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BIO

Robert Sergel was born in Boston, MA in 1982. He has a degree in Photo & Imaging from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In the mid-2000’s he was a member of the web comic collective TRANSPLANT. He now draws the Ignatz-nominated comic series ESCHEW, a portion of which was featured in the 2011 Best American Comics anthology. He currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

IN THE EMPORIUM

Rob’s comics can be found in the Secret Acres Emporium here.


IN PRAISE OF ROBERT SERGEL

Sergel (Space) returns to the theme of confused adolescence in this entertaining graphic novella, presented in precise, high-contrast black-and-white drawings. The trouble begins with middle schooler Cole reading aloud to his classroom from his report on the Bald Knobbers, gangs of masked men who dispensed vigilante justice in 1880s Missouri. An impressionable sort, Cole reveals his admiration: “They were kind of like comic book heroes.” His report continues as background narration for Cole’s outside-the-classroom activity: donning a homemade Bald Knobber mask to mete out his own brand of petty vengeance against perceived enemies, which include his divorcing parents, a school bully, and his mother’s new boyfriend. (Cole empties used cat litter into the boyfriend’s cereal box.) Not unexpectedly, Cole’s acting out results in much conflict, and justice is not served. Though the true extent of his transgressions is left ambiguous, the story ends with the suggestion that any lessons Cole may have learned are not necessarily taken deeply to heart: “Everyone tried to be more civil… because they had to be.” Sergel’s visuals skillfully juxtapose the heated emotions of the story with the posed, deadpan quality of his characters, loading this snappy, pocket-sized parable with equal amounts of drollery and poignancy—and just a touch of menace.

– Publishers Weekly

There’s more packed in this deceptively small book than seems readily apparent. Bald Knobber isn’t a particularly violent book, in that the only real fighting is between grade school kids, but it’s set in the shadow of violence. There’s something intrinsically absurd about gangs of masked men going to war against one another, especially so when we’re discussing actual human beings from our own country’s actual history. The uncomfortable truth with which Bald Knobber leaves the reader is the assertion that much of this country’s history is the history of violence smoothed over not by justice but by time. (Hint: Google the real Bald Knobbers after you read the book and see if any of the names jump out at you.) …The sense of rigid claustrophobia emanating from shabby circumstances saturated with ambient violence seems very much of the moment, and the current moment perhaps closer to the circumstances of the original Bald Knobbers than we’d care to comment.

– The Comics Journal

What’s surprising is that Sergel is able to put an unexpected spin at the end of the tale of dysfunction. One of the aspects missing from Cole’s investigation into and retelling of a historical event is the understanding that history has a perspective and that often reflects the agenda of the person or group doing the retelling. In many cases, this has caused history to be injected with the dichotomy of good versus evil, of parsing out moral aspects to the different sides and therefore creating the political divisions that sustain American anger. But Sergel’s ultimate solution is to turn away from that binary and look beyond the surface on all sides. Which doesn’t mean he lessens the power of Cole’s hurt, but instead widens the possibilities in the emotional give and take that’s portrayed. I’m sure the Bald Knobbers were actually pretty complicated too.

– Comics Beat

The weaving of the two stories works brilliantly. We feel Cole’s desperation, made so much bigger by the context of a whole country in post-war dissolution. Divorce, Sergel suggests, is a battleground, with kids as the losers. What makes Cole unique in the wide range of books about unhappy divorces is the historical lens he uses to explain his world. Taking a fringe story from the 1880s that isn’t widely known, Sergel gives Cole an expressive depth beyond the usual teen angst.

– New York Journal of Books

Sergel’s visuals fall in the same school as Nick Drnaso and Chris Ware (simple lines, marginal facial detail), but he shies away from positioning his characters to directly face the reader, a device from talking-head-style documentaries. Instead, his framing concentrates on creative cropping: a close-up of a hand reaching out from water to suggest drowning, a shot of a coaxial cable connected to convey anticipation, a shoelace being stepped on so the protagonist notices his shoes are untied. Often, the narrative revolves around a single character, so this focus on details shows where Sergel’s attention is going, a method of communicating the subjectivity of experience without spelling it out. Form serves function beautifully.

