by Robert Boyd
Zinefest made a move from the Museum of Printing History to Lawndale Art Center this year. The reason apparently was that the Museum of Printing History had a fire and is still being repaired. But I like Lawndale better as a venue--the Museum of Printing History is cramped and confusingly laid out. Lawndale was much more open. The downside is that Lawndale had an exhibit up and the tables and art had to somehow co-exist. In some ways that was cool--there was a big fun sculpture by JooYoung Choi in the middle of the big ground-floor room which added a nice visual focus. Here's what the sculpture looked like before it was surrounded by zinesters tabling:
JooYoung Choi, Freedom From Madness
I tabled at Zinefest this year. I haven't tabled a convention in years and years. I had to remember Chris Oarr's dictum, "Sittin' ain't sellin'." But I'm old now and standing all day is tough on my feet! And hardly anyone else is standing. But to me it's easier to make contact with people if I'm standing--if we're roughly face to face. I can say "hi" and that is an invitation to them stop and browse.
I had three items--EXU #1, the art magazine I published last year; It's All True by Scott Gilbert, the collection that Gilbert self-published in 1995 (!); HTX Artist Cookbook, an interview zine put together by the Civic TV Collective. The HTX Artist Cookbook was free so they went pretty quick. But I had to explain to many, many people that it wasn't an actual cookbook. There are no recipes in the HTX Artist Cookbook--it's a collection of interviews with Houston artists talking about how they do their work.
Ironically, JooYoung Choi is a contributor to Exu. Even more ironically, her contribution featured some of the same characters she displayed in her sculpture above. She is part of the generation of artists who grew up with video games and cartoons who like to create characters that then get reused in their work. Her piece in Exu was called The Daily Veritas and the original is a large (6' high, I'm guessing) painting.
JooYoung Choi, The Daily Veritas in Exu
I like the Steve Ditko/Dr. Strange vibe of this work (the painting and the sculpture).
The main reason I was at the show was that I was giving a talk about the career of Houston cartoonist Scott Gilbert that afternoon. This was done partly to promote Gilbert's upcoming retrospective, which I am curating. In exchange, Zinefest paid me 75 smackers and comped me the table. (The tables at zinefest are incredibly cheap. Zine publishers who can get to Houston should make a point of exhibiting at this show.)
Nathaniel Donnett (left) and Dean Liscum (right)
Among the visitors to the booth were artist (and Exu contributor) Nathaniel Donnett and long-time Great God Pan and Exu contributor Dean Liscum. In the photo above, Dean was showing Nathaniel where he got shot in the face (!) on Halloween.
Inés Estrada reads HTX Artist Cookbook at my booth
Directly across from me was Inés Estrada, a great cartoonist who also had some art in Exu. She is from Mexico City but lives in San Antonio now. I highly recommend her book Impatience, a collection of short stories. I bought a "new" graphic novel by her called Lapsos (Estrada actually completed it in 2014, but this edition, published in Spain, is new). She does something in both these books that I have never seen elsewhere--she publishes them with subtitles. Usually when comics are translated, new words are lettered into the word balloons and captions. This is always a compromise, because the translation has to be almost the exact same length as the original text or else it looks wrong. It's especially awkward with translations from Japanese, since Japanese text has a completely different orientation than Western languages--up and down instead of side to side. Subtitles comes with their own problems, but it works well with Estrada's work.
Inés Estrada, Lapsos cover
The Alabama Song table. Left to right: Rachel Cook (curator at DiverseWorks), Gabriel Martinez, Regina Agu
I didn't get to visit all the tables because I was anchored to my table. I did make a couple of rounds. This was the Alabama Song's table. Alabama Song is an alternative art space run by Gabriel Martinez and Regina Agu. They are an unusually comics-friendly art institution, I think partly because Gabriel makes his own minicomics. They have twice sponsored Comix Gauntlet, where several cartoonists each draw a comic story in one day at Alabama Song, then the art is taken to copy.com and printed into a zine. It's a little like the 24-hour comic challenge but it takes about 8 hours. But they also do poetry readings, lectures, classes, musical events and visual art exhibits. I gave a lecture there once called Comixploitation!
Gabriel Martinez, Soledad (cover)
At the Alabama Song table, I picked up Soledad, a science fiction comic by Martinez. It's kind of a paranoid thriller where the main character, Tomás, who works on a spaceship that acts as kind of a warehouse for ships carrying cargo. He receives a transmission about how he is receiving a cargo that includes the body of a politician who may or may not have been assassinated. The body may contain evidence of malfeasance. It's hard to tell if this is a continuing story or if it's just a fairly oblique self-contained story.
Gabriel Martinez, Soledad pp. 14-15
Sarah Welch and Gabriel Martinez
Sarah Welch is a Houston cartoonist who was one of the administrators of Zinefest. (She also contributed to Exu #1.) She and her partner had a table which she attended when her official duties would permit. I first became aware of her work at Zinefest three years ago when I bought the first volume of her series Endless Monsoon. I bought the two most recent issues of that series, Only Humid and Very Pleasant Transit Center.
