23 Jul 14
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Review: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

This may be a partial heresy, but I’ll be as up-front and as honest as I can: I’ve read 1 volume of Scott Pilgrim, own the rest, and haven’t finished them. I never saw the movie. So, despite knowing about O’Malley’s work, I haven’t really been immersed in it until this point – the enthusiastically awaited Seconds, a project many years in the making that’s had a lot of comics people excited. And now, having read Seconds, I’m also excited – excited to go back to Scott Pilgrim and finish where I left off.

Seconds is a 336 page hardcover book with partial dust jacket printed in lux full color on matte paper featuring Katie Clay, a very talented and ambitious chef who has worked hard to build a great restaurant, Seconds. Because she has no ownership in the business, she has set out to build her own restaurant with a partner, and she’s running into walls. Mix in a current fling with the cook, an ex-boyfriend she still pines over, and a bunch of “baby” co-workers she doesn’t really know, there’s a lot that can go wrong… and does. But when the house spirit of the building her restaurant is in gives her a chance to fix her mistakes with a magic mushroom, her life takes multiple directions for the better and/or worse.

While Seconds is a departure from previous work, it is unmistakably the work of Bryan Lee O’Malley. The in-jokes, the witty dialogue, and his casual breaking of the fourth wall is reminiscent of one of my favorite cartoonists, Mitsuru Adachi, but is immediately recognizable from Scott Pilgrim. O’Malley’s art is clearly influenced by manga and Osamu Tezuka, and while it still maintains much of the same look as Scott Pilgrim, it feels like a cleaner, stronger version of his previous work. Katie especially has the kind of hair that only shonen manga could love.

The reason Seconds works as well as it does is due its strong leading lady Katie, a character who is really well-developed. Despite her flaws, Katie is very emotive and charismatic, which makes for a fun, engaged read. Backing up his characters is a great setting and some wonderful world-building. The city Katie lives in feels real, feels right. O’Malley’s paneling and strong eye for flow are evident – Seconds is a quick read despite its length.

I like the running theme of “seconds” that O’Malley is playing with throughout this book – it’s a book about second chances, a book that reminds us that some of the most important things we do (or don’t do) happen in seconds. It also alludes to the second portions we get when we enjoy food. The idea of food is also central to Seconds, in that eating is basically what the story revolves around, whether that is customers eating food at Katie’s restaurant, eating magical mushrooms in order to reset time, or food given to the ornery house spirit.

Fans have been waiting a long time for Seconds, and as a relative newcomer to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work, I can say with relative ease that this book is one of the best to come out in 2014. It’s a book that will stick in your craw for a long time, make you think more about the way you live your life, and most importantly, make you ask for seconds. Recommended.

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Notes: Sorry for the wretched scans. My scanner isn’t equipped to manage a big book like Seconds, and I try as hard as possible not to damage a book when I scan it, so these turned out a little blurry.

Bryan Lee O’Malley can be found at radiomaru and at his twitter handle here. Seconds was published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House.

21 Jul 14
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Review: The Wrenchies, by Farel Dalrymple

Last week was a surprisingly great week for new comics. Books like Terraformars, Through the Woods, and Seconds all were published to great fanfare. But the book that came out last week that I read first was Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies. I was expecting it to be out around September, so getting it early was a great surprise.

An even greater surprise is how stylistically and intrinsically odd The Wrenchies is.  If ever there was a time to call a comic book a fever dream, now is that time, and The Wrenchies is that comic. In many parts, a gang of super-powered children, adults from an alternate dimension, and a boy from the past in a superhero suit all team up to destroy an ancient evil called the Shadowsmen who have taken over the world.

