Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
I first came across Rina Ayuyang’s work with the arrival in 2010 of Whirlwind Wonderland, which collected her various minicomics in one slim book. Iwas quite taken with the warmth and good humor she displayed in detailing her life, family and relationships, and I dubbed it one of the most criminally ignored books of that year.
While she’s still putting out the occasional minicomic, Ayuyang has recently become a small-press publisher with her new imprint Yam Books. The company is off to an excellent start with its first book Ticket Stub, by Tim Hensley, which came out late last year. The book, which collects the off-kilter minicomics Hensley created while working at his former day job as a closed-caption editor is a head-spinning series of dada-esque riffs on popular movies.
Curious about what sort of challenges Ayuyang might have encountered in making the transition from indie cartoonist to indie publisher, I asked whether she’d be up for answering some of my invasive questions. Thankfully, she was more than happy to do so.
The annual Small Press Expo, better known as SPX, will arrive at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Saturday and Sunday. This particular SPX promises to be excellent — mayhap the bestest SPX evar — so allow me to run through some of the goings-on if you happen to be in that area this weekend.
Dust off your shoes and pull your tote bag out of the closet kids, it’s MoCCA time once again. The annual indie/small press comics show hosted by the Museum will take place at the Armory on Lexington Avenue in New York City this weekend. It promises to be a grand affair, with tons of publishers, minicomics, books and panels to choose from. Underneath the link we’ve put together a quick rundown of some of the more notable and interesting (well interesting to us any way) goings-on at the show this weekend.
Before he passed away last September, Sparkplug Books‘ Dylan Williams was working on three projects–the graphic novel Nurse Nurse, by Katie Skelly; a new issue of Reich by Elijah Brubaker; and The Golem of Gabirol by Olga Volozova. The publisher is using the crowdfunding site IndieGoGo to raise money to publish them.
“These books are of special import not only because they are amazing in themselves, but because they are the last projects on which Sparkplug founder Dylan Williams was working before he died of cancer in September 2011. We are honored to see these through to completion and work with such great talent,” the IndieGoGo page reads.
Sparkplug Books announced last week that they plan to release a collection of Katie Skelly’s Nurse Nurse minicomics, which she has been creating since 2003. The collection will come out in April, in time for a debut at the Stumptown Comics Fest in Portland, Ore. and the MoCCA Festival in New York.
The eight Nurse Nurse minicomics are set in a future where mankind is attempting to colonize other planets, and star the nurses sent to treat the colonies as they become poisoned by the new atmospheres. In particular, the story is about Gemma, a nurse who travels to her new assignment on Venus where a mysterious substance is having an amorous effect on the Venusians … but is it a conspiracy, or just … science?
The 180 page, black and white paperback will retail for $15.
Trimming the tree, hanging the stockings, lighting the menorah, setting up the Nativity scene, watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Scrooged back to back: The holidays are all about tradition. And two of the best comics websites around have holiday traditions of their own.
First up is Inkstuds, the comics interview podcast and radio broadcast hosted by Robin McConnell, and its annual Best of 2011 Critics Roundtable. This year McConnnell is joined by The Comics Journal‘s Tim Hodler, Joe McCulloch (aka Jog the Blog), and Robot 6’s own Matt Seneca for a truly enjoyable and insightful discussion of such titles as Big Questions, Prison Pit, Thickness, Paying For It, and Kramers Ergot 8, among many others. Radio turns out to be a terrific format for each participant, so much so that I was compulsively using every spare moment to finish the podcast — I even opened up my laptop in the passenger seat of my car and played it on the way to the drugstore. Give it a listen.
Meanwhile, Tom Spurgeon of The Comics Reporter has kicked off his much beloved by me Holiday Interview series. His inaugural interview with Art Spiegelman tackles his new book-cum-documentary MetaMaus, his stint as the Grand Prix winner of France’s massive Angoulême comic con, and his take on the legacy of the underground comix movement, while the series’ second interview examines the future of the small-press publisher Sparkplug after the death of its founder Dylan Williams with the company’s new triumvirate of Emily Nilsson, Virginia Paine, and Tom Neely. Spiegelman and Sparkplug are both vital institutions in their own ways, having put their money where their mouths are with respect to the kinds of comics they’d like to see in the world, and Spurgeon makes for a great interlocutor as they articulate their respective visions. Go and read.
Austin English has been one of the more unique cartoonists on the indie comic scene over the past decade, someone with a definitive ideas of what comics should be and how best to achieve those goals. You can see it in the childlike grace and artfulness that’s captured in his graphic novel Christina and Charles, as well as in the three issues of Windy Corner Magazine, which he edited. After being a mainstay in the Sparkplug line-up for many years, English is now trying his hand at being a publisher with his new company, Domino Books. The line’s debut comic, Dark Tomato by Sakura Maku, is a surreal tale about an MTA subway driver who has a supernatural encounter of sorts down in the bowels of New York City. It’s available now via the Internet and finer retail outlets.
