Comics Works: Battling Boy—Execution and Expectations

Battling Boy, the most recent work by cartoonist Paul Pope, arrived from First Second Books last year, although I was late to the party, and what a strange party it is. Pope is one of comics’ most talented renderers-of-action, but on some pages, his talents actually undermine the story he’s trying to tell. Superficially simple–the combat-novice son of a godlike warrior arrives in a land besieged by monsters–the story invites all sorts of questions about the circumstances of its creation. Pope stages a series of fights with such fluidity–virtuosity, even–that even if his reader isn’t a comics nerd who had heard mention of Battling Boy for years, the book is still likely to read as the product of countless hours of labor. And even the immersed reader might be tempted to think, ‘All this work for a genre pastiche?’

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Battling Boy shouldn’t be written off as shallow exhibitionism. There’s too much charm and levity throughout the story for that charge to stick. (If Pope’s drawing to impress, he’s obviously drawing to have fun, too.) For instance, collection of animal T-shirts endows Battling Boy with the power of their respective animals; when picking a shirt before a battle, the boy must choose carefully. Details like this display a lightness of touch not always present in Pope’s earlier work, even if they don’t register as particularly personal. (In fact, the concept is weirdly reminiscent of ’90s cartoon toy shill Mighty Max and his magic baseball cap.)

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Battling Boy shouldn’t be written off as devoid of ideas, either. Pope has no shortage of those, and readers can find them in his renderings of space and movement. Comics are a visual medium; Pope’s innovations are visual in nature. Even the argument that Pope’s style is his substance doesn’t quite do him justice. His lines are too functional, carry too much of the narrative burden, to be celebrated-slash-dismissed as stylistic flourishes. And yet Pope is such a superlative artist that his comics will always disappoint to some degree as long as the quality of his plotting fails to match the quality of his cartooning.

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In this way, there’s something sad about Battling Boy. Paul Pope delivered a work that is, in some respects, pretty great. Just not holistically great. And holistic greatness might still be what the greedy reader expects, based on what Pope’s able to provide.

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Comics Grab Bag

1) Fair warning to the seizure-prone, Jen Lee has just completed the first chapter of her post-apocalyptic webcomic, THUNDERPAW, and it’s pretty awesome (and gif-heavy). Read said chapter here and convulse.

2) More lovely news: I found out Emily Carroll’s debut collection, His Face All Red and Other Stories, is coming out later this year some time. Carroll just might be my favorite artist publishing comics online. Read her beautifully horrific title story here.  And a brand new fairy tale adaptation here.

Dialogue

Dialogue 55 by Thales Lira

3) Consistently wowed by Thales Lira’s “Dialogues” series on tumblr. Follow here.

4) Tin Can Forest, kings of bizarro-beautiful comics surrealism, are serializing portions of a new comic, “A Cabbage in a Nutshell,” on their blog. Start here. Then here. Then go here. (to keep things sequential…)

Crag

“Colonialism 5” by Warren Craghead. Made for Comics Workbook.

5) Lovely avant comics from awesome talents like Oliver East, Warren Craghead, Andrew White and others, going on over at the Comics Workbook.

6) Also, new Ryan Andrews: “This Was Our Pact”

7) And, Angie Wang’s Girl Apocalypse. I meant to link this here last year but quickly forgot. It’s really good (better than my memory).

8) Oh, oh, oh, and (also year after the fact) Brendan Leach’s Iron Bound.

Comics Works: An Interview with Gabrielle Bell

Gabrielle Bell is a California-raised cartoonist living in Brooklyn. The Voyeurs, her latest collection of autobiographical comics and the first book-length release from Uncivilized Books, has been called “funny and endearing, even beautiful,” and “a rare glimpse of the fiercely mysterious human heart.” The stories throughout The Voyeurs document everything from the ebb and flow of relationships to the clamor of San Diego Comic-Con to Bell’s struggle to attend a party held in her honor, all with wit, an ear for the languid conversations of longtime friends, and occasional flourishes of the absurd. Bell spoke with me via email, and her replies were much like the vignettes in The Voyeurs: concise, self-deprecating, and dryly funny.

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Online talk surrounding your work is perhaps at an all-time high, with mentions on some widely ready non-comics outlets, as well as sites like The Comics Journal. And funnily enough, I came across those articles immediately after reading chapter one of The Voyeurs, with its section about how hard it can be to stay away from the Internet. How conscious are you of the online chatter?

