Wherein a visit to the fabulous minicomics aisle of one of New York's best comics shops is described and said minicomics purchased are discussed.
During my last trip to Manhattan, I wanted to be sure to drop by Forbidden Planet because I knew that Austin English was ordering for and stocking their minicomics aisle. English is an interesting cartoonist, critic and editor; his WINDY CORNER MAGAZINE combines all three impulses in a quirky, personal package. As a critic, he's introduced me to a number of artists that would later become favorites of mine (Juliacks and Lilli Carre', to name two). As such, I was curious to see what he might recommend for me to read from FP's huge selection. The aisle is organized by title and would take at least a solid hour to go through from top to bottom as a browser.
Dropping by on a busy Saturday afternoon (the already-cramped store was practically shoulder-to-shoulder in some spots), I was lucky enough to spot Austin right away. He was gracious enough to take the time to be my personal minicomics shopper: if he recommended it, I was buying it. There were some things that he recommended that I already had (like an old Megan Kelso mini or various issues of PAPERCUTTER), but I wound up with a nice stack of comics mostly by cartoonists I had never heard of. What follows is a set of brief impressions of the comics that Austin suggested for me.
RATTLETRAP #1 and #2, by Jerry Smith. This was one of my favorite discoveries of this batch. Smith crams dozens of panels on a page with minimalist artwork (barely even stick figures for most of it) as he relates mostly funny stories from his everyday life. Once you adjust to the rhythms of this comic, it becomes almost hypnotizing: one wants to read more and more. These comics' biggest highlights come when Smith and his wife talk to, tease and/or yell at each other. It's amazing how much affection one feels on the page for these characters despite their ultra-simplified depiction.
Romero Burruel's EMPTY #3, by John Frizzelle. This is a fascinatingly scratchy will-to-power of a comic. The main character is a down-and-out artist struggling to find reasons to keep going and rediscover discipline and passion regarding his art. After an initial dream, the comic shares his internal monologue on his tour through his distractions and excuses until he stands at a point where he's out of time and has to make a decision on what he's really all about. What I thought was interesting was his struggle with the conflation of being an artist with being bourgeois. Were the two inseparable? He eventually rejects the only idea of authenticity as living under a bridge, completely divorced from consumer culture, and comes to an uneasy internal truce. I'm curious if the other issues all deal with the same ideas, or if it's something different every time. I quite liked the way Frizzelle shifted between his scratchy art for his characters and the paintings the character created.
ASBESTOS WICK, by Eamon Espey. The cartoonist behind WORMDYE was one of my favorite discoveries last year. This mini is a collection of nightmarish, hallucinatory yet ultimately funny images depicting worship, dismemberment, ritual sex, myths, and rollicking high adventure. There's not a narrative, per se, but there is a disturbing internal logic that draws the eye to slowly peruse every corner of every page for all of the weird details. I'd recommend reading WORMDYE--and thoroughly absorbing its less straightforward sections--before reading this comic.
TALES OF BLARG #9, by Janelle Hessig. This is a jam-packed, old-school, rock'n'roll sort of zine. Hessig and friends expound hilariously on sex (best is "Ugly People I Wanna Do It To"), drugs, exhibitionism, weird desires, weird people they've met, people from bands they like, hipsters, crusties and much more about the world that surrounds them in Berkeley. It's a very personal zine that still seeks to entertain and/or disgust on every page--the perfect antidote to the more cloying personal zines of people like Nicole Georges. It's rare to read a zine that reveals so many embarrassing personal details that doesn't feel like tedious navel-gazing or whining. Hessig is someone who laughs at the world no matter the situation, and that's how things play out in her comics.
RAMBLE ON!, by Calvin Wong. This is another entry in the new school of alt-fantasy/gamer comics that includes stuff like DUNGEON, Alex Robinson's delightful LOWER REGIONS comic, Jesse Reklaw's BLUEFUZZ, the ELFWORLD anthology, etc. The hallmark of that school is a genuine affection for fantasy tropes and narratives, a good-faith effort at establishing same, and the sort of mockery for this genre that can only come from an insider. RAMBLE ON! succeeds on all three fronts, and throws in video-game tropes as well. The bard-like protagonist seeks membership in a band, has a guitar battle with an Ent that resembles Guitar Hero as much as anything else, and finally gains entrance. The backup story, about the quotidian affairs of an evil sorceror, was even funnier. Wong's art works because he's so deft at character design & interaction, as well as panel-to-panel transitions. The scratchy nature of his line adds some nice texture to these pages--not unlike illustrations from an old Monster Manual.