I talked to Austin over email about his new business venture, the challenges of being a small press publisher and the wisdom he gained from the late Sparkplug owner, Dylan Williams.
So let me start by asking what made you decide to become a publisher. Was this something you were always interested in doing?
I wrote about it when I started Domino and it bears repeating down, given the circumstances: Dylan Williams is the main inspiration for Domino, and not just because he was a publisher too. Dylan advocated for art that he believed in and he thought advocating for art that you liked was important — I think, for him, it was essential to do what you could for artists that moved you.
I share this feeling with Dylan. Art is very important to me — I believe in the work an artist like Sakura Maku does very strongly. I feel this intense obligation to do something with her work so that its shown with the proper dignity and intensity that it deserves.
Cartoonist Dustin Harbin posted a tribute comic for the late Sparkplug Comic Books publisher Dylan Williams today, and it’s a fitting tribute indeed.
Harbin’s point is that Williams created a publishing house designed to make the kinds of comics he wanted to see a reality, so that thinking about his death is as much thinking about the presence of comics he brought into the world as it is about the absence of the man himself. And with the welcome news that Sparkplug will be continuing under the auspices of Williams’ wife Emily Nilsson, his friend Tom Neely, and his colleague Virginia Paine, it looks like that aspect of his legacy will continue to be honored.
Publishing | Emily Nilsson, wife of Sparkplug Books publisher Dylan Williams, said she plans to continue running the publishing company after the death of her husband. “We need your support now as much as ever,” she said in a post on the Sparkplug blog. “We are grieving at the same time as we are trying to keep business afloat, and trying not to overstrain ourselves. We want to publish again soon but that is a step we will consider more once we get through the next few months.” Nilsson, Virginia Paine and Tom Neely will continue to run Sparkplug, with plans to continue online sales and attend conventions like the upcoming MIX in Minneapolis next month and the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival in December. Williams passed away in September due to complications from cancer. [Sparkplug]
Legal | Michael George, the former comics retailer found guilty of murder for the second time, is in the Macomb County (Mich.) jail after his bond was revoked following Tuesday’s verdict. George was found guilty of murdering his first wife Barbara in the back of their comic book store in 1990. “The family’s ecstatic,” said Barbara’s brother Joe Kowynia. “There’s no way a jury is going to get this wrong twice. I feel sorry for my nieces, this is long overdue. Now that this is over, Barb can rest in peace. And we can move on and he can rot in jail.” [Detroit Free Press]
Williams became a force within the small press community through his creation of Sparkplug in 2002. A cartoonist himself (best known for his comic book series Reporter), Williams helped many cartoonists who might otherwise have trouble getting published, including folks like Chris Wright, Dave Kiersh, Edie Fake and Jason Shiga. Sparkplug and Williams very quickly became known as one of the more prominent indie comics publishers. As fellow Robot 6er Sean Collins noted, “he had an eye for really sharp writing that you don’t see in other artcomics publishers.”
I never had the opportunity to get to know Williams well, but he always struck me in our brief meetings and conversations as a warm, genial person who cared fiercely about the medium and the cartoonists he championed.
As Tom Spurgeon notes, there may well be outstanding medical bills and other costs Williams’ estate might have to face, so let me encourage everyone to please take a moment to purchase something from the Sparkplug store (I made a few recommendations here the other week). Similarly, a benefit auction enacted to help Williams with his medical costs is still ongoing and will be continued over the coming months.
Everyone at Robot 6 would like to extend our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to Williams’ family members and friends. This is a deeply felt loss and he will be missed for many, many years to come.
The news spread rather rapidly over the comics blogs this week that Dylan Williams, cartoonist and publisher of Sparkplug Comic Books, is seriously ill and in need of financial aid (i.e. please purchase some Sparkplug books).
Though they arguably haven’t always gotten as much attention as PictureBox or Drawn & Quarterly, Sparkplug has been one of the most interesting small press publishers in recent years, releasing challenging, striking work from many new and up and coming cartoonists.
Lots of people are making recommendations on what to get, but if you’re on the fence about purchasing something from the Sparkplug shop, or just plain don’t know what book to buy, I thought I’d add my own two cents with a short run down of some of my own personal favorites.
Publishing| Joe Keatinge and Frank Cho have signed a three-book deal with Delcourt, a comics publisher in France. The first book of theirs Delcourt will publish will be the first volume of Brutal, which will debut at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angouleme 2013. Delcourt publishes many American comics in France, including Walking Dead, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Invincible, Rocketeer, Hellboy, The Goon, Haunt and many more, as well as many manga titles.
