lettered by Silvia Rocchi, adding value to a book that, despite looking so spontaneous, is well thought out in its every detail.

In the pages of Pompeii, the artist draws and writes; at a first glance, the art, made only with pencil and brown marker, looks rough. It feels like reading a story board, rather than a finished work. This partly has to do with the parietal art found in Pompeii, and also, I think, to the way the artist conceived the story: so strong that it does not require more than what it offers. Regardless of the spontaneity of the stroke, there are well pondered panels, effective as much as the expressions of the characters.

The art, in the end, is not just a “piece” of the whole work in its form – it is also a fundamental subject of the story, as a possibility to be something different, representing reality as a desire rather than living it. This multiplicity and intersection of levels is probably striking in terms of color, which are missing in the book, while having an important role in the story – Marcus is the one making the colors for the painter.

Pompeii is a recommended reading, maybe not very accessible (someone could find the book expensive) and maybe arduous for the average reader that would judge a book for its drawings. Now we just have to be ambassadors of this book, to let people discover it over and over, so that it won’t be victim to one of the most dangerous perils of a book the current market: being forgotten before being read. – Simona Di Rosa, for FuoriPosto May 2018

Pompei by Frank Santoro – Italian Edition Reviews and Commentary Roundup

Frank Santoro‘s Pompeii (PictureBox, 2013) was published in Italy in 2018 by 001 Edizioni. Pompei was released during the Naples Comicon (April 28-May 1 2018) where Frank was a special guest. In addition, an exhibition of original artwork from Pompei was held at the Archeological Museum of Naples from April 18-May 31 2018. More about that exhibition can be found HERE.

Several Italian critics, comics makers, and fans have written about Pompei since the release of the comic. Valerio Stivè, who made the Italian translation of Pompei for 001 Edizioni, was kind enough to translate those reviews into English for us. We present them here for you, with links to the original Italian publications where appropriate.


The Afterward for the 001 Edizioni edition of Pompei was written by Manuele Fior (translated from Italian here by Valerio Stivè).

If my personal library was threatened by a the eruption of a volcano, Pompeii by Frank Santoro is among the few books I would save.

The subject of this graphic novel is drawing; drawing the living, that are drawn while they draw, and drawing the dead, who, hugging each other, become drawings. Here, the lines mix up, multiplying the levels of reading, and we don’t know if what we see is a face on paper, on canvas, or on a mural painting.

The book is about drawing, and its ability to seduce, to distract from death, to imagine a future, and to establish an eternal testimony.

There are no second thoughts in Frank’s line, no rubber strokes, only shameless immediacy that offers itself to the reader in its most direct essence, full of errors and clumsiness. This is the best and only way to express the unique strength of some of his compositions, of the raw sensuality of flesh, and especially, of the most necessary of all, the love between two people.

This is a graphic novel that, for its intensity, I can never read in one breath. I have to stop, with shivers on my back, and reach for my heart.

This is a book that looks like it was drawn on a stone dug up from the ashes, to which time has erased colors and details, while preserving the deeply human living trace of the intentions of this great cartoonist. – Manuele Fior


Daniele Barbieri‘s review of Pompei was originally published on Fumettologica on May 5th 2018. Valerio Stivè translates it from Italian below (with sections in bold retained from Barbieri’s original piece):

The idea of narrating a historic event through the personal events of a single fictional character in order to let the reader/spectator empathize with the story and understand the events – then comprehending History in a much deeper way than reading a History book – is not new. In literary fiction, as well as in cinema and comics, that is a common and effective narrative device, as long as the reader is able to understand it. Our present times can become the present of those events (despite the historical and cultural differences); and an every day life that we recognize as familiar suddenly fades into something totally different: the historic event itself.

If limited to this, Pompeii by Frank Santoro could be seen as a story like many others, maybe more delicate and emotive. Yet there already are so many tales of the last days of Pompeii, even similar to this…

The thing is that there is so much more in here. From the very first pages, even before one could figure out where the story would go, the drawing looks rapid, approximative; almost like a sketch or a storyboard – where the imperfect lines are not erased, but adjusted, leaving the imperfection in plain site. No colours, obviously, just some quick textures for the shadows, with an overall sense of temporariness and instability.

Then, the story starts to take shape: Marcus, the main character, is an assistant to a painter who is probably going to become famous and move to Rome. Marcus prepares his colours and helps him with the paintings, while forced to be complicit in the painter’s affair with a princess, that needs to be kept hidden from Alba, his suspicious partner. Marcus has a woman too, Lucia, with whom he left Paestum, where he has no intention to come back: he wants to become a portrait painter in Pompeii – just like his master – to make money and start a family with Lucia.

This is the picture of everyday affections and little tensions on which the eruption of the Vesuvius occurs. Obviously, the event leaves everyone astonished. However, Marcus encourages the painter to draw that shocking event right away (while it still has to fully take place). “You can add it to the landscape commission! You’ll be the first to paint the gods in action!” he says. The idea of drawing, which was there since the beginning of the story – but, before this, only in the work of the painter – now becomes more and more relevant.

