STUMPTOWN BY GREG RUCKA & MATTHEW SOUTHWORTH
Think of your favorite comic book or graphic novel. Got it? Now think of the book’s creator(s)—what do they look like?
Unless you’re a comics-industry insider—or the book in question is an autobiographical one—that second question is a little harder to answer. And comic-book creators generally like it that way: Unlike actors or musicians, they work in isolation, and their art gets to speak for itself.
Major conventions, then, can be awkward affairs. But the Stumptown Comics Fest is special. In its intimate space, Stumptown feels more like a farmers market for artists than those ugly events we disparagingly call “Cons.” While special guests (the great Paul Pope and Portland favorite Craig Thompson among them this year) abound, it’s a low-key environment that largely keeps the spotlight off of big-name guests and right where it belongs—on the books.
To honor that workmanlike spirit, we’ve chosen six recent works we’re really excited about. Some of the creators—those marked with the icon—will be on hand at Stumptown. Stay cool about that.
Market Day, James Sturm
A lyrical vignette that feels like Samuel Beckett by way of Hergé, Market Day follows an introspective rug-maker who’s trying to balance dreams and responsibility. Sturm’s bulbous, cartoony lines combine with the book’s muted, sepia-toned color scheme to give it a real sense of mood, and its story—while abbreviated—is strong and relatable.
The 120 Days of Simon, Simon Gärdenfors
The most visually striking in Portland/Georgia imprint Top Shelf’s recent Swedish Invasion series, The 120 Days of Simon follows the artist as he travels throughout his home country. The book’s two-panel page design and deceptively cute South Park-ian artwork make it an easy read, and Gärdenfors—kind of an asshole—proves adept at getting into major trouble wherever he goes.
Black Blizzard, Yoshihiro Tatsumi
If you read Tatsumi’s sprawling, 856-page memoir, A Drifting Life, you’ll remember Black Blizzard as one of his early masterpieces. Amazingly, the Hitchcockian 1956 murder mystery novel holds up—Tatsumi’s protagonists—two runaway convicts attached via handcuffs—may be the focus, but it’s his sprawling backgrounds (of snowstorms, cityscapes and circus tents) that really steal the show.
Stumptown, Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth
An easy sell: Portlanders Rucka (writer of Whiteout) and Southworth’s crime drama follows a gambling-addicted P.I. named Dex as she hunts down criminal scum in picturesque Portland locales, from Old Town to the St. Johns Bridge, rendered with heavy shadows and intense splashes of color.
Mercury, Hope Larson
Larson is one of the most innovative artists working in comics today, but she doesn’t flaunt it: At first glance, her stories of adolescent girls confronting change—she definitely has a theme—are engagingly drawn and pleasing to read. But upon closer examination, her art astonishes—every frame appears to be in motion, right down to the speech bubbles, which seem to fly rather than float. Her new novel tells parallel stories of girls in Nova Scotia in 1859 and the present day, with a spooky supernatural touch.
Masterpiece Comics, R. Sikoryak
One of the weirder projects we’ve read recently, this collection by frequent New Yorker cover illustrator Sikoryak mashes up classic literature and classic comics to delightful effect: Crime and Punishment as a Batman adventure; Metamorphosis as Peanuts; Candide as Ziggy; Waiting for Godot as Beavis and Butt-head. This book’s catnip for comics-loving English majors.
SEE IT: The Stumptown Comics Fest runs April 24 and 25 from 10 am to 6 pm at the Lloyd Center DoubleTree Hotel. $6 per day. See stumptowncomics.com for info.