Month: December 2019

The Year (and Decade) in Review


The Lost Cause of Poetry came out.
The digital version came out in September.

“Lounger” was released on Tapas.
Then later I also released it on Webtoon.


Defrost on Tapas

Tony Ez Esmond wrote a review of “Defrost” on Never Iron Anything!

I went to both TCAF and VanCAF one weekend after the other.


I started to do Inktober this year, but then found it was too distracting.


Citizen 13660

I also taught Citizen 13660 again this year.

Then in December, Tom Spurgeon died.

– – –

For 2020, I’m hoping to finish “Lounger.” I have a lot of other stories in the planning stages, but the one I have most fleshed out is going to be called Callisto 7 and is an existentialist sci-fi fiasco. I feel like This Wasn’t the Plan went as far with personal, realistic fiction as I want to go for the time being. I really want to move in new directions and break my own restrictions about the kinds of stories I “should” and “shouldn’t” do. 

The Decade

Looking back on the past decade, the biggest thing was finishing Carnivale. The first printing came out in March of 2014. I started it in late 2005. I worked on it while being a new parent and a new college teacher. It was an act of faith. I serialized it on the old version of the nijomu website and got some feedback and some mentions on different sites. Yet when the book was done and printed there was almost no reaction. It was a blow. Getting rid of the old website was part of that reaction. I know that there all kinds of lessons about expectations and marketing that can be made, but from my initial perspective it was the biggest book I had ever made and it had taken years of my life. And I was excited about it. And that was met with silence. It took me some time to recover.

I decided that I should try to put my energies elsewhere. I have often mentioned that in high school and college I wrote poetry, only submitted work twice, and was published on the second try. So I thought to go back to that and try to get published in literary anthologies. That proved to be challenging. Most literary anthologies don’t accept comics and the ones that do often have strict requirements about format. And kind of like putting books on consignment, submitting to various anthologies required a lot of logistical work that took time away from actually creating comics. Still, I like some of the things that I created in that time. Those works can be found in The Lost Cause of Poetry.

Of course, there are also the three works that comprise This Wasn’t the Plan. I think that I’m still too close to them to have insight about what they mean yet. But I used the book to try a different publishing angle. I even got a nice review through Foreword Reviews and a blurb in The New York Review of Books. But none of that translated into sales.

Of course, all of this begs the question: maybe my work just sucks. Maybe my work’s lack of attention is just what my work deserves. I even considered sending my books out to successful comics artists and asking them: “does this suck?” Then I realized that it wouldn’t matter what they told me; at the end of the day I’d create comics anyway. On the one hand, the only way not to suck is to keep going and create something that is worthwhile. On the other hand, it is the act of creating and the satisfaction of completing comics that drive me.

So at the end of the decade I don’t feel that I know anything more than I did at the beginning. Though in some ways I feel better about the idea that what I care about is creating comics. Yes, I’d like those creations to communicate to more people, but it’s the act of creation that is most important to me. Comics is a practice. And I want to focus on the practice. The effects of that practice are a side benefit and my trying to force those effects seems to lead me only to frustration. So I guess I’ve just spent the last decade confirming my original stance. It’s only the work that matters.

Comics I Enjoyed in 2019

Alay-Oop, William Gropper

NYRB reprinted this book this year, but it was originally published in 1930, the year after Lynd Ward’s God’s Man and the same year as Otto Nuckel’s Destiny and Milt Gross’s He Done Her Wrong. So it comes out of that tradition of one-image-per-page wordless books. Alay-Oop is a love story that begins in a circus, but spans the years afterwards and the changing emotions of its characters. It’s a wonderful little story told in bold and expressive linework.





Floral Sounds, Hue Nguyen

I found this book at VanCAF. This isn’t a story. Instead, it’s a series of colored pencil floral drawings and over those drawings are acetate overlays illustrating the sound waves of the bioelectric impulses of the flowers depicted. It’s just a unique and beautiful little mini. Unfortunately, you don’t seem to be able to get it from Nguyen’s site. Maybe through an e-mail.






Glenn Ganges in: the River at Night, Kevin Huizenga

This is a collection of Glenn Ganges stories, but instead of being just an accumulation, these stories work off each other and build a larger narrative. This book reminds me a bit of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy in that it’s a story that keeps interrupting itself and is habitually unable to move forward, yet is both funny and thought-provoking. Ostensibly, the book is about how Ganges is unable to go to sleep, but Huizenga uses that simple device to explore the vagaries of consciousness, the nature of thought, and the passage of time. I need to read this book again.





The Hard Tomorrow, Eleanor Davis

I keep thinking that I’ll write about this book. There is so much packed into it and it rewards multiple readings. Besides the timeliness of the story itself, Davis’s cartooning is at its height here. The line work is sumptuous and she deftly transitions from cartoony abstraction to rendered realism.







