Friday, January 15, 2021

Robert Boyd's Book Report: The Indispensable Composers

 Robert Boyd

Today's Book Report is a bit of an experiment. The Indispensable Composers by Anthony Tommasini is comprised of chapters about 17 important composers, so I included musical selections from each of the composers playing as I spoke. I don't know if this really works--you tell me.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Robert Boyd's Book Report: My Boy

 Robert Boyd

Today I looked at My Boy by Olivier Schrauwen. I've written about Schrauwen before, but not that much. Here is a good video interview with Schrauwen, talking about a 2014 graphic novel, Arsène Schrauwen. Other works mentioned were 29,000 years of bad luck, 30,000 years of bad luck, and Portrait of a Drunk.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

What People Thought Were the Best Comics in 2020

Robert Boyd

Everyone has been producing their lists of the best of the year. I'm not going to try to build a meta-list this year (like I did last year for the best comics of the decade). But I do want to mention two lists that I respect: "SOLRAD’s The Best* Comics of 2020" and the Comics Journal's "The Best Comics Of 2020." I find it alarming how few of these books and comics that I know. It's startling confirmation of how old I am (and a less-painful confirmation than my morning back pains). 

In both lists, the editors have asked their regular writers to give them their best of 2020. So instead of one list, SOLRAD had 16 contributors make lists, and the Comics Journal had 15. SOLRAD asked contributors for their top 5 and the Comics Journal didn't seem to specify how many they wanted from each contributor, so the number varied. And at least one contributor, Francesca Lyn for SOLRAD, took "best of 2020" to mean the best comics she read, regardless of when they were created. I appreciate this because for me, any book that I read for the first time is new to me, even if I read it years after it was created.

I can't comment on comic I didn't read, except to say that these list make me want to go back and search out many books I missed. Below are the books on these lists that I did read.

Yoshiharu Tsuge, The Man Without Talent. (This one was chosen by Michael Aushenker, Robert Clough, Alex Hoffman and Nicholas Burman for SOLRAD and Austin Price and Matt Seneca for the Comics Journal.) I wrote about this book when it came out. A book that moved me in its depiction of depression.

O. Schrauwen and Ruppert & Mulot, Portrait of a Drunk. (Chosen by Jef Harmatz for SOLRAD and Helen Chazan, Joe McCulloch, Brian Nicholson and Matt Seneca for the Comics Journal) This grim story of a terrible alcoholic sailor named Guy set in the 17th or 18th century was a portrait of unrelieved misery, kind of an Under the Volcano in comics form. I like both Schrauwen and the team of Ruppert and Mulot, and they blended their work seamlessly here. A great book.

Werewolf Jones is frequently erect in Crisis Zone

Simon Hanselmann, Crisis Zone. (Chosen by Rob Clough and Alex Hoffman for SOLRAD and Clark Burscough and RJ Casey for the Comics Journal). This demented strip was drawn and posted on Instagram daily by Hanselmann. It was a COVID project. His usual characters star in it--it involves Megg, Mogg and Owl in a series of COVID-isolation adventures, and includes BLM riots and a Netflix reality show starring Werewolf Jones called "Anus King." Whatever extreme limits you can imagine, this comic shattered them. Johnny Ryan may have seemed like the taboo-breaking heir of the undergrounds, but I give that crown to Simon Hanselmann. 

Gabrielle Bell, Inappropriate (Chosen by Francesca Lyn for SOLRAD ). I love Gabrielle Bell's work, and I loved Inappropriate, but it doesn't come close to being my favorite of her works. Any Bell is worth reading, though. Inappropriate consists of short, somewhat surreal stories, which feel similar to where she started early in her cartooning career.

Derf Backderf, Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio (Chosen by my old friend Charles Hatfield for SOLRAD and Rob Kirby for the Comics Journal). Backderf had the bad luck to publish a major work of non-fiction comics in the middle of the pandemic. I did one of my first book reports on it.

Adrian Tomine, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist (Chosen by James Romberger for SOLRAD and Hillary Brown and Rob Kirby for the Comics Journal) I've followed and written about Adrian Tomine since he was a teenager doing minicomics. This book is unique among all the comics here because I'm actually mentioned in the text. Tomine mentions an early review I did, I think for the Comics Journal. It's an autobiographical comic and in common with many of my favorites this year, the protagonist is thoroughly unlikable (a bold move for autobiography!). Tomine is really good when he allows himself to be funny, and this book is very funny.

John Pham, J&K  (Chosen by Nicholas Burman for SOLRAD and Matt Seneca for the Comics Journal). I read this book this year and loved it. It depicts the somewhat surreal adventures of friends J & K and comes with oddball extra goodies--trading cards, a mini-magazine, and weirdest of all, a 5-inch 45 rpm record. It was published in 2019, but I didn't read it until January of this year.

panel from "Giving Thanks in 2020" by Eleanor Davis

Giving Thanks in 2020, Eleanor Davis (Chosen by Hillary Brown for the Comics Journal). This strip was published online by The New York Times on Thanksgiving. Brown wrote, "It’s not really fair to keep asking Eleanor Davis to turn herself inside out for our pleasure..." I'm not qualified to call Eleanor David the greatest living American cartoonist, but she's my personal favorite at the moment.

 panel by Emily Flake from the Nib

The Nib. (Chosen by Hillary Brown for the Comics Journal). The Nib publishes new political comics nearly everyday, by excellent cartoonists like Matt Bors, Emily Flake, Pia Guerra, Ruben Bolling, Jen Sorensen and many others. I read it almost every day. 

