Friday, December 28, 2012

CCS Anthologies: Wings For Wheels, Stranger Knights, Irene

Stranger Knights #3, edited by Bill Volk.The latest volume in Volk's quirky, genre-oriented and comic pamphlet-formatted anthology is tighter in focus and all the better for it. Volk's own stories revolve around an institutionalized team of super-heroes called the Stranger Knights, who have their own hierarchies and politics to contend with along with threats. In "The Capsule's Promise", Volk turns around the time-worn theme that an alien crash-landing on earth might be friendly by having one of the Knights try to engage it peacefully, only to discover that when it shouts out "Kill Everything!", it means it. "It Grows Among Us" features the dense but simplistic art of Casey Bohn with Volk's story. This is an on-the-road story featuring the Search and Detrucktive going after a food-stealing thief, only to find things aren't what they seem. Bohn's heavy use of blacks and chunky line remind me a bit of the work of John G. Miller, the Scottish cartoonist. Mary Soper's linework in "Incantrix X" is crude and derivative of mainstream manga, but it also has a certain charm and energy, along with an energetic sense of humor. The most polished piece in the book is Bryan Stone's "The Orb of Shalla", a sort of cross between fantasy, sci-fi and high adventure. As a cat woman and a robot hunt for a priceless artifact in the jungle, they are pursued by a creature who actually wants the horned piglet they've picked up as a pet. Stone caps the story with a funny punchline and keeps the reader interested with clever and clear character design. Stranger Knights is lightweight work to be sure, but Volk is slowly but surely figuring out just what he wants this book to look like and feel like. There's certainly a place for smart and funny genre fiction, but it will take time to sand off some of the rougher edges of the anthology. Volk is already adding clever elements like fake ads and a more thoughtfully considered sense of design to the proceedings, as he and his collaborators are clearly dedicated to getting better in public.

Wings For Wheels, edited by Nomi Kane. This is another lightweight but enjoyable anthology with excellent production values. It's a tribute to Bruce Springsteen and his music, and the cardboard cover plus the comic with painted grooves designed to mimic a 45 are both quite clever. Todd McArthur's "A Clarence Clemons Christmas Carol" was the most inessential story in the book in part because of its nonsensical premise (a ghostly Clarence Clemons, the former sax player for the E Street Band, telling the author to spend money in the form of the Dickens story?). Much better was Josh PM Frees' "The Boss Don't Stop", which is about the experience of being carried away by music in the form of a lunatic at a karaoke bar belting out "Born To Run" despite crashing through a table and losing volume on his microphone. Jen Vaughn's "This Town" tries to connect up a younger girl's taste in music with her mother's in the form of Springsteen in a fairly obvious way. Editor Kane's take on the same idea, "Home Is Where The Boss Is", is a better attempt at getting at the idea of a cross-generational appreciation for Springsteen's form of grassroots-inspired Americana and the ways it extends and deepens into adulthood. Pat Barrett's "Growin' Up" takes on this concept from a different angle, trying to justify his own hard-youth bona fides despite growing up in Connecticut by comparing his upbringing to Springsteen's in New Jersey by trying to lump them all together as the tri-state area. This leads to dueling fantasy Springsteens that his friends bring to life, hilariously personifying the ways in which we attach ourselves to our musical heroes. Finally, Jen May's interstitial drawings were a nice touch, especially the final one which details her history with an iconic (and to her troubling) t-shirt image.

Irene, edited by Dakota McFadzean, DW and Andy Warner. This was a strong anthology mostly from recent grads and current students of CCS. That's an interesting editorial board in that each of the artists has radically different approaches to the comics page. McFadzean uses a cartoony style, DW is a mark-maker in the Fort Thunder tradition, and Warner uses a naturalistic approach. McFadzean's "Skeletons" continues his interest in the intersection between small-town life's stresses and the supernatural, especially with regard to children. This story of a friendship fraying because one family is moving away perfectly captures the ways in which kids interact (especially young boys) while creating an unnerving supernatural subtext. Warner's "Come Into My Heart" is the story of an acid trip shared by two teens, culminating in a confession disclosing abuse by the troubled boy. Warner's page and panel design break up the story nicely, but the story gains its real power by his wordless, tight close-ups on the characters at the end. While there's a crisp precision present in his character design, they're also organic enough to allow the story to flow.

DW's collaboration with cute-figure-drawing Rachel Dukes is demented, hilarious and gripping all at once. It's a spy/assassination story drawn in the style of cute, Pokemon-style critters. Levels of denial and disavowal figure into this story of a Daymaker teaming up with a vicious Kid to take down Death Dude, with the price being some baked goods. DW plays it totally straight, building up an intriguing mythology from the ground up while Duke's loose, simple style is perfectly suited for such a story. Jonathan Fine's "Endswell" and Nate Wootters' "Blueberry" bookend the anthology in more ways than one: it's the gritty reality of the boxing ring versus the horrific fantasy of a father forcing a creature on his son, as well as warmth and trust in the face of adversity vs. abject betrayal. Fine's line is clean and naturalistic, while Wootters employs a more cartoony but densely-hatched approach. They're fit nicely into the anthology's overall themes surrounding family, betrayal, and secrets. I hope to see future volumes.

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