Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #9: Ford, Forsman, Coovert, Kim, Martin, Gaskin

Let's take a look at some short comics from the remarkable graduating class of 2008 from CCS, many of whom spent time editing the Sundays anthology.

Simple Routines #18, by J.P. Coovert. Coovert's been honing his craft as an autobio cartoonist for some time now, and his most recent results have been increasingly poignant and poetic. That includes his line, which he has simplified thanks to the choice of using a thin weight (exactly the same as the weight he uses for his lettering), which gives each panel a sense of compositional unity. Considering that he uses a narrative caption for most of his panels, this is the biggest key to their success. His figures are simple and iconic without sacrificing clarity or expressiveness, which is important because Coovert explores the emotions he feels for his wife, friends and parents in many of the anecdotes described here. The final story, where he remembers playing with a sick kid as a child as a formative moment for how he views life, is poignant without being maudlin or too self-important. Through sheer hard work and repetition, Coovert has made the daily diary strip more than just an artist's exercise.

Teen Creeps #1 and Working On The End Of The Fucking World, by Chuck Forsman. Forsman is one of the smartest and most thoughtful cartoonists working today, with an intellectual curiosity about process and themes that reflects his status as cartoonist, editor and publisher. That curiosity has led to Forsman publishing several interview zines through his Oily Comics concern, as well as the Working On... zine that's comprised of commentary, an interview, sketches and thumbnails from his most well-known comic that began as a series of eight-page minis. Forsman notes that it's mainly an excuse to "play with 2 color printing", and he sounds a bit anxious about being pretentious in the interview, but it's clear that this is something he takes seriously, and rightly so. Documenting that process in a manner that's visually interesting and challenging was obviously a puzzle of its own for him. Teen Creeps is his new series of short stories involving "loosely connected" characters over time. The first issue starts a story featuring Hilary and her bad-ass friend Dawn. Hilary is slut-shamed by a jock at a high school when she won't put out after he goes down on her. When Dawn catches wind of this, she kicks the kid spreading a rumor about Hilary in the groin, ignoring the inevitable lecture from school officials. Forsman's specialty is teenage characters, and this comic features him tackling the subject from a different perspective. It's not just that the lead characters are girls (a rarity for Forsman), it's that he's examining a different set of character dynamics than usual. This set of Teen Creeps story seems like it's going to focus in on the friendship between Dawn and Hilary, and the ways in which that friendship blurs and strains. As always, Forsman's character design is cartoony and grotesque in a manner that feels real, from Hilary's pointy nose and long, stringy hair to a kid's flat-top, spiky haircut.

Shadow Hills #1, by Sean Ford. It's a brand new series for Ford after working on Only Skin for several years. This time around, the focus seems to be on a couple of children: a mute boy who collapses near a small forest town, and a girl who fancies herself a would-be detective who discovers him. Told in retrospect by the girl, it hints at ominous, strange events that seem to indicate that the boy was far from ordinary. Ford seems to have varied his line weight a bit here, giving his line a more fragile, tremulous quality. Ford also sets up the stakes of this story more rapidly than in Only Skin, with its narrative structure immediately instilling a sense of menace and foreboding from the very beginning. It was a bit strange to see Ford work this small, after seeing the wide-open vistas of his last book, but he may be going for something more claustrophobic here.

Timber Run 1 and Dumpling King 1, 2 by Alex Kim. If you were to ask me about a particularly underrated cartoonist, Kim would be one of the first names I'd consider. His idiosyncratic and piercingly angular character design, his lush use of backgrounds, and his quirky sense of humor all punctuate his status as an outstanding writer of suspense and horror comics. Dumpling King, published by Oily Comics, promises to be a creepily-paced breakout work that brings him deserved attention. It's remarkable how quickly he's able to establish the premise and setting of this comic, as a prospective dumpling making decides to abandon his tutelage in favor of being the store's delivery man after the former holder of that spot kills himself. He wants to investigate for himself the mysterious Grace Chang and her sinister family despite the protestations of his mentor. Kim quickly sets up steam and fog as recurring visual motifs, painstakingly rendered in a stippled line that gives the vapor a density that looks dangerous. The changing covers are also carefully considered, as we switch from character to character in each issue and the moon slowly sets. This is beautiful and meticulous cartooning that's in total service to the demands of the immediately engrossing story. Kim draws the reader into his world with pointy noses and wrinkled faces. Timber Run is the first part of a horror comic that features one of Kim's favorite motifs: the cabin in the woods. The reader is slowly drawn into a family drama, an abandoned relative and his sister's family attempts to find him. If the horror here is perhaps more conventional, Kim plays around with expectations by putting the family's drama out front until the monster is revealed in gloriously over-the-top style. Kim leaves the reader on a nasty cliffhanger, making it clear that a happy ending is not guaranteed.

Gnomes, by Sam Gaskin. This is a bit of smudgy silliness from a cartoonist who has always used fantasy and pop-culture tropes and images to fuel his humor. The strips here range between quotidian activities to out-and-out gags, like a gnome tricking a troll into falling into a hole and then pissing on him. Many of them are more like "tickle fight", which involves two gnomes tickling each other with the tagline "everybody wins!" This is a deliberately lo-fi, bawdy version of the famous 1977 book of illustrations that set off the gnome craze, one where plot and character are less relevant than world-building. Of course, the world-building here mostly involves gnomes getting drunk on mead and eating pumpkin bread. It's an amusing concept that's as sloppily drawn as the original book was fastidious.

Gagger 1, by Dane Martin. Martin has long been a cartoonist who's mashed together influences from the golden age of cartooning like EZ Segar with more modern influences like Tony Millionaire and Mark Beyer. Martin's comics have a feverish, nightmarish quality, even as they follow the adventures of cartoon birds who happen to be artists, animators and gagsmiths. There's a mix between characters that have a deliberate, energetic crudeness in terms of their rendering and a carefully-crafted set of backgrounds that feature intricate patterns and furiously-dashed marks. The eye doesn't rest on a Dane Martin page; instead, it dashes anxiously from image to image, never being allowed to relax or find comfort in any of the drawings. It's an anxiousness that's not unlike what Michael DeForge does on his pages, only cranked up to a more uncomfortable level. The main character here is a gag writer for "Uncle Saul" who's out of inspiration and ideas who takes a walk, only to reveal how useless and impotent he is a sentient creature, one completely unable and unwilling to help others. Of course, the character is ridden by guilt, because all of his emotions must center around his own negative conception of self no matter what. It's a powerful, bracing little comic that promises some fascinating insights into human interaction.


  1. 1997 book about gnomes? Don't you mean the 1977 book?

    I think I just made my obscure pedant quota for the day.

  2. Loved this post. I'm really into Dan Martin and everything he does.