Wilmington’s literary community keeps gaining accolades (two National Book Awards nominees in 2015) and attention in the press. With multiple established publishers in the state (Algonquin, Blair) and new smaller presses gaining traction (Lookout, Eno, Bull City), and a pair of well-regarded literary magazines out of UNCW, it is timely to shine a light on discussions around literary publishing. More so, it shows the importance of communicating a truthful story in our present world.
Welcome to Carpe Librum, encore’s biweekly book column, wherein I will dissect a current title and an old book—because literature does not exist in a vacuum but emerges to participate in a larger, cultural conversation. I will feature many NC writers; however, the hope is to place the discussion in a larger context and therefore examine works around the world.
Fall 2019, pgs. 80
Volume 4 of “Milk & Honey” has arrived! Let the rejoicing begin!
No, I don’t mean the poetry book by Rupi Kaur. I mean the anthology of independent comics curated by Giancarlo D’Alessandro.
D’Alessandro grew up in Wilmington and always has had a variety of creative projects in the hopper. A few years ago he shyly handed me the first volume of “Milk & Honey,” folded and stapled together in classic zine style. Fast forward to issue #4, and it is bound with a slick cover.
I can’t help but beam with pride, but all that aside, this issue is splendid. In addition to the comics, there are interviews with various creators. I really love the three-person interview with Jerome Smith, Elijah Simon and Travis Smith who are cousins and co-creators. Their work has more of a traditional superhero bend to the art—lots of battle sequences, action panels, and characters with impressive physiques and stylized clothing. They give a really great perspective on collaboration and how that changes over time as people grow.
Scott Hensel and Caroline Smith also give an interesting interview about blending their strengths as artists and a married couple. One has an art-school background and the other came to comics through music. It is quite a combination they have put together. Balancing and blending a creative and romantic relationship is not simple, but it can bear beautiful fruit. (Smith’s comic, “Drifting,” is particularly lovely.
The comics selected really do run the gamut. Some of the pieces represent the beginning of a storyline, others are standalones, and some are just non sequiturs. One of my favorites, “Monumental” by Anne Skove, is a quick trip through public art via a conversation with Ellen Adams, director/curator at the Alice T. Miner Museum. Skove uses it to explain, very quickly, why Confederate monuments can and should come down.
There are also excerpts from longer works that serve to make readers spend hours sorting through artists’ websites, Instagram and Tumblr pages looking for more of their art (and more of the storyline). Once I was hooked on a storyline, suddenly it was 4 a.m. before I resurfaced from the rabbit hole. So on that point D’Alessandro has succeeded in introducing artists to a new and different audience.
After sifting through such a treasure trove, I started asking myself why certain pieces drew my attention more than others? I happen to like realistic illustrations, and of course stories about people figuring out how to make their little corner of the world better. To that end, “Summer” by Kacee Navarro is one of the selections I am drawn to over and over again. The art is hyper-realistic and the story is simple: A kid and his dad enter into a coming-of-age bargain about how the summer will be spent.
With “Bike Shop,” Allison Bannister utilizes a wonderful blend of visual storytelling and magical realism to create something simple and compelling. The dialogue bubbles are filled with images. So the dinosaur who runs the bike shop and the girl who work there tell readers entire lengthy stories with very direct images that let them fill in the elaboration in their mind’s eye. It is creative and fascinating.
I kept feeling like I recognized the structure for the anthology itself, but it took a few minutes for the filing clerk in my head to wave the right card-catalog entry. D’Alessandro is utilizing exactly the structure of a literary magazine any MFA program would use. There is a piece of art for the cover, one for the title page, an opening letter from the editor, table of contents, even interviews interspersed with content, and after the content, a lovely couple of pages detailing the contributors and their contact info (Instagram, websites, Tumblr).
Once I had this realization, I read “Milk and Honey” with the same parameters I would expect from a literary magazine. Well, except D’Alessandro has far better taste and more fun than the editors of most lit mags and has put together something enjoyable and not pretentious for the sake of feeling pretentious.
There is an air of fun and creativity and excitement on every page. It feels like many of the creators are submitting their works because they want to share them, and for no other reason. For the comics novice like myself, it ignites excitement about the possibilities of the storytelling form that are dormant.