Dalrymple’s art is one of the key features of any of his comics, but in The Wrenchies he stretches and pulls his abilities in ways that are astonishing and exhilarating. With a mix of dark inks and oversaturated water colors, Dalrymple quickly sets the tone for the book – noxious, dangerous, mystifying. Dalrymple uses color in really cool ways – a concert scene in the first 70ish pages comes to mind with its mix of reds and pinks, simulating darkness and fire. It is clear above all else that Dalrymple has slaved over the illustrations of this comic, and the result is a true joy to behold.

The story leads the Wrenchies on an epic quest to find the poisoned and manipulated body of Sherwood, the progenitor of the chaos and the source of the Earth’s damage. Taken at face value, the book meanders through multiple storylines, with flashbacks and retellings. But nothing about The Wrenchies should be taken at face value.

Consider Sherwood – the story shows that he is the source of the damage and evil feeding the Shadowsmen. But is this evil world a manifestation of Sherwood’s mental illness? There are many potential theories about the source and reality of The Wrenchies‘ dark, polluted world. Is this Sherwood’s breakdown after accidentally killing his best friend in a drug-induced stupor, or perhaps Sherwood’s failed attempts to cope with the unexplained loss of his brother Orson? Conversely, the source of the fantastic story may not be some deeper darkness, but the overactive imagination of Hollis, a boy trying to navigate between his love of fantasy, his mother’s deeply religious ties, and the schoolyard bullies. And what does the end of the book tell us about the “truth” of The Wrenchies, if such a thing can even be derived?

With The Wrenchies, Dalrymple wrings out the darkness of the human condition and builds it up so that he can tear it down with his cast of wizards, ninjas, and marksmen. And despite all my questions, it’s clear that Dalrymple has created something fantastic in The Wrenchies. Recommended.

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Farel Dalrymple's  The Wrenchies is published by First Second (tumblr: firstsecondbooks). You can find Farel on twitter here, and read his series It Will All Hurt, which is set in the same universe, at study-group

16 Jul 14

Quick Picks: New Shojo #1s

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Say I Love You #1 by Kanae Hazuki

After a hurtful betrayal as a small child, main character Mei withdraws from her peers and moves through life without making friends or attachments. But she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, especially when she’s getting harassed by a classmate. The encounter intrigues the school playboy Yamato, who does Mei a favor (in a strange way) and forces her to break out of her shell a bit.

Say I Love You has a lot to say about trust, betrayal, bullying, personal image issues, and uses Mei’s trust issues and a lot of silliness to dive into the heavier content. There’s this skeeziness about Say I Love You - unwanted-but-actually-wanted kisses, etc. While Yamato generally seems to have a good heart, he doesn’t have a lot of respect for Mei’s personal space (or anyone’s personal space). Part of what keeps this book grounded is how Mei deals with the problems that high-schoolers face all the time: with honesty, embarrassment, and sometimes blunt force trauma.

Verdict: A shojo character study in the real world. Not a bad start.

My Little Monster #1 by Robico

Another friendless lead, this time Shizuku is a grade-obsessed loaner who, by request of homeroom teacher, takes class print outs to a guy who’s been suspended for beating up kids on the first day of school. It turns out that Haru, the violent “monster” is really just a guy who is extremely gullible and earnest (but also violent). Since Shizuku is one of the first people to be kind to him, he gets attached to her - but can she give up her grades to go after a guy?

My Little Monster is a fun comedy - Haru is played for laughs with his stupid antics and his awkward and earnest behavior. Robico can dial up the drama when needed, but this is mostly a fun romp. The story moves at a perfect pace. How My Little Monster manages to pull together such a strong cast of characters in a first volume is a testament to strong dialogue writing and just the right ratio of fun to smolder. 

Verdict: Fun, funny, and a perfect cast for volume #1. Recommended.

My Love Story!! #1 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

Male leads in shojo books are becoming more and more common -and the hook on My Love Story is that instead of being the blithe, sexy guy that normally is the love interest in shojo manga, Takeo is a giant macho hunk. He seems to always get passed over by the cute girls he likes - the ladies in his life always tend to go for his best friend Sunakawa.

