Impressions of Julia Wertz’s The Infinite Wait And Other Stories

(Spoiler Alert: And The Mountains Echoed Next Week!)

https://soundcloud.com/jon-black-the-great/motivation-feat-kyle-hubbard

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned my trip to the awesome Fantagraphics flagship store in Seattle and the cool dudes I went there with. While I left with the nightmarish The Furry Trap, one of my friends took home Julia Wertz’s The Infinite Wait And Other Stories on the manager’s recommendation. He had told me how much he enjoyed them while we watched the Trail Blazers sneak a win over the Rockets, and was generous to burst into my office and leave it along with Swamp Thing Vol. 3 for some light weekend reading (still haven’t gotten to ole’ Swampy).

I wasn’t clear on what to expect with Wertz’s long-form comic stories, which mostly revolve around

her battle with lupus in her early 20’s, and her blossoming comic career that she says started as a result of the time she spent nearly bedridden during the early phases of her treatment. Having read plenty of autobiographical comics, Ariel Schrag’s Likewise series and Harvey Kurtzman’s American Splendor for starters, I had my expectations pretty low for how this book would compare, and a quick skim left me unimpressed with Wertz’s drawings. However, last Thursday I started reading the first story in the collection, “Industry,” while procrastinating an assignment and found myself hooked by Wertz’s humorous narration that follows her early entrepreneurial years that leads into her long tie with restaurant work. From these early pages, it became evident that despite a lack of detail in her character designs, Wertz was able to convey more emotion with a set of eyebrows than some Big Two artists can with entire bodies even with the added physiologically impossible muscles.

Continue reading “Impressions of Julia Wertz’s The Infinite Wait And Other Stories”

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Impressions of Josh Simmons’ The Furry Trap

(Spoiler Alert: Phalluses are the stuff of nightmares)

A few weeks ago during spring break, two of my fellow MA grad students and I made our way to Seattle, Washington. Of course, being the people that we are, we had to visit Fantagraphics flagship store, and check it out. It was an overwhelming event as the comics, ranging from local zines to beautiful extensive anthologies, all called out to me to purchase them, and after spending some time determining that getting a Tony Millionaire illustration would not be worth the several weeks’ of ramen I’d have to consume in sacrifice of it, I stacked a few books that peeked my interest, including Ant Colony from Drawn & Quarterly (that I hope to get in the near future once I’ve read a few novels and poems). I decided on The Furry Trap on the recommendation of the store manager who referred to it as a book that would linger with me long after I read it. That plus the fact that it was five bucks cheaper than the other books I was checking out made it a done deal, and I walked away with a book featuring two bloodied naked men in the midst of a knife fight on the back cover.

I had never heard of Josh Simmons prior to The Furry Trap, and I don’t think I’d be at my current level of sanity had I encountered his work earlier in life. Simmons, a Seattle native and a well-mannered nice guy according to Fantagraphics’ manager, is not afraid of drawing some horrific images. The Furry Trap contains eleven short horror comics of varying length all written between 2004 to 2011 and they traverse from fantastic to dystopic, absurdist to apocalyptic, and at all times psychotic. Starting things of with “A Land of Magic,” Simmons uses a children’s fairytale illustration style and generic plot (adolescent elves leaving their idyllic realm to venture into the dark forest) to tell a truly twisted tale that left my mouth agape for several minutes after. It was then that I recognized that Simmons was not concerned with Goosebumps scares, but instead the real fucked up shit. To say more that story would ruin it, but just so you know there’s dicks involved. Continue reading “Impressions of Josh Simmons’ The Furry Trap”

Spring Break Reading Impressions

(Spoiler Alert: Procrastination Rhymes with Gestation)

 

I’ve been a bad, bad boy. In addition to spacing (HONESTLY) on brushing my teeth this morning, I haven’t updated the blog in quite a bit due to a multitude of excuses, primarily the ‘well nobody is reading this anyway’ one that comes up whenever it feels like lounging about doing anything but write seems like the best use of my time. However, in my absence I did get through some fantastic work, and I took a couple minutes to write about each. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be returning to my regular schedule (longer works on Monday, comics on Wednesday and the occasional existential crisis on Friday). Thanks for reading you have, and welcome to the spring session.

