Windowpane is a fully risographed, two-volume collection of UK-artist Joe Kessler‘s short comics and illustrations from 2012 and 2013, published by London’s Breakdown Press. A lyrical exploration of emotion, environment, color, space, and craft, Windowpane takes the form of an art object disguised as a comic book disguised as series of visual/narrative explorations disguised as an art object.

joe31_webwindowpane2coverWindowpane 1 & 2 by Joe Kessler, published by Breakdown Press

The stories within both volumes of Windowpane are fragmented and exquisite, connected loosely via a few reoccurring visuals and thematic elements, such as a dominant architecture mixed with an irradiant but submissive nature, the dance between the rigid and loose, the confident and the insecure. Even Kessler’s stylistic decisions compete or play with each other, as some of the sequences throughout have been meticulously thought-out and labored over, others appear more slapdash in nature.

CCF12262013_00001An excerpt from a story in Windowpane #1

The single most unifying feature of Windowpane is then the risograph printing-process, a machine which is most similar to a photo-copier except it only prints one color at a time. With its limited but vibrant color palette, the carefully (but not perfectly) registered layers, and a translucent, screenprinted-like appearance, the result is a machine-made booklet with the imperfections and the affection of the human hand.

A mixture of bold and fine marks compliment Kessler’s placement of color, which is often repeated and re-arranged in ways to better breakdown and understand the narrative. The geometry of his pages help instill harmony and balance when the narrative becomes too conceptual or disjointed, and it instills tension when the narrative gets too easy.

CCF12262013_00005An excerpt from a story in Windowpane #2

While the work in both volumes of Windowpane is overall uniquely attractive and aesthetically pleasing, in regards to story-telling, the second volume trumps the first. This is in part due to Kessler’s sense of pacing and use of mark-making becoming more cohesive and defined, but also because his character-development improve tremendously. In the first volume almost all characters are very simple and blank in their appearance. Their thoughts and dialogue are interesting, but their facial expressions and body language are too rigid or strained to seem natural.  I think Joe probably recognized this in his work, as he injected new life into the diverse cast of characters in Volume 2, putting the disgust, fear, anger, sympathy, and desire back into their spirits.

CCF12262013_00003An excerpt from a story in Windowpane #2

A decent amount of the narratives in both volumes are intricate gags or poetic and philosophical meanderings, but the most emotionally engaging ones for me were those done in collaboration with Reuben Mwaura, who wrote the narratives based on his own personal experience. In these two stories, one of which appears in each volume, we revisit Reuben’s childhood living in various impoverished and dangerous situations. From his mother’s criminal boyfriend burning down their house while he and his brother were locked inside, to a compassionate look into his mother’s time as a prostitute, Reuben’s narrative combined with Kessler’s pacing of abstract and figurative imagery matches harmoniously in their emotional tone and dramatic timing.

CCF12262013_00004An excerpt from ‘After the Fire’ in Windowpane #2

Another favorite narrative was “Suit Suite” from the second volume. Done in collaboration with Elliott Batten, it involves a playful romp around the town in the form of an empty tuxedo-suit that can do just about anything. The text is solemn and contemplative while the imagery is light-hearted and joyful. Kessler and Batten even experiment with a bit of collage, using their own self-portrait cut-outs as amusing props within the narrative. CCF12262013_00006An excerpt from ‘Suit Suite’ in Windowpane #2

As prolific as he is, I can only assume that Joe Kessler will successfully continue down his path of narrative, artistic, and cinematic exploration, in an attempt to better master the different elements of his creative language in which we are all invited to take part in and understand.

CCF12262013_00002An excerpt from a comic in Windowpane #1

Bottom Line: If you enjoy an exploration and mixture of fine art, printmaking, sequential narrative, philosophical thought, humor, drama, and poetry in your comics, I highly recommend checking out Joe Kessler’s Windowpane 1 and 2.

-LVW

On your Marks is a short-comics anthology edited by Max Clotfelter and presented by Seattle’s Short Run Festival (this issue debuted at its 3rd annual fest in November), an event which was founded (as noted in the back of the comic) to “strengthen and celebrate Seattle’s lauded small press community…[to] spotlight artists and self-publishers who lack exposure and provide them with helpful resources”.

il_570xN.542829659_95uvOn Your Marks #1 - Cover by Chris Cilla

With around 30 one-page comics by different artists from the Pacific Northwest, On your Marks is indeed a great introduction to this regional niche of the indie-comics community. Not unlike other anthologies of the alt-comix-sphere, it acts as a sampler for one to get a small taste of each artist, as well as a taste of the region’s own particular aesthetic and influence. As someone who’s main impressions of the Northwest are pine trees, flannel, and the suspicion that life might be a lot less hectic and cluttered than the life of the average New Yorker (but I mean, what isn’t), I wondered if this anthology would open my eyes to a whole new vision of the Pacific Northwest I clearly wasn’t seeing, and should very much pay attention to.

