Best of the Year: Jeff Newelt

Published On January 5, 2011 | By Joe Gordon | Best of the Year 2010, Comics

Today’s guest Best of the Year post comes from a man/force of nature who’s very well known in comics, especially the more daring independent sector of the comics community, spreading the good word about some cracking comics work as comics editor for Heeb, Smith and Royal Flush magazines (all of which I’m sure you’ve seen us link to many times), the editor and producer on the brilliant Pekar Project, ‘minister of hype’ at my favourite webcomics collective, Act-I-Vate and countless other mixed media and events works as producer, consultant and wizardy guru, Jeff Newelt:

FPI: Can you pick three comics/webcomics/graphic novels which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?

Jeff: It’s a testament to the current fecundity of the medium that one’s brain busts like a Gallagher’d watermelon winnowing the year’s comics down to just three best! Luckily I had a head start, so I’m not going to repeat any of the graphic novels I previously listed in my Best Comics of 5770 for HEEB Magazine and my “5 Best Damn Comics” for The Daily Cross Hatch. I also won’t repeat any of the remarkably beautiful and creative Brazilian comics I encountered at the RIO Comicon.

For FPI I chose three books I read within the past month, that individually and collectively nuked my noggin. They each transported me into the their own fully-realized utterly-immersive super-strange fictional worlds.

Powr Mastrs #3 by CF (Picture Box) – Get volumes 1, 2 and 3 of this exquisitely designed series of Moebius-meets-Yellow Submarine psychedelic sci-fi. From the first page, an expertly-realized hyper-detailed delicately-penciled vision captivates. Like Dune or the Incal or Narnia or the Mars of Paul Pope’s THB, whatever planet Powr Mastrs takes place on has internal logic and a kaliedescopic cast of nuttily compelling characters. Deceptively abstract –some pages are seemingly just geometric situations, Powr Mastrs is actually easy to get into — but one has to “listen” to those “geometric” pages like music and not fast forward one’s eyes because it seems like nothing is going on. Something is going on with every deliberate line. CF is a master draftsman and mythmaker.

(Powr Mastrs #3 by and (c) CD, published Picture Box)

If-n-Oof by Brian Chippendale (Picture Box) If Powr Mastrs is descended from Moebius & Heinz Edelmann, then If-n-Oof is like 70s Kirby by way of Gary Panter, Kamandi & Omac by way of PeeWee’s Playhouse with the visual language of action figures and vector video games thrown in. Two chums If and Oof are on a dreamlike adventure, the narrative pull of which yanks you down the rabbit hole, through a gajillion twists and turns. The dialogue is perfectly absurd “I need you to check in on subject i/6-b. I heard him having a rather strange conversation with his rug.” “Yes sir. I’ll send a soother and follow up” WTF!! Both this and PowrMastrs a must be read and not skimmed, all or nothing. If you glance at a random page, you might wrongly view these books as “abstract” or “art objects” — NO they are compelling storyworlds, but you must mindfully and sequentially explore in order to activate the potency of the brew. Like if you listen to Thelonius Monk casually, you might take his genius angular wizardry to be haphazard plonking. LISTEN! and you shall lock-in and be rewarded.

(If’n'Oof by and (c) Brian Chippendale, published Picture Box)

Death Day by Sam Hiti Equal parts Moebius & Kirby, by way of Lucas, Death Day feels like a book not about but from outer space. The first five pages… I haven’t felt so exhilaratingly unsettled by the sensation of seeing something strange & literally awesome since the first appearance of the Jawas and Sandpeople in Star Wars when I first saw the film. And the world of Death Day is certainly Tatooine-ish, but in no way is it even remotely rip-offish… its just the genetics of Hiti’s vision is apparent, but this is a entirely new fictional organism. Similar to the experience of reading Larry Marder’s Beanworld, reading Death Day one feels like one’s peering into an antfarm, the storytelling so alive, so dynamic and convincing that one feels like your watching events unfold rather than reading. Six-limbed simian-ish creatures writhe and swarm; an irascible cyborgian captain takes charge of a ragtag new X-unit to go on a commando mission for the black orb! So good.

SketchVid from Joe Midthun on Vimeo.