Here’s another winner, except unlike My Little Monster, the reason why it works has more to do with the chemistry between the two best friends Sunakawa and Takeo than the love story (although that too is fairly well written). My Love Story!! draws on the double act tradition of comedy, with Sunakawa being the perfect straight man for Takeo’s over the top physical humor and social misunderstandings. There were parts of this manga that had me rolling. And I like the obvious physical attraction that Yamato has for Takeo. Seeing her blush while looking at Takeo in an undershirt was cute and funny. Big people are attractive too!

Verdict: Good shojo chemistry and a double act that stands up and makes you take notice. Recommended.

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Say I Love You and My Little Monster are published by kodanshacomicsMy Little Monster has an anime adaptation that you can watch for free at CrunchyrollMy Love Story!! is published by Viz Media.

14 Jul 14

Linkblogging #2

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Happy Monday!

Linkblogging is a monthly “go look” feature on Sequential State that I’m using to feature fun comic things around the internet. There is a lot of great stuff to look at on the internet. The stuff featured is just the stuff I’ve been looking at lately. If I missed your thing, send me a message!

Kickstarter:

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You’ve got a little less than 10 days to get your copy of Locus Moon Press’ Winsor McCay Little Nemo in Slumberland tribute book, Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream. The contributor list is a who’s who of comics creators, including Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon, Peter Bagge, Farel Dalrymple, Paul Pope, Nate Powell, Craig Thompson, and many more people.  Getting a copy of the book itself is going to set you back a cool Benjamin, so this project may be a little rich for some tastes, especially since despite the book’s size you’re only getting 144 pages of comics.

Roman Muradov (tumblr: bluebed) a celebrated illustrator and comics creator, has a Kickstarter running for his latest zine, Yellow Zine #5; it should debut at SPX this year along with his book (In A Sense) Lost & Found.

Read this thing:

I featured this book on my alt-blog, but here’s some updated linkage for you - The SCIBA-sweeping all-ages comic Dungeon Fun #1 is available for free on Gumroad for a short time.

 Chris Schweizer’s recently posted holy grail of DIY comics creation.

 Lamar Abram’s funny/cute Sonic the Hedgehog (kinda) comic.

News/Reviews/Oddities:

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Breakdown Press (tumblr: breakdownpress) has recently announced a new alt and indie comics festival in the UK, Safari Festival. Featured exhibitors currently on the list for a late August show date include Breakdown Press, Space Face Books, Jazz Dad Books, Famicon Express, and more. Check out the show’s tumblr page (tumblr: safarifestival) for more information.

Zainab at Comics and Cola has a lovely review of Luke Pearson’s Hilda and the Black Hound. Comics and Cola also now has a new facebook page.

Sonatina Comics (tumblr: sonatinacomics) has two preorders up right now – one for Sam Alden’s ‘Screentime June/July’ and A. Degen’s ‘Junior Detective Files.’

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Until July 31st, you can join Smaller Comics “Minicomic of the Month Club,” for $40 AUD anywhere in the world and get a new minicomic in your mailbox every month.

Speaking of subscription plans for comics, Cardboard Press’ limited Summer 2014 subscription sold out pretty quickly. Subscriptions are a huge part of the way smaller comics presses are generating buzz and guaranteed sales for their work. I’m not sure how many of these things a person can be hooked into before they lose their stomach for the concept, but we aren’t at market saturation yet.

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A redesign of Batgirl has taken the tumblr crowd by storm. Babs Tarr (tumblr: babsdraws) did the art and it is a great redesign, and a sign that DC’s previous creative attitude towards women might be changing, if only ever so slowly.

Oh, and keep an eye on sequential-alt, a smaller second half of this MWF blog. I do my reblogging and small post stuff over there. The two blogs together make up a better picture of what I’m up to and interested in.