 

Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comic: The Invisible Art

 

After reading Scott McCloud’s seminal comic book about comic books, I feel like I’ve grown in my understanding of not only the power of comics, but art in general. One moment that particularly stood out to me was when McCloud defines art as anything that doesn’t concern reproduction or survival. Such a broad definition seems to allow much that does not get accredited as art by posh folks. McCloud makes a brilliant move in using the medium to make an argument for its viability as an art form, going through many different historical styles as well as manipulating his page layouts to achieve diverse effects. When he describes why Japanese manga and their comic art evolved so differently due to the country’s isolationist stance, comics as a field itself up to all new forms of study by historical, literary, and art scholars without not falling neatly into any of those fields. Originally published in the early 90’s, it seems that comics have exploded in the manner that McCloud predicts with the Internet having provided creators with new ways of pushing the form, and comics, or at least graphic fiction, gaining increasing legitimacy in the public eye. Here’s hoping McCloud works up another edition of this wonderful book.

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing Vol. 2: Love and Death

 

The Alan Moore run of Swamp Thing has been on my to-read list ever since I read Watchmen way back in 2007 when my parents got me the Absolute edition for Christmas. However, for a while there scoring a new copy of this book became pretty difficult, and it went to that place alongside Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I was fortunate then to have a friend get them, and not only recommend it but lend me the volumes as he made his way through them. While I enjoyed the stories from the first volume of Swamp Thing, they felt lacking in the sort of narrative innovations I look to Alan Moore for. It was a relief then that this second volume of his run possessed a restlessness in the manner of stories it told issue by issue, an occurrence that Neil Gaiman in his introduction writes is owed not only to Moore, but to the grueling schedules artists are placed on in the medium that requires fill-in artist to step in for a ‘filler’ between major arc issues. In this volume, Swamp Thing first battles his nemesis Arcane then heads to hell for Arcane’s niece, the beautiful Abigail. In the next issue we’re treated to a visual treat wherein Abigail and Swamp Thing profess their love for each other, and through her consumption of a fruit grown from him they meet in the consciousness of the Green for what is sure to have been mind-blowing sex delivered via lush colors. Somewhere within all the madness, is a playful and dark homage to Pogo that feels jarring when placed alongside the rest of the material, but makes for a fun respite from the grueling trials in Louisiana.

 

Brian Jay Jones’ Jim Henson: The Biography

The Muppets have long been one of those entities whose work I have always enjoyed even at its weakest, talking to you Muppets From Space. Amidst The Mario Bros. cartoon and not having network television for the first few years of my life it wasn’t until I was about seven or eight that I caught The Muppet Movie on television as a kid and saw Kermit sitting among a swamp singing “Rainbow Connection.” I was hooked. Years after I discovered that Jim Henson was the man behind all those fabulous characters, and I’d been curious since then to read more about him although I was reluctant as I couldn’t bare the thought of the man behind the epitome of whimsy being a douche in one form or another. However, a dear friend bought me a copy of Jones’ beautifully written biography. It’s a book that spans throughout Henson’s life, tracking his Southern origins all the way up to his mysterious and untimely death. What remained clear throughout reading of Jones’ well-researched book is that Jim was an amazing man, not only in his talent and creativity but in his generosity and concern for the well-being of the world. Although Jones does remark on the instances where Jim falls short of that image, a string of affairs during his marriage being the worst of it, those follies never threaten to outweigh all that he left the world with. He was a man that never thought of his work as work, but play and it’s made me feel more inspired than much of anything I’ve read recently to be a creator.