Laab Issue 4, Ronald Wimberly et al

I loved Laab #0 and while this issue isn’t as groundbreaking, it’s still a thought-provoking collection of comics and articles. There are pieces by Richie Pope, Emily Carroll, Ben Passmore, Hellen Jo, Sloane Leong, Jonathan Djob Nkondo, and, of course, Wimberly himself. There is also a great little essay about Frankenstein.

And check out this interview with Wimberly.






Making Comics, Lynda Barry

Starting with What It Is, I have loved every single how-to book that Barry has published through Drawn & Quarterly and this one is no exception. Barry is so wise and her interest is not in technique so much as it is in getting at where stories come from. So her approach to art creation is completely human and unique. And the book itself, like the others, is like the platonic ideal of a creator’s notebook. It’s a wealth of generative inspiration. Barry is just a treasure.






Upgrade Soul, Ezra Claytan Daniels

This was published in print by Lion Forge in 2018, but I didn’t read this book till this year. The version I read was through ComiXology, but the book has its own app (pictured left). This is not simply an ebook, but a reworking of each panel to give it a sense of depth along with a creepy soundtrack. Apparently, Daniels feels that this is the definitive version. I know some people hate to read on a device, but the app is really cool. The book itself was probably the biggest surprise of 2019 for me. It’s just an incredible work. I already wrote a short review.






When I Arrived at the Castle, Emily Carroll

My favorite works by Carroll are probably her wordless series based on Fallout 4 and “Some Other Animal’s Meat,” but this book is a beautifully printed work and like Beneath the Dead Oak Tree depicts a much more violent story. It reminds me of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, especially her second reworking of Beauty and the Beast, “The Tiger’s Bride.”






on-line reads

Here are two things I read on-line this year that I really enjoyed.

“Being an Artist and a Mother,” Lauren Weinstein

“How to Draw a Horse,” Emma Hunsinger

• • •

See my 2018 list.


Frictional Games

I like sci-fi horror and the initial videos of Soma looked really cool. But while I was excited to play the game, I was also wary. Frictional games are hit-or-miss with me. I liked Penumbra: Overture and Penumbra: Black Plague had some great moments, but Penumbra: Requiem was a disappointment and Amnesia struck me as overwritten and silly rather than scary. So when I started Soma I was worried. I didn’t like the voice of the main character, Simon Jarrett, at first and the set-up of the game seemed like a mash-up between the other Frictional games and BioShock. Yet when I talked with my first robot who didn’t know he was a robot, I realized that this game had more going on. As Soma progresses, it provides a story that is surprising and thought-provoking. And, remarkably, it all fits together logically. So many games sacrifice logic to make game mechanics work. For instance, in Soma you get to hear the final moments of dead characters. In many games, you get this information through journals which beg the question: how did the character write this if they were dying? In Soma, the moment is recorded by a black box that everyone has embedded in their brains. Why your character, Simon, is able to access these black boxes is likewise made clear. While not all elements of the story are spelled out for you, you can piece them together through reflection.

The story is the real strength to Soma. It’s what draws you in after a slow start and what addicts you and keeps you wanting to play even though the horrific environment makes your stomach churn. Yet as the game goes on, another element comes to the fore: Simon’s relationship with Catherine. Catherine is Simon’s guide through the world of Soma. And instead of being a simple computer construct or a manipulative puppet master, Catherine is a three-dimensional person (metaphorically speaking) full of flaws. As Simon and Catherine encounter horrors together a bond forms between them . This is not some hasty romance, but a friendship between two people alone and afraid. They support each other, but also yell at each other and get into arguments. This very human relationship at the center of the game both adds depth to what you experience and underscores the themes the game is exploring.

Basically, the game questions what makes us human. Is our consciousness part of our human bodies or can it survive outside our flesh? And if so, at what cost? And if we entrust more and more of our safety to machines, what will it mean if those machines don’t understand the humanity they are trying to preserve? I have read some reviews that have panned these questions and felt they were too overdone. But I liked them and found their placement in the game to fit really well with what was going on. And I appreciate a game that attempts to make me think as well as feel.

The other main criticism I have seen of Soma concerns the monsters in the game. Some found them disappointing or too repetitive in how you overcome them. While many of them can be dealt with by simply moving slowly and quietly, I thought the various monsters were delightfully creepy. They all had different behaviors that made them feel unique even if, in effect, all I was doing was crawling around to avoid them. While the monsters created some pulse-pounding moments, the creeping dread that permeates the rest of game is the main horror in Soma. This dread is created by the environment, especially the sounds. Yet it is largely conveyed through the story itself, the tale of what happened and what people had do do, what you, as Simon, have to do, and the realization that the only glimmer of hope is a hazy reflection of humanity. It’s a dark game, but dark in an existential way. How many video games can make that claim?

Overall, Soma won me over and drew me down into its depths. I love horror sci-fi, but I’ve found many horror sci-fi games either frustrating to play (Alien: Isolation) or full of incredibly obtuse puzzles and cringingly overwritten characters (Stasis). Soma is a well-thought-out work that provides you with an immersive experience that that gives you plenty to feel as well as think about.

. . .

originally posted February 24, 2016