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. I Will Bite You! and Other Stories, a Secret Acres collection, was nominated for the LA Times Book Prize for Best Graphic Novel. Joe’s Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller (Hyperion), was the winner of the 2013 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.
IN THE EMPORIUM
Joe’s comics can be found in the Secret Acres Emporium here.
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
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