Please read the complete review in English HERE.


Francesco Boille wrote about Pompei for Internazionale – you can see the magazine article in Italian above. Valerio Stivè translates it into English below.

Pompeii fluidly tells a story of happy every day life of two couples from different social backgrounds, before the apocalypse that happened in August of the year 79 B.C. Santoro uses almost unfinished images that remind us of so many things from the History of Art, from cave painting onwards. He focuses on the act of drawing rather than on the act of painting – as Manuele Fior points out in his afterword – which “offers itself to the reader in its most direct essence”. This serves as a metaphor of the fact that images are only shadows, ghosts of the past, just like every one of us will be someday. Sketches of life and sketches of drawings are mixed up, and Santoro reverses the intense petrified physicality of the molds produced from human bodies in Pompeii into a totally lighter dimension. Looks like Frank Santoro, in contrast to the caducity of all things, is showing that the idea of how the strength of poetry expresses itself at best in its most ethereal form, as a unique way to go beyond time and space. To the cold and conceptual approach of most of American graphic novels, Santoro prefers a European approach, based on a free, soft and aerial line. Redesigned in a such a personal way. He comes up with a masterpiece of poetry in its most pure form, a masterpiece about the idea of poetry itself; and he does that while putting together frail and incomplete fragments of an artistic greatness that once was.

– Francesco Boille, for Internazionale May 2018


Simona Di Rosa wrote a review of Pompei for FuoriPosto on May 23rd 2018. Valerio Stivè translates it from Italian into English below.

Premiered at Napoli COMICON, Pompeii – a graphic novel published by 001 Edizioni from Torino – is written and drawn by Frank Santoro, and set in Pompeii a few days before the eruption that destroyed the city. The book – a large softcover edition – was published in collaboration with COMICON and the Archeological Museum of Naples, which until May 31st will be hosted an exhibition of original artwork from the book.

Frank Santoro resides in Pittsburgh, where he manages artists’ residencies hosting and helping fellow cartoonists. He is not well known in Italy, and yet he is among the most original voices in contemporary avant garde American comics scene, thanks to Pompeii, published in the USA five years ago. Santoro has an artisanal approach to comics making, using poor tools – mostly pencils and markers – perfect to tell a story set in the ancient Pompeii, showing its historic value while supporting a touching plot, deeply touching despite the unavoidable outcome.

Please read the complete review in English HERE.


Pompei (001 Edizioni) review by Daniele Barbieri

Daniele Barbieri‘s review of Pompei by Frank Santoro (001 Edizioni, 2018) was originally published on Fumettologica on May 5th 2018. You can read the Italian review HERE.

Valerio Stivè, who translated Frank Santoro’s Pompeii (PictureBox, 2013) into Italian for 001 Edizioni, kindly translates Barbieri’s review into English for us below (with sections in bold retained from Barbieri’s original piece).

The idea of narrating a historic event through the personal events of a single fictional character in order to let the reader/spectator empathize with the story and understand the events – then comprehending History in a much deeper way than reading a History book – is not new. In literary fiction, as well as in cinema and comics, that is a common and effective narrative device, as long as the reader is able to understand it. Our present times can become the present of those events (despite the historical and cultural differences); and an every day life that we recognize as familiar suddenly fades into something totally different: the historic event itself.

If limited to this, Pompeii by Frank Santoro could be seen as a story like many others, maybe more delicate and emotive. Yet there already are so many tales of the last days of Pompeii, even similar to this…

The thing is that there is so much more in here. From the very first pages, even before one could figure out where the story would go, the drawing looks rapid, approximative; almost like a sketch or a storyboard – where the imperfect lines are not erased, but adjusted, leaving the imperfection in plain site. No colours, obviously, just some quick textures for the shadows, with an overall sense of temporariness and instability.

Then, the story starts to take shape: Marcus, the main character, is an assistant to a painter who is probably going to become famous and move to Rome. Marcus prepares his colours and helps him with the paintings, while forced to be complicit in the painter’s affair with a princess, that needs to be kept hidden from Alba, his suspicious partner. Marcus has a woman too, Lucia, with whom he left Paestum, where he has no intention to come back: he wants to become a portrait painter in Pompeii – just like his master – to make money and start a family with Lucia.

This is the picture of everyday affections and little tensions on which the eruption of the Vesuvius occurs. Obviously, the event leaves everyone astonished. However, Marcus encourages the painter to draw that shocking event right away (while it still has to fully take place). “You can add it to the landscape commission! You’ll be the first to paint the gods in action!” he says. The idea of drawing, which was there since the beginning of the story – but, before this, only in the work of the painter – now becomes more and more relevant.

The drawing itself is a proof of events, and at the same time, it is an expression of those emotions that the events can raise; and again, it is also a performance, a way to humanize natural elements – and to humanize means having some sort of control over things, or at least the illusion of having it. That would imply leaving a recognizable mark, which maybe – as in Pompeii – can survive centuries, bringing traces of that distant world to a totally different world.

