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Comic Review: Colin Cthulhu

Colin Cthulhu

Comic, Colin Upton (creator), 20 pages, ColinUpton.com, $0.75

 

colin-cthulu-camIn a dystopian future (or just a future), some creepy creature emerges from the sea and a bunch of concerned humans try to kick its ass SO HARD. That’s the basic gist of Colin Cthulhu, a neat little comic and a fresh take on the plight of Cthulhu, a cosmic entity created by H.P. Lovecraft in the early-ish 1900s. I’ll save any more exposition in hopes that you send away for the comic. In lieu, I’ll praise creator Colin Upton for releasing a short story that delves into the complexity of this creature and specifically, examines the role of media and perception in the ways that we as humans react to things. The artwork is pretty fun as well. Its not overly detailed but does move the narrative along and captures the chaos through short strokes and dank, dark imagery. Unlike other sympathetic monster tales, Upton doesnt really paint the Cthulhu out to be a victim or an outsider. It goes about its business. Humans react. The Cthulhu reacts. Rinse and repeat. One could even argue that in spite of the artillery that is sprung upon readers, any shock and awe is more a backdrop for a simpler narrative: one spun on traits and a few tropes that aren’t very alien and are very much human. (Cam Gordon)

Book Review: Night Sky With Exit Wounds

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Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean Vuong, 89 pgs, Copper Canyon Press, coppercanyonpress.org, $16 USD

Ocean Vuong’s most recent collection of poetry kicked my ass.

His writing is beautiful and charged with eroticism, but it’s also unrelenting in thematic heaviness. Recurrent throughout these poems is an abusive father, the legacy of the Vietnam War and emmigration, and pushback against the normalization of violence against LGBTQ* people. Ordinarily I’d breeze through a book this good in a sitting or two, but the writing’s quality and honesty made it something to be savoured, limiting my readings to just a couple poems at a time.

This book’s poetics are centred on the body and its senses as the site of pleasure, trauma and resistance. Flashes of colour and surprising turns of phrase strengthen a taut lyricism within experimental forms. For example, “Seventh Circle of Earth” is a devastating poem in the form of a page left blank other than for an epigraph (from a deadpan news report on an anti-gay hate crime/double murder in Texas) and reference marks that lead to the footnotes where the poem resides. Written from the viewpoint of one of the murdered men, a silenced voice is recuperated in a normally marginal space.

Ocean Vuong’s writing possesses Keats’ ‘Negative Capability’ in spades, as in the beautiful piece “In Newport I Watch My Father Lay His Cheek to a Beached Dolphin’s Wet Back.” Juxtaposing its titular, transcendental image of tenderness with the father’s capacity for extreme violence, while avoiding easy answers: “His right arm, inked with three falling/ phoenixes— torches/marking the lives he had/ or had not taken— cradles/ the pinkish snout. Its teeth/ gleaming like bullets.”

Nothing if not intense, Ocean Vuong’s masterful poetry holds the reader within a hairsbreadth of an inferno. Night Sky with Exit Wounds is a sustained barrage of body-blows emitted directly from the Real. (Joel Robert Ferguson)

Zine Review: The Doldrums

The Doldrums

Art/Perzine, Emily Bueckert, 26 pgs, butterguts.etsy.com, $5

the-doldrums-e-bueckert-k-taylorBeginning in colour, ending in colour, and monochromatic in-between, Emily Bueckert’s The Doldrums is an exquisite zine, filled with melancholy narratives and poems.

Reading this zine mid-week during a heat warning, as I did, was very suitable. The atmosphere of this zine feels familiar in the sense that we’ve all gone through strange stages and have felt lost to ourselves, in whatever personal dimension that may be. It feels as if this zine was conceptualized while drinking a can of beer, exploring the endless path that the mind can travel during this act of consumption. The beer can, in colour, graces the first page. Filling the middle of the zine in black and white are everyday images such as shadows, trees, water, windows, buildings and skies; there is a distinct current running through them, as if Bueckert somehow charged them with a type of telepathic slow-release sadness and uneasy heartbreak.

