On September 26th, The Beguiling hosted a book launch for Sam Alden’s latest release, New Construction. Published by Uncivilized Books, it’s a collection of two comics, Backyard and Household. Both are rendered in tonal, gestural styles and their stories cover psychological terrain that is complex and disturbing, making New Construction most similar to Alden’s work in Frontier #5 (review).
Alden was interviewed by Michael DeForge who steered and timed the conversation well. Mercifully, DeForge avoided stock discussions about “what inspires you” or simplistic questions about the comics medium which can be tiring. Instead, the bulk of the interview was concerned with Alden’s artistic intentions and creative processes.
There was a lot of ground covered but what I liked was how Alden described feeling a pressure to create a longer story, as if there would be something legitimizing about creating a comic of greater length – and both cartoonists deciding there were good reasons to choose shorter formats. There certainly is a prestige (and an increase in monetary value) that society bestows upon greater length and size in all mediums – novels over short stories, large canvases over small ones, epic poetry over haikus, feature length films over shorts, etc. Yet there is something demanding in trying to convey a narrative that is complex and rich and beautiful when one has limited space. And as Alden pointed out, the sheer labour intensiveness of comics makes a shorter format more feasible, more ammenable.
In terms of Alden’s comics themselves, much of the interview was devoted to discussing Backyard, a story about a group of radicals who have formed a co-op and whose roommate Molly has taken to living in their backyard and behaving rather strangely (to put it mildly).
The tidbit about Backyard that I found most interesting began when Alden and DeForge discussed the difficulties of editing comics. Given the labour intensive nature of creating comics (you cannot simply remove or add one panel or page as everything must fit to a page’s dimensions and the timing of page turns is important), I learned that comics (or at least, more independent comics) are rarely edited extensively.
So it came as a surprize to learn that Backyard has been previously released, but in New Construction, Alden altered some of the pages, adding 40 more pages overall, in response to criticism he received. As DeForge noted, it’s a very open stance to criticism when artists generally take a defensive posture. It seems Backyard’s earlier iteration represented the radical commune in a more negative light, and portrayed an outsider character – a white male – as being the only individual who is able to properly assess the gravity of Molly’s situation. In New Construction, the commune is given more nuance and the external world is represented as being equally incapable of assisting and understanding Molly.
Oddly, DeForge did not ask Alden to discuss the story of the longer comic, Household. Like Frontier’s The Hollow, Household involves two siblings with a troubled upbringing who are struggling to come to terms with how they have been traumatized. The comic deals with challenging subject matter and explores concepts of family through different representations of families – I have so many questions about it.
I hope to write up an analysis of New Construction’s comics some day. Thanks to The Beguiling for organizing the event! You can pick up a copy of New Construction at the store.