Publisher Spotlight: Secret Acres

Secret Acres has been publishing fine comics for the last couple of years and has quickly become one of my top go-to publishers for exciting, cutting edge, artistic indie comics.  They have published a broad range of comics with a variety of artistic and literary approaches.  You never quite know what you’re getting into with a new Secret Acres book, but you can rest assured it will be quality.  There isn’t a signature style of story or art at Secret Acres, if anything it would be iconoclastic and genre-defying, but everything seems to filter through the mighty fine taste of SA head honchos.  Considering the varied and idiosyncratic nature of the comics at Secret Acres, I think it will be interesting to see how well our comics thesaurus terms do at describing these comics.

 

Capacity By Theo Ellsworth

TERMS:  Iconoclast,  Internal Life, Reflection, Imaginary World, Self Discovery

Capacity is an engrossing, intricately detailed, strange and wonderful trip through the mind and imagination.  It has a very whimsical, surreal, dream-like feel.  Theo Ellsworth‘s art is really something and its hidden details impel you to look closer and linger on each page.  This book is another collection of shorter pieces and although there isn’t a overarching narrative, there is a consistent feel, mood and theme.

Applying Terms:  Despite being a collection, the consistency makes it possible to apply some character and story element terms.  The short stories are not plot driven so many of the story element terms are not applicable, but those that are help to describe Capacity and link it to other similar comics.  The art is really the most difficult aspect to apply terms to, but not for a lack of style.  Ellsworth has a clear, identifiable style that is very much his own.  His art is very concerned with beauty, like the Classicists, but it has a very different approach to drawing and applying ink than the Classicists.  So, although the motivation and aim is the same as Classicist art styles, Ellsworth’s work in Capacity fits much better within Iconoclast.  The actual drafting style of the characters relies on simplicity and is not trying to mirror reality.  When faced with difficult indexing decisions, it is best to go through some process of elimination and to look at other examples from the categories.    I knew that this was not Animist or Formalist right off the bat.  And when compared to other Classicist comics, I knew that was not the place for this, even though it is all about beauty.  For now there isn’t a proper sub-category of Iconoclast that would work well for Capacity, but that could be an area for future expansion.

Curio Cabinet By John Brodowski

TERMS:  Iconoclast — Primitive, Humor, I Just Want Friends, Loner, Rural

I know about Secret Acres thanks to John Brodowski who is a college friend of mine.  Although I am friends with John and am probably a little biased, I really do think that he is doing some truly cool stuff with his Curio Cabinet comic and I always enjoy seeing what his twisted mind comes up with.  And this is some truly bizarre, cracked stuff.  Brodowski’s tastes for trinket collecting, gas station kitsch, 80’s horror and action movies, heavy metal, and rural Vermont get tossed in the blender and Curio Cabinet is the result.  Brodowski has developed a signature drawing style that relies on pencil shading and leaves out the ink all together.  The Curio Cabinet book by Secret Acres collects the self-published Curio Cabinet 1-4 plus some extra goodies.  Each issue is a collection of short segments, with very little text or dialog, and other random drawings.  Some of the pieces have the essence of a narrative, which is usually a very small segment of time or some psychedelic transformation.  Browdowski has a real knack for expanding a moment and lingering on the details within.  There is a really interesting tension between the hints of narrative and the refusal to lay it all out in some easily understood fashion.  Basically, I think a lot of readers could mistake these short segments as not making any sense and not saying anything, but most of these segments do have some sort of logic to them, even if it is an inside joke and difficult to decode.  Curio Cabinet really relies on reading the images, noticing small differences and having a twisted sense of humor.  There is a continuing segment called Cus Mommy Says So, which chronicles the loneliness John imagines for Jason from the Friday the 13th movies.  Most of the other tales are short one-offs.  Look for tales of a suicidal axe, a man who want to become a squirrel, teen dweeb metal heads, the joys of building a fort in the woods, and other weirdness that is too hard to put into words and best just experienced.