Very conscious!

Have you had to make an effort lately to ignore mentions of yourself online?

No, I mean there’s not THAT much stuff about me on there. And I already know I won’t resist looking at it, so I’m not going to try.

What kind of changes did you have to make while adapting your online material for a print collection?

I did a lot of editing of the narrating and dialogue, reworded sentences, took out many extraneous words and sentences. Sometimes I took out whole panels, sometimes added whole ones in. I think working in film taught me not to be afraid to freely edit. Continue reading

“I think happiness is overrated.”

A nice, relatively brief interview with Chris Ware that is worth watching for two reasons—

(1) It spotlights Chris Ware, perhaps the single most important graphic novelist of, well…I think that’s it: the single most important graphic novelist (his epic masterwork, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, being the standard case for legitimizing comics as high art/literature).

And (2) it places him in an interview with an awkwardly bubbly and funnily tenacious interviewer; that in addition to the kitschy background music and editing.

Ware’s responses—both verbal and nonverbal—are priceless. Enjoyable on multiple levels.

Comics Works: Kramer’s Ergot 8

Kramer’s Ergot 8, the latest volume in artist/editor Sammy Harkham’s anthology series, collects works from high-profile comics figures such as Gary Panter, Kevin Huizenga, and Gabrielle Bell. Many of the book’s contributors would appear equally at home in books like the annual Best American Comics anthology or other primers for casual comics fans. But Kramer’s 8, out now from PictureBox, is stranger than the sum of its parts.

Earlier volumes of Kramer’s have had a sprawling, free form sensibility, crammed with content from cover to cover with little to orient readers. Kramer’s 8 is a more obviously curated work. In an interview with Harkham, comics writer Sean T. Collins suggested-semi-seriously–that “the fact that it’s a Kramers with a typewritten table of contents at the beginning is somehow the Rosetta stone of the entire project.” Harkham replied by noting that it’s the first Kramer’s with white endpapers too. In other words, the anthology invites us to look for Harkham’s method in selecting and placing its pieces, while being (probably, partially) a product of instinct and also being (probably, partially) designed to send readers in circles. Continue reading

Comics Works: Keeping Two


For the last couple years, Jordan Crane has been rolling out his story ‘Keeping Two’ at art comics clearing house What Things Do. (‘Keeping Two’ has also been partially serialized in Crane’s semi-regular floppy series Uptight, previous editions of which are online too.) Crane’s story, a windstorm of deaths real, imagined, and figurative, is unsettling to a degree unlike anything else the artist has produced. It also reads like a primer on the advantages of the comics medium.

The latest installment of ‘Keeping Two’ lingers at the dinner table of a young couple that has recently suffered a miscarriage. As the two discuss a doctor’s visit and the offer of a cruise vacation, Crane shows the wife–broken by the death of her child–stabbing or otherwise inflicting harm upon herself. The conversation proceeds apace, our cue that the couple’s exchanges are real while the wife’s attacks upon herself are not. (Whether we’re seeing actual visions of the wife’s or more abstract indicators of her state of mind is less clear.)

‘Keeping Two’ takes one of comics’ most basic tools, and one of its most effective–juxtaposition–and uses it twice over in the couple’s dinner scene. Readers get the wife’s visual stream of consciousness and her public face in the same series of panels, as well as the crisscrossing of Crane’s extreme imagery and his couple’s tepid back-and-forth. The entire story traffics in this sort of formal play, and all of ‘Keeping Two’ thus far is powerful stuff, but Crane’s work becomes more moving–and more accomplished–as the story moves forward.

Daybreak, Brian Ralph (Drawn & Quarterly, 2011)

Republished late last year as a single-volume graphic novel, Daybreak was originally released in three parts between ’06 and ’08, and, in my mind, stands as one of the quintessential graphic (or “comic”) works of the past decade. Brian Ralph, the author and illustrator, is also notable for his graphic novels, Cave-In (1999) and Climbing Out (2002)—both highly recommended—but Daybreak ups the ante. So, having it picked up by Drawn & Quarterly and offered as a single book is an exciting event.

Daybreak is a zombie story.

It feels odd, saying that—like it’s a guilty admission or something. Continue reading