Rob reviews minicomics from Christopher Downes, Will Dinski and Jonas Madden-Connor.
A DIARY OF A WORK IN PROGRESS, by Christopher Downes. As one might ascertain from the title, Downes pens a diary comic. It's unremarkable in that regard, though Downes does slowly start to reveal more about the hopes, fears and dreams of himself and his wife as time passes. Despite an obvious restlessness with regard to his life working in a department store, Downes' essentially cheery nature prevents the comic from bogging down into an autobio whine session. Indeed, he seems quite happy to be living in Tasmania with his wife and cat, pondering the issue of progeny. What makes this comic stand out is the appealing nature of his line. I love the thickness of his line, the way he densely hatches and cross-hatches and his charming character design. There's a little bit of R.Crumb, Craig Thompson, and Drew Weing (the artist whose style he most closely resembles) to be found in his art. His lettering is drop-dead gorgeous, with thick stylized letters that are printed slightly off-kilter against each other but still come together to form an attractive whole--and one that's quite easy to read. This is an artist with great chops and style who is still searching for his voice. I would be eager to see him try his hand at fiction or any kind of longer-form comic, especially one that pushes him to become more formally experimental. There are hints of that to be found in terms of the way he uses panels as a storytelling device (a panel bending back under the pressure of wind, or crashing down through two panels when he's exhausted), and I think he could tell an entertaining story as he made that kind of exploration.
COVERED IN CONFUSION, by Will Dinski. Dinski continues his recent string of excellent minis with a story that's a bit more straightforward than his usual stories. At the same time, there's a greater richness and complexity in both plot and characterization, with surprising story layers that manifest themselves in unusual ways. Dinski begins the story with a discussion of why we blush, a trope that pops up throughout the story of a woman recalling the tragic story of a favorite high school teacher. That teacher, Mr Danielson, was a quirky guy with a habit of stealing pens from other faculty and being a steadfast voice of support for his students. He was also the stereotypical absent-minded professor, something that's amusingly set up early in the book but leads to horrific consequences in the story's climax. This story is about triggers of trauma, as the woman is triggered by the cries of a baby in the apartment next door and reminded that she might have prevented the tragedy. That realization is a shattering one for the reader, yet Dinski handles it with a great deal of restraint.
All of Dinski's usual stylistic signatures are in effect here, yet stand out a bit less than usual thanks to the compelling nature of his story. There's the way he uses word balloons to block out whole panels, the way he uses a blank panel with a triangle in the corner to indicate time passing (a page being turned, as it were), his unusual character design (lots of angles, squidged eyes, bushy eyebrows) and formal flourishes (the splash pages freezing characters in time, almost like a yearbook photo, the cover glowing in the dark). The cumulative effect of Dinski's formal approach is a cold one, a coolness that distances the reader. That coolness is what allows him to tell such a downbeat story with so much restraint; the reader never feels manipulated nor is sentiment ever earned cheaply. It helps that the dialogue is never overwrought; indeed, conversations in Dinski's comics are deliberately on the spare side as he prefers to let images convey most of his story's major beats. With this story and last year's ERRAND SERVICE, it seems as though Dinski is reaching a new level of maturity and ambition as an artist, exploring emotional depths as well as creating a unique page.
OCHRE ELLIPSE #3, by Jonas Madden-Connor. Madden-Connor is an exciting newcomer whose specialty has been bold formal experiments coupled with a lingering sense of wanderlust and melancholy. The latter two aspects of his work were certainly at play in this new issue, though the formal fireworks were considerably toned down. Madden-Connor likes bending time and space as formal elements in his comics, but given that this story was about both time travel and the way one's past images accrue, it makes sense that he'd mute those formal elements.
The story seems heavily influenced by Lewis Trondheim by way of Chris Ware, though the tone is entirely his own. The figures are simple ovals (ala Trondheim's MISTER O) but retain a great deal of expressiveness. The comics' hook is killer: an unhappy, lonely man who remembers a happy childhood despite being a loner goes back in time to those happy days. Despite the fact that he can't interact with anyone as a time travel (appearing as a ghost), the visits to his childhood self with an intricately detailed fantasy life fill him with joy. The eventual resolution of the story is both heartbreaking and sweet, as the man realizes that the accumulation of his ghost images was the inspiration for that wonderful fantasy life--but that he will never be capable of any other happiness. Madden-Connor concludes the issue with the actual fantasy being played out as his childhood self imagined it, a wonderful sequence that recontextualizes earlier scenes in the book. Madden-Connor deftly uses genre trappings (even throwing a "science-fiction" sticker on the cover with an iconic ray-gun) to tell a story of one man's infinite emotional loop.