God is hidden
and not in picture postcards.
–Elise Cowen, “Teacher—your body my Kabbalah”
As I was coming up with my list of favorite comics from 2014 I tried to find a theme to link them all together and I think I discovered it late last night when I was learning a new song and one of my fuzz pedals—probably the old Ross distortion or the Real Cool Fuzz—started picking up radio stations. I’ve never had this happen with an amp or pedal made in the last ten or fifteen years. It’s only the old ones that dial up strange voices. I was trying to figure out what notes to add to a bland C# major chord and, in the silence, I heard a faint voice say, “And whosoever worships the image of the Beast shall be saved!” His voice was Southern, but not quite. I’ve lived in the Midwest for almost ten years, and in that time I’ve learned that Indiana and Missouri can sound just as southern as Alabama and Louisiana. At least to my New England ears. So at 2 am on December 30th I’d managed to call up the ghost of an AM radio broadcast with nothing more than a Stratocaster and a couple of relics of 20th century solid state technology. He kept talking about the Beast, but at no point did he tell me to run away from it. I think he wanted me to run towards it.
I’m pretty sure it was the old Ross pedal that called up the Beast and the Green Light. But It could have been the one with the cat on it, too.
I sent a text to my bandmates. But I didn’t admit that I was a little freaked out. When I went to bed an hour later, I thought I saw a green light in the window of the building across the alley. It was probably just the reflections of a couple of headlights on Irving Park headed towards the Lake. I stopped looking out the window. I was afraid something might look back.
Anyway, I mention the AM radio voice of the Beast because a few of my favorite comics of 2014 have an eerie quality to them. They’re not horror comics. Also, I a few of them are not from 2014, so this isn’t a “best of” list. These are the ones I enjoyed the most. I kept them in a stack on my desk all year so that I’d remember to write about them in December. I hope you read them, too, and I highly recommend that if you play guitar, you do so only in daylight, when the Beast and his DJ are less likely to contact you.
The cover of Julia Gfrörer’s Palm Ash.
I wrote about Julia Gfrörer’s Palm Ash last summer. It’s the story of a Christian martyr named Simeon and a woman named Dia. In the middle of the story, he promises her, “We’ll meet again in the world to come, Dia.” After seeing Justin Green and Carol Tyler at the International Comic Arts Forum at Ohio State in November, I finally read Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, and I it’s the perfect companion to Palm Ash. Both stories gave me nightmares, vivid ones. I know Binky Brown is a classic of American autobiographical comics, a template for Maus and for many of the books that followed Spiegelman’s narrative, but I want to learn more about Green’s use of the Tarot. This is the page from Binky Brown that made me shudder when I first read it, especially that last panel:
I took as many notes as I could during Green and Tyler’s conversation with Corey Creekmur at ICAF, but this is the line I typed quickly so that I wouldn’t forget: “No matter how flaming your youth, you eventually become a conservator of your culture,” Green explained. Palm Ash and Binky Brown both triggered memories of my Catholic school days. I didn’t welcome those memories at first—especially the night terrors they brought with them—but, like that 2 am broadcast, I expect both stories are trying to tell me something I’m not quite ready to hear.
Earlier in the year I read Elisha Lim’s 100 Crushes and Eric Kostiuk Williams’ Hungry Bottom Comics to prepare for our Magikomix panel at CAKE 2014. I’d read some of Elisha’s comics in Annie Murphy’s Gay Genius anthology, but I’d never read Eric’s work. Both quickly made it on my list of favorites. I know I like a book if I start buying copies for friends and acquaintances. This year, I also bought several copies of Carol Swain’s Gast, which is one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in the last several years. In 2015 I’d like to write more about 100 Crushes. I have a few ideas about the relationship between Elisha’s portraits and Gertrude Stein’s ideas on “Portaits and Repetition” from Lectures in America. When I read the lovely images in 100 Crushes, I think of this passage, in which Stein explains her challenging prose pieces such as “Picasso” and “Matisse”:
When you come to feel the whole of anyone from the beginning to the ending, all the kind of repeating there is in them, the different ways at different times repeating comes out of them, all the kinds of things and mixtures in each one, anyone can see them by looking hard at any one living near them that a history of every one must be a long one. (Stein 139)
Eric uses these repetitions in Hungry Bottom Comics, too, in pages filled with ecstatic images of, for example, Jean Genet bursting from a birthday cake, or holy Beyoncé offering visions to one of her pupils.
One of Lim’s portraits from 100 Crushes.
I’ve also been taking notes on two other comics I’d like to write about soon, Zak Sally’s Recidivist IV and Hanneriina Moisseinen’s Setit ja partituurit—Häpeällisiä tarinoita (Sets and Scores—Shameful Stories, published by Huuda Huuda in 2010). I read Sally’s new comic as a book and record set in the same style as Steve Krakow’s Speed Guru of Acid Mothers Temple vs. Plastic Crimewave, his tribute to the Power Records sets of the 1970s and early 1980s, since Recidivist also comes with a CD.
Like Sally and Krakow, Moisseinen is a cartoonist and a musician. I had the opportunity to hear her perform at ICAF after a showing of Selma Vilhunen’s documentary Song. Following the showing and the performance, I asked Hanneriina how a kantele is tuned. I should have written down what she said. When I got back to Chicago, I tried to tune my Yamaha to the intervals I was hearing during the film.
I realize my list of favorites is also a record of the comics I didn’t have a chance to write about in detail this past year. There are a few more: Isabella Rotman’s The Mermaid, Julia Von De Bur’s Life in Bodies of Water, John Porcellino’s The Hospital Suite, Marnie Galloway’s In the Sounds and Seas, Vol. II, and Kira Mardikes’s anothology Clorofilia, a Magazine of Plant Related Comics.
I also discovered a stack of Richard “Grass” Green’s Un-Fold Funnies, a series of minicomics I talked about at ICAF. And Guy Colwell’s Inner City Romance Comix #2, from 1972, is an amazing document. I read it just before I learned that Fantagraphics would be issuing a collected edition of the series in 2015. I’ll look forward to it.
If I had to pick one book of words and pictures that I’d like to take with me into 2015, it’s W. G. Sebald’s essay collection A Place in the Country, which finally appeared in an English translation by Jo Catling. Is it a comic book? No, but, like Sebald’s other novels and nonfiction, it would not exist and cannot be read without the paintings and images embedded in the text. This is a passage from the essay about painted Jan Peter Tripp that closes the book:
Remembrance, after all, is in the end nothing other than a quotation. And the quotation interpolated into a text or an image forces us, as Eco writes, to revisit what we know of other texts and images, and reconsider our knowledge of the world. That, in turn, requires time. (Sebald 180)
Sebald’s A Place in the Country, featuring a Gottfried Keller painting on the cover.
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you in a few hours in 2015.