Tag Archive for robert crumb

Review: Newave!: The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s

Newave!: The Underground
Mini Comix of the 1980s

Buy at Amazon.com

I wanted to like Newave!: The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s (Fantagraphics, 2010). Part of me actually wanted to love it. Taken as a book that records a history, it’s pretty awesome. But as a book that’s supposed to entertain or inspire, it missed its mark for me.

Collecting mini comics from the 1970s to the early 1990s (despite what the subtitle says), editor Michael Dowers certainly had an aesthetic in mind. So mostly, this book is full of post-Robert Crumb-inspired art by adolescent males (even if it’s they’re just “adolescent” in terms of mindset and not actually age). There’s plenty of graphic sex and graphic violence, mostly done in a tittering kind of “ha ha, look at how shocking we are!!” kind of way.

I completely understand that most of this book just doesn’t appeal to me. I didn’t feel particularly offended by any of it (although there are some disturbing things) but just bored. There are only so many drawings of women with grotesquely large breasts I can look at before I lose interest. You, of course, may be different.

There were some really lovely things I did like, though, such as William Clark and Mary Fleener‘s “Dead Girl” with its high-contrast, stylized art, Tom Christopher’s pop-art inspired “Vivian” and Molly Kiely‘s dreamy “Lulu.”

It’s only coincidence that two of pieces that stuck out for me were by/co-created by women. But it is worth noting that these seem to be the only two female creators featured in this book. I understand that comics — even underground ones — have always been male-dominated, but I’m also pretty sure that women were making minicomics in the ’80s.

But I think that may go back to the issue of the aesthetic choices of this book — Dowers was including the comics he was interested in and liked, and those aren’t necessarily the ones I am interested in or like.

Still, I think that does make Newave! feel less like an overview of minicomics and more like selections from one guy’s collection.

Newave! does include essays about minicomics and interviews with some of the creators. These are fun and provide a great look at how all of this came about. The chunky shape and size of the book is also fun (it’s only slightly larger than a sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 paper folded in quarters, evoking the size these comics originally appeared in).

I’m disappointed this book didn’t excite me more — I love minicomics and I enjoyed learning a little bit of the history of them (at least, a certain type of them). But ultimately, this book isn’t really for me and it’s not something I’m going to revisit.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review: Abstract Comics

Abstract Comics

Buy at Amazon.com

Every couple of months or so, another article will come out considering the question of “Are comics literature?” Much has been discussed about the value of graphic novels with attempts to place them alongside prose books.

Less has been discussed about comics as art, however.

Abstract Comics (2009, Fantagraphics) tries to make the case for the latter. On one hand, it succeeds beautifully. On the other hand, it’s really hard to say if some these are truly “comics.”

The book is designed beautifully — editor Andrei Molotiu presents this book like an exhibition catalog and the oversized pages are filled with rich blacks and vibrant colors. It’s maybe not quite a coffee table book, but it’s a lovely one to leave lying around to flip through idly.

The content serves as a great introduction to a genre of comics that few people knew existed. Molotiu takes somewhat of a scholarly approach to the content, placing the concept of abstract comics within art history in his introduction. He makes a good case.

Obviously, some of these are absolutely what I think of comics. Robert Crumb’s “Abstract Expressionist Ultra Super Modernistic Comics” is done in his classic style, even if it lacks a narrative, and Mike Getsiv‘s “Shapes,” with its swirl of colors, has plenty of movement. Henrik Rehr‘s “Storms” is powerful as it builds, evoking the chaos of storms. Mark Gonyea and James Kochalka also provide interesting contributions — abstract, certainly, as the title of the book would imply, but very much grounded in the traditional sequential form of comics.

Other works in the book, I think it’s a stretch to call comics. In fact, I think it’s a stretch to even say they’re sequential art. Tim Gaze’s series of splotchy patches of black ink, segmented randomly, are appealingly disorganized, but they don’t seem to move from one to the next with clear transitions. Richard Hahn‘s bicolored paintings, divided into tiny, uneven boxes, are lovely and soothing, but don’t say “comics” to me at all. I understand that some of this is just a matter of personal opinion — you may think they’re comics whereas I don’t — but some of this feels like a stretch.

And you may have noticed that everyone I’ve listed so far is a man. There is not one woman creator featured in this book. The Abstract Comics blog features a couple — such as Satu Kaikkonen and Nina Roos — so I’m going to think their work was discovered too late for inclusion here and it wasn’t some intentional oversight. Still, I would’ve loved to have seen more diversity in the creators featured in this book.

Overall, this is a cool concept and I was surprised by it. I think it’s definitely going to cause some debates about what comics are and are not, and that’s a good thing. I’m going to enjoy revisiting this book, even if I don’t agree that all of the works featured here are comics.