John Brodowski grew up in an “utterly unremarkable” New England town. Unfortunately this is also where he currently lives. During his brain’s most crucial developmental period he enjoyed watching many, many horror movies such as Rawhead Rex, Death Race 2000, and The Toxic Avenger. He also enjoyed staying up very late and eating 10 packs of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. JB is currently battling a Pepsi addiction but can’t seem to make comics without it. Bottom Line: If you like the movie Cyborg starring Jean-Claude Van Damme then you should buy these comics.
What were the best comic books of the last year? Dan Nadel, founder of the PictureBox publishing house, lists his favourites …
Way out in North America, in the countryside past the suburbs, near a forest near a lake, John Brodowski has planted his Curio Cabinet (Secret Acres). Each story in this collection maintains a perfectly reasonable veneer until, for example, an enormous dog paw descends from the heavens and slaps a man out of a car, or a menacing Loch Ness Monster is hailed by a hard-rocking Judas Priest. This is a book in which a doppelganger of the old Friday the 13th villain Jason Vorhees, he of the hockey mask, appears again and again, like a totem, achieving a weirdly peaceful mythos by the end. And yet it all seems so ordinary in Brodowski’s methodical, carefully shaded panels, each unravelling just so, patiently waiting for us to give in to his logic. All of this is to say: I can’t think of a better metaphysical horror comic in recent memory.
– The Economist: More Intelligent Life
Idiosyncratic, funny, and haunting, Curio Cabinet is a laugh out loud exploration of the mysterious and mundane, where the awe inspiring is unearthed and revealed, often without warning, from the detritus of modern life. There is nothing else like it. In Brodowski’s hands, content and style come together to create a surprisingly layered, rich, singular work, revealing an artist in deft control of his form. One of the best young cartoonists to emerge in years.
- Sammy Harkham
Like the other books Secret Acres publishes, Curio Cabinet is the result of a cartoonist with a vision that doesn’t neatly conform to underground, genre or typical alt-comics sensibilities. Curio Cabinet is informed by pop culture detritus in terms of its form and inspiration, but Brodowski takes that juvenilia and creates something strange, beautiful and memorable. It’s a comic that must be approached on its own terms, because while the images and stories can be teased for meaning with a little effort, Brodowski not only doesn’t spell it out, he understands that spelling it out would destroy the effect he’s going for: that sense of full immersion in fantasy, following it to its furthest ends.
– Rob Clough, The Comics Journal
Every day throughout the month of December, Attentiondeficitdisorderly will spotlight one of the best comics of 2010. Today’s comic is Curio Cabinet by John Brodowski, published by Secret Acres — quietly ecstatic horror.
I’ve been writing about the similarity between the horrific and the sublime for (God help me) over a decade now, but its rare for me to come across a comic that makes that connection as frequently and as subtly as John Brodowski’s Curio Cabinet. While reading it I located squarely in the increasingly rich contemporary alt-horror tradition–the deformed figures and soft pencils of Renee French, the heavy-metal/D&D imagery of Lane Milburn, the mostly wordless narratives of (to my delight!) almost too many talented horror cartoonists to list. And yes, there’s even the de rigeur cat-torturing scene. But only in flipping through the book in preparation to write this review did I realize just how many of Brodowski’s short, creepy stories end with their alternately hapless or horrifying protagonists gazing into a vista of vast natural or even cosmic splendor. Two separate characters who have very different nature-based obsessions both end up immersed in the great outdoors, staring off into the distance–as does a lake monster after unleashing its full destructive power on a battlefield. Two other characters–one the victim of a monster-induced car wreck, the other none other than Jason Voorhees–become a part of titanic outer-space tableaux: Jason is cradled by his mother Pieta-style in the sky, the accident victim welcomed into the embrace of a colossal dog-god. Several stand-alone images, most memorably a series of illustrations from the old anti-Semitic myth cycle of the Wandering Jew, take on a similarly ecstatic, transcendental feel. The message is both troubling and comforting: It implies a connection between the individual horrors we experience and the very fabric of existence, yet it also suggests that perhaps an enlightenment is possible whereby this waking nightmare can be appreciated, if never fully understood. More like this, please.
