Jokes and the Unconscious
Daphne Gottlieb & Diane DiMassa
Cleis Press: 2006
This graphic novel is a collaboration between performance poet Daphne Gottlieb & Hothead Paisan creator Diane DiMassa. It is a unique, powerful and blackly comic look at a slice of 19 year old Sasha's life - the part where her father dies of cancer.
While her doctor father is sick, he persuades Sasha to get an admin job in the hospital in which he worked, thereby exposing her to the morbidly funny world of the sick and dying and the people who care for them. Sasha records her day to day encounters with these people with a dry wit and a sense of "what the hell am I doing here?". And when her legitimate admin work runs out, she spends her time looking up the medical records of everyone she knows. At the same time she tries to make sense of the fact that her difficult father is dying.
The title is from Freud's "Jokes and their Relations to the Unconscious", in which he states, "laughter mediates between us and our discomfort with mortality, sexuality, ethnicity or any other touchy subject", and indeed interspersed throughout the story are single frame panels in which Sasha is a comedian telling tasteless jokes while sitting on the edge of someone's coffin, or in a savage bear's lap. These moments are unsettling and weird, and convey the confusion, sadness and hopelessly ridiculous nature of dying much clearer than a straightfoward account would by tapping into our discomfort. As a reader, you aren't quite sure what you are meant to feel, like Sasha herself.
The drawings are trademark Diane DiMassa, kind of grotesque, shadowy and sharp, contributing to the darkness of the story. Throughout the typography changes, making this seem like a journal and allowing you to identify with Sasha.
This graphic novel is hard to classify in terms of genre. I highly recommend you read it, I think it will surprise you and it will linger in your mind for a long while, because it's likely you've never read anything like it.
Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
Kiss Machine: 2006
Kim Takota, or "Skim" as she's known at school is a teen-goth with an interest in wicca. She's angry, she's depressed, she thinks she's fat. But before you dismiss this as a teen "issues" comic, you should google the author Mariko Tamaki first...Ok, so now that you've done that we can talk about the comic. (Yep, that was my lazy way of avoiding having to explain about her)
Skim was put out by Kiss Machine, a magazine of arts, culture and politics edited by Emily Pohl-Weary. The art is dreamy and wind swept, not overly stylised but suggesting rather that Skim's world is happening around her, but she is not quite engaged in it.
Skim is cynical. She goes along to a meeting of witches with her best friend's older sister hoping to find some like minded people, only to be weirded out by the burned out hippie-esque nature of what turns out to be more of an AA meeting than a black mass. She knows she's different, and like all teen girls in coming of age comix, she's growing apart from her best friend. It's at this confused and dark point in her life that her unconventional female English teacher surfaces in her conciousness. The teacher is interested in Skim and the two start hanging out at lunch time. While the jocks and the cool girls are having their crises, her parents have their passive aggressive arguments, and her best friend grumpily puts her down for being weird, Kim and the English teacher start exploring their unconventional relationship...
Papercutter # 2
Becca Taylor, Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover & Liz Prince
Tugboat Press: 2006
Papercutter is a quarterly publication put out by Tugboat Press with the intention of showcasing the talents of "emerging and underexposed comic artists from every corner of the cartooning world" (www.tugboatpress.com).
The cover is from the longest comic in the anthology, "Cherchez la Femme" by Becca Taylor. It's great! Like all the best short stories, it manages to convey so much with only a few pages. The comic depicts the parallel stories of 2 women who are recognisable to the reader as Aileen Wuornos and Charlize Theron, but the author uses different names. Yay! Pop Culture!
But Chercez la Femme isn't just a parody of how Hollywood likes nothing better than ripping off the life of a troubled person. Becca's use of fractured conversations from movie-goers, movie critics, the police, lawyers and judges involved with Aileen's case, and of course the women themselves (often quotes taken from news articles etc) builds up a nuanced portrait of society's ambivalence and biases over who and what a woman can be, and what authenticates her story.
