Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sequart Reprints: Yet More MoCCA minis

This article was originally published at in 2007.
There's always been a strong relationship between minicomics culture and zine culture. Indeed, one could make the argument that minicomics are one of the most vibrant subtypes of zines these days. Beyond the fact that they're relatively cheap and easy to make, minis also allow cartoonists to turn comics into art objects if they so desire. Another connection is that many personal zines tend to be autobiographical musings of the author, and that tradition is certainly prevalent in the minicomics scene. This article will examine a number of minis that are either autobiographical or deal with slice-of-life narratives. I'm going to try to resist giving detailed plot descriptions and instead focus on character and characterization, along with the specific look of the comic and what kind of impact it makes on characterization.

CROSS-COUNTRY, by MK Reed. MK Reed's newest feels like a screenplay, but she puts in enough comics-only flourishes to give the comic weight and substance. This one's about a cross-country road trip with a young guy who's part of a family of Wal-Mart-like stores, and an employee. Greg, the boss, is a boorish frat boy type whom Ben, the employee, despises. Greg is a vacant sleazeball and Ben is conflicted about being there--it's a summer job and he needs the money. Greg loves to sleep with young girls, and this first issue ends with Ben being forced to drive home a waitress that Greg slept with--to school, because she's only 15 years old.

Greg is actually the more interesting of the two lead characters, because he's so unrepentently awful and banal. Ben clearly hates himself in more ways than one, and is stewing over an old girlfriend. He obviously thinks he's morally superior to Greg, but the fact that he's enabling his boss' bad behavior makes him worse in some ways. I like this ambiguity in Reed's characters here, as well as the unusual page and panel composition she uses. That includes panels at odd angles like diagonals, eschewing a grid on certain pages, using diary-style narration in print outside the panels, and going to unusual close-ups. Reed's figure-work is crude but she continues to play to her strengths, focusing on gesture, body language and facial expressions. Reed's definitely one of my favorite mini-comics artists who specializes in the lives of young people; I'm glad that she's moved on to a slightly older age demographic after mostly writing about teenagers.

MATCHING JACKETS and SOURPUSS 1 by Robyn Chapman. Chapman is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art & Design whose work I've been following for many years. She's one of the co-editors of the fascinating TRUE PORN anthologies as well as the driving force behind the enormously entertaining HEY, FOUR-EYES! zine. This pair of minis are obviously very personal and intimate; one is explicitly autobiographical and the other inspired by autobiographical events.

MATCHING JACKETS is a compilation of stories about old boyfriends. "Something's Wrong" is from TRUE PORN, and is a devastatingly personal account of her problems with sex with one particular boyfriend, and how this turned into an irreparable barrier. What I liked most about this story was the disconnect between "Robyn's" emotions and her physical reactions as a sexual being. When she reveals that it may be related to her evolving sexuality (being attracted to women), it's a painful moment, one where all further communication is impossible. A cheerier story is "Comfortable", a John Porcellino-style story where Chapman merges text and image in a free-flowing manner, abandoning panel gridlines altogether. This one retells a clearly-doomed but still-pleasant relationship from college, and is told in Chapman's sparer, cleaner line from her recent works. The nature of the narrative will feel familiar to anyone who recalls their first love from college, but it's her compositon that makes this the best story in the book. There's one page where she describes the first time she and her boyfriend told each other that they loved each other. The way she makes the eye follow her boyfriend laying in the grass, to the narrative, to an overhead view of a park, to Chapman in the bottom right hand corner, is a perfect example of assured and creative storytelling, neatly solving several visual problems.

SOURPUSS is the first chapter of a high school story, and it takes place in Chapman's native rural Alaska. There's a Chapman stand-in in Doris, an artist who hangs around with some nerd friends and can't relate to anyone else around in her redneck town. This comic is a well done but quite familiar account of teen alienation. In the first chapter, the dynamic between Doris and her friends is fairly predictable, down to her jealousy over one of them getting a girlfriend. Chapman's character design is the main attraction of this mini, along with her understanding of expression. I'll be curious to see where the story winds up going.

