Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Minicomics Round-Up: Baylis, Carter, Gennis

So Buttons #7, by Jonathan Baylis and various artists. Baylis continues on in the Harvey Pekar mode of shifting story content over to different artistic collaborators, with the trick being finding the right artist for the right story. He certainly nailed "So... Crumby", an account that purports to be about his degrees of separation from R.Crumb but was really about a friend who knew Crumb. Drawing in that Crumb style is Joseph Remnant, the young and super-talented artist whose underground-inspired work is very much in Crumb's tradition. The friend was "Citizen Kafka", one of those New York characters who's been everywhere and seen everything. The Crumb-style talking head panels are further accentuated by the color palette, which was very rich and dense, just like Remnant's pencils. It thrusts the reader into this particular world and does so with wit and warmth--two of Baylis' trademarks as a writer.

The second story, "So...Embarrassed", is a nice piece of design work by artist Paul Westover, who frames this story about the transition between being a normal kid and a target for bullies in the style of Star Wars cards of the era. His clean, cartoony style nicely encapsulates the little-kid setting, as do the lighter colors. This is a funny, self-deprecating story that nonetheless does little to mask how the feeling of embarrassment he felt in front of his class and teacher still stings to this day. The final story, "So...Smiley", features evocative, realistic art by David Beyer, Jr. This is just a two-pager, and it's less a story than it is a brief statement about how certain sensations bring about a simple feeling of contentment. Throw in a funny and lurid Danny Hellman cover (an ode to EC Comics) and you once again have a carefully-crafted and planned bit of autobio that's greater than the sum of its parts.

Life Was Hard, by Kirk Carter. I was charmed by these autobiographical vignettes about growing up in the harsh winters of Maine. For a comic that almost certainly looks like it was drawn using a computer, it has a restrained, simple style that retains a sense of the artist's hand. Rather than try to overrender or get flashy, Carter keeps the lines utilitarian but funny (there are a lot of funny-looking kids in this comic) and uses a very light color palette as a way to embellish and make the images pop a bit. The background colors are pastels and the clothing is a shade or two darker, and this simple formula works in strip after strip. The vignettes, memories and observations are nothing earth-shattering, but therein lies their appeal: watching TV and being confused by the Canadian channels, ordering only the first, free volumes of encyclopedias and thus retaining all sorts of facts about things starting with the letter "A", playing with siblings and "cousints" (their vernacular for "cousins"), and the ridiculous things that happened in cold weather. Carter's ambitions were modest in this comic and he certainly exceeded them with a number of amusing and memorable anecdotes.

Trepanation, by Emi Gennis. Two quick observations about Gennis's comics: they continue to look sharper and their subject matter continues to grow weirder. Her character design in particular is expressive and naturalistic at the same time, allowing for that aforementioned weirdness to really take root. Her use of hatching is a little less precise and takes the reader out of the panel a bit because it looks like an art effect rather than looking like the shading on an object; really, her control over her line is such that she hardly needs hatching. With regard to the subject matter, this is an even-handed look at the history and current practice of trepanation, a type of surgery design to drill a hole in one's head. It's an ancient practice, and some apparently swear that it can cure depression, end headaches and boost energy, though there's no particular reason why it should do so. Gennis gives every point of view ample room to state its case, though it's clear that the damning counterpoints of standard medicine are difficult to refute. The benefits of trepanation are anecdotal at best and may well be a result of the placebo effect, but each of the testimonials are interesting and compelling in their own way. What's clear is that Gennis had a great deal of fun drawing people getting holes drilled in their head and perhaps had even more fun sharing her research on the subject.

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