07/12/2018

Sam Ombiri here: I found myself reading and re-reading Ganges 4 by Kevin Huizenga. Of course I have to re-read it as it is a very intricate comic. There’s a lot of information conveyed, but especially for this comic it seems that for Huizenga it’s important for the nature of the encounter to be felt. I very much felt the nature of the concepts, thoughts, and anxieties that Glenn Ganges encounters.

At one point, for example, Huizenga’s stand-in (whom we know as Glenn) attempts to bore himself to sleep with information. This bland and life-less information that we, the readers, are given, is through the comics form brought to life. This information, being juxtaposed cohesively with a bunch of goofy nonsense, is delivered in the same fashion as actual facts. As a result, the comic stirs a deep emotional reaction from me as a reader, in a manner that isn’t contrived in any way shape or form.

It’s often off-putting when a comic is contrived. It’s often off-putting when a maker demands that the reader be compelled, as opposed to allowing the reader to just feel what they feel. I realize that measuring how contrived something comes off as is difficult, and it’s even more difficult to design a system that avoids it, but following a construct can back an artist’s honesty and sincerity – as it does in this installment of Ganges.

This issue showed me that serving a construct can really vouch for an artist’s sincerity. Part of the what makes reading this comic an amazing experience comes from me knowing the intent of Huizenga’s experimentation. I mean knowing this from reading his work as opposed to reading his interviews. I know that the comic is first and foremost concerned (but not too concerned) with me as the reader comprehending these moments that transpire all throughout the comic, and more importantly, it’s at the service of a construct. This in turn vouches for the sincerity of the work.

The comic, while dealing with these various concepts, is at its core inviting the reader to think of those moments where sleep refuses to come. Which is something all humans have experienced. Huizenga is working in this setting; this space in order to reveal certain patterns in “being”. Like the spontaneous way our thoughts manifest and then vanish even quicker than they came. In the comic it’s all brilliantly displayed at the service of the comics form, and by the nature of the story itself. There are some moments we only catch brief glimpses of as in the majority of the panel cuts off at the bottom of the book. That these events stretch beyond the book. As we only see some speech bubbles without seeing the part of the panel that shows the characters, or sometimes we catch brief glances of moments we can’t fully perceive as readers.

There’s an aspect of this method of sequencing that resonates with the idea of seeking the truth or the essence of the moment by cutting crucial aspects. By implying that there’s a comic to read, that the reader has been reading. Then this comic that’s at the service of a construct, that has intricate rhythm, suddenly deprives the reader of moments the reader has been made so keen to read. The comic plays with the reader’s patience.

All that’s happening in the comic feels to me as if it’s at the service of delivering these delightful punchlines which are at times hilarious, at times melancholic. Even the melancholic punchlines in Ganges 4 are delightful. For example Glenn’s conversation with Death which was discouraging because it displays a way we ourselves may approach life. What was portrayed was discouraging. Death is attempting to comfort Glenn in the most earnest way it can, and the whole encounter with Death is thankfully not turned into a punchline. Rhythm didn’t dictate that Death in itself to be the punchline. Rather, it’s treated as something to pass over – that Death’s presence in the following panels aren’t supposed to be registered as a spectacle. Likewise in those panels that Death spoke in, Death didn’t speak in a fashion that would be perceived as a spectacle. It was still an incredibly emotional moment. Death’s ultimate morbid punchline was being delivered by the running gag in which instead of seeing an actual book title and author on a book’s cover, we’re given Glenn’s idiosyncratic goofy projection of what a book contains according to him. Even this running gag doesn’t present itself as a spectacle. The moments leading up to Death’s timely arrival is of equal weight and distinction. It’s up to the reader to engage with what’s given, and Huizenga is incredibly generous with what he has given to engage with.