JAM IN THE BAND and PARTY @ HORROR BEACH, by Robin Enrico. Enrico's specialty is conjuring up atmospheres of particular youth scenes, and he creates that verisimilitude thanks to witty dialogue. JAM IN THE BAND is a short preview of a much longer work, and it had echoes of Brian Lee O'Malley's SCOTT PILGRIM and Jaime Hernandez' LOVE AND ROCKETS. It's about a music writer in New York who's about to see a well-known, all-female indy rock band--one that he knew quite well in the small college town they came out of. It's got that same indy rock vibe as SCOTT PILGRIM but uses the time-jumping techniques in those Locas stories. Despite those influences, Enrico has his own voice. His cartooning is simple, iconic and stylized, with a number of decorative flourishes. He's careful to keep his panels uncluttered, even when he's trying to get across a lot of information through visual cues. The small taste we get of the characters in this issue wasn't quite enough to get lost in their stories quite yet, but it does lay out the tensions nicely. I look forward to the larger work that's yet to come.

PARTY @ HORROR BEACH has several semi-auto-bio stories, some of which read like inside jokes. "Trapped In The Closet", however, put together a string of ridiculous situations and sustained them nicely as one coherent, funny narrative. It's about a Halloween party that Enrico's stand-in character attends, where he comes as a "Big Stupid Box" on a dare. There's a funny aside where two women note that since it's Halloween, they're required to dress in something Sexy--so one chooses to be Sexy Abe Lincoln and the other comes as Sexy John Wilkes Booth. He winds up fooling around with a woman (with a boyfriend) whom he had slept with before (at a drunken party) in a closet. When he's told that the woman is now engaged, and that her fiance was at this very party, he finds himself stuck in a closet for the night, hiding out. Enrico manages to play a sordid encounter for laughs, mostly at his own expense. What I like about this is the extreme short-sightedness of every character; the woman he sleeps with has no problem cheating on her fiance, until he gets wise and takes away their engagement ring, while Robin knows it isn't a good idea but does it anyway. Enrico's skill at humor is what distinguishes this autobio mini from others of its kind, along with that amusingly cartoony art (which greatly aides in evoking laughs).

DISCO MAXX by Katie Skelly  This brief mini has a mylar cover with a different design on every copy. While this is an autobiographical story, it's not really a narrative or even an anecodote, really. Instead, it's a series of memories as images, flowing together on a night when Skelly and a friend DJ'd a party at Syracuse. Skelly's style is spare and simplistic, emphasizing expression over form. It's a sweet, unambiguous account of a night where everything went magically right. It was the sort of night where one could sense great things happening as they unfolded, and the result is a series of memories that burned themselves into one's mind's eye quite vividly. Skelly's panel composition can be slightly cluttered; if anything, I'd like to see her simplify things even further. Still, I enjoy the way she presents memories and encounters on a page, especially how she constructs dialogue. Though this story was very sweet, she actually has a tart and witty voice, and I'd like to continue to see that fleshed out in longer narratives.

MY BRAIN HURTS #6, by Liz Baillie  Enrico and Skelly distance the reader from the emotional content of the material, either through humor (Enrico), narrative ambiguity (Skelly) or a cartoony drawing style. Liz Baillie, whose work I've reviewed here previously, goes in a different direction. She plunges us head-first into her characters' tumultuous emotional lives, and does so with dense, detail-packed panels. Her actual line is fairly thin, which lessens the punch of each particular panel (different from Robyn Chapman, who uses fairly thick blacks for her lines), but she adds mood to her panels with the heavy use of shadow, cross-hatching, blacks in a panel, etc.

All of this is in service to her story, and this particular issue deals with some unusual difficulties regarding young love for a teenaged lesbian. Baillie perfectly captures the awkwardness of an attempted sexual encounter, especially when her girlfriend paradoxically clings to her Catholic upbringing. Baillie gets this across in a page where the panels sit at odd angles to each other, overlapping and zooming in and out of intimate close-ups. It's a great page, one of several in the book where the page design has a direct influence on the book's emotional content. By the end of the issue, we have a real sense of the main character feeling as though she's hit rock bottom, with nowhere to belong. Baillie's become more adventurous as an artist as the series has proceeded, and the interesting choices she's made have deepened the book's emotional impact.

