Saturday, February 11, 2017

Alvin Buenaventura


When I’m reading a comic — especially some weak 1970s’ DC or Marvel book — I’ll often imagine Alvin watching over my shoulder, not at all happy with what he’s seeing. In a soft monotone voice he condemns me for wasting time on crap when there’s genuinely engaging, idiosyncratic work out there, waiting.

He never actually judged me this way. If I mentioned a comic that I liked and he didn’t, he’d reply with a barely audible “Hmm” or a disbelieving “Really?” and move on. But I was always aware that Alvin, unlike me, had ‘preternatural aesthetic discernment.’ Put less pretentiously, he was busy finding, supporting, and publishing great artists (often the first to discern their merits) and had no time for garbage. His dedication to great work was inspirational.

Sometimes I’ll read a comic and imagine how much Alvin would’ve dug it, such as Simon Hanselmann’s brutally funny mini-comic Landscape, which dismantles the little worlds of art comics and art-comics criticism. Alvin would’ve found its mean-spirited insight uplifting and its cartooning immaculate. (It’s 2016’s best work of comics criticism.)

Then there are times I’ll read a comic and be unsure about Alvin’s reaction — this realization makes me uncomfortable, uncertain about the validity of my own response. He’s become my ‘comic-book assessment super-ego’ . . .

Without Alvin around (he left us one year ago today), I feel a little lost. He was my lifeline to important new work, an advance scout taking a sharp machete to the garbage of Comicdom and telling me, and the rest of us, what was vital. He had an unerring sixth sense for Good Comics, as the books he published proves.

Yet I miss him most as a friend and collaborator. Our collaborations weren’t always easy: one time he tested my patience beyond its breaking point (and I his), but we eventually got past it. (I still feel guilty for failing that test and wish I’d handled things better.) But so many collaborations were a real joy. The two largest projects I did with him — The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist and The Daniel Clowes Reader — remain the work I’m most proud of. 

*
A few months after Alvin died, I was looking through the “back-issue bins” at a local comic-book shop and came across several issues of the 1959 Dell series Alvin. Normally I’d buy one issue to check out a title, but this time felt that, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to, I had to get them all. The feeling was odd, like an embarrassing compulsion driven by the weakness of superstition: it would be wrong to leave them there. (Alvin wouldn’t have bothered with such comics and certainly would've said “Really?” if I told him I’d bought them.) But they were Comics, and their covers said "Alvin." So I left with them all.


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(Alvin might've liked this.)

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Monday, January 9, 2017

The Most SUV of 2016


I have a cameo in the giant Fantagraphics Moto Hagiography "We Told You So," where Tom Spurgeon and Michael Dean exercise some kind of inside baseball wisdom of Solomon culling from the relentless expanse of Fantagraphics' toil and dramatis personae.

It's hard for me to say whether it will hold as much interest for someone unfamiliar with the topic, especially since I lived through some of it so contentedly as a consumer and partial content provider.
It's kind of like a big issue of The Comics Journal about The Comics Journal or receiving a yearbook and never graduating.

Sir Alfred No. 3 was released and did pretty well considering the significant roadblocks in its way.
I added a price tag to the Gumroad download page now that we're out of 2016.
I did manage to retrieve the printer files from Alvin's computer last month thanks to the goodwill of his parents, so another print edition might appear somewhere down the line.

I see I was also fortunate enough to end up on some end of the year lists.
I am very grateful for these mentions. I sort of feel like I've aged out of what is most current in comics these days, so I appreciate that some folks enjoyed my work.

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Original Art For Sale


I am selling some of my original art on Etsy.
Sir Alfred No. 3 is now available to download on Gumroad; damaged print copies are still available at Fantagraphics. 
I missed linking to another review of Sir Alfred No. 3 by Abhay Khosla.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

S-u-per-man

(Photos: Y. Yeto)

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Diapason


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Monday, October 3, 2016

Apt Bldg


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Friday, September 2, 2016

In the Realms of the Lightly Damaged



The final remaining stock of Sir Alfred No. 3 is described as "lightly damaged" and offered at a discount on the website of Fantagraphics.

I love this expression, "lightly damaged." Isn't everyone? What it also means is the undamaged books are now gone--souled out. With a thousand already in the ether, a second printing is asking for too much trouble.