I enjoyed the minimalism and simplicity of Bueckert’s words and images. Her poetry is extremely touching, fragile, and piercing. My favourite piece within Doldrums is ‘Rout’. It is visually packed with nuances and creeps in your skin. A beautiful coloured sketch of hands on the zine’s last page reminds you of how much our hands become the thing that literally and figuratively hold us.

Our vulnerability is planted in our palms, and Bueckert has stretched her hand open for us to see. (KK Taylor)

Comic Review: Pizza Punks II

Pizza Punks II

Comic, Cole Pauls, tundrawizard.tumblr.com, $5

pizza-punks-2-maryHere is a comic all about pizza, punks, and punks who love pizza.

The first section is made up of a series of multi-panel comic strips about the everyday tribulations of being a pizza punk – like when your significant other kisses you with a mouthful of pizza, or when the face of Sid Vicious mysteriously appears in a slice of cheese pizza, or what happens when you forget an entire pizza in a hidden compartment of your band’s van for the duration of a cross-country tour (hint: it’s gross!).

There’s a longer comic in which the author is the prime mover behind an incident involving a mosh pit and errant pizza slices at The Electric Owl in Vancouver. Included in the “Pin-Ups” section near the back is an anthropomorphic pizza slice with heavily tattooed muscular arms who sings, “We’re gonna have a pizza party tonight! Alright!” Man, these punks sure love pizza!

Overall this zine was silly and fun, and very relatable for me personally because a pizza joint recently opened next door to me, reigniting my love for my favourite dough-based meal. (Mary Green)

Dreams From the Scrap Heap: Celebrating 20 Years of Conundrum Press

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Andy Brown and Joe Ollman (by Joe Ollman) from 20 x 20

By Jonathan Rotsztain

The one-man publishing machine known as Conundrum Press started the way a lot of good things do: from the leftovers of zines. In 1996, founder Andy Brown was living in Montreal after an unfinished degree from Queen’s University, a series of tree-planting gigs, and a stint of world travel. He’d just completed his MFA in Creative Writing at Concordia University. Surrounded by friends with notebooks and sketchbooks teeming with unpublished work, Brown began publishing their zines. “You figured, ‘Let’s put a photocopied zine. You can draw and write – why don’t you take your sketchbook and we’ll put it together?” Brown says.

“The very first publication I did was Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Taxidermy by Catherine Kidd. Everyone was like, ‘We want more, we want more!’” Brown says. Through manually producing that first book, he realized that he had extra offcut paper. “So I thought, ‘Why don’t I just print another book on the offcuts?'” And that’s how Conundrum Press was born – from the literal residue of Brown’s friends’ zines, chapbooks and eventually, comics.

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An ad for Catherine Kidd’s Conundrum chapbook Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Taxidermy, from 20 x 20.

The main thing to know about Conundrum Press is that, for two decades, it’s been fueled by DIY love. From Brown’s current home office in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, he single-handedly manages a small press publishing empire, putting out award-winning comics and graphic novels by established and emerging artists from across Canada. Conundrum Press has spent the last 20 years launching new talent, making beautiful books and passionately expanding the reach of grassroots creative expression.

This year, Conundrum has celebrated two decades in the biz with 20×20: Twenty Years of Conundrum Press, the lofty anniversary tome that covers the depth and breadth of the little house that could.  Travelling year by year, 20×20 features reprints, recollections and rarities from a who’s who of Conundrum’s increasingly visible stable of diverse writers and artists. The anniversary anthology joins Conundrum’s line of shiny perfect-bound [NB: the technical term is perfect bound] publications, while inside readers are invited to revisit the presses’ DIY roots.

Originally from Vancouver, Brown found himself in the centre of what he perceived as a cultural vacuum in mid-90’s Montreal. “At the time following the 1995 Quebec referendum, Anglophone culture really had no support system in Montreal,” recalls Brown, “At that time the Mile End neighbourhood was in transition, offering affordable artist accommodations. “Five of us were paying $600 a month for an eight and a half bedroom apartment.”