NO IN-BETWEEN #1-6, by Marion Vitus  I remember buying the first issue of this series at SPX several years ago, and was struck at how ambitious it seemed for a young artist to undertake a sprawling travelogue as their first work. It's obvious that this story, described as "fiction with autobiographical inspiration" (what Dean Haspiel calls "semi-auto-bio"), was a life-changing and enormously meaningful event for Vitus. The plot can be described simply: an aspiring artist is stuck in a dead-end job, awaiting a backpacking trip to Europe with her long-distance boyfriend as the catalyst needed to get her out of a rut. When he unexpectedly dumps her, she decides to go anyway--by herself. I like that Vitus took a sharp turn away from standard 20-something romance drama and went in a very different direction. It's clear that this isn't just a series of observations on travel, but rather an attempt at using travel as a means of finding out what she really wants in life, and how to get it.

The fact that it took Vitus nearly four years to produce six 8-page minis just points to how much of a struggle it can be for a working artist to find the time to concentrate on their personal projects. Among other things, this mini is obviously Vitus' laboratory in attempting to grow as an artist. She changed her rendering style twice before settling on a look that seems to be a good fit. The first issue was a pretty clear-line affair; there weren't many blacks used, and she kept her figures fairly simple. I also noticed that Vitus loves to play with gesture, posture and expression as emotional cues; there's a squirminess to her stand-in character that reflects her own discomfort with the world, and at times, herself.

The second issue, which takes place in Italy, was much more heavily rendered than the first. At times, it was over-rendered. That killed a lot of the spontaneity on the page and made her figures look stiff. By the end of the third issue, she loosened up a bit, especially on a page where she gets goosed on a subway. In the sixth issue, Vitus does a nice job of keeping that spontaneity going while still getting across the beauty of the surrounding countryside. It's fitting that in a story about transformation, growth and becoming comfortable with oneself, Vitus the artist continues to grow and struggle with the lessons she learned as Vitus the character. The difference is that the story crystalized that moment into a series of epiphanies. The struggle to hold onto those feelings of self-discovery and relay it on paper continues to inform the way Vitus is slowly unfolding the story.

THE ROSIE STORIES, by Diana Tamblyn  As a storyteller, Tamblyn is clear, restrained, matter-of-fact and has an assured, bold line. After reading a number of stories involving teens or young adults, it was an interesting change of pace to read stories about becoming a mother. Tamblyn's tone is gushingly emotional and joyful; there's no attempt or thought of an attempt to put any distance between her plain feelings and the reader. She ameliorates that bluntness by using a couple of different techniques in these stories about her daughter. Tamblyn either tenderly narrates her stories in a realistic style, or else simplifies her line for stories told from her daughter's point of view. It's a more cartoony, John Stanley-esque style that's very appealing. Throughout the comic, there's a genuine warmth that comes across on each page. At times, it's a bit overwhelming for a reader.

While I can certainly appreciate how much a new mother loves her child, there's not much going on in the first story other than an expression of that love, along with trying to capture perfect moments. It felt more like something you'd send out to your relatives than work for the general public. The Rosie-as-narrator stories work a bit better, especially when Tamblyn introduces some light elements of conflict. The last story, where Tamblyn relates her paranoia regarding her child's safety and her own desire to become a better person, is the most interesting by far. There's a lot of skill and sincerity in this comic, but one senses that Tamblyn isn't sufficiently distanced from the initial event to write a compelling narrative about her experiences. I'd like to see her take cues from the last story in the mini and add a bit of perspective to what is obviously an amazing, life-changing odyssey.

