Press for Bernie

Words for the autobiographical comic DemonTears

  • from Kevin Bramer at I have exactly one complaint to make about this utterly riveting, depressing, uplifting, real-as-it-gets-while-being-largely-based-in-dreams comic: it’s too short to be a proper graphic novel. Which doesn’t mean a damned thing in and of itself, as it doesn’t feel too long or too short. It’s just that graphic novels stick around for longer than single comics, and this comic deserves as long of a shelf life as is humanly possible. This comic deals with Bernie’s (or fake Bernie, in case this isn’t somewhat autobiographical) long trip out from alcoholism, told partially through bits of his real life and partially through a dream world that he is rudely forced into every night via his nightly blackouts. It would take a few thousand words for me to even attempt to explain all the symbolism and happenings in those dream bits, and I would most likely get chunks of it very wrong, but the Center for Cartoon Studies should put this in their curriculum toot sweet. The true horror/sadness of this comes in the real life bits. We see his hands start to shake as he’s drawing, happy evenings that he spent partying with friends always ending the same way, waking up just to take aspirin in the middle of the night, and his brief time spent sober with his family for dinner. The eventual conclusion wasn’t even remotely tidy, and it wasn’t meant to be followed by a group hug. Without giving anything away, he earned every bit of the events at the end of this book, and he deserves all the credit in the world for refusing to shy away from just what it took to get there. Flipping through this book again it just seems wrong for me to gloss over the dream parts the way I did, but they build such a careful narrative piece by piece that I’d feel like a dick just plucking bits out of context. I will tell you that Bernie is represented in his dreams by a floating brain that’s trailing a spine, and that does eventually become relevant. This book is an absolute triumph, and he depicts the warning signs clearly enough that there are bound to be a few people reading this who are looking at their own hands, wondering if that slight bit of shaking is just a side effect of getting old or if it’s from all the years of just a little too much booze. Buy it, tell your friends to buy it, and, if you know anybody in AA, you might think about passing some of these out at a meeting. Most human beings could learn a lot from this. $6
  • from Justin Giampaoli at I feel like there’s a new epicenter forming around what’s hot in the indie comics scene, and it can be triangulated somewhere amid the NYC nexus of Secret Acres, Domino Books, and Hic & Hoc Publications. Bernie McGovern’snew project from Hic & Hoc is a bit deceptive. When I flipped through its glorious color cover (love how the flame illuminates the right side of the lettering down the page) and saw those Tony Millionaire style hollowed out gourd eyes, I guess I was expecting some type of offbeat adventure book. There’s something darker hiding within these pages. While it certainly does have a sense of adventure, there’s nothing light-hearted about it. It leans more toward a Grand-Guignol grip on our psyche. It’s a powerful and sad swirling-the-drain tale about battling our inner demons, in this case – alcoholism. McGovern’s near obsession with a sense of place starts innocently enough. There are some planetary shots that establish the two “worlds” he’ll be operating in right on the first page, and I also liked the aerial shot of his apartment. As his alcohol-induced blackouts take hold, his shadowy doppleganger emerges (hitting that nice riff on our inner struggle), and his brain and spinal column enter a sort of parallel world. From that point forward, the reader continually tracks which construct they’re in. In that world, you can sense McGovern’s desire to create another life – the creations yearning for the way things used to be, the characters lacking the judgmental eyes of reality – something that his current body just won’t allow. If you ever saw that movieWhat Dreams May Come, you might recognize the sort of abstract puzzle made manifest that McGovern is contending with. The process of solving this puzzle, one which blurs the line between a representational imaginarium and his own reality, is itself the healing agent he needs. He actually holds the secret to what’s holding him back, and it’s in his interpretation that all is ultimately revealed. Interpretation does play a big part in deciphering his two environs, those of the body and mind, but like the $20.00 bottle being mistaken for $2,000 scene, it never gets to the point where it’s too obtuse to qualify as a narrative. I knew from the second I looked at this book that I’d enjoy it. It has one of those bold and iconic covers I’m drawn to, not drowning in its own busy clutter. McGovern’s thin interior lines belie their heavy emotional resonance. In addition to just being a great kinetic illustrator, he understands the power of creation. In the blackout fantasy world, by creating his own cryptic creationism mythology, rising like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes, and rejecting the “goop” as faux developmental fuel, he’s able to get his mind and body working in unison again. I love when this happens, when a creator comes out of nowhere for me with such a strong work. McGovern is definitely someone I’d like to see more from. Spoiler Alert: Don’t be surprised to find Demon Tears on my “Top 10 Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2012” list. Grade A+
  • Podcast Interview with Chicago record label and ‘zine connoisseur, Notes & Bolts: Click to listen!
  • Interview with Jared Thomas of Frontier Psychiatrist: Chicago-based cartoonist Bernie McGovern is an idiosyncratic worldmaker.  His work is a phantasmagoria through a jagged yet welcoming landscape populated with heartbroken archetypes as captivating as they are bizarre.  It’s as if Hayao Miyazaki were asked to fill in on Peanuts.In his latest work, DemonTears (Hic & Hoc Publications), McGovern uses his breathtakingly peculiar imagination to tell the very real story of his struggle towards sobriety.  Alternating between his daily humdrum life and his inner existence, which is anything but, DemonTears is a painfully honest and dizzyingly creative, if occasionally inscrutable, journey through addiction and out the other side.  FP staff  writer Jared Thomas recently sat down with Bernie McGovern to chat about DemonTears, independent comics, and catharsis.

