Tiny Pages Made of Ashes 11/29/13: Post-Thanksgiving JoyA comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Taylor Lilley, Jamil Scalese
Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's small press review column
Chevaline, chevaline (French for “horse butcher”) has a creepy magical realist feel, and reads like a superstitious wives tale from the Old West, a cautionary fable for those who would mistreat their steed. Through isolated panels on pages of deepest obsidian, we witness a faithful horse's service to her undeserving master. The pair get lost one day and find themselves wandering barren lands, growing hungrier. Using rough mark-making and a palette dominated by intense yellow, deep pink, dark blue and black, creator Liz Racz paints the cycle of scorching days, dejected sunsets, and cold nights as we peer from the pervading darkness. But these extremes cannot be sustained. The master and his mare must eat.
So our equine heroine carves a piece of meat off her haunch, offering it up. At first the man gracelessly spurns her offering, but he recants, beginning a new, more parasitic cycle of riding through the heat by day, feasting on her bloody-sunset flesh at dusk, week after week after week.
Well, until she's just a skeleton, a luminous spectre of sacrifice under the desert moon. Even then, he demands her eyes, and unwittingly seals his fate. Our heroine, having counted on this greed, substitutes lethal fungus for eyeballs, then unseams his corpse. Attired in her master's flesh, she returns home to his woman, intending to resume their loving relationship, only to find the woman aghast at such incestuous overtures, for she is the master's sister, not his lover. Striding into a saloon, her assumed humanity thwarted, she must acquire another skin more pleasing to her love…
What makes this tale of sacrifice, love, and equine body-snatching work so well is the deceptive simplicity of the telling. Deeds bespeak intentions such that Racz can forgo facial acting and dialogue, excepting one delightful triptych in which a dog tries very hard, though ultimately in vain, to resist the fresh-griddled horseflesh under his nose. Instead the work is done in the sizes of the panels, the contrast between the colours of the landscape and the human world's muted, ordered appearance. There's beauty in the utter commitment of each character's actions, and room enough in the surrounding blackness to unpack deeper themes of love and surrender. Chevaline, chevaline is a lingerer of a comic, and a true original.
- Taylor Lilley
You can check out more of Liz's work here.
Loud Comix 1
(Frankie Nowhere / Erika Lane / Sonny Joe Harlan / Alan King / Jamie Vayda)
Published by Birdcage Bottom Books, Loud Comix 1 is collection of “tales of glory, humiliation, terror, and the abnormal” written by a group of leading lights from the Southern Punk Rock scene: Sonny Joe Harlan (Murder Junkies, Shitcan Dirtbag, The Sonny Joe Harlan Band), Frankie Nowhere (The Chumps, Eastside Suicides, Faster Disasters, Flash Boys), Erika Lane (DISAPpointed PARents, Early Graves, KILLZALL, The Stovebolts) and Alan King (Hellstomper, Polecat Boogie Revival, The Beer Drinking Christians).
Besides being drawn by the great Jamie Vayda, what all of the four stories included in this 32 page, black and white collection share is a true Southern Gothic sensibility. These aren't polite tales of Southern gentility, the kind you tell your grandmother over your second helping of biscuits and gravy. Rather, these are the kind of accounts you would get if you fed Flannery O'Connor sixteen hash brownies. If Tennessee Williams had ever been on a week long meth binge, he might have penned one of these. William Faulkner might have contributed on the last day of a three month bender. You know, those kind of stories.
There is something sinister here. The characters are grotesques. Each tale cradles a misfit who stands outside the norm wailing their own particular song into a night filled with the smell of moonshine and the hiss-rattle of the cicada as the kudzu threatens to envelop everything.
It's pretty Punk Rock.
Sonny Joe Harlan's Mr. Breeze starts this collection and sets the tone quickly. Here we get a sense of how hard it can be to sing the Karaoke and make the drunk ladies fawn. Let's just say that it involves a “dude's animal eyes” and the very real threat of violence.
Frankie Nowhere's The Rise of Billy Bloodlust continues the theme. It opens with the line, “Billy's a good dude, and in this life, shit happens. Billy found that out the hard way.” Here, “mushrooms from Hawaii that will 'blow your wig back'” sign up Billy for a “Buddy Holly Manson Family Stab-A-Thon” that has to be seen to be believed.
Johnny Funhouse by Erika Lane is one of those stories that can only take place in the Deep South, as it takes those kinds of folk to play out this kind of tale. It's a kindly story about a misshapen freak who (as they say in the movie trailers) may just end up stealing your heart.
Rounding out the collection is Alan King's Wooden Leg which just may be the best story in this book. Any story that begins, “I've heard it said that it takes a great amount of determination and intestinal fortitude to be a full-time alcoholic” is destined to be one of those great Southern Gothic tales.