The page I love the most is obviously the result of the author typing "Aileen Wuornos" into Google - she has illustrated a Google-esque page with all the images of Aileen that appeared for her. If you Google the name yourself, you will come up with something similar. This comic blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy and parody and critique.
The other comics in this anthology are "Criminal Intent", which is a collaboration between Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin about a beautiful Cat Burglar who wins the heart of everyone she robs, and "Ghost Buddies" by Liz Prince which is a short comic about 2 people who go to a gig dressed as ghosts, it's got that cute, tongue-in-cheek kind of humour, kinda reminded me of Cat and Girl?
The Three Incestuous Sisters
Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers: 2005
This book is a 'novel in pictures' which was first published, after fourteen years of work, as a small-run hand-made artist's book and now appears as a hefty yet somehow delicate, hard-bound illustrated storybook. It is a pleasure to feel the weight of it in your lap as you read the strange and beautiful tale of three quite uncommon sisters. 'Reading' the book mainly involves immersing yourself in the pictures, as the text is brief, one or two sentences per page, and mainly functions as titles or captions for the pictures. The result is a soft and wonderful tension between the drunkenly-gripping narrative and the scratchy stillness of the etched watercolour images. As a brief description of the book, the author suggests that the potential reader could“...imagine a silent film made from Japanese prints, a melodrama of sibling rivalry, a silent opera that features women with very long hair and a flying green boy...”
Each picture in the book was created painstakingly through an archaic process of acid etching on zinc plates, and it seems that there is, indeed, something slightly acidic in the tale. Each of the three sisters - Clothilde, Ophile and Bettine - has her flaws, powers and peculiarities and these manifest in extreme behaviour - sometimes desperate, sometimes cruel, sometimes beautiful, often unexpected. The dark, surreal sense of humour has a Dame Darcy feel, though with measured subtlety and an almost sublime richness.
The Three Incestuous Sisters defies genre by existing in what seems to be a near void of similar publications. It is more of a 'narrative art book' than a graphic novel, but is an absolute treat to read and I would love the world to be filled with more books like it.
My New York Diary
Drawn and Quarterly: 1999
The name Julie Doucet is synonymous with underground comix. From her first foray into the scene with her self-published Dirty Plotte comix series beginning in 1988, to her later graphic novels such as Madame Paul and My New York Diary, Julie's work has set a standard for the alternative comix world.
My New York Diary gets away from much of the surrealism that fueled Dirty Plotte and is a more straight forward autobiographical story. Despite this, the comic still leaves you with the feeling you have read a story that is somehow otherworldly, perhaps due to the intricately detailed panels. Try flicking quickly through this book, and your eyes will be bombarded by a seemingly chaotic maelstrom of images. Read it slowly and carefully however, and the detail Julie uses serves to fully imerse you in her world. Ironically, I don't think the detail makes the drawings seem more realistic, it kind of creates a fantastic hyper-reality.
The story itself begins by portraying Julie's first experience with sex and her disappointing stint at artschool, before documenting the main event: her move to New York. The author characterises herself as a slightly hapless, easily peer-pressured, kind hearted idealist who the reader will no doubt feel instant sympathy with (even during the times when you want to yell at her to leave her dead beat boyfriend!). It's pretty interesting to read what her life was like during the writing of her early Dirty Plotte's. Reading Dirty Plotte, you just kind of assume the creator must have it made but My New York Diary shows a woman who is still trying to work out who she is, travelling to the otherside of the country in search of a scene which doesn't exist, or which falls just beyond her grasp. At the same time, Julie is trying to deal with gradually worsening epilepsy and a jealous, weepy, emotionally manipulative drunken boyfriend (who is more comical than he is scary, but draining and dangerous none the less).
This comic will no doubt leave you feeling a little sad at the end as it's sort of about dreams that fail to reach fruition, but it's not earth-shatteringly depressing, it's kind of got more of a mundaneity about it - as in it's easy to see a bit of yourself in Julie - and a light hearted sense of the absurdity of normal life.
True Lives #3: The Dragorous World of Glam!!
