Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Comics Round Up # 2: Studygroup 12 #4

Editor and co-publisher, Zack Soto, triumphant following screen printing the covers, photo by Max Davison (swiped, with permission, from Zack's Facebook page)

While JSH has been investigating the Dregs of Comicdom, on the flipside of the coin, my recent mission statement has been to make sure to chart my journey into independent, self-published contemporary comics from the top shelf only. Sorta the same direction my hand goes if I'm reaching for whiskey.

I gotta cop to some writer's block issues. After getting my copy of the newest installment of Zack Soto's Studygroup 12 anthology, it became apparent to me that I don't enjoy the way most anthologies of comics artists are reviewed. There's usually some general introduction to the basic themes of the book, and then some description of the editor, and, following, usually a spotlight shown on a handful of the artists who tickled the critic's fancy, and then, if the reviewer is feeling frisky, maybe a beat-down on some of the weaker links, and then followed by some final verdict on the book as a whole, yay or nay. Thinking I had to write a review like that kept me from writing a review.

Not only is that approach predictable, it's boring, and even if the critic is stating that said anthology is the tits, the reviews invariably do not enter into a discussion of all the contributors. While I understand that it's tedious and largely impractical with most anthologies for there to be commentary upon all the contributors, I realized that in this virtual age, and unless the review is appearing in print, there's no reason that all contributors can't be linked to (so long as he or she has some sort of web presence). So that's what I'm a-gonna do, party people, focusing on the fact that ALL the contributors are worth checking out, with some words charting the journey of my experience with Studygroup 12 #4 filling in the gap.

I stuck the new Studygroup 12 in my shoulder bag (it's a satchel, honey, not a man purse) and took it around with me to coffee shops, bars, and friends' pads these past few weeks, getting it out and passing it around. This is experiencing an anthology in a fine manner. I would point out artists with whom I was familiar, and then some friends would surprise me, being into an artist's work already that I'd perhaps just seen for the first time between these pages and the various discussions made me regard some pieces in a new light. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations generated, caffeinated or intoxicated, by Mr. Soto's collection.

It saddens me that a book like this isn't widely distributed on the newsstands of the world (500 copies were printed)--well, ya know, as if there were still newsstands of the world. Sure, these artists have a web presence, and, sure, I'm guessing Zack is getting copies into the hipper stores, but the work begs for a wider readership. Hell, one of the reasons I decided to review new comics in this context was to preach perhaps to the unconvereted, where talking comics is just one component in a larger world view, as opposed to a comics-specific venue. I don't even consider myself a critic, just a guy who makes comics, buys comics, and thinks about them. Of course, print, if not dying, is evolving (or perhaps devolving) and I can't help but feel that in another version of reality, the artists contained in Studygroup 12 would be distributed nationally and in big numbers like Mad Magazine in its day or the peak of underground comix head shop numbers. Instead, contemporary cartoonists are largely operating, for better or worse, below the radar, and hanging out in their own subculture.

What Zack has presented is a handsome edition that rides a balance between eyeball kicks while also slowing down the eye to include just as many artists more concerned, in this book anyway, with narrative in a more quiet fashion (which causes me to completely balk at this perspective, Mr. Collins). Soto has taken the pulse of the contemporary comics scene of the North American continent from his perspective and summarized it between some lovely hand printed covers--of course, it's not everything worth seeing amongst all the artists pumping that piano out there in the big wide world, but it's a damn fine handy compass to find one's direction toward what's going down (also, no one ever really mentions how much an anthology is based on the editor's friendships with various artists and also on who happens to actually respond and turn in work in a timely fashion and, don't kid yourselves, FOR NO MONEY, which is a BIG part of the process, and has a lot to do with chance and synchronicity, as much as it does some masterful job at curating content--Soto from my perspective did just fine on all fronts).

If you're not near to one of these aforementioned few and far between hip physical retail outlets that stocks this kinda goodness, I suggest you do what I done did and order this online if you got any inclination at all to see what's happening out there in this nation's comic book art underbelly. As a matter of fact, expect forthcoming reviews of stand-alone books by many of the individual artists who contributed to this book.

After you place your order, you can dive into the illuminated pool right now while you wait the arrival of your own personal copy:

Zack Soto
Dan Zettwoch
Steve Weissman
Eleanor Davis
Michael Deforge
Trevor Alixopulos
Chris Cilla
Max Clotfelter
T Edward Bak
Farel Dalrymple
Vanessa Davis
Theo Ellsworth
Jason Fischer
Nick Gazin
Richard Hahn
Levon Jihanian
Aidan Koch
Amy Kuttab
Blaise Larmee
Corey Lewis
Kiyoshi Nakazawa
Tom Neely
Jennifer Parks
Karn Piana
Jim Rugg
Tim Root: crappycomics "at" yahoo.com (As to why Tim don't have a web presence, go figure, he does great work...find him on Facebook, if so inclined...otherwise, email him and tell him I told you he was great ...)
Ian Sundahl
Jon Vermilyea
Angie Wang


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