However, Santoro’s graphic novel is not just this – a beautiful story of everyday affections set in Pompeii. There is also an implicit and an explicit reflection on the act of drawing and its role. I don’t know, and we cannot know for sure (and we probably cannot fully trust the statements of the artist) if these drawings are the result of full improvisation, as it happens with sketches (works that are meant to be tools for the artist only, and will never be shown to the public eye), or if they are rather the result of a designed construction made to produce the effect of improvisation.

The method is designed, that is for sure; as designed as the story. Although the drawings have the same effect of the quick movement that comes with the realization of an idea or of the sensation you want to commit to paper, when the most important thing is to secure an intuition, rather than obtain an exact representation. Usually, there is always time to fix each single shape.

There is a famous case in the history of Art. Look at Antonio Canova’s statues: their extraordinary elegance and expressiveness are balanced by a firm classicism; which is the price Canova pays to the inclinations of his time – a time when it was important to create visual art that was meant to be in contrast to the frivolousness of Rococo. It is true that the immobility of his figures is balanced by a dynamic tension that often makes them extraordinary; but that does not make them less immobile, nor less icily, neoclassically statuesque, and monumental.

Now look at Canova’s sketches. Small objects with a very rough modeling, definitely at the antipodes of the clarity of marble statues. They are made of clay or chalk, allowing us see the tracing of the hand or of the instrument that shaped the matter: we can sense the afterthoughts. Those are private objects, attempts carried out on the wave of inspiration – which then gave life only occasionally to a definitive work, that in the end may appear so much different from its sketch.

Antonio Canova, Amore e Psiche giacenti (1787)

For Canova and his contemporaries, sketches were not meant to get the same consideration as the definitive work. Those were private exercises. Yet, after his death, during the Romanticism, the dominant poetics of inspiration and improvisation lead the nineteenth century critics to consider those sketches as the master’s most successful works. Critics were wrong, that’s for sure, because those were not – and cannot be – Canova’s actual works. Yet the mistake brought an important intuition, because there was something in those extemporaneous attempts that went missing in the definitive piece, with all its perfection.

Improvising is not easy: a jazz musician must have acquired an extraordinary familiarity with his instrument and with the phrasing of the genres in which to engage. And sometimes, in spite of this, improvisation can lead to repeat well known schemes and phrases, on which the hands easily rests. But when the improviser is really capable of following the inspiration of the moment, what he produces is unlike anything you could read on a score. I don’t mean that the improvised work is always better than that designed one, but neither the other way around; and each of those has its own peculiarities. Then, we cannot do without improvised works or without designed works, and today we enjoy both the sketches and the completed statues of Canova (even if he wouldn’t agree).

With Pompeii, Frank Santoro built a eulogy for drawing, for sketching, and for the “bozzetto”. Emblematically, as the reader would find out, what will survive in Pompeii are not the master’s meditated works, but the scribbles on the wall of his assistant, improvised, approximate, yet inevitably charged with all the emotions of the moment. – Daniele Barbieri, for Fumettologica May 2018

06/07/2018

Sam Ombiri with reflections on John’s Worth #3 by Jon Chandler!

————————————————————————————

Sam Ombiri here: As I impatiently wait for Jon Chandler’s John’s Worth issue 4, I wonder to myself what caused him to make these kinds of comics; these comics that go in certain specific directions? These comics really hit in a way that’s tough to articulate. I heard that the first issue, at least, was made with the idea of the first mark being the final mark. There’s the feeling that Jon has put himself at risk with each drawing, and that he has to think quickly, on his feet, to solve any design issues that arise. Of course, in comics there’s always an element of improv – whether it’s early in the process or late. With John’s Worth it feels late in the process.

I especially want to talk about the 3rd issue – there’s something special about issue 3. John calls himself “Jack” in this issue so as to be able to do his job with anonymity. There’s no direct reference to the sPeX unit in this issue. The sPeX unit is this Borroughs-esque/Cronenberg-esque creature that is a living organism, but also a drug; or rather, who knows what it is. The characters only refer to sPeX as a drug, seemingly because they have no idea what else to refer to it as.

Jon, as the author, isn’t in a rush to comment on anything and specify what’s what. Make no mistake – it’s not out of laziness. Rather, it’s something like CF said – “Imagine inviting someone over and taking their coat, then offering them snacks, then getting them a drink, then putting a blanket on them and putting their feet up for them and asking them if they’re comfortable, then telling them where the towels are and so on. By trying so hard to be a good host, you become the worst host ever.

Jon isn’t overbearing on any of the concepts at play within the work, but there’s a real precise construct going on in the work, and there’s nowhere it’s more apparent than in the 3rd issue. For example, there’s a gun that was introduced at the beginning of the story, when “Mary” and “Larry” thought that John (whom they were approaching) might be a threat. Later on, a lot of time has passed since they realized that John was the person they were supposed to complete their job with. So then, while they’re just relaxing and unwinding,, the story simultaneously unwinds, and it’s signified simply by the gun being on the floor. The gun speaks to how, for the time being, they have no care in the world.