“On a personal level, French comics have had a huge influence on me. Working within that industry is something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I wanted a career in comics at all. Being an author with a book debuting at Angouleme is a goal I thought was many a year away, so this has taken things to a whole new level much sooner than anticipated. While I do plan on going back in 2012, this still gives me a year to work on my awful command of the language before I have to do a signing. Being in the good hands of Delcourt makes me think it’s a good start,” Keatinge said. [Joe Keatinge]
The nominees for the 2011 Ignatz Awards have been announced on the website for the Small Press Expo. Awarded every year at SPX and named after the brick-throwing mouse from Krazy Kat, the Ignatzes are selected by an anonymous jury of five creators and voted on by attendees of the show. There’s nothing in comics quite like lugging around the actual, honest-to-god bricks awarded as trophies to the winners.
This year, cartoonists Michael DeForge, Edie Fake, and Sammy Harkham top the list of nominees with three nods apiece. DeForge’s Lose, the third issue of which was released this year by Koyama Press, earned him nominations for Outstanding Artist, Outstanding Series, and Outstanding Comic. Fake received an Outstanding Artist nomination for his Secret Acres graphic novel Gaylord Phoenix, which is also up for Outstanding Graphic Novel, while the the fifth issue of the series collected in the GN earned an Outstanding Mini-Comic nod. Harkham’s self-published Crickets is up for Outstanding Series thanks to its third issue, which is nominated for Outstanding Comic and contains “Blood of the Virgin,” nominated for Outstanding Story.
On the publishing side, Fantagraphics leads the pack with five nominations, split between Joe Daly (Outstanding Series, Dungeon Quest), Joyce Farmer (Outstanding Graphic Novel, Special Exits), Jaime Hernandez (Outstanding Story, “Browntown,” from Love and Rockets: New Stories #3), and Carol Tyler (Outstanding Artist and Outstanding Graphic Novel, You’ll Never Know, Vol. 2: Collateral Damage).
Secret Acres and Sparkplug tie for the silver with four nominations each. Secret Acres boasts the two nods for Fake’s Gaylord Phoenix graphic novel, plus another two for Joe Lambert’s I Will Bite You (Outstanding Artist and Outstanding Anthology or Collection). Sparkplug was tapped for editor Annie Murphy’s Gay Genius (Outstanding Anthology or Collection), Elijah Brubaker’s Reich (Outstanding Series), Dunja Jankovic’s Habitat #2 (Outstanding Comic), and Chris Cilla’s The Heavy Hand (Outstanding Graphic Novel).
Not to tip my own hand here, but as with the Harveys, it’s refreshing to see that Hernandez’s “Browntown” and Chris Ware’s Lint, arguably two of the best comics of all time, are nominated in the relevant categories for best comics of the year. You’d think you could take that for granted, but you’d be surprised! Moreover, DeForge, Fake, and Harkham’s books really are excellent, and Fantagraphics, Secret Acres, and Sparkplug are high-quality, gutsy publishers. Not a lot to be unhappy about with this list!
Hosted by cartoonist Dustin Harbin, the Ignatz Awards gala will take place on Saturday, September 10 at SPX in Bethesda, Maryland. See the entire slate of nominees after the jump.
Another Toronto Comic Arts Festival has come and gone, leaving in its wake a lot of broke-but-smiling comics fans, a couple of artists with a new cause celebre, and some interesting reading.
As we reported on Friday, Canadian customs seized all five copies of the Black Eye comics anthology that creator Tom Neely was trying to bring to TCAF. The news was originally reported by Ryan Standfest, editor and publisher of Rotland Press + Comic Works, at The Comics Journal, and Ryan adds in comments that Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions was also seized from Sparkplug publisher Dylan Williams. (For those who are curious about what’s too hot for Canada, here is a preview.) Standfest posted his reaction to the Black Eye confiscation at the Rotland blog; I’m sure there will be more to say about this soon.
The winners of the Doug Wright Awards were announced on Saturday night: Pascal Girard’s Bigfoot won the award for Best Book, Alex Fellows won the Best Emerging Talent award for Spain and Morocco, and the Pigskin Peters Award, given to non-traditional and avant-garde comics, went to Michael DeForge’s Spotting Deer.
Meanwhile, the folks at the Canadian comcs news blog Sequential have posted a special TCAF edition of Sequential Pulp, which you can download as a PDF or read via Issu, with lots of good stuff, including interviews with Jillian Tamaki and Mark Laliberte, books reviews by Tom Spurgeon, Salgood Sam, and others, and pages and pages of original comics. It’s all free, so go, browse.