Saturday, May 19, 2012

Now and Then: Coin-Op Comics #3

Coin-Op #3, by Peter & Maria Hoey.  It took me forever to get around to reviewing this stylish and strange little comic, partly because its visual style seemed so familiar yet unplaceable.  Upon rereading it, it finally hit me: the comic, both in terms of form and style, is a mash-up between the distinctive modernist flair of Max Fleischer and the post-modern construction of Matt Madden.  Both of those artists aren't afraid to dip into the surreal or silly as they tell their stories.  For Fleischer, he created an atmosphere and background setting that was every bit as important as the characters he depicted in his cartoons of Popeye and Superman.  The Hoeys seize on that with their "Saltz and Pepz" strip, as two Fleischer-esque anthropomorphic dogs try to make their way in a harsh, rainy city.  They eventually fall into a nightmarish, regimented world that's given a dreamy atmosphere with the issue-wide use of a blue-green tint that's meant to evoke the night. 

The Madden influence (which can also be described as a Chris Ware influence or even Richard McGuire influence) involves the Hoeys' experimentation with panel formatting, as they break up the page with multiple panels while using the full arrangement of panels to create a different gestalt in "The John Lee Hooker Highway Rest Stop Blues."  The Hoeys get even more ambitious with "Jingle In July", which uses a 5 x 4 panel grid depicting action from panel to panel and page to page, but each page also works as a fractured, single image.  It's four quick moments in time as a liquor store is robbed, a truck smashes into an ice-cream truck, a man in a dentist's office runs to stop a man with a jackhammer, a boy on a skateboard plows into a pedestrian, and scores of feathers are released onto the street when the truck gets into an accident.  It has that Madden crispness, with simple but distinct character design and a reliance on the language of comics.  The heavy use of sound effects is very comic booky and aims at creating the sense of simultaneity that the Hoeys are pursuing. 

Those sensibilities are merged in the very odd "The Fred Balloon', a send-up of magical realist stories that features a balloon being transformed by a power line into a sentient being that eventually starts taking over other balloons and forming a DNA strand in the sky.  It's a funny, odd and understated bit of weirdness that is effective because of the "cool", almost metallic color scheme and the overall restraint of the artists as storytellers.  Their graphics sensibility is so indelible (if familiar) that it's easy for them to hang back and let the images guide the text, rather than the other way around.  There are other oddities in this issue, like a series of one-page articles about obscure jazz musicians as well as a collage strip that repurposes photos with new color schemes, a comic-style grid, and swathes of color.  However, it's their most ambitious formal experiments that really carry the issue.  That's not because the experiments are especially innovative (indeed, they all feel familiar), but because they are so entertaining and well-executed.

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