Joseph Lambert is a graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies. He lives in Vermont with his wife and dog. His comic “Turtle Keep it Steady!” was published in Houghton Mifflin’s The Best American Comics 2008, for which he also designed the endpapers. His illustrations have appeared in Business Week, Popular Mechanics, 7Days, The Comics Journal and many other publications.
LA Times Book Prize Finalist Spotlight: I Will Bite You! by Joseph Lambert…
Joseph Lambert‘s debut graphic novel I Will Bite You! And Other Stories (published by Secret Acres) presents a set of short stories from a rising star exploring childlike perspectives. It has won the 2011 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Collection and Outstanding Artist. Some of the work originally appeared in mini-comics created and/or edited by Lambert. The Comics Journal‘s Rob Clough has named some of those mini-comics the best of 2010 (#21: Everyday) and 2011 (#4: Sundays: Forever Changes, #13: Too Far, #14: Kids). Lambert has also been recognized in several editions of the annual America’s Best Comics anthology, and was spotlighted by its editor Jessica Abel here. He’s a 2008 graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, where some of his short stories were published in the local alt weekly newspaper Seven Days.
Despite all of that, Lambert is almost definitely the most obscure pick among this year’s Graphic Novel finalists. Because most of his work has appeared in mini-comics until now, he’s under a lot of people’s radar. So this could be a significant win for someone so new to the game. It could also give a nice promotional push for his upcoming release Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, a graphic novella aimed at younger readers.
He’s an exciting newcomer that almost surely has his best work ahead of him based on the promise he’s exhibited so far. And that’s no slight on the work in I Will Bite You! or any of his other current material. His sublime illustrations are unafraid to play with colors, form and the narrative convention of comics without losing any appeal and accessibility. Just check out his stunning use of colors and childlike discovery in the story “Fall,” available to read online.
- Corey Blake, The Comics Observer
2011′s Best Comics and Graphic Novels
In one of several surreal tales collected in I Will Bite You! (Secret Acres, 128 pp., $14), artist and writer Joseph Lambert pays homage to the dance scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas with a joyful spectrum of creatures boogalooing to a stoic turtle’s steady drumbeats. Beautifully hand-wrought typography and palpable emotions propel Lambert’s wildly imaginative scenarios into the turbulent slipstream that entwines our era’s pop culture and high art.
- R. C. Baker, The Village Voice
- John Martz, Drawn
Joseph Lambert’s highly anticipated first book, I Will Bite You!, doesn’t disappoint. Beautifully drawn and told, dreamlike stories of childhood fantasy, but intended for adults. Grim and deep, their virtual wordlessness gives them, if anything, even more primal impact. I remember reading that one of them, “Turtle Keep it Steady”, was a school assignment to retell the story of the tortoise and the hare. It’s brilliantly crazy.
- Doug Smith, Smith Orbit
Terry Gilliam knew a thing or two about recycling myths and fables to his own advantage when he produced those now-legendary animations as part of the Monty Python team. Using stock figures from illuminated versions of The Canterbury Tales, Aesop’s fables and assorted religious texts allowed him to subvert these icons and symbols in surreal and parodic ways. It’s this work that is immediately called to mind when looking at the work of Joseph Lambert.
His debut collection of short comics, I Will Bite You!, assembles various works that span from the artist’s studies at CCS to the present day. Although Gilliam appears to be a heavy influence here, Lambert’s aims are entirely different. He uses the symbols of myth to produce work that has a timeless, resonant quality — even, in one of the collection’s highlights, going so far as to update one of Aesop’s classic tales.
The moralizing Greek is never far away in the other stories. Personified suns and moons loom ominously over the characters in the strip “Everyday” and the title story. In the latter tale, a Kirby-faced boy (with a tail, no less) does exactly what the title threatens — all the while watched over by two mischievous suns. Like the gods of the past, they interfere directly with the angry child’s life, tormenting and provoking him further. Unlike the fables, though, it is they who learn a lesson through suffering. In this increasingly secular age, the story reflects the paradigm shift between believers and their gods.
That all this is done without any words (only a chaotic crayon scribble in a speech balloon to signify the child’s rage) underscores the universal quality of Lambert’s comics. There is a beautiful formalism at work in these pages that functions thematically as well as expositionally. In “I Will Bite You!” the suns always occupy the top tier of panels — a comfortable gutter between them and the humans (monsters? aliens?) below. When our frustrated protagonist finally turns against his tormentors, it’s with a breaking of convention and the fourth wall of the comics page. This is a recurring trademark of Lambert’s work — the marauding child-eaters (they’re sinister enough without resorting to the label “paedophage”) reassemble sound-effects and speech bubbles to cover their tracks in “After School Snacks” or the seemingly corporeal sounds of the music in “Mom Said” which we see billowed around in the evening breeze.