Applying Terms:  Brodowski’s art is very striking, very idiosyncratic, like the narrative, and clearly fits within the Iconoclast camp, and more specifically within the Primitive sub-category.  Since this is a collection of very short stories and drawings it is difficult to apply story terms as there is such a variety on display and meaning and intention are tough to pin down.  Humor is definitely a big component though.  The setting is mostly Rural.  In Cus Mommy Said So the Jason character is definitely a Loner and in need of friends, so I Just Want Friends and Loner can be applied since this is a recurring story.

Gaylord Phoenix By Edie Fake

TERMS:  Iconoclast, Reflection, Self Discovery, Quest, Rite of Passage — Coming Out, Imaginary World

This is a pretty wild, psychedelic comic that seems equally concerned with art and story. The loose story is told mostly through the images and uses very little text.  Gaylord Phoenix relies on fantasy, alternative reality, and dream logic to tell its tale.  Edie Fake‘s tale is a quest that centers around a series of encounters, mostly sexual, between two beings with male bits and seems to be a journey for self knowledge and acceptance.  Gaylord Phoenix has really cool art that is beautifully designed and merits close attention.

Applying Terms:  Although design is a central concern of the art style the drawing style itself is rough and sketchy so this would not fit within the Formalist camp, of which Graphic Design is a sub-category.  This example highlights the difficulty of indexing and constructing indexing languages, especially for art styles.  Fake’s art in Gaylord Phoenix seems primarily Iconoclast, but with a strong sense of design.  Perhaps this is an area where our indexing language needs to grow.  For Affect, it is tough to pin down exactly what Gaylord Phoenix is about, but primarily it seems that Fake’s aim is to make the reader think, thus Reflection is the best choice.  Self Discovery definitely seems to be motivating the characters and the world presented is clearly Imaginary World and Fantastic.    I am tempted to apply Rite of Passage — Coming Out terms, as this seems closely related, yet at the same time the story is fairly vague, so its hard to say for sure, and this certainly isn’t your normal Coming Out story, but it seems like it has many similar aspects and appeal.

Fatal Faux-Pas By Samuel C. Gaskin

TERMS:  Iconoclast — Primitive, Humor

Fatal Faux-Pas is a fun romp through a variety of short stories, jokes and observations.  Sam Gaskin uses a variety of art styles throughout, but all have a simple, childlike approach.

Applying Terms: Like Brodowski’s Curio Cabinet, this art seems to fit best within the Primitive sub-category of the Iconoclast camp, but Gaskin and Brodowski don’t really look much like each other.  Of course, this is what commonly happens in the Iconoclast camp, there is a common thread or approach,  but results will vary drastically.  As far as story goes, this is a collection of short pieces, but Humor is the goal, the intended Affect.

 

Overall, I think our thesaurus has done a pretty good job of describing the important parts of these comics, especially considering how vague and diverse most of these titles are.  Art is an important, perhaps even primary element of these comics and all in all our thesaurus did well at describing and giving shape to the art styles on display.  Of course, all of my selections were firmly in the Iconoclast camp, but Secret Acres has published other comics, like Ken Dahl’s Monsters and Mike Dawson’s Troop 142, that are much more Animist.  Many of these were collections of short stories and drawings, so many of the character and story element terms just were not applicable.  At least not at this level of detail.  It could be worth describing character and story elements for recurring stories or significant themes, if present.  Probably the biggest challenge is that several of these comics are somewhat difficult to logically understand and seem to operate more on an unconscious level where the reader has a sense of the meaning, even if they can’t quite articulate it.

Leveling up

So, three months of silence and you wonder, has the League of Comic Librarians been defeated by a supervillain, consumed by zombies or sucked into a time vortex?  No, your heroes live on.  We have been leveling up our Capstone project in a serious way.

Days of work and meetings have been putting in to refine our Comic Book Recommendation Engine, its presentation and maintenance instructions.  The bones of the site are up (thanks to the genius and hard work of Ms. Sarah Barrett our Drupal whisperer), and we are less than a month away from when we will unveil our completed beta version at the Capstone event of the Information School at the University of Washington.  So wish your valiant librarians luck as we complete a new weapon in the fight against not having amazing comics to read.

Don’t forget, this weekend will be a busy one for comic fans.  Saturday, May 5th is Free Comic Book Day and Marvel’s new movie The Avengers opens on Friday, May 4th.

