Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Minicomics: MariNaomi, Sean T Collins/Julia Gfroerer, Spencer Hicks

Interview With Alison Bechdel and Said While Talking, by MariNaomi. This is a minicomic version of a feature that originally appeared on, and it's part zine, part comic. While MariNaomi conducts the interview in a loose, conversational style that cleverly draws on the similarities between her work and Bechdels as memoirists, I couldn't help but wish the entire thing had been done as a comic. That's partly because she didn't simply make this a talking heads piece on the page, but rather used the illustrations to sometimes show what was being talked about in the course of the conversation. For example, she was able to illustrate how in comics it's not practical or desirable to show every wrinkle and detail of one's face, but that such softening had a "touch-up effect". There were other such opportunities to similarly illustrate interesting aspects of their work later on, but I get the sense that this was a time-crunch assignment that didn't give her the chance to fully illustrate each section. That's unfortunate and a rare opportunity that was lost, but the illustrated and personal bits of the interview that the reader does get to see are funny and revealing both of subject and interviewer.

Said While Talking's short vignettes originally appeared at, and they're meant to be a light and comedic counter to the sort of strips she ran in her column at The Rumpus. She uses an interesting technique in a number of these strips (perhaps as a time-saving method) where she eschews the use of panel borders and full figures, often using either floating heads or head-and-shoulders shots. It's a way of paring down strips to their absolute essentials, focusing on the elements necessary for the eventual gag and nothing else. Reading her more serious and dramatic works like Kiss And Tell or her Rumpus strip (to be collected in a book by 2D Cloud called Dragon's Breath), it's interesting to read short vignettes about dating that are actually funny instead of sad or even tragic. A series of strips regarding Mari dating a hippy are especially amusing, as her minimalist style here still manages to capture the pretension of this guy and the ridiculousness of situations where he doesn't want to go down on her because "It doesn't feel very vegan"! The strips with her husband Gary are also inevitably amusing, especially since they take on a sort of Charlie Brown/Lucy dynamic at times. For example, when Gary suggests that there's a "direct correlation between how pretty something is and what a jerk it is", there's a beat and a perturbed Mari replies "Somehow, I think I ought to be offended by that statement." What makes the punchline perfect and perfectly Schulzian is the slight smile that creeps across Gary's face when she says that. While these strips are played for laughs, they're still revealing in many ways, like the ones in which she discusses her antipathy toward babies. MariNaomi notes that the strips also provide a therapeutic service, taking her away from the more downbeat themes of her other comics; it also allows her to exercise different kinds of cartooning muscles.

In Pace Requiescat, by Sean T Collins and Julia Gfrörer.  First off, one must read Edgar Allen Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado" for this story to make any sense. The mini picks up where the story left off, adding a new ending that has all sorts of implications. The story itself is about a man named Montresor who vows revenge on a man named Fortunato for a variety of unnamed offenses. That revenge eventually comes when he takes Fortunato deep into the vaults of his family home to sample a Spanish sherry. The dampness of the vaults makes Fortunato cough, and Montresor gets him drunk to ease the cough. Finally, they happen upon a small vault that's a dungeon of some kind and Montresor quickly puts his foe's leg in irons, and soon begins to brick up the alcove he's in, gaining his revenge by eventually starving and dehydrating Fortunato.

Now, the end of the story finds Montresor calling out Fortunato's name a couple of times, only to gain no answer. This was after Fortunato begged and pleaded Montresor to stop, hoping it was a sick joke. However, there's an implication that Fortunato's final refusal to engage was a sort of silent revenge of its own, because Montresor, confessing the act years later in the narrative, feels sick. Either because revenge itself doesn't feel as good as he thought it might, once he puts that final brick in, or because he failed to get the last word. In the comic, Montresor puts in the final brick, then pauses and pushes in a brick at about waist level. From there, Montresor encourages Fortunato to come forward, he reaches in and then there's a six-page blowjob sequence peppered with clever references to the original story. (I especially liked comparing Fortunato's penis to a serpent, given that Montresor's family crest was a foot striking a serpent biting its heel.)

What to make of this new ending? First off, there was no artist more appropriate for this kind of story than Gfrörer. Her scratchy, nervous line evoked the dampness and darkness of the vaults, and no artist depicts sex so viscerally. With a twelve panel grid on each page, the reader is pushed through panel after panel of this horrific but erotically charged scene, creating an uncomfortable reading experience that's also a sort of shaggy dog story. The use of sound effects is also clever, taking full advantage of the fact that in the story Fortunato is wearing a jester's outfit with bells; the "jingle jingle jingle" of the unseen Fortunato being fellated in what amounts to a gloryhole sequence is somehow both disturbing and hilarious. Beyond those qualities, one gets the sense that Montresor gets the last word this time, so to speak, but Collins also opens up the possibility of revealing Fortunato's "crime" against Montresor: rejecting his advances and/or affections. While those shaggy dog qualities are certainly there and shock value is a part of the experience, it's clear that there are other questions that Collins wanted to address, and he made an already complex and ambiguous story even moreso here, ably complemented by the skill of Gfrörer.

Inspiration Point, by Spencer Hicks. This is an unassuming mini drawn in a simple still that favors slightly cartoony, even grotesque character designs. It sees an unnamed protagonist waking up to go for a run on a trail, and the reader is given an uncensored and unedited look at his stream of consciousness. Like the slightly schlubby design of the man himself, that look inside his brain is not especially flattering. He regards his live-in girlfriend with antipathy even as parts of this run are made to impress her in some bizarre way. Indeed, this unseen woman is a central character in some ways, as he thinks to "punish" her by not bringing her coffee, only to find that she's not there when he returns home. The run itself is full of projections, as he wonders if everyone he meets is a creep as a way of dealing with his own creepy thoughts. Sometimes that stream of consciousness goes down amusing paths, like when he wonders about the evolutionary purpose of white tails on rabbits might be. When he's cleaning his glasses in his girlfriend's car and a passerby thinks he's masturbating, his furious attempts at proving otherwise are hilarious. In short, this is a comic about social anxiety without being labeled as such, and its title of course ironically refers to the utter lack of inspiration that he derives at any point in the story. Hicks' reserved style of storytelling is low impact, but it deserves a bit of scrutiny to really get at what's going on with the main character.

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