Frail Sister Comics: 2005
Alas! With misty eyes I read the final (and very last) instalment of Claire Harris' fabulous True Lives series...
The three issues in this series of full-colour photo-comics each faithfully relate the emergence of an unassuming character's extraordinary alter-ego. True Lives #1 releases Road Fox: beware the wrath of the lady bicyclist! True Lives #2 reveals the intimate 'high school pain and dreams of fame' of one trapped Gore lass turned belle-of-the-ball.
True Lives #3 moves up a notch by telling the story of the birth of Lilith, the inner drag-queen of Gareth Farr, famous Aotearoan composer and percussionist. From humble beginnings as a 10-year-old boy in love with a blue dress, and through many trials and tribulations, Lilith at last poses picture-perfect on glossy pages, larger-than-life, lip-synching her heart away.
The slickness of the comic and the gorgeous photographs be-lie the difficulties and mishaps during production which Claire Harris confides with the reader in her end-notes. At least it turned out all right in the end!
All the True Lives stories are told with much humour, wit and tenderness, and include a wee selection of amusing letters to (and responses from) the author in the back of each comic.
Mine: An Anthology of women's Choices
This is a zine from the US compiling the personal experiences of a wide variety of women who have had abortions. The kinds of abortions and the contexts in which they happened differ widely from story to story. There are descriptions of self-administered herbal abortions performed with confidence, fear, skepticism and faith, and an empowering account of a women’s health support group who gave their friend a successful menstrual extraction. There are stories from women who had to secretly organise their own medical abortions and deal with the emotional and physical consequences alone, and women who had heaps of support and easy access. Even though I knew that abortion is hard to obtain in many parts of the US, and in fact often illegal, it was still frightening to read some women’s descriptions of the kinds of barriers society has put in place denying them the right to control their own lives. Still, though, this zine is mostly empowering, proving that women will not be silenced about the subject, despite how taboo it still may be in today’s society.
Dori Stories: The Complete Dori Seda
Dori Seda, Don Donahue and friends
Last Gasp: 1999
(Hmm, the pink cover doesn't go too well with our pink background does it!). This is a collection of comics and artwork by Dori, as well as pieces written by her friends after her untimely death when she was still in her thirties. Dori published her work in the 1980s in collections such as Wimmen's Comix, Weirdo, Weird Smut Comics, and also published her own collection: Lonely Nights Comics. A quick flick through this anthology gives you a good idea as to the kind of thing Dori did. Yep, she was dirty. She made ceramic sculptures of giant vibrators. She drew comics in which she vehemently denies having sex with her dog (a running theme). Devil Dori turns up and makes her drink way too much beer and insult all her friends. Her days end rolling around on the floor naked, trying to get her scabby pets to have a bath.
Dori's work is FUNNY. She is completely hapless, not in the lame look at Bridget Jones trip over her cleavage kind of way, but in the way that we all are in our private lives or private heads. The difference is Dori is completely larger than life.
The collection begins with a two page black and white spread of photos, showing Dori in various costumes, places and poses all with the same wide gap toothed smile. On the back of the book she is naked and draped in tinsel. Dori was the original party girl, and her often autobiographical comics pay homage to her wild lifestyle - dressing in drag with her boyfriend, struggling to finish a comic strip and ultimately being distracted by beer.
Not all of these comix are autobiographical, (thank goodness!!), many of them delve into something fairly much like pornographic fantasy (usually with her dog Tona somehow inovolved!?!). They involve vampires, S&M and people-ish animals and animal-ish people. But Dori's tone is so endearing you can't help but laugh and not be offended. Her art is generally very detailed and realistically drawn (sometimes too realistic - like the close up shot of Tona's weeping sore). According to her friends, she laboured over her pieces.