CCF12242013_00002Excerpt from Eroyn Franklin’s untitled piece in On Your Marks

The short answer is not really, but still pay attention. While the bulk of the comics in this anthology didn’t push many boundaries for me, there was still a plentiful amount of enjoyable material. Stylistically cartoonish, often grotesque and psychedelic imagery dominated many of the gag comics, while stylistically literal, more poetic or introspective narratives filled the gaps, I found the work relatively easy to take in.  Maybe this is because it read so much like the 90s alt-comix I enjoyed as a kid (like for instance, Fantagraphics’ Spice Capades, edited by Queen Itchie with a cover by Peter Bagge, or Action Girl, edited by Sarah Dyer), I feel like On Your Marks is a comic anthology that even a kid can enjoy (albeit, a weird kid with a morbid sense of humor). But as they say, comics ain’t just for adults anymore!

CCF12242013_00003Excerpt from Max Clotfelter’s Randy & Travis comic in On Your Marks

The comics that didn’t impress were those that either seemed incomplete as a one-pager (a few), or those in which the gags fell flat (more than a few). But as is the joy of the one-pager anthology, if a comic isn’t doing it for ya, simply move on to the next. The comics that I enjoyed best were those that had complete story arcs, well-developed characters, surreal happenings, and an obscure sense of humor (yes, all in one page), such as Tom Van Deusen‘s Herman & Lucy, about best friends Herman (a “cool” dog) and Lucy (a goose), who buy a new house that comes with an absurd roof ornament (a gigantic head that makes grotesque noises and whimpers), Julia Gfrörer‘s Spirit Hand, about a brush with the occult that is humorously unacknowledged, Rick Altergott & Pat Moriarty‘s “Slugger & “Tuffy”, a look into the antics of two conniving cat pals (any cat-owner will appreciate this one), Darin Shuler’s untitled piece about a misunderstood Shaman (the cat-owners might not appreciate this one), Eroyn Franklin‘s untitled piece that starts with getting ringworm and ends with getting naked, and Max Clotfelter’s “Randy & Travis” adventure, another gag comic in which older brother Randy beats younger brother Travis to the punch (literally). These comics and others were enough to make me keep turning the pages to see where the next comic short would take me.

CCF12242013_00001 Excerpt from Darin Shulers’ untitled piece in On Your Marks

Overall, the work was good fun. At worst, it didn’t do much for me. At best, well, at best I probably giggled. Not one thing left a bad taste in my mouth, which is quite a feat in my opinion. Editorially speaking, Max did a great job. My only suggestion for the future would be to make the table of contents a little easier to read, and to number the pages– that or make all artists sign their work. I honestly couldn’t tell who did what for a few pages, in particular because I was only familiar with a few of the contributing artists to begin with. And hey — now I know a few more cool comic artists to check out, and maybe pick up a zine from. Ain’t that the point of the antho?

CCI00003Excerpt from Julia Gfrörer’s piece, ‘Spirit Hand’, in On Your Marks

Bottom Line: If you dug the alt-comix scene of the ’90s, or just want to know what’s up in the Pacific Northwest these days, get yourself a copy of On Your Marks. At $4, you won’t be disappointed.

-LVW

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TOP: THOSE FUCKING UNICORNS by Sy Wagon & Shelter Raiders by Anna Haifish (Published by Pegacorn Press), TUNA MASSAGE by Karissa Sakumoto, BIRTH CANAL by Tom Toye, BLADES & LAZERS by Benjamin Marra, & SET SAIL FOR ROCKS by Michael Olivo (Published by Sacred Prism), Borrowed Tails by Inés Estrada (Published by mini kus!), BABYTOWN 2&3 by Mimi Chrzanowski, METEO by Charlotte De Sédouy, J.1137 by Antoine Cossé (Published by Breakdown Press), INFOMANIACS by Matthew Thurber (Published by Picturebox), WOMANIMALISTIC #3 by Caroline Paquita (Published by Pegacorn Press), QTZ by Olivia Horvath, “Her Name Was Prudence” by Cathy G. Johnson, Nadine – Poodle Potential by Joana Avillez, “LIFE ZONE” by Simon Hanselmann (Published by Space Face Books)

