Wednesday, November 28, 2012
New Comics From Sam Spina
Sam Spina is at his best when he's drawing dopey, funny adventures that don't take themselves seriously. For example, his new comic The Frantastic Four (Kilgore Books, who publish Noah Van Sciver's Blammo! series) moves quickly beyond being a superhero pastiche and becomes something much weirder and more wonderful. Spina's work looks great in standard-pamphlet size, though it did fairly cry out for color. The story starts out as a quasi-serious riff on an obsessed astronaut who travels to Neptune, trying to better himself after his brother (beloved of his parents) disappeared. Every step Spina takes after that subverts genre conventions in the silliest way possible. The astronaut (Frankie Frantastic) meets an alien on Neptune and brings him home, "hiding" him in the most obvious ways possible. The super-intelligent robot his brother built is curious about this walking stalk of celery, but then a Godzilla-style creature pops up to fight Celery, only to agree to join with the others. The quartet bumbles through a series of ever-goofier adventures until they decide to open a restaurant, which winds up getting rave reviews. You get the idea. It almost feels like an example of "yes, and..." improvisational storytelling, except it was Spina himself who kept giving himself crazier things to throw into the story.
A more concentrated blend of Spina's penchant for visceral violence and nonsensical gags is Daggurs, a (mostly) 24-hour comic that recalls Kaz Strzepek by way of Kate Beaton. His simple character design is heightened by sharp-edge faces and cartoony expressions on the faces of animals. The comic veers from funny violence for its own sake to a denunciation of violence to a warped parody of "issue" comics, as the title character teams up with the angelic form of an angel he killed (a "whangel", of course) to spread the word about anti-violence. It's a more focused work than The Frantastic Four, which tends to repeat some of its jokes as it searches for new ones. Daggurs' more abbreviated length ideally highlights Spina's comic timing and understanding of how to use story beats to maximize visual gags.
Finally, there's Spinadoodles: The Third Year, the final collection of his autobiographical daily journal comic. In each of the past two collections of this comic, Spina has quoted from my reviews of his work to comedic effect. In this volume, he took the most negative quote from my review and zeroed in on it to create a strip that wasn't exactly funny in terms of having a punchline but was nonetheless amusing because of the way he digested the comment. Spina notes that the reason why he quite doing the daily strip is that he felt that he had pretty much mastered it, or rather, that it no longer held the same sort of challenge for him as an artist that it once did. It became something safe and dependable, and to his credit, Spina saw that it was time to step away and focus his energy on other work. In general, the same critique I made of past volumes still holds: some of the strips are half-assed and ill-conceived; they are simply Spina trying to fulfill his vow of doing a strip every day. In a sense, this collection is a warts 'n all spotlight on his process as an artist, because he easily could have curated this book to feature his best strips. Spina rarely lets the reader get too close to his darker moments, but he handles it quite well when he does go that route. The comic where he and his girlfriend sit around and muse out loud that they may well never achieve their dream jobs, but where they are now wasn't so bad was both reassuring and heartbreaking. Indeed, much of this book features Spina thinking about the future as he still has fun as a 20something person halfway between adult responsibility and the college life. One senses his ennui at certain points as the easy community of his youth starts to slip away a bit but can be reclaimed with relative ease with a trip or a visit. Spina also hints at the ways he and his girlfriend come into conflict but rarely goes into much detail. Mostly, Spina comes off as a fun guy who plays things for laughs and is in love with someone who feels much the same way. I hope to see longer, more focused autobio comics from him in the future.