Sam Gaskin lives and works in Northampton, MA. He spends his spare time eating cereal and killing moths.
Top Fifteen Comic Books of 2011
14. 2012, by Sam Gaskin. This is Gaskin’s best work to date. This episodic comic about various end-of-the-world myths and predictions has the rhythms of excellent long-form improv, with unexpected and funny callbacks that build up to its climax. Gaskin loves to incorporate junky pop culture into his comics (the Rush Hour films) along with myths, sports, music, comic strip characters and fantasy tropes. His line has become much more assured and in service to his jokes than it was before, when it was more of a scribble. Unlike DeForge, who takes his genre work seriously in his comics, Gaskin goes strictly for laughs, albeit frequently disturbing and uncomfortable laughs.
- Rob Clough, High-Low
In his first collection, Gaskin struts his stuff in more forms than many a comics artist does these days, including one-panel gags, four-panel strips, six-panel one-pagers, several-page stories, and sketchbook outtakes, funny and not. (The only veteran cartoonist who regularly offers as much variety is Sam Henderson, whose latest Magic Whistle collection, Body Armor for Your Dignity, is reviewed in this issue.) Silliness and pop-cultural referentiality inform virtually everything Gaskin does, sometimes rather complexly.
I got so excited when I saw his name on this comic. So, for the first time in a long time, I – yes, moi – picked out my own comic this week.
I reviewed a Sam Gaskin comic once before – I feel like it was his first, but I could be wrong about that. It was certainly my fist Sam Gaskin comic, and I recall that not only did I love it, but it was the comic that made me understand why people like comics as a medium. That’s a pretty big deal!
I was delighted to read something else by him, and even more delighted that it turned out to be such a great comic book! I have to say that, yes, somewhere in some part of my brain I keep the information that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, and well….we’re mid 2011, so I’ve been able to use that as an excuse for all kinds of horrible choices and laziness. I’m a fan of endings, or at least what the options
they’ve given my life.
Now, I’ve read and seen books of all kinds deal with any number of creation stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen–and certainly never read–any books that gather up all the varying end-of-world stories, be they real, embellished or imagined. (Being a Jew means we get to skip Revelations, but I’ve that described as being “totally balls out”.) Catching up with a prophecy, even ones as clearly fictionalized as these was a lot of fun! I never thought I’d have so much fun reading about the possible ending of the world.
Gaskin riffs off of a multitude of philosophies and end-of-the-world hypotheses with everyone from Roy Orbision to Nostradamus, from the Hopi Indians to a horny Dracula over to the duo from Rush Hour. (I’ve left out a bunch of others intentionally because hey, I don’t want to totally spoil it for you, right?) It’s clever, hilarious, AND he finds a way to tie them all together into one great 2012, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario.
What I find really, really cool about this too, is that with every new story/scenario there was a different look to the art. Sometimes it’s minor, but it’s always there. Now that’s cool right? It gives each story tangent a distinctive look. The story ends up not only being told by the action within the panels, but in how each of the characters and setting get drawn. It’s cool to see that tone – and I mean tone in terms of, like, tone of voice – could change by changing the art. (Obviously, it isn’t simple to have that variation, but that’s part of why I like Sam’s comics so much. He makes what must be difficult to come upon seem like an obvious choice that anyone could do, and yet I don’t believe for a second that very many people could have done what he does here.)
At first, I felt like I might not be smart enough to review this. But then I realized that it wasn’t intelligence that I was thinking about, but the results of my intelligence–meaning I thought that this was a
comic worthy of a great review, a review that would make people want to read it and experience it and laugh at it as much as I did. I wanted to be able to write the sort of thing that could compare and
contrast it to other artists and comics in ways that would make people want to read along with me.
I figured out what all those feelings meant, eventually. It just meant that I am a Sam Gaskin fan.
And that I think you should be, too.
- Nina Stone, The Factual Opinion
Offbeat, quirky, and hilarious are just three adjectives that can be used to describe Fatal Faux-Pas. Samuel C. Gaskin’s collection of drawings is a non-stop assault on one’s funny bone as he viciously lampoons society with simple yet effective art and prose. Fatal Faux-Pas is a must for anyone looking for a good laugh.
- Mid-west Review of Books: Bookwatch
Apparently I was a bit wishy washy with the review for Sam’s mini, the contents of which are mostly included in this collection. So why, if that’s the case. do I have such unreserved love for this collection? Eh, I’m a mass of contradictions, what can I say. It’s also going to be tough figuring out what it is I love about this so much, as it’s a mass of unconnected stories, gags and strips, some tiny, some not so much. The uniting force behind this, the thing that made me laugh so many times, was the sheer absurbism on display. Spider-Man wondering if Dr. Octopus is squeezing or hugging him, for example, is an image that either makes you smile or it doesn’t. Ditto with a series of four page gag strips involving The Fonz, the series of Faux-Pasta strips involving things that aren’t pasta, theories on what’s inside of Oscar’s trash can, and the drama of being a cat (with an indispensible set of drawings of a cat freaking out). When the worst you can say about a book is that not every page was hilarious, well, chances are it’s a pretty great book. This book is right around a hundred pages and full of things that you’ll enjoy discovering for yourself, so I’m not going to ruin anything by revealing the use of tacos as digging implements.