“When I published Catherine Kidd, we were roommates. She performed in this bathtub that she painted like a cow. It weighed a ton and had to be lifted up and down three flights of stairs. One day, we were halfway down the stairs for one show and I was like, ‘You can’t keep doing this, you have to lose this prop.’” says Brown.

“The walls were all painted different colours, which was common in our scene” says Brown,  “It was very run down. Other people would have these lofts. Godspeed You! Black Emperor had a place they just called 2Tango. They had parties and would practice. It was just like seeing a concert.”

Through this world, Andy was introduced to artists of all backgrounds from both French and English backgrounds. By his second publication Conundrum Press was officially born and adorned with the sinking man logo, borrowed from 1952’s Fun In The Water YMCA guide, illustrator uncredited. Brown published a wide array of titles: poetry chapbooks, alt-fiction, artist catalogues and slowly but surely, comics. “I was doing all this demanding work,” Brown says. “It was a lot of cutting, stapling, collating, and I said, ‘Jeez, this is taking up all my time. I should probably get a bit more serious and try to generate some income.'” By 2001, Conundrum began publishing four titles a year, the minimum required to receive government support and build a sustainable infrastructure. This regular schedule also marked the transition to more visual books, including a greater focus on graphic storytelling.

“I attribute it to the Canada Council,” says Brown, “I sat on a jury and learned one of the main things is having a very focused editorial mandate. I went back home and made the decision to focus on comics.”

Brown’s long-time friend and Conundrum comics artist Joe Ollman says there’s another reason for the focus: “He transitioned to comics out of a deep love and because it’s simpler to work with cartoonists. Often they provide a complete book in a less hands-on process,” he says.

A significant stop along the way was the 2004 release of Witness My Shame: a collection of drawings and sculptures by then-emerging visual artist Shary Boyle. The book sold out, prompting a second printing and the publication of a second title, 2008’s Otherworld Uprising. “Conundrum was an excellent support for someone at that stage of trying to figure out what they were doing,” says Boyle.

Representing the year 2004, Boyle’s contribution to 20×20 includes never-before published-drawings from the period. “(The book is) celebrating your origins, youth and the people that gave you some belief when you were an unknown person,” says Boyle. “The work I’ve included is very humble, but has great meaning for me.”

 

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Joe Ollman’s personal history of Andy Brown and Conundrum Press, from 20 x 20

Joe Ollmann has been a staple of the southern Ontario zine scene since the ‘80s, and his relationship with Brown goes back to Conundrum’s early days. “I’ve known Andy since 2000,” says Ollmann, “The first time we met he was collating and stapling zines at a friend’s cottage and I helped him out. It was small press right from the beginning. We both had kids at the same time, unlike a lot of our friends. We were kind of oddities with babies. Our kids hung out and grew up together. We spent a lot of time together and became good friends.”

The relationship is revealed in 2014’s Milo & Sam. Written by Brown with Ollmann’s illustration, the tender comic recounts the hijinks of the pair raising their respective two-year old sons.

Family has shaped the course of Conundrum, though not always as expected. In 2011, Brown’s wife Meg Sircom died of cancer at the age of 43. They moved to Sicrom’s hometown of Wolfville for support during her illness, a permanent change that offers stability. Conundrum contributors pay tribute to Sircom in their own ways in the anthology: Dave Collier’s comic details how he met Brown and came to be published by Conundrum during the period of Sircom’s illness and passing, while poet Dana Bath provides her own contribution.

With the end of Conundrum’s Montreal years, the press’ transition to comics was complete—but not absolute. Artist and writer Sherwin Tjia is the author of nine books of poetry, comics and more. His output for Conundrum follows the evolution of the house, with his five releases including an illustrated collection of fiction, a graphic novel and his current Pick-a-Plot books (a Choose Your Own Adventure-styled series from the vantage point of a cat).