11 Jul 14
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Review: Young Avengers #1-12, 2005-2006 Edition by by Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, Andrea DiVito

I’m not planning to do reviews of Big 2 comics very often, but because a really good friend of mine often loans me older comics, I’m reading Big 2 content from time to time.

The 2005-2006 run of Young Avengers occurs somewhere in the Marvel continuity where the Avengers have disbanded after killing many Avengers in something of a freak accident. A group of teenagers with similar powers steps in to fill the shoes of the Avengers to fight time traveler Kang the Conqueror. In addition to the bad guys, the teenagers also have to deal with upset parents and members of the Avengers team.

Based on my conversations I’ve had with the friend who lent me these books, Young Avengers was something of a breakout hit in 2005-2006. It did a lot of fresh things at the time, including having a believable gay couple who were treated as normal people by the rest of the team.

But the books nagged at me as I was reading them, and I felt like something was always a bit off. It wasn’t until book #7-8 that I figured out what was going on. The book, despite its diverse cast, has some problematic subtext.

It’s clear that Young Avengers of 2005-2006 is very much a white man’s book… that should not be surprising, but it was disappointing. The team leader, that African American teen, takes the majority of the abuse. In the first books, he is suspicious and bitter about the addition of a woman, Hawkeye, to their team. While he finally is won over when she saves his life a few times, we then go on to find out that he has been lying to his friends and team the entire time: he’s been using drugs to obtain his strength and healing powers.

Let that sink in… the black character in the book is a sexist drug addict who can only hang out with white people when he’s on drugs.

The issues don’t really stop there, unfortunately. One of the things that I think can be difficult with these 32 page action-o-rama team-based books is that there isn’t a lot of space for character building. This is most evident in the relationship between Iron Lad and Stature; Stature, one of the cute female leads, basically throws herself at the only straight white guy at first opportunity in a completely unrealistic way.

I have to continue to remind myself that these comics are nearly 10 years old, but that doesn’t excuse the lazy writing. Despite some of the good things the run does, I still think that Young Avengers 2005-2006 is really indicative of the Big 2 as a whole, in the sense that it’s white books for white guys.

In my eyes, superhero comics aren’t just a straight white guy escapist power fantasy. There are really great things that you can do with the genre, and it’s obvious that people outside of the Big 2 core audience love superheroes. Things are changing, and I think that’s a good thing - Ms. Marvel is a pretty popular book right now, and I really loved issue #1. There’s a Batgirl redesign floating around the web that looks fresh, realistic, and not all spandex and boob windows.

 Realistically, the only way to reach those people who like superheroes and don’t read comics are to stop writing books like Young Avengers 05-06 and consistently invite and engage with non-white, non-male audiences. Which means good characters and strong, nuanced writing that doesn’t pander to a particular age, race, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

I’ve also been lent the latest run of Young Avengers from the Marvel Now! line, and I’ve been told this set of books is more my speed. We’ll see how it goes.

9 Jul 14
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Review: Blindsprings by Kadi Fedoruk, pages 1-71:

Blindsprings is a webcomic that updates two times weekly, Tuesdays and Thursdays; it features a princess named Tamaura who made a contract with ancient spirits to serve them in order to protect her sister. When a rogue mage pulls her from her woods and breaks her contract, she finds that it has been 300 years since she last saw the outside world.

One of the things that separates good web comics from mediocre or bad web comics is preplanning. I started reading webcomics in the early 00s, and while that wasn’t the bleeding edge, there was still a lot more chaff at that point than there is now. Part of why webcomics are consistently better now is that instead of building a comic around a few characters and a daily joke, webcomics creators are coming into a comic with a plan.

Blindsprings is clearly a webcomic with a plan. There are a lot of features of the comic that are still a little hazy – like what exactly is an Orphic witch, why are Orphics segregated/discriminated against, how does Tamaura’s contract interact with this new world, etc. The biggest key here is that Fedoruk is (or at least appears to be) plotting comics ahead of time.

