Friday, February 1, 2013

Still More Minis: Antal/Kelly, Mozzocco, Yost, Pritts, Hindle, De Radigues

Immovable Objects, by James Hindle. This comic shows the influence of later Daniel Clowes, right around the Ghost World era. It's a story about an outsider told with a certain sense of distance and a clear, naturalistic line. Though there are repeating visual motifs, every page is designed differently in terms of panel layout and whether or not there's any bleed between panels. There's a fairly extensive use of foam-green as a spot color but never for the characters' skin, which is left white. There's a great deal of care and thought that went into this comic about an aimless young man in college dealing with his only friend drifting away from him as well as his lifelong curiosity about his father, who left when he was too young to remember. Though it has some of that Clowesian iciness, reserve and restraint, there are certainly a lot of emotions bubbling under the surface in this story. It's really a story about depression and the ways in which we find ways to deal with it, and how certain kinds of activity can cause such a depression to lift. Steven finds a measure of happiness not because he finds his father, but rather because he tries, because he finally goes into motion. The breakthrough is subtle, to be sure, but the fact that Steven joins the track team at school is another sign of him becoming aware of his needs as a person. This is a really outstanding comic with a number of different angles to consider from a character perspective, and it's all done by mixing formal qualities designed to keep the reader off guard with narrative qualities that keep the reader on an even keel--until Hindle deliberately wants to upset the apple cart. It's definitely the best work I've seen from Hindle to date.

The Mothman Comics, by J. Caleb Mozzocco. The well-known blogger and critic did a funny comic about the infamous "Mothman" sightings in West Virginia, which is a source of both bizarre local pride as well as genuine terror for those who claim to have seen it. The creature has inspired a wave of books and even a movie that are heavy on the alien/supernatural/monstrous qualities of the creature. Mozzocco goes in a different direction, using a number of cited cases as a sort of humorous set of what ifs. Mozzocco has a crude line but a keen sense of humor, as he imagines the Mothman to be a misunderstood creature that enjoys skateboarding, writes letters to the editor and is generally unfailingly polite. Mozzocco went the extra mile and had these comics printed with spot colors for the creature's glowing red eyes (its most distinctive characteristic aside from its freakish wing span), which help sell the comic's deadpan gags. I'd love to see Mozzocco wax amusing on any other personal obsessions, because his sense of the absurd juxtaposed against something usually treated with deadly seriousness is quite effective.

Walking Into Traffic #3, by Dave Kelly & Lara Antal. This is a little anecdote of a comic about a man reminiscing about a particular sexual encounter that may or may not have happened in the way he recalls. It's a nice little play on the unreliability of memory, as his reverie is triggered by finding a thong that said "Roxy" on it, leading him to remember a crazy night that he ultimately abandoned, for fear of being trapped in a crazy relationship. Of course, if he bagged on her, how did he have the thong? The naturalistic style of Antal is stiff at times, but I admire her dedication to detail, like in a "freaky sex" panel complete with whips, a double-headed dildo and a screwdriver. The ambiguity of this comic is its greatest strength.

Moose #14, by Max de Radigues. This is the last issue of the excellent and influential minicomics series by de Radigues, who is the inspiration behind Oily Comics. The slowly unfolding story of a teenaged boy who is systematically bullied by a sadistic schoolmate, this final issue has a surprising and even ambiguous ending. When we learn the reason why Joe is being beaten and mentally tortured, it's a reason that doesn't make much sense as a real justification beyond the ways in which bigotry can justify persecution. In the last issue, when Joe is being chased by his bully through a snowy field, the bully threatens him even more, given there's no adult supervision there to stop him. Instead, he falls into a deep hole, and Joe is given an interesting choice: go get help (which the bully demands even as he continues to threaten him) or leave him to rot? The choice Joe makes here is surprising and manages to straddle the two extremes, as he seeks relief even if it's just for a brief moment. The comic ends on a sweet note that leaves the question of what happens to the bully unresolved, even if it's implied that Joe will eventually act. de Radigues' drawings are exquisitely simple and assured, with a remarkable command over body language and a surprisingly diverse array of different character types. Any American publisher would be smart to snap up what would wind up being a 180 page or so book.

There Will Be Nothing Left, by Nate Pritts. This is Pritts' first minicomic (he's a published poet) and it shows in terms of his ambition outstripping his drawing ability. I liked how he attacked the page regardless of his limitations without over-rendering too much to compensate. Indeed, Pritts goes out of his way to try to keep each page clear and simple as he goes into his philosophical digression about the nature of choice creating a specific temporal and narrative path, snuffing out others like opening up Schroedinger's box. Pritts imagines being "haunted by ghosts...echoes of the ruptures" as all our choices might occur sometime, somewhere simultaneously with the choice we actually make. He further fantasizes about being able to study our choices as we make them on a page that cleverly uses a leaf with a branching vein structure spreading across his 2 x 3 panel grid. It's an interesting bit of musing on being and time, if a paralyzing one, since he wonders which choice is the "right" one a question that (perilously) presupposes that there is such a thing, because it assumes an objective and clearly understandable greatest good. That problem has been confounding philosophers for a long time. Hopefully, Pritts will continue to work out his questions on the page.

Thinger Dingers and Losers Weepers #3, by JT YostLosers Weepers is the continuing story of poor Alvaro, based on scraps of paper or lost mail found by Yost and his friends. In this issue, Alvaro encounters racism at a copy shop (based on a found flyer that read "Learn Spanish! It's to easy and funy."), confronts his girlfriend over a letter she received from an ex-boyfriend in prison ("You know I'm coming to sex that asshole of your's, right?") and sees an enigmatic note after he's arrested when a bottle he throws accidentally winds up in front of a cop ("Constant grinding can turn an iron rod into a needle"). Yost has great chops, and I especially admire his varied and cartoony character design: square-jawed characters, squatly-shaped characters, bushy unibrows sweeping across a face that are furrowed in rage. Even if this comic is based on a gimmick, Yost manages to wrest real emotion out of it.

Thinger Dingers is a catch-all anthology of shorter works that have appeared elsewhere. "Ruemates" is an autobio piece about awful roommates of the past. It's amusing enough and Yost tries to be fair about his own eccentricities, but I found myself sympathizing with the roommate who was annoyed that Yost's cat kept missing the litter box. On the other hand, "Earl Bible" was a funny account of a friend who pretended to be a sort of redneck savant as a kind of performance art. It definitely seemed to be the sort of thing better read about than experienced in real life. The two best strips here are "Oval vs Square" (a series of "battles" where a square shape always trumps any other shapes by virtue of its inherent awfulness) and "Unappreciative Baby", wherein a baby yells at his father for singing a traditional song with racist content. When I read Yost's work, I'm not sure what sort of cartoonist he is. A humorist? A formalist? An autobio cartoonist with a didactic streak? He obviously has a great deal of talent but I've yet to read one of his comics that feels like something close to a definitive statement, as he seems to be trying to figure out the answer to this question himself.

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