“Everything I do is weird,” says Tjia. “Conundrum lives up to its name. Andy actively culls the stuff that many other publishers overlook.” Tjia’s versatility matches the Conundrum approach. “Andy has an openness to taking chances. His accessibility is much wider than most other publishers. And as a smaller publisher he can take more risks and he’s more than willing to.”

Meags Fitzgerald published Photobooth: A Biography with Conundrum in 2014 and a follow-up, Long Red Hair, last year. She represents the emerging cartoonists Conundrum is fostering in this generation. Fitzgerald’s experience with Conundrum casts light on how the house nurtures up and coming authors through trust. “I had free artistic control,” says Fitzgerald.”I could ask questions about any aspect of the process but Andy didn’t try and influence me at all.”

“I came into this as as a creative person and because of that I treat the whole form as a means of expression—publishing as an art form. I like to think that I’m not that much different than the people I work with,” says Brown, “I’m a writer, they’re writers, so we’re kind of doing the same thing.”

Through its evolution from the streets of Montreal to international comics festivals, Conundrum has a one-man operation, built on Brown’s unwavering backbone. As the books themselves have become more beautiful and professional in presentation, the ethics and mindset behind Conundrum’s success has remained resolutely DIY and community-oriented. “The scale of the operation has grown but the workforce hasn’t,” says Ollmann. “Andy has a strong work ethic and cares about the books. You can’t get more DIY because he wears every hat.”

“That’s what Conundrum represents,” Boyle says. “A sense of community that never left behind its old friends. It has the sense of a small venture with integrity and heart.”

Talking to Brown, he has that wealth of stories (last-minute runs to the Canada Council courier, missing deadlines completely, frantic self-taught sessions of InDesign and Photoshop) akin to any DIY hustler in the small press scene. Sometimes you can hear the weight of these frantic struggles, the endless hustle in his voice. Other times he seems resolutely proud of his self-reliance.

“I had to learn accounting and I had to learn design,” he remembers. “I didn’t know how to do that — I never took a graphic design course in my life. I guess it was just a constant (process of) learning and pushing myself and I dunno. I’m approachable, I’m just being myself.”

It’s that dedication at all costs that has propelled Conundrum for the last twenty years. Brown has been described as temperamental, but regardless of his outwards demeanor he is wholly devoted to bringing DIY expression to a wider audience. “When you meet Andy, he seems very gruff,” says Tjia, “But over the years I’ve discovered, he has a heart of gold. He loves all this stuff.”

 

Hal’s Pick: Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves

thosewhomakerevolution_01image via tiff.net

Lost in the media feeding frenzy over what celebrity was quaffing champagne where during the course of the Toronto International Film Festival was, among other things, an epic 3 hour must-see Canadian film.

Written and directed by Quebec filmmakers Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie, Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves follows four student radicals as they set about attempting to terrorize Quebecers out of their complacency. The visually stunning film is set in the aftermath of the 2012 so-called Maple Spring when 200,000 students in Quebec took to the streets to protest a plan to significantly raise tuition rates for higher education. Embittered and enlivened by the denouement of the protest, in which students returned to class after a grudgingly promised tuition freeze, the four form an increasingly insular cell. From an eerily familiar dark and decrepit Montreal apartment, they deface billboards, set buildings on fire, dumpster dive and foment against the compromises and falsities of contemporary capitalism.

But the film’s energy, even genius, doesn’t just come from its powerful and sympathetic portrayal of young people caught in the exhausted hypocrisy of 21st century Canada. It also derives its power from its nuanced understanding of how four privileged young people come to hate their parents, their world and, at times, even each other.

Perfectly executed, this is the first film I’ve seen that truly captures both the impossibility and necessity of revolution in the age of YouTube democracy. Go watch the trailer on TIFF’s website, or better yet, hunt down the whole thing to watch.

Hal Niedzviecki is a writer, culture commentator, and the founder of Broken Pencil Magazine.