Monday, June 23, 2014

Oddball Minis: Winslow-Yost/Rae-Grant, Dugan, Mitchell/White, Phelan, Bong

Popcorn Muscles #1, by Gabriel Winslow-Yost and Michael Rae-Grant. The duo behind the deranged Steel Sterling comic once again takes Golden Age superheroes and villains like TNT Todd, Iron Skull, Master Mystic and Airmale & Stampy and does odd things with them. Using a day-glo color scheme that recalls the greatest excesses of Paper Rad as well as the deliberately posed and stilted character designs of Michael DeForge, this comic explores some different areas than their first effort, which was both more comedic and more kinetic. For example, Airmale and Stampy here are retired heroes and lovers who must use all sorts of devices to prevent themselves from floating away in their civilian lives. An extended sequence where Stampy is trying to take a shower and Airmale trying to prevent his lover from hurting himself. Stampy is tired of living like a freak, which leads to a surprisingly poignant ending that's revealed by a pot full of wilted flowers. Pink, yellow and blue are the dominant colors here, and their assault is so prominent that the conventionality of the set-up and the emotional rawness of the piece are both considerably muted, leaving the reader to sort and sift through it.

The Iron Skull sequence is a series of three identical images of a bizarre character with an irregularly-shaped head waiting to hear thoughts in his head from someone else. Like in the first strip, there's a lingering sadness at work in the wake of the clashing, psychedelic colors; it seems to be about someone losing his mind. The story of TNT Todd gets at the heart of what GWY and MRG seem to be after, which is the transparency of the constituent elements of their art. That is, they want the reader to see that this was drawn by computer, that it's constructed of very simple geometric elements, that its intelligibility is entirely dependent on the reader's ability to make connections in what they see. The mangled use of language, the out-of-panel asides to iconic images like his "g-man badge",  and the increasingly psychedelic and nonsensical flow of images almost make this feel like this is a story being told (or read) by someone with an aphasia. That said, there are enough clues that make this feel like an extreme, abstracted "cover version" of an original Golden Age story, one where the title character is indeed captured by skull creatures, encounters thieves wearing gas masks, is gassed and shot at and finally triumphs by shooting everyone with lightning. The last few pages are a particularly intense read with the bright red background initially obscuring the other colors on the page until one's eye learns to process it. The simplicity (and frequently, sheer stupidity) of the original stories and characters gives the artists some interesting material to work with, especially since they manage to channel the original frenzied energy that went into the Golden Age characters and turn it into something quite different. I am once again curious to see how they will follow this particular comic, though the #1 on the cover seems to indicate that this may be their new two-man anthology for the near future.

After The Gold Rush, by Dave Dugan. This is a genuine comics/zine oddity. Published in a manila folder with an untitled doodle, this is a collage of paper scraps, drawings by Dugan, and band announcements for his friend Nate Solod. Solod was a drummer and singer for a variety of funk bands as well as a roadie for the band G.Love and Special Sauce. The narrative, such as it is, is carried along by Dugan paraphrasing the Neil Young song "Tonight's The Night", which is about a roadie friend who died due to a drug overdose. During the course of the comic, Dugan reveals that Solod committed suicide. There are some neat lyrical symmetries; for example, in the original, there's a line about "playing guitar with a shaky hand". That's changed to "pound the drums with a shakyfoot"; "Shakyfoot" happened to be one of Solod's many projects, and Dugan designed a logo for it. There's an amazing sequence halfway through the zine where a vicodin wrapper is altered with Dugan's drawing and various words highlighted and circled ("depression", "overdose", "drug addiction"). stapled to it is the back of a cane sugar bag with a drawing of a woman that says "kisses sweeter than wine". That's what I enjoyed most about this comic: the total, frenetic commitment to its concept. There are other touches, like blank doctor's physical examination forms being used to draw on but also partly filled out in clever, telling ways. This comic is beautiful, strange, moving and psychedelic all at once. It is no more and no less a tribute to a friend, one designed to honor a friendship and history of collaboration entirely in the language of the nature of that collaboration: comics and music. If some of ideas seem a bit on the nose at times, the sheer sincerity and handmade effort of what is most assuredly an art object won me over.

REH #5 by Brian John Mitchell and Andrew White and Lost Kisses #25, by Brian John Mitchell. Mitchell has been producing his weird little micro-mini comics (2" x 2 1/8") for years. Many of them are skewed takes on genres from sci-fi to horror to westerns to the supernatural, done with artists with a wide range of skill. My favorite two series are represented in this latest batch. Lost Kisses is drawn in stick figures by Mitchell himself. There's a narrative box (usually at the bottom of each page) and a figure in each panel, with the figure saying something that's either in support of or at odds with the narrative caption. What started with just a series of somewhat despondent/ironic takes on life has morphed into something futuristic. Taking a page from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, his unnamed character has become "unstuck in time", popping up in a post-apocalyptic future. It's a typically, funny weird and strange comic that's as much about cringe humor as it is about a particular plot. REH features the private writing of the author Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. Taken from when he was taking care of his mother and trying to scratch out a career as a writer (and get paid for the stuff he got published), White's spare and moody pencil work is a perfect complement to Howard as filtered through Mitchell. With just a single image available per page, White has to buckle down and waste no lines in creating atmosphere, as he must get across a single idea in dramatic fashion. It's a great series about writing and the writing process, as well as a window into another era.

St Packrat's ABC and Alice B. Toeclip's Stay-in-bed Yoga Ritual, by Jacquie Phelan. These are self-described as "chapbooks", and they are micro-minicomics that feature drawings and text pasted in. Phelan is an interesting character; she's a former road and cyclocross bike racer and was a giant in her sport. These comics reveal a whimsical and philosophical soul, one whose spiritual investigations are leavened with a great deal of humor and self-deprecation. The ABC mini is a primer that talks about a mouse character's proclivity for hoarding and how it affects her life--and how it's also a symptom and manifestation of depression. The Yoga mini is a funny series of diagrams that detail her routines for doing yoga while still in bed, with positions like "cinnamon roll". It is at once deadly serious and light-hearted. The minis themselves are at the crudest possible level of technical ability; the photocopying is badly done, and Phelan had to pencil in by hand words and images that got deleted from the copies. Her drawing is rudimentary at best. That said, if Phelan can improve the technical aspects of her comics, she has the potential to be a very interesting artist. As someone who's led a rich and interesting life, I imagine there's a lot she could talk about regarding her experiences. Beyond simply expanding on things that she's done, her sense of humor and point of view are both huge positives regarding potential future work.

World of Bong, by D.R. Bong.  This is a short, black and white mini that's essentially meant as a teaser for the webcomic. It is a self-consciously goofy, crudely-computer drawn strip. Everything about this strip is awkward and stilted and not in a way that's funny. It's the sort of comic that relies on the idea of a Spanglish-speaking protagonist named "Mustachio" is inherently funny. The crude drawings don't even have the advantage of a human hand being directly behind them, and the awkwardness of their creation on the page and the inability of Bong to draw figures that relate to each other in space in a way that makes sense further dims whatever small, absurdist appeal the comic might have had.


  1. Lol, thank you for the write up! I got a kick out of that, as well as a few tips on what I need to work on.

    - Bong