Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Review: Absence by Andy Luke & Stephen Downey - A comic about epilepsy

Absence is a superb and very unique comic.

Very personal, yet a very educational and informative read, Andy Luke has written an absorbing account of living with epilepsy and how it has impacted on his, and others' lives.

Stephen Downey, has done a great job to make the script visually engaging - using greyscale shading, he manages to create gritty, clear, yet beautiful and sometimes dynamic art, which reminds me a little of the '90s Vertigo era comics styles of Steve Yowell and Sean Phillips.
The comic begins with the recollection of Andy's first episode or 'absence' (see right page)- where as a child, he freezes in the street, much to the concern of his mum. In this milder episode, Andy has no recognition of his temporary absence, and is upset and unnerved by what his mum tells him.

From here the story goes through his early life and condition - starting with being sent to hospital and diagnosed (theres a great couple of panels where the young luke thinks "I'M TRON" whilst hooked up the the ECG glue pads and wires).
There's memories of missing an exam, and a favourite teacher's surprise reaction to his condition, then a fast-forward to Andy's teenage years, studying through college, doing all nighters, out drinking, having the mentality that his condition is "not a problem and shouldn't get in the way of having a normal life".
As he burns the candle at both ends however, and takes a second job, his seizures become more violent.
His memories then flash forward slightly, to a girl who he was smitten with while working as a care assistant in a home for vulnerable adults.

He recounts how she had really bad and frequent seizures, so much so, that she used to wear a riding helmet to protect to her head.

Downey does a great job of illustrating these sequences (click to enlarge the images on the left) and the girl's episode, while Luke explains a little more about what goes on in the brain whilst a seizure occurs, and what others should do if in a situation with someone who is having an episode. And later, he goes into how a sufferer feels after an episode, how draining (physically and emotionally) this can be.

The next stage of the story looks at ways the older Andy took steps to gain greater control over the epilepsy, and how through being open and aware, avoiding triggers, and through looking after his mind and body, Luke managed to avoid having seizures for 11 and a half years ("Before the days of his big crisps habit" as he calls it).

The next few pages of the comic look again, in more detail on how Luke experienced the seizures in the moment, the sensations, the disorientated sense of continuity, of being drawn away or 'bodyjacked' and disassociation from the external 'reality', taken off to somewhere far away.

There's a very sweet and funny segment, where Andy recounts the one person who has been able to 'call him back' consistently, his University neighbour, Hashesh (see above right).
The last few pages look at myths, prejudics and supersitions (in a humorous and slightly sarcastic way) surrounding epilepsy, before finally looking at 'bio feedback''; the gradual process of slowly acquiring voluntary control of an involuntary function, which Luke states is basically the process of learning.

He notes that in his 11 and a half years without violent 'grand mal' seizures, he was learning new skills, studying and accelerating neural pathways in his brain, which is what occurs when we learn (the bridge building metaphor highlights these connections).

He also urges for greater communication between sufferers and witnesses, bringing their perceptions together, which he insists is vital for doctors, patients, and supporters alike.

The comic ends on the idea that epilepsy is not something that the individual affected by it should be intimidated by, that rather, they can to a great extent, take control of their condition, and that they have an exclusive experience and knowledge. This last notion is expressed brilliantly visually, by a slightly mystical montage of the eye and space.

Absence is written and flows in a very natural way, it's never pretentious, it always feels candid, warm and open with moments of humour throughout. What's even better, is that it's completely free! You can read the 20 page comic in it's entirety here

My Art: Our Country's Leaders (Those Conniving Bleeders) THE COMIX READER 4

So this particular strip was published in The Comix Reader #4.

A satire of our current Conservative/ Liberal Democrat government here in the UK (ConDem, a very apt and bitterly ironic title). I'm still not really sure what the Liberal Democrats do - they just seem to look sad and frown a lot while the tories rape and pillage.

I could have gone on a lot more and really laid into them, but, with the confines of one page, you need to reel it in and thing about a gag pay-off (a real groaner too - I love groaners).

