Thursday, May 17, 2012

Step Up: Big Plans #5

As I noted in this review of Aron Nels Steinke's Big Plans #4, he seemed to be a talented artist with a simple but distinctive visual flair who was in search of his voice.  With his Kickstarter-powered fifth issue, he's coming much closer to realizing his potential as an artist.  This is the work of an artist who's much more confident and self-assured than the one who flailed in the first three issues of his series.  It's a visually stylish comic that lets the images do much of the talking.  Reining himself in in terms of his earlier wordiness was his most important move, as he's learned to integrate word and image with greater skill, ease and grace.  It's one thing to be influenced by John Porcellino.  It's quite another thing to put Porcellino's example as an artist who emphasizes the quiet, poetic moments of life and integrate it with one's own aesthetic to create something new.  For Steinke, an artist who seems to burst with enthusiasm and ideas, it's been all about learning restraint and how to express oneself clearly and forcefully while avoiding bombast.

Steinke begins this autobiographical comic with a story about loving guns as a youngster.  I love the way he plays with formatting as he goes from a 12-panel grid (with some of the panels entirely composed of text) to a four-panel grid centered in the middle of the page, to a one-panel shot (where all the panels are still the same size) that emphasizes negative space, to a full-page splash shot, back to the original grid.  It's a clever way of modulating impact and emotion, as well as providing beats and rests for the reader as Steinke shifts the focus from the past to the present, where he witnesses a shooting in a shopping mall parking lot.  His description of the euphoria he felt after he went into the mall after the shooting ended in order to buy a silly gift was interesting.  The story's punchline (wherein his wife suggests that they buy a gun) was an amusing one.  "&F&(*F Old People" was more of a trifle, invoking his rage/passion-inspired Wolf alter ego as its main character.  There were a couple of interesting observations, but it ultimately devolved into silliness.

"Home Alone", on the other hand, was my favorite story in the comic.  This one is the most clearly influenced by Porcellino, as it involves the author walking away from the internet in frustration in order to take a walk to the store.  It's a beautifully-illustrated story, using a number of different visual angles and styles to break up the action.  Steinke uses interesting visual signifiers to depict noise, tying them into the comic's recurring motif: Steinke's feelings of anger and the way in which it affects him in a visceral manner.  The end of the story, wherein Steinke falls asleep after drinking the beer he bought at the store, is all about how drinking was a way to numb the anger.

"Make The Light" is mostly an interior monologue about trying to get to a talk hosted by two beloved cartoonists and the ways in which he acts like a dick to his wife, who is driving.  It's a story about how desire leads to unhappiness when not reined in by compassion, something that dawns on him when he's at the lecture and realizes it's terrible.  It's not what he wanted to hear (especially jokes about cartoonists not making any money), and his guilt at having put his wife through an unpleasant experience is expressed by showing him as almost manic after he walks out of the lecture early.  The simplicity of Steinke's line combined with his eye for decorative details create a beautiful, cartoony environment for his breakthroughs and insights as a person and artist.  His stories flow nicely together and he really takes his time and allows pictures to slowly tell a story.  He's coming into his own as an autobiographical cartoonist, and his use of an emotional through-line that runs in all of his stories is an interesting hook, as well as his mostly restrained style of storytelling (there are a couple of over-the-top moments) in depicting the emotion of anger. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Rob! I'm not so angry anymore. It came with getting a good job. You can see this change in my new comics about teaching.