Monday, October 3, 2016

Minis: S.Spina, N.Garcia, B.Berry, M.Turbitt

Supercar 1, by Brandon Berry. This short comic, designed to briefly introduce a setting and its main character, reminds me a lot of the sort of thing that Brandon Graham and Malachi Ward are doing: thoughtful, off-beat and highly stylized science fiction. In this comic, we're introduced to a driver who's getting their car upgraded by an anthropomorphic rabbit creature. After dropping in a component that seems to work on magic as much as it does science, the driver gives the rabbit an old Mac laptop, establishing the timeline as some post-apocalyptic future. The last scene finds a cop on a motorcycle (with perhaps dubious authority) chasing after the driver. Along the way, Berry's wobbly and wonky line adds a tremendous amount of atmosphere and texture to the story. Some panels are missteps (one panel with just the driver has too much negative space), but overall, Berry's chunky line width and the fluidity of his figures makes this a striking little comic to look at.

Malarkey, by November Garcia. Matt Moses of Hic & Hoc handed me this mini at SPX, and he said he plans to publish a longer collection of her work. He noted the obvious comparison between Garcia and the work of Julia Wertz, and it's certainly there on the surface. Their figure composition, line, sense of humor and even personal struggles are much alike. That said, Garcia has her own unique voice, and that's not just because she lives in the Philippines. Her sense of comic timing, her willingness to use aspects of her life (as well as the lives of others) as a rich vein for her comic material, and her skill with regard to body language, expressiveness and page layouts made every story a delight to read. Garcia also exploits the differences between she and her mother, who on the one hand is scandalized by her daughters openly displaying the tampons they bought but on the other grew up playing with spiders and tadpoles. Lighthearted stuff like teasing her mom about her phone screensaver is interspersed with much darker material, like a funny strip about a dilation & curettage procedure she had to get after a miscarriage.

Garcia isn't afraid to shove the reader head-on into some pretty intimate material while at the same time distancing herself from it just enough to extract a punchline. The same is true about her struggles with drinking, the behavior of certain ex-boyfriends, pondering the reasons why she's put off having a baby and juxtaposing the text of a funny story from a beloved aunt with the reality of her life in hospice. What also struck me about this comic is just how important comics are to her. In "The Story Of You", a take-off on the sort of story one tells your young child about how they were born, she goes into detail about how much time, energy and thought she put into each strip. The final panel, where both Garcia and her anthropomorphic comic are homeless, is both tender and hilariously self-deprecating at the same time. There's another strip where she's over the moon about John Porcellino following her on Tumblr and she punches a scoffing friend ("Who the hell is John Porceloono?") in the breast while never taking her eyes off the phone. That sums up Garcia's work in a nutshell: committed to her craft, highly expressive, generally inappropriate in all the best ways. and possessing great comic timing.

Being Myself Is A Treasure and Having A Time, by Sam Spina. These are the collections of years six and seven of Spina drawing diary comics. He abandoned printing or even attempting a daily strip a little while back, preferring to focus in on days where he had a gag, a life event to report or simply something interesting to say. That was a wise move, because while doing a daily diary strip can help a cartoonist improve drastically, they aren't necessarily great reads, nor are they always well-drawn. In recent years, however, Spina's skill as both a cartoonist and a storyteller has been steadily honed through sheer, hard work. At the same time, these strips still retain that same boundless, goofy energy that permeated his early work. He also retains a willingness to put himself out there in terms of things he thinks and says, but is also willing to give his wife, Samantha, her own say in how events played out. Their sweet and occasionally pugnacious relationship is a highlight of the strip, as both are strongly attached to their very different points of view and are willing to defend them, but their ultimately loving foundation grounds the strip.

Being Myself Is A Treasure (volume 6 of the Spinadoodles diary series) is a major turning point, as Spina is suddenly offered a job doing storyboards for the Cartoon Network series The Regular Show. It's reminiscent of Mike Doonesbury being taken out of a dead-end job and suddenly being plopped into a new life, as Sam & Sam leave Atlanta and move to Los Angeles. Spina mixes in some fantastic sketchbook pages (in color) among the diary strips, which I especially enjoyed because they're more characteristic of his other work. There's still an utter lack of pretension to be found in these comics, as he still writes a lot about his job. It's just a job he's always dreamed of, instead of being a waiter. Volume 7 (Having A Time) is even more successful, as Spina's able to devote more time to his diary as it's clear he started to get the hang of his new life. Spina started to expand his autobio stories out to more than a single page on a more regular basis, resulting in richer, funnier stories. Many autobio cartoonists have done a strip about going to the San Diego Comicon, but Spina's focus on details like being unable to sleep, spending time with a friend and being frustrated when his wife wasn't there to pick him up at the station in the middle of the night provided a funny contrast to the usual business-oriented con experiences. There's an Hourly Comics Day experiment that's by far his most successful, a funny account of a trip to Iceland with his wife. more sketchbook comics, and the realization that while his life was great in many ways, he desperately missed the cartooning camaraderie he had in Denver. The highlight of the book is a day-by-day account of precisely how being a storyboard artist works for his show, which was fascinating in terms of the details but hilarious in just how honest he is about how much time he wastes along the way. There's even a point where he's bummed that drawing storyboards has altered his own drawing style. Whatever his concerns, it's clear that Spina is hitting his stride as a creator, as Having A Time is just the right length and has just the right balance of material.

Self, by Meghan Turbitt. Turbitt's parody of trashy women's magazines isn't simply a satirical takedown of such publications, though that's part of it. Self is no less than a total reimagining and warping of women's magazines around Turbitt's own particular aesthetic obsessions. An article about sex tips is an interview with someone that Turbitt has had sex with turns into a consumer goods survey, as she asks questions like "In what ways could I improve the experience for people wanting to have sex with me?" A fashion article titled "How To Wear A $3 Bra" is a hilarious series of drawings where Turbitt is unable to get her breasts to behave when she moves or runs, leading to an encounter with friends where she screams at them not to "look at my boobs jiggle". It's a real exploration of the concept of clothing that's affordable and functional, that at the very least doesn't embarrass the person wearing them. "Bros Who Brunch" is a hilarious but almost loving takedown of an Instagram account featuring guys eating ridiculous foods and absurd drinks in a show of conspicuous consumption. All elements of Turbitt's satire, no matter how mean, are turned at least in part on herself, as she always reveals that there's an aspect of her that loves and wishes she could be a part of that vapid, shallow wallowing in excess wealth. "2016 Best Beverages" is essentially whatever Turbitt found most satisfying at a particular point in time, so it includes things like "Diet Coke from McDonald's" as well as "Coffee in French Press". Turbitt throws in a couple of dirty strips involving men exposing themselves to her, which makes sense since the kind of magazine this satirizes is a reflection on the standards for beauty, grace and culture that are imposed on women by outside sources. One strip features a hilarious punchline where Turbitt uses an exposed penis to open a bottle of wine, and the other is an expose' of what dog owners who don't restrain their pets from jumping all over others are really thinking. There's plenty of familiar, furious Turbitt lines as she's frantically in motion at various points, but the success of this comic is largely conceptual.

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