MIDDLE: SPURT OF BLOOD by Olivia Horvath, KEEP FRESH by Zejian Shen (Published by Retrofit Comics), Alien Invasion III by Lala Albert, ROT #5 by Katrina from Providence, GASTRONOMO by Andrew Levine, Comics Workbook Magazine #1 edited by Andrew White, Zach Mason, & Frank Santoro, TO THE FUTURE by Josh Freydkis, EXPRESS LESS & DUBBLE FEECHER by Lale Westvind, CRAWDADS #3 by Karissa Sakumoto (Published by Rude Comics), Stickers by Bbytown, Inés Estrada, & Lala Albert, Painted baby head wall thing by Lauren Poor, CRIT CLUB COMIX Vol. 1 by Suny Purchase Critique Club, CACT-ASS & DEADBEAT BABIES by Matt Crabe, NEXT LEVEL #1 by the Witch Club (Providence), SPURTS #1 by Mike Funk

BOTTOM: PROVIDENCE COMICS CONSORTIUM SHOWCASE (Various Issues) published by the Providence Comics Consortium, SCHOOL SPIRITS by Anya Davidson (Published by Picturebox), Don’t Break the Oath, NEW COMICS #2, & Special Friend by Patrick Kyle, The Dormitory & CASHING CAPITAL by Conor Stechschulte, Windowpane #2 by Joe Kessler (Published by Breakdown Press), DELINQUENT by Heather Benjamin (Published by Floating World) SPIDER’S PEE-PAW #2 Edited by Char Esme and Ben Mendelewicz, ILLOGICAL COMICS DAILIES collection by Tom Toye (Published by Snakebomb Comix).

Phew

Now I just have to read them all :)

 

I first heard of Olivia Horvath when researching past winners of the Xeric Grant, which they were awarded in 2012 for the publication of Tiny Bangs. In an obscure market that mostly lacks endorsement and funds from the nation’s wealthy and elite, the Xeric was one if not the only grant aimed at helping self-publishing comics artists produce and distribute their work (it recently ended after 20 years). This was a grant that every self-determined, hard-working cartoonist I know applied for, and I found myself asking what sort of qualifications it would take to win such a grant, and in other words have one’s work be crowned “BEST COMIC[S] OF THE UNDERGROUND.”

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While I can’t speak for what The Best Comic[s] of the Underground are, Horvath’s stark yet poetic narrative, which focuses on one young woman’s day, reached me in a way that many other described “poetic” comics do not. With fine brushwork, light washes, and intentional splotches of darkness, Horvath focuses in on the unspectacular, but with great intensity. I.e, grooming in the bathroom, smoking a cigarette by the windowsill, washing some dishes, all scenes are paced slowly so that we have time to take in the event and find its meaning. Meanwhile, the young woman’s unconventional job of being a nude model is presented as just another passing moment in the day.

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Above: Excerpt from Tiny Bangs #1 by Olivia Horvath

Now I know what some of you are thinking. I too, often find that comics about the everyday and mundane can come off as kinda, well, mundane. This is not one of them. While the tone of the work is subtle, the honest presentation of human desire and emotion (or lack of) is acutely-observed, which allowed myself to take a moment to appreciate the thoughtful, awkward nature of our species. And that’s a pretty cool thing to allow.

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Mike Taylor‘s work equally evokes the raw and honest nature of our people, mixed with a hyper-thoughtful understanding of the system that they dwell in, plus a dose of the amusingly absurd. 

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Above: Late Era Clash (AKA Scenery) #22 (2009), by Mike Taylor, with a featured story by Sam McPheeters.

While I highly endorse all of Taylor’s work, today I focus on Late Era Clash #22 because I just read it for the fourth or fifth time and can confidently say that Yes, this is one of my favorite mini-comics of the recent past. Ah-hah!

With a screen-printed cover and b&w xeroxed interiors, Late Era Clash features an array of different narrative-driven comics, drawn and inked in a style that I can only describe as, “Yeah, this is pretty fucking righteous.” Stories focus on various human interactions that take place in seemingly average small towns that may or may not have one jarringly eccentric component to them. 

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Above: The gov doesn’t know what you’re talking about in this episode of Private Panthers, featured in Late Era Clash #22.

Some stories made me smirk or even chuckle, while others made me wish that I could only create such perfection in a mini-comic. Taylor’s sense of humor seems to stem from the anxiety of being overly aware of one’s surroundings, like someone who is locked in an empty room with no distractions but a loud, ticking clock, tensely awaiting the Next Terrible Thing to happen to them. Basically, the world can be a wretched place, but we use humor to make it out alive. And man, Taylor uses it well.

