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Cynical Musical Snob Says…

Did you see that an over-produced remix of a Shania Twain song is up for a Grammy? Oh wait, that’s a Lady Gaga song. Well, at least she’s moved on from imitating Madonna.

(Disclaimer: Actually I don’t mind Lady Gaga, but when I first heard this song, I couldn’t believe how much it felt like a ’90s country/pop song with modern flourishes. I didn’t even notice that it samples Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and even features Brian May on electric guitar.)

Simpsons writer lampoons comics world in Learn To Draw vids

The Simpsons writer/producer and The Doozies cartoonist Tom Gammill has a fun video series called Learn to Draw that, despite the title, will not teach aspiring cartoonists how to draw. Instead it offers a fun glimpse into the world of comics as what is possibly the world’s first comedy web-series about comics and cartooning.

Tom Gammill started the web-series three years ago (almost to the date – the first video was posted to YouTube on November 12, 2008) and has since seen guest appearances by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman (Zits), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Tony Carrillo (F Minus), Mell Lazarus (Momma), Cathy Guisewite (Cathy), Jeff Keane (The Family Circus), Matt Groening (The Simpsons, Life in Hell), Bill Amend (Foxtrot) and even Jeannie Schulz, the widow of Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts). Gammill and/or his writing partner Max Pross is an excellent director able to get these non-actors to loosen up and do some pretty silly things. Or maybe it’s that after year years and decades of creating comedy every day, cartoonists have built a natural ability to perform with good comedic timing. Whatever the reason, it’s a

Here are a few favorites, culminating in the crazy Arnold Roth episode:

Read It: You’ll Never Know by C. Tyler

You'll Never Know Book One by C. Tyler

My final recommendation for this past week and a half run is You’ll Never Know Book One: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler.

This is a beautiful and moving memoir about Carol Tyler’s efforts to find out what happened to her father in World War Two. It is truly among the most accomplished releases of the last five years. Maybe ten. It is such a testament to how communicating through comics is a unique and singular creative choice of expression. From the layouts of her pages to the physical production of the book itself, You’ll Never Know holds up in service of the story from cover to cover.

Fluid and expressive, Carol takes us through her journey to unearth the secrets of her father, who after decades of adamantly refusing to discuss the past, is suddenly ready to talk. Somewhat. In the process, she discovers more about her family and herself than she expected. It’s a challenging relationship that Carol reveals with such sincerity, it’s difficult not to relate.

The design of the book is meant to resemble a family photo album or scrapbook, and that’s exactly what Carol is making for her father. The story weaves in and out of two modes. The first is what could be seen as a behind-the-scenes look at what she had to go through to get this book made. The second is the scrapbook itself telling her father’s life history. A lot of storytelling devices are employed to accomplish this, but Carol’s skills as a cartoonist and illustrator, her cohesive style, warm coloring, and personalized lettering/calligraphy, all come together perfectly to tell such a layered story.

It’s a faster read than I expected, but it lingers in the brain because of its richness. It stays with you and makes you think of your own family. This book was heavily featured in our second Dig Comics segment, where it was used to show an adamant non-comics reader that there’s something for her. There’s a really lovely moment between Carol Tyler and this woman that I will probably always remember. You can watch the segment below, as well as a look at one of the pages. Click on the image for a series of images.

This graphic novel is the first in a trilogy. It’s followed by You’ll Never Know Book Two: Collateral Damage, released last year. The third and final installment is expected next year.

Read It: La Perdida by Jessica Abel

La Perdida by Jessica Abel

La Perdida by Jessica Abel

This graphic novel initially reads like a travelogue or memoir of writer/artist Jessica Abel’s time in Mexico. In fact her art style feels like a sketchbook she’s making while she travels. But the main character is named Carla, not Jessica. Maybe it’s to allow her the freedom to fictionalize when necessary or to maintain some people’s anonymity. And then, over halfway through, it slowly and then abruptly reveals itself. I don’t want to say too much because the surprise made the final third a gripping page-turner and one of the most exciting discoveries I’ve read in awhile. Definitely read La Perdida by Jessica Abel.

La Perdida tells the story of the very absorbed Carla, who traveled to Mexico City in the hopes to “find herself”. Her estranged father is from Mexico and she’s attempting to discover her roots. But she ends up falling in with a sketchy cast of characters who are bitter about tourists and American commercialism yet don’t mind taking advantage of them by selling t-shirts to try to make ends meet. As Abel describes it on her site, “A story about the youthful desire to live an authentic life and the consequences of trusting easy answers, La Perdida—at once grounded in the particulars of life in Mexico and resonantly universal—is a story about finding yourself by getting lost”.

The graphic novel, published by Pantheon Books, was heavily informed by the time Abel spent living in Mexico from 1998-2000, which is when the story takes place. After you read it, check out her website. It has a great special features section that gives extensive background and supplemental information about her stay in Mexico and creation of La Perdida. It includes letters to home, photographs, a playlist, a cocktail recipe, sketches and more.