 

George Saunders’ Tenth of December

 

This is only the 2nd collection of Saunders’ book that I’ve read, the first being Civil War Land In Bad Decline (the first book I wrote about on here), and it’s marvelous how Saunders has continued to write stories that experiment with form while also being entirely comprehensible and not the least bit pretentious. Whether he’s writing the journal-form story “The Semplica Girl Diaries” that chronicles the lives of one near-future suburban family from the perspective of its patriarch, or the eponymous story, a 1st person narrative told by an imaginative, but bullied boy, Saunders manages to make each voice unique with all his characters evoking intense empathy even as they engage in activities that I couldn’t always agree with. Saunders, with just a simple change of our current world in several of these stories, is able to show the lunacy that pervades the world and how ordinary it all appears to those involved in it. If I were an artist, I’d get to working on illustrations on all the gizmos present in Saunders’ future worlds. Get to it, Believer illustrators!

 

Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol

Finishing Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run was a landmark form me as it was the last of the pirated comics I downloaded before my conscience got the better of me. For a time there, I only read it on my laptop whenever I was on the bus going one place or the other, never quite sure what another person would think if they caught a view of my screen and saw the increasingly strange beings that Morrison and his artist’s team conjure up. Infusing a superhero comic with surrealism, pseudo-science, and Dada-like non rationalism, Morrison creates a comic unlike any other one. Rarely is a villain defeated by a punch from the straight man Cliff Steel aka Robotman (a man whose only remaining human organ is his brain). More often the villains of Doom Patrol get their due in the form of blown out candles, flexed muscles, Crazy Jane (a woman diagnosed with Dissociative Personality Disorder-each personality exhibiting a different superpower) shouting key words from giant horses, and one villain throwing a face onto another. This comic could never be accused of predictability and nearly every character presented here, villains included, could easily serve as the basis for a book of their own. As a jump-off point for Morrison’s work with American comic publishers, it’s disorienting how much he was able to achieve early on. So enjoyable was this run that I don’t even cringe at the penance I’ll pay in buying the Omnibus when it drops later this year.

Impressions of Will Eisner’s A Contract With God

 (Spoiler Alert: This book is old.)

Western literature has your Hemmingways, Melvilles, Shakespeares and Steinbecks [canons love dead white men]. Visual art has its Rembrandts and Da Vincis. And comic books have Will Eisner. For those not in the know, Will Eisner is definitively the grandfather of comic books as a serious art form, stating that in the preface of A Contract With God that he created the arty term ‘graphic novel’ only in the hopes of acquiring a greater chance of success at selling his work to a publisher. Eisner is also the guy who the most prestigious comic book award, the Eisner Award, is named after. Therefore I knew I had to eventually get around to reading A Contract with God if I hoped to maintain any credibility on the day I’m interrogated by a fellow comic book nerd. And although I went in with some trepidation given that I’ve rarely enjoyed works of art from a newly budding field, I took the plunge over the weekend and read the four stories contained within.

After completing it though, I was happy to have read it to discover that Eisner not only was the first to create a long-term graphic narrative for adults, but because he also did so with nary a tights or spandex in sight. Instead, Eisner’s ‘graphic novel’, a term that makes me cringe whenever I use it, focuses on the denizens of Dropsie Avenue, a Depression era America urban tenement and a recreation of the culture and space that Eisner lived in for much of his youth.

Four stories. One block. All Depressing as fuck.

The four stories all tackle the misery that these cramped quarters induced in the people, and what was most surprising was how unsentimental Eisner is throughout, and how the starkness of the material assisted in making the medium seem like a viable form to say something about the human experience that perhaps isn’t replicable in purely textual work. For instance, seeing the physical transformation of Frimme Hersh following the death of his daughter does so much work to make us see where his priorities have shifted that Eisner never has to stress it by means of text. The images in his work also convey the passage of time in an elegant manner that perhaps would take a literary author much more work to pull off. Continue reading “Impressions of Will Eisner’s A Contract With God”

Impressions of Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago

(Spoiler Alert! Chicago is A City With Lots of Immigrant History)

 

https://soundcloud.com/iamnobodi/surething

My first encounter with Stuart Dybek was in an Intro to Creative Course where one of our anthologies contained the last story of this collection, ‘Pet Milk.’ I had never read a story written in its form, a swirling love narrative that spins out from an instance where a man looks at the canned milk circling in a cup of coffee. It moved me in a way that few stories about lost loves ever have, and provided an ending that did not contain an epiphany, but a moment of recognition between the man and another person waiting for a train. Enjoying the story as much as I did, I soon after bought The Coast of Chicago in the hopes of devouring other stories of Dybek’s. Coincidentally, I had been working on a story based in Chicago at the time based of this great tale my abuelita told me from her early years living in Chicago. In a way, I had hoped that Dybek’s deep knowledge of Chicago would rub off on me, and would lend my work (set on the El train, a favorite reference of Dybek’s) some authenticity.