Since Alvin's death, he's been in many dreams; in one, he was showing me a non-existent graffiti spray paint mural he did on Vermont near Santa Monica Boulevard in my old neighborhood. As we were crossing the street, a fleet of military aircraft swooped down at a 45 degree angle into the pavement and passed through us the way ghosts do. On the corner near the bus stop, there was a felled squirming cow covered in afterbirth.

I then started binge watching Kurt Cobain suicide conspiracy movies on Netflix, comforted by their distracting ability to explain "what really happened" because there is not going to be a way to know.

Recently there was a fire in Santa Clarita, and although it was not so near where Alvin is buried, I started to wonder what the temperature would be like under the ground and whether it might be stuffy wearing a suit inside a padded coffin when there are flames overhead.

So buy today, argh. I feel mostly like sleeping for a good while, but I am so indebted to Fantagraphics and John Porcellino for agreeing to make the books available for purchase.




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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Comics Reporter Review

Before

After (Alternate)
Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter has posted a review of Sir Alfred No. 3.
This review luckily coincided with the San Diego Comic Convention, where the book was for sale.
It looks increasingly like Sir Alfred No. 3 will sell out.
There are no plans for a second printing, so order today, etc.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Podcast Trifecta

Photo reference.

Joe McCulloch and Matt Seneca discuss Sir Alfred No. 3 on the podcast "Comic Books Are Burning in Hell." I believe the title is meant to be salutary, in the same sense one might say, "Those twelve bars by Drake are fire." I actually don't know if Drake is fire or not. 
I'm very flattered to be the subject of this broadcast.

Normally on their podcast they are joined by Chris Mautner, who may have recused himself because he recently weighed in on Sir Alfred No. 3 with a review in The Comics Journal.


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Monday, June 6, 2016

More Link Blogging

Having the time of my life

I feel like I do better with the written word, but instead fate has presented my second podcast interview.
This time it’s the show with the ironic misnomer "Inkstuds." It was host Robin McConnell’s inspired idea to have me interviewed instead by Roman Muradov.

Roman is a great cartoonist whose work for me has echoes of midcentury modernist art. He's, like, I don't know, a fauve painter, but one who has also assimilated someone like Syd Hoff? He combines that with an elevated wordplay, arguably that of an amused and/or appalled emigre?

It often occurred to me I should’ve been interviewing him. He has a new book coming out called Jacob Bladders; the sample art I’ve seen looks great.
He also has a book coming out in France, “Aujourd’hui, demain, hier,” I’m curious to see.
He’s also an extremely erudite fellow, to the point where I often felt like one of the scientists confronted with Cliff Robertson’s Charly at full apex. Whenever I say, “Oh, okay,” in the interview after he mentions an author like, say, C├ęsar Aira, chances are I may be aware of who he’s talking about, but haven’t read the book in question.
(I was lucky he didn’t push me about my non-fiction reading habits, or I’d have to admit checking out Rod Stewart’s autobiography.)

Last I heard, Sir Alfred No. 3 is now past half gone. Order now [Space echo].

Also:

Fellow Blog Flume inmate Ken Parille puts Sir Alfred No. 3 under the electron microscope.
Chris Anthony Diaz publishes an interview on ComicsWorkbook we did way back in the halcyon days of 2014.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Comix Claptrap

"Diploma" shades purchased at Target for $3.00.
I was recently a guest on the podcast The Comix Claptrap.
Listen to me drone here.
The hosts are Ticket Stub publisher/cartoonist Rina Ayuyang and cartoonist Thien Pham.
They have entertaining good cop/bad cop chemistry.
Josh Frankel also checks in at the top to discuss new releases.
In other news, here's a page from Mujeres Celebres No. 69, Grace Kelly, published in 1966 in Mexico:


My Spanish is bad enough that I thought, "Cool, a comic called Dead Celebrities!"
I had originally bought issue number 76, but Alfred Hitchcock wasn't in it:


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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sir Alfred No. 3 Now Available

The final Pigeon Press publication Sir Alfred No. 3 is now available for purchase on the website of Fantagraphics:
http://www.fantagraphics.com/siralfred
and through John Porcellino's Spit and a Half distribution arm:
http://www.spitandahalf.com


Or it can likely be found in a few select comic shops soon enough.