Another standout graphic novel that sent me to another world, but I didn’t include above because I’m a “contributing editor,” is Tribes: The Dog Years (IDW) by writers Michael Geszel / SoulCraft Comics and Peter Spinetta and artist Inaki Miranda. The story in which a virus wiped out all adults and made it so no one can live past 21, is a classic-yet-fresh concoction with shades of Road Warrior, Akira and Lord of the Flies. Miranda’s art, coupled with Eva de la Cruz’s iridescent colouring is breathtakingly exquisite and imaginative throughout, detailed yet dynamic like John Cassaday’s who actually “blurbed” the book. The luscious landscapes, dreamy designs, and prescient widescreen layout make Tribes: The Dog Years an ideal-for-iPad graphic novel and IDW just released its first six titles for iPad, Tribes being one of them.

(scene from Tribes: the Dog Years by Michael Gesze, SoulCraft Comics, Peter Spinetta and Inaki Miranda, published IDW)

FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?

Jeff: The Extra Man by Jonathan Ames – This novel came out in 1998 but it made my list because a new paperback was released this year to coincide with the film version starring Kevin Kline. Its like Confederacy of Dunces meets HBO’s Bored To Death (see below). 20-something Louis Ives moves into the cluttered apartment of the eccentric older (never revealed but late-60s probably) Henry Harrison. Henry is reminiscent of Ignatious Reilly, protagonist of Confederacy of Dunces, in that he’s good natured but affected with an elevated diction & and haughty-yet-humane arrogance. And Luis, enamored by the elder intellectual Henry, goes on all sorts of nocturnal misadventures. Smart, funny, sexy, earnest stuff like all of the best of Ames.

Psychomagic: The Transformative Power of Shamanic Psychotherapy by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Perhaps the top of the triangle of the three great comics-related maguses, the other two of course being Alan Moore & Grant Morrison, Jodorowsky is about the only human being who could put out a book called Psychomagic and it not be one bit foofy. No foof. The man’s been making alchemic miracles of art for four decades, including the films El Topo and Holy Mountain, and the seminal visionary sci-fi graphic novel The Incal with artist Moebius. This book is one mammoth interview with Jodo about his art-meets-philosophy-meets-psychology-meets-magic-based way of unfucking-up oneself. Was I transformed after reading this? Soitenly.

Dean Haspiel: The Early Years by Chris Irving (IDW) or as I like to call it, “The Surly Years.” It says something about this interview-based Dino-palooza chockfulla his early comics, that I could be so riveted, even after knowing him and being a co-hort in comixnanigans for five years. From his early years as apprentice to Walt Simonson & Howard Chaykin, to the forming of webcomix collective ACT-I-VATE, to his own Kirby-meets-Miller quirky hero webcomic Billy Dogma, to his collaborations with writers Harvey Pekar (American Splendor, The Quitter), Jonathan Ames (The Alcoholic, HBO’s Bored To Death – Dean illustrated the title sequence and Zach Galifianakis’s character Ray Hueston is loosely based on Dean, his art being Dean’s) and most recently Inverna Lockpez (Cuba: My Revolution), its a wild readable ride with an unstoppable Ben Grimmish force in both indie and webcomix.

(Dean Haspiel: the Early Years, published IDW)

FPI: Can you pick three TV shows and/or movies which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?

Jeff: Terry 100 Channels by King Terry (Picture Box) this 30-minute animated DVD gets 10/10 WTF’s! First issued in 1985 on VHS and produced in Japan, its tough to describe this thoroughly fucked-up brilliance. Like a proto-”motion comic” some scenes include cut out illustrations filmed and superimposed on drawn backgrounds. With a crazy funky soundtrack too. Groovus maxiumus!

Bored to Death created Jonathan Ames (HBO):  The only television show I get so excited about new episodes that I try to watch it when it’s actually on rather than DVR! Starring Jason Schwartzman as Jonathan Ames, along with Ted Danson as George Christopher his “mentor” an editor of an NY Mag analogue, and Zach Galifianakis as Ray Hueston a struggling comic book artist, BtoD combines noir (Jonathan is not just a novelist, but also a private detective) and early Woody Allen New Yorkiness, tho its Brooklyn not Gershwiny Manhattan.Because of the organically synergistic shenanigans of the trio, this highlarious show could just as easily been called “Friends” but oh, a douchey show with no idea how real friends have fun with each other already took that name.

Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods – I If you’re going to make a documentary about comix psychedelishaman Grant Morrison, the form better be at least almost as magical as the content or it isn’t going to work. It works. Director Patrick Meaney worked in close collaboration with Morrison and it shows. A great selection of folk are interviewed (I myself hooked Meaney up with my pals Douglas Rushkoff and Richard Metzger) and there’s more than enough Morrison himself to make this a truely titilating taste of genius.