– Sean T. Collins, Attentiondeficitdisorderly
Curio Cabinet by John Brodowski is really terrifying, nightmarish and good. It’s smart and weird and everything I hope for when I got to pick up my mail at the PO Box.
– Kevin Huizenga
John Brodowski’s first two comics are drawn in lush pencils, the perfect medium in which to depict the dullness of suburbia and its inhabitants: grotesque families, D&D-inspired monsters, and passionate squirrel-men.
The stories in these books are very cinematic. The opening piece in Curio Cabinet #1, “Grandfather’s Clock,” reminded me of David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Like that film, its subject is a mysterious reproduction: A fiddler performing on stage creates a cloud of musical notes, two of which engage in some kind of intercourse, resulting in the birth of the protagonist. The mutated family, music incarnate, is observed eating a meal and communicating in musical-note filled speech balloons. The cute musical-note-headed hero visits the fiddler (his grandfather?) in the hospital … the end. This story has its own logic and doesn’t stoop to explain itself, leaving the reader with a generous amount of dark graphite images to ponder.
A series of drawings follow that deepen and darken the mood, depicting incursions of sci-fi weirdness into playgrounds and backyards. These remind me of Steven Spielberg or the photos of Gregory Crewdson, in which the burbs are invaded by inexplicable, supernatural forces. It’s a familiar device, but these drawings are very funny.
The book ends with another memorable and wordless tale. A picnicker is plucked up by a massive wolf-headed bird, much to his girlfriend’s chagrin. The bird files the man to a mountain in the clouds to do battle with two of the most gnarly characters ever seen outside of Napoleon Dynamite’s sketchbook.
The second issue of Curio Cabinet contains a long tale about a man’s obsession with squirrels, and a series of short strips starring Jason from the Friday the 13th movies. It is only slightly less perfect than issue #1, and is also highly recommended.
– Matthew Thurber, Comics Comics
Top 50 Books of 2010
8. Curio Cabinet, by John Brodowski (Secret Acres). Here’s my original review. To quote that review: “[Curio Cabinet is] series of stories where quiet moments quickly become outrageous and horrific in a way that is frequently ecstatic, and outrageous moments unexpectedly become calm and contemplative.” Like much of alt-comics horror, this book works on a number of levels, not the least of which is as comedy.
- Rob Clough, High-Low
Brodowski’s tastes for trinket collecting, gas station kitsch, 80′s horror and action movies, heavy metal, and rural Vermont get tossed in the blender and Curio Cabinet is the result. Brodowski has developed a signature drawing style that relies on pencil shading and leaves out the ink all together. The Curio Cabinet book by Secret Acres collects the self-published Curio Cabinet 1-4 plus some extra goodies. Each issue is a collection of short segments, with very little text or dialog, and other random drawings. Some of the pieces have the essence of a narrative, which is usually a very small segment of time or some psychedelic transformation. Browdowski has a real knack for expanding a moment and lingering on the details within. There is a really interesting tension between the hints of narrative and the refusal to lay it all out in some easily understood fashion. Basically, I think a lot of readers could mistake these short segments as not making any sense and not saying anything, but most of these segments do have some sort of logic to them, even if it is an inside joke and difficult to decode. Curio Cabinet really relies on reading the images, noticing small differences and having a twisted sense of humor. There is a continuing segment called “Cus Mommy Says So” which chronicles the loneliness John imagines for Jason from the Friday the 13th movies. Most of the other tales are short one-offs. Look for tales of a suicidal axe, a man who want to become a squirrel, teen dweeb metal heads, the joys of building a fort in the woods, and other weirdness that is too hard to put into words and best just experienced.
- League of Comics Librarians
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!