Monday, February 3, 2014

PNW Anthologies: Runner Runner #2 and On Your Marks

For a number of years, the Pacific Northwest's contribution to Free Comic Book Day was an anthology comic edited by a collaboration of different small publishers. Dylan Williams of Sparkplug, Tim Goodyear of Teenage Dinosaur and Greg Means of Tugboat Press would combine their resources and overlapping but different aesthetics to create some truly weird and memorable comics like Nerd Burglar, Bird Hurdler, Dan Quayl, and Brad Trip. After Dylan Williams' passing in 2011 and Means' decision to stop publishing his memorable minicomics anthology Papercutter, Means instead decided to publish something that was a hybrid of the old anthology and Papercutter, and he called it Runner Runner.

It's exactly what a typical Means anthology looks like: accessible narratives, art that runs from naturalistic to cartoony that's rendered in an appealing and approachable manner, and story topics that run from autobio to quirky genre fiction. It's an entirely agreeable if not especially challenging read, acting as a sort of Minicomics 101 for new readers. Tthe cover and the first story is devoted to a new short story related to the book he did with MK Reed and Joe Flood for First Second (The Cute Girl Network), which fits perfectly into that "appealing but not challenging ethos". It also helps that the story of Jack trying to escape from his locked bathroom so as not to be late to a date with Jane is frequently hilarious, like when he absurdly sends a moth to deliver a message to Jane, only to see it get eaten by a hawk. Like in his days compiling Papercutter, Means alternates between one-page strips and slightly longer narratives. The best of the former include Claire Sanders' turning a diagnosis of cancer into an unrelated punchline, Alexis Frederick-Frost's gag about quarreling flying fish, Sam Sharpe's gag about perspective leading to deadly consequences, Sam Alden's cleverly constructed strip about a future world lived entirely underground in caves, Andrice Arp's full-colore strip about losing her head and Julia Gfroerer's light-hearted "The 39 Ryan Goslings", which is exactly what it sounds like. The rest of the anthology is built around an extended Al Burian/Nate Powell piece about the relationship between two aging friends and a long Carrie McNinch piece about a day in her life. Means is a long-time zinesters, and this issue of Runner Runner is in part a way to include long-time zinesters like Burian and McNinch. Like Papercutter, the success of this mini is due to the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, especially sense Means has an uncanny sense of just how to sequence the stories to create a fluid reading experience.
By way of comparison, On Your Marks is a disjointed, messy and anarchic compendium of mostly short comics, seemingly thrown together at random by editor Max Clotfelter. Whereas one always gets the sense from a Means-edited anthology that he wants the reader to enjoy every story, this anthology is very much take-it-or-leave it, in your face storytelling. That anarchic, underground feeling is certainly its greatest strength as an anthology, as the whole thing is awash in a crude energy that makes one wonder what's next.

I'm not sure the across-the-map nature of the anthology was necessarily one of intent; rather, it seemed more a reflection of the weird diversity of Seattle's cartooning scene. At one end of the spectrum, you had the sort of hardcore punk/underground comics that might have appeared in the Tim Goodyear side of things. Bobby Madness' strip was the perfect encapsulation of amusing autobio reminiscence and political statement. Moseley Smith and Reuben Storey's is typically visceral, absurd, violent and panel-filling in its almost obsessive scribbling style. Jason T. Miles' scatological strip seems entirely improvised while sampling a number of different styles, creating something almost Dada in its execution while still being mostly shoving things up one's ass. Darin Schuler's strip about a grotesque figure skinning its cat for shamanic reasons is the most disturbing strip in the entire comic (see below).

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the more narrative-driven strips, perhaps ones that Dylan Williams might have selected. Eroyn Franklin's frank and revealing strip about getting ringworm was as funny as it was gross. The same is true for yet another excellent Julia Gfroerer story, "Spirit Hand". In 35 tiny panels, she compresses an entire story's worth of adolescent ambiguity and utter terror. Asher Craw's strip about a boy being selected as a future sacrifice for the ocean and the delicate nature of his drawings would have fit in perfectly in a Williams-published anthology. There's new blood, like Ben Horak's funny strip about the possibility of some childhood art being misinterpreted in a dirty way and Tom van Deusen's bizarre and slightly unnerving funny animal strip about an unwanted head on a newly-bought house. The intense hatching and cross-hatching in that latter strip added to its disorienting qualities. There are also strips by old hands like Rick Altergott and Pat Moriarity (a cat strip, no less), David Lasky (a meditation on superheroes and identities), and Andrice Arp (the only artist in both anthologies, her strip here uses her strange characters to explore mental illness). Clotfelter closes the anthology with a silly "history" of comics that posits them being discovered by "an enormous idiot" who found "13 jade tablets! Each containing a different prototype of comics!!". What the anthology reveals as much as anything is how stacked Short Run was in terms of its talent and diversity of styles.

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