Over the past year (late 2015-early 2016), I’ve been going through my notebooks and turning some of the old ideas into little comics. Some of these I have submitted various places, like “Mystery” to Fourteen Hills and “Icarus” to The Nashville Review. Others I haven’t submitted anywhere or haven’t been picked up. So I’ll be putting some of those up here. I started that with the three Sisyphus one-pagers I did earlier this year. Just now, I put up some of the abstract comics I’ve done recently with a few old ones I still like. The page is here.
I may also completely change this site again. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting rid of the blog altogether, but I think I’m just going to remove it from the front page. I probably won’t do anything soon, because I don’t have the time right now. Still, I’m getting the itch again.
The first mini comic I ever put together, Jack Face, was published in July 1996. That means that today it’s twenty years old.
In one way, of course it is. It seems so old as to have been created by a different person. I hardly even remember working on it. But I do remember thinking about it. The idea came to me in college, but I didn’t start work on it until after I graduated. At the time I was living in a tiny studio apartment in Seattle and took a few odd jobs between long periods of no work and much walking. One of those jobs was working as a temp at Microsoft’s warehouse. That experience made it’s way into the story.
In another way though, it’s scary that it’s been twenty years. At the time I completed Jack Face, I imagined it as the start of an illustrious career. I got a few copies into a place called Fallout Records and Books and submitted the work to Fantagraphics. Yet I ended up moving to Ohio shortly thereafter and so I never found out if any copies sold. And I got a rejection letter (of course) from the publisher. However, it was a great letter. The submissions editor actually read the book carefully and gave me detailed feedback. In retrospect, instead of the first step this was in some ways a high point. It would be a long time before I got any of my minis into stores again. And that rejection letter would be the best one I ever received. I would get some nice comments from Brett Warnock at Top Shelf, but otherwise the rejection letters quickly became form letters, and have since become no letters at all.
Years later, at my first APE, a DC editor would come up to my table and look through Jack Face and say she had never seen storytelling like it before.
So as flawed and amateurish as the book may be, it has a sweet place in my heart. It reminds me of that isolated life I lived the year after college, the hope I had for my art, the new love I was feeling with my wife, with no practical plans and a lot of stories of how things would go.
In honor of the anniversary, I have put Jack Face up at Gumroad. It’s a “pay what you will” situation, which means you can download the thing for free.
I’m changing around my Tumblr for various reasons. Mostly, I want to be able to post my Instagram images on Tumblr, but you can only do this with your primary Tumblr account. My old primary account doesn’t focus on my own work, so pics of my stuff don’t fit there. So I just started a new account. This probably means that I will eventually delete my old account.
Anyway, I’ve been posting little strips based on the Sisyphus myth that I did earlier in the year. I’ve also put them up hereunder the “comics” tab.
The most obvious difference is that they have different covers. I assume Boucq redrew his original cover. The Dover edition also lacks the end flaps of the Catalan edition. It is also slightly smaller. I actually prefer this, though it does make the images smaller. The color in it has more depth than the Catalan edition. In the Catalan edition, the colors are a bit washed out. The blacks in the Dover edition seem a tad grayer, but it’s not a big deal. Also, Dover relettered the book. The new lettering is a bit easier to read than in the Catalan edition.
Overall, this is a nice printing of the book and this new edition makes me appreciate Boucq’s color work more.
I still like the book after all these years. Not all the books that influenced me when I was younger have held up. The Magician’s Wife is a strange and captivating story. Yet at times the characters display contradictory emotions. This is very human, but we don’t always know the characters enough to understand these contradictions. For instance, the magician’s wife, Rita, fluctuates between loving her husband, Edmund, and hating him. It isn’t clear why such drastic changes in her affections occur. Yes, Rita is haunted by her decision to abandon her past, and Edmund represents that past, but we don’t see her conflict. Either she loathes him of she longs for him. We don’t see her loathe herself for longing for him. So it’s like she’s two different people rather than one person having conflicting emotions.
Still, this is a beautiful book. Boucq’s art is wonderful and every character is delightfully rendered. And while the ending gives Rita a happy reunion with Edmund, it comes across more as a happy reunion with her past and a rewriting of it in order to come to terms with it. Yet it remains ambiguous. What we understand is that this waitress in a New York café is something more than the casual observer would see. In fact, she has an entire magical universe within her. And so this is a book that makes you look at the people you see on the street in a different way. What stories are inside of them? Is one a former performer who was once the hit of Europe but now just the woman serving you coffee?
A lot of children’s books are pretty creepy when you think about them. Many of them involve child abandonment or characters who seem whimsical on the surface, but reveal themselves to be agents of chaos. Think of the Cat in the Hat. He’s funny, but also incredibly destructive and unsafe. The new graphic novel by Brecht Evens takes the unsettling nature of many children’s books and turns that up a notch. But interestingly, he never tips it over into pure horror. Everything remains unnervingly ambiguous. It’s a horror story told as a children’s book.