Thanks to Manuel and Josie Buenaventura for facilitating the distribution and John P. and Fantagraphics for taking the book on.
Also thanks to Chris Anthony Diaz and Thien Pham who physically transported the boxes from Alvin's to UPS. Chris sent me this in-transit cell phone photo, which calmed my nerves a bit:


Thanks to everyone I spoke with who offered their help or took interest in the proceedings.
In other news, Tippi Hedren is on the cover of Life After 50 magazine this month:


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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Alvin


Alvin Buenaventura, Oakland, CA, 2007.

In early 2001, I lived on eBay, bidding on anything that had Daniel Clowes art on it: comics, LPs, t-shirts, etc. Every week I’d win several auctions, always defeating a bidder who went by “totoroar.” It wasn’t long before I started to feel bad; after all, we were fellow collectors, fellow obsessives. So, in an uncharacteristic act of generosity, I contacted totoroar and offered to give them a few Clowes-related things I had. Totoroar turned out to be someone named Alvin Buenaventura, a name I assumed was fake. I sent Alvin some comics and then we exchanged numbers. He eventually told me he planned to start his own press, asking if I’d help. I said “Sure.” And I can say — without the slightest exaggeration — that meeting Alvin fundamentally changed my life.


*
Alvin was absurdly generous. I’m writing this in a room filled with stuff he gave me: comics, magazines, letterpress prints, original art, obscure minicomics, button collections, cartoon masks, European exhibition catalogs, foreign editions of books by cartoonists we liked, and so much more. When Alvin travelled, he must have been thinking “What would Ken want?” Then he got it. His gifts frequently arrived unannounced.

Once, when he attended a conference featuring a dizzying, never-to-be-repeated line-up of cartoonists (Crumb, Barry, Clowes, Ware, Bechdel, Brunetti, Panter, Sacco, Burns, Spiegelman, Gloeckner, Green, Tyler, Katchor, Seth), Alvin got every one of them to sign a program for me. It arrived unannounced.

I couldn’t make sense of Alvin’s generosity given his ongoing financial troubles. How could he afford to be so generous with me, and with so many others? (And how could he travel so often? I always wanted to ask him, but knew not to.) When I’d suggest a project I thought could make him some money, or propose a way he could cut a book’s printing cost and increase his profits, he listened, said no, and then talked about what he planned to do. He wouldn’t compromise. He insisted, in ways sometimes reckless but ultimately inspirational, that he represent the artists he cared about in the manner they deserved. To look at the work Alvin produced is to see his generosity.

A gift from Alvin with a note.

*
Alvin had the softest voice of anyone I ever knew. When we’d talk on the phone, I had to press it as hard as I could against my ear; and even then I often couldn’t hear him. It seemed a perversely perfect, Alvin-like irony that someone so soft-spoken would choose to live with two screaming birds, who frequently turned our phone conversations into farces.

This quiet, reticent voice embodied Alvin’s withholding and withdrawn nature. I knew him for 14 years yet I’m not sure I understood him. He’d often ask how I was doing, but when I asked the same of him, he’d say, “There’s a lot of shit going on that I don’t wanna talk about now,” and we’d get back to work or to discussing comics.

Seldom, and always unexpectedly, he’d tell me something revealing — and occasionally disturbing — about his life. When he was going through one particularly serious financial crisis, we’d spend hours day after day working through things, trying to find a way out, a way to move on. Then, suddenly, I didn’t hear from him for months. I’d call, but nothing. I’d wait a few weeks, call again; still nothing. I learned to accept Alvin’s Way. Suffering from life-long physical and mental health problems, his only satisfying therapy, it seemed, was escape — he often took week-long “silent retreats.” Once, just before a project was due, he emailed that he was off to Nepal and we’d hear from him when he returned in a month.

Because of his reticence, I was genuinely moved when he opened up — it felt like a profound act of trust coming from someone so deliberately unknowable.

*
Collaborating with Alvin was a real joy, though it wasn’t always easy (a habitually disappearing phantom can test any collaboration). I was happy to help him in any way I could. I’d talk with him about projects, write press releases, edit comic books, touch-up website copy, and write text that appeared on Buenaventura Press and Pigeon Press comics. Writing wasn’t Alvin’s strength, but collaborating was. When I’d put together some copy I thought was pretty good, he was always able to make it better, to get it to say just what it needed to say. I felt lucky to play a part in the forward-thinking art he released.

