Monday, July 14, 2014

New Books From Yeti Press

After a successful Kickstarter, publisher RJ Casey has published a number of new books from his imprint, Yeti Press.Most of these books are by relative newcomers, but a number of them are printed in lavish color. In general, these books have an all-ages vibe to them.

Bird Witch, by Kat Leyh. Leyh collected the first few issues of her minicomics series in this book, and it's an attractive package. This is a well-developed but character-based fantasy story that slowly builds its backstory around the friendship of young witch Nina and her new friend Tali, who is of a race that is part bird. They initially bond over flying (Nina with her broom, Tali with her wings), and Leyh skillfully establishes their friendship and personality types before introducing a conflict in the form of the Bird Witch, an evil being that captures rare types of birds for her own ends. There are chase scenes, reversals, desperate plans and a last-second rescue by a relative. Leyh is definitely of the Kate Beaton school of cartooning in terms of her line, body language and simply-designed characters. Color adds texture and depth to her work, making the world feel real and making Tali all the more exotic because of the rich colors and patterns of her clothing. Later chapters in the book flesh out the world a bit, as Nina is revealed to be the daughter of a forest warden, who protects the magical forest against evil creatures; this is her ambition in life as well. There are bits and pieces of subplots and foreshadowing laid down for future chapters, but the real focus on the book is the way in which Nina and Tali quickly bond and find ways to get into trouble. Despite the extensive use of color, it all feels organic rather than part of an assembly line, like the Amulet books.

Pecos, by RJ Casey and Eric Roesner. This is sixty pages of total nonsense. Casey writes and Roesner draws the adventures of Pecos Bill, a bounty hunter in some crazed, mythical version of the old west that includes a demented, opium-dealing Johnny Appleseed and a Paul Bunyan who is all too intimate with his blue ox. Pecos Bill is one of those "one-upping" kind of characters, where everyone tries to one-up each other by talking about his deeds in the first story. Things are a bit silly and crazy throughout the book, but Casey takes it to the next level in a sequence where Pecos Bill rides one of Paul Bunyan's sperm while he's having sex with Babe the blue ox, then plants explosives inside Babe's body while singing a deranged song to the tune of "Home On The Range". It's a pretty magnificent gross-out gag, one that justifies the tamer and duller jokes earlier in the book, which are fairly disposable. Roesner's exaggerated and grotesque character design does a lot to carry the book, though it's uneven at times and some of his storytelling was difficult to follow at times.

Rose From The Dead, by Andrea Bell. This supernatural romance book feels like something Slave Labor might have published twenty years ago. Bell's character design and use of color are both quite appealing, as she makes the graveyard setting both spooky and funny. It's the story of long-time friends Jack and Roz on Halloween, when Jack is finally determined to tell his whirlwind of a friend that he's in love with her. She can't quite stand still long enough for him to tell her, and all of this is interrupted by skeletal ghosts, one of whom drags Roz into his grave. This is a charming comic, even if the relationship between Jack and Roz isn't exactly novel, and Roz makes for a compelling and clever heroine. The problem with the book is the page design. The panel-to-panel transitions are frequently confusing, as the order of the panels is often unclear. The dialogue and action is frequently vague enough such that it doesn't help clear this up any. Once Bell is able to clean that up a bit, she'll be on her way, because she has the skill to create fast-moving stories with clearly-defined characters and add just the right amount of humor.

Poops Boobs Poo, by Sam Sharpe. This is a killer collection of gags greatly inspired by Ivan Brunetti and the tradition of classic single-gag cartooning in places like The New Yorker. The gags run from the silly (a squirrel talking about how it bothered him just how much he liked nuts), to the edgy and violent (a man holding another man's severed head saying "You tell me this now?" after Moses brought down the ten commandments), to the gross (an amusing fisting joke). There are bad puns, penis size jokes and even a few call-back gags throughout the book. Sharpe has two things on his side: the level of craft in constructing his gags and his draftsmanship. Take the cartoon above, for example. The reader is immediately drawn to the figure in the middle thanks to the way he's positioned on the page. The reader immediately understands that he's a cyclops, that he's unhappy, and that his friend is exuberant after walking out of a film. Searching for context (and going from left to right), the punchline immediately becomes evident thanks to the "Blast-o-rama in 3D" poster. Some of Sharpe's gags had images that existed solely to set up the caption as the punchline, while others used words to set up a funny image as the punchline. He doesn't go quite as far as a Brunetti or a Ryan in most of his gags, in part because he's more about the laugh than the shock, but he's not afraid to get pretty transgressive. Sharpe is a thoughtful, interesting young cartoonist and it was fun to see him cut loose on this kind of gag, almost as an academic exercise.

Well Come, by Erik Nebel. This is a vivid, funny and sometimes gross series of silent cartoons about the interactions of various cartoon shapes. Some are sharply delineated as people, and some are shapes that blend, bleed or outright take over other shapes. Some shapes complete others, making a new mouth or a smile. Other shapes infiltrate or steal parts from other shapes outright. Nebel's use of color is almost psychedelic in its brightness, and the thick, glossy paper allows the color to really soak in on the page. The semi-connected mini-narratives bring to mind certain Lewis Trondheim comics in the way that blobs interact with other blobs in a frequently violent and/or visceral manner. The Team Society League collective's gross comics are another touchstone, though Nebel mostly resists gross-out gags in favor of a gentler sense of humor. The use of color reminds me a bit of Paper Rad a bit, though without the greater weirdness and depth of strange narrative. What you see is what you get on these pages, and Nebel's adherence to following the logic of each gag to its ultimate conclusion works well on page after page. It's the sort of book that you never quite want to end.

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