I had some thoughts about Pop #1, out from Dark Horse. Nerdspan was kind enough to post them.

I reviewed THE FADE OUT #1 by Bru and Phillips over at Nerdspan.

If there’s somebody in your life that you love, or respect, or miss, and you feel like you don’t talk to them enough, or there’s something you’ve wanted to say, get out there and say it. You don’t know when that chance will disappear.

It’s hard to reach out to anyone other than ourselves, sometimes, but it is often the most important thing.

Her father would be dead within the week. The doctor checked his watch, clicked his tongue, cleared his throat. It was Wednesday. She didn’t know if the doctor meant her father would die within a seven-day-period, or before (or during) Saturday. She didn’t want to seem like an idiot for asking the question, and she’d been in the room a minute too long. She got in her car and drove to the studio.

- - - - -

She’s a sound engineer, and a musician. The two go hand in hand for her; she doesn’t work on things that other people make unless it can pay her rent for a year. Her sound is mostly experimental, somewhat abrasive, certainly not mainstream. Her parents made children, five of them; she makes music because her ovaries are barren. She has a better ear for production than a heart for motherhood in the first place, she figures; this comparison comes to mind, since when she came along (the third child of five) her parents seemed to stop having fun together. She hasn’t stopped having fun, even though her music is the last thing you’d associate the word.

She puts piano sounds and rave synth drops through compressors and mixers, and she turns them into sounds like a chandelier thinking, or how a brick feels before it hits someone face. They will become part of a concept album. When her session for the day ends, she drives to her eldest brother’s house.

The album she’s making now is about motherhood, fatherhood, death, and family.

- - - - -

The second child is an accomplished writer; he wrote the liner notes to her first album (Lacunae, from Kranky Records, 200x). The first child, her eldest sister, is a graphic designer; less accomplished because she’s not ruthless, but talented and self-assured. She lives paycheck to paycheck and the current one comes from her sister’s album cover. She did the vinyl design for Lacunae (7.8 from Pitchfork Music, “…shades of early William Basinski…the execution is just shoddy in spots, but shows a groundswell of potential”), and she leads her portfolio with that work. It’s her proudest.

It wasn’t meant to become a family project, but the packaging and the liner notes get as many comments as the music itself. “All that great art and packaging and I guess the album’s pretty good,” one review went as far as to say.

- - - - -

"It’s almost done," she tells her sister, and she wells up with tears. Her brother laughs: "The album, or the dad situation?"

They agree that it was a bad time to laugh.

- - - - -

There have been other bad times to laugh. Their mother died during the birth of the final sibling. The baby died, too. When the father heard the news, he paused, shut his eyes, went as far into his head as possible, and came to with: “I tried to create life. There were no survivors.”

That wasn’t true. He survived.

- - - - -

She’s the only one renting space in the studio right now, so she lets herself get away with maybe too much. Above the compressor bay, on a top shelf, easily visible from every point on the floor, is a printout of the last family picture where everyone is present. From left to right: father, embracing mother, embracing her, embracing eldest brother, embracing youngest brother, embracing eldest sister. Above them, she drew a little picture of a ghost. On the second track (“Van Gogh” — a Pitchfork Best New Track) from her third album (Bad News from Outer Space, from 4AD, 201x; Sputnikmusic Best of 201x #7) you can hear it rattling during a loud noise burst. Fans speculate as to the origin. She’ll never tell.

- - - - -

From oldest to youngest: Eileen (the designer), Roger (the writer), Laramie (the musician), Rick (whereabouts unknown), Buford (unborn, unnamed).

Everyone agreed Buford was a horrible name. The feeling was in the air in the waiting room, not far from where he was barely born and their mother didn’t survive. No one said so.

- - - - -

The family thinks, maybe all at the same time, about where Rick has gone. They all loved Rick. He had a quality none of them had save the father: he was roguish. He brought home women and didn’t care who was in the house. He brought home men and didn’t care who was in the house. Everyone else listened to their pretentious indie darling music and he shamelessly blasted top 40, or the indie darlings of five years ago, long out of vogue. They all loved their things genuinely, but Rick liked to be different. Rick would ask them why they liked what they liked, and often started fights on that account. Their dad never meddled in their interests. Rick liked to start fires under asses. He caught a few jabs in the arm, narrowly dodged a punch or two in the face. They all miss him. They miss him because, without him, and without their father, an entire quality of the family would disappear. They wouldn’t be rogues anymore.

- - - - -

Laramie found herself thinking: “Maybe the album is about disappearing, too.” She added it to the mental list. Motherhood, barren ovaries, the desire to have something you can’t. Fatherhood, the part it plays to growing daughters, absent and unborn sons. Death, and the part it plays to bereft sisters, growing daughters. Family. Disappearance.  