It also doesn’t hurt that Blindsprings is absolutely stunning in terms of both palette and style. The colors and lines are soft but distinct. Take a look at the pages I’ve pulled for a better look, but it’s clear that these pages are taking a lot of time.

One thing that I really enjoy about Blindsprings is the way Fedoruk resists the temptation to pit the forces of the book against each other. There isn’t really a “good side” at this point – the spirits aren’t exactly kind and gentle protectors, and the Academic Mages have created a society that discriminates against Orphics. The people caught up in the middle are trying to make things work, maybe well, maybe not.

Of note, I do have some concerns with Blindspring’s pacing on a macro level. Each page flows very well, but the story seems to be moving rather quickly and without much in the way of explanation. Certainly part of this is on purpose, but I think there is something to be said for a slower burn and for allowing characters to grow on the page. We’re at a big turning point in the second chapter which may prove that my concerns are unfounded, but, as always, there will be more to come.

Clocking in thus far at just over 70 pages, Blindsprings is a fairly quick comic to jump into, and I think it’s a good example of how a webcomic can work well. Above all, I’m hoping for some answers in the upcoming weeks – let’s hope that they’re as good as the questions that have been posed thusfar.

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Blindsprings can be found at Blindsprings.com, and is written by Kadi Fedoruk, who can be found at blindsprings and on twitter at @KadiFedoruk.

7 Jul 14

Musings: Reviewing Webcomics

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A few weeks ago, there was this big send up about web comics review and criticism. A lot of really well known web comics creators got involved discussing the pros and cons of web comics reviews.

I made some comments regarding reviews that I’m going to pull in here:

In the past I have avoided webcomic reviews because of the reasons I mention above. It’s also harder to write a webcomic review compared to, say, a book. A book has a defined beginning and ending. Because it is a contained, open and closed narrative, it is easier to grapple with the work intellectually and come to a more solid conclusion. It can also be very discouraging for a creator to get a bad review when they are essentially providing free entertainment for their audience.

But one of the major reasons I write a review is to tell readers if I think a property or book I have read is worth their time or worth the money. While webcomics are by-in-large free to read, everyone’s time is valuable. So reviews can still be beneficial for readers.

Another major concern for reviewers or critics is that their voice isn’t necessarily a community voice, i.e. I am not a comics maker. Because I don’t truly understand their process or the stresses of creating and posting comics work, the argument goes, my critique isn’t necessarily valid, or as valid as someone who is doing the work.

I freely admit that I don’t make comics. I read comics. And… I read a lot of comics. And while I wouldn’t by any means tell an author what to do and what to fix about their comic directly, I have been building an eye for construction and flexing my critical thinking skills as much as possible with this blog. I’m certainly not at the level of other critics/reviewers on the web (10,000 hours and all that hokum) but I’m working at it. So if I notice something isn’t working, I’m going to say it.

So, with all of this in mind, I think that webcomics reviews are maybe a little more difficult, but with all of the content freely available on the internet, it can be hard to pick what to read, or find what to read. 

 Starting this Wednesday I’ll be running webcomics reviews alongside more traditional reviews with a few guideposts:

  1. Any webcomic review on Sequential State will mention the page spread that it focuses on i.e. chapters, page numbers, story arcs as part of the review title.

  2. Noting that one of the key features of webcomics is their transformative nature and that many webcomics are works in progress, if I am critical of a work, I will be more thorough and less acerbic in my writing.

  3. That said, there will be no pulled punches. I don’t think it’s fair to the creator or to my audience.

  4. If a creator wishes to engage me regarding any part of the review or my reviewing process, I welcome that engagement. Feel free to contact me via my ASK box, Twitter, or email.

Are there any other guidelines you think are important for webcomic reviews? If so, let me know in the comments.