It is really interesting to read the essays that surround her work, and check out the photos of her and the people in her life, many of whom include famous comix artists like Kristyne Kryttre and Joe Sacco. Often you don't know anything about an artist when you read their work, and often it doesn't matter. But apart from the fact the collection was made as an appreciation of her life, I think that it also adds another layer to her work when you realise the things she was going through at the time she was making this work. It is also interesting to discover the legal battle over her work after her death, with her mother trying to stop this collection from being published as she felt that Dori's work was to pornographic, and was, I guess, ashamed. I hope she has changed her mind now that it has been put out there.
Peops: Portraits and Stories of People
Soft Skull Shortwave: 2003
This is a wholesome, satisfying, inspired book – one woman's tribute to some of the amazing people she has met during her lifetime.
Each page has a head-and-shoulders pencilled portrait (some b&w, some in colour) bobbing in a vegan soup of words which seem to come straight out of the place and time of the sitting (or standing or wriggling around). The characters who inhabit each page are a motley bunch of activists, musicians, fringe-dwellers, anti-capitalists and free-thinkers. Peops documents a snippet of their achievements, joys or sorrows in their own words with a little blurb from Fly about how she met and admires them.
Peops makes you feel like you are being personally introduced by Fly to her extended friends and whanau and trusted with some of their most intimate thoughts, as each face speaks out of the page to you. There is also a good dose of alternative celebrities – Sue Coe, Neil Gaiman, Trina Robbins, Wendy-O-Matik, Michelle Tea, Mary Harris, Seth Tobocman, Citizen Fish...
Peops animates and unwinds the gut feelings of friendship and the struggle for meaningful existence in the capitalist dystopia of the U.S., all the while conveying the comedy and spirit of the people involved. Michelle Tea writes of Fly: “She is both a poison reality injection and its gleeful antidote”.
Scheherazade: stories of love, treachery, mothers and monsters
ed. Megan Kelso
Soft Skull Press: 2004
First of all I have to acknowledge the bad thing that happened with Scheherazade. If you want the full blurb on it, you can go to Megan Kelso's website, but basically, she sent this anthology off to the printers, and it came back totally bung. When she asked them to reprint it, they wouldn't and when she asked her publisher people not to release it they still did...so what you will see when you flick though the book is some well-printed, as-the artist-intended-it pages, and some not so well-printed pages. Megan has distanced herself from the book on her website, saying that she doesn't authorise it.
So why are we still selling it? Well for one, we didn't know about the problems with it until after we'd ordered it, but for two, this is actually an excellent anthology of comics, all written and drawn by women. Despite the printing problems, I still recommend Scheherazade, both for educational and purely entertainment reasons.
The selection of comic creators is diverse, from Ariel Schrag, to Ellen Forney to Auckland's own Sophie MacMillan (who has one of the best comics in this anthology, by the way). So you get a good crash course in some of the most promising young comic book creators ... and most of them are young. At first I was wondering, where are the Phoebe Gloekners, the Julie Doucets and the Roberta Gregorys? Well, as I found out by looking at the bio of the creators at the back, none of the contributors were born before 1965, so I guess one of the intentions is to showcase what the next generation is up to.
Instead of the ordinary black and white, the art in Scheherazade is purple and white – purple after all being the signature colour for feminists for over 40 years. The anthology is prefaced by Kathleen Hanna (*sigh*) who reckons that part of the joy of this book is that it allows women to be the “freaky, weird, lovable, smart selves that we are”. This book definitely doesn't linger over stereotypes.
As with most anthologies, Scheherazade has that weird jerky feeling when you move from one piece to the other, because all of the styles are so different. This is somewhat softened by a comic by Ariel Bordeaux which is broken up into little parts separating each artists' chapter. So you get the running thread of Bordeaux's comic throughout, which seemed to me to draw the whole book together and made it seem as though the creators were all in it together, united in their purpose of making a documentation of great comic art and writing by women.
One of the best things about this graphic novel is that it's in colour - very rare for indie comics! Flick through it and you will be immediately drawn into the surreal not-so-innocent childlike innocence of Junko Mizuno's work. Her illustrations are populated by wide eyed young girls who have a childish sexuality about them. The pop-culture colouring and firm, rounded drawing style lends itself well to being merchandised, and if you check out Junko Mizuno's site you will find that there are plenty of t-shirts and stickers with her designs on them.
