Ron Cobb, 1968

Over on the gg tumblr, a small gallery of R. Cobb editorial cartoons from the underground press in 1968:


A Comics Reader's Diary 11/6/16: Jason Shiga's DEMON Vol 1

Here are just a few of the comics storylines I'll be happy to never read again:

  1. Favorite child of kindly inventor discovers after his death/disappearance that he was not so beneficent after all.
  2. Protagonist takes psychedelic drug (or stand-in for same) and has a really trippy adventure. Returns to "normal" but everything is now changed. Or not.
  3. It is really hard finding an apartment in Brooklyn when you are an underemployed cartoonist.
  4. Superhero dies and then has to battle through various vaguely defined realms to be not-dead.
  5. Everyone thinks they are alive but it turns out in the end they have been dead all along.
  6. Superhero turns out not to have the best interests of humanity at heart
  7. In the not-so-distant future everything will be horrible but also pretty kinda cool
  8. In the not-so-distant future everything is pretty cool but also kinda horrible

What I had no idea, however, was that there was in fact one story I was dying to read above all other possible stories in the best of all possible worlds. This is the story Jason Shiga, the mad genius behind Meanwhile, Bookhunter, and Empire State, has produced with Demon, his new multi-volume epic which he somehow convinced the usually quite respectable First Second to publish. In other words, what I have been waiting for all these years without knowing it was the story involving a suicidal sociopath who, unfortunately for everyone in his path, cannot in fact die, who learns to use commit suicide with ever more creative and ingenious weapons—including the masterstroke of this volume, a piece of damp toilet paper found in the buttcheeks of an overweight prisoner shaped and hardened with dried semen into a shiv. You know you need to see this, too.

Seriously, this book is insane, and of course also a brilliant intellectual problem-solving exercise, as one would expect from Shiga's work. It is a loud shout-out to comics at their most off-the-hook, socially-irresponsible, and straight-up reckless, a side of comics we are always at risk of losing in this age of the "graphic novel" and "comics studies" unless it is replenished occasionally with the dried semen of way too much liberty. In this respect, Shiga is a true patriot—and maybe the true heir to the Founding Fathers, in whose name his protagonist speaks that timeless cry for liberty, "Suck my private-sector balls motherfucker!"


A Comics Reader's Diary 10/30/16: Dustin Harbin's DIARY COMICS

I love diary comics. I have read all the strangely angry diatribes out there about how diary comics are 'self-indulgent,' 'narcissistic,' and/or 'boring' (as if there's anything more self-indulgent, narcissistic and boring than a blogger ranting about diary comics). For me, they are fascinating reading. Maybe part of it is that I meet so few people these day—being a 50-year introvert married to someone even more introverted than myself doesn't make me a busy butterfly on the social scene, and health issues make social planning a game of russian roulette in which I more often lose new friends than make them by having to cancel at the last second. So, diary comics are my window into the lives of others. I read their lives, or what they choose to share of them within the constraints of the comics form and the often-gruelling disciplines of the diary routine, and if I am lucky, I eventually get to "meet" them at a comics festival ("will you sign my book, Ms. Diary Cartoonist?"), keeping to myself the fact of our 'friendship.'

Actually, that sounds pretty creepy when I write it all down like that. Pretend you didn't read that, and let's start over, shall we? {Cough}

All of this is to introduce a new 'feature' in this on-again/off-again review site, in which I try out for myself the daily disciplines of diary comics, albeit in my case not making comics but briefly sharing my thoughts on the comics I have read each day. As my memory starts its long process of flickering out to blank, this will help me remember what I read before I am half way through it ("gosh, this seems familiar: where have I read something like this before?"), and allow me to share some impressions to compensate in a small measure for no longer regularly reviewing comics.


I somehow missed Dustin Harbin's Diary Comics when Koyama Press published it, so it was an unexpected treat to get to catch up with it a year later. Harbin's diary comics are some of the most gentle, generous and understated in the genre. This volume selects from a series of mini comics Harbin compiled from 2010-12, a period in which he was struggling with depression, beginning and ending and restarting a relationship, and struggling with the daily pressures of life as an artist: deadlines, self-doubt, conventions, and money challenges. And yet despite all of this raw material, Harbin never shares more than he is comfortable with, and never more than we need to know. Even when his relationship ends, we are not privy to the reasons why: it is a private matter and not for this public diary. The same is true of the depression clouds that hover always at the back of the panel: their root cause, even the precise triggers that sets them free, are not matters for discussion.

But Harbin's restraint—both in his art and his text—does not have the effect of keeping the reader at arm's length. Quite the opposite: the lack of specifics in these cases functions as an openness that allows the reader to see their own life in the details not filled in, making the whole more, not less, personal and social. Against the stereotype of the confessional diary cartoonist exposing their every wart and hangnail (which is true of almost no diary comics I can think of, despite jeremiads to the contrary) Harbin knows that there are limits to what we can or should know about another. That is after all what keeps us coming back to learn more about each other—the hope that in testing the limits of what we can know about another person we might begin to push the limits of what we can hope to learn about ourselves.


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