Lambert’s approach to comics is remarkably physical. Although he has a post-modern awareness that these stories are simply lines on paper, there is a clear investment in the surreal worlds he builds that makes them convincing, concrete and complete. His experimental ideas are interesting enough to mark him as a stand-out among the recent glut of young cartoonists, and his linework self-assured enough to give an iconic trademark to his storytelling. And some of it is truly stunning. The strip “(Caveman)” presents some beautiful prehistoric visuals as two cavemen ape the myths of Icarus and Prometheus, and touch the face of a god.
That he has only just begun his career in comics (with many of the pieces collected here being reprints of Lambert’s self-published minicomics), there would appear to be great things ahead for Joseph Lambert. What awaits with his sophomore work should be interesting to follow, as this debut has already set the bar rather high.
- Gavin Lees, Graphic Eye
Reading I Will Bite You! makes me think that Joseph Lambert’s best work is ahead of him. It’s obvious that he is a highly skilled and imaginative cartoonist as well as a top-notch draftsman. He’s in total command of the page, flipping between nuanced naturalism and crazed, cartoony expressionism with great ease — sometimes in the space of the same panel. He is a natural for receiving the Secret Acres treatment, getting top-notch design and production values from the wonderful publishing concern of Leon Avelino and Barry Matthews…
…This book is a collection of short stories, mostly collected from his minicomics. The earliest comics he did have the feel of extended style exercises. For example, “Turtle, Keep It Steady!” is a delightful class assignment from his time at the Center for Cartoon Studies that’s a retelling of the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Here, the contest between the two is musical, as both animals are drummers. Turtle plays a steady, minimalist beat on a small drum kit, while the wild Hare comes along with a big, meaty sound that draws the crowd to him–until he gets drunk and distracted, and the steadfast Turtle wins the musicians’ battle. Lambert does a fine job evoking music by depicting notes as vibratory lines. This is a wonderfully whimsical little tale, which owes a lot to the clever way he solves storytelling problems. This story won him early notice, and was included in a volume of Best American Comics…
Contrast that with “After School Snacks”, a story that at once is more inventive and intimate. It’s a scatological tale of two kids in danger from two hungry & grotesque monsters, and Lambert introduces just enough small character detail to get the reader interested in their fates. At its heart, as in the aforementioned stories, it’s about the emotions, fears, and fantasies of children writ large (in this case, the fear of having to defecate far away from home as well as being unable to communicate with one’s parent). Lambert has always had a clever way of incorporating lettering into his storytelling, wherein the letters themselves are not only decorative and informative, but are also part of the raw stuff of the narrative itself. In this story, the monsters literally twist the words of the children to turn screams of alarm into reassuring conversation, so as to prevent being discovered by a parent. One of the best things about the story is that the children beat the monsters by being even more disgusting than they are.
“Too Far” mines similar territory but is far more raw emotionally. Here, the feelings of one young teenage boy are literally outsized, and the experience of a particular emotion makes him remember every other time he felt that emotion simultaneously. Lambert’s manner of depicting this is clever, with a radial series of images not unlike the trails of an acid trip, and a distinct yellow & black color pattern. That fear then manifests even more dramatically when he is threatened by his father, causing him to devour him and then the entire world (eschatological escalation is a common story device in Lambert’s work). The twist here is that Lambert shows us life inside the devourer, as whole societies spring up, until one day a descendant of his brother makes a journey to speak to the devouring boy. This casual exchange is the most extended sequence of pure emotion to be found in the book, and the fact that this is a more recent story speaks well of the direction Lambert may be heading in.
- Rob Clough, The Comics Journal
I first encountered Joseph Lambert’s work in The Best American Comics 2008, which reprinted his wonderful wordless minicomic “Turtle Keep it Steady.” That story also appears in I Will Bite You!, along with seven other tales by Lambert, who shows himself to be one of comics’ great new stylists.
Most of Lambert’s work has appeared in minicomics or other short-run publications, so this book from Secret Acres is a welcome publication. Most of the stories in this volume have been previously published, but few would have been seen by a broad audience. Put together, they form an impressive graphic novel that showcases a talent who I believe will make his mark on the comics scene in the years to come.
Lambert is, in many ways, a surrealist. He excels at characters and situations that flow and shift and defy expectations. His artwork is both sketchy and precise at the same time. He also knows enough about the conventions of the comics genre to play with form and structure in a way that few older artists even try to attempt…
…As with most short-story collections, I Will Bite You! isn’t quite satisfying in terms of story, but when it comes to scope, artwork, style and promise, it stands head and shoulders above the pack.
- John R. Platt, Graphic Novel Reporter
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!