Happy weekend Comics fans!

Project Progress: Friday February 24, 2012

Mobile DesignThis quarter of planning and preparing for actual project implementation has just flown by.  Here we are at the end of week eight, and only two more to go.  Scary and exciting at the same time.  Really, I think that we are still on target with our timeline, but it still feels like there are a lot of little pieces that still need to come together.

Mobile Design 2

Mobile Design Jam

This week at our meeting we set to work determining the crucial elements that will need to be included in the mobile version.  I am really happy that we choose to develop the requirements for mobile first so that we can then view the full site as an expansion and we will have a much better grasp of what is crucial and what is not.

From here we will be able to work out the visual design and know that we have mapped out the conceptual and structural design as a foundation.  We have also been continuing to put the thesaurus to the test by doing a lot of indexing of real comics.  This has really helped us identify areas that need a little love.  We want the thesaurus to be useful for all the indexers at the MLLL, but we also want it to work for the system users. To accomplish this it must be clear, understandable and fun.  I believe that we are well on our way to reaching this goal.

Comics for Cinephiles – Animal Man & JCVD

For this edition of Comics for Cinephiles I will turn my attention to the trope from our thesaurus, Breaking the Fourth Wall.  This trope turns up throughout modernist and post-modernist art and writing as a way to break the artifice of the spectacle and call the audience’s attention to reality (whatever that happens to be) and sometimes to a pressing issue.  The prototypical version of this comes from film and television when a character looks right at the camera and addresses the audience. This effect or intent can be achieved in many ways other ways as well and can be found in most art forms.  What started as a way to shake audiences out of their stupor and call their attention to important issues of the day has now become a way for artists and writers to give a knowing wink to the media savvy audience a la Ferris Buller’s Day Off.  None-the-less, sometimes Breaking the Fourth Wall is still used in surprising and meaningful ways.  Here are two examples of meaningful and interesting uses of this trope from two stories that share a few other similarities as well – the comic Animal Man and the film JCVD.

Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man is the stuff of legend.  Although this one came out in the late 80s, I just recently got around to reading it.  Wow, this totally floored me.  I was expecting some good early Morrison, but this beast comes on like Athena.  There was a real magical alchemy at work and much of his following work has revisited themes and ideas on show in this series.  He managed to take a totally forgotten, small time comic character (much like Alan Moore had done a few years prior with Swamp Thing) and work with the raw material of that character and build on his relationship to the rest of the real superheros of the DC universe.  Animal Man Cover

Animal Man in Morrison’s comic is a pretty pathetic superhero, he has some interesting powers, but he never seem to get the lucky break that catapults him into the big leagues and stardom.  At the beginning of Morrison’s run the comic mostly focuses on Animal Man’s day-to-day existence as a family-man who is trying to put bread on the table.  Of course Morrison has much more in store for Animal Man than exploring the character’s family life and everyday troubles. Animal Man begins to get some paying superhero gigs and for awhile and the comic is action packed and entertaining.  Then things start to get really weird and out there, though still entertaining. Morrison begins to pull at the edges of Animal Man’s reality and Break the Fourth Wall to meditate on the nature of the comics medium, culminating in a grande finale.  Using this trope to do something more than wink at the audience, Morrison ultimately turns the plight of Animal Man into a truly moving work of art.

JCVD is a film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself, and before you run away shuddering with an image of his greasy, wavy mullet or the infamous split on top of a washing machine, let me tell you that, seriously, this is one of the better, more interesting films in the last several years.  And no, you don’t need to be a Van Damme fan to enjoy this one, although if you have seen another film of his, JCVD will be all the more shocking and interesting.  JCVD Poster

Van Damme starred in tons of action films in the 80s, but never really reached the success of Arnold or others.  The film plays off of his career trajectory, blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction while using post modernist techniques to Break the Fourth Wall and say something about celebrity, stardom and the medium of film.  JCVD stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself, a washed up has-been fighting to make ends meet, paying child support and making yet another lame action film.  The film is not all the sad-sack, everyday reality of a former star; at the same time there is an action plot going on that keep the story moving and tense.  Van Damme has an amazing, honestly moving monologue that is totally shocking to anyone who has sat through any of his other films and came to the conclusion that he is a pretty crummy actor who somehow got to make some films because he can do a roundhouse kick.  Turns out the truth is a bit tougher than that.