DUMB JERSEY WHITE BOY #3, by Mark McMurray McMurray is a very strong storyteller, using a variety of approaches to give a powerful sense of time and place. His stories usually mix comic and horrific real-life events, and this issue is no exception. It's a collection of short stories about his father from various points in his life. The most accomplished is a short story he submitted to the SPX anthology some years back, and it's a beautifully-illustrated memory of his childhood. Young Mark is obsessed with the new Fantastic Four cartoon, which his father interrupts by talking about his failing marriage. While he weeps and holds his son, young Mark can only think that Jack Kirby was definitely involved in the cartoon! The stage is set for the other stories in the book, where McMurray displays a combination of ambivalence and bemused affection for his father. The latter stories were originally done as correspondence, and have the vibrancy that a quick sketchbook drawing possesses. McMurray has a very assured line and an excellent eye, and augments these skills with a keen sense of when to exaggerate and when to reel things in. As a writer, McMurray keeps a layer of humorous distance up when discussing his father--he talks about what his father has done or said, but never spells out his own feelings. He prefers to let the anecdotes speak for themselves, a tactic that works to his advantage.

PHASE 7 #11, by Alec Longstreth. This is a follow-up to PHASE 7 #10, wherein Longstreth starts to lay out his entire history of comics involvement. This issue picks up with Longstreth deciding to make creating comic books his life. The last issue was all about how he became immersed in comics and came to start drawing them, but this one focuses on how he developed his working method, the ways in which he started interacting (and drawing strength from) fellow cartoonists, and how he came to terms with his own publishing schedule. Longstreth uses a cute framing device to explain why he published issues out of order, giving a long and very specific autobiographical story some structure. What I find interesting about Longstreth is that while he acknowledges the huge debt he owes to those cartoonists who inspired him over the years, he doesn't seem to be quite aware yet of his own role in inspiring his peers. Simply put, it's rare to see an artist this completely devoted to his art, who thinks about it in terms of the years that are ahead of him, and who provides such a steadfast example of hard work being its own reward. The fact that he has such an enormous appetite for different kinds of storytelling and doesn't seem to favor one over another is also interesting; he's very much an "in-between" sort of artist. He lists BONE as his favorite comic ever, but is also a big fan of Chris Ware and Adrian Tomine. Likewise, his comics go from gags to autobio to adventure, and his art ranges from stick-figure (inspired by Matt Feazell) to intensely cross-hatched and detailed; he refuses to impose limits on what he can do.

Even though he's already published quite a few comics, I get the sense that he's still working through his influences. As solid a craftsman and storyteller as he is, Longstreth is not yet an innovator or visionary as an artist. He's an artist that I think will plow through a series of "steady-states", wherein he will master a storytelling or artistic technique, and then face either a new problem to solve or influence to absorb and then adapt that into his routine. Eventually, these years of internalizing these adaptations through sheer hard work will coalesce into something we've never seen before. Until that time, his audience will have a great many unusual, enjoyable comics to read.

ANTELOPE EATER, by Juliacks. This is an intensely stylized, painful story of a young boy struggling with his mother's illness and her resentment towards him. What's most striking about this is the sophistication of the page design, coupled with raw, primitive art. The way Juliacks combines text and image on a page, such that the text should be seen both as part of the image and as a separate message, makes for an intimate, almost suffocating experience as a reader. The images are not pleasant, because the experience of watching one's mother die as she wishes you had never been born is certainly not pleasant. The boy retreats into fantasy, becoming a superhero who can save her. The images switch from purely grotesque to fanciful, though the tiny text reminds us of the painfulness of the experience. The last page, with a number of small panels that intersperse her vitals with images of a heart (acting as both literal and metaphorical agent), is shattering--especially, once again, with the way she integrates text into the image. Juliacks has a powerful voice, and the multitude of influences on her art (see her website) point to someone who can do some very interesting things in the world of comics.

