Friday, October 18, 2013

Minicomics: Barnett, Henderson, Brunton, Tablegeddon

The Magic Whistle #13, by Sam Henderson. A new issue of Magic Whistle is always cause for celebration, and it's good to see that this is going to be a regularity with the newly-revived Alternative Comics. This is my favorite format for Henderson's work, because it allows him to display his full range as a humorist. There are single-panel gags, longer narratives, long-form callbacks, long-running serial gag features, conceptual jokes, scatological jokes and even funny anecdotes. Henderson excels in all of these areas and is perhaps the most versatile humorist in comics as a result, even as his deliberately crude visual stylings remain the same from strip to strip. This issue's highlights include a very meta Gunther Bumpus strip, wherein he doesn't get stuck in his cat flap and thus doesn't leave his ass hanging, leading to all sorts of angst and the eventual, ineffective intervention of Pickles the Exploding Dog (one of Henderson's best-ever jokes, especially thanks to the very serious and determined expression on the face of the dog). There's also a great Dirty Danny strip, a typically demented Lonely Robot Duckling strip, and a story about a bizarre encounter on a subway. Henderson also features work from the delightfully wacked-out Lizz Hickey, whose diary comics and jokes about being peed on fit right into the proceedings. David Goldin's back cover is drawn very much in Henderson's style. I like this mini-anthology approach, as it reminds me of what Peter Bagge was doing in Hate before he closed up shop on the regular run of the series.

I'm A Horse, Bitch, by Lauren Barnett. This comic begins with a reclining horse that says "Pleased to meet you. I'm a horse. Don't worry, the jealousy you're feeling is normal." Things pretty much go from there, as Barnett takes this concept and runs a mile with it, playing up the hilarious vanity of the horse ("I read books that would confuse you. I'm smart as fuck."; said books include Gravity's Rainbow, Twilight and Ecrits). Every page has a great joke on it, leading to a solid finish. What makes this a big step forward for Barnett is that this comic isn't just conceptually funny, but the drawings themselves lend a lot to the jokes as well. She sells a joke about how embarrassing ponies are with a really cutesy drawing of a pony, for example. From beginning to end, it's a perfectly-realized bit of  humor.

Second Banana, by Tessa Brunton. This is a funny story centering around Brunton's relationship with her brother regarding belief and influences. As the youngest member of her family, Brunton was susceptible to her brother's tendency to pontificate. Sometimes this led to him sharing "the good stuff" with her, like comics, HP Lovecraft, ghost stories and other unexplained phenomena. However, it also led to his point of view being the only correct one, which made it especially tough because he was precociously intelligent and Brunton struggled academically. This was a power imbalance, and Brunton sadly relates how it came between them, even as her brother meant well. This especially came to light when he abandoned his love of the supernatural for rationalism, a move that essentially cut Brunton off from her steady supply of wonder. Brunton's character work is expressive and loose but grabs the reader's eye because of her attention to detail and decorative aspects of her work. She's careful to add hatching and background details like wallpaper patterns and imaginative details like monsters and haunted woods. Her line weight is thin to the point of fragility, a quality that carries over to the emotional qualities of her work, which combines nostalgia and sadness in equal measure.

Tablegeddon, edited by Rob Kirby. Kirby's one of the best editors in comics, and this zine sees him quietly putting together a comic filled with some intriguing names from the world of alt-comics as well as queer comics, two camps that are rapidly converging and sharing energy these days. Everyone who is an exhibitor at a comics or zine festival can certainly sympathize with the stories told here. Beyond the simple fact that everyone featured here is a cartoonist, many of the creators tend to write about how introverted they are and how tough it is for them to deal with crowds. Max Clotfelter's densely-hatched comic is a nice introduction to the anthology, as it details his first friend in comics, his first (awful) show and his first disappointing experience with comics. Sally Carson and Cara Bean's jam comic about meeting & bonding at a CCS workshop and then tabling together at various shows is inspiring and revealing, especially in how they are able to help each other through shared insecurities and encourage the other to work through it. Their lines mesh well, with Bean's stubby self-caricature and Carson's cute, bespectacled figure making a great visual duo. Bean's line is slightly thicker than Carson's which works to help differentiate their figures a bit more, but both are careful to avoid spotting blacks.

Kelly Froh and Carrie McNinch both write about the downside of tabling: a lack of an audience, a room that's too cold or a table that's too windy, and crippling shyness. Along the same lines, Aron Nels Steinke relates a story (told in his anthropomorphic style of drawing) of tabling with a guy he got into making comics who was suddenly getting TV deals and the relentlessness of certain kinds of fans. Kirby, Mark Campos and Justin Hall all talk about specific experiences, as Kirby relates a difficult time at TCAF, Hall talks about a brutal 20 minutes wearing down a customer until he made a sale, and Campos talks about a "mystery comic" he made that had an amusing punchline. The centerpiece of the comic, Gabby Gamboa's depiction of a family of neanderthals having a picnic discussing their comics, is hilarious, as she really gets at the conversations and pettiness that can take place at these sorts of events. John Porcellino's comic about how any theories predicting a show's success or failure tend to be specious at best. Tony Breed and Jason Martin both did strips about the ups and downs of tabling and the feeling of connection one seeks out at events like this. The seriousness and sincerity of those comics is then paired against the weirdness of Matt Moses recalling a belligerent fan at TCAF, a show held at a library and the sweet hilarity of Rick Worley relating his crush on Dash Shaw at one show. In the former strip, drawn by Jess Worby, the bulging eyes of the patron made everyone think that he was surely going to snap and murder them. In the latter, Worley builds up a fantasy of getting married to Shaw until he's brought down to earth by being told that Shaw was a woman. Worley's "Bottomless Belly Button...bit overrated, don't you think?" made me laugh out loud. It was one of many such moments in this anthology, one designed to entertain fans and draw nods of understanding from other cartoonists regarding experiences both positive and negative interacting with the public and selling one's art.

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