"I can feel the ghost of my old confidence, tingling as uselessly as any phantom limb."
There's a lot of auto-biographical work in indie comics. Sometimes the genre is used as a crutch for cartoonists too boring to come up with fiction ideas, but when auto-bio's done well, it can really touch the heart.
Eddie Campbell's Alec series is a stand-out, and his first collection of it, The King Canute Crowd, captures a real sense of being young and going out drinking, working a dead-end job, stumbling in and out of clumsy relationships, talking and arguing about literature, and bumming around the outskirts of adulthood.
Gabrielle Bell's auto-bio comics showcase her skill at drawing and storytelling, and they reveal the truth of life lived thanks to her expert choice of just the right moment to include. Her collection The Voyeurs is especially excellent, but I'll read literally anything she writes and draws.
I've been reading Dustin Harbin's Diary Comics for a few years now, and last year he collected the previous material all in one book with a poetic new opening chapter and coda. Last weekend, I picked up his first new issue of Diary Comics since the collection. Diary Comics # 5 is a lovely little mini-comic, smartly designed and packed with the four-panel pages Harbin uses for most of his work and some 12-panel pages that due to Harbin's economy of linework and design never feel cramped. Most of the comics in the mini are one-pagers.
Harbin is getting funnier (take his reaction in one strip to the news from his doctor of a possible gluten intolerance) and more adventurous with his technique, using occasional abstraction and expressionistic flourishes to good effect. His drawing style has been perfect since almost his very first auto-bio comics — simple, clear, and elegant, evoking a maximum of emotion in a minimum number of lines.
And there are touches of existential melancholy, as when he tries on new glasses and muses to himself, "I wonder if this will change anything."
After comparing Michel Fiffe's Copra favorably to John Woo's Hong Kong films in last week's newsletter, I had the urge to revisit Woo's 1992 action movie Hard Boiled. I'd last seen it seven or more years ago, before I'd start recognizing actor Tony Leung from Wong Kar-Wai films or Infernal Affairs. Leung is well-matched with Chow Yun-fat, probably the actor who's best suited to Woo's material due to his blend of easy charm and astonishing skill at stunts.
I loved seeing Woo's excitement at filmmaking jump off the screen, not only in big action set pieces but also in things like a long sweeping shot that introduces us to the interior of the police station or the way he uses a dissolve to show that a Yun-fat is thinking of his dead partner (most filmmakers today would do that with cuts, but Woo gives us a shot of Yun-fat alone, dissolves the memory of his partner into the background of that same shot, and then dissolves back out of the flashback).
Of course Woo made a name for himself with his inventive, exciting action scenes. I noticed in action scenes Woo often keeps the camera back far enough to captures full bodies, so we can see how the characters are interacting with the setting and can more easily understand what's happening onscreen (and can therefore be excited instead of confused or overwhelmed).
It was good to see Hard Boiled again, and I'd like to revisit The Killer soon too and try some other early Woo. It's kind of a shame he came to Hollywood — nothing he's done in the states has been as good as his Hong Kong movies I've seen, and I imagine the drop in originality when he started making American movies is no coincidence.
"It's just waking up the next day and doing more comics.
That's the way it's always been."
I had a great time at the Small Press Expo this year. I wrote a bit about it as a patrons-only post on my Patreon page, but I'll say here that I always come away from SPX with a renewed excitement about comics, and this year was no different. I attended some interesting panels with subjects like comics as journalism, making all-ages comics, making erotic comics, and the history of publisher Fantagraphics (celebrating their 40th year as one of the cornerstones of the small press comics scene).
There were also interviews with master and journeyman cartoonists, and a slide show from cartoonist Charles Burns discussing his process.
I got some comics signed, and I picked up a bunch of new graphic novels, comic books, and mini-comics that look interesting (Day One's comics here, Day Two's here).
A friend of mine who hasn't read many comics before came to SPX for the first time and was overwhelmed by the amount of cartoonists and comics there were. (There were over 600 exhibitors, which means there were well over 1,000 comics — maybe close to 5,000? 10,000? some exhibitors only have a book or two for sale, but there are publishers with dozens of books, so... I dunno, I'm bad at math, that's why I'm an artist.) And he was impressed by the diversity in both the comic creators and the attendees. (It's a lot different from a convention focused on the corporate superhero end of comics..!)
I also showed around the first 16 pages of my comic Flesh Machine to other cartoonists and a few publishers, and I got a couple suggestions and a lot of encouragement and interest.
And when iconic cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez looked at my pages, he complimented me on my storytelling, which is like if Leonard Cohen complimented you on your songwriting.
I post new pages of Flesh Machine every Tuesday at my website, michaelavolio.com, where you can read the whole story so far.
You can also connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You can support my comics work on a monthly basis with Patreon.
And someone asked about this, which made me realize I hadn't really told anyone about it — you can also order a print of The Kynsis Nebula from Flesh Machine at Deviant Art. There are also some nice postcards with the same image on Zazzle.
Thanks for reading!