Thursday, May 26, 2011

Taking Stock: Smoo Comics

The cartoonist Simon M does autobio work in the vein of John Porcellino or Jeff Levine, in that he's interested in depicting his environment as a counterpoint to expressing particular feelings and memories. In this Smoo minicomics series, he's shown considerable progress as an artist from the first issue in 2007 to the third issue in 2010. From the very beginning, he's shown a strong interest in crafting challenging page layouts, with many a striking splash page illustrating his emotions. The greatest area of development has been his growing confidence as a storyteller, both in terms of the boldness & strength of his line and his willingness to really discuss raw, painful emotions in a visually powerful manner.

The most notable story in the first issue is its opener, "There's A World Going On Underground". Simon observes a little heat-emitting pillar in his city and connects it to an imaginary world underground. Simon sometimes has a tendency to really start rambling as he tries to connect thought to image, which is unfortunate because his text sometimes gets in the way of his strong compositional skills. This story is text-heavy, but his prose here mixes well with his fanciful images of blind typists, spy snails and shadowy boardrooms. The problem with his line, like many emerging artists, is that he overrendered at certain times in an effort to try to present a powerful image and underrendered at times when he was trying to be subtle. As a result, his draftsmanship distracted from his otherwise striking image-making.

The second issue shows Simon M much confident in his line, though there's again a lack of concision in the use of prose. The best story is "A Case In Point", wherein Simon examines his own faulty memory by trying to flesh out a glimmer from his childhood wherein he kills a rodent that his cat had caught. Simon really lets his pages breath here, eventually stretching the narrative out to a single image per page with bare-bones descriptions. I found the end of the story especially effective, as Simon doesn't try to tie the memory into a particular lesson about "the price of mortality"; indeed, there's a palpable frustration in that this exercise had no discernible lessons at all. This story was a breakthrough in that Simon didn't try to tie his rambling together with a neat bow. Issue #2.5 was a collection of drawings and loose story ideas that once again had some striking images that would reemerge in #3.

The third issue is by far the most ambitious and most assured. It's a dark story that explores (with the distance of Simon talking to a loved one on the phone) about a hellish period of his life when he was menaced on the phone for reasons that were unclear. He leavens the darkness with moments of whimsy: in considering the phone as a tool like any other, he draws some amusing images, including an Egyptian god with a laser gun. He prepares the audience for the issue's darker moment with a spare interlude wherein he considers telephone poles during a drifting period of his life. His depictions of how he failed to deal with this series of traumatic events, how he tries to deal with it now, and how he battles with the destructive inner voice of anxiety and despair are all brutally frank but wonderfully restrained and even funny. With a more focused emotional track in this issue, his digressions didn't feel like simple rambling; instead, they were more like counterpoints and moments of relief before the moment of dread was fully explored. Simon M is starting to transcend his influences, but more importantly he's unlocking ways to use his strengths as an artist and meld them with his particular point of view and observational acuity.

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