I’m still re-reading it! – Sam Ombiri

Pompei (001 Edizioni) review and interview on C4 Comic

An interview with Frank Santoro and a review of Pompei (001 Edizioni, 2018) were published on C4 Comic in June of 2018. They are excerpted from below (we will have complete translations from the Italian to English soon!)

Photo by Pietro Badiali

Noman Alani has an interview with Frank up on C4 Comic, part of the C4 Chatter column. The interview was conducted during the Naples Comicon 2018. Here is part of the interview:

C4C: How was the choice of Pompeii created to set your comic book?

FS: I was living in New York during the attack on the Twin Towers of September 11th. When the planes hit the buildings we were all motionless to stare at the scene. I remember that by the time the towers collapsed and an immense cloud of smoke rose, I thought that we could relive an experience similar to that in Pompeii. Obviously it didn’t happen, but it left me thinking for a long time. Some time after I visited the ruins of Pompeii and so I decided to tell something about where I come from and that is such a powerful concentrate of stories and sensations different for every visitor. In my intentions, at a time when everyone was facing the world of graphic novels, it was also to create a product accessible to all and not hermetic and in this the fact of talking about one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world was definitely helpful. I could concentrate so much more on what I wanted to tell seriously, behind the costumes and facts that are known there were people with their stories and there was the pathos.

Read the whole interview HERE!


Also on C4 Comic there is a review of Pompei by Luca Parri. Titled Pompei, between classic and theoretical experimentalism, it begins:

Almost as if it were a virtual return to the homeland of Ameriana Memory, Pompeii of Frank Santoro lands on Italian soil five years after its original American publication. And we can only rejoice in knowing that a comic that treats an episode so tragic but at the same time founding of our cultural heritage, realized with wise love by a foreigner, has finally arrived in our bookstores.

But it is not only for the engaging and convincing celebration of Classical culture Mediterranean (and Italian in particular) that this volume should be recognized as one of the most important comics of the Decade; The Book of Santoro is also fundamental for a theoretical-scientific progress within the Ninth art.

The review continues:

The research and the educational process to a markedly theoretical conception of the comic is a question which concerns and concerns Santoro both as a cartoonist but also and above all as theorist, scholar and teacher. Pompeiè therefore almost to be understood as a wise omni-comprehensive of all that the author has been able to collect and elaborate in several years of research and practice alternating three figures (the reader, the teacher and the author) until they are converged towards a single entity ; The individual parts communicate and coexist by influencing each other. All that the American has been able to learn about the harmonies, the rhythms and the emphasis that can be evoked in an unintentional way, but then meticulously and mathematically desired, recur in the Centoquarantaquattro pages of his comic strip.

Read the whole review HERE.

Rowhouse Residency Report – Ian Densford

Ian Densford is a cartoonist based in New York state. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a weeklong Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in July of 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.

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The cover of the original version of Trench Dogs

Ian Densford here: The Rowhouse Residency is great opportunity to get away from the all your distractions and focus on your work. You will be exposed to excellent comics, find interesting reading material on subjects like sacred geometry and interviews with cartoonists, and you will hold interesting conversations with both Frank & Sally, as they are both passionate, intelligent, and creative. You will learn new skills, discover new influences, and talk about comics history in contrast to today’s sphere.

In the summer of 2017, from August 23-26, I briefly held a room at the Rowhouse Residency in Pittsburgh, PA. I drove seven hours from the NYC area, and it was a hot week! I shared the house with fellow Comics Workbook Correspondence alum Andrew White, and we spent our time drawing, talking with Frank & Sally, and diving into books from Frank’s unique collection. I came to the residency with a halfway-finished project called Trench Dogs, a collection of first hand accounts from soldiers in World War One. It was something that had originally been created for the Comics Workbook tumblr around 2015, a simple 16 page mini that was now becoming a 180 page book, so it felt like completing the circle to me. During my time there, I inked about 16 pages of naval warfare, big steel hulks exploding and sinking, full of sailors. It was some pretty dark stuff. I can still vividly recall being hunched over a lamplit desk, on one of those hot nights with the fan on, inking the creepy submarine interiors from a reference image. I loved it.

