Thursday, July 4, 2013

Minicomics: Friedman, Fleener, Gennis, Alden


My Senior Year, by Sarah Friedman. Friedman is a comics newcomer just finishing up college, and this modest but witty minicomic is her first attempt at autobio. I really like her self-caricature: freckles, curvy eyebrows, pointy chin, and a short shock of hair. In this comic, she keeps things short and stays within her limitations without over-rendering her figures. Indeed, she makes nice use of negative space as a way of varying her pages and tries to hit on the highest points of her anecdotes to create a strip with a bit of comedic impact. "Babysitting" is a good example, as the two kids she's taking care of first declare that they're not going to go to college, then express interest because they wonder if one "gets to see people's butts". Friedman's palpable discomfort is nicely captured in the way she draws her mouth screwing up. Other strips see her understanding her future as a cartoonist, like when she turns down a party to finish a drawing. There's nothing revelatory about these strips, but they do indicate someone with a good sense of storytelling and how to get across a gag. Hopefully, she'll keep going and we'll see what else she's capable of.

The Less You Know, The Better You Feel, by Mary Fleener. Fleener is one of my all-time favorite cartoonists, both for her outstanding autobio comics and her occasional forays into filthy fiction. In February of 2012, she started doing a weekly political cartoon for the Encinitas Coast News, in part as a reaction to the rampant greed and opportunism of her city's government. As a native of Miami, I know only too well the ways in which politicians will roll over when given a chance to line their pockets with money from developers. Fleener had never done political cartooning before, and that shows in a number of her early strips. She's overly reliant on labeling her illustrations to represent specific people, ideas or events; while this is a long tradition in political cartooning, it can also be a bit of an easy cop-out. As she went forward, her own natural creativity and style started to take over the page, coming up with narratives like the one above regarding how trees and their owners were suddenly treated. Fleener also goes on tangents regarding the flora and fauna of her beloved small coastal town, giving a reader a true sense of the flavor of Encinitas. The strips also get funnier and meaner as she gets more comfortable with expressing herself in such a compact manner. Visually, they are impeccable, as her character design and visual flourishes add a dimension to the political cartoon that is not usually seen in typical fare If she hasn't already, I hope she joins the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), because she deserves to be recognized by a new group of peers.



Unfortunate Mishaps In Aviation History and The Unusual Death of Gregory Biggs, by Emi Gennis. Gennis is making an interesting side career out of depicting weird ends "from the Wikipedia list of unusual deaths". What's interesting about these exercises is how they've made her a better artist. Simply put, her character design, backgrounds and sheer drawing ability have improved tremendously over the past few years as she's had to draw machines, people in different eras, and weird situations. Of course, this material strikes a chord in Gennis as well, as evidenced by her editing an anthology's worth of stories about "untimely ends" for Hic & Hoc. Unfortunate Mishaps is a cruel but often funny account of two incidents of sheer hubris, wherein dumb inventors and unprepared explorers thought that their sheer intellect and ingenuity were a match for things like gravity and the Arctic winter. The death of Franz Reichelt is about a man trying to perfect a working parachute who decides to use a live model (himself) and jump off the Eiffel Tower on a windy day. The Arctic expedition went awry because the explorers made no attempt to understand the terrain.  


Gregory Biggs is a far more unsettling comic. The title character was slammed into while walking on the side of a highway, and he went flying into the woman's windshield who hit him. She was all kinds of high, which may have led to her spectacular disconnect from reality. She apologized, drove him, had sex with her boyfriend and woke up the next morning to unsurprisingly find him dead. Her boyfriend helped her cover it up, but she got drunk at a party and bizarrely bragged about the incident. Gennis takes an understated approach here, letting the events speak for themselves with an extensive use of cross-hatching and negative space. Gennis is ready for a major project. 

Patron Saint, by Sam Alden. Published by Space Face, this recent Alden mini is another leap forward. Using this kind of crazy, angular drawing style that emphasizes negative space, Alden tells the story of a young production assistant on a film set and interpolates it with the haunted story of Astro Boy. Seeing Astro Boy, whose ghost (according to a sound man) haunts the earth after he plunged himself into the son, is an ill portent, but the PA instead turns all of her frustration toward her asshole boss (centering around batteries) into a single moment of reality-warping and fantasy-fulfilling violence. It's a remarkable set of panels, made possible by the slightly rubbery quality of his line.

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