- - - - -

Reynolds Hoff is the now-dying dad. He lived his life as a jack of all trades. He couldn’t live any other way. They tried to make him. He always told the kids: “What I do isn’t something I recommend. Do one thing. Do it well. Imagine new things all the time.” After saying that, he’d take a pull from his pipe and cough a little bit. They’re all amazed he doesn’t have lung cancer. They’re amazed he never slipped and fell during one of his morning runs, scrambling his brain, shattering a hip, at the very least breaking a toe. Before he ended up in the hospital, he was in tremendous shape, like people tend to be before an illness falls out of the sky like a cartoon anvil, bringing annihilation and loss of appetite.

In the hospital bed, since he was never much of a TV watcher (past HBO dramas, soccer, and the occasional high-stakes game show), he walks through memory. He drinks it in, for the first time in years; it’s hard to do when you’re working all the time.

He remembers his wife’s long blond hair. She let it grow and grow and it seemed like it would never end. He remembers it stained with blood during the non-birth of the final child. When they went to France, a trip they saved for, together, for years, French men asked to touch her hair. She had a tooth missing in her lower row of teeth, and was careful not to show it. When they kissed with tongue sometimes, he could feel it. A little secret alleyway through her heart and soul. Maybe it wasn’t secret. She joked about her many secret boyfriends. Maybe one or two weren’t a joke. Reynolds wouldn’t have cared. Laila made him whole, inside and out. So what if someone else got to experience that, once or twice or maybe more times than that? To say that he loved anyone else, or even thought of anyone else, was a blatant and outright lie. Early on, there was some of that, but it went away. It always went back to the waves of her hair, the sound of her voice, the laugh that would get caught in her throat, and she’d touch her chest, in between her breasts, wave herself down, say something like oh mercy and then

- - - - - - - - - -

Time of death: 12:52am, a Saturday, 201x.

- - - - -

At 5pm on Friday, Laramie ran into the hospital with the first pressing under her arm. The cover wasn’t done yet: it was supposed to be a portrait divided into three sections and cross-cut — her face, her sister’s face, her favorite writer’s, Margaret Atwood’s, chin as the third section. In spare type, the letters D E C A Y at the top. She wanted to make the name some celebration of life, but anything else would’ve been a lie.

When she ran in, everyone looked up. Her father was breathing, listening, popping in and out. She put the record on. It crackled to life, like a record does, and her voice cracked along with it. “I hope you like it,” she said, to no one in particular. The room felt empty, and then it didn’t.

The album breathed slowly, a single classical piano chord from a classical piano she got on Craigslist, high, distended for all its worth. And then, another, the same chord, compressed, made shoddy. The next, more so. The sound turned into a canyon of white noise that filled the room. The next chord was the same as the first and the next was the same as the second and the next was as same as the third and the music came to life and her father nodded a single nod, or seemed to.

(image from Eric Kostiuk Williams’ website.)

Full disclosure: I’ve known Eric Kostiuk Williams, internet acquaintance-wise, since about 2008. I’ve been following his work and watching it grow since then. There was no question, even from his earliest work, that he’d be worth watching. I knew that going in, and I was still floored when I read the first issue of his autobiographical Hungry Bottom Comics.

When I finally had the chance to meet him at Chicago’s CAKE show, and saw that the Collected Hungry Bottom Comics existed, I was over the moon. I ended up reading them through an afternoon, and they’ve been on my mind ever since.

The thing about it is that these are powerful, occasionally confessional stories on their own, but Eric doesn’t spend any time standing still, as an artist or as a human being. Throughout the story, Eric finds new aspects of himself constantly; the dynamics of his sexuality, interpersonal relations, and sense-of-self change rapid-fire. There’s a lot here to identify with, even if you don’t find yourself outside the margins of monogamy, heterosexuality, or the gender binary. Eric’s ability to communicate that change clearly is impressive; change, regardless of the shape, is something most experience through their teen years and mid-twenties. These comics are never shy to get that across.

The clarity of these ideas is noteworthy. While Eric’s linework is very clean, his layouts are anything but. Names like Howard Chaykin, Jim Steranko, and a plethora of indie cartoonists and fine artists come to mind, but Eric synthesizes this into something he owns. The pages go full-blown abstract and back down to earth at a dizzying speed. In the hands of a less-skilled cartoonist, the stories and the layouts (the stories, sometimes downbeat, always very personal; the layouts, all over the place) could add up to nothing, or at least become tiresome. Eric’s playfulness with page layout, tone, and pace is what really makes Hungry Bottom stand out as the work of a strong new voice: every time you think the narrative will become conventional, it takes a sharp left turn; every time things could get boring, Beyonce or a diva totem show up to the hallelujah chorus.

