Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #26: Awesome Sound, Can't Lose, Stranger Knights 4

Awesome Sound is an anthology published by Sean Knickerbocker. The low-fi cover belies the beautiful contents within, which look like they were printed on a risograph. DW's endpapers, which forcefully push both text and image to the point of violent distortion, are fitting for a comic that's so visceral and unsettling. Dan Rinylo's "Beast" is told with an Ernie Bushmiller-style simplicity, as the young boy's face here is two big black dots for eyes, a black line for a nose and a mouth that goes from black line to black oval, depending on his emotions. Using a nine-panel grid after an initial splash page that establishes the boy at the edge of a forest, each page is interesting because the central panel is almost always a scene of stillness: we see the boy looking, see him smiling, see him in the middle of walking and then see him running from right to left when wild dogs start chasing him. That sets the story from amusing to frenetic, but the final middle panel is an image of an empty street--right before a wild dog who is chasing the boy is run over by a car. It's both dark and comedic, given the x over the dog's eye and the generally cartoony nature of the story, but the bright red blood on a page that's mostly black and white adds a level of terror to the proceedings.

Knickerbocker's "Do You Still Feel Alone?" begins with a brother and sister in the woods, on the run from something unseen. The way he throws the reader right into a chase scene propels the story right along, heightening its tension from the very beginning. That tension is ramped up when they are assaulted by a nude man, who is stabbed to death by the sister. Knickerbocker pulls back further, revealing that this is an island where a plane has crashed, its inhabitants reduced to life-and-death struggle. It's a brutal, unforgiving little tableau that has no pat ending, and the fact that it's drawn in that cartoony style reminiscent of Chuck Forsman and Sammy Harkham makes it all the more unsettling. Indeed, the later story where a young couple sets themselves on fire in a house (revealing a pentagram on the floor) is a sort of cousin to the sort of thing Forsman did in The End Of The Fucking World. Finally, Juan Fernadez's red ink two-pager is a perfect fit, as his scribbled-out faces go through a progression of consumption. This mini is short but every image packs a punch.

Can't Lose is an old-fashioned fanzine dedicated to the TV show Friday Night Lights. It's everything a fanzine should be: in-jokey, craft-conscious, and gently mocking in a reverent manner. "Coached" by superfan Melissa Mendes, this zine has an interesting sprinkling of well-known cartoonists. Popular topics include the Christian speed-metal band that the character Landry starts ("Crucifictorious"), the comically awful Billy, younger brother of lead character Tim (Henry Eudy does a fine job of pointing out just how weaselly he is while Nomi Kane posits a magical night the two share in the desert), and how doubters often come around to becoming obsessed with the show. Jon Shaw's "Friday Nightlife" speaks to this, as a character who mocks a couple mourning the last episode starts to watch it and eventually enters his own weird world of living out other, self-imagined seasons. Sam Spina actually made me laugh out loud in a strip where he and his wife are asked why South Carolinians are buying Texas beer, and they reply in unison "Texas forever". My favorite strips were Dan Zettwoch's hilarious story about Dillon getting routed because Saracen used photocopies from the playbook to hang up Crucifictorious flyers (lovingly designed and drawn by Zettwoch, of course) and Jeff Lok's tale of escalating terrible behavior being excused "They're good kids". Can't Lose even has a cut-out Tim Riggins paper doll. While bits of it might me mystifying to those in the dark, the premise is laid out clearly enough for the jokes to land.

Stranger Knights 4 was published, as always by Bill Volk. This light-hearted fantasy/sci-fi/superhero anthology has always been on the uneven and amateurish side. This issue is the first to look good from cover-to-cover, and each story is funny to boot. Volk's "Brega and Snurrd" sees him use a cleaned-up, simplified version of his line that emphasizes character expressiveness above all else. The story follows familiar Dungeons & Dragons/fantasy tropes, but it's really about the relationship between a mother and her teenaged daughter. Of course, the mother here is a bearded dwarf and her daughter is trying to pass as human at her wizarding school. When the mother demands the presence of her daughter for an adventure (ie, bonding session), tension arises in an amusing manner. This is a crisply-paced story that actually gets across real feelings in its fantasy context. I'd love to see more from these characters and their world. The Volk-written "Thousand Year Grudge" (drawn by Bryan Stone) is a denser, grittier story involving anthropomorphic animals, thievery, romances gone bad and multiple double-crosses. The thickness of Stone's line is coupled with cross-hatching, lots of spotted blacks and other noir visual effects to counter the funny animals and the wonderfully ludicrous character of Maggie, the young bird who decides to be a thief. Ann Lewis' "Headless" is a bit on the cruder side in terms of rendering, but her use of humorous body language in telling a story about an empty but animated suit of armor sells it effectively. Finally, the Volk-Mary Soper continuing collaboration "Incantrix X" continues to be a reliably amusing story with idiosyncratic character design and odd design choices.

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