B.I. BUKE by MICHAEL OLIVO is a 60 page crisply detailed graphic tour de force. Get it at TinySplendor.com and read this amazing foreword by Aaron Shunga to wet your whistle:
Somewhere between Kikaida and Kenneth Anger lies this self-published gem in the shifting paper desert known as digital-age independent comics. Regarding the notion that all experimental cartoonists are stodgy, disheveled men: “I don’t really consider myself a cartoonist,” stated author and illustrator MICHAEL OLIVO over the phone as I stared out into the clean courtyard of my 60’s era apartment, spices of Ethiopian stews wafting through the air. Somewhere between Honolulu and New Jersey, there is a place called Oakland, CA, where many journey, escaping prejudice and political turmoil, or the gaping maw of the bland.
Leaving the art world and his previous forte’ of experimental film, Olivo dedicated his time to developing a pristine illustration style that displayed contemplation, a steady hand, and a sense of humor that displays the prismatic malfunction of a space-age computer. He is a mysterious municipal wing from an unknown government, painting signage with the eerie consistency of an automaton and the whimsical glee of a young Keith Haring running through a virtual subway. And adding to the mystery, he does so with no dialogue.
“Who is B.I. Buke?” I asked, in a halal supermarket eating Tabouli.
“An insult my brother once called me.”
From a monastic outpost, the steely eyed OLIVO first introduced me to his work in his apartment overlooking MLK Jr. Way, a very dangerous street in Oakland, where drivebys are a summer occurrence, bullet holes in wooden fences a mildly interesting conversation piece amongst struggling ghetto locals, jaded punks, artists, and burnouts. Where a bullet passed through three bags of Doritos in a liquor store circa 2010, and an Arab grocer fervently told me the story, I now feel the parallel in the Nintendo-addled Futurism of B.I. BUKE. Olivo’s work drinks in his surroundings, from the deepest hideout of abstraction, probably through a crazy straw.
“I use this to improve my skills,” said Olivo one evening as we worked on an animation at his house, proceeding to beat most of Contra 1 without dying.
The outsider stance is a challenging viewpoint to access, and a dangerous place to inhabit. To the Mondrians listening to their first Jazz records, hungry Basquiats quitting their day jobs, and the dejected Duchamp prior to uttering the words DADA, this feeling is no stranger.
A pivotal encounter with Olivo occurred in his backyard. He appeared in a reddish plot of bare soil, a vacant area with a lone palm tree standing the breeze. We engaged in a strange, labyrinthine conversation that touched on topics of fractals, cats, and Paul Pope’s career. Here I found evidence of an earnest philosopher in the field of experimental comics, who had a keen eye for craftsmanship and no fear of the resultant isolation. Next door, reggae played out of a lot filled with abandoned cars.
“Your backyard looks like Haiti,” I said.
The conceptual is apparent in his work, as he draws forth comparisons and ideas that challenge current assumptions and associations in motifs, bringing us to points of insight and humor that mimic the movement of frantic tropical birds. We are randomly greeted by lush jungle scenes and flailing, muscled arms that give way to floating beings of Japanese mist in an iconic night sky. The main character, B.I. BUKE, is both empowered by his mutation and the subject of ridicule in his warped, fragmented world of hall-of-mirrors masculinity. His genitalia, disembodied, greet us abruptly within cracked plexiglass scattered as if Charlie Chaplin were filmed courting Yoko Ono. Are we witnessing G.I. Joe’s first night as a gay in the military? Is knowing half the battle?
As Oakland swelled and exhaled with political fervor during Occupy, and rents continue to skyrocket in tacky fortresses whilst peeling Victorian houses appreciate steadily in gun infested streets, we see a city of the future, a societal scrambler, a pressure cooker, as language, identity, art, and sexuality are fed LSD and academic chiding from Berkeley, Zen lesbian perfume wafting in from Mills College, cold digital freon from San Francisco. This is a place of fragmentation, the Chimera of bohemian existence.
“Have you read that in 30 years, the ocean will be devoid of fish?”
“I look forward to one day retreating into a digital world,” said Olivo.
The movie Platoon and the book The Things They Carried engage in literary cell-division and their offspring produce a calm Egyptian relief, aloof, bicycling calmly past several crackheads in moth eaten wool cloaks, screaming at God.
While many minnows swarm to the carrion of the beached whale that is Obama’s promise, and hot storefront churches belt out distilled soul on Sundays, urban youth eating Ramen out of cups on rusty bikes, a gunshot rings out and kills a thug at Oakland’s burgeoning Art Walk. Olivo is an artist that unlike the minnow, will survive in the futuristic ocean as it evaporates, he is already developing his two dimensional lungs at a young age.