ESCHEW #1, by Robert Sergel. Simplicity is the key to this comic's success. Sergel uses a stark, bold style that reminds me a bit of John Hankiewicz's line, minus the cross-hatching. Sergel uses a clear, thin line in all of his work, and gives it depth in some strips by contrasting it with a lot of blacks and lightness in others by removing blacks altogether. The stories are funny vignettes that appear to be autobiographical, with "Thirteen Bad Experiences Involving Water" being the centerpiece of the issue. There's a dry sense of humor in each strip as Sergel never forces a punchline or ever uses a funny drawing; indeed, the source info for the gags is often in the title of the strip. There's nothing revolutionary about this comic, but it is a fine read by an artist who has very quickly found his voice.
NIGHT BUSINESS #2, by Benjamin Marra. Austin mentioned that Sammy Harkham told him how much he liked this one. Reading this book felt like someone had dropped a slapped-off comic from the black & white explosion of the 80s in my lap, and it's either a brilliantly deadpan parody of 80's erotic thriller cliches or an unabashedly gleeful celebration of same. Honestly, I don't want to know. It is pretty funny, in a crudely-executed way, but isn't the sort of joke I'd care to hear again and again.
PANPIPES #3, by Jesse McManus. This was my "what the hell is this" experience of this batch, not having read McManus's stuff before. These are weird fairy tales of sorts featuring goblins, odd children, anthropomorphic animals and other such creatures engaging in all sorts of violent shenanigans. This is a fascinating-looking series of drawings of characters in constant motion, with the slight sheen of someone who seems as though they're at home with animation as well as comics. There's a slickness to the weirdness, a clean line used for dirty purposes, not unlike a Kevin Scalzo. I found my eye falling off the page a bit because it was so slick, but it was sure fun to look at.
IN THE TALL GRASS #3, by Tessa Brunton. Brunton writes and draws some sharply funny autobio stories, told somewhere inbetween the style of Vanessa Davis and Julia Wertz. There's a great page called "Comix Fer Yer Wall" that pleasingly stacks a bunch of short strips of varying length (ranging between 2 and 8 panels), with subjects ranging from a crackhead's persistent phone calls to a memory of her "telepathic" babysitter to her dog's to-do list. Brunton uses shifting vantage points to her advantage: strips about dating, embarrassing anecdotes from her past, the perils of city life and what it's like to be a young person with no particular attachments. Brunton uses a scratchy style that focuses on her very expressive faces--eyes and mouths in particular.
CROOKED TEETH #2, by Nate Doyle. This is a mish-mash of brief stories, drawings, ramblings and other ephemera by an artist with a great deal of potential. Doyle's line is a bit rough and ramshackle at times, but the spontaneity of his line leaps off the page. A few things in particular stand out: the way he balances character against background (especially panoramic shots); the way he spots blacks to manipulate a story's tone; and the way he draws gesture, body language & character interaction. It's interesting to look at his work now, but I think it will be downright exciting to see it five years from now. Doyle is a fellow employee of Forbidden Planet, by the way.
WARMER, by Aidan Koch. Koch's smudgy style brings an almost uncomfortable intimacy and immediacy to the page. There's a deliberate awkwardness to the way she juxtaposes word and image that forces the reader to slow down and consider each image and the way they unfold over time. Koch's art is emotionally evocative as well; in this case, expressing exasperation and claustrophobia.
EGO, by Dunja Jankovic. Jankovic's star has risen rather quickly in the world of alt-comics, with a book just published by Sparkplug. She brings a fine artist's eye to her work, varying her visual approach from panel to panel: sometimes a stick-figure sketch, sometimes a cartoonish figure, and sometimes figures with naturalistic musculature. In "Addiction", that musculature proves to be an important part of the story as we meet a woman who hoards words and hauls them around; eventually the panel structure becomes part of the story as she "wins" a game of tic-tac-toe. "Plastic Bags" is even more striking, as it deals with a nightmarish scenario where a woman's own paranoia threatens to do her in. Jankovic dips slightly into Immersive Comics territory in terms of the way her art needs to be read, but not quite to the same degree given that text is still very separate from story. Anyone one looks at this mini, there's no question that Jankovic is a great cartoonist.