Pittsburgh is a strange land, the steep tree covered hills and countless stairs amongst the winding rivers and old buildings. The Residency is a two story rowhouse on a small street by the train tracks. Since I had a large project to focus on, I mostly chose to lock myself in, though the Residency is essentially tailored to your wishes, including exercises and lessons if you want. But the city has alot of great exploring to offer. Sally and Frank also provided occasional outings in the city, such as a visit to Copacetic Comics, or the pool if its hot; and while I was there the library held a special talk with Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor that we attended. During these excursions, the conversations we had were in depth and revealing, everyone had so much experience and knowledge, and those were some of my favorite moments. Frank is indeed a wealth of knowledge, and understands a great deal about the craft and its history up until now. Ask him about numerology, its great. I really connected with Sally too, we had a lot of similar interests and inspiration, and I really appreciated having her voice and insight alongside Frank during my final critique.

During that final critique, as we discussed all kinds of things, Frank suggested I share certain details about my creative process. Here is my attempt to do so:

I was going for a handmade look, so I inked with a single 1 size brush, and the pages are close to 1:1 ratio with the final print size. I prefer to work on pages together as a two page spread on a single sheet. Trench Dogs was drawn on 11 x 17 watercolor paper, using Frank’s layout template to make sure every page had good balance and movement throughout the spread. I copy each panel from my sketches, but I do not trace. I find tracing makes things very stiff and lifeless, I prefer artists that have some movement and excitement in their line work, so I aspire towards that. I like to keep the pencil drawing very loose, with few details, blocking in the space and characters with simple boxes and circles mostly, very basic “puppet-like” figures, making sure everything has enough room to breathe. Frank thought this aspect was important to mention: I save the actual “drawing” for the inking part of the process, I enjoy the spontaneity and mark making. Its ok to be messy, its fun, plus I like being able to see the artists hand in the work.

I used watercolors to paint everything, I love how quick and messy they are, the soft colors and texture. With everything colored in the appropriate solid, I would go back and do two layers of shadows. One layer was dark blue and applied everywhere, the second was dark purple and only applied to the foreground. This helped pull my foreground elements towards the front, because they were darker with a second shadow color, plus the warmer tones of the purple come forward while the cooler ones get pushed back. I was also conscious of my overall color key, and tried to make each section have different tones, so there is a progression of color through the story. After scanning a page, I would add a layer of white highlights in photoshop here and there, which helped the foreground stand out even more, and would focus the eye on certain important details. I also did my sound effects on the same overlaying white layer, which was a nice pop, as it was the only true white on the page.

A page from Trench Dogs (Dead Reckoning, Sept. 15th 2018)

Drawing from reference was great, and almost every panel had at least one ref picture to go along with it. Deciding how to turn everything “toonsy” was a fun challenge, to simplify and reduce to lumpy shapes. I like how drawings by John Pham or Ben Sears look like simple little clay sculptures, with nice curves, and characters like Andrea Falkas, and the carefree linework of Gipi. I chose animal people as a nod to Art Spiegelman, but reaching back to Richard Scarry’s Busy Town and PD Eastman’s Go Dog Go, with strong influences from Herge’s TinTin and Miyazaki’s Dream Diary Hobby Magazine war comics. Animal type was a fun way to distinguish the different armies, but you also feel a different kind of pity for these animal people, I think.

That is all I have for this report. I had a blast, got a lot of drawing accomplished, expanded my knowledge and influences, and learned more than I expected. This has been Ian Densford, signing off.

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Trench Dogs by Ian Densford will debut at NY Comic Con 2018 – find it at the Dead Reckoning table and in stores after Sept. 15th 2018. 184 pages, color, $18.95 – you can preorder it from Dead Reckoning HERE (use Discount Code FALL18 to get 25% off!)