I vividly remember one conversation last year in which we worked on a few sentences for several hours, fine tuning every word, every punctuation mark, thinking about the best way to place the text on the object and its packaging. Remarkably, these kinds of conversations, of which we had dozens, weren’t the least bit tedious. They were fun.

Alvin was central to the two projects I’m most proud of. I co-edited his Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist and he designed my Daniel Clowes Reader. So many have praised the elegance and clarity of the Reader’s design. Alvin made it a beautiful book.

Me, Alvin, and Daniel Clowes at SPX 2012.
*
Alvin had an instinctive artistic intelligence, the kind of peculiar perception and sensitivity toward visual art that I’ve yet to encounter in another human being. His taste was uncanny; he was able to recognize great cartoonists long before others did. He introduced me to several who have since become essential: Tom Gauld, Lisa Hanawalt, Anders Nilsen, Jeffrey Brown, Vanessa Davis, Matt Furie, and on and on. He was the first to publish many of these now-celebrated cartoonists, introducing them to the art-comics world.

When I’d say I didn’t like a cartoonist that he did, he’d insist that I read them again, more carefully. He was right, every time. In the least pedantic, most unassuming way, Alvin taught me so much.

While he certainly had an aesthetic, I don’t think I could define it. He published everything from the cartoon obscenities of Johnny Ryan to the lyrical drawings of Souther Salazar. To look at a Believer issue with an Alvin-edited comics section is to begin — but only begin — to understand his visionary eclecticism. (When I had a piece rejected at The Believer, Alvin told me to give it to him and he’d take it directly to the editors; soon after, it appeared in one of their music issues.)

*
A champion of those he believed in, Alvin solicited and published my first essay on comics, a short piece in the catalog for the Buenaventura Gallery exhibition titled Original Comic Art. This 2003 San Diego art-comics show was timed to coincide with the pop-culture fiasco that is the San Diego Comic-Con, a great example of Alvin’s ‘counter-programming’ approach to art and life.

The catalog, his entree into publishing, shows all the hallmarks of his free-wheeling, yet deliberate style. Most exhibition catalogs, no matter how attractive, are simply pages under a cover. Alvin’s was a little masterpiece. Letterpress printed, hand-sewn, and hand-numbered, it included a fold-out title page, several funny hand-stamped images, random spot color, a separate comic-strip insert, and the real coup: a stapled-in plastic bag containing an “authentic piece of trash,” a scrap of original art from one of the exhibition’s cartoonists. It impressed even genius designer Chip Kidd: “It’s just stunning . . . . I wish I could say I designed it but I didn't. Fuck. If I would have though, I would have wanted it to look just like this.”

*
Alvin loved beautiful, unexpected objects; he gathered so many around him and brought so many into the world.

*
I keep waking up at night, thinking things like, “Fuck, Alvin’s gone. I’ll never get to proofread another comic for him.” Of all there is to miss — the friendship, the intelligence, the generosity — a proofreading opportunity seems like a really stupid thing to care about. Yet, when working with someone like Alvin, someone who had such an extraordinary imagination, it’s not. Perhaps I’m trying to avoid feeling the loss in its largest terms: our fourteen-year relationship, the sadness of his last days, all I had yet to learn from him, all the projects he had yet to imagine and give us — and that the world will be forever less artful, less beautiful without him.

_____________
Coda

Alvin once wrote about his first name:

When I was growing up, that uncommon name my parents assigned me invited endless, unwanted, hackneyed, tiresome taunts from children and adults alike. “Where’s your brothers Simon and Theodore? he heh heh....” Yeah, charming, real clever. 9 out of 10 of people that I'd meet for the first time would immediately rattle that off, or even worse, sing the ditty. Annoying as that was it proved a reliable, instant douchebag detector.

I’m so glad I passed the test.





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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Daniel Clowes on Alvin at The Comics Reporter



At The Comics Reporter, Daniel Clowes offers a remembrance of Alvin Buenaventura.
Other recent posts found about Alvin: Jonathan Barli, Anders Nilsen.
And here is Alvin's obituary by Chris Mautner and Joe McCulloch in the The Comics Journal.

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