THE OTHERS, by Matt Madden. Madden is well-known for his formalist experiments, devising whole stories around clever storytelling constructions. He seems endlessly interested in taking the basic format of comics--panel, page, images, letters, panel-to-panel transitions, point of view--and scrambling them so as to force the audience to see what's happening "backstage", so to speak. At the same time, he's able to imbue this interest with enough humanity to make these more than mere technical exercises. THE OTHERS is a brief, circular exercise in switching points-of-view. It reminds me a bit of the Richard Linklater film SLACKER in that we are privy to a character's narrative for a few moments, and then we sail off into another character's narrative when their paths cross. The difference is that as a comics audience, Madden gives us access to their interior, running monologue. Each character happens to be studying the next character, wondering about their histories and motivations. Starting with one young man in a cafe, we zip from character to character until we arrive back at the original character--and an attempt to make contact. "Other" here refers to our essential isolation as human beings, and how difficult (and often startling) it can be to try to genuinely break through that layer of alienation. Madden's line is as loose and sketchy as ever; I sense that he prefers that his work should look a bit fuzzy so as to provide less of a shock to the reader when he starts shuffling his formalist deck. Madden really found his voice doing these sorts of comics, and they're always satisfying to read--though they'll never have the emotional impact of more personal work.

THE OTHER SIDE and DOUBLE-YELLOW LINES, by JP Coovert and Hope Larson. These comics have modest ambitions, but the ambiguity in both made them linger a bit. THE OTHER SIDE is a seemingly simple look at a sleepover with two boys who are best friends. They scamper around their neighborhood at night in a carefree manner, peeking into the windows of various people. Until one of them spies a couple having sex--one of the boys is fixated, and the other gets nervous and wants to leave. This leads to an argument, accusations of being gay, and then an attempt to pretend the whole thing didn't happen. While never apologizing, I liked the way Coovert found ways for the characters to nonetheless reconnect without language--especially through the use of physical contact.

DOUBLE-YELLOW LINES is a beautifully-designed mini (black cover, black-embossed lettering, and 2 yellow lines to represent the highway) where Coovert and Hope Larson collaborated. Both stories reflect on each other, as they're both about the briefness of life and the painful awareness that it can be taken away at any time. Larson's story has her coming upon a rabbit that had been struck by a car . As she tried to comfort it, she noticed that the rabbit's mate saw them near the edge of the highway. The rabbit she held died, but the other was shooed away to safety, despite the obvious urge to search for his mate. Not for long, however--the rabbit returned, only to meet his own death on the highway, joining his mate. "Driving In The Rain" is about Coovert wondering where his better half is and getting a phone call from her that she'd been in a wreck. He raced to get her, worst-case scenarios burning through his thoughts, until he found her OK--and presented him with a touching romantic gesture. The sentiment of the story is a nice balance to the downbeat ending of Larson's half of the mini. It's the nature of mortality, that we're all essentially living on borrowed time, and this mini eloquently gets at that truth in just ten pages. Visually, Larson punctuates her bold black line with all sorts of decorative touches that act as narrative clues, while Coovert keeps things clear and simple. His art is all about economy of line and advancing the emotional narrative of his story with a minimum of fuss.

NEW CONSTRUCTION #1, by Kevin Huizenga Huizenga is a fast-rising star in the world of comics, with an Ignatz book (GANGES) from Fantagraphics and his own series (OR ELSE) and a collection (CURSES) from Drawn & Quarterly. However, he got his start with his minicomics series SUPERMONSTER, and he continues to make minis to work out ideas, provide anecdotes, and show off some interesting work from his sketchbook. There's a sense that this is autobiographical, because it's displaying ephemera and sketches straight from the cartoonists' pen, and a number of the pages are about his working methods.

A number of the strips here were "deleted scenes" from GANGES #1. I have no idea if he actually meant to include these scenes but didn't have room, drew them but decided they didn't fit, or did them after the fact as a lark, but they're all a hoot. That issue depicts the life of a couple at home, focusing on minutiae and moment-to-moment beats & rhythms. Both of the scenes depicted here were a lot more light-hearted than what we saw in the actual comic, and I can see why they weren't included. Still, it was fun to see Wendy Ganges tell Glenn to stop thinking sexualized thoughts about her, or see her fall on the floor laughing because of a trick Glenn was pulling with snacks. I also rather enjoyed the very odd "The Hundred Most People In America", a riff on celebrity and other such lists featuring a number of oddball characters and descriptions. Any fan of Huizenga should track down a copy.