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Ian Densford is a cartoonist living in New York state with his wife, Tae, and their son, Anderson. When not animating on the computer, or drawing in his sketchbook, you can find him frolicking in the nearby forest and rocky hillsides. 

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For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail

06/28/2018

Sam Ombiri shares thoughts on C.F.’s collection “Mere”.

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Sam Ombiri here: The satisfaction in reading Mere by C.F. (PictureBox, 2012) is that C.F. isn’t deconstructing comics in a smart or clever way – one that’s lacking catharsis – but in an incredibly personal way.

These comics are amazing as a document, but I don’t want to reduce the work to just “document”. Art to me, as it’s considered a superfluous endeavor, is made 1000 times more useless, 1000 times less potent, when it’s forcefully made to pander to ideas of usefulness outside of art. To impose that brand of efficiency on art contradicts the final product as a work of art.

I was thinking of how in the comic Pompeii by Frank Santoro, Flavius’ paintings in that story are just used to block other things – one painting blocks all the ash and lava and fumes from the volcanic explosion taking place, while his other painting – the landscape – it’s only purpose is to cover up the affair he’s having with the princess. I was thinking about how Flavius’ paintings were reduced to props, to serve the one function of blocking a window (though I’m sure against Flavius’s will) and his other earlier painting, the landscape, just exists to cover up Flavius’ lies.

This is what I perceive to happen when art is forced to be made useful, when it’s made to lose all quality of being art, for the sake of being made useful. I mean, of what artistic value is Flavius’ painting? If the painting’s only function is to block all the ash, all the lava, all the sulfur, of what artistic value is Flavius’ painting? It was only Marcus’s drawing on the wall that was truly evocative and comforting in that moment when Marcus and Lucia were trapped in Flavius’ burning studio.

So back to C.F. – when I say Mere is a document, I mean a personal document of art in that it doesn’t care what it’s documenting. Rather it is more preoccupied with how it’s documenting it. I mean to say C.F. knows what he’s doucumenting, but we readers don’t know. Instead we feel. We feel what he’s documenting, based on comics we read in the book, and what C.F. has said about the comics that he made in this period. I can discern that the work is a personal document. Mere is a great document of many things that couldn’t otherwise be written by words.

a panel from “Face It,” December 2012

This might be a cop out on my part, except that I have a strong conviction that this is the case. While the work is all over the place – it is a collection of minicomics after all – there’s still a distinct focus throughout it in functioning as a personal document. C.F. had to invoke the environment in which it’s some manga he’d be reading – the whole thing with Main Dice for example isn’t isolated. The story is really straightforward, with undeniable moments that are undeniable perhaps because they are at the service of construct.

There’s a saying, “In rhythm there is image, in image there is knowing, in knowing there’s a construct” – so that’s to say there’s a real construct in the comic which gives us so little, yet because the comics are at the service of a construct, so deeply. I might add, when approached not as an obligation, but with natural sense of pleasure, it’s a privilege to be at the service of this construct. It’s the phrase “work of art” that I take to mean work coming out of art.

In the story Crossdown the wrong part of the broken projector falls down and continues it’s decent, past the character who was deeply affected by a movie at the beginning of the story. The story doesn’t focus on this character, so we don’t even know this character’s name. This scared character is coming out of the movie theater, still experiencing terror from the movie which was being projected at the same theater where that broken part was tossed out the window. This broken part is then kicked down by the scared man into the basement or underground passage in which Main Dice is navigating. Main Dice is hit on the head by this part – the scene is drawn with the anticipation of the broken part falling on his head. This prompts Main Dice to shine the light to see what hit him as it had landed on the floor of this now dark room. This leads him to discover a motorcycle. Now, the plausibility of these moments especially register. This story is at the service of a construct – it has rhythm (which it later purposefully forsakes in order to rush itself in a different direction, to make some sort of a discovery – my guess is that it was the scenario taking priority, maybe becoming self aware or rather portrayed as becoming self aware, and then portrayed as becoming completely selfish in that it engulfs the entire comic, forsaking all other elements that made it up).