Cinderalla is a rather odd story. It's kind of like a dream where everything seems totally normal and familiar but then your girlfriend comes in with the head of a donkey and you know things aren't quite as you remembered them... Cinderalla's yakitori restaurant owning dad dies from overeating, and comes back (to Cinderalla's dubious pleasure) as a zombie. He brings with him his new bride, also a zombie, and her two zombie daughters. Poor Cinderalla is run off her feet trying to look after a restaurant and 4 demanding zombies with only her little mouse friend Setsuko to help her. (You can begin to see where this story diverges from the original fairytale about now, right?). Meanwhile a handsome zombie prince arrives on the scene, but Cinderalla can only marry him if she is also dead. But how can she have time for love when her stepmother is demanding a constant stream of pancakes to satisfy the little demon living in her stomach, her stepsister needs her to knit an enormous bra, and her customers are clamouring for their yakitori!! Oh the dilemmas!
If you enjoy twisted fairytales, but aren't into the gothic melancholy of Nightmares and Fairytales by Serena Valentino, or the bloodthirsty Victoriana of Dame Darcy's Frightful Fairytales, then give Cinderalla a go...it's funny, it's sexy, it's weird, it's manga!
Charm School Book One: Magical Witch Girl Bunny
Slave Labor Graphics: 2002
I didn't quite know what to expect from Charm School (except a bit of girl-on-girl action as specified in the catalogue of one of our distributors...). My first glance at the title and cover met its girly teen-style-comickyness – no crazy scribbly gothic beauty of the type which usually attracts my attention. However, a few pages in and I was completely hooked!
Bunny, the main character, is caught in a love triangle between Dean, her dyke vampire girlfriend and the exotic allure of Fairer Than, a fairy with a dangerous drop of dragon blood in her veins. Oh the dilemma! For one cute, curious teenage witch this is more than enough to make her sigh and furrow her brow...
Charm School totally subverts (while thoroughly enjoying) its girliness by being conscious of a sophisticated audience and playing up to the reader. The drawing is very accessible and flows effortlessly through well laid-out and chosen frames. This comic is a delightful romp through a magical world of witches, vampires and other-worldly creatures.
Foo Swee Chin
Neko Press: 2003
Singapore artist Foo Swee Chin is well known for her spooky-but-adorable illustrations in Nightmares and Fairytales written by Serena Valentino. Adhering loosely to manga-style illustration, noticeable particularly in the wide-eyed youthfulness of her characters, FSc includes an element of the goth, of the surreal and the skeletal. Mince was written and drawn by her, and is a sweetly grotesque story of a young boy trying to kill himself using a variety of methods, and never ever succeeding.
The illustration style is sketchy and black and white, often conveying a sense of chaotic, violent movement. At the same time FSc has the ability to convey perfect emptiness and melancholy, seen particularly near the end where the boy is falling out of a window into the ether.
The comic is a delicate piece of work, the cover having the traditional shiny newsprintish feel, and the illustration depicting the pale blue and white boy with his mixture of mechanical and organic insides showing.
On her website FSc defines Mince as: crumble (depression), whack (self-injury), cut (isolation), divide (confused), decrease, diminish, weaken ... yeah, it's a little depressing, but it's also pretty funny. Cherry Bomb Comics also has FSc's Chimney 25 and A Lost Stock of Children in stock.
Child that Mind #3
This issue of Moira's personal zine Child That Mind incorporates some heavily serious material but still manages to be enjoyable to read and is often uplifting. Moira writes in an accessible and intelligent way about really relevant stuff like the anti-war protests of 2003, riding bikes through the city, the suicide screens on Grafton Bridge, and the trials of diagnosing and coming to grips with chronic pelvic pain.
Coming out of A6 cotton-bound photocopied pages, Child That Mind #3 feels surprisingly big and deep, and at the same time very close, as she is often describing places and events I have been present at, or discussing socio-political and personal issues where I seem to share her perspectives.
