September 26, 2014

Timothy Kidd's comics choices

The best thing that happened to me this Comic Book Month was reading the piece Kelly Sheehan wrote for Factional, the Faction Comics blog, about the work of Timothy Kidd. For a second I was going to correct that to say 'the best comic-booky thing', but actually I think it was the best thing, period. It's a wonderful, unstinting exposition, absolutely worth reading.

Timothy Kidd is one of my favourite comics artists, as well as being one of my favourite people, unforcedly original and unfeignedly genuine. I still remember that the first time I talked to Tim about his having written a graphic novel, I saw a twinge of discomfort cross his face. Not, as you may be thinking, because he didn't want to talk about his work. It was because of the terminology I used. "People who make comics don't really like the term graphic novel", he said. "We think of all these (gesturing towards Central Library's graphic novel shelves) as comics."

Comics 

It made sense to me. Comics was what I had always called them, too, until I went to work in a library, where the first time I heard someone talking about 'graphic novels' I thought it meant books with explicit sex and violence. What, a whole collection? "No, no, it means comics in book form! You know, when they tell a story!"

Well. Years after this conversation, it's still hard for me to think of the term 'graphic novel' as anything much more than a ploy to convince establishment figures such as book publishers, the compilers of the New York Times 'Books of the year' book lists, school boards, and old-school librarians, that comics can rub elbows with Lit-ra-ture! (Here I need a sound clip of Johnny Angel, creator of Afithe first Samoan superhero, the time he was pretending to me he didn't know how to pronounce the word.) Comics lovers don't need to be convinced! It reminds me of the episode in the American comic classic Doonesbury where a survivor of Nixon's "secret bombings" of Cambodia says "Secret bombings? There wasn't any secret about them! My wife knew too! She was with me and I remarked on them. 'Here come the bombs!' I said."

There's not much to add to Kelly's appreciation of Tim's talent. Here instead, for your enjoyment and edification, are some of the intriguing comics recommendations he's written for us over the last few years.

Or, "Here come the comics !" I said.


Very Casual by Michael Deforge (2013)

syndetics-lc
On the cover is a weird deer. Is it a deer? Maybe not. It is deer-shaped, with deer legs, a kind of deer face, and antlers, all in the right deer places. But something tells me that it is not actually a deer. It seems to be made out of some kind of oozing, red substance and its eye is like a big flat dish. And it kind of has a beak.

Something is wrong with something familiar. Or else something weird is treated as if it was the most mundane thing in the world. This is what Deforge plays around with in this collection of short comics. A faux-natural history comic explains that the creature on the cover is actually a common Canadian quadripedal slug. The narrator in another story is a teenage guy who is super-excited to be hanging out with a cool local band. We the readers see that the band is made up of disgusting meaty blob-monsters, but do the characters notice? No one mentions that the singer looks like a piece of fried chicken. Are the kids oblivious? or brainwashed?... or just living in a world where monsters are pretty ordinary?

This weirdness is so underplayed that it seems all the more weird, and Deforge draws it just right-- in a cartoony, clear line style, so that nothing looks exactly normal. Post-Fort Thunder indie-comics weirdness meets twisted body horror meets goofy bigfoot cartooniness. Weirdness aside, these are compelling stories told in an entertaining way. I really liked this book and I look forward to new things from Deforge.


Everything together by Sammy Harkham  (2012)

syndetics-lcI always try to read every comic Harkham makes but he doesn't always make it easy to be a completist. Most of his strips are published in obscure places-- small anthologies, niche websites, or his own indie comic book, Crickets. I love his stories so much that I have always made (grainy, pixilated) copies/print-outs of them, then read, and re-read those loose A4 pages until they fall to pieces.

So I am happy to say that those short stories have finally been collected in this shiny new volume-- his first book. And it’s great; I think he is the best new cartoonist to emerge in the last ten years. He has figured out the perfect style for comics-- it can be goofy like Popeye, grown-up like Chris Ware, sweaty like R. Crumb, satirical like Dan Clowes, or exuberant like Roy Crane.

I like the way his characters seem to want to be civilized or act like grown-ups, but really are just at the mercy of the random whims and needs that come over all creatures. At some point in a Sammy Harkham story, the façade will crack and a professor will get punched in the nose for blocking another academic’s ambitions (The New Yorker Story), or teenagers will put rubbish bins on their heads and crash into each other (Somersaulting), or one cartoonist will laugh when his dog bites the other’s drawing hand (Clowes+Huizenga). Heartbreaking and hilarious.


Garden by Yuichi Yokoyama (2011)

syndetics-lcIt doesn't have a plot exactly. There are just a lot of oddly-dressed guys walking through a huge landscape filled with weird structures and features. One guy's head looks like the front of the space shuttle, another guy is spiky. They look at the weird things, climb over them, swing, jump, crawl through them and narrate as they go-- "Oh look, it's a river filled with giant rubber balls instead of water" or "The walls are suddenly made of concrete”.

All the strangeness is underplayed, though. The drawing is uninflected and spare -- lines ruled, circles stencilled -- there are no faces to get attached to. It is quite stilted but very fascinating. It looks as if the natural world had been remade out of concrete and water by some faceless architect who had never actually seen the natural world. And the way the reader follows the guys from moment to moment reminds me a lot of platform video games. It is pretty engrossing. I’ve never read anything like it.


Wilson by Daniel Clowes (2010)

syndetics-lcWilson is the kind of guy you would hate to sit next to on the bus-- opinionated, obnoxious and quick to take offence, a middle-aged misanthrope who thinks that he is way smarter than you. Fortunately for the reader, Clowes is a good enough cartoonist to find the humanity lurking within this apparently charmless man. About halfway in, Wilson finds himself alone in the world and goes on an odyssey to try to reunite the family that he has alienated. This plan goes about as wrong as possible for him-- with darkly comedic results. The book is made up of a series of self-contained one page strips, each drawn in a different style. Some of these are individually funny or tragic but taken as a whole they add up to a nuanced and touching story. This approach engages the reader, and gives the book the strange liveliness that is in contrast with its surface blankness. This is an odd book and an odd character but it turns out that Wilson is not so bad.


Auckland Libraries holds these works by Timothy Kidd, published by Comic Book Factory,

Came the dawn. Book One

Came the dawn. Book Two

Came the dawn. Book Three


Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 15:05
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