Panther is about Christine who lives alone with her father. Her sickly cat, Lucy, has just been put to sleep. Into the midst of this childhood sorrow, held by a larger sorrow connected to her missing mother, steps the spotted form of Panther. Panther charms Christine and seems to be the answer to her loneliness. But from the outset, his predator’s eyes and ever-changing visage let us know that things are far from okay. Then Christine’s stuffed animal Bonzo goes missing, obviously connected to the appearance of Panther. Bonzo returns, but is it really Bonzo? And why doesn’t he corroborate Panther’s story? Events culminate in Christine’s birthday party, where Panther invites a few more of his friends into Christine’s world. Like the new Bonzo, none of them seem to know what is appropriate to say and do in front of a young girl.
The art here is really gorgeous. The color choices harken to the primaries of children’s books, but they are often paired with murky blacks. The effect is art that is both vibrant and unsettlingly dark. The focus in Panther is much tighter than in Evens’s previous books, so there is not as much breadth of setting and character. Yet in some ways, the character of Panther makes up for that by his constantly changing form. He is usually recognizably a cat, but the style shifts. Many times, the style echoes that of some children’s book artist, but it also changes to match the mood of the dialogue. The changes are beautiful, but also unnerving. They make you feel early on that Panther is not a creature to be trusted. There is something dishonest about his very appearance. Then there’s Panther’s dialogue. The sickly green cursive shows both his desire to sound refined and the rotten, ingratiating nature of his speech. He is desperate to charm Christine. Whenever he says something that she doesn’t like or that disturbs her, he changes his story immediately. And yet, we get the idea that he truly cares for Christine in his own way. The question is: what is his intention? But this begs another, deeper question. From whence does Panther come? Is he from inside Christine herself, or her version of a real person in her life, or is he a denizen of some fantastical world?
Panther shares a bit in common with Evens’s earlier short story “Bad Friends” in Night Animals. That story also involves a young woman, though older and just entering puberty. It also involves a growing cast of fanciful characters who become increasingly bestial and lecherous. Yet Panther doesn’t follow a clear trajectory. While things definitely get more and more out of hand, the character of Panther seems to want to try to keep control of events and protect Christine even though he is the one introducing the chaos into her life. Also, “Bad Friends” is more obvious about what happens to the main character. While Panther does show things, it still remains ambiguous.
This ambiguity means that Panther is less satisfying in terms of plot. The story opens up more possibilities than it answers. On the one hand, this lets the reader figure things out. Again, is Panther Christine’s creation or the mask of an abuser? On the other hand, this ambiguity means there’s less to hold onto. Yet the beauty of the art makes me want to pick up the book again and again and try to unlock its secrets. If they can be unlocked. What Evens has managed to do is create a tone that hovers between the creative joy of childhood imagination and the unfathomable terror of barely contained amorality. The fact that most the book walks that line without falling too heavily into either camp makes for a captivating, if completely unsettling, reading experience.
I was pleasantly surprised by Brecht Evens’s previous book, The Wrong Place. When I first saw his beautiful color work, I was worried Evens was like many of those fine artist types who want to create comics but who have no sense for character and plot. Luckily, I was wrong. The Wrong Place demonstrated some supple and subtle characterization. This remains true with The Making Of. The cast is wider in this book, but none of the members fall into simple categories. Nor does the story itself.
It’d be easy to say this book is the tale of a fiasco, a moral fable about artistic hubris. The main character, Peterson, definitely thinks he is more important of an artist than he is. This is made clear from the beginning. Yet the amateurs in the art festival he’s invited to look up to him. Maybe it’s a case of a one-eyed man being king in the land of the blind, but the excitement Peterson inspires is real. Even if it doesn’t result in much practical effect.
And so this is an artistic document about creating art that ends up with no art being created. Yet this book hints at the idea that the final product may not be the true function of art. To complicate that though, the hope that the characters feel is expressed in trite inspirational-poster phrases. Still, the enthusiasm expressed by the characters overpowers the cynical eye with which we can look at them. Yes, this is a comedy and we laugh at these characters. But in the end, the innocent earnestness of their endeavor is the dominant emotion in the book.
Visually, Evens deepens the style he presented in The Wrong Place. Characters are represented by limited color palettes or single colors, and these colors are used in their dialogue. This makes it possible for Evens to dispense with word balloons and yet always make it clear who is speaking. He also tends to use a half or full page to establish setting, while leaving the individual panels without backgrounds. This allows the dialogue and character movements to have priority while making the establishing panels all the more striking. In some cases, they look like watercolor paintings one might find in an art museum. This could, of course, be taken as a thematic connection to the story, calling attention to art while presenting a story about art. Either way, it’s an effective approach and the sense of space in The Making Of is clearer and more specific than in The Wrong Place.
Overall, it’s clear to me that Brecht Evens is one of the current must-read comics artists. Not only does his work open up new possibilities for the medium, it manages to just be a good read. What more can one hope for?
I really like this review of the book by Michelle White.