ECLIPSE and THE ANATOMY OF US, by Karla Krupala. Krupala has serious chops as an artist. ANATOMY OF US is less a story than a self-described "work in progress", where she "sketched various relationships in states of disorder". The results are very interesting in this mini, but they've obviously not resulted in a coherent whole as of yet. Krupala likes static images and using them in unexpected ways. On one page, we see the back of a skeleton as a means of conveying a conveying a dialogue, doubling as an anatomical chart. On another page, we see a woman's legs, and her shadow is formed out of the word "take" repeated multiple times. Krupala seems to be emphasizing our essential aloneness and the near-impossibility of communication. In particular, words not only fail in trying to connect people together, they inevitably serve as weapons. ECLIPSE is a story set in outer space, but the themes are similar: loneliness, the possibility of connection, and the nature of that connection. I felt tantalized by these two minis, wanting to see more by the artist. I especially wanted to see her themes fleshed out a bit more in longer stories. Her development as an artist over the span of a year was remarkable, especially in terms of her figures. They became more assured and bolder in ANATOMY, though her composition in both comics was striking.

ALICE IN NEW YORK #4, by Henry Chamberlain. I reviewed the first two issues of this series in entry #10 of this column, and was happy to see this issue pop up in my mailbox. I missed #3, but it was easy to catch up with what happened. This is the conclusion of Chamberlain's love letter to New York and Lewis Carroll, and it's interesting to see how his art has matured. He uses a thick line but is nice and loose with his figures. There's a pleasing, sketchy quality to them that meshes well for the slightly dreamy quality he embues in his story. The theme of the story is allowing oneself to become open to an awakening of imagination and the possibilities therein. The Henry character is guarded and uncertain, but clearly wants to find ways to break out. This issue is essentially one long battle of wits with the object of his affection, a woman who challenges him to break free of his self-imposed, over-intellectualized restraints and assumptions. This issue is very talk-heavy, but Chamberlain counters that with big panels that are well-composed. The central conceit of the series, that characters from ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND are secretly aiding Henry in opening himself up to a new world, is kept mostly to the edges of the story, allowing the issue's central dialogue to take precedence. It's a smart decision, because there was definitely a danger in those fantasy elements overwhelming the emotional thrust of the story. Instead, Chamberlain was able to present the story of a character who overthinks things a little too much, who was able to find a way to lose himself to the immediacy of experience.

THE HOOKAH GIRL VOLUME 1, by Marguerite Dabaie. The subtitle of this comic is "Growing Up Christian Palestinian In America", and Dabaie wastes little time in addressing some very sticky points about this subject. She cleverly begins this collection of brief stories and anecdotes with "Should/Am", which is a series of paper-doll cutouts. Dabaie goes from stereotype to stereotype, boldly drawing humor out of a cut-out of "Martyr" ("NOT in Israel To Sight-See!"), alongside "Muslim", "Seductress" (a harem girl costume), "Revolutionary" and finally "Hungry Artist". It's a direct shot across the bow to start a collection, and Dabaie makes her bluntness work by using dark humor and the convention of a child's activity.