4 Jul 14
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Review: Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol

One thing that I think is a universal experience is the feeling of being bullied. I was bullied in junior high for my weight, my overeagerness to please teachers, and all the things a bookworm is generally noticed for. Looking back at that time, I realize now that there was stuff going on that I didn’t understand. Kids who had rough family lives were lashing out in the only place they could. And I put a lot of stock in the words of people that ultimately had no power over me.

Still, being labelled as “not normal” or “other” is a really painful experience, no matter where you are in your life, and that’s the world Vera Brosgol explores in Anya’s Ghost. Anya is the daughter of Russian immigrants. Her mother wants her to succeed, her little brother Sasha is obsessed with dinosaurs, and they’re a pretty normal family. But when Anya storms into the woods after a fight with her friend after school, she finds herself in a literal hole in the ground with a haunted skeleton.

Anya’s Ghost is 224 pages of grey-scale comics on glossy paper. My copy is a first edition from First Second Books, but the latest version is being published under another Macmillan division, Square Fish. Because of its immigrant’s child, fish out of water type of structure, Anya’s Ghost reminds me of another First Second book, American Born Chinese. Some of Gene Yang’s strengths are echoed in Anya’s Ghost - Vera Brosgol’s linework is clean and her cartooning is very emotive. But comparing Brosgol to Yang misses key differences between the authors and their work.

The strength of Brosgol’s work is in Anya, her main character. She’s clearly an attractive girl, but has a lot of self-confidence issues. She feels like she doesn’t fit in because of her heritage. But she has her own personality, her own worries. She’s a teenage girl that readers can relate to. Constructing this kind of character is really difficult, and I think really sets apart Anya’s Ghost from other stories in the genre.

Brosgol is great at showing instead of telling – we see how Anya’s posture changes, how her face lights up, how she boils with anger or embarrassment. Brosgol has this knack for constructing these scenarios for Anya to grow in, and it’s that strength that makes it easier for the reader to follow the material easily and empathize with Anya.

The ghost story that comes along with Anya’s self-discovery and growth is fun and spooky. I wasn’t jumping out of my skin, but there are a few pages that really stand out. I won’t spoil the fun in the last quarter of the book, but it’s a treat.

Anya’s Ghost is a strong debut that does a lot of things right; well-crafted characters, a believable setting, and a touch of the fantastic make this a book a great read for teens, and for those of us looking back at the past.

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Anya’s Ghost is written by Vera Brosgol and published by firstsecondbooks/Square Fish, both Macmillan imprints. Vera tweets at @verabee. You can find out more about her work here.

2 Jul 14
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Review: Night Animals, by Brecht Evens

I’m working through some older comics this week, and I’m finally getting around to Night Animals, a purchase from my SPACE adventure earlier this year. While it was published in English by Top Shelf after The Wrong Place (from Drawn and Quarterly), the book is some of his first work.

Night Animals is 48 pages of wordless watercolor comics on deluxe cardstock. The book is a diptych, one story “Blind Date” which follows the adventure of a man in a rabbit suit, and “Bad Friends,” the story of a girl’s magical puberty and sexual awakening vis-à-vis a wild Hieronymus Bosch meets Maurice Sendak wilderness party.

As a visual object, Night Animals is astonishing. Evens’ art is clearly the reason you buy this book. He has a tendency to let his compositions sprawl, but constructs his pages so that they flow well. The coloring is also superb – Evens blocks out warm and cool colors and plays with the subtleties of the variations in shade. His watercolors are fantastic, and his linework embellishes the strongest point of the work.

What is less strong in this collection is the actual stories Evens is constructing. To be clear, this is a comic book of sex stories, so perhaps the illustrations are what are most important, but Evens seems more intent on the illustration than anything else. There are troubling elements to both stories, such as the rabbit scene in “Blind Date” and the perplexing, ominous ending of “Bad Friends.”

