Saturday, October 24, 2009

APE '09: The Portrait of Two Ladies & The Bourgeois Blues

The Portrait of Two Ladies by Marvin Jackson
The Bourgeois Blues by Ja Liebe

A zine is a many splendored thing, because it has the potential to be or do anything. Some of them analyze pop culture or contribute to the arts by interviewing musicians, reviewing the latest albums and books, or offering editorials on political or social developments. Others are simply multi-faceted pictorial stories and comics, oftentimes using the page or some other canvas as a means for telling a tale more dynamically than the average mainstream funnybook. I’ve seen all of this done effectively, and terribly. When it’s the latter, it’s just a waste of office supplies, but when it’s the former, it’s like a spike strip in the road that unexpectedly throws you off course. In a good way.

The Portrait of Two Ladies and The Bourgeois Blues are two such examples of mind-shaping material, but, I warn you, you have to let it sink in a bit. I’ve picked up material by these authors before at the now defunct Edge of LA Comic Con in Claremont, California, and I was pleased to find them at this year’s Alternative Press Expo -- and even more delighted to chat with them a bit over morning coffee that Sunday morning. Two warm-hearted guys passionate about their craft, Marvin and Ja keep traditional zine making alive with some contemporary analysis of life, liberty, and society, and their zines might either make you really happy to be alive in America, or really angry that the everyman has the right to challenge you about this stuff in the first place.

Now, like with Mike Rios’ War Is Gay, Marvin and Ja assure me that these random smatterings of images are actually linear and coherently connected, so I tried to read the zines that way, versus the temptation to randomly flip through them and enjoy each page like disjointed works of art in some cutting edge museum. I’ll confess, The Portrait of Two Ladies makes more sense to me, as it uses newspaper headlines and pictures to create a consistent contrast that challenges the mind to analyze both concepts differently than their original context intended. I’m particularly drawn to the collage of various newspaper headlines that, when combined, read:

“Do you wish you could walk around in your backyard NAKED? You could amid the stench of death.”

The implications of this Frankenstein headline are truly thought-provoking, as Marvin takes what must’ve been some Life & Times fluff piece and sews it to a serious piece about some sort of international strife. Could such wanton destruction be the only way to achieve such correspondingly visceral freedom? Would it be worth such a high cost? Frankly, I’ll just close the window and wear my birthday suit inside, thank you very much.

The Bourgeois Blues is a combination of similarly displaced headlines and crude drawings -- some of which might make Tim Burton proud, or make even his skin crawl with these little characters’ creepiness. At the very least, one can only imagine the amount of work journalists and graphic designers put into the wording and placement of these headlines in the first place, so for someone like Ja to couple them with sketches of goblins or devil-horned little creatures spins the reverence of the mainstream media on its ear a little bit. These sacred cows are certainly the elephant in the room of these zines.

I look forward to seeing more of these guys’ work around town in the coming months, if the comic con circuit permits. A zine is indeed a many splendored thing, especially when it takes willfully strips away all of the splendor to show you the underbelly of existence.

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