Wednesday, November 16, 2011

SAW-Related Comics and Broadsheets

I've previously mentioned the Sequential Artists Workshop that Tom Hart & Leela Corman are opening in Gainesville, FL (home of the University of Florida). Recently, the school announced its initial curriculum for the fall of 2012. Hart spent years at the School of Visual Arts in New York and is writing a text on teaching comics; he's a fine writer about and critic of comics as well as being one of the best cartoonists of the Xeric generation that sprang up in the early 1990s. Hart is known for his close relationships with many of his students, and as such he's been selling two broadsheets at conventions that reflect his interest and guiding hand.

The first is Seriously Comics, a broadsheet that Hart says was inspired by Peter Bagge's classic I Like Comics fanzine from the 90s. Hart wanted a goofier, more irreverent take on comics than something like The Comics Journal or Comic Art and wanted it in a cheap, disposable format. As such, this broadsheet is a great success. While Hart is all over this publication, his former student Stephanie Mannheim is the engine behind nearly every feature, which functions as the most entertaining school newspaper ever. The cover functions like an issue of The Onion, with snippets of "stories" like "Webcartoonist Just Can't Seem to Make Cathy Existential", "Is Dewey A Gay Icon?" and "Pizza Island is WOMEN!" mixing with teasers for actual stories. The combination of Hart's enthusiasm and sincerity with Mannheim's boundless energy and smartass attitude results in a publication that's more than just a lark. Indeed, the interviews with Dash Shaw, Gary Panter and Keith Mayerson (yes, this is a highly SVA-centric publication) are substantive and revealing.

That said, it's the ancillary material, the frosting on the cake, that sets this apart from other comics publications. In addition to a page of comics by Aaron Renier, there's a good old-fashioned fumetti strip featuring "Stacey Nightmayer" and various cartoonists, a photo feature on the amusing "Ballpoint Boxers" event (wherein female cartoonists drew on men, a flip of an event from 1950 wherein a bunch of male cartoonists drew on women in bathing suits), and a hilarious feature called "Vote For Your Favorite New York Cartooning Couple". This send-up of tabloid journalism was perhaps a little in-jokey, but most of the people buying this will probably get the references. I hope that Hart & Mannheim can keep this going.

The other broadsheet Hart's been selling is Isra Rushes Out Of The Sandcastle, a collection of one-page comics from various of his students hand-picked by Hart. It's a surprisingly strong anthology given that much of it is student work (with some stories directly adapted from assignments), featuring a number of different visual approaches. There's delicate, image-driven comics as poetry from Alexander Rothman, brush-heavy confessions from Li-Or Zaitzman and a hilarious, scatological manga-inflected comic by Kendra Wells for starters. There are excerpts from larger works (like a surreal, expressively-drawn story from Maria Sputnik and a page from a Mannheim comic that frankly doesn't make sense outside its larger context. Not everything in here sparkles (Hillary Allison's crack at a daily, gag-driven comic strip features fairly stale observations and Shauna Grant didn't have the chops to pull off her manga-meets-classic-cartooning stylings), but it's all at least solid and some of it is outstanding. In particular, I thought the last three cartoonists featured all had distinctive visual styles. Henry Fernau's kinetic woodcut-style piece had a wonderfully expressive economy of storytelling. Alabaster did a fine job of channeling classic cartooning and balancing it against classic literature. Finally, Katie McEwen's delicate illustration reminds me of the fragile work of Aidan Koch or Amanda Vahamaki.

Mannheim's own Nate The Nonconformist Crashes A Party minicomic is over-the-top social satire in the vein of Peter Bagge's Hate! Mannheim employs a similar kind of grotesque, exaggerated figure work to take aim at the sort of self-styled punk "non-conformist" who thinks a t-shirt bought from Hot Topic is a cultural and political statement. The targets are broad and a little easy in this comic, but Mannheim makes up for that with bugged-out eyes, sharpened teeth and some pretty trenchant jokes. (Having songs like "Whip My Hair" and "Black & Yellow" playing at the party was pretty amusing, for example.) Having the titular character crash an intervention because he mistook it for a party was another great gag. Mannheim is more directly parodic than Bagge in terms of her targets (no one in this comic resembles a realistic character), edging more towards Johnny Ryan in terms of the way she sets up gags and how far she's willing to take them. She definitely has her own style, however, and it's fully-formed and distinctive.

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