In her intro Moira writes that the zine is about “insides and outsides” and the reader definitely gets a glimpse of the (often fruitful) struggle to work things out and make sense of herself inside her body and also in the world. She approaches the whole zine-making process with a mature understanding of what she is doing and seems to have an excellent rapport with the lo-fi medium. Pragmatism, poetry and a wistfulness about time passing elide one another, creating purposeful prose that makes compulsive reading.
A Child's Life
Frog, Ltd: 2000
A public library in Stockton, US will be pulling A Child's Life from their shelves, because the Mayor felt that it read like a how-to for paedophiles. Though this was a censoring, ignorant, reactionary and sexist move on his part, on the one hand I can see how a lot of people could get a lot of different things from Phoebe's work.
For me, this compilation of comics and artwork loosely based on events in the artist/author's life, is an addictive, shocking, funny and stark piece of work. It made me very interested in the creator herself, something that doesn't always happen when you read comics, and probably not at all the intention of Phoebe herself. In an interview I read with her in the Comics Journal, she spends most of the time trying to fend off the belligerent questioning of the interviewer who seemed to want her to say, “yes, it was me who slept with my mother's boyfriend, yes it was me who was pimped out for drugs by my girlfriend”, because people have a morbid curiosity about that sort of stuff, and because Minnie Goetz, the protagonist of most of the comics in this collection looks a lot like Phoebe, and their physical situations growing up are pretty much identical. And yeah, that's what interested me at first.
But like Phoebe told Comics Journal, so what if that's the case? So what if some of the dialogue is verbatim to the “real event”? As all of you pomo kids out there know, it is the context and the reader's analysis that makes the story what it “is”. So where the dirty minded Mayor saw paedophilia, I saw a scarily intense child, who seemed to define herself by her sexuality, exploring that adult territory – sometimes recklessly, sometimes tenderly – trying to find a place where she fit in.
Which it seems is nowhere and everywhere. Minnie's “adventures” take her from the bedroom of her mother's lover, to seedy Polk Street, and back to her disfunctional not-quite-middle-class home with her immature mother, and tv addicted sister. The interesting thing about this book is that the author seems to take quite an apolitical stance about the exploits of Minnie. Is Monroe (the mother's lover) a manipulative paedophile, or is he just looking for love? Is Minnie taken advantage of, or does she willingly endure it all and chalk it up to experience? The fact that this book doesn't take a didactic moral stance means that you are able to argue about it with your friends til the cows come home.
The illustration can be scary in it's realism – Phoebe works as a medical illustrator. But this adds to the intensity of the comic – you get to stare into the eyes and guts and genitalia of the characters. You are left with an impression that is haunting and sad on the one hand, and exhilarated and challenged on the other. Or perhaps it's just paedophilia.
This is the first zine by Wellingtonian Kim Gruschow. Both issue 1 and 2 are black and white well-illustrated affairs packed full of passionate discourses on diy culture, unorthodox music reviews (The Chipmunks go Punk anyone?) and political musings. There are plenty of diy projects for you to try, a free postcard and make your own badge thingy, and of course the ubiquitous board game.
Kim just has this way of making you care about stuff, particularly with her articles on the rise of “gated communities” (something I had never even heard of ... damn scary things they sound like too!) in issue #1, and Sticky Fingers and the commercialisation of street posters in issue #2 .
So far, Pinktricity seems particularly concerned with the use of public space by us – the "common people". This is something that I've been thinking about heaps lately too, so it really resonates with me. Kim talks about reclaiming that space with art and music and posters and all the things that we've been told has “its place” in spaces designated by city councils and police.
