Monday, October 8, 2012
New and Old : Hive #5
The fifth volume of Jordan Shiveley's anthology of new and old material, Hive, is unsurprisingly hit and miss. However, Shiveley is to be commended for the sheer breadth and depth of the material in the book, as many of the cartoonists here are relatively new to me and show exciting potential. Let me start with Cole Closser, a student at the Center for Cartoon Studies whose "Finnegan Frog" stories channel both the style and spirit of golden age comic strip cartoonists like EC Segar or (especially) Billy DeBeck. The ways in which the poor title character gets beaten down by life in strip after strip is hilarious and evocative of later work (Chris Ware crossed with Tony Millionaire, perhaps). What makes Closser's work great is the organic nature of his line. He's not simply doing a pastiche but rather looks to have achieved his own style after much trial and error after looking at a lot of different kinds of comics. I could read a book full of these gags.
Shiveley did a nice job in getting a number of non-US cartoonists for this anthology, and these artists in particular piqued my attention. German artist Lilli Loge's darkly humorous "Make The Most Of It" plasters that platitude atop a number of funny and grim situations in which a wheelchair-bound woman goes out of her way to overachieve in the most ridiculous of situations. I enjoyed her bleak but absurd sensibility in this strip and found myself wanting to see more, which is certainly the mission of a good anthology. Liliana Velez wrote and Paola Gavira drew Velez's story "Naked In The City", a straightforward account of a provocative act done with no thoughts toward eroticism, but rather a way of truly inhabiting (and forcing others to confront) the sense in which we are embodied. It's a fact that we literally cover up as people, a fact that is eroticized or shamed but that is always present. Her plaintive cry of "Don't they have a body?" as she is mocked, scolded and/or leered at rings true. Gavira's nervous line reminds me a bit of Julie Doucet in the way it wavers and is slightly on the grotesque side, a factor that helps ground the nudity in the story.
There's a lot in here that I've already seen, but I'm guessing many American readers haven't. Comics by Joe Decie, David Zggy Greene, Craig Collins &Iain Laurie come to mind in that department, representing diary comics, gags, and skewed horror, respectively. There was also an excerpt from Noah Van Sciver's excellent comic The Hypo published long before that book debuted. The tone and subjects of this anthology are really all over the place and have no particular flow; really, it's less an anthology than a sampler of work that Shiveley happens to like, published in a highly attractive package. (The hand-printed vellum dustcover is a beautiful little art object.) That said, Shiveley publishes work by artists not usually seen by wider audiences, like Hawk Krall's excellent comics about being a chef or Danny Hellman's lovingly-rendered exercises in hilarious filth that he drew a number of years ago.There's a couple of amusing Jonathan Baylis stories from his minis and lightweight but well done pieces from Lauren Barnett and Annie Mok (the former Ed Choy Moorman). Generally speaking, there's simply less dross in this volume than in the prior one. The comics in general look better and are visually distinctive. There's less genre tedium (not to say that all genre work is tedious, but there's nothing more tedious than bad genre work) and more risk-taking in the sort of storytelling approaches that are attempted. Even the most conventional of stories, like Paul O'Connell's by-the-numbers stories about jazz musicians and other cultural figures from the 1950s, are at least readable and competently done. I can't help but think that Shiveley is on the verge of being able to make Hive uniformly excellent, but that may require a rethinking of the way he gathers some of his material. There's no question that he has a knack for identifying talent and anticipating its rise.