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Creator Q&A: Matthew Thurber

1-800-MICE

It can be hard to describe Matthew Thurber‘s comics. Certain phrases like surreal, absurd and dream-like get thrown around a lot and while they’re all true, it doesn’t accurately capture the free-form playfulness of his work or the way he manages to make his work both bizarre and accessible at the same time.

His latest book 1-800-MICE, now available in stores via Picturebox, is his longest narrative yet. An epic tale set in the imaginary town of Volcano Park, the book juggles a rather large cast of characters and their competing subplots as  various political and social groups strive for dominance in the town, not realizing that their actions may result in their own destruction. If that sounds rather grim, rest assured the book remains delightfully nonsensical and silly (in the best sense of the word), full of concepts like bagpipes that also serve as teleporters or rocket ships that run on urine. It’s off-kilter and disarming but never falls apart and is a surprisingly straightforward and easy-to-follow read. In short, it’s pretty great.

I talked to Thurber over the phone from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., about the new book and the challenges of doing a longer and more involved narrative:

Give me a bit of biographical background about yourself. Have you always been interested in making comics?

I was always interested in anything with a narrative. When I was a kid I made movies and comic books with my friends. My friends Tom and Jeff had this series called The Killer Pigs. It was a sci-fi story. This was when I 10. They were making comics and I imitated them but I was also interested in making more professional versions of the Killer Pigs. I’d put a little Marvel Comics symbol in the upper left hand corner. My background was being into Dungeons and Dragons and comics, making videos with my friends and reading all kinds of books.

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Huizenga, Yokoyama and Marra oh my: Things I bought at SPX

The Body of Work

I suppose on a certain level running through all the loot you nabbed at this or that convention seems a bit like bragging, even if the intention is merely to say, “Hey, here’s some cool comics you should check out.” That being said, it seems like a while since anyone’s done one of those “here’s the stuff I bought” posts, so I thought I’d run down some of the more interesting-looking books I nabbed at SPX this past weekend. Forgive me.

The Body of Work by Kevin Huizenga. In addition to promoting the release of Ganges #4, Huizenga had a couple of mini-comics for sale as well. This one features some of the comics he’s been posting online like Postcard from Fielder.

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Kramers Ergot 8 due in November from PictureBox

Looks like the mother of all post-millennial art/alt-comix anthologies is about to get a makeover. Last Thursday, editor Sammy Harkham and publisher Dan Nadel of PictureBox Inc. announced the November 2011 release of Kramers Ergot 8, the latest installment in Harkham’s “this is why the word ‘seminal’ exists” anthology series. According to Harkham and Nadel, the new volume will mark a break from the four previous, sprawling, all but physically intimidating collections — a smaller, more focused effort, featuring longer 16-24-page stories from about a dozen creators, working with the same aesthetic end in mind instead of the potpourri of approaches evident in earlier volumes. The line-up includes Harkham, cover designer Robert Beatty, Gary Panter, Gabrielle Bell, C.F., Kevin Huizenga, Ben Jones, Jason T. Miles, Leon Sadler, Johnny Ryan, Frank Santoro & Dash Shaw, Anya Davidson, Ron Rege Jr., Ron Embleton & Frederic Mullally.

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Save CF’s house by buying original Powr Mastrs art

Talk about a no-lose situation. CF (aka Christopher Forgues), the cartoonist behind PictureBox Inc.’s revisionist-fantasy masterpiece in the making Powr Mastrs, needs money to make some emergency house payments. To raise it, he’s selling nearly every page from the first three volumes for the pretty damn reasonable price of $200 for black-and-white pages and $300 for color pages. “Your purchases will enable him to save his home,” writes publisher Dan Nadel — it doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. If you’ve got the scratch and you want to hold CF’s delicately drawn decadence in your hands, you know what to do.


Robot Reviews | Garden

Garden
by Yuichi Yokoyama
Picturebox, 320 pages, $24.95.

It might seem odd at first glance to describe Yuichi Yokoyama’s work as dynamic, given his minimalist, antiseptic style that edges ever so closely to outright abstraction without ever crossing the line. Yet a close inspection of his work, particularly his latest book, Garden, shows what an utterly apt adjective it is. Nothing of significance ever happens in Yokoyama’s world, at least not in the sense we think of it when talking about narrative. There’s precious little plot per se, no threats or crisis, and no character development to speak of. Yet everything is in constant motion, in constant flux, if not already transforming then ready to be transformed into something else or at least be moved about. No one stands still in Garden, and their actions are depicting in tight close ups, off-kilter worm’s-eye-views or panoramic vistas. He’s Jack Kirby without the bombast or violence.

