Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Autobio Minis: Park, Budnik, Jordan

Mumblecore Comix, by Kevin Budnik. I enjoyed Budnik's debut, Our Ever-Improving Living Room. This mini collects some four-panel, frequently downbeat gag comics that he did for Columbia College's student newspaper. It's the same basic beat in every strip: a depressed looking couple plaintively look away from each other as they get off a quip that's sometimes goofy, sometimes absurd and sometimes sharp-edged. One of Budnik's best assets as a cartoonist at the moment is his sense of comic strip rhythm. He knows when to set up a premise, how to pause a beat or two (usually with silent panels) and then deliver a punchline. Even the strips that don't have great punchlines or are just very silly work because of that sense of rhythm and timing. Budnik also adds just enough detail to get across his points but not so much as to distract the reader's eye. Indeed, many of the strips are guided by tiny positional changes of small lines in the faces of the characters. The use of color filled up lots of empty space and prevented that from being a distraction, as well as adding to certain punchlines in the strip. This was a short mini and I found myself wanting to read more.

Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream: Autoptic Mini, by Laura Park.These look like sketchbook drawings from Park, piled into a mini and looking beautiful on every page. Park somehow manages to combine the spontaneity of a sketchbook drawing with a level of detail and craft that make looking at every one an absolute. Despite details like intense cross-hatching and detailed backgrounds, the strips are nonetheless loose, expressive and funny. One of the keys is her consistently delightful self-caricature, which exaggerates her size and shortness. Those glasses she wears and the way she draws her hair give her a powerful, iconic appearance on the page. Even when she's being shy or recovering from surgery, her caricature dominates every panel. Despite the level of detail she provides in every panel, the reader's eye is drawn to Park herself on the page. The strips here range from single panels to groups of related single panels to fully developed narratives. Park isn't shy about sharing the most intimate details of her life, but she always manages to play them for laughs. "In The Mood For Love" is about her needing "to get laid today" and the efforts she goes to in order to try to do so. "Lazy Laura: The Idling Idjit" and "The Days Feel Long" are about trying to work alone as a cartoonist and managing the intense back pain that would later presumable lead to the back surgery she alludes to later in the comic."If You Want Something Done" is about her epic quest to get to a bathroom without wetting the bed as she's recovering in the hospital. Her comics will soon be collected by a big name comics publisher, but she told me that she will continue to release new minicomics through Tom Kaczynski's Uncivilized Books. I imagine Park will receive a lot more attention when that book does come out.

17 Weddings, by Robyn Jordan. I've only read bits and pieces of Jordan's work in the past, but I found it to be witty and expressively drawn. This mini has a killer premise: single page accounts of memorable moments from 17 weddings she had either been a part of or attended. This is the Jesse Reklaw model of autobio that he uses so effectively in Couch Tag, wherein focusing on a particular detail often sheds light on larger issues that are brushed off to the side. Jordan starts with her flower girl days, where she was delight to receive an Alf watch after being bored for hours at the ceremony. Other strips talk about ridiculous dresses, school friends she no longer has anything in common with, arguments with boyfriends at the wedding ceremony, the embarrassment of seeing people she knew when working a catering job at weddings with her mom, hooking up at weddings and one hilarious strip where a guy came out before the wedding to announce that the couple was not going "to parade their solemn vows before you" rightly raising the question of why they were even there. Jordan's strip about her own wedding focused on the malfunction with her "chicken cutlet bra": pads that stick to one's breasts with adhesive. She ends the mini by simply yanking them out and going "free and easy". Jordan's loose, spontaneous line highlights her character design and understanding of physical interaction in space. She reminds me a bit of Ellen Forney in that regard, going from dot eyes in some panels to more naturalistic close-ups as the situation dictated. This is a clever and well-conceived bit of autobio that doesn't outstay its welcome.

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