Clean cut: this is worth your time and attention.

In the long form: this is the opening fanfare for a creator that we’re going to see a lot of great work from in the future. In this book, Eric Kostiuk Williams showcases a borderline awe-inspiring art skill, and a confidence of voice that matches. Your mileage may, of course, vary — these are the stories of a queer youth figuring out how to navigate his own life. This is either a selling point or a diving board. You’ll maybe make a snap decision, straight-up, whether or not to buy it, based on the content. The question I’d ask is: do you like good comics? If you answered yes, buy this. You’ll be as excited for what comes next as I am. 

You can buy The Collected Hungry Bottom by following this link.

Follow Eric on Twitter.

Ten years from now, you’re not going to look back on how well you argued on the Internet.


The elevator doesn’t move any faster if you hit the elevator button over and over again. The smoke doesn’t fill the air any less if you try to stop breathing. Bang on the windows, they won’t break. These are bulletproof, made in some suburb of Philadelphia, little gems.

- - - - -

He set the fire in the basement when he decided he had nowhere to go and nothing to do that was better than setting a fire in a basement.

- - - - -

First, the smoke made its way to accounting. A blond-haired intern jumped to action. She asked about oxygen masks, escape plans, breakable windows. Her direct boss shrugged and mentioned the new windows. “They’re from this place west of Philly,” he said, “Sturdy!” He sent her to take care of an elderly employee, hard of hearing and smell.

He was sitting at his desk, crying.

"I haven’t heard this well in twenty-five years. I’m listening to Klimt. You’re telling me the god damn building is on fire?"

He forgot, after long, what he was irritated about.

The blond intern, a fire drill lover in her youth, a lifeguard in her adulthood, guided everyone to the stairs with great calm and poise. She grabbed the heaviest thing she could find (a three-hole punch from the elderly employee’s desk) in case things needed breaking; you never can tell.

- - - - -

In escrow, a man was mouthing the word ‘perspicacity’ over and over. A date from three nights ago said it to him, when he was talking about his boss’ answers for everything. “I don’t get it. You ask him half a question, he’s answering you. I’ve been at the job twice as long — “

"Perspicacity."

"Gesundheit."

He wanted to say it so much that it sounded weird. He realized it’s hard to do that with a word as weird as perspicacity.

He slept with that date. She thought he was funny. Her chest was covered in surgical scars. “Cancer. Cancers,” she said, in a smoker’s rasp. “You can touch them. I don’t mind.”

He touched them. It made him feel uneasy. She gave him crabs.

He was scratching his pubic hair and mouthing the word ‘perspicacity’ and thinking about the scars from her surgeries from her cancers and the smell of the smoke hit him. He thought of the house fire; his youth; his pyromaniac, dead little brother. He had a panic attack.

His boss came through. “Alright, everybody to the stairs. I think that jagoff finally set something in the basement on fire.” And then: “You alright? Breathe slow. I think you’re having a panic attack. You’re gonna be alright. We need to get you — guys, let him go first, he’s — “

- - - - -

At least one person on every floor (minus accounting) was having a panic attack, anxiety attack, or nervous fit. People hit each other on the head. There was crying, laughing, hysterical shouting; one woman dropped to the floor and gave another guy — not paying attention, headphones on, blasting death metal — she gave the guy a drop-toehold and when he hit the ground, he broke his headphones and three of his teeth. Everyone behaved like animals. Everyone behaved like the building was on fire. Everybody tapped the elevator call button, and they tapped it, and they tapped it. The elevator didn’t come.

- - - - -

He was on the elevator, holding the lighter, which he intended to throw into the river. He was then going to open his wallet, throw all of his non-important plastic into the river along with the lighter and maybe his work-shirt, and then walk to the bar. Once at the bar, he was going to order a black rose, and then a screwdriver, and then — depending on the quality of the first — another black rose. Maybe a water, in between. He figured that’d get him drunk enough to turn himself in or talk to his wife.

- - - - -

Most everyone survived. Mostly, they just had panic attacks (and etc.) and hit each other (and etc.)

"Even the cleanest of assholes stink a little bit. That’s how you know you’re alive."

I didn’t want to write about Stray Bullets until the Uber Alles and issue #41 were in my hands. That happened. David Lapham held up his end of the bargain. Now, it’s my turn.

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I just realized I haven’t posted this, so I figured I’d go ahead and do that. There’ll be a follow-up post soonish about favorite cuts, things I’d do differently, and general reflections. Until then, here’s a giant list of short stories. 365, to be exact.

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