When I did get around to reading Dybek, I couldn’t manage to get beyond ‘Chopin In Winter,’ another one of my favorites from this collection (based of my 2nd and 1st complete read through). I couldn’t figure out why that was. I’d read a paragraph and then another, soon finding my mind had drifted off to weekend laundry or that night’s dinner. I was certain that it wasn’t the fault of the prose. Almost any sentence I picked out at random showed signs of superb crafting on Dybek’s part, and even though I tried to read the text under a variety of different conditions (wide awake after breakfast, drowsy afternoon, drunk), I just couldn’t maintain focus beyond two sentences, so I did what readers often dislike doing, I put it away to come back to some other time.

That other time turned out to be last week. It had been three years since I last tried to read it. Time in which, I believed, I had grown as both a reader and writer and possibly as a person. I figured that I was now ready to delve into Dybek’s world of Polish/Hispanic neighborhoods equipped with a vastly improved capacity for paying attention for more extended periods and with greater depth. Continue reading “Impressions of Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago”

Impressions of Ian Stansel’s Everybody’s Irish

(Spoilers are talked around)

[Lengthy Disclaimer:  I met Ian while interning for Gulf Coast Literary Journal when he was a fiction PHD and the journal’s editor and I was a fiction undergrad at the University of Houston, looking to drop something onto the ole CV. I remember being struck at our first meeting by Ian’s guyness. Here was a person who didn’t ornament himself with the baubles that tended to overwhelm my closet at the time. Normally dressed in a natural-toned button up shirt and plain jeans with his hair tussled, Ian was impressive in how little concern he had about impressing anyone.

Over the next two years during my weekly 2-hour shifts with Ian, we sometimes had the opportunity to talk about writing and although he may not agree, I feel I gained more from those talks than I did in many of my workshops. I also remember Ian for being a rigorous editor, having me repeatedly revise even the shortest of work-related email blasts until it achieved clarity and concision. As a rule, I think the more a person talks about their writing, the less writing they’re doing. Ian rarely spoke about his writing, so I always assumed he was getting a lot of it done.]

I say all this so that you can judge me as you may when I start gushing over how much I loved Ian’s debut short story collection, Everybody’s Irish. For the most part taking place in Illinois and Houston, TX, the book’s nine stories excel in the many ways a short story can. Stansel shows with deftness the possible implications of a single gesture and how quickly, and sometimes slowly, things can change for people battling to maintain their lives.

Ian Stansel’s “Everybody’s Irish”

Continue reading “Impressions of Ian Stansel’s Everybody’s Irish”

Impressions of George Saunders’ Civilwarland In Bad Decline

(super minor spoilers included)


During my undergraduate degree at the University of Houston, I and most other creative writing majors were introduced to Saunders’ work through the fantastic ‘Sea Oak,’ included in many contemporary American literature anthologies and the occasional illicit PDF. In reading Civilwarland in Bad Decline (CBD), Saunders’ first short story collection that was published when he was still earning his keep as an engineer, it was evident after finishing the last story how representative ‘Sea Oak’ is of his style and voice.

Riverhead Trade; 1st Riverhead trade paperback edition (February 1, 1997)

In most of the collection’s stories the protagonists are employees of businesses, some mundane; other fantastical; and all soul sucking, who are struggling to maintain their meager positions as lackeys to assholes and sadists. Although his work is humorous throughout, Saunders never tries to be funny. Instead, his humor all comes out of tense situations and skewed descriptions. Continue reading “Impressions of George Saunders’ Civilwarland In Bad Decline”