– Paste Magazine, The 25 Best Comics of 2016 (So Far)

Robert Sergel’s tableau-like panels and high contrast, precise lines seem perfectly civilized on the surface, while ruthlessly recording the moments of discomfort, humiliation, disquiet, and awkwardness endemic to the human condition. By turns funny, thoughtful, poignant, and humane, his comics are a real delight to the eye, too.

– Rob Kirby, Rob’s 6th Annual Top 20 Comics List: The 2016 Edition

The naturalistic but deadpan drawings combined with the crisp and thin nature of Sergel’s line made for a “cool” reading experience in the McLuhan sense. The drawings are restrained in every way, especially emotionally, as Sergel forces the reader to pay close attention to what is being said and done in order to pick up cues as to what’s really going on. It’s a smart decision, because the strips in this book are actually packed with emotional trauma, anger, and bitter resentment.

It’s also frequently quite funny, like the strip where a guy eats lobster’s brains and says “I know things”. Another example is “The Talk,” where the book’s protagonist (as a kid) asks his father about sex. His father, watching a baseball game, doesn’t even bother looking away from it as he says “It’s when a man puts his penis into a woman’s vagina.” That’s followed by the boy asking his dad to explain the infield fly rule.

– Rob Clough, High-Low

The influence of films, newspapers, music, and social scenes take a strong position in Sergel’s work giving a sense of life lived and the detached moments that stay with us as a kind of narrative memory of ourselves. Sergel’s clear lines and frequent use of solid, dark backgrounds make for a refreshing read and also have an unassuming quality that draws the reader in to participate in the storytelling. Thematically, he also leaves unusual moments of contemplation in the character’s life open to interpretation, leaving the door open for big concepts to creep in.

– Hannah Means-Shannon, The Beat

“Eschew” means “to avoid,” but don’t you dare do that to Robert Sergel’s ESCHEW #2. This black-and-white anthology goes for the absurd, more often than not, starting with “Flying Squirrel,” in which a squirrel indeed flies, but unwittingly so. It’s wordless, save for one laugh-aloud line at the end. Two pages are devoted to people’s faces, under the heading “Sex Offenders Who Live Near Me.” In other pieces, the author recalls the history of “My Famous Grey Sweatshirt” and remembers a Super Nintendo-laden incident with a friend that ended with … well, you just have to see it. And you’re an asshole if you laugh. Like I did.

– Rod Lott, Bookgasm

Simplicity is the key to this comic’s success. Sergel uses a stark, bold style that reminds me a bit of John Hankiewicz’s line, minus the cross-hatching. Sergel uses a clear, thin line in all of his work, and gives it depth in some strips by contrasting it with a lot of blacks and lightness in others by removing blacks altogether. The stories are funny vignettes that appear to be autobiographical, with “Thirteen Bad Experiences Involving Water” being the centerpiece of the issue. There’s a dry sense of humor in each strip as Sergel never forces a punchline or ever uses a funny drawing; indeed, the source info for the gags is often in the title of the strip.

– Rob Clough, High Low

I keep coming back to Sergel’s panel arrangements, those carefully crafted static images that meter out his stories with the precision of a metronome. The beauty of Sergel’s work lies in its careful use of layout and timing; in its formalisation of the everyday, transforming the mundane into a series of taught parallel lines and carefully crafted geometric forms…

It’s always a pleasure to see comics executed with this level of care and attention, and with Eschew Sergel has provided us with yet another fine example of their ability to communicate deep and meaningful experiences.
– Matt Dick, Exquisite Things

Robert Sergel’s comics always amaze me. For work that’s clearly so photo-referential, there’s still something in the form of the art that tricks my mind into thinking maybe it’s NOT photo-referential. The people and landscapes and interiors all look so real and well-proportioned, yet alive, as though there is a perfect cartoony version of our normal world out there and Sergel’s comics are more like a snapshot of that world than they are a reflection of ours. Perhaps this comes as a result of referencing a complete shot, instead of merely referencing a person in a shot, but whatever the method, I find the results truly lovely and unique.

– Sarah Morean, The Daily Crosshatch

I don’t know why this series and Robert Sergel aren’t catching more buzz! Or maybe they are and I am just not jacked in (possible but unlikely, as I have my finger on the pulse of today’s youth). Anyway, Eschew offers nice tidy art, nice dry humor, and nice dreary atmosphere. In return, I offer my full endorsement, whether or not that means anything to you.

– Minty Lewis, author of PS Comics

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