Three attractive anthologies to tackle in this column, each with distinctive editoral and aesthetic viewpoints:
PAPERCUTTER #8, edited by Greg Means. PAPERCUTTER, as I've noted before, is one of the most attractive anthology series currently in publication. This issue follows the established formula of the anthology: one long story by a feature artist, a shorter story by a second artist, and a very short (2 pages) story by a third artist. The concept behind the anthology is to feature young and/or underpublished cartoonists in the most flattering format possible. Varying story length adds variety to the reader's experience and editor Greg Means is careful to feature artists whose styles and interests are different in each issue.
The featured artist in #8 is Corinne Mucha, who brought a very interesting sense of design to her autobiographical story of being haunted as a child. She thought she was being menaced by witches that lived in her closet and came up with a byzantine set of rules and regulations regarding her own behavior and safety. The most visually striking aspect of her comics was her lettering, often using huge, decorative font designs to emphasize fear, ridiculousness or a sense of being childlike. Lettering is an underappreciated part of the art of comics, and Mucha makes a point of fully integrating it as part of her page. Her work reminded me a bit of Lynda Barry's comics, especially the shifting perspectives and the diagramatic nature of the comics page. Mucha turns this account of her experience into a discussion of memory and perception, and the ways one's brain creates connections when it needs to make sense of the world.
Brubaker has the 2-page slot in a story that integrates some amusingly freakish character design with his typically angular style. It's a little spoof of one tough high school outsider's aggressive posture and serves its purpose as a palate cleanser of sorts after the dreamier first story. The third story, Jeremy Tinder's "Pete At Night" starts off as a typical slacker pity-party sort of story, but takes a right turn into violence and the absurd. The story's punchline picks up the story thread regarding his lack of confidence with regard to women and manages to tie it into the weirdness he just experienced, a hilarious stroke of genius. PAPERCUTTER succeeds because it has modest ambitions. It's not trying to reinvent the comics wheel or provide a showcase for avant-garde' creations. It features distinctive voices, styles and narratives and makes them look good. Each issue is simply a pleasure to read.
GOOD MINNESOTAN #3, edited by Raighne & Meghan Hogan. Minnesota is fertile ground for comics talent these days. Zak Sally is probably the best known name from the north country, though Will Dinski is starting to get more recognition. The GOOD MINNESOTAN anthology proves that there's a full-blown comics scene, rapidly improving from issue to issue. There's a delicate balance between trying to provide exposure for as many artists as possible and tightening up the content a bit. There are a number of short pieces that seem ripped out of the artists' sketchbook that fail to leave much of an impression and some longer pieces about relationships that feel perhaps a bit too self-indulgent for this sort of anthology. Ed Moorman's well-drawn "Polaroids" especially falls into the latter category; it's almost too intimate in the way it presents anecdotes without context, and there's just not enough for the reader to grab onto.
There are a number of strong stories in here that merit further discussion, however. Meghan Hogan's own "You Are The Great Horned Owl" is a beautiful and distinctive excerpt from a larger work about the inner life of birds. Its only problem is that it's clearly meant to be a color piece but is presented in greyscale here. Without that color, some of the story's impact is blunted. I enjoyed both of the rambling stories about apartment living: Justin Skarhus & Raighne Hogan's "Sex Box" and John & Luke Holden's "Fuckleberry Hinn". The former uses a blotchy line and heavy use of blacks to detail one man's frustration with his sex-crazed housemates--only to add the not-unexpected punchline of committing the same indiscretions at someone else's house. The latter story is even blotchier and much cruder, depicting several days in the life of a man who is forced to become homeless. The grotesque character design is compelling and makes this quotidian story a page turner. There's also a deadpan sense of humor perfectly set off by the art; there's a sense that the protagonist's entire life is just a series of absurd moments and he's become quite resigned to it.
The standout story in this issue is Nicholas Breutzman's "My Town". It's cleverly well-designed, integrating word and text in interesting ways. Breutzman manages to balance his depiction of ennui and horror in pitch-perfect ways. The story functions both as a literal horror story and a metaphorical account of loneliness and alienation. The way Breutzman wildly varies panel size and placement from page to page was key to modulating the story's emotional rhythms. One brief story deserves a mention: Anna Bongiovanni's "To Take Back" is a wonderfully unsettling piece that sees a naked woman laying in a forest. She has apparently just given birth, takes a look at the baby, and swallows it whole. In the last panel, her back is turned to us so as to prevent the reader from seeing the expression on her face--adding to the sense of mystery and ambivalence in this piece. I hope we see more of her work in future issues of GOOD MINNESOTAN. The format and design of this issue of the anthology as a whole continues to become more distinctive, and I hope at some point that they'll be able to introduce color.
FLUKE #6, edited by Drew Weing. FLUKE is a minicomics/zine event that takes place in Athens, GA and provides a spotlight for a number of southern cartoonists that may not get a lot of exposure elsewhere. Drew Weing is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) and a fine cartoonist. He drew one of liveliest journal comics for a time but is better known for his lush online work. He has a fine eye for talent and produced a strong minicomics anthology for FLUKE 2007. FLUKE #6 is jam-packed with SCAD graduates, artists from the Partyka collective and even Joseph Lambert, a CCS graduate.
The anthology reflects Weing's tastes in that each piece is well-drawn and fluid. This is not to say that every story is straightforward, especially given the presence of artists like Chris Wright; indeed, Weing makes a point of including a number of different storytelling approaches. There are stories with oblique narratives (Michele Chidester's "Invention"), slice-of-life concerns ("." by Mel Stringer), the absurdly grotesque ("Meat Cute" by Eleanor Davis), and fantasy ("The Acker Brothers" by Mike Laughead). Weing's own "Algernon Lamb", about a detective who specializes in art-related crimes, is a particular highlight. There are very few duds in this anthology, which is rare for such books created for comics festivals. That's a tribute both to Weing's discernment as an editor and the way he placed the stories. FLUKE #6 succeeds, much like PAPERCUTTER in having modest goals and exceeding them. I don't want to overstate the value of these comics; I wouldn't consider either to be among the best comics of the year. That said, they are fine collections of short, strong pieces by young artists, carefully edited and skillfully designed. They are worthy of emulation by any young editor with similar aspirations.