Eel Mansions #4-5, by Derek Von Gieson. In the most recent issues of this kitchen sink of a series, Von Gieson simultaneously tightens up his plots by way of slowly releasing backstory that connects many of its disparate elements while continuing to introduce new and crazier elements. The comic is a supernatural adventure a la the X-Files, a supernatural farce, a conspiracy series, a slice-of-life series and a commentary on comics themselves, There are now four series-within-a-series in the pages of Eel Mansions, including "Doomin'" (a pastiche of Tove Jansson and Simon Hanselmann), "Tales of Abstraction House" (a send-up of early 70s horror and comics-as-poetry), "Breakfast In Asgard" (self-explanatory, plus it gives Von Gieson an excuse to draw like Jack Kirby) and "Milk City" (the slice-of-life comic that was demanded by her publishers). These issues feature a journey into hell, a cartoonist's response to a negative interview, two "negative orphans" wandering around and philosophizing, a group of Eric Clapton cultists ("The Slowhanders") and other such weirdness. Eel Mansions is basically Von Gieson's brain in a blender, mixing together dozens of comics and cultural touchstones into one package. It's an excuse for him to show off his style mimicry as well as own deft and dense brushwork. It's easily the best work I've seen from him and it continues to get better from issue to issue.
Houses of the Holy, by Caitlin Skaalrud. Concluding my look at the recent minicomics output of Uncivilized Books, Houses of the Holy was originally self-published in a larger and more lavish format, this comic still deftly merges its decorative, metaphorical, and poetic aspects. It’s a densely rendered narrative that follows a young woman reading a book titled “How To Walk Through Fire”. Stripping herself naked yet strangely neutered, she pulls open a trap door and unlocks the heavy doors in the basement, one by one. Narrating what she finds in each room in an obliquely poetic style, Skaalrud is sharing a deeply personal howl with the reader, encoding her fears, hopes, and other feelings in each of the rooms before hesitating in front of room X, and returning to a prison cell with a broken heart before she burns it all down. While there’s a cathartic quality to this comic, it’s not a joyful one, but rather relief earned at great price. It works because her drawing is so sharp and visceral, and the shock of that decidedly desexualized nude figure is so incongruous. It's the mind and body laid bare to itself and the reader, representing childhood in the form of the bow in her hair and adulthood in the form of the trials faced. Zak Sally was an obvious influence here, but Skaalrud works at a level more specifically in the style of comics-as-poetry, giving the verbal-visual tension a quality not unlike that of John Hankiewicz.