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Start (and finish) reading now: Puke Force

Boom: a page from Puke Force by Brian Chippendale

Boom: a page from Puke Force by Brian Chippendale

I hope my illustrious colleague Brigid Alverson doesn’t mind me elbowing my way into her regular webcomics spotlight, but with the announcement the other day that Brian Chippendale is placing his eye-popping, rib-tickling webcomic Puke Force on hiatus for a few months, I simply had to point everyone in the strip’s direction.

Chippendale, the cartoonist behind last year’s acclaimed doorstop of an action-buddy-scifi comedy If ‘n Oof, is a co-founder of the influential Providence art/comics/printmaking/music/etc. collective Fort Thunder and the drummer for the band Lightning Bolt (which if you’re not familiar with it is sort of like if noise violation citations from your local law enforcement authority had an elemental, like how plants have Swamp Thing). His comics are famous/infamous for their “snake-style” layout: You read each page one row at a time, first from left to right, and then from right to left, and so on, zigzagging back and forth like a snake and allowing him to draw you through his complex physical environments with ease and choreograph action and slapstick alike with precision timing. Chippendale’s art is rough-edged and hyperdense, his characters look like little mutant and monster refugees from your favorite forgotten action-figure line, and his wild-and-wooly sci-fi stories may seem simply crazy or goofy at first glance, but in truth deal with the political, emotional, and philosophical ramifications of urban life today with sophistication and laugh-out-loud wit. Puke Force is no exception: In its installments you’ll find sardonically hilarious takes on everything from Twitter to terrorism. Best of all, you can catch up on all six months’ worth of material on the PictureBox site and be ready for Chippendale’s triumphant return in late summer/early fall. I know the visuals and layouts can be challenging, if not headache-inducing, at first, but stick with it and you’ll experience a truly singular comics sensation.

Ooh, a sale! 30% off everything from PictureBox

This Mat Brinkman monstrosity can be yours for 30% off

This Mat Brinkman monstrosity can be yours for 30% off

The taxman cometh, and that, says publisher Dan Nadel, is why boutique comics publisher PictureBox Inc. is having a 30% off sale for the rest of April. In addition to acclaimed comics like Renee French’s H Day, CF’s Powr Mastrs, and Brian Chippendale’s If n’ Oof and various art prints and music projects by their affiliated cartoonists, PictureBox also offers everything their book about the album art of legendary Pink Floyd/Led Zeppelin designers Hipgnosis to a vinyl statue of Beat icon Allen Ginsberg designed by Sof’Boy creator Archer Prewitt. If you can’t find something to buy, that’s on you, man.


Exclusive preview and interview: Explore Yuichi Yokoyama’s Garden of unearthly delights

It’s always a good sign, and a rare blessing, when you close a comic and say to yourself, “Well, I’ve certainly never seen anything like that before.” Such was my reaction to Garden, the upcoming PictureBox graphic novel from acclaimed manga artist Yuichi Yokoyama (currently in Previews for a May 4 release; Diamond code MAR111221). Sure, this is the same guy who made guys throwing books at one another as exciting a fight scene as anything out of Kill Bill in his collection New Engineering. It’s the same guy who made a bunch of dudes taking a ride on the train as thrilling as Jack Kirby drawing someone hijacking the Moebius Chair and going on a joyride through Apokalips in his book Travel. But Garden takes Yokoyama’s unique combination of deadpan characters, robotically clean lines, zany costumes, epic sets and scenery, and hyper-caffeinated action to a whole new level. It’s like a magical mental amusement park.

The plot of Garden is pure simplicity: A crowd of would-be sightseers (all wearing costumes and headgear that make them look like a lost Kinnikuman toyline) sneak into a sprawling “garden” filled with inexplicable, incredible sights and structures, from a river of rubber balls and a forest filled with disassembled cars to mountains made of glass and a massive hallway filled with floating bubbles. The endlessly chatty characters slowly walk, climb, swing, float, and otherwise make their way through the environments and obstacles, constantly narrating as they go. (“Now what could this be?” “It’s a field of boulders.” “All the boulders have ladders on them.” “Let’s climb it.”) By explaining exactly what’s happening at all times, the little explorers make following Yokoyama’s often kaleidoscopic art a breeze, freeing you to simply marvel at the sheer scale and scope of his imagination (and chuckle at the the crazy stuff the characters encounter). The overall effect is like being strapped in for a ride through some Bizarro Disney World where every single attraction is as colossal and otherworldly as the big Spaceship Earth golfball, as fast as Space Mountain, and as dizzying as the Mad Tea Party.

