The webcomics blog about webcomics

Con Ternura Indeed

There’s something that I learned years ago, somewhere between my college radio days and my job teaching, and that’s as much as you fill the space around you with words, nothing you say has as much power

as silence.

Which thought came back to me last night in the venerable Bluestockings bookstore/cafe/activist space on the Lower East Side, which was hosting the first of a monthly series of comics readings. Comics don’t get anywhere enough readings, not like books do, and that’s a shame — with the right sense of timing and a clear enough image projected, there’s real power there. The events folks at Bluestockings kicked things off with a trifecta of work by and about queer people, featuring Bee Kahn, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, and Beatrix Urkowitz; this page is famously in the tank for Ms Valero-O’Connell and I wasn’t familiar with the work of the other two, so let’s start with them.

Bee Kahn brought an introductory section of a story that was self-published and debuted at FlameCon a while back; now it’s getting a slick reissue from a publisher (they can’t say who yet) later this year. Renegade Rule is the story of four women on a pro gamer team, trying to reach the finals for VR shooter league play. It’s hard to tell where the story will go from the excerpt Kahn was able to share (enough to drop the reader into the VR experience and introduce the main characters and their personalities), but it was more than enough to say this:

Kahn’s comic book caption game is strong. You’d have to get Matt Fraction on his best day to come up with captions that land with the same impact and humor. Remember what I said up above about timing? The text in the word balloons and captions in Renegade was mostly too small to read from the audience, but having to click through to add each balloon and box to the image forced Kahn to delay just a bit and it made each bit of dialogue and especially the captions land with impact. I’m going to be keeping my eye out for this one in the fall.

Beatrix Urkowitz brought four short stories, three of which were about the same character, and which displayed a visual sensibility reminiscent of Tom Hart’s Hutch Owen (maybe a splash of Sylvan Migdal thrown in), with a KC Green-like ability to take a premise, run it as far as you possibly can, and then take it even further. The fourth story Urkowitz shared was about the annoying person we all know, and it was good. The first three were about the lover of everyone in the world.

Specifically, and introduction to TLOEITW and how she feels, followed by a story about the lovers of TLOEITW (ie: all seven point whatever billion of us) and how they (we) feel about the situation, and a third story entitled Everyone Breaks Up With The Lover Of Everyone In The World, where all of us form a gestalt entity to deliver a break-up speech to TLOEITW, who concludes that she’ll go get drunk, but literally everywhere she goes is now populated exclusively with her exes. It was a trip.

Rosemary Valero-O’Connell read one of the three stories from her just-arriving-in-the-mail-to-backers-from-Shortbox collection, Don’t Go Without Me (if you weren’t in on the Kickstart, you’ll be able to order a copy next month). The first story in the collection is the title piece, about a date to a parallel universe where telling stories robs you of your memories. It’s haunting and echoes every mythological tale of not understanding the rules of a place, from Persephone’s pomegranate to those who stay overlong in Faerie. You can read an excerpt of it here.

The second story is What Is Left, previously released as a minicomic; I got a copy at MoCCA and loved it, but reading its sci-fi take on a doomed spaceship propelled by a memory-fueled engine changed by reading in alongside Don’t Go. The former is about finding refuge — literally, in this case — in memories, and the latter about diminution from sharing, and while the stories contrast with each other, they also sharpen and strengthen each other. You can read and excerpt of What Is Left here.

The third story, the one Valero-O’Connell read last night, is Con Temor, Con Ternura, or With Fear, With Tenderness; it asks the question What would you do on the last night of the world? Valero-O’Connell, in the making of booklet that’s a Kickstarter accompaniment to the collection, describes her first comics work as dialogueless, narrated visual poetry, and Con Temor is a return to that form. As the questions posed by the story got more pointed, as the reality that a Proverbial It was building, Valero-O’Connell got steadily quieter, and the room more hushed, the audience almost holding its collective breath.

The conclusion, a cliffhanger following a countdown from three¹, slowed its pace and the silence held as everybody sought their own answers to that question, while the screen was a-whirl with swooping curves and scarcely a straight line in sight. There’s an organic life to her work, one that focuses on things that live rather than things that are built, and it lends a vitality to the visuals that’s all but unmatched. Don’t even get me started on what she does with hair; it’s so good, it makes me angry.

Silences break eventually. The applause for each of the readers was well earned.

It’s like I told Roo², we’re in an age of comics like the current age of television, where it is not possible to keep up with all the good work that’s being made³. But for one night a month, Bluestockings is going to do its best to show you some work you might have missed otherwise, and for that we can all be thankful.

Spam of the day:

As an Airbnb host, you can meet interesting new people and learn about diverse cultures without even having to leave the house.

Weird. I thought the purpose of Airbnb was to scam people and deplete stocks of housing in cities around the world, driving up rents and exacerbating the problem of homelessness.

¹ One that looks to the reader to fill in the ending, more than any story I’ve read except maybe John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider.

² You may recall that MxRoo named the Fleen Fight For Fungible Futures Fund, and that we seem to run into each other randomly. Okay, a comics reading might not be the weirdest place to bump into a longtime reader of Fleen, but on the day that Jon Rosenberg’s son got his life back via surgery? I was in Manhattan on a work gig and walking on the street to lunch when I head somebody call my name. It was Roo, with the news that Jon had just posted that the surgery had gone well. We got a history of being together for awesome things is what I’m saying.

³ Which makes it even more baffling that there’s a cohort of miserable assholes out there who have seemingly devoted their lives to shitting on people making comics they don’t like — comics they think shouldn’t be allowed to exist because they’re about things/people other than the precise interests of said miserable assholes — instead of just reading what they like. They are literally denying themselves the time to read all the stuff they do like in order to try to destroy stuff other people like. Petard-hoisters, the lot of ’em.

Aw thanks! It is always good to see you and talk about excellent comics!

RSS feed for comments on this post.