    FP:  DemonTears is obviously a very personal book.  It must have been a cathartic experience to create but what do you hope the reader will get out of it?

    BM:  It’s strange that the book is so personal yet wasn’t cathartic at all. Working on this story definitely stirred up feelings, but did little to change them or make me feel better. It would blow my mind If this book could help someone realize that he or she has a drinking problem.   I would also like the book to stand as an experiment in personal myth-building. It’s something anyone can do. Invent characters to represent parts of yourself.

    FP:  In regards to “Personal Myth-Building”, do you think with the rise of global media, our inner mythographies are becoming all the same?  Or is it the exact opposite for the same reason?

    BM:  I feel lucky to have gone through development without it, but I have to imagine that it’s having a huge effect. I teach art to kids ages 3 through 30ish, and I can say that there is a huge spectrum in kids’ creativity. Many seem capable of coming up with totally bizarre, rich concepts, while others default pretty strongly to imitating popular cartoons, movies, and video games. I hope it’s not doing damage, that it’s instead making a variety of influences accessible.

    FP:  In DemonTears, we split time between a very real, biographical account of your life and what might be a just as real biographical account of your inner life.   Tell us a little about creating the “fantasy” world.  Was it an intellectual process where you were searching for appropriate metaphors or is this a world which simply exists in your head?

    BM:  My process began with making visceral, intuitive choices in character design. I imagined the mannerisms these monsters, robots, and puppets would have. I let them breathe for a while in my sketch book until it felt like a good time to hold them up to inspection for a little narrative integrity quality check. The fantasy world had gotten off track from the purpose it was supposed to serve. It had become a mindlessly fun adventure with no connection to the realistic side of the story. So the second phase was about trimming the superfluous and rewriting it to stand metaphorically. Ultimately, I would say it was an equally split process of intuitive and intellectual creativity.  Each fantasy world scene ended up representing a specific aspect of life that was nudging me toward sobriety.

    FP:  DemonTears employs a very cartoony style.  Is this a conscious decision on your part?  Are there advantages to doing cartoon versus realistic illustration?

    BM:  It’s funny, the cartoony face choice was born out of workshops I have been teaching to kids in hospitals.  I have this “expressions” drawing exercise where we combine different eyebrow, eyelid, mouth, and nose configurations. Within it, I’ve settled into a sort of large-eyed style that’s carried over into my work effortlessly. Also, it was just more fun to draw human faces that way.  I began the project drawing myself pretty realistically and it was just an unpleasant chore. I felt I needed to change the approach if I was going to finish this book.  All of my under-drawings for these pages were swirly, active shapes and I wanted to preserve some of that vitality without totally overhauling my aesthetic.

    FP:  Who are some of your favorite artists currently?

    BM:  I’m still completely hooked on all the sci-fi compositions Moebius made over the years. Flipping through his collections always makes me feel great, and it’s the only work I can look at when I’m feeling overwhelmed by my projects. It somehow inspires me without making me feel totally insecure. Add to that, I’ve been reading a wonderful 1978-80 book series called the Terran Trade Authority, written by Stewart Cowley. It’s a fun, future-history handbook full of awesome drawings and paintings. There are my contemporaries here in Chicago. These people all impress the hell out of me and push me to improve: Grant Reynolds, Jeremy Tinder, Lilli Carre, Laura Park, Aaron Renier, Nate Beaty, Josh Cotter, Edie Fake, Joe Tallarico, and everybody in our Trubble Club collective. There are other contemporaries who I don’t know personally but am following with wide eyes like Dane Martin, Jesse Jacobs, Michael Deforge, and Alabaster.

    FP:  Because of superhero movies, comic books are in the public spotlight but there is still a sense that superheroes are totality of what graphic fiction has to offer.  As someone involved in independent, non-superhero comics, how do you explain to casual readers what you do?

    BM:  I begin by saying that my comics are usually not for kids. If I’m talking to a parent, I usually have to follow up pretty quickly with a statement that stops them from thinking it’s pornographic. From there, I describe my new work as surreal autobiography or as illustrative fantasy/fiction. I often say that my books are elaborate daydreams put to paper. But that is usually the short answer. I get a huge kick out of showing scenes from life, then presenting hopes, fears, and dreams coming true alongside them. I sometimes frame indie comics as a medium where creators try to bridge formats. Some prefer to think of their works as Literature presented through a visual lens, others see their comics as abbreviated animations, and many think of their work as sequential visual art.

    JT:  In your mind, what is the current state of graphic fiction as a medium in America today?

    BM:  I think comics are in a really awesome place! Everyone feels energized to contribute & create. Though the publishing industry is of course struggling right now. So getting published is pretty rough. But, smaller publishers are still strong as hell. I think the demand for the printed page will always be there so long as the industry’s expectations follow realistic trends. But then again, I may be reaching way beyond my expertise. I find the most important attitude to have as a creator is to make the kind of work I want to read. If I can get the work into the right hands, opportunity may follow. But when it doesn’t, I am not too crushed because I have at least made something that I like.

    Jared Thomas is an author and scriptwriter living in Brooklyn. His works include The Street Dreams of Electric Youth, The Last Amesha, and Gre & The Devil. His recent FP pieces include Snap Judgments on 5 Days of Olympic CompetitionDon’t Blame Batman for the Colorado Shootings, and the Top 10 Korean Pop Videos of 2012 (So Far).

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