Courtesy of PictureBox, Robot 6 is pleased to present this exclusive eight-page preview of Garden, and an interview with Yokoyama about the book, in which the cartoonist gives us some fascinating answers — about his love for the collision between the natural and artificial, his goal in including all that dialogue, and why size matters — and raises just as many compelling questions.

(Special thanks to Dan Nadel and Yu Marooka for their help in facilitating and translating this interview respectively.)

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Under new management: The Comics Journal revamps, relaunches its website

The Comics Journal, a venerable, influential and controversial mainstay of comics journalism that had developed an air of the walking wounded in recent years, has radically revamped and relaunched its online presence. Its new editors are Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler, best known as the minds behind Comics Comics magazine and, in Nadel’s case, the art-comics publisher PictureBox Inc.

The print version of the Journal will continue to be helmed by founding editor and Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth, acting in a more hands-on capacity as of the forthcoming Issue #301 than he has in years, by the sound of it. Kristy Valenti serves as editorial coordinator. Contributors to the new TCJ.com include Frank Santoro, Jeet Heer, Joe “Jog” McCulloch, Ken Parille, Ryan Holmberg, Rob Clough, Richard Gehr, R.C. Harvey, R. Fiore, Vanessa Davis, Bob Levin, Patrick Rosenkranz, Nicole Rudick, Dash Shaw, Jason T. Miles, Andrew Leland, Naomi Fry, Jesse Pearson, Tom De Haven, Shaenon Garrity, Matt Seneca, Tucker Stone and Hillary Chute. On a Robot 6-related note, my colleague Chris Mautner and I will also be contributing.

A look at the new site reveals a multifaceted approach, with reviews, columns, interviews, lengthy features and essays (the current lead feature is a look at the legacy of, and turmoil surrounding, Frank Frazetta by writer Bob Levin), an events calendar, selected highlights from the magazine’s archives, and more. The biggest news, perhaps, is that Hodler and Nadel plan to have literally the entire 300-issue Comics Journal archive scanned and posted online by the end of this year and made available in its entirety to the print magazine’s subscribers. Click here for Hodler and Nadel’s welcome letter, in which they explain some of the changes and reveal a bit of what’s ahead. (And click here for their farewell letter to Comics Comics.)

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What Are You Reading?

Batgirl #17

Welcome to a long holiday weekend (at least here in the United States) edition of What Are You Reading? Today our special guest is Doug Zawisza, who writes reviews and the occasional article for Comic Book Resources.

To see what Doug and the Robot 6 gang are reading, click below.

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Six by 6 | Six potentially great 2011 comics you haven’t heard of

The Man Who Grew His Beard

Like you, I’m all a-twitter about the release of those Carl Barks books from Fantagraphics later this year. (you are a-twitter, aren’t you?) Not to mention Craig Thompson’s Habibi, Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, Chester Brown’s Paying for It and that Grant Morrison Multiversity mini-series. And, hey, maybe we’ll even see the first volume of Pogo! Yep, by any yardstick, it seems like 2011 promises to be another year of really great releases.

But, even beyond the big-name titles and huge company crossovers, there are a number of comics and graphic novels arriving in stores this year that warrant further attention. They may have not have garnered much of your notice, since they’re not attached to a well-known creator or license or come from overseas. Here then, are six such books, all due this year, all of which I’m willing to bet good money aren’t on your radar, but should be. As usual, be sure to note any books you’re excited about but haven’t generated much buzz yet in the comments section.

1) The Man Who Grew His Beard by Olivier Schrauwen (Fantagraphics). If you’ve had the lucky opportunity to read Schrauwen’s My Boy, or perused his work in the anthology Mome, then you’ll know this Belgian artist is the real deal — a true, utterly unique and frequently inspired cartoonist who draws upon century-old cartooning styles (McCay, Outcault) to create something contemporary and frequently bizarre. This is the first American collection of Schrauwen’s work and I’m really excited to see him reach a potentially wider audience. Actually, I’m just excited to read more of an artist I’ve only been able to catch in dribs and drabs.