Comics for Cinephiles

Creators working in both comics and films draw much inspiration from each other.  Sometimes this takes the form of a direct adaptation, which usually has limited success translating what was great in one medium to another.  More interestingly, one medium often takes inspiration and builds on ideas from the other in much more subtle, unexpected ways.  Comics for Cinephiles will write up comics and films that have some connective similarity that may likely appeal to fans of one or the other.

The Comic:

BodyWorld

Written and Drawn by Dash Shaw

ISBN 978-0307378422

This comic is a drug crazed, psychotropic mind trip. Both the story and the art create a strange, tripped out, messed up world that sucks you in. BodyWorld follows the mis-adventures of a loser lowlife botanist Professor Panther as he runs tests, chain smokes and tries to get high from some mighty weird plants. Along the way he gets entangled with the locals of the strange small town, Boney Borough. The schoolteacher and two highschooler’s get sucked into Panther’s madness.  As Panther gets more involved with the locals, BodyWorld looks at the pressures to conform that adolescents face in small towns, in addition to questioning identity, perspective and reality.

Genre:

Affect: Pessimistic / Humor

     Physical Location: Earth — Fictional Geography

     Plausibility: Imagined — Fantastic

     Plot: Quest / Relationships

     Time: Future

Art: Iconoclast – – Harsh  Following the psychotropic angle of the story the art is garish and psychedelic.  Clearly the art falls within the Iconoclast camp, but it seems like it could be mistaken for being surreal.  Although it is most definitely psychedelic, it does not try to represent reality in a seemingly realistic, but heightened way – as surreal does.  Rather the art here is of harsh juxtapositions of color and line.

Tropes:  Magnificent Bastard, Hero with Bad Publicity, Love Dodecahedron, Crapsack World, Moral Dilema — Black and Grey

The Movie:

Pi

Written and Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Its actually been a little while since I have seen this one, but its definitely one that sticks with you.  The film focuses on a loner weirdo who is trying to figure out mathematical patterns in all sorts of phenomena around the world.  This character Max lives in New York City, but spends most of the time locked inside his apartment, or symbolically locked inside his mind.  The main character’s obsession pushes his mind to the edges of reality, and maybe even over it.  There is a somewhat similar effect from the obsessive behavior of Professor Panther in BodyWorld. Unlike BodyWorld, there are not a whole lot of interpersonal relationships going on in Pi.  Even though Pi is shot entirely in black and white, while BodyWorld revels is glossy, garish color they actually share a lot of qualities related to the iconoclastic and harsh approach both take to the visual art.

 

 

 

Project Progress: Things are getting real

We just couldn’t walk away from all the great stuff we developed in our creation, The Comics Thesaurus.  No.  We had to go and turn this into a full-blown final project for our school.  This is bound to be a great joy and a great challenge.  So, what is it that we are going to focus on during the next round?

We are going to put The Comics Thesaurus to the test and create online records for real items.  We will be working with an awesome comic library at Reed College.  This collection started outta some dude’s dorm room in the sixties – so you know its gonna be a killer stash.  Things got more official as the years went on and now its a full-on student organization with its own location.  Our group member Sarah worked there for years, so she has great insider knowledge about the collection and its history.

We will be creating an online tool to search and browse this collection.  Harnessing the power of the thesaurus to illuminate novel connections between diverse corners of the collection.  Great, great… but what does that really mean?  Well, this means that people will be able to use this tool to find new comics that they are really going to love.  Lots of companies on the web are making recommendations based on things such as purchasing habits and ratings, but we believe that these systems miss something crucial – – taste.  We all have it, and its constantly evolving, and your friends and expert fans who know you and your taste, they get it. These folks can make truly solid recommendations, but these big companies try to make taste this mechanical, quantifiable thing, when it just isn’t.  Through using the concepts laid out in The Comics Thesaurus we hope to draw out some of the aspects that make certain comics appealing to your taste and show you others that share similar qualities.  We hope that we can lead you to comics in unexplored corners of the comic universe.