This was a last minute submission too, done over a two day period right on the deadline, so it was fast and loose.

The Comix Reader #4 is a really good comic, some really great UK Underground/ Alternative artists involved, as in the other issues. You can buy them all for only £1 (or all 4 for £3.75) from the Paper Tiger website:

My Art: Alan Sugar In 'Toilet Fun' THE COMIX READER #3

So, I'm aware that I've been doing a lot of reviews on her and promoting other peoples' stuff, and not really posting my art from the last couple of years.

I may as well promote myself too!

This is a two page strip which was combined  to go into The Comix Reader #3.

It features Sir Alan Sugar, for those outside the UK who don't about him, he's a millionaire businessman who set up the BBC Reality TV series 'The Apprentice' (as later adopted by pinched-face combover king Donald Trump)

Literal toilet humour (mixed with satire) seems to be a speciality of mine...

 The Comix Reader #4 is a really good comic, some really great UK Underground/ Alternative artists involved, as in the other issues. You can buy them all for only £1 (or all 4 for £3.75) from the Paper Tiger website:

Friday, 12 July 2013

Review: ROMP #1 & #2 by Aaron Lange (ADULTS ONLY)

Aaron Lange's Romp is a guilty pleasure. It's certainly x-rated, in your face, perverse. It's crass, bad taste and politically incorrect, but ultimately it's funny, brave, challenging, and has the ability to simultaneously poke at your sensibilities, whilst making you laugh out loud. What at first might look on the surface like a 'men only' shock-jock porno comic (no doubt many would either immediately reject it or buy it as such), actually is  a clever, satirical and fairly open-minded comic (not for the easily offended mind you). It takes swipes in all directions, and slyly uses it's sexual imagery, characters and situations often to send-up politics, history, attitudes, stereotypes, bullshit and societal values, more than it does to tittilate and shock. Lange also indulges his obsessions, celebrates sleaze and artistic freedom, using deliberate puns and wiseacre comments, and 'moneyshots' as punchlines, to give the middle finger to those who would have us all live in a culture of 'morally-pure', guilt-ridden, repressive straightjackets.

To set the tone, issue #1 starts off with a visual pun. Above a P.O.V. drawing of a menstruating woman (blood squirting out of her like ketchup), is her speech bubble which states "This comic is for anyone who's been busted for obscenity...PERIOD!!!". And at the base of the page is a quote from J.G. Ballard: "In a sense, pornography is the most political form of fiction, dealing with how we use and exploit each other in the most urgent and ruthless ways".

We then have a one page strip which uses the 3 panel format to send-up sex in the '70s, '80s and '90s with a gag and comparison for each, showing how attitudes change with the times and fashions.

The next 6 page strip entitled "Incest & Peppermints" is a very near the knuckle yet very funny comic about a bored, hippy stoner brother and sister, who decide to fuck each other to stick it to the man, and start a new world! Part of me was reading this one and thinking "this is wrong!", the larger part of me was gleefully relishing and laughing out loud at the self-important, 'free-love values' satire, and hilarious one liners.

'Career Girls' is a pervy 2-pager which kind of makes a point about the lengths some people will go to look good in the hopes of furthering their career, whilst catering for a niche fetish at the same time.

'Master Race Theatre' features Adolf Hitler as the frustrated and compromising artist, with his aryan muse, who get's truly inspired to paint his 'masterpience' once they get it on and he goes down south... Funny visual pay-off gag to this one.

The comic then introduces the regular characters 'Hesh & his pal Jay Jazz'; Hesh is a rather sensitive loser (prone to quoting old verse, philosophy and latin), who has no luck with the ladies, while Jay Jazz is an aging Beatnik lounge-lizard who knows how to charm the ladies and throw wild parties. I really like these characters and their miscreant exploits a lot.

The first story includes Jay Jazz posing as an alpha-male jock to pick up a girl at the bar ("Girls go for douche bags, you think I cruise for trim looking like a jazznik?" exclaims jay), Hesh then follows him home to spy & learn more about his technique of  'sealing the deal'. Let's just say his methods are unconventional.

