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The Independent Garcia 2008
Our Man Trolling For The Best In Small Press at WonderCon

Everyone goes to a convention like WonderCon with different desires and hopes. Some go to see the stars and maybe get to ask some questions. Some go to buy comics and complete the collections they’ve been working on for decades. Still others go to be seen in costume.

Why do I go? I go to buy small press comics and the like. This year, the Artist Alley where the small press stuff goes was smaller and more tucked away than usual. That was a shame for someone like me, but as I gather it, there are few folks in my category that go to WonderCon to find those little treasures. Still, it would be nice if they at least played along and let those few of us believe that we matters.

This year, there were some fine books. In fact, the variety of kinds of books that I bought was higher than any year before. I found a half-dozen great pieces that I’ll talk about here, and another few that were strong as well.

In previous years, I’ve found the works of Ryan Clayton to be some of the best to be found on the Artist's Alley. His works are comic, often autobiographical, very funny, and cartoony. His strips are some of the most entertaining and enlightening. The work of his I bought this year, And Then One Day, was an autobiographical documentary, as he puts it, in comic form. It’s interesting as it’s really a third person autobiography and it’s got a certain third person point of view being pushed as the first person narative. The idea is that Ryan gave several of his friends and family a box of cards with questions about himself and he had them answer into a tape recorder.

The art is very interesting. Most of the images are close-ups on the faces of the various answerers of the questions that Ryan put towards them, This technique reminded me a lot of Theodore Dresser’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. There are break-outs, to separate the chapters and to illustrate a few of the stories, and they’re nice, but the power of the book is the examination of the author using the words and reactions of other people in his life. It’s a fun comic to read and it’s an even better comic to think about. Class stuff from a class artist/writer.

The peak of the whole Zine Thing was 1995. There were tons of great zines coming out from around the world and the folks at Fact Sheet Five were there recounting everything that went into them. One of the most important zines of that time was something called Murder Can Be Fun by John Marr.

To say that it was one of the best things a zine editor has ever done would be underestimating his work. MCBF was brilliantly written with incredible articles. The last few issues haven’t been as regular as I’d like, but they’ve come out and the one I bought at Last Gasp this weekend was wonderful. It reprinted the most famous Murder Can Be Fun article: Waiting in Line to Die. This was the best article ever written about death at Disneyland. I was glad to see it reprinted, along with a number of other articles that Marr had done for various zines and websites. For two dollars, it can’t be beat. Murder Can Be Fun is probably the most important zine to ever come out of the Bay Area.

Eric Erbes may be my new hero. He put out a number of copies of The World’s Stupidest Comic (that’s the name, not an editorial comment) on the Freebie table and I picked it up and read it. Yes, it was one joke over and over, but it was far from the stupidest comic I’ve ever read. In fact, it was far less stupid than some of the mainstream comics I’ve read over the last year. It was a well-drawn comic and I thought that it was pretty entertaining.

Go to TwoFineChaps.com right now. Just open up another Tab and come back after you’re done looking around. Go ahead, it’ll help out our average view length. You’re back? Good. You can see why I think they’re one of the best finds for me this year. The comic I bought, Brad Prays to God, is a lovely little piece that is short, has a couple of short vignettes and is simply smart and real. The kind of thing you never see these days. I was so impressed that I instantly went and spent some time at TwoFineChaps.com. They’re a fine pair putting out great work.

Sakura is a company that makes pens. They invented the Sumogrip pen which is a very comfortable grip indeed. They also help promote various Sumo Basho around the world. The booth they had this year showed off the pens and they had a standee of a Ozeki who is very popular in the world of today’s Sumo.

They also offered what I’m saying is the best educational piece I saw at the con this year. It was a piece that explained the rules and traditions of Sumo. They used text, photos and manga-style drawings to get across the main points and I thought that it was fantastic. I’ve given it to Evelyn so she can try and learn about the traditions. Kids, you gotta get ‘em started young. Yes, this was a corporate comic and yes, that goes against my typical thought as for what I’d read, but it was also entertaining and enlightening.

This year’s best piece had to be a drawn essay by Miriam Libicki called Towards A Hot Jew: The Israeli Soldier as Fetish Object. It is a complex and layered piece of writing and art that examines sexuality and Jewish identiy and the ways in which soldiers are represented. I will also admit that it was the extreme cuteness of Miss Libicki herself that drew me to her booth and got me reading, but I’m a terrible human.

This was drawn from her time as a soldier in the Israeli army and her take on the subject is both powerful, influenced and personal. This is not an open condemnation of the Israeli soldier as a class, but an examination of what their image means and how it reflects the rest of Judaism. That’s not to say that it’s not a condemnation of the use of that image for political means; in fact, towards the end of the piece, it is just that, but it is also an important document on the image of what is considered sexy and how it can easily be used to cover-up many sins. A beautifully done piece.

Chris Garcia

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