 Jim Woodring, And Now, Sir?Is THIS Your Missing Gonad?  (Chosen by Helen Chazan for the Comics Journal). This is kind of a minor work by Jim Woodring, which like calling an early piano concerto by Mozart a minor work. It is filled with enigmatic "gag" cartoons that stretch the reader's brain. This reader, anyway.

Paul Ragabliati, Paul at Home  (Chosen by Rob Kirby for the Comics Journal). I did a book report on this great book in December.  Like so many of the books on this list, it features an unpleasant protagonist. And like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Cartoonist, it is autobiographical. 

Yoshiharu Tsuge, The Swamp (Chosen by Matt Seneca and  Tom Shapira for the Comics Journal). This is supposed the first of several volumes of Tsuge's work to be published in English. It's some of his early work, and it many of the stories had the feel of earlier, pulpier stories. They often have obvious twists. But there is much to admire here, including the story "Chirpy." It's not as good as The Man Without Talent, though.

Kim Deitch, Reincarnation Stories (Chosen by Frank Young for the Comics Journal). I loved it, but I love everything by Kim Deitch. A minor Deitch book, but still utterly pleasurable.

Ruben Bolling, Super Fun-Pak Comix Reader (Chosen by Frank Young for the Comics Journal). I loved this collection and did a video about it in November. 

And that's it--everything that was listed on SOLRAD's and the Comics Journal's best of 2020 lists that I had read. The one omission from both lists that surprised me was Grip by Lale Westvind. This book was published in 2020 and certainly qualified. I reported on it here.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book report: Kathy Acker in Seattle

 Robert Boyd

Last book report for 2020. This time I talk about Kathy Acker in Seattle, edited by Daniel Schulz with contributions from Acker herself, Larry Reid, Kathleen Hanna and several panel transcriptions.

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Yard Art and Handmade Places: Extraordinary Expressions of Home

 Robert Boyd

Tonight I did two reports. First was this one on Yard Art and Handmade Places: Extraordinary Expressions of Home by Jill Nokes with Pat Jasper, with photos by Krista Williams except for some photos by John Fulbright. It deals with gardens and environments in houses all around Texas. I focus my report on her chapters on Charlie Stagg, Cleveland Turner, aka the Flower Man, Vince Hanneman who built Austin's Cathedral of Junk, Rufino Loya Rivas' Casa De Azúcar in El Paso, and Dr. Joe Smith's yard sculptures in Caldwell, Texas.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Superpresent

 Robert Boyd

Today I report on Superpresent, a new art & literature magazine from Houston. The editor is Kevin Clement, and I discuss work in Superpresent by Kristy Peet, John Adelman, Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon, R.C. Rice, Brandon Hernsberger, David McClain, and Justin Varner.

Long Live Koyama Press!

 Robert Boyd

Annie Koyama is a Canadian woman who was involved in the Toronto art scene. Without knowing all that much about this part of Koyama's life, I have to assume that Toronto, like any other big city, has a vibrant art scene. A little more detail is available in this short oral history of Koyama Press published in Quill & Quire, a trade magazine for the Canadian publishing industry. Apparently Koyama Press was initially financed when Annie Koyama made a very good investment in the stock market, and was motivated by a health scare. I imagine her thinking, life could end at any second, so I better do something I really want with it. (I guess we should all be glad that her secret ambition wasn't to try heroin.)

She decided to bring this project to a close this year. Koyama Press lasted for 13 years, and she shut it down on her own terms (which is rare in the world of small press--they usually end because they are forced to end, as I personally know).

Anyway, there aren't many publishers that I think of as having a personality. I think the publishing industry is too corporate for that these days. But small presses are the exception, particularly if they are still run by their founder. While it is sad that Koyama Press is going away, it has always been down to Annie Koyama. The entire line of books reflects the taste and vision of one person. Raise a glass to the great Annie Koyama.

This is the logo for Koyama Press: "Kickass Annie"

I want to list a few of my favorite Koyama Press books.

I haven't written extensively about Eleanor Davis. I should have written about this book. You & A Bike & A Road is a diary comic about Davis's epic bike ride from Tuscon, Arizona to Jackson, Mississippi. She intended to go all the way to her home in Athens, Georgia, but she reached her limit earlier than hoped. She drew it as she traveled which gives the book a very immediate feeling. Her father built the bike for her, and this ride had to be the adventure of a lifetime. And her telling of the story is moving--all the people she meets on the way, the things she witnesses--some quite shocking. But one question is why even do this crazy thing?

I highly recommend this You & A Bike & A Road.

Another Koyama Press author I esteem is Jesse Jacobs. I reviewed two of his books, By This You Shall Know Him here and Crawl Space for the Comics Journal; both books are excellent. 

Julia Wertz's The Infinite Wait and Other Stories is simultaneously hilarious and painful. I wrote a brief review of it here, but you should search it out and read it for yourself.

But these are just a small part of Koyama Press's output. Annie Koyama published many other great books, most of which are still available for purchase. You can see them here. I've read about 35 of them, but there are actually quite a few I haven't read. Her standard of quality was high. I know she has been giving artists grants through her personal grant-making venture, Koyama Press Provides. But I believe that is meant to end when the press does. So I wonder what Annie Koyama is going to do next. Something personally satisfying, I suspect.