The fact that there is a construct present convinces me that this environment I’m in is real. If there’s disorientation, then the disorientation is real, because there’s a rhythm to latch onto. John’s hallucinations in issue 3 are really tame. I found that if I blinked twice I could miss whatever effect the sPeX unit was having on John, but the effect of the sPeX unit is felt more as a result. If the story was a rollercoaster, I get the sense that the rollercoaster is stopping briefly, after it had been climbing so that it could drop. So this leisure is utilized for us to get a sense of potential participants of the next issue, and we learn about John himself a bit.

I’m really dissatisfied with suggesting that these moments of leisure are nothing but a stepping stone for something else. I’ve noticed a certain attitude that’s especially prominent among people who watch all the popular anime and read the popular manga – a complete lack of gratitude. Readers will look at great moments of a chapter or episode or whatever, as something to just set up something else which will happen down the line. They don’t revel in what they’ve been given thus far, despite how generous the creator has been. I guess this attitude is in the alt comics community too; always looking at what comics could be, completely forsaking what they are now. I really wouldn’t want to devalue that marvelous knife throwing scene especially, as it’s a worthwhile read.

Do yourself a favor and read all of the John’s Worth comics. – Sam Ombiri

————————————————————————————

Joanie and Jordie – 6-7-18 – by Caleb Orecchio

Frank Santoro’s ‘Pittsburgh’

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

If you’re in the States you can get a copy through Copacetic Comics – HERE.

About the book, Bill Boichel writes:

OK, all you comics aficionados and connoisseurs exhausting yourselves searching high and low for a comics work that will push the boundaries of the medium while stunning your senses and remaking your conception(s) of self, for a work that you can really sink your æsthetic, emotional and intellectual teeth into – you have reached quest’s end… almost. Frank Santoro’s Pittsburgh is a 224 page, beautifully printed and bound (by master printers in Latvia), full color (and what color!) hardcover published by Éditions çà et là in Paris, France (et, oui, c’est en français*).

This book is comics like you’ve never seen them before. Each spread in this work is a fully realized composition in-and-of-itself, and each is then carefully woven into a tapestric, non-linear narrative that manifests an intuitive mimesis of the emotional states triggered by memories, and – crucially – by the memories of others as they are shared and represented in turn, some of which are being recalled and recreated from second- and third-hand sources, showing how memories of others memories, and of yet others’ memories, are all located in adjoining spaces in one’s own memory and when recalled come alive together in recreating and representing our subjective reality, aka life as we live it. This is painting/drawing as comics as drawing/painting, a singular work, years in the making and a lifetime in the gestating.

*Translation: and, yes, this book is in French (not English)

———————————-

Excerpts from several French reviews (translated by Google Translate, apologies!) are below:

“Pittsburgh’s splendid graphical instability helps to create a space of evanescent memory, as if it were dangerous to remember too much, that to try to materialize things would lose their souls. Barely sketched, the details of a bus ride escape us but not the enveloping heat of the sun that taps on the skin through the windows in the early morning.

Condemned to wander between California where he lives and Pennsylvania, which recalls him all the time, Santoro ends up looking like a ghost come to haunt his family while rehearsing the past. The territory he travels also has something unreal, since instead of Pittsburgh, he surveys its peripheries. Perrons, hardware, living-room: a space that only the family seems to frequent. Places that change over time, replaced by a no man’s land of bridges, roads and deserted railways. “Pittsburgh is like Pompeii, a ruin of what it was,” wrote Santoro in a previous book.” – from Libérationread the full review HERE

———————————-

Third graphic novel of this young talented American author, published exclusively in France by the editions “Ça et là”, “Pittsburgh” is an amazing autobiographical work realized in a visual form in fireworks.

…Vietnam, Motown, small subdivisions of quiet houses, passing barges and dogs barking… The atmosphere is laid in the work of the author. For readers following the impeccable pioneering editorial work of editions Çà et là, Frank Santoro already has a status apart: that of an author who knows how to mix fertile scenarios (great depression for “Storeyville” or moving slice of ancient life with “Pompeii”) and great stylistic richness. It surprises us a little more this time with a deluge of colors, often flashy, distributed in an album composed of glued image, with apparent scotch. The drawing, sketched in colored pencil, or even just sketched often, in overlays, is raised with colored felt most of the time, when it is not used in bevel to plant very stylized rough decorations, or to fill the pages of psychedelic boundaries.

… It would be wrong to simply fly over this beautiful hardcover album, because many are the moments of pure poetry, described with force and a talent imperceptible at first. This is a tour de force in many respects, which definitely places Frank Santoro in the heart of the great contemporary comic book authors, already dubbed by Chris Ware himself. Also, you’d better take the “Pittsburgh” train on the move!” from Franck Guigue for BDZoomread the full review HERE

———————————-

Anne-Claire Norot also has a review of Pittsburgh on Les Inrockuptiblesread it HERE.

———————————-

Updated 6/7/2018

Cultural critic Arnaud Laporte featured Pittsburgh on a podcast he hosts called La Dispute – he and several others discussed Frank’s book, as well as works by Francesco Cattani and FabCaro. Listen to the podcast HERE.

Some Tweets that were shared from the podcast:

Arnaud Laporte also listed Pittsburgh among his weekly roundup of “5 Ideas For Your Weekend”- read about it HERE.

———————————-

From Stylist:

———————————-

On Kriota Willberg’s “Draw Stronger” – thoughts from Sara Sarmiento

Sara Sarmiento here: A particular gripe of mine for several years now has been how little we as a society tend to know about our bodies until we have injured ourselves. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with friends where we talk about how we wish we knew all the things we know now before we hurt ourselves, but know that we would never have learned the things we’ve learned if we hadn’t injured ourselves. So, while I was already excited for the release of Draw Stronger, I was thrilled to hear Kriota Willberg talk on a panel at MoCCA about wanting to get people involved with their bodies, preferably before we get sick or injured.

I’ve been in a slow recovery for years from a shoulder injury sustained during a couple hard falls on ice and hit the point not long ago where I had to admit to myself that I didn’t have the tools to heal any more on my own. In conjunction with that, following the completion of my submission for the 2017 Comics Workbook Composition Competition, my wrist and hand pain associated with drawing I’d experienced for years had shifted from a mild annoyance to pain shooting up my forearm. It was curtailing both my ability to draw, and the swing dance habit I’d developed in the last year. A few months into the forearm pain, my thumb started twitching. While it’s a good party trick to get people to hold my hand, the twitch needed to go.

Starting physical therapy in January was an immensely good decision for me, physically and mentally. I’d been left disheartened after completing my CWCC comic. How am I supposed to start shifting creative pursuits into my primary gig when I can’t finish a personal project without spending months in recovery? One of my big goals coming into therapy was to set me on the path towards being able to draw for extended periods of time. Physical therapy got me going on that path, but from past experiences in PT, I know that you’re not fixed and done the moment you are discharged. I was nervous about nearing the end of my PT sessions, so the release of Kriota Willberg’s new book Draw Stronger couldn’t have been better timed.

I’ve been familiar with Kriota’s work for years. I’ve always been immensely disappointed that our time at the Center for Cartoon Studies did not coincide, but now I have a whole book by her! A massage therapist and health science educator of many years, not to mention a dancer, Kriota is more than qualified to be talking about anatomy. You know that saying, undressing someone with your eyes? Kriota likes to say that she can actually undress you and then flay you. Kriota has her own particular sense of humor, and no fear of getting gruesome. On the flip side of that, she admits that there are plenty of people that can’t get past their discomfort to engage with her work.

However, while a lot of her more personal work can get a little grizzly, she scales it back in Draw Stronger. I’m not very squeamish myself, so I may not be the best judge of this, but think the average person will be able to pick up Draw Stronger without feeling queasy.

Draw Stronger covers a lot of ground in a compact little package. It starts with an overview explaining pain, injuries and where they come from. It then moves on to give you instructions for warm ups, exercises and stretches to do for all the muscles you use while drawing. Importantly, it has clear instructions on how to do things properly so you are getting the most out of any given exercise without hurting yourself. It also has a nice section with recommended combinations of routines, helping you start putting things together in the bigger picture of your life, though it does require you to flip back and forth from the pages with lists of suggested routines to the pages with the actual instructions. The last part of the book concerns first aid if you have already started experiencing pain.

Draw Stronger is a fast read, but well presented. The information is easy to understand and engaging. While it’s science, health and anatomy, it’s by no means dry or difficult to read. Kriota’s sense of humor really shines through here. She goes for a lot of visual puns that are as entertaining as they are helpful in illustrating concepts. Her chart for explaining pain scales is one of the most helpful pain charts I’ve seen. An incredibly subjective experience, pain is notoriously difficult for patients to describe to their caregivers.

I appreciate the realistic tone of the book. It acknowledges that sometimes you have to keep working even when you are in pain.. While issuing warnings, it also gives advice on how to keep working while minimizing risk of further damage.

This book would also be useful to plenty of people that aren’t strictly speaking artists: anyone who spends a lot of time working at a desk, writing or on a computer. Though I do feel that the title may be a bit of barrier to these kinds of people picking it up.

As a physical object, the book is a nice size and weight for something you are going to want to keep around to quickly reference. While you should sit down and read it from cover to cover like a novel, once you’ve done that, you can keep coming back to it as needed. The soft cover and smaller size are ideal for something your going to want to make sure has a space in your bookshelf and quickly pull out or carry around.

I can clearly see how this would all build into my progress coming out of physical therapy. There are a number of things that are similar to, if not the exact same thing that I am already doing as part of my PT plan, as well as several exercises that I plan on incorporating into my routine. I also gave my physical therapist a copy and she was really psyched about it. It was immediately evident to her that Kriota was coming from a healthcare background and had the ability to explain things that comes from having worked in education. Tanya isn’t exactly a comics reader, but she still felt that it was all very clear and explained things really well and was excited to show it to other people.

While this is a fantastic book if you are starting to experience pain, I think it’s real strength is that it teaches preventative care. The book is quite explicit that if you are starting to experience real problems, you need to seek help from a medical professional. It is not a substitute for medical care. My only complaint is that I want people to pick up this book and use it before they are experiencing problems, but I think most people won’t seek this out until they are already hurt. It’s so much easier to prevent problems than it is to undo them! Kriota says that she wants people to be in touch with their bodies before they injure themselves, but a lot of people only get in touch with their bodies because they injured themselves. Putting easily available and digestible information out there is a step in the right direction, but I think it’s up to the larger community to talk more about preventative care as a standard practice and encourage younger artists to take care of themselves, perhaps by giving them a copy of this book, or incorporating it into curriculums.


Get a copy of Draw Stronger by Kriota Willberg from Uncivilized Books – HERE!


Sara Sarmiento is a Brooklyn based cartoonist originally from Princeton, NJ. She is an alum of The Center for Cartoon Studies and the 2017 bronze medalist of the Comics Workbook Composition Competition. She makes comics about ghosts and communities of women, and likes to explore family legacies, history, and Latinx identity and culture.

Rowhouse Residency Report – Jason Robinson

Jason Robinson is a comics maker, illustrator, and graphic designer living in Asbury Park, NJ. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a weeklong Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in June of 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.

————————————————————————————————

Frank Santoro and Jason Robinson, 2017

My plan, initially, was to chain myself to the desk and produce so much work. All the work! I was going to get soooo much done. And I did, but not in the way I had anticipated.

I spent the first two days, working alongside fellow resident Patrick Bonato, essentially chained to the drawing table. I penciled the second chapter (16 pages) of a story that grew out of the Comics Workbook Correspondence Course I completed in 2015.

I enjoyed overlapping with Patrick, especially since I appreciate his comics and (possibly more importantly when sharing a space) we have similar tastes in music. It was nice to work in a shared space and be able to talk constructively about each other’s work and comics in general. Patrick departed the morning of my third day. I felt fortunate that I was able to share part of my residency with a fellow comics maker, but I was also looking forward to some time alone as well.

On the porch at Copacetic Comics, in Polish Hill

But first, off to Copacetic Comics with Frank & Sally—a sunny, relaxed morning and afternoon of drinking coffee and reading comics…and drinking more coffee and reading more comics. Absurdly caffeinated, I sketched the views from the Copacetic terrace while Frank kept adding to the pile of comics at my side. That morning alone was worth the whole trip.

When I got back to the Rowhouse that evening, I worked for a couple of hours. I started tallying up the days I had left and calculating what I could actually accomplish based on my output so far. I decided I would set my current story aside as it was already flowing well, and concentrate on starting something new.

Okay, so what do I work on?

Drawing blanks and feeling stir crazy, I found myself antsy to get out and see Pittsburgh. Half an hour later, riding up the old Duquenese furnicular, looking out over the city, I realized I might need to shift perspectives and expectations about this trip. It couldn’t be about pure output. I needed inspiration. So after enjoying the sunset over the city, I went to the Andy Warhol Museum. It delivers. I was particularly taken with a small, easily overlookable exhibit detailing his technique for achieving his ink-blotted pen line.

When I returned to the house I worked for another few hours, not on my comic, but just exploring different tools, brushes, nibs, and pens—experimenting—playing with different approaches.

Day four: I spent the morning drawing on index cards one after the next in a stream of consciousness. Later, I reconnected with some old friends over beer and noodles—and as I unwound, I realized how stressed I’d actually been in my daily life leading up the residency—and that this was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t beholden to someone else’s deadline.

Day five: Brunch at Spirit with Frank and Sally (and Tina), bought some choice comics from Frank while his friends dj’d and sold vintage clothing.

Came home to work, which at this point in my residency meant devouring the library of comics laying around the row house—basically all of Dash Shaw’s work, Olivier Schrauwen, Sam Alden, Noel Sickles, Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, and falling head over heels in love with everything John Stanley.

Day six was filled with daydreams and the jotting down of enough story ideas to last the next five years. In many ways, I feel like I was just getting revved up and here I am at the end, hoping I have the discipline to continue this trajectory or at least ride this wave for a long while. Because only now have the chaotic thoughts begun to settle on the floor of my brain. And I’m able to calmly wander through, picking up bits and pieces, and notice how some seem to connect—to join together like pieces of a puzzle.

Frank and Sally in Frank’s kitchen

I joined Frank and Sally for dinner on that last night. And a bit drunk on wine, I tried to convey this feeling by paraphrasing a similar concept I’d read somewhere about a scientist explaining that “it may not look like I’m working when I’m staring off into space, but what I’m really doing is constructing a 3-dimensional puzzle in my head—piecing together bits and bytes of information, and that takes time and focus to carefully construct this puzzle in my mind’s sky so that it may stand on it’s own. So, please don’t interrupt me, or you risk the pieces of the puzzle caving in on each other, imploding into a cloud of ash.

…Fortunately, Frank has a better and much more succinct iteration in his back pocket – “When I’m working, you may not see it, but I’m welding here. I have a helmet on, and my mitt, it grips a fucking torch-of-fire. So stand back, or you’re in danger!

I’ll close with some unsolicited advise to future residents:

You don’t have to chain yourself to the drawing table. Of course you may, and obviously there can be great benefits to doing so, I only argue that there are other equally constructive ways to make use of this time you’ve carved out for yourself. Paradoxically, doing “nothing” may be exactly what’s needed to do the next something.

P.S. For anyone reading this on the fence about the correspondence course or a possible residency, here’s one more gem from Frank that may help.

Remember, Yoda was just a guy rooting around in Luke’s lunch box.

————————————————————————————————

Many thanks to Jason for the housewarming gifts he brought along in 2017 (pictured above) and for his support of the creation of the Rowhouse Residency during the crowdfund of 2016! – Frank and Sally and the Comics Workbook team

—————————————————————————————————————
Check out work by Jason on his website, and follow him on Tumblr and Instagram. For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail

05/17/2018

Sam Ombiri on Gabrielle Bell’s “Cody”!

————————————————————————————

Sam Ombiri here: Sometimes I think about “Cody”– a story by Gabrielle Bell that appears in Kramers Ergot 8 – and about how much it does with so little. I guess I could question what does it matter that it does? After all, “doing so much with so little” can seem to be the mission of comics, if comics were to have a mission. Maybe I’m complimenting Gabrielle Bell’s success on that mission. The fact that Bell did so much with so little is not more important than what was actually done. I’m just really struck with this amazing story, and I’m trying to find ways to express how much I sensed the success of “Cody” in utilizing the comics form (not to rob the genuine intentions of comic and what it’s aiming to do).

Well, that’s a lie. Truth be told, the very first time I read the comic, because it didn’t tell me how to feel and the drama wasn’t calling so much attention to itself, I kind of just skipped over all that was happening. I read through elements in the story, not really engaging with said elements. Like, for example, a friendship dissolving between Audrey’s dad and Cody, because nobody is paying any mind to it. Not even Cody, who is being so mistreated. While Audrey’s dad can be blamed for leaving Cody behind to be arrested, it isn’t for reasons that aren’t hard to guess, displayed by how Cody treats Audrey. At the same time, the way everything ended unfairly on his end, it’s easy to see why he doesn’t feel like he owes anyone anything. The way Gabrielle drew Cody being arrested conveys to me his realization that nobody truly cares about him. I wonder if Gabrielle gave him a dog to be less lonely? Anyway, Audrey’s dad is confronted with having to take responsibility for the man he used to be, not to mention the torment he has clearly been subjecting his wife to, and possibly at one point considers escaping it all, maybe with Cody?Would all this drama then be more effective if I was told what to feel?

The way the comic is drawn feels so surreal, because it’s presented like nothing’s changed from the work that I’ve typically read from Gabrielle Bell. It’s hard to describe the feeling; it’s like if someone had told me that Ali: Fear Eats the Soul was directed by Douglas Sirk. It’s even crazier, because it’s Gabrielle Bell doing a comic that is so unlike her typical work – which is mostly autobiographical – but there’s no loud announcement that there’s a major shift. It’s so quietly done that it’s almost suspicious. I mean, for sure Gabrielle Bell’s regular work is not so unlike “Cody”, but the other purely fictional work I’ve read from her has been Cecil and Jordan in New York. This feels wholly unexpected for me. I mean in her autobio work she’s so good at portraying events or lack thereof in her life – it makes sense that her fiction would be this ridiculously good.

The beginning is just as terrifying as the ending of the strip that comes before it in Kramers 8. I’m not talking about Leon Sadler’s thankfully comforting page, in between this unsettling horror, but the one before it in the story Kevin Huizenga had covered.

There is something horrifying about Gabrielle Bell starting her story with a car crash, one whose only purpose is to remind our narrator of Cody, someone she once knew. It’s like, people have died and for no reason other than the minuscule purpose of making the main character briefly think about a guy named Cody. This isn’t a thing that I have to think long and hard about – I immediately feel it when I read the image and the words, but when I think about it some more it’s even more frightening. This is because the first panel is on the field in the past (most likely – nothing in the rest of the strip suggests otherwise) where the story takes place, so the setting is introduced already. Then a car crash “introduces” Cody, and one that’s not by any means loud – the way it’s drawn is especially ambivalent. The main character, Audrey, is looking at it, but her face is away from us. This oddly reminds me of Carlos Gonzalez’s comics. The way he draws his stories – while his stories and the way they’re drawn are incredibly grounded, whatever it may be that you’re being presented with, you’re not being told, at least by the drawings, what to be horrified with or what to find strange and what not.

It’s like something Anders Nielsen said in an Inkstuds interview, that “sometimes in comics it’s best not to show things. So even a character’s expression – if a character is having an emotional response or little revelation or something, it’s almost always better to have their heads turned away from the camera. And I think of violence happening off-screen is sort of like the same thing. It’s more visceral, and it happens in the readers head instead.

