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Entries in Ken Dahl (1)


Highlights of MoCCA Fest 2011

Here are a few books that I picked up and enjoyed at MoCCA Fest 2011, my first. The show was crowded both days, particularly on Saturday, with lots of twenty-somethings, lots of great artwork and lots of twenty-somethings doing great artwork. It was particularly worthwhile to be able to meet the artists of these and other works, all so amazingly talented.

I haven't quite dug through to the bottom of the pile yet so there will probably be another installment in a few days.

First, a couple of books that debuted at the festival:

Joseph Lambert's highly anticipated first book, I Will Bite You, doesn't disappoint. Beautifully drawn and told, dreamlike stories of childhood fantasy, but intended for adults. Grim and deep, their virtual wordlessness gives them, if anything, even more primal impact. I remember reading that one of them, "Turtle Keep it Steady", was a school assignment to retell the story of the tortoise and the hare. It's brilliantly crazy.

John Martz's Heaven All Day is another beautifully drawn story, quietly wordless, of an inventor living in a future world surrounded by sentient robots. The simple black-and-white outline style and atmospheric blue washes remind me a bit of Daniel Clowes's style, though more pared down and cartoony. Martz has a real ability to tell a story clearly.

Heaven All Day was the only SF graphic novel (really a graphic short-story) that intrigued me at the event, though I tried to keep my eye out for more. As it happens, I missed one that I'll mention below.

The rest of the books were not 2011 debuts, but nevertheless based on their interest and the fact that the authors were at the event, I picked them up and enjoyed them.

Pascal Girard's Bigfoot tells a more conventional teenage narrative of conflicted and thwarted loves, all with the background of social networking sites and the embarrassment they can cause. The bigfoot of the title is a photo that the protagonist's uncle took with his cellphone and uploaded onto the web.

Again, the story is well told and the drawings clear and well done, the colors bright and the printing impeccable from Drawn & Quarterly press. But for all its 48 page length it feels more like a short story, an interesting nibble more than a full meal.

I picked up Karl Steven's The Lodger due to the artist's technical gifts. He's an amazing draftsman, with technique that reminds me of Andrew Wyeth or Alex Ross: hyper-realistic and detailed interiors, more photographic than comic or cartoony. The volume also includes several portraits and landscapes that intersperse with the narrative. There are only a few slipups -- his drawings of squirrels at the window do not convince, for instance.

Unfortunately the story is not up to the same standards as the drawing. It's an autobiographical year-in-the-life of the young artist, but it's without any narrative center or drive. It feels like he took it upon himself to draw scenes as they happened, then put them all together into a book. That's to say, it needs further editing, and perhaps better material. I think if Stevens can get a more compelling narrative to work with, he'll do great.

Paul Hornschemeier's Let Us Be Perfectly Clear is an odd grab-bag of short stories in varying styles that remind me of Clowes and more particularly of Chris Ware. Gorgeously drawn with meticulous printing by Fantagraphics Books, the thing looks stunning. The stories themselves, though, are less successful. They lack the emotional and narrative punch of Ware or Clowes at their best. It's as though the author thought of them as light and humorous but was conflicted about whether or not to introduce actual humor. The result tends to be stories that are neither funny nor sad, and that feel more confusing and allusive than fully worked out.

The artwork, however, stands on its own. For that, the book's worth a read.

Ken Dahl's Monsters is a hurricane of a book, blisteringly honest and direct about (what I have to assume are) the author's own experiences with a sexually transmitted disease. It sounds like a singularly unpromising premise for a book, and frankly I had doubts on seeing the cover. But just to flip it open is to see Dahl's narrative and artistic gifts. The book is fascinating from its first page, and it doesn't flag. The drawings are a study in clarity and honesty, showing in all its raw detail the social and emotional life of the unfortunate, imperfect protagonist.

This is a monster of a book. I hope that, subject matter notwithstanding, this gets the profile it deserves. My worry is that it'll get pigeonholed as something only for STD sufferers or the like. Don't believe it. This is a universal story.

And one that got away:


I have to thank Timothy Callahan and his recent blog post for alerting me to one book (pamphlet?) I overlooked: Ian Bertram's 1001. Readers of my site will know I'm particularly interested in SF, and there was little SF at MoCCA Fest that really convinced. A glance at Bertram's style and a read of Callahan's take makes me very intrigued. I hope to get a copy of 1001 soon, and to be able to give it a look.

(Callahan also lauds Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano's Liar's Kiss. I have a copy and hope to mention it, and a few others, in a future post).