The thing about Pinktricity is that it is obvious that both issues have been made with tender loving care, and include everything that is mandatory in a zine: free stuff, pretty pictures, thought-provokingness and laffs. Looking forward to issue #3 MS 27/9/04
Jennifer Daydreamer: Oliver
Top Shelf Productions: 2003
I once got one of my stories sent back to me from a publisher with the note 'your dreams may be of interest to you, but nobody else wants to read about them'. I found this a little bit crushing at the time but hey, what do they know? I still think that the exploration of dream-life is one of the most fascinating things to write, read and draw about. Too often dreams are cast off from “rational” human experience and seen in simplistic Freudian terms as unconscious animal drives. However, there is a growing culture in graphic novels - where real and surreal often intersect - of giving weight to dream material, such as in the disparate work of Julie Doucet, Neil Gaiman and Jennifer Daydreamer.
I first read Jennifer Daydreamer: Oliver one evening when I was stoned and it was a good way in, though not essential(!). The book feels soft and deep and lonely, and is filled with a cast of characters who are maladjusted yet highly lovable. Oliver is a little devil and a fallen dream “He opened his eyes to find the world in a peculiar way... What was inside his head was now on the outside.” who meets an angel and traverses landscapes and reaches a tented circus, which seems to be the apex where all the characters emanate from or are attracted to. A second book - Jennifer Daydreamer: Anna and Eva (published in 2004) - develops Circus Zazel and begins to name more aspects of the ethereal world of Oliver . The drawing style manages stillness and dynamism all at once and the spaces are huge whilst belonging inside the encephalon of characters who are tiny and delicate. Over everything a dream-like quality prevails - a sense of loss and unease, a sense of discovery and fate, and a sense of the theatrically absurd. TG 17/9/04
Dame Darcy's Meatcake Compilation
My personal favourite at Cherry Bomb Comics, and the latest comic that I have fallen deeply in love with is Dame Darcy's Meatcake Compilation.
Meatcake has a fabulous array of freak-show characters and a delightful Edward Gorey-esque pseudo-Victorian-woodcut drawing style. If you happen to be in a gloomy mood, this book will make you feel infinitely better, albeit in a macabre sort of way. It is often creepy and sometimes a bit sick, “...everyone has endless reasons to be dripping or drinking delicious black blood...” but it is also deeply satisfying and very funny. Bear witness to the antics and fetishes of blonde Richard Dirt and her posse: siamese twins Hindrance and Perfidia; Strega Pez who was born through the neck of her witch mother; Wax Wolf the zombie made from real wolf hair and wax; and Effluvia the impulsive mermaid with a deviantly cruel streak.
In her introduction Darcy alludes to where the title came from – she imagines Richard Dirt and friends picnicking on “the most decadent food of all, a combination of Meat and Cake.” This may sound a bit wrong to the average vegan but don't be put off – a bit of decadence just adds to the thick, sexy, gothic charm.
The compilation is made up of a selection of stories, rhymes and vignettes which originate from issues 1-7 of the comic Meatcake . The stories tend to have a very raw narrative structure with wholly unexpected plot twists, and often end in tragedy or wicked retribution. There are also some extremely happy and very cute moments, and the book includes the definitive selection of paper dolls in the back, which is always a bonus. TG 25/8/04
The Soap Lady
Top Shelf Productions: 2001
One morning ...
... a lady, made entirely of soap, walked out of Snowflake Bay...
... and onto the shore of a town called Blinkerton.
This begins one of the most unusual and haunting stories I've ever read. The Soap Lady is a children’s novel with pictures, or a picture book for adults or perhaps a “sophisticated picture book”...it's hard to define, but I know you'll like it.
The Soap Lady is a silent skeletal figure made entirely of soap, with a face kind of like a cross between a grey alien and a human skull without the lower jaw. Despite her fearsome visage she is very gentle and lovely and is constantly surrounded by little sheep-moths.
Rollo is a little boy who just cannot stay clean. His mother tells him that if he stays clean for one week she will buy him the ventriloquist's dummy he's always wanted ... but of course he gets dirty, and the Soap Lady finds him sitting in a pile of sludge crying. Desperate to help him, the Soap Lady cleans him till he sparkles, and so their strange and special friendship begins.
