Joseph Lambert told me at SPX that after the success of his book Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, he was going to concentrate on short stories for a bit. The four minicomics I got from him at SPX show him to be at peak form as he continues to explore his primary storytelling interest: sibling dynamics. While some of his stories about kids still retain a touch of magical realism, he's starting to lean more on verisimilitude, depicting kids as they actually think and act. Let's take a look at each one.
Layaway deservedly earned an Ignatz award nomination. It is typically beautiful to look at and intricately designed; these things are givens with regard to Lambert. However, there's a new layer of narrative and emotional complexity to be found here. This story is about social awkwardness mediated through the history of two winter coats. Jumping back and forth in time, Lambert's anecdotes regarding the coats are devastatingly awkward and painful, as a coat that was initially beloved because of its puffiness is kept til its in rags and ill-fitting. Flashing back to how he couldn't feel a punch because of the coat's thickness, Lambert relates a story of telling a friend to punch him; when he does, he doubles over in pain and starts crying. It's a hilarious moment, one that reveals the social gap Lambert's stand-in feels as an older brother who feels out of place with his younger siblings and the awkwardness he feels with peers. That's made especially clear when he gets a 49ers jacket knowing absolutely nothing about the football team, instead inanely telling anyone who would listen that it was purchased from layaway.Throw in the awkwardness of trying to impress a girl with that story, and you have a surprisingly rich and textured story in just 16 pages.
New Worlds For Me And For You takes on the odd ways in which children become friends, and how socioeconomic factors can play a role in interpersonal dynamics. Two rough-and-tumble kids (one a gender-ambiguous tomboy) loudly dare each other to seize the moment in daring ways (leading to band-aids and casts) while the girl next door in a much nicer house injects herself into their own world. This comic is especially impressive in terms of pacing and restraint. The other seems like an odd thing to praise in a comic filled with hyperbolic dialogue and plenty of propulsive motion, but Lambert leaves out details in such a manner as to let the reader fill them in, giving the burgeoning friendship between the three kids an extra dimension of rich depth. The comic is also crammed with gags, even as Lambert peppers them with moments of self-actualization that are then popped by a viscerally bracing moment, like one kid breaking his other arm after feeling a rush of adrenaline that overcomes his fear of death.
Supposed To is more along the lines of Lambert's magical-realist works, where a kid is sort of fused to a house as a metaphor for isolation. It's closer in spirit and execution to those silent, crazed comics where kids get angry at the sun or moon, while retaining a strong sense of humanity in the plight of the child. WizZine is a sketchbook featuring drawings of wizards and magicians in various stages of performing spells. His character design is incredibly appealing, making me wish that Lambert was drawing Dr. Strange. There's a strong Ditko influence, but there's also bits of Steve Bissette (designer of John Constantine) and even the whimsy of Winsor McCay. If Lambert can craft a story around these images, it would look incredible.