Friday, July 4, 2014

Brit Comics: Collins/Laurie, Lunney, Cowdry, Decie

Metrodome and Crawl Hole, by Craig Collins and Iain Laurie. This macabre and darkly humorous duo continue to be a perfect writer/artist pairing. In Metrodome, the Scottish creators cleverly created super-powered/monstrous characters by combining random words from a local free newspaper, spawning such combatants as "Leaking Anger", "Blood Fog" and "Sex Axe". They combatants were then thrown into a city setting and there was much carnage, as Laurie channeled his inner Rob Leifeld ni the way he employed an excess of lines, grotesquely contorted mouths, and exaggerated figures. Collins and Laurie then channeled their inner Johnny Ryan (by way of Prison Pit) in developing plot-free, visceral, bloody and funny scenes of violence. It's essentially two artists playing around but committing to a premise with great enthusiasm and seriousness. Crawl Hole is a collection of short stories. "House of Mercy" is a bewildering story of a man bringing his father to a place where he has to fight masked men until he is eventually rent limb from limb; it winds up being an elaborate and grisly form of assisted suicide. "The Quiet Burden" is about an elderly man living a mundane existence, except for when he gets a call about the "vengabus", which are Lovecraftian creatures that live in his basement. Then he must don a mask and chop them up with an axe. Once again, Laurie's ink-spattered, lively visuals and interesting page design complement Collins' ideas perfectly. "Regression Artifact" combines the awkwardness of seeing an ex at a party with the secret knowledge that they are demonic/fantasy creatures who played out their conflicts on a battlefield. At four pages, it's perfectly paced and boasts a great punchline as well. That's a big reason for their success: they understand how to pace a story for maximum effect, allowing Laurie's visuals to pound the reader without becoming repetitive. Their take on horror is smart, funny and genuinely unsettling.

At The End Of Your Garden and At The Theme Park, by Lizz Lunney. Reading these Lunney comics is like watching a long-form improv performance. Bits of random strangeness turn out to be running gags that provide structure, like "The Girl With The Lion In Her Hair" in Garden. With a simple but expressive line, green ink and jokes that center around vegetation, we get advice from a chicken that's being prepared for an oven, follow two indolent cats as they buy items to delight themselves, listen to a talking tattoo make its recipient regret getting it, and ponder what it would be like if things like baking and interpretive dance were our dominant forms of communication. With a simple, clean line, Lunney neatly arranges what are essentially sketchbook gags into a minicomics format where their tenuous connections add to the humor of each individual joke; here the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In Theme Park, we follow the cats around as they wait endlessly for various theme park rides, encounter mysterious "foodz", and make jokes about a "ten hour build-up for ten seconds of intense pleasure" and connect that to golf. There are wistful autobiographical tidbits as well, as Lunney explores the nature of a theme park's mandatory fun with stories about her past and wishes that she could simply ignore anxiety. Mixed in with the same kind of silly sketchbook jokes as in Garden, and you have a short yet reliably amusing package that doesn't outstay its welcome.

Down Town, by Richard Cowdry. These bleak, cruel and funny comics are sort of like if Bazooka Joe became homeless and was relentlessly tormented by the police and the dregs of society. The simple line, classic comic strip character design and surprisingly dark and brutal violence makes for a stew that's both hilarious and slightly nauseating. Cowdry makes it work by following a sort of gag-strip code, full of characters slipping each other dynamite, abusive clowns who desperately need their victims in order to be happy, and deliberately unseemly gags about alcoholics. Because it's all in a familiar rhythm and structure, Cowdry can go as dark or silly as he wants and it all makes sense. Whether it's a couple of "boys will be boys" terrorizing a neighborhood, only to be sold off to a sailor, or a mentally ill person being taken off their government benefits and given a "portable living unit" (ie, a barrel) to "maximize the flexibility of your job search". The strip is ruthlessly satirical, mining some of the same territory as Ruben Bolling's Tom The Dancing Bug but adding a more visceral, slapstick quality to his comics. Punch and Judy get turned into a much meaner and more hopeless version of Andy Capp, while a homophobic and racist man gets emasculated by his wife thanks to a classic "pants-falling-down" gag. I could have easily read a book full of these strips, and their mix of social & political commentary and flawless comedic timing make them unusual in the world of comics.

Pocket Full Of Coffee, by Joe Decie. Decie is the rare memoirist whose of humor tends to drive his comics. His comics are almost doggedly quotidian in terms of the sort of details he explores, but he is careful to avoid hackneyed observations as a means of eliciting a quick laugh. Instead, his comics are set to a low comedic burn, as every detail of both his writing and drawing has a dry, droll quality.Observations about his scruffy appearance by way of his young son's merciless judgment are a good example of this; his son tells him that he looks "really scruffy". Decie takes off a wrinkled shirt and asks if that's better, but he knows "even when I try really hard, I impress no one". The drawings in this sequence find his son bouncing from room to room and Decie standing still; his use of grey here adds a great deal of life to his character drawings and gives the backgrounds of sense of solidity. One of my favorite features of a Decie comic comes when he goes for a walk; in this comic, his observations are peppered with assorted outbursts from his son, including "Can I have a sister?" Decie then reveals his painfully ordinary to-do list, which includes ego-boosters like "Write to-do list" but also includes the momentous "Propose to Steph", an item which was checked off but not seen or even mentioned as an event in the comic. Decie even mocks his own "gentle observations" at the end of the book with a bathroom humor joke, but the truth is that he does have that poetic autobio touch of a John Porcellino turned to mostly comedic and lighthearted ends.

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