Wednesday, January 30, 2013
More Minis: Schreiber, Madden, Juresko, Lindo, Brown, Schubert
4090, by Nathan Schreiber.A lot of the comics published by Box Brown's Retrofit Comics have deliberately skewed in the direction of genre, perhaps in emulation of monthly superhero comics. After all, Retrofit is all about bringing back the comics pamphlet, albeit with content and art that's personal instead of being under the auspices of a corporate entity. Schreiber's sci-fi story looks like a cross between a Jack Kirby comic and an Alex Toth comic, with lots of visually dynamic and kinetic art mixed with sketchier, more minimalist linework. The story concerns a future scenario wherein most every attempt at saving humanity from a poisonous atmosphere have failed, and the assembled characters are attempting a desperate end-run around the end of the world while negotiating failed and fractious personal relationships. Interestingly, it was completed for Frank Santoro's drawing correspondence course, so my immediately went to see how the grid was arranged on each page. Sure enough, Schreiber went with a three panel page, with each panel stacked horizontally. The only exceptions were pages with explosions or big reveals, which collapsed the top two panels on each facing page. The story is unremarkable; it's typical character-driven sci-fi stuff. However, Schreiber's visuals make this comic worth a long look. The way he flips between drawings that have a real solidity and life of their own with drawings that are clearly drawings gives the book a real sense of power, as though reality is crumbling or blinking in and out of existence. Schreiber clearly absorbed Santoro's lessons well (even if his page structure is a bit on the nose), and I'll be curious to see his future work.
Sock, by Box Brown. Brown excels at depicting losers, oddballs and sleazebags in their natural habitats in a minimalist yet still grotesque style; it's a sort of mix between Chris Ware and Dan Clowes. Sock follows a young man at a party who's just done a line of cocaine (or possibly crystal meth) who then navigates the people there in an effort to perhaps get laid or at least have a good time. He's the sort of person who can't get out of his own way, a goofball who's part misplaced aggression and part frustrated affection. While nothing very good happens to him, nothing very bad happens either, as a geeky, enormously fat (drawn almost like a snowman, with circles on top of circles) wrestling nerd gives him a ride home after he blacks out. Brown clearly has a lot of affection for these sorts of crude characters who are just trying to find some kind of happiness, even if they lack the kind of emotional self-awareness to ever achieve it. Brown's drawings are just excellent, mastering the Ware/Brunetti school of characters as geometric figures.
The Blobby Boys #1, by Alex Schubert. Schubert is a funny cartoonist whose work seems heavily influenced by Dan Clowes' early Eightball work. There's a large array of gag-oriented strips that take on cultural detritus that feature cartoony, grotesque characters. Schubert also touches on true absurdity in his takedowns of tough post-modernist posing with his title characters, who are literally slime-shaped people who get into all sorts of mischief, including killing members of a rival band after a gig at a club. With characters like Aging Hipster ("Have you heard the new Arcade Fire?") and Punk Dad as well as Schubert's own observations like Paper Blog and a review of a bizarre musician called The Spoiler, there's a tremendous amount of skill and polish on display here for such a young cartoonist. It is only a 12-page minicomic, yet Schubert packs a lot into it, including a letters page that seems to be of dubious (yet amusing) authenticity. Schubert's talent is obvious, as is his comedic timing. At this point in his career, I'm curious to see more of his work so as to see how he's processing his influences and how he chooses to use that talent.
Gray Is Not A Color, by Sally Madden. One of the things I've enjoyed about reading Brown's Retrofit Comics is being introduced to artists whose work is new to me. Madden falls into this category, and I was impressed both by the scribbly yet confident quality of her line as well as how carefully she considered each of the vignettes in this autobio comic. It's about the time she spent as a teenager working at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, which is a museum of medical oddities. The anecdotes tend to fall into three categories: stories about weird things encountered in the museum (shrunken heads, baby skulls, assorted creepy medical equipment, bloody outfits given as donations, etc), personal anecdotes about Madden, and anecdotes about her bosses. Of the three, I enjoyed the stories about her eccentric bosses the most because of Madden's clear affection for them. Madden's own self-caricature is a winner, with her hair pulled up tight in a bun and her jaw drawn squarely. This is a fine exampled of what I like to call mediated autobio: true life stories that focus in sharply on one particular aspect of life so as to shed light on the rest of one's story, even if that focus leaves out certain details. The artist reveals oneself by what one chooses not to talk about as much as what they do choose to talk about. In Madden's case, she's stingy with her own personal details but reveals much about herself in the way she chose to dress and the ways in which this environment was so nurturing and encouraging for her. She really stepped up to the task of providing an entertaining story in the Retrofit format.
Bad Breath Comics #5, by Josh Juresko. I'm still not sure what to make of Juresko's stiff art and homages to cheesy horror comics, but I find myself fascinated by his comics. They're a mix of EC-style creaky moral plays, non-sequiturs and flat-out anti-humor. Take "A Favor To Ask". It's about a kid who's clearly on the autism/Asperger's spectrum who buys a bunch of candy bars and gives them to some fratty guys at his school. Of course, he demands the wrappers back after they eat the candy. It's a bizarre story that goes nowhere, except that it heightens a maximum of social awkwardness and then stretches it out over several pages. The small "Dumbfuck" character is a cross between an early Dan Clowes strip and a Rick Altergott strip. "Atilla The Honeybee" is my favorite bit of glorious weirdness, as a guy in a bee suit happens upon a man relaxing outside and squirts him with a water pistol, saying "'Water' you gonna do about it?" before flying off, laughing maniacally. The strip felt like a random daydream come to life, drawn as soon as the artist thought about it."Haunted House...Spookier Conversation" and "Weekend" both appear to be send-ups of slice-of-life comics, as the former edges into ghost comic territory when the "host" of this comic seen on the inside front cover makes a cameo appearance after listening in on the inane banter of two girls going to a party. The latter is about a woman missing her bus stop and being forced to walk a few blocks. That's it--not further commentary. I imagine this comic would infuriate a lot of readers, but Juresko never breaks character, as it were, by trying to explain what's going on and why. That's the reader's job, which is really part of the joke.
Super Lobotomy, by Sara Lindo. This is a wordless comic about a young anthropomorphic brain and his mother. He's a lazy sort, despite his mom encouraging him to help her with housework. He gets a "superhero cape" and takes a bus to the big city, where he gets in a variety of misadventures until he's arrested and finally makes himself useful. This is the best comic I've seen from Lindo; she clearly challenged herself both with her choice of drawing subject and her storytelling method. There were times when her wordless storytelling wasn't entirely clear, in part because of being thrust into the genuinely weird world where brains have arms and legs and read pulp magazines. Lindo creates a number of great gags once the brain-boy gets to the city and starts working mischief, but I couldn't help but wish the comic had been a bit more tightly edited to reduce some narrative padding. Lindo's definitely moving in the right direction, as her drawings look confident and her page design is clever. Hopefully, she will continue to push herself and get weirder and punchier in her drawing style and storytelling.