A panel from Worst Comics, April 2012

When reading C.F.’s contribution to Kramers Ergot 8, (which I believe was done around the same time as some of the comics in Mere) I have to wonder where did this comic surface from? The placement in Kramers #8 makes it out to be something that somehow just makes sense for it to exist – but it doesn’t make any sense for the comic itself to exist, despite its existence. I heard C.F. say that if you find a zine just anywhere, you just don’t know. With these comics in Mere I just don’t know. C.F. was saying he wanted to make a that has a manga attitude, and he suggested that for manga the editors are more preoccupied with the characters, rather than the scenarios. This immediately made me think of Sammy Harkham, who was C.F.’s editor (for Kramers #8) talking about how before anything else he wants to know where a story takes place, and what that place might say about a character. What I take away from that, is that the reality of the comic might as well be a character in an empty space (like one of those comics Anders Nielsen did when switching up his style in Monologues For The Coming Plague.) Personally that’s what drew me to reading comics, but not in such a conscientious visceral manner – it was rather just something at the back of my mind.

I know C.F. is always claiming that his work is made for him to be comfortable and that he likes how his work challenges him. He enjoys that the challenge presented in front of him is scary. That it’s scary is what makes it interesting, and he wouldn’t enjoy it otherwise. So his work is at the service of the art form as a result. When talking of the nature of the work in Mere there was a vaguely apologetic tone and small sense of regret that the work is selfish and not serving the form as it ideally should for him (or so it would seem). This form that utilizes, or rather is utilized by, simple shapes like circles, squares, triangles which according to C.F. seem too universal to penetrate, because they’re too simple and refer to too many things. In the same way a basic shape like a circle or square or a triangle is broad, C.F. is presenting the idea of comics in the broadest sense.

A two-page spread from Easter Mercury, April 2012

In the same way simple shapes are difficult to penetrate these comics are also difficult, because in a personal way C.F. has condensed genre, and what not. As the reader, I can only guess at how it conceptually ties to how comics function. However, C.F. himself said if he was condensing genre it’s in a personal way. Similar to his name when making comics (C.F.) it is aesthetically driven, not imbued with the idea of efficiency. If it were otherwise, the other aliases he’s had would be shorter for the sake of simplicity. Case in point – his other aliases like Brown Recluse Alpha or Universal Cell Unlock. If efficiency was in mind with the name C.F. as opposed to Christopher Forgues, it’s to reflect the inefficient efficiency of cartooning. The most efficient thing when wanting to show an image is taking a photo, or rendering something as realistically as possible so that there’s no opportunity for failure in communicating; not cartooning.

It’s like the title Mere. Mere what? How many more marks can evoke with so little? Not that the significance lies purely on this aspect of a little doing a lot. Again, it’s not doing a lot. Again, not for the sake of efficiency; to optimize what can be accomplished and what can be done with so little. If comics were at the service of efficiency and optimization, in the sense that it’s already been made known ahead of time everything that a comic is exclusively able to do, what possible need is there for to work to be read? If work is purely to pander 100% to one’s sensibility of cool, because it exists only for the sake of efficiency and nothing else whatsoever, what can it possibly offer as art?

a page from Comb, November 2012

To an extent in the comics in Mere these questions are asked. It takes so much to convey things sometimes, and sometimes so little. One often needs to pander to the more in-optimized zone of cartoon or as C.F. put it, in a more romanticized fashion, “Turning your back on everyone you know, turning your back on your whole life so that things can come out that you didn’t plan or you don’t intend, things you don’t understand because that’s what art is for, that’s what creativity is for, to ask questions. Questions you have aren’t always the questions you think you have.