In the second Hesh comic, our protagonist is prematurely awoken from his best and most erotic dream ever (see below), but when he tries to go back to sleep and get back to where he left off, he gets another sexual dream instead, but not one he bargained for!

The third story revolves around a Stag Party put on by Jay Jazz.
Hesh, dons his ceremonial fez, drinks cocktails with the bachelor members of C.A.D. (Courteous Advocates of Debauchery), before meeting the evening's entertainment (a bukkake Barbarella), and Hesh having to undergo a humiliating forfeit (sending up male fraternal peer groups, and their weird customs).

The final two Hesh & Friends strips introduce a new recurring female character 'Ronnie'; a pretentious, posh & flakey arty-hipster type, who is up for a kinky good time, who the cringing Hesh finds scary and weird but is also attracted too.

More Pathos ensues for poor ol' Hesh, but the opportunistic Jay Jazz is in like Flynn, ready to accomodate Ronnie's weird sexual requests.

Issue #1 also includes this striking Centrefold Pin-Up for all you gender-bending, transsexual lovers out there...

Other strips include 'A Brief History Of Feminism', 'Per-Mission Impossible' (an ironic strip looking at how over-consideration, procrastination, and too much sensitivity mixed with liberal male guilt, can be a turn-off for women.) 'Post Racial Romance', 'What Women Think About', Nietzsche In Love' & 'Cocktail Party'.

As for issue #2 of Romp, there's loads more Hesh and friends, 'World War Blue'; another short gag strip at Hitler's expense, the very funny colour back cover 'Clownin' Around' (depicting clowns having group hardcore sex), and the epic 20 page "Hey, do you wanna..."; A playful, rhyming comic where a myriad of different women ask the reader if they wish to partake in their particular kink.
As with all of Aaron's work, this strip is beautifully drawn and inked, and he utilises full pages to create montages and retro pin-up style pieces throught this particular comic.

If you don't have a kneejerk reaction to it's use of taboos, pornography, and piss-taking of various mindsets & stereotypes, and don't take any of it too seriously, then Romp is very enjoyable and manages to pull off within it's pages what most sex comics fail at.
In fact, I could be wrong here, but I think this comic's real purpose is for us all to laugh at ourselves, and the absurdity of it all, as well as the artist getting to indulge his visual fetishes, draw women, and express his thoughts in humourous ways and inject some wit and out-there ideas. It may be from an unapologetic male voyeuristic perspective, yet under the hip, tough bravado, there's a deviant angle to it all, and a sense of frankness and fun.

Romp certainly won't be for everyone. The sexually conservative and prudish would do well to avoid it which probably goes without saying, as would the easily rattled on the more liberal and radical feminist end of the spectrum. It's not a manifesto for all kinds of sexual, multi-sexual, or polyamorous liberation; it's a comic that primarily deals with a male fantasy viewpoint, and one artist's world view, with a bit of weirdness, fetish and alternative lifestyles thrown in, mostly for comedic effect. The self-centred Ronnie is the only female character who really has personality out all the female characters, although some of the other female characters get some good one liners. It's easy to see why Robert Crumb is a fan, because he is probably the nearest comparison I can think of in terms of content and intent; putting his thoughts, kinks and visual fantasies out there, and critiscising that which he sees as hypocritical, ironic or absurd in liberalism and feminism (not just the uptight right). The criticisms of feminism and liberalism by Lange seem pretty minor though, in case you're thinking he's Rush Limbaugh or something. Comparisons could be made to Rick Altergott and early Ivan Brunetti or Johnny Ryan too in terms of tone, but Aaron certainly doesn't feel like an imitator.

In fact, as a cartoonist, Lange is top draw, and I'm really surprised he hasn't been picked up by a major publisher by now. Romp #3 is now out too, which I haven't yet read. And he will soon have a new comic, 'Trim' coming out soon which I'm looking forward to.

You, can buy them, and other great comics, from the publisher (Dexter Cockburn's The Comix Company) here: