Thursday, May 3, 2012

Comics Round Up #8: Max Clotfelter's Andros #5, Good Deal #1 & Dawg Pond

If my memory speaks not with a forked tongue (speak, memory), it tells me I first encountered Clotfelter's work in the pages of Zack Soto's fourth issue of the Studygroup 12 anthology. Regardless of what memory tells me, whenever I first got exposed to the contagion of his ink, I know I soon engaged in a correspondence and zine/mini-comic trading trajectory that continues to this day.

It has pained me that I've never taken the time to focus on Clotfelter with an actual review, but part of that, beyond my own idleness (or if not idleness then a tendency to move slow and steady through life like maple syrup or a tortoise)/focus on my own art to the exclusion of writing about art (did I lose you there?), is his tendency to constantly be releasing in short bursts small projects (his own but also collaborations with other cartoonists) scattered like machine gun fire into the atmosphere. He doesn't stop long enough to issue a more comprehensive collection, which makes it hard for the reviewer to in turn stop long enough to issue a comprehensive survey. This is not a bad thing.

And I'm grateful that via the Atomic Books blog I was asked to list my top five books of the year, and I could easily say: any and everything Max Clotfelter has put out in the past year, as a single entry on that list (and, lets face it, Atomic's blog is gonna get more play for Max than me bellowing in my little personal dark corner of the digital universe, anyway). That brings us to today, in which I have the most recent batch of goodies Clotfelter sent me, and with the Atomic round-up behind me, my mind feels free and clear to simply look at the batch before me.

First of all, Max hits the page with the kind of detailed grotesque humor of a Basil Wolverton. Characters bumble through menacing landscapes that Rory Hayes would feel at home within. The layout and movement would not feel out of place in Kaz's Underworld, but whereas Kaz's drawings are clean in composition even at their dirtiest in content, Clotfelter gets right under every fingernail to render each piece of dirt heavy with his own expressionism, which slows time down and makes us linger for a while in each dingy panel or drawing.

If artists surveyed here recently like Dunja Jankovic and R. Clint Colburn are psychedelic in execution, Max is our guide exclusively through bad trips. While the calling card of Max's style is the firmly marked, etching-like firm clarity of his line, I like it when he loosens up into a more sweeping gestural squalor as in Good Deal #1, which is also in the running for the "best" bad trip of this bunch (that said every other piece in Andros #5 is a worthy contender). Often the characters seem like maybe they are so drunk that the experience resembles an hallucination, or so drunk maybe they've only imagined they've taken hallucinogens. In the small fold-out of Dawg Pond (along with collaborators Nikki Burch and Tom Van Deusen) the imaginings of the characters seem to take them to a place no better or worse than the twisted hells they actually inhabit; Max (along with his conspirators) says it's all the same on the grungy vaudeville stage of human life. And narratives are often difficult to discern as autobiography or fiction such as "My Mr. T. Experience" from Andros #5 (the larger collection of comics of the three), but, regardless, the joke is always going to be on his characters who are never safe, whether or not the characters might even be Max himself. Sober as a board, or bad tripping into infinity, one gets the idea that Max is telling us there's no difference between the two states of being, either way.

In a contemporary comics landscape where many of our young artists seem like twee precious/precocious little things like Aubrey Beardsley without the jam, lighting like fairies on the page lost in wonder and abstraction, often with a watered down Henry Darger influence ("sexy babies," a term my friend Caitlin has coined for these types), Max pukes on that for us, for he has more in common with Hieronymus Bosch and Brueghel the Elder: with Clotfelter, it's foibles, not fables. His world is violent, perverted, and always pregnant with danger and his vision does not reside in the right tax bracket or take the right medication to regard it otherwise. He finds the humor in all of it and draws it. And I am thankful that we all have a artist like that among us.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Comics Round Up #7: R. Clint Colburn's Wild Glass Look Back

Wild Glass Look Back from Space Face Books by R. Clint Colburn is not comics in the strict sense. Then again, I've never been one to care about any strict sense when it comes to comics. It is an art book. And it does flow from page to page, and it does seem to move through time, and it does take the viewer on a psychedelic trip, much like the recently reviewed Circles Cycles Circuits by Dunja Jankovic. Colburn's work is more abstract, less linear and more strictly visual. Wild Glass Look Back takes place in a world in which language eats itself, cancels itself out, runs backwards and forwards; maybe you even need to hold the pages up to a mirror.

Full disclaimer: I know Clint socially from knocking about that collection of contradictions that is sleepy little Lexington, Kentucky. Younger than me, I can't really separate getting to know Clint from hearing from mutual artists about his art, or if I was introduced to his art before I was introduced to him. The jungle of my memory is not unlike the place that Colburn takes us in this book: the distinction of time and place, the past and future are not's all happening right now, page to it backwards or forwards and the end result is the same. We are entering into something, not being led like a dog on a leash for our daily walkies.