FPI: How did 2010 go for you as a creator? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?

Jeff: As fantastic as this year was for me creatively and professionally, what stands out the most was the tragic loss of my friend and hero Harvey Pekar, RIP. I was blessed with the priceless experience of being Harvey’s editor/producer on his webcomics series The Pekar Project. People ask me if the American Splendor movie was accurate, and I say yeah, but the movie emphasized his curmudgeonliness, when, sure he didn’t suffer fools, but in all my two years of knowing and working Harvey, what stood out most was his sweetness, kindness, enthusiasm for the work of others, and extreme generosity. Those parts were not brought out so much in the film but what can ya do.

That said, I’m real proud of the comics Harvey, the artists and I created in 2010. The piece I had most to do with editorially was teaming-up Harvey with another collaborator/client of mine media theorist Douglas Rushkoff for a conversation on Rushkoff’s radioshow The Media Squat. Before they chatted on-air, I knew, they’d vibe vibrantly, and that we’d take their raw conversation and edit, remix and produce a final “album”, which is a four-part comic illustrated by Sean Pryor, the second of which recently came out. And Pryor hit the art job out of the park illustrating the conversation and concepts within, not just two talking heads.

(the collaboration with two generations of counterculture figures – Harvey Pekar and Douglas Rushkoff, illustrated by Sean Pryor)

In 2010 I wound up moderating a whole bunch of panels at various comicons, my favorite being at MoCCA, “The Art of the Super Hero” with Kyle Baker, Paul Pope, Dean Haspiel, Jaime Hernandez & Frank Miller. Until they all sat down on stage, I refused to fully believe this dream team could actually come together, but it did.

(From left: Paul Pope, Dean Haspiel, Frank Miller, Jeff Newelt, Kyle Baker and Jaime Hernandez; photo by Seth Kushner)

I also produced and performed in a handful of live comics readings, including just this week the HEEB Storytelling Live Comics Edition with Al Jaffee, Molly Crabapple, Sarah Glidden, Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, and other creators and actors, performing the strips projected on the big screen, accompanied by different soundtrack for each strip. Fun stuff, and almost half the attendees weren’t comics fans before they attended but I have a feeling they are now!

(Jeff interviews Jude Tobin, character from Red Light Properties by and (c) the excellent Dan Goldman)

In 2010 I also did some reggae ditties as JahFurry and even crossed over into an actual comics universe, somehow winding up inside Dan Goldman’s webcomic Red Light Properties, interviewing lead character Jude Tobin “in person.”

I also had / am having a blast helping photographer Seth Kushner curate/edit his experimental ACT-I-VATE series CulturePOP: Photocomix Profiles of Real Life Characters. For Season 1, I set him up with jazz sousaphonist Clark Gayton, VJ Jonny Wilson from Eclectic Method, sculptor/graffiti artist Mare139, and Doug Rushkoff.

FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2011?

Jeff:  The biggest project I’m working on is editing Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, illustrated by Joseph Remnant and published by ZIP! comics (in partnership with a major indie publisher that we’ll announce after the new year). Cleveland is 1/3 history of Cleveland, 1/3 Pekar autobio, 1/3 biographical sketches of prominent Cleveland “characters.” It was fully-written before Harvey passed, and Joseph had already drawn 20 pages. So there’s that + I plan on producing and performing in many more live comics readings as well.

(art from Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, illustrated by Joseph Remnant, to be published by  ZIP! Comics)

FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?

Jeff:  Sure! Definitely the aforementioned Sean Pryor and Joseph Remnant, as well as Michel Fiffe, who’s ACT-I-VATE strip Zega was my favorite webcomic of the year, and Ulises Farinas whose hyperdetailed yet adorable moebius/seth fischer/geoff darrow inspired work is sui generis and is turning heads. He has a gallery show starting 1/15 at Giant Robot2 in LA.

(art from Zegas by and (c) Ulises Farinas, serialised on Act-I-Vate)

Last but certainly not least, the one to watch in 2011 will be Paul Pope, whose upcoming graphic novel Battling Boy is going to rule.

You can catch up on all the guest Best of the Year posts to date here.

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

2 Responses to Best of the Year: Jeff Newelt

  1. Michel Fiffe says:

    Just caught up with this great list!

    Just to avoid any legal or aesthetic confusion, Ulises Farinas does NOT have (c) over zegaS (with an “s”, thanks) nor did he draw it. He does, however, have (c) over many of his awesome comics such as Motro, which he also drew:

    http://activatecomix.com/45.comic