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Best. Show. EVER.: Thoughts on the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival

Sean's comically huge comics haul from BCGF 2010

Sean's comically huge comics haul from BCGF 2010

I tweeted it after I got back home the night of the show and I stand by it now: Book for book and creator for creator, the second annual Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival was the best comic convention I’ve ever attended. I’m not sure I can articulate exactly why — certainly not in a comprehensive fashion, as I was in and out of the day-long show within three hours and didn’t even attend any of the programming (though I could see it was pretty much standing room only from my vantage point by the hot dog stand that provided grub for the attendees). I’m sure people who stayed longer, participated more, and took advantage of all the show’s ancillary events could paint you a bigger and better picture. But from my admittedly narrow perspective, it came down to a sense of…well, of giddiness — that’s the best way I can put it. Pretty much everyone I saw or spoke with at the show seemed head-over-heels happy, not because of proximity to cool parties or big-money media extravaganzas, but because of proximity to comics — tons and tons of unusual, gutsy, great comics.

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Looking for a great sci-fi experience? Open up a pair of PictureBox’s fall releases

from Powr Mastrs 3 by CF

from Powr Mastrs 3 by CF

Over on the CBR mothership, Tim Callahan takes a close look at two books sure to be shortlisted for Best of 2010 honors in another month or two: CF’s Powr Mastrs 3 and Brian Chippendale’s If ‘n Oof, both from PictureBox Inc. Tim argues that the two books’ combination of sci-fi/fantasy trappings with the oblique storytelling techniques and challenging visuals of art-comics create the same sense of wonder and discovery that comics held for him as a kid. Here he is on Power Mastrs:

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Inside If ‘n Oof: an interview with Brian Chippendale

Like the characters he chronicles in If ‘n Oof, his new book from PictureBox Inc., Brian Chippendale is prone to wandering. He just returned to his home base of Providence last week following a tour with his acclaimed two-man music group Lightning Bolt, whose sound can be best described as “What if Thor’s hammer and Loki’s helmet formed a band?” He’s also gearing up to hit the road again in another couple of weeks for a brief cross-country book tour with fellow PictureBox cartoonist CF.

But it’s Chippendale’s artistic travels that interest me the most. Each new Chippendale book feels like an experience miles removed from its predecessor. Maggots is a tiny softcover with incredibly dense pages, drawn on top of a Japanese book catalog so that even the white spaces are filled with visual noise. Ninja is a gigantic hardcover with a smoother approach to Chippendale’s trademark “snake-style” layout — you read the first row of panels on a page from left to right, then hop down to the next row and read that one from left to right, then down another level from right to left, and so on back and forth — and a healthy dose of comics he drew as a kid thrown in. If ‘n Oof is a doorstop-sized softcover in manga dimensions in which every page is a splash page or part of a spread. And while all three share Chippendale’s unmistakable rough-hewn line and love of sci-fi, fantasy, and action — an approach forged in the hallowed halls of the late great Fort Thunder collective, alongside artists like Mat Brinkman and Brian Ralph — If ‘n Oof‘s buddy-movie storyline of two lovable creatures battling their way through a wasteland in search of home (and snacks) is the artist’s most accessible work to date. Robot 6 managed to get Chippendale to settle down long enough to talk to us about the new book, how it stacks up against his new webcomic Puke Force, and the tantalizing possibility that as far as If and Oof’s world is concerned, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.

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Talking Comics with Tim | Renée French

H Day

There’s a horrific beauty to the art of Renée French. With her most recent work, H Day (published by Picturebox and set to ship on October 15), the beauty is built on pain, given that the book’s creation was partially fueled by French’s struggles with migraines. The last graphic novel that both challenged and engaged me in such a manner as H Day did is likely Joshua Cotter‘s Driven by Lemons. I’ve been interviewing French for a number of years, and I never tire of discussing her craft with her. Back when I last interviewed her, we briefly discussed a (then upcoming) project, Towcester Lodge, and I was glad to find out the fate of that project (as well as how H Day grew out of that creative effort). French is one of the special guests at this weekend’s APE 2010. My thanks to French for her time, and to Robot6 6′s own Sean T. Collins as well as Picturebox’s Dan Nadel for helping make the interview happen.

Tim O’Shea: How early in the development of H Day did you realize the bed scenes would play such a pivotal part?

Renée French: I’d been doing line drawings and diagrams of the inside of heads, sort of diagrams of the pain that comes with a migraine, and once I decided to try to draw the stuff I visualize when I’ve got a headache, (the city drawings) the diagrams progressed into the sequence that is in the book (the bed drawings). How confusing is that?

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