By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
One new work that masterfully straddles the visual and narrative comix streams is Brian Chippendale’s Ninja(Gingko Press, 128 pages, $35), the highly anticipated pièce de résistance of PictureBox/Gingko fall releases. Chippendale was the prime mover (with Mat Brinkman) of Providence, R.I.’s legendary Fort Thunder collective and remains half of the cult band Lightning Bolt. Printed on the cheap newsprint of Paper Rodeo, Brinkman’s dense inkwork was often unintelligible (it doesn’t help that he charts his action in a serpentine back-and-forth pattern across the comic panel grid), and his anthology appearances have been sparse.
That’s all changed here. Hardbound and beautifully printed on 128 pages of crisp white 11-by-17 stock with more than 20 in full color, Ninja is the most revelatory graphic novel since Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan. Following — sort of — the adventures of Mr. Gold the Ninja, Patrick the Monster and a host of others across the crumbling landscape of Grain City, Ninja interlaces its peripatetic storyline with Chippendale’s video-game minimalist sixth-grade ninja comics and blown-up pages of contemporary horror-vacuii sketchbooks. The result is a dazzling and virtuosic display of experimental visual storytelling, teeming with inventive, deceptively scraggy psychedelic doodles and claustrophobic waves of highly rendered textures. While clearly and openly indebted to Gary Panter’s Jimbo and Dal Tokyo strips, Ninja — alongside his contribution to the Wunderground poster exhibit and catalog — positions Chippendale at the forefront of a new generation of graphic artists.
It’s hard to imagine a denser collection of imagery, but the Marc Bell–edited Nog a Dod: Prehistoric Canadian Psychedoolia (PictureBox/Conundrum Press, 224 pages, $25) packs about three books’ worth of trippy self-published comix into one tight book. Sometimes collecting a dozen sketchbook pages and zine covers in postage-stamp-size reproductions on a single page, Nog a Dod is a sprawling, decadent visual feast laid out by a gang of DIY fringe dwellers who imagine there’s been some mistake and they’re never going to get a chance like this again. Bell’s clean-lined überstoner work — familiar to readers of VICE’s comic page — anchors an invigorating compilation of freewheeling (and often collaborative or — ahem — “thanksgiving amoeban”) drawing, painting, collage and text with influences ranging far beyond the normal comix pantheon to embrace such worthy visionaries as Saul Steinberg, Karl Wirsum and Kenneth Patchen. It’s like what you always hoped the Zap Comix jams would be if the artists hadn’t always been saving the good stuff for their solo stories.
While we’re talking old school, Ten Speed Press (of What Color Is Your Parachute? fame!) has issued the first ever career retrospective monograph on the work of Zapista S. Clay Wilson, whose violent, polymorphously perverse tableaux of degenerate piracy originally put the seminal zine on the map, obscenity-charges-wise. The Art of S. Clay Wilson (Ten Speed Press, 156 pages, $35) is a little heavy on the latter-day colorized adventures of the Checkered Demon and his minions, but includes a healthy dose of Wilson’s classic black-and-white drawings and enough rarities to satisfy the most obsessive fan — almost.
For the true Wilson treasure-trove, check out the newest issue of Todd Hignite’s Comic Art — now a double-sized annual from Buenaventura Press, the Oakland imprint also responsible for Kramer’s Ergot 6, Ron Rege’s Yeast Hoist and Johnny Ryan’s scabrous, gut-busting Comic Book Holocaust. Alongside articles on the small ad art of the S.S. Adams Prank and Magic Company and the history of the speech balloon, Comic Art 8(Buenaventura Press, 180 pages, $20) offers a too-brief sampling of Wilson’s pencilled juvenilia. Rediscovered in a box at the artist’s mother’s house and acquired by maverick collector Glenn Bray, the Wilson “Dead Sea Scrolls” are remarkably precocious documents that stand up to much of the artist’s more self-conscious later work, and a lot of what passes for adult graphic narrative today. Their publication sets a precedent for the unearthing of similar mother lodes from the likes of Rory Hayes and the Brothers Crumb — innocent and awe-inspiring.
Finally, the best (so far) overview of many of the artists and movements that have made up the Lowbrow universe has just been published in the form of a catalogue raisonné of the Copro/Nason Gallery’s first 15 years, beginning with limited-edition reproductions of work by Robert Williams and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and gradually expanding through Tiki, Neo-Big Eye and other Juxtapoz-friendly genres. Most of the standards are here — Shag, Mark Ryden, Von Dutch — but there are plenty of surprises, including unexpected appearances by artists like Paul Loffoley and Russell Crotty. With essays by artists Shag, Williams, and Sandow Birk, curator Meg Linton and publisher Adam Parfrey, Copro/Nason Fine Art(Last Gasp, 267 pages, $40) is a substantial document of the explosion of the Lowbrow underground through the perspective of a small but influential enterprise.