It’s not a totally similar feeling that I get when I read “Cody”, but I just don’t know, I’m really troubled when I read the beginning. Just something about how the words that lead us to this incident are so casual – “Mostly I don’t think about it, but sometimes something will remind me of Cody.” It’s so casually and ambivalently spoken. I mean, on the list of horrifying images in comics this isn’t at the top of the list, and yet this is incredibly tragic and horrifying. I think it’s that such little care is given…it vaguely reminds me of the rhythm that Terrence Malick’s Badlands had – it speaks to the abrupt nature of life.

Another comparison that came to mind was Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. I refer to how the drama is muted and every detail is there for a reason. The drama is there if you engage with it, and there are these points in the story where it viceraly hits. “Cody”, like all the comics in Kramers 8, really knew how to hit in this specific way that’s so flabbergasting and disorienting, and at times, as shown by Bell’s “Cody”, incredibly compelling. – Sam Ombiri

Get a copy of Kramers Ergot 8 HERE and check out Gabrielle Bell’s “Cody”.

————————————————————————————

Joanie and Jordie – 5-17-2018 – by Caleb Orecchio

05/11/2018

Bryce Davidson here with thoughts on Chris Claremont, The New Mutants, and the almighty thought bubble!

————————————————————————————

Bryce Davidson here today, with thoughts on Chris Claremont, the New Mutants and the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Over the weekend I went to see Avengers: Infinity War, as I’m sure many other people did. I liked it. I even saw it a second time. I really thought it was a good movie. On the ride home a friend and I tried unraveling it to try and figure out why it worked so well, as we both agreed that it shouldn’t have. It was too big, there was too much stuff going on, too many characters, too many motivations, it was an absolute cluster f***. Even the nearly 3 hour duration shouldn’t have been enough to house it all.

Now granted there have been other movie franchises that have operated on this level – The Lord of the Rings is the first one that comes to mind – but Infinity War feels different. Denser maybe? More tangled, web-like? Sure, a large part of that is the fact that its been built on by over a dozen films, but surely if that’s the case then Infinity War should have been some incomprehensible, jargon filled slog. But it wasn’t! It was great! And not just for big nerds. It was a genuinely good movie.

So my friend and I talked about it a bit and I began thinking about the New Mutants comics I have been binging on lately and more importantly, Chris Claremont. I assume most people who read this blog are familiar with him. For the few who don’t he’s surely worth a google. At one point Claremont was writing upwards of 6 X-Men titles and spin-offs at once – each one containing god-knows how many characters. His writing has been highly praised for it’s complex narrative structures and endless sub-plot stacks. X-Men editor Louise Simonson, recalled about Claremonts’ writing, “that whenever he was at a loss for story ideas, “All I’d have to do was go through all of the plot threads that he had left for the last year or two (Grant, 1993).” Everyone’s favorite cartoonist, Ed Piskor also talks about this a lot in his work on Hip-Hop Family Tree and X-men Grand Design. A lot of it can be found HERE in his interview with Claremont for Paste Magazine.

Ed Piskor and Chris Claremont

There is just so much there in those stories. The depth of the characters, the breadth of the world (or worlds) they existed in, and the delicate intricacies of how each part interacted with each other. It looked like a mess, at times it could even feel like a mess (intentionally though I think, as to increase drama and friction.) If I was going to try and describe it, it feels like zooming out from a microscopic view. It all looks odd and crazy until you see the larger picture. This is how they did it. This is why the MCU feels ok to me. It’s certainly not an easy task, but it’s all there in the Claremont’s work. They’re using the “Claremont Method”. Small fringes of plots that end up being (literally) universe shattering events would start out as small whispers in the background years before (Magik anybody?). Obviously the people behind the MCU aren’t stupid and have done their research. Sure, they’re pulling from lots of source material, none of which is really the X-Men, but the structure’s feels so similar to me that I hardly believe its a coincidence.

On the other hand something interesting to note that I picked up on is how Claremont leans into the comic book form, which contrasts with how the plots are presented in the MCU. It’s called the almighty Thought Bubble. It’s a staple of comics, and a very effective tool. Like life, people think in an instant. You can have an entire conversation with yourself or recall entire events in a fraction of a second, a small slice of time. It’s why thought bubbles work. We can see how it’s used by Claremont in this page from New Mutants #1 where Daniel Moonstar finally summons up her courage enough to enter the Danger Room and fight some robots.

There is a lot of character being fleshed out here that is exclusively told through the thought bubbles. Could this scene work without the bubbles? Sure. Would we know that she’s grown up in the mountains hunting and tracking animals? No. You can’t do that in a film, as it operates within time. Comics allow the viewer to slice up time into moments, where thought bursts like these can exist. Does that mean it’s trickier to write that it in film? Eh, I don’t know. More showing, less telling I guess. You do lose a lot of detail. Although with that said, I am genuinely impressed by how much they were able to pack into Infinity War. I would say there is almost as mush as Claremont can pack, though not quite. Either way I think it’s a good study on narrative structure and storytelling approaches through different mediums. I’m curious to see if the Claremont Method continues to shine though. – Bryce Davidson

Grant, Paul J. (August 1993). “Poor Dead Doug, and Other Mutant Memories”. Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty. pp. 66–69.

————————————————————————————