Sarah Welch, Only Humid cover
Sarah Welch, Only Humid pp. 12-13
Sarah Welch, Very Pleasant Transit Center cover
The comics focus on two young women navigating life in Houston (hence the title). The comics are realistic and atmospheric. They aren't super-plot-heavy, but there is an overall story arc. A lot of what they deal with is the character's living situation. Her art is fairly naturalistic, and she prints with a risograph, which permits her to add a small number of spot colors (green and sometimes brown).
Welch is a resident artist at Lawndale and a few days ago, she gave a studio tour and was asked by the artist studio program director Lily Cox-Richard about the political content of her work. Welch was a little uncomfortable with that question. Understandably, in my opinion. Her work isn't very political--it's much more personal. It deals with the quotidian. Anything political is at most implied.
Katie Mulholland and Sarah Welch, Brackish pp 27-28.
In addition to the issues of Endless Monsoon, I also bought Brackish, a collaborative artzine that Welch did artist Katie Mulholland. It is a collection of drawings depicting Houston and vicinity (real and imagined). In the image above, the drawings on the left are by Katie Mulholland and the right is by Welch. I was surprised by this because I know Mulholland an an abstract painter--it was really intriguing to see her drawings of real things.
Laidric Stevenson is a photographer from Dallas who produces a beautiful photo zine with Janna Añonuevo Langholz called Meeting New People Isn't The Easiest Thing.
Meeting New people Isn't the Easiest Thing cover
spread from Meeting New People Isn't the Easiest Thing
Meeting New people Isn't the Easiest Thing features full-page square photos. The photos are printed full-bleed. The photographers aren't credited, but on their website, they describe the work as a "photo conversation between Laidric Stevenson and Janna Añonuevo Langholz." This suggests that maybe each two-page spread contains one photo by each photographer. But I don't know. Some of the photos are beautiful and a few are exciting, but mainly they are quite deadpan. The subjects are not necessarily exciting. But the presentation and selection are fantastic--Meeting New people Isn't the Easiest Thing might be my favorite zine from the festival.
Peachfuzz is a feminist fuckbook. I like the concept both because I like naked ladies and because it seems so deliberately archaic. I mean, who reads nudey magazines anymore? Are they even still published? I picked up a copy in Austin last year. I liked their tshirts:
Ashley Robin Franklin and her booth
Ashley Robin Franklin is an artist from Austin. I picked up her journal zine Soggy Pizza which is fantastic. Essentially she publishes pages from her journal which combine handwritten text and drawing. Now usually people's sketchbooks have a limited interest--you have to be really into an artist to want to see her practicing and trying things out. And few really combine text in an interesting way. But there are obvious exceptions. Robert Crumb's sketchbooks really come across as diaries. Ditto with Franklin. She combines a variety of media (pen and ink, watercolor, pencil, collage, etc.).
Ashley Robin Franklin, Soggy Pizza cover
Ashley Robin Franklin, Soggy Pizza pp. 8 + 9
She is a really good cartoonist which is why I think Soggy Pizza works. It's not a comic, but she combines image and text in a very natural and effective way. Her journal is very self-critical, which is a common trait of cartoonists I have known. She beats up on herself for not drawing a new comic, but Soggy Pizza is a good substitute.
"El Fury" at the Bastard Comics table
The publisher is called Bastard Comics, but I have no idea what this cartoonist's real name is. Online she goes by the name "El Fury." She doesn't quite look tough enough to be an "El Fury," but I don't really know. Anyway, I picked up her sleek, full-color comic The Ubiquitous Stan Lee in . . . "The Final Cameo".
El Fury, The Ubiquitous Stan Lee in . . . "The Final Cameo" cover
The comic has the main character, a young woman who looks a little like El Fury, who keeps noticing Stan Lee cameos--first in Marvel movies, but later in video games and on news radio reports, and finally in her car and in her house. It has a twist ending (although an easy twist to guess); I won't reveal it. The art is very stylized and polished, and the predominate color is purple. The comic has glossy spill-proof pages. And it made me laugh--what else can you ask for from a comic?
Ben Snakepit at Snakepit Comics
Ben Snakepit, Manor Threat cover
Ben Snakepit is a prolific cartoonist who draws a daily diary strip. Manor Threat collect three years of them. The title refers to Manor, TX, a town outside of Austin. Pronounced MAY-nor.
His drawing is primitive but functional. But the strips are kind of boring. It's hard to do a daily diary strip and keep it interesting because one day is more or less like the previous one. Snakepit makes no particular effort to make one strip different from another--he shows himself going to work, exercising, watching TV with his wife, eating, etc., over and over. He depicts himself playing video games by drawing himself as a giant turd, which is kind of funny the first couple of times he uses that image. But after a while, so what?
I'd have to contrast these comics with American Elf, the long-running diary comic by James Kochalka. Kochalka made an effort to make his strips vary from day to day. Part of how he did this was to focus on one tiny episode from the day--a stray bit of conversation, or a chance encounter. With Snakepit, it only gets interesting when something out of the ordinary happens, like getting a report from Planned Parenthood about his low sperm count or going to a comic convention.
Ben Snakepit, panel from Manor Threat
Such as this panel from a day at SHAPE, an Austin alternative comics festival. I liked it because it depicted how I felt after a day at Zinefest. There was an after party at Gallery Homeland, but I was just too wiped to attend.