Below: Big Baby Man enters the scene and he’s NOT happy. From Late Era Clash #22, story written by Sam McPheeters.

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Bottom Line: If you’re the type of person who enjoys to sit and observe those surrounding you when most others have their noses in smartphones, ipads, or books, you are taking note of their features and gestures, their personality, thinking about What Kind of Person they might be and what kind of life they might live, appreciating the beauty of some, and the ridiculousness of others, well, then the passionately written & drawn work of Olivia Horvath and Mike Taylor might be for you.

- LVW

 

Hola comrades,

Tonight on the first installment of Spit Picks, I present to you some CUTTING-EDGE comics work of the FUTURE. 

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Edited by Ben Mendelewicz and Char Esme, SPIDER’S PEE-PAW #1 is a computer-art-and-collage-driven comic anthology featuring the works of Lauren Poor, Xela Flactem 3, John Gutierrez, Esteban Neumann, Mark Mathews, and Mendelewicz and Esme themselves.

I’ve been following these guys’ various art projects and collaborations for several years now, since the release of Tumbleweave’s DEMON SQUEEZE (which I believe Ben is in) and Butt-Dilly #1. I’m pretty sure when SPIDER’S PEE-PAW debuted in February, most if not all of these guys were still in college, which only adds to the impressive results of this editioned and bound art and comic-experiment. The work to me reflects the spirit of Being-at-Art-School, and I mean that in the best way possible. No fucks are given as Medelewicz and crew romp through the pages of the anthology, with crudely written story lines, deranged characters, and a great deal of experimentation with the traditionally ink on paper medium. The  non-linear, random story-lines may make the comic work more difficult to digest, but that doesn’t even matter. What does matter is that work takes comics to a place they rarely get to hang out in.

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Above: Excerpt from “Grinners” by Ben Mendelewicz, featured in SPIDER’S PEE-PAW #1

The experimentation with 3d-computer-art used throughout the various works in SPIDER’S PEE-PAW is reminiscent of the conceptual/abstracted digital art pieces that I’ve seen at galleries, but with a way weirder (and better) sense of humor. Meanwhile, the overarching themes yell “Overconsumption!”, “Sex!”, “Materialism!”, and well, the general ridiculousness of our vain & privileged culture a la artists Ryan Trecartin, Paper Rad, and the late Mike Kelley.

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Above: an excerpt from “Bad Sex” by Xela Flactem, featuring a Jesus + Brat Doll + Regular Joe who mates with a bald white female mannequin to create the perfect baby-doll specimen (or I’m pretty sure that’s what happens), featured in SPIDER’S PEE-PAW #1.

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In the same reign as SPIDER’S PEE-PAW, lies Rüff Haus Supplement #1, which lists its editor-in-Chief as “Blackie Santiago”, aka John Gutierrez.

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Rüff Haus is a parody Adult Supplement (STRICTLY ADULTS ONLY), in the vein of something National Lampoon might have produced in the early 70s. Fake and/or Real ads (I honestly can’t tell) sprinkle the interiors with taglines like “DO ME THE HARD & FUNK WAY – 1-800-FUNKY” and “WE CUM IN PEACE – ALIEN TWO-TIMING IN TIME AND SPACE DVD”. Then there are several ‘erotic’ features that revel in their absurdity. Whether they go too far I think depends on the sexual orientation of the creators, for a lot of the humor comes at the expense of homo-erotic underground culture, which may be fine if the contributors are queer themselves, but not so much if they ain’t.

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Above: Excerpt from “Horse Play” by Ben Mendelewicz and Char Esme.

Below: “All a Prisoner has is Time” by Esteban Neumann.

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Lastly, I bring your attention to FORMAL HOARD by Ben Mendelewicz

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This mini-zine is a collection of collages, with digital interiors and a screenprinted acetate cover.

Mendelewicz’s densely saturated collages seem in step with the collages of Björn Copeland, likely drawing samples from various magazine advertisements and other consumer artifacts from the last 20 years (perhaps a cereal box or a deck of pogs?). Importantly, the composition and balance of the collages keep the viewer from falling into a tunnel of over-stimulation and confusion, instead remaining a pleasant and manageable viewing-experience. A Formal Hoard, it is.

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Above: A page from “Formal Hoard”

Bottom Line: If you’re interested in the interaction between contemporary abstraction, digital art, and comics, get yourself a copy of SPIDER’S PEE-PAW and keep your eye on this crew for their future projects and progress into the vastly unexplored realm of the bizarre.

- LVW

 

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