In some sense, the work is an exploration of the binary sexual experience. “Blind Date” shows the man’s vision of sexual conquest, striving out on an arduous journey before finding the right girl/rabbit and thus being rewarded with sex and love. In contrast, “Bad Friends” portrays the sexual awakening of a young girl as both illicit and dangerous – the Devil comes to steal the main character away from her sick bed only to feed her to ravenous beasts with giant erections. While rape and sexual violence are the sad reality that many women face, conflating female sexuality with violence is problematic, just as is conflating male sexuality with conquest. There is potential that Evens is intending to condemn these social constructs, but the “message” of the comics (if there is one) is hard to pinpoint.

Where Evens succeeds, it is in a visual space. His art is fantastic, the colors remarkable. But the story of Night Animals (which is unfortunately not easily parsed), is troublesome. Still, it is hard to walk away from Night Animals without being impressed by Evens’ craftsmanship, and that is the dilemma of the book for me. Where you find yourself after reading it might be completely different – and that’s something worth thinking about.

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Brecht Evens has published books with Drawn and Quarterly (tumblr: drawnandquarterly) and Top Shelf. His book The Wrong Place was an official selection of Angoulême in 2011. You can find out more about Night Animals here.

30 Jun 14

The Anxiety of James Sturm’s Market Day

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James Sturm’s Market Day is one of the defining graphic novels of 2010. It follows a shetl artisan, Mendleman, at the turn of the Industrial Revolution. He has built a life around making high quality rugs. The financial stability of his family hinges on selling 8 rugs he has made. When he finds out that the retailer with whom he has cultivated a strong business relationship has decided to turn his business over to his son-in-law who doesn’t have the same eye for quality, Mendleman’s world unravels.

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One of the most prominent features of Market Day is the uncertainty of its ending. Mendleman has sold his donkey and cart, the only way to get rugs to market. He has sworn to sell his loom. But Sturm uses oblique language to suggest rather than tell us that Mendleman may continue to be an artisan despite the cheaper, lower quality competition. It strikes me that many people in the illustration and comics world have this concern – young artists giving away work or not knowing the value of their work devalues the work of the collected industry. The fact that many people are looking to hire illustrators, designers, and other artists for “no cash, plenty of exposure” is proof of this. How market forces impact an artisan’s ability to make a living is a very central concern in an artistic industry like comics, and I think Sturm strikes a nerve.

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At the same time, the artisan’s pride is a driving force in Mendleman’s decision-making, as shown throughout the book. His posture changes, the background brightens after he walks away from a positive encounter with a rabbi he knows at the market. But Mendleman also curses his pride, becomes angry that he has built “a house of cards” as an artisan, and swears to give up his trade. Like artists today, may swear away his craft – but can he actually abandon it despite the forces of the market that rage against him? Do we stop doing what we love to get a more stable job in some other industry? Do we trade our dreams for a stable income? Or do we tough it out and hope for the best? What drives us to throw it all on the line? Mendleman stands in for the everyman, tossing these questions around as he tries to sell his rugs.

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Mendelman’s anxiety is a key building block of Market Day. Mendleman works himself into fits at the slightest toss or turn. The anxiety is understandable given the context of the story, but I think it paints a picture of an anxious present. Market Day was written in the heart of the Great Recession, a point in time when financial constraints on artists and artisans was very great. They are still pretty great, but maybe hopefully getting better. In some ways, Sturm pulls on the market forces of the Old World to tell a current story. The anxiety that Mendleman’s work isn’t going to pay to support his family is a powerful driving force in Market Day, and it echoes the concerns of millions of people right now, trying to make “it” work, whatever “it” might be.

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Market Day was published by Drawn & Quarterly (tumblr: drawnandquarterly) James Sturm has published other work with D&Q, including The Golem’s Mighty Swing. James Sturm co-founded the Center for Cartoon Studies (tumblr: cartoonstudies) and his most recent work is a series of books called Adventures in Cartooning, published by First Second (tumblr: firstsecondbooks). You can find more information about Market Day here.