A big thanks to Craig Fischer in lending me the following minis for review, from his excellent show At The Junction Of Words And Pictures: The Tenth Anniversary of the Center for Cartoon Studies at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Craig was kind enough to invite me to do a talk with grads Beth Hetland and Rio Aubrey Taylor, and I had a great time. Thanks to Craig, I was able to flesh out my CCS feature this year, because missing SPX meant missing a number of potential contributions.
Final Frontiers, by Kane Lynch. This is comics reportage about highly dedicated Star Trek fans who have built their own sets and have continued the original series from where it left off. Lynch uses a multicolor approach free of black ink lines that mimics the absurdly bright color patterns of the original show. Lynch gets at the sense of creativity and passion of the fans who want to break out of simple cultural consumption and want to be part of something collaborative. He also dutifully reports on how different fans have different aesthetic interests in the show, and how that's led to a number of rifts.
Coping Mechanisms, by J.D. Lunt. This is an excellent if rough comic about mental illness, both with regard to the artist and those he served. It kicks off with his job as a person who takes shift with people who are on suicide watch. He meets one woman named Nicole who was given a guitar, and he saw that being able to play and sing about her life (as well as silly things) has a tremendously therapeutic effect. A strip about dealing with his PTSD is fascinating, as Lunt discusses the mechanics of how making abstract art proved to be a soothing activity for him, partly through the influence of Lynda Barry's writing about how putting pen to paper can be therapeutic, even if it's just doodles and spirals. The same was true for him owning a dog, taking care of it, going out in public with it and forming a bond with it. The heart of the matter that he got at was that despite his own fears induced by PTSD, he could be brave for his dog when the dog was afraid of so many things in the world. Lunt gets at the idea that nurturing a pet that has come to trust and love you unconditionally is enormously therapeutic, because it gets you out of the headspace of trauma and into something active and positive. Lunt's draftsmanship is still functional at best and he suffers from over-drawing and over-inking at various points, but it's clear that he's learned how to tell a story and has a lot to say.
More Than You Wanted To Know About Horseshoe Crabs, by Angela Boyle. This is a light-hearted but informative comic about the titular arachnids, which combines her interest in sequential storytelling with scientific illustration. Indeed, while there are plenty of cute panels where the crabs engage in silly activities, Boyle places a premium on anatomical accuracy throughout the comic. It's a comic that's maybe a shade too technical for a young reader to enjoy due to the nature of some of the terminology, but certainly would be great for middle schoolers and above to enjoy. I think the comic's greatest virtue is that while Boyle is interested in accuracy, each of the drawings is cartooned and has a life of its own, rather than the more static nature of a more detailed illustration. The story was the thing here, even if that story was simply the horseshoe crab talking about itself, and that's why the comic works.
The Weight #3, by Melissa Mendes. Mendes has distinguished herself as one of my favorite storytellers from CCS, especially with regard to the real empathy with which she treats her characters. There is a tremendous amount of affection demonstrated on the page for them, which makes it all the more emotionally powerful now that she's stretching out more and more with what's happening with her characters. This issue follows a girl growing up in an abusive family on a military base and her relationship with her best friend. We see the girl and her mother go over to a friend's house after an especially vicious incident and the delightfully quotidian rituals the girl and her friend engage in the next day. That leads to an encounter with friends that looks like it might lead to tragedy, but it only serves to stir up rage in the girl when it proves to be a trick. That brush with death portends a real tragedy at the end, serving up a powerful emotional shock that works so well because of the way that Mendes established the comic's relationships. Mendes' powerfully expressive style has become more confident and richer as she's expanded her storytelling range, but its overall spareness emphasizes the emotions of her characters above all else. This will make a powerful impact as a book when it's collected.