- Optical Sloth
Fatal Faux-Pas, a collection of strips, drawings, jokes and other odds and ends is a lot more scattershot in its effect–partly by design. This collection really has that blender effect mentioned above, where the reader has no idea what’s coming next. Not every joke scores a hit and not every page even necessarily contains a joke or coherent idea, but once again his total commitment to his aesthetic approach somehow raises his work above the level of mere homage (or rip-off). Gaskin switches between a sort of crude sketchbook immediacy to a more refined approach in his visuals, which matches the nature of his gags. His simple gags about “Faux-Pasta” are an example of the former, starting from a bad pun (shoelaces instead of pasta) and going to complete dada territory (mistaking a brick for pasta). “My Kinski” is an example of the latter, a densely layered and visually extreme strip about a director who tries to channel Werner Herzog that may be the funniest story I’ve read this year. Gaskin is clearly in a phase of his career where he’s rapidly cycling through his influences. Fatal Faux-Pas reads like Gaskin just spent a year doing nothing but reading great comics and then drawing as a response to them. He has already started to develop his own voice and simply needs to keep following his instincts and continue to expand his range of approaches.
- Rob Clough
This isn’t a comic you will have to go to a convention to track down–it’s on Amazon–but it seems like the sort of amazing discovery you read about people making at shows like SPX. Actually, it seems like several amazing discoveries put together, as Gaskin works in a number of veins. There’s heavily ironic, pop-culture referencing strips, sketches, avant-garde passages, satires of other comics (most notably John Porcellino’s King Cat), and a couple of longer, funny stories as well. Those two stories probably are my favorite out of everything in the book, but they’re really nothing alike. The first, “My Kinski,” deals with a mainstream filmmaker who decides to make an “independent” film by copying the worst excesses of Werner Herzog. The latter, “Escape,” is the story of someone escaping from prison; maybe it’s because I recently read Boy’s Club, but I found it somewhat reminiscent of Matt Furie, especially a scene in which the protagonist eats the filling out of a taco. The very loose plot primarily serves as a venue for Gaskin’s humor, much of which involves grotesque/surreal body manipulation. “My Kinski,” however, has a much tighter pace, delivering precise gags intended to highlight the absurdity of the situation. I thought both these stories were pretty funny, which speaks well for Gaskin’s range as a cartoonist. Perhaps even more impressive was the success of the strips referencing pop culture. I generally hate this kind of humor, especially if it’s the lazy, Seth MacFarlane-ish recognition humor. (You know, “Hey, do you remember old toothpaste commercials? So do I! Awesome!”) These were much funnier, not entirely reliant on the reader’s familiarity with pop culture artifact (with the possible exception of the Harry Potter/Black Sabbath strip, which probably makes no sense at all if you aren’t familiar with Sabbath and at least one other band (I won’t spoil who), and which is probably even better if you are more familiar with Harry Potter than I am; my wife, who is familiar with both Harry Potter and Black Sabbath, seemed to really like it). I was especially impressed with the Saved By the Bell strip. I’ve never seen an episode of the show, and my knowledge of it is limited to knowing that Screech is the one who is a nerd. But Gaskin keeps my interest with some pretty clever formal play and off-kilter execution (for instance, all the speech balloons snake around, the tails exiting the speaker’s mouth in a somewhat unsettling way). And it was still funny. Fatal Faux-Pas has a very tossed-off feel to it, the more developed strips sitting alongside sketchbook material and short, hastily-drawn comics. I guess you could interpret this approach in two ways: you could think of this as a hint of Gaskin’s potential, or you could appreciate its loopy, eclectic charm. I’m kind of in the latter camp, even though I thought the more polished material was generally much stronger. So I guess I do expect greater things form Samuel Gaskin in the future, but there’s plenty here to enjoy right now. If you appreciate the work of Michael Kupperman or Sam Henderson, or possibly even CF or James Kochalka, you’ll find Fatal Faux-Pas well worth your time.
- Dick Hyacinth
The first thing that got me was the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” passage, which was an autobiographical tale. I love that, in a matter of frames and very few words, I learned about an entire relationship, an entire summer, and its impact. And yet it’s so quiet. It reminds me of Anders Nilson (and there goes my fear of having nothing to compare this to), whose stuff I love. This quietness within the art, the leaving space for emotion and/or contemplation, if one so chooses to experience those things, is really beautiful. And let me tell you what, too — I laughed out loud while reading this book. No, not out loud at home. Out loud. On the train. Several times. See, that’s when you know something is really funny – when one’s normal sense of self-consciousness (and self preservation) is thrown off like a dirty shirt, in the name of humor.