The rest of the stories in the book range from light-hearted memories as a child to pointed observations on today's political climate. A story about her family stealing grape leaves from wine orchards (prefaced by the technique on how to roll a grape-leaf) was funny, as was a story about the ways in which Palestinian-Americans go to extremes in connecting with their culture. It's clear that Dabaie is conflicted on a number of matters relating to the Palestinian cause. In a story about hijacker Leila Khaled, it's obvious that Dabaie is drawn to her because she was a woman who acted boldly in the Arab world, and not just because she drew media attention to the Palestinian cause. There's another story called "The BestEST Joke" where someone tells her a Palestinian joke (not knowing that she was half-Palestinian), and she doesn't know how to react.
My favorite story in the collection was "NOW", an acidic critique of Americans using the kaffiyeh, a traditional piece of cloth, as a fashion statement. ("Go against 'the man' Now. In style!") I think Dabaie is currently most skilled as a satirist; she has an elegant thin-line in those drawings that really brings out the cutting humor in her concepts. I also admire her simplified, stripped-down style that she used in "The BestEST Joke" and the grape leaf story. The stories using thicker blacks are somewhat less successful visually, feeling slightly over-rendered and drawn with a less confident hand. Still, Dabaie was bold in trying so many different styles for her first collection of work, and she has a strong storytelling voice. Her point of view and experiences are also obviously unusual in the world of comics, but it's not just that point of view that makes her distinctive as an artist. Her brains, sense of humor, and graphic design sense are the engine that manages to link her memories and opinions in such a bold presentation. I'm eager to see how she grows as an artist.

STABBED! and BERNIE, by Cheryl Gladstone. These autobiographical comics score major points for being really funny. Gladstone uses her background to generate laughs out of family drama, thanks mostly to the outsized personality that is her mom, Bernie. She's a "Jewlipino", a rare person who is both Jewish and Filipino. In BERNIE, Gladstone does a series of one-page gag strips with Bernie's point of view on all sorts of things. My favorite is Bernie telling young Cheryl that she was adopted, even though she wasn't. Another strip, "Motherly Advice" has Bernie offering dating advice to Cheryl's sister: "No blowjobs!" STABBED! relates another crazy anecodte: Cheryl's brother and mother both threaten to kill themselves as a means of trying to one-up each other. Her brother finally tops her by impulsively stabbing himself in the leg, which is a cold dose of reality for everyone. That bit of insanity leads everyone to cope the best they can: Bernie starts organizing her shoe closet, Cheryl starts writing in her livejournal, and her sister goes shopping. BERNIE is the later mini, and it shows. Gladstone's line is both bolder and simpler. It's much more assured, with better panel composition. STABBED! loses some of its comedic impact simply because the figures are shakier, and Gladstone tries to compensate by overrendering the backgrounds. BERNIE is more successful on a visual level simply because Gladstone makes sure to emphasize her characters above all else. She has a strong comedic voice and manages to evoke humor from a situation without relying on distancing herself from the reader. Reading these two comics made me want to see more from her.

KING-CAT #66, by John Porcellino. To say that John Porcellino is a revered figure in minicomics circles is an understatement. He long ago mastered an economy of line that strips away everything but what is essential, especially in terms of emotional content. His stories range from standard narratives to wisps of memory to story poems, all grasping at getting across the sublime on paper. "Football Weather" is a lighthearted story about playing football with the neighborhood kids, with more funny moments than the usual Porcellino story. I especially liked the revulsion he felt at the possibility of having to play on a team called "The Packers", given his status as a life-long Bears fan. I love the way this story looks--the stripped-down lines still depicting action and motion so well, various emotions shown with just a line or squiggle, and the way he creates a rainy fall atmosphere. It's beautiful and evocative. This issue is like a Porcellino primer, because he goes from a straight-ahead story like "Football Weather" to an illustrated poem in "Blue Light" to an almost wordless meditation on scenery in "Freeman Kame". Porcellino writes many of his stories on a small scale--a memory here, an anecdote or observation there. It's that very scale that creates an intimacy and warmth for a reader, that slowly lets us understand Porcellino's point of view instead of him jamming it into our faces. The urge to create autobiographical work is often a narcissistic one, wherein the creator is the most important "character" in their story. Porcellino manages to side-step that tendency by neither overselling nor underselling himself, but rather by revealing himself to be a small but not insignificant part of the world--just like everyone and everything else.


  1. Wow, all those people (including me) in one review, with all those old books. It feels like a life time ago. Even though its only bee 5 years.

  2. Five years feels like much longer, doesn't it? I'm going to have my Jam in the Band review here soon, accompanied by more old reviews of your stuff, plus that old interview I did with you.