Mere possesses comics that subvert genre by condensing them in personal ways, possibly in ways that change our outlook entirely or have shifted our outlook in a direction that hasn’t been determined – rather it’s all questioned, i.e. “turning your back.” There are certain stories in Mere that are purely straightforward. That the focus is more on the scenario takes priority, and so the story carries on in this way. Like this character Main Dice, who we know next to nothing about. In fact, in his second appearance, he is completely redesigned. From my vantage point, this is not done in order to comment on how in manga a timeskip happened and all the characters are completely redesigned, for example like when Dragon Ball became Dragon Ball Z, and the characters have grown up. Then there’s the element in American comics there are multiple versions of superheros – like how there’s the Blue Beetle called Ted Kord, and the Blue Beetle called Jaime Reyes; or how there’s the Robin called Dick Grayson or the Robin called Jason Todd and there’s the Robin called Tim Drake.

Main Dice’s redesigns, to my understanding, aren’t a comment on all this. It seems to me that what it is instead is a document of the personal effect these aspects of comics have had on C.F. Even as I had recently, on a whim, read the third volume of Dragon Ball Z (which is really amazing,) I couldn’t help but identify with what C.F. had said – that the tendency in manga is that the editors are more preoccupied by the scenario than the characters. I’d zipped through 174 pages of action without realizing it, and the nature in which the action was being communicated was the same nature in which most of the comics in Mere unfolded – especially the first two comics in Mere that feature Main Dice. – Sam Ombiri

Get a copy of Mere by C.F. HERE!

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Joanie and Jordie – 6-28-18 – by Caleb Orecchio

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.


Photo by Pietro Badiali

Noman Alani has an interview with Frank up on C4 Comic, part of the C4 Chatter column. The interview was conducted during the Naples Comicon 2018. Here is part of the interview:

C4C: How was the choice of Pompeii created to set your comic book?

FS: I was living in New York during the attack on the Twin Towers of September 11th. When the planes hit the buildings we were all motionless to stare at the scene. I remember that by the time the towers collapsed and an immense cloud of smoke rose, I thought that we could relive an experience similar to that in Pompeii. Obviously it didn’t happen, but it left me thinking for a long time. Some time after I visited the ruins of Pompeii and so I decided to tell something about where I come from and that is such a powerful concentrate of stories and sensations different for every visitor. In my intentions, at a time when everyone was facing the world of graphic novels, it was also to create a product accessible to all and not hermetic and in this the fact of talking about one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world was definitely helpful. I could concentrate so much more on what I wanted to tell seriously, behind the costumes and facts that are known there were people with their stories and there was the pathos.

Read the whole interview HERE!


Also on C4 Comic there is a review of Pompei by Luca Parri. Titled Pompei, between classic and theoretical experimentalism, it begins:

Almost as if it were a virtual return to the homeland of Ameriana Memory, Pompeii of Frank Santoro lands on Italian soil five years after its original American publication. And we can only rejoice in knowing that a comic that treats an episode so tragic but at the same time founding of our cultural heritage, realized with wise love by a foreigner, has finally arrived in our bookstores.

But it is not only for the engaging and convincing celebration of Classical culture Mediterranean (and Italian in particular) that this volume should be recognized as one of the most important comics of the Decade; The Book of Santoro is also fundamental for a theoretical-scientific progress within the Ninth art.

The review continues:

The research and the educational process to a markedly theoretical conception of the comic is a question which concerns and concerns Santoro both as a cartoonist but also and above all as theorist, scholar and teacher. Pompeiè therefore almost to be understood as a wise omni-comprehensive of all that the author has been able to collect and elaborate in several years of research and practice alternating three figures (the reader, the teacher and the author) until they are converged towards a single entity ; The individual parts communicate and coexist by influencing each other. All that the American has been able to learn about the harmonies, the rhythms and the emphasis that can be evoked in an unintentional way, but then meticulously and mathematically desired, recur in the Centoquarantaquattro pages of his comic strip.

Read the whole review 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!

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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

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