End-of-year lists offer readers one of two things: consensus (that thing you like? You were right! Everybody agrees with everybody! Good for YOU!) or a cursor to mark a time and a place. The goal that underlies each outcome should also (maybe) point in some different or unknown direction. In other words, there is something to be learned from crapulence. – Keith Silva
Vanesa R. Del Rey
A cartoonist like Vanesa R. Del Rey arrives like a habit, like taking coffee black or bourbon straight. Del Rey came on strong with Boom! Studios 2013 LAPD 50’s noir, Hit. Seriously, is there a better title with which to announce one’s arrival than Hit?
Del Rey’s characters, long and lean, sharp angles and sharper dressers look as if they’ve stepped off the pages of Vogue, back when illustration and sketches were the mode, a time when pen, ink and watercolors made the onset of photography mere pornography.
It’s not all square-jawed misters and slinky sirens that define Del Rey’s style; it’s ink, lots of it. Spend time turning the over-sized pages of the latest offering from Boom! Studios Pen & Ink series Hit (which collects the first two issues of the series with commentary by Del Rey and series writer Bryce Carlson) to see how black and white comics are superior in (almost) every way.
Ales Kot’s Zero series for Image comics has fast become a showcase for ink studs. Del Rey makes her mark in Zero #6 and shows her prowess for both action and the sublime. The two page splash of the horses crashing into a frozen lake that serves as the issue’s introduction (and guiding thematic principle) is one of the most impressionistic and surreal images in comics this year, a synesthetic image, felt as much as seen.
‘Felt’ describes Del Rey’s other major work from 2014, The Empty Man. Along with writer Cullen Bunn, Del Rey creates a series best described as gross. In each of issue of this six-part mini-series, Del Rey and Bunn conceive (and execute) of images and ideas from the gut, sinuous, visceral and chthonic. Few cartoonists achieve the squeamishness Del Rey provides in The Empty Man because who the hell thinks up this kind of sick twisted debauchery and then who the hell would go ahead and draw it? Bless you, Vanesa Del Rey, bless you.
For every storyteller, the finest of fine lines exists between hand-holding and perplexity for the sake of complexity which we sometimes call art. From words and images to the corporate and the do-it-yourselfer, the medium of Comics is never one thing or another, it’s always both and that’s its curse. Somewhere along my journey across the ‘rainbow bridge’ from the mainstream to small press publishers I have realized I don’t need for everything to make sense… to me. That’s not an excuse for poor storytelling, of course (which will always remain an infamnia) it’s more about letting go, an attempt to meet the artist at his or her level and, at first, not to bring (too much) of my expectations/experience to what is, of course, their story and not mine.
I learned this from the cartoonist and writer of Eel Mansions, Derek Van Gieson. Comics should always be a verb, something that grabs hold of a reader, a call to action. A lot of comics receive high marks (and rightfully so in some cases) in roll-over-and-rub-your-belly passive entertainment followed by a horse tranquilizer-sized bolus of nostalgia. That’s not (always) for me. I’m not a masochist. I don’t get my kicks from the contact high of feeling superior because I read this instead of that. I want a comic that’s re-readable, makes me think and makes me laugh. No, I don’t know what the title Eel Mansions means and I don’t want to know because why does that matter? I take it on faith Van Gieson knows. Then again if he doesn’t, even better… he’s an artist, not a factory. And Eel Mansions is a verb.
The book I was most looking forward to in 2014 was Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies, full stop. I was obsessed, a junkie planning my life around where, how and when I would use/read Dalrymple’s long-gestating sci-fi epic. I chose a hammock on a hot July day to tuck into Dalrymple’s tale about innocence, experience and a team of too-cool-for-school kids at the end times.
And then I read it.
All of a sudden I was Henry Hill at the end of Goodfellas, I could hear the Sid Vicious version of “My Way” playing somewhere in the distance, The Wrenchies was supposed to be the spaghetti with marinara I ordered and instead I got egg noodles and ketchup. To bulwark my disappointment I took shelter in Dalrymple’s art — the lee shore in a story which meanders from several plots and subsequent sub-plots and sub-plots of sub-plots, so much of it needless, all of it gorgeous — and tried to move on.
If Eel Mansions confirms a storyteller’s prerogative so too does The Wrenchies. Like Van Gieson, Dalrymple owes me zilch. I bought a ticket. I rode the ride. There is no metric for art, it’s idiosyncrasy all the way down and Katy bar the door. I admit, my disappointment with The Wrenchies is a ‘me’ problem. My struggles are not an indictment on Dalrymple, he’s too good and too imaginative. Trust me, comics needs more Farel Dalrymples. What didn’t work for me with The Wrenchies reminds me “Comics break hearts,” sometimes and disappointment, well, that’s part of the fun.
I interviewed Seth Kushner earlier this year for his Kickstarter, Schmuck. The good news is Schmuck was funded and the dance between comics journalism (so-called) and commerce could continue. When I say ‘interviewed’ Kushner what I mean is I emailed him a dozen questions which he graciously answered and emailed back to me. I formatted the interview, tacked on an introduction and sent out a few tweets which got a few more retweets. Once our business was concluded, Kushner emailed me back to say he got a kick out of my questions. We became ‘Facebook’ friends, all S.O.P in our modern times.
On April 16, Kushner posted on Facebook that Schmuck was funded. A week later, April 23, Kushner posted this message: “Dear friends, this is very difficult to write: I have leukemia. I had a flu for 11 days which wasn’t getting better, so my wife took me to the ER on Saturday, and that’s where I was diagnosed.”
I don’t know Kushner from Adam. I was an errand boy, a promulgator getting the word out and nothing more. Except I wasn’t, I was involved, obliquely, for sure, but I felt like I knew this man. He’s close to my age with similar interests and with a family like mine. If we lived in the same neighborhood or if our kids went to the same school, we might meet in-person instead of on-line, we might even be friends. Now, this man was sick and suffering. I couldn’t ignore him.
Kushner’s battle with cancer has been documented and mentioned throughout the comics community. When I was at Comic Arts Brooklyn in November, I stopped by to say hi to Kushner’s colleagues at the Hang-Dai Studios table. I told Dean Haspiel I was thinking of Seth and hoping for the best. “Thanks,” said Haspiel, “send good vibes, man, good vibes.”
Mr. Kushner left Mt. Sinai hospital, about a week ago, cancer-free.
Eight months, man, eight months. Even from the back of the room, far away from what Kushner, his family and friends went through I could hear their shout and I gave a fist pump in solidarity.
Comics are about people. Believe it.
People Over Product
Writing about comics is one of those things I do for fun. I know, right? As my friend and fellow provincial Daniel Elkin pointed out to me when we met in Brooklyn for CAB, “writing, Silva, that’s my thing, it’s for me.”
Comics are personal, a head trip of emotions every Wednesday or whenever the mail shows up. And even though this relationship is all internal, private, the result is very much public — energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred. For some it’s bullshitting at the LCS, for others, podcasts. For me and Elkin, we write about comics. In each instance, comics are the point of departure, not the adventure. Charlie don’t surf and monks don’t read comics.
The ‘verb’ of Comics becomes the action step. Maybe it’s Twitter, maybe a blog, maybe you can afford to travel and get out to a con or a festival. Maybe it’s more tangential, cosplay or collecting. No matter how exclusive (internal, personal) comics are, the results are entirely inclusive; and the more adjectives we put in front of ‘comics,’ only creates more ghettos, more ways of exclusion, ‘comics’ move forwards not backwards. It’s a big tent; and it’s all comics, all of it.
So when someone who’s spent a lot of time in your head and vice versa, a guy you’ve never met face-to-face, when ‘that guy’ says meet me in Brooklyn, go, light out. Be with your tribe. Be with (y)our people, that’s comics.
Daniel Elkin also provided his own Five Moments in Comics That Left an Impression in 2014. And for more of Loser City’s Year in Comics coverage, check out our picks for our favorite comics of the year, as well as the Year in Panels.
Keith Silva plays a lousy guitar, considers The Stunt-Man to be Steve Railsback’s high water mark and doesn’t need his hand held (except by his wife and daughters). He writes for money. @keithpmsilva