Xia Gordon impresses, I discover some French guys, and Noah Van Sciver disappoints.
Xia Gordon's Kindling
I came home after a long-ass day at work on Thursday to two boxes: one was a box of zines that a friend was getting rid of (a mix of South American Anarchist zines, 99mm graffiti zines and, to my absolute fucking delight, some Sparkplug books!); the other was the first bit of 2dcloud's latest shipment, containing, among other things, Juliacks' imposing Architecture of an Atom and Xia Gordon's much more demure-by-comparison Kindling.
I mean, seriously, this is what I opened the box to see.
Kindling is not entirely in itself a demure book, by any means. Yes, there is a shyness there, but what's lovely about this book is that its visuals build asynchronously towards an aesthetically brash climax in which the apparent narrator then has their most vulnerable moment, crossing out what they initially meant to say in favor of something that reveals less about their own feelings. That feels very raw and very real to me in the midst of a book that shirks figure and form for motion and discrepancy.
To be fair, I'm an absolute mark for this book. I am a sucker for both 1. blue and red riso and 2. any book that has the confidence to use a rigid panel structure to contain something free-flowing. Gordon combines these things, putting #1 to work for #2. The saturated blues give way to a series of pages devoted to using jaunty lines of blue and red in parallel inside of otherwise empty, cleanly-bordered panels.
I was immediately reminded of my favorite aspects of the work of someone like Aidan Koch, except Gordon's technique here was looser and more lively, less concerned with the form of the medium and more concerned with the abstract form of motion itself. This sequence was only a few pages, and only a few lines, but I felt like I'd been to a ballet when it was over.
Among many other more personal books from individual authors that I grabbed at CAB, since I'm also a sucker for anthologies, I grabbed Fantagraphics' Now #1 and some of the work in this book I am absolutely nuts for. In order, J.C Menu's "S.O.S. Suitcases", Antoine Cossé's "Statue", and Daria Tessler's "Songs in the Key of Grief" have stuck with me (though I also did quite like Eleanor Davis' "Hurt or Fuck?" and Kaela Graham's "Pretend We're Orphans").
I had never heard of J.C. Menu before but I'm going to do my best to seek out more of his work. It's rare that I read surrealist stuff that makes me swoon both for its weirdness and its sense of humor. Maybe it's just me, but although a lot of that kind of stuff is supposed to be funny, it never connects with me. But Menu has this one gag in this comic where the main character sees a mummy at really inopportune times and the face that he makes just kills me every time I read it.
"Statue" also just felt... strange and big and important to me, and the tone of the drawing combined with the tone of the apparent subject matter scratched an itch that the previous comic in the anthology, Malachi Ward and Matt Sheean's "Widening Horizon", perhaps meant to scratch but failed to do so for me. I just have no need for revisionist histories that give way to weird (and verbose) alternate futures. I can get revisionism and verbosity in the present by reading The Nib. Cosse's future felt mytho-poetic merely by how he drew it, and I still can't believe how iconic the main robot figure felt as soon as it appeared.
And then there's Noah Van Sciver's "Wall of Shame", about which I have an important question:
Does this dude respect women more or less than he apparently doesn't respect himself?
I don't even want to include all the images from this comic alone where he makes a quip about the type of woman that his brother is into. Various lines about women include "Jersey Shore Bratz doll", "clueless ditz", and "she never thought I was good enough for her", without much tempering these kinds of things in between. In the meantime, he has the above sleep-inducing exchange with his mother (one of at least two), has one creepy aside sequence where he watches a woman get undressed, and generally draws the women he describes as "Bratz dolls" and writes their dialog so that you'll adopt his judgments about them.
Part of what frustrates me is that Van Sciver is actually really good at building characters with, you know, character; but, instead of that feeling substantial, it feels judgmental. In other words, I don't feel like I'm reading characters: I feel like I'm reading what he really thinks about these people. Perhaps it's the presence of Van Sciver himself as such a pathetic stand-in, but I'm not sure what else I'm supposed to think as a reader.
When you continuously go out of your way to put various women down, talk to your mom like she's an asshole, deal with your brother like you're not a grown-ass man-- fuck, the list just goes on and on. I understand people really do this, but why should I be emotionally invested in your basic lack of empathy? Square panel after square panel, 15-panel-grid after 15-panel-grid, weirdly specific put down of a woman after weirdly specific put down of a woman, how am I going to connect with your comic about late-onset white-guy-emotional-underdevelopment? I fully appreciate that this is a real thing, but 1. why is it such a prominent thing in all these kinds of high-brow indie books (this is rhetorical; we all know why) and 2. why is it always at the expense of others?
Why do you have to go down swinging (boringly, I might add) as you exorcise your milquetoast demons?