Monday, March 4, 2013
Weird Worlds: Biggs/Bakki, Miller, Graham/Eisenhower, Turner, Burggraf
Poor Thing #1, by Drew Miller. This is a comic from another micropublisher, Neoglyphic Media. Miller is an excellent ballpoint pen artist, using grotesquely funny figures not unlike Francesca Ghermandi or Zak Sally. Indeed, this comic feels like Sammy The Mouse's second cousin, as it follows the inhabitants of a bizarre, vaguely hellish world and zeroes in on their emotions above all of the other horrible things happening to them. The longest story, "Witchin' Hours", involves a witchdoctor named Doctor Eli and his miserable patient Eli, whose head and neck are distorted in a disgusting, lovingly-detailed manner. Miller takes special care to draw extensive facial lines, body hair, unpleasant veins and other aspects that remind the reader of just how revolting it is to be embodied, if one looks just a bit too closely. After assuring his patient that he doesn't have "heart weevils" (a truly nasty interlude involving bugs riding bugs and building a hive in one's heart), he reveals that Eli is sick with loneliness. He "cures" him by giving him a hilariously sloppy makeover (a Supertramp t-shirt means that he has "threads that say 'hey, I'm back in the game!'"), but poor Eli mistakes a dating simulator for the real thing. The main backup is a gag involving two workers, one worrying the other has a "goblin sandwich" for lunch. This gag is taken to its logical, disgusting and wonderfully-drawn extreme. Miller is a talented, confident draftsman who's clearly synthesized a number of influences and is quite comfortable drawing stories that are fairly conventional in terms of set-up, but viscerally powerful in terms of their delivery.
Scaffold, I-XXII and XXIII - XLIV, by VA Graham and JA Eisenhower. This is a fascinating puzzle of a comic, requiring the reader to do a lot of side-scrolling as they follow small figures across and down the page of an elaborate hexagonal structure that's not unlike a beehive. As we follow figures up and down ladders, through slanting floors, across crowded rooms and into wide-open spaces, it's slowly revealed that this is a decaying society. They're living in a structure designed to keep out light, which has harmful properties for its inhabitants. Each page is designed as much as drawn, with heavy use of zip-a-tone and negative space that tells the story of what's really happening in this society apart from the plot and dialogue. The Scaffold, as the structure is known, really is its own character, one that every inhabitant must negotiate and navigate in order to take care of business in their sector of society. It's a clever commentary on the ways in which geography determine destiny and sometimes social caste. Indeed, the figures are little more than sketchily-rendered stick figures. We don't see character close-ups or really get expressions other than the basics of body language, as the Scaffold dominates everything to a suffocating degree. In the second issue, we begin to get a sense of what happens when the system begins to break down, and the vegetation that its inhabitants depend on begins to get ideas of its own. I'll be curious to see how the world continues to break down in this series and how its protagonist (a young child sent on a mission he was ill-equipped to finish) fares as things start to get worse.
Farm School, by Jason Turner. This is yet another post-apocalyptic story, but it's one where the world is not quite a total loss. There is savagery and the opportunity for "adventure", but there are also libraries, bakeries and children playing. This comic is all about restraint and in-between spaces. A stocky, powerfully built woman named Hester goes about her day, negotiating a past she doesn't wish to discuss while trying to do good deeds. Turner uses restraint to great effect in this story, revealing bits and pieces of Hester's history while strongly implying certain things about it through her actions. This is a very quiet comic, and deliberately so. Violence, adventure and action are part of Hester's past, a past she tries to disabuse a young teenaged girl about when the girl is offered a chance at adventure. At the same time, Hester was affected enough by the experience so as to be uncomfortable being a joiner in any sense, as she chooses to live alone in the forest. The only thing that seems to give her meaning, as Turner implies with his squat, sketchy drawings, is helping others. It's fitting that the final scene, where she offers to help some kids only to discover they were playing, is sort of the world's way of paying her back.
Kid Space Heater 2, by Josh Burggraf. Burggraf is a talented artist who didn't have much of a story to tell beyond the story's high concept in the first issue of this series. The story involves a young man in a squalid, futuristic city accidentally getting his hands on an intelligent weapon that bonds with him. In the second issue, Burggraf spends a lot of time setting up his characters and their relationships while tying it into a more complicated plot. It seems clear that he's taken notes from both Brandon Graham's King City as well as some of Jack Kirby's wilder 70s comics. Burggraf perhaps lays on the socioeconomic commentary a bit thick, as the Kid's firebrand friend Celia is a sort of walking polemic-spewing device in a manner that doesn't feel earned. That said, Burggraf's dynamic layouts and slightly ragged line certainly deliver on its visceral potential, as he tops himself on page after page with crazier images. His bright and even lurid use of color is another highlight of this comic, bringing to mind a sort of Heavy Metal aesthetic.I would have liked to have seen a little more of the relationship between the protagonist and his gun (what kind of influence do they have on each other? does the gun have unknown motives?), but this is a pleasant, tightly paced adventure story with memorable visuals.
Bearlands #1, by Jeremy Biggs and Bakki. This is a Walking Dead-style zombie story, one where the zombies are less important than the breakdown of society around them. The main difference is that all of the characters are very cute anthropomorphic bears. Thanks to Thai artist Bakki, this is all much better than it sounds. The story by Biggs is strictly (and deliberately) boilerplate: a Bear With No Name is wandering the desert, looking for survivors of his clan. He's haunted by his lost love in his dreams. He encounters random zombies on the road as he roads on his motorcyle, and winds up in a city surrounded by crazy and corrupt bears, wanting to get at the honey he possesses and how they can get more. Other than the honey angle (which is a macguffin; it could stand for any food or drug), it's like any other post-apocalyptic zombie story. What sets it apart is Bakki's insanely cute visual storytelling. It's simply funny to watch the Bear kill zombies with a katana or ride a motorcycle, in part because none of this is directly played for laughs. Certainly, Biggs has this jarring juxtaposition in mind when writing the story, knowing that the style of the art would tweak the genre. However, the fact that he restrains himself and doesn't try to add any shtick, that he lets the art do the heavy lifting both in telling the story (there's not much in the way of excess verbiage) and making it funny shows that he has a keen understanding of what makes a comic effective. It's fluff, but tasty fluff.