Needless to say that as we begin our descent into the madness that is the holiday season, Loud Comix 1 may just provide you with the step back and reassessment you deserve.
- Daniel Elkin
You can purchase Loud Comix 1 direct from Birdcage Bottom Books.
13 Coins #1
(Simon Bisley; Martin Brennan, Michael B. Jackson; Corinthian)
The endless battle between good and evil is a great starting point for a story, and it works well for 13 Coins. The story opens with a slew of majestic battle scenes by accomplished UK artist Simon Bisley. A legendary battle that borrows from early creation myths unfolds before us. Agents of God quell a rebellion of discontent Angels, claiming their ruler holds Man to a less stringent set of rules. It's a vicious and haunting battle that results in the manufacture of a baker's dozen of coins, remnants of a mythical chain that will resurrect pure evil in the hands of the "First-Born".
The story then hurtles forward to present day New York City where we're introduced to a talented, though down on his luck, athlete named John Ponzer, apparently the First-Born though never explicitly stated. Just as we settle in with Ponzer the perspective switches briefly to a young, maimed veteran named Manuel , then the comic ends with a lengthy scene of with a group of well-dressed investigator types in a gunfight with members of The Fallen, the aforementioned discontented
Needless to say, writers Martin Brennan and Michael B. Jackson cram a lot of ideas into the first issue. The groundwork in the first ten or so pages works extremely well for a new series, and the fierce artwork by BIsley moves the story along wonderfully. However, the middle and end sections are too ambitious, skipping over the finer details of what looks to be the main cast of characters. Of particular interest is Samuel, our cover star, who seems to have the firmest hold on what is going in the world of 13 Coins.
What compounds this is that Simon Bisley's art suffers from a second half meltdown too. A number of the latter pages are not as quality as those truly thunderous ones in the opening. In some panels the quality sways wildly; for example, some faces receive major attention while others get a quick touch up.
Despite the various downfalls, this premiere issue did enough to make me peek at #2, and the tone and quality is much more consistent there. The narrative slows down to give you some idea what is going on, and the grander plot takes form.
This action drama starts out solidly for Brennan and Jackson, and there are some big concepts hiding around the shadowy corner. There is assuredly an audience for this comic. The subject matter fits into the supernatural genre and the characters are relatable. If the consistency stays even, 13 Coins has legs.
- Jamil Scalese
Two weeks ago in this column I delivered a review of Christopher Adams's Strong Eye Contact that was in effect a rant against the fascism of narrative, against the idea that we arbitrarily apply reason and logic to lives that are combinations of events that sometimes amount to larger stories, but sometimes are just a bunch of things that happen to us.
Adams has a new book out, a holiday-themed, magazine-sized piece called Yule Log, and it shows the same smart take on story that Strong Eye Contact does, only filtered in a different way.
Yule Log starts with a three-page scene aboard a private jet, as a busy family is shuttling around the country and a young boy is greeted on the plane by Santa Claus. Aside from the wonderful artwork that manages to keep the scene in focus and out of focus at the same time, this could be the opening scene to some treacly Lifetime or Hallmark Movie Channel holiday film, maybe The Rich Brat's Christmas or Lear Jet Santa.
But then the pages shift. We see a panel of the plane flying and then – nothing. We get abstract images that might be mountains or lights or the image of the Lear Jet crashing, but none of that is clear in context. There's a compulsion as someone who enjoys narrative to want to apply some sort of transition there, to attribute some plot twist to that moment. But I go in the opposite direction. Much like how we wander through random thoughts in our heads, the book wanders away from the jet, eventually arriving at the image of Santa waking up on the frozen tundra below an austere, unfeeling sun; confused, lost, mumbling names.
Again it would be human nature to try to determine what the connection is between these scenes: did the plane crash and the Santa on that plane survive? Is this a symbolic take on how the Santa Claus myth survives in our society against crushing odds? Is there sweet redemption in the final page of this tale with its traditional Christmas ending?
No, for me the key to reading Yule Log comes in the two pages before the end, in the flow of the Aurora Borealis that illuminates the night and provides a moment of unbelievable natural grace for the world. That event is unique, incredible and has no narrative thrust to it either. It's one of the closest things to magic that happens on the Earth, and it simply is just what it is.
That's where Adams proves that his work isn't some sort of cold academic exercise in artistic wanking. Yule Log shows a passion for the holidays, an optimistic love for Christmas full of moments of true happiness, based in struggle, that show the real value of the season. The happy children in the final panel are a sweet climax to a comic that tells a story, perhaps despite itself.
- Jason Sacks
Though it's not listed their yet, I'm sure you can order Yule Log from 2D Cloud's website.