Colburn's work is arguably best known from gracing album and seven inch covers by Cage the Elephant or Idiot Glee. He is a proper gallery artist whose "commercial" work and cartooning or work in the form of books or zines all seems to flow from one format to the other, as if Colburn just stops at each moment to let the images speak in whatever context, like the images in his head are in a constant stream of consciousness. If he's performing in bands like CROSS or drawing, painting, designing covers, with Clint: it's all one ongoing conversation, like a jazz soloist whose life is one constant riffing, getting from one note to another. I mean, hell, aren't we all (artists or not)? But what makes R. Clint Colburn an artist is just how interesting (and how interesting the focus of) it all is. It's like it's our world, and Colburn is just here to play in it for us.

With Wild Glass Look Back you'll probably wanna sit down with your favorite drink or smoke (whatever gets you comfortable) and just watch him make it happen. If you want to dig deeper on what's happening to you, as viewer, you're going to see human figures moving through time, maybe being born, and returning to where they came from. Feline animal faces will seem to hum with electric information encoded in color. It might be difficult to know if you are in a place of war or harmony. But there will be no doubt you are in an experience of things.

Numbers appear that seem at first to be a phone number missing a digit could turn out, upon further reflection, to be the Magic Square of Fu Hsi. The motif of two triangles together might represent the flesh or material matter and the male generative act, while another, pointed downward, might signify female sexuality and the spiritual plane. And if you see a third triangle it could even be emblematic of the three Masons who were present at the opening of the first Lodge of Intimate Secretaries. Which makes me wonder if Colburn is intimating that King Solomon is present in these pages.

If you are into art that makes you ask yourself questions for which you may not have answers and opens up rather than limits experience...this will work for you. If not, there's probably a television show on right now that would serve you better. I don't say that to be snarky or play holier-than-thou: just saying soap opera this ain't.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Comics Round Up #6: Josh Bayer's Raw Power

Josh Bayer's work had been in the fuzzy realm of my peripheral vision for some time, but between Tom Neely and Austin English early this year both singing the praises of his Raw Power book on Box Brown's Retrofit imprint, which was oddly prefaced by riding on a train with one of his former students (her noticing my rapidograph led to a discussion of art/comics), my ordering online this "King Size Retrofit Annual" finally brought his fuzzy world-view into focus in front of me. There was no regret along with this purchase.

The comic arrived into my world like some artifact from an era difficult to discern, as if someone put into the teleportation device from David Cronenberg's version of The Fly a 60s underground comic and a black and white boom comic from the 80s (along with a random Marvel comic that nobody noticed) and out came the other end some new creature altogether. Bayer puts us in a world that could be now, could be the recent past, or could be the near future, but it's definitely an alternate reality. But a reality that also utterly seems plausible in its own way, not unlike the realities that Philip K. Dick's best fiction presents. Carter is President. G. Gordon Liddy is an agent provocateur boasting on a talk show about taking down Timothy Leary and being called in by Carter to go to task on the subversive punk scene of Jello Biafra and Black Flag. And along with all of this, we have the exploits of a sociopathic vigilante, Cat Man, obsessed with exacting revenge on the punks, two of whom killed his parents. And don't forget the Harlem Globe Trotters; they loom large in this world, too.

With all this curious cultural flotsam and jetsam, which is based in reality, but breaking apart and mashing up back together in Bayer's comics fiction, it makes me wonder how old Bayer is. I don't want to cheat and look it up, but if I was venturing a guess, he's a child of the 80s (God knows I am). This book reads like what would happen if someone raised on The Dark Knight Returns and hardcore punk and Raymond Pettibon was set free to make a comic book which speaks to the sum total of all these things. I suspect that's what it is, but since Bayer is the only one who has done this, it makes for a relatively profound if this book, his work, needed to exist, and, as readers, we needed Bayer to exist to make it. What seems so obvious had yet to exist until now, and the result is a one man genre show, Bayer unto himself.

His actual mark-making is deceptively simple. In a very free, gestural manner Bayer nimbly summarizes a lot of comics history. As an artist myself, he makes me wish I was as loose and flexible, as perceptive as he. If a big chunk of what comics is all about fundamentally is putting marks on paper, Bayer is a master craftsman. The nervous energy and virtuoso display reminds me of everything from Gary Panter to the inks of Klaus Janson on the aforementioned "Dark Knight" collaboration with Frank Miller to a combination of the crowded, kinetic pages of both Harvey Kurtzman's EC Mad collaborations with Wood and Elder and of the proto punk rock of Zap artists like S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, and Rick Griffin sliding right into the aforementioned Pettibon. Bayer is one of those rare artists who seems to have scanned the entire history of comics and then walked away and forgot about all of it at once as he hit the page, ready to tango. That takes a considerable amount of skill--making THAT look easy--and I admire Bayer as if he were a comics Harlem Globe Trotter. I think he can take us in almost any direction he chooses, and Raw Power has made me ready & willing to get on the bus.