The art of Renee French is very soft and dream-like. Her human characters all have enormous eyes, and have a sweetly melancholic feel about them. Rollo's town is framed by far off cottontop trees, soft grey hills and of course the unfathomable bay. The illustrations are done in shades of sleepy pencil grey.
Despite all the softness The Soap Lady is not cutesy at all, and I think this is thanks to all the little details that generate the slightly askew reality forming the backdrop of the story. For example Rollo wants - not a teddy or a toy - but a creepy ventriloquist's dummy; and then there's a bath scene where Rollo ends up with a soapy spiky hairdo reminiscent of the crown belonging to Max in the definitely not cutesy Where The Wild Things Are . French's world is populated by sheep, bunnies and sea serpents.
Anyway, ultimately the townsfolk don't understand what the Soap Lady is all about, and seeing her only as an ugly alien, they tear the two friends apart – a metaphor for intolerance? Don't worry, the story does not end dismally, but actually rather...softly....
Quite different from the rest of our stock, The Soap Lady is, as they say, “one for the whole family”.
SLG Publishing: 2000
Ok this review is a little bit backwards, because Potential is actually the 3rd book in the series, which begins with Awkward , continues with Definition , and then we get to Potential. I haven't read the first 2 yet though, and I really wanted to review Potential , so I hope you don't mind.
Some of you may recognise Ariel's name from Hot Topic by Le Tigre...you know that bit at the end where they're listing off names, and they say WHOO! ARIEL SCHRAG!... I can totally get why they included her in that song.
Ariel did her comics as a teenager, which must qualify her as some kind of genius or something, because surely most of the time everyone is too busy running around high school worrying about dumb things like mufti day to actually sit down and document their lives in a comic book!
The art style is mostly cartoonish...she has this interesting technique where whenever a character gets drunk or angry or depressed, their actual features will distort, and it visually sucks you in, so as the reader you kinda feel all drunk and angry and depressed too!
Ariel is not confined to this cartoon style though - whenever her characters dream the art becomes beautifully realistic, adding a whole new dimension to the comic: why is the dream world more "real" than the real world?
Her comics are autobiographical, and this one is about her Junior year of high school, where she says goodbye to bi, and heeello to dykedom. One of the cool things about this book is the way Potential often references Ariel's last book Definition , because some friend at school has just finished reading it, or is talking about it or something. This is when you fully understand the fact that she was writing this as she was living it...
As you can imagine, Ariel's Junior year was rather confusing and heart breaking at times, but her year of Potential was also the year of her first love, and there are many hilarious moments and scenes that you will totally identify with.
Potential is one of the defining books of Cherry Bomb Comics....so read it!! WHOO! ARIEL SCHRAG!
Mardou and Fortenski
Discovering Stiro was one of those serendipitous events that make your day just seem a whole lot better. Chosen especially for Cherry Bomb Comics by Debra Boyask, a NZ comic book laydee who lives in the UK at the moment, Stiro is a 3 issue comic drawn by Mardou (girl) and written by Fortenski (boy).
And it is hilarious. I am one of those self-conscious people who never laughs out loud while reading, but - (it's a breakthrough) - I did with Stiro !! The writing style is very laid back, cool to the point of being pretentious - but it knows it, and that's the point, so it comes full circle back to cool again. It makes you wanna don your stripy sweater and your beret and stand on street corners and shoot spud guns at passing tourists....just like....
...Marie Antoinette...the first character we meet in Stiro #1. When Marie Antoinette is not taking out tourists, she is charming every man she meets, forcing them to Dance! Dance! Dance! for her. The comic is made up of lots of small, unrelated stories set in mostly England and France. They take a dead pan look at some of the things that make up our society: self-help books, the intrinsic coolness of smoking, being a punk rock absent father, psychics and talking bottles of whiskey (you know, all of those things that make up our daily life), and they even throw in a board game "Friday Night" that would put the Game of Life to shame. What more could you ask for really? Mardou also does a comic called Manhole , which she writes and illustrates. Maybe I'll review that next time.