- The Factual Opinion
The bulk of it all makes Fatal Faux-Pas so great. The tireless string of groaners and pale artistry would seem lame if they’d been parsed out into minis, but Secret Acres has helped pull together Sam Gaskin’s gags, parodies and non sequiturs into something substantially giggle-worthy. It’s so bad it’s gone back to good again. Like a Dad Joke. Or memories of adolescence.
- Sarah Morean, The Daily Crosshatch
Who or what or where is your FAVORITE: COMIC BOOK ARTIST?
Stephen R. Bissette: Sam Gaskin
IN THE EMPORIUM
What happens when Bigfoot meets the Breeders? Why, our Scuttlebutt TCAF wrap-up, of course! You'd think we were kidding, but we're not. If it weren't for Bigfoot, we'd never had gotten to meet the Breeders and see them play Last Splash front to back way up in Toronto. This has nothing to do with comics, but then most of what happens at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival has nothing to do with comics. It's really about the dancing. And the singing. And the topless singing. Worry not, we did get Capacity 8 unboxed and there were no border issues for anyone (except for Casey). We even made it to our panel, first thing Saturday morning. That may have been perfect timing, because it was something like Between Two Ferns meets group therapy. We're lucky bastards, for sure, but we missed the Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon, singing Bette Midler's the Rose (and, no, he was not topless). If any of you have video of this, or pictures of Drawn and Quarterly's jean vests, please, oh, please get back to us. Read on...
Finally, we are hitting the asphalt for our first road trip of the year. It's a long drive to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and we are carrying some precious cargo as usual. Theo Ellsworth is being delivered via airmail, with fellow Acres Brendan Leach, Joe Lambert and Edie Fake meeting us there. Sean Ford has called shotgun, and Capacity 8 is in the boot. Capacity 8 is one of those surprise births with which we are regularly blessed here at Secret Acres. It's also the first time anyone in our gang has dropped a new story for a series that we've collected. Capacity, Theo's big, fat book, is a complete thing, for sure. The eighth issue is all new territory, but it's still all true. In a way. In that Capacity way. Oh, and we'll be kicking off first thing Saturday with a small press panel featuring pals and heroes, Koyama Press, Rebus Books and Grimalkin Press, too. This year's Acresmobile comic mule is the legendary Dash Shaw. Alas, last year's hitcher, MK Reed, is too lazy to make it to TCAF. Everyone else better be heading up - or catching Eamon Espey's Ishi's Brain show in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yeah, we're looking at you. We're standing right behind you. No, the other way. Anyhow, there's explicit instructions up on Scuttlebutt.
PEOPLE OF THE SEATTLE: Tonight's the night! Go watch Eamon Espey and Lisa Krause as they bring their show, Ishi's Brain, to Hugo House. Which is in Seattle. Ishi's Brain is based on Eamon's story of the same name from his Secret Acres collection, Songs of the Abyss. Lisa Krause is an artist and puppeteer of Bread and Puppet fame, among other things. It's quite a unique experience and pretty much beats the hell of out any old, regular reading. They are on tour all over the country, but there's something fitting about performing Ishi in Seattle. You know, because Seattle is strange and dark and there are scary woodlands and coffee. The Richard Hugo House is also something to see in itself. They have a writers' residence for zinesters (currently held by ZAPP), classes on seemingly everything, a focus on a local writing community and, of course, performances. Go. Have fun. Report back to us. Even the Stranger says to check it out. See...
Stranger things have certainly happened, but it would appear our man, Theo Ellsworth, will have not one, but two debuts at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. Yes, we will have the eighth issue of his ongoing Capacity (the first since our enormous collection of that title), but we'll tell you more about that later. Meanwhile, we knew Theo was working on a comic for an anthology, but we didn't realize it was the fourth Alternative Comics anthology. You may or may not be aware, but Alternative Comics published some truly amazing things, like Jeff Lewis' True Swamp and Steven Weissman's Yikes (yes, this was before Fantagraphics took over). Then they took some time off. Now they're back. Also included in this anthology are Alternative Comics graduate James Kochalka, this guy named Craig Thompson, the adorable Noah Van Sciver and #cybergang leader, Alex Schubert, to name a few. Get up to TCAF because it's amazing, and Theo and most of the Alternative Comics crew will be there to sign the thing. Collect them all!
On a more important note than usual: 282 Broadway is where the party has been for, well, seems like forever now. What the hell is that, you ask? It's the home address for Domino Books and Revival House and Rebus. It's known sometimes as Bill K's Place, as in Bill Kartalopoulos. Just about everyone who has ever attended or exhibited at a comics event in New York City or, hell, ever drawn a comic while in city limits, has been exhausted, high, drunk or lost in that apartment while rubbing elbows with their heroes. We've written plenty on our blog, about their comics and their parties, too. Now they're moving out. We're telling you this because these guys need a new home. Go buy some comics from them. Forget the good cause, their books are amazing and we've been seethingly jealous of their good work, so if you like us, help them and get some great stuff for yourself. Everybody wins!