Quest Mania, by Steve Thueson. Thueson, like Bussiere (and Robyn Smith, whom I reviewed earlier), are all members of the the upcoming class of 2017. The conceit of this full-color comic is that there's a world where hipster-punk types go on Dungeons & Dragons-style quests. Adventurers Susie and Matt carry huge swords, wear Chucks, have nose rings and two-toned hair and make references to The Little Mermaid and Ren & Stimpy. I'm pretty sure this was drawn on a computer, but Thueson still manages to give the comic a gritty, ragged edge. What's most remarkable about the comic is that Thueson is able to simultaneously tell a slice-of-life relationship story as well as a perfectly credible sword-and-sorcery yarn. There's an especially funny sequence where Matt chides Susie for trying to kill a vicious giant spider because it wasn't vegan to do so. There's angst about being an adventurer because it's affecting Susie's relationship with her partner Kris, there are money woes solved by going on a quest for an idol, treasure rooms guarded by reptilian rock bands, etc. The bright, occasionally lurid colors work well, especially the creepy purples. I could actually Theuson making this a continuing feature by adding characters, giving the series a bit more complexity as subplots form on both sides of the genre divide.
Bubblegum Comix, by Jacob Bussiere. This is very much in the Chuck Forsman style of stories about disturbed teens, only Bussiere adds several meta-levels to the narrative. It starts out with a boy getting bullied who later kills a classmate after one insult too many. In this case, it was when the boy dressed up like the androgynous pop singer Sylvester, a bizarre and funny detail that made the actual murder no less horrifying. The scene pulls back to reveal that the kid was the subject of a murder-exploitation show and a teenage girl & her much older boyfriend were watching it. In a clever panel-to-panel sweep of her room, Bussiere reveals a lot of details about her: she loves death metal, stuffed animals, Sailor Moon and follows a "trucrime-boyz" tumblr. Using the same 2x3 grid and the same series of head shots in profile, Bussiere essentially recreates the same conditions of bullying and abuse for the girl (whom they refer to as "skunk"), only she reacts to her surroundings by just wanting to escape forever. There's a remarkable two-page sequence toward the end of the story where every panel has a crude or awful image: a wrist slit by a razor, a pentagram, a child's drawing of a crying figure, etc. What follows are two densely cross-hatched pages where it seems the previous images are each thoughts flickering through her mind. She's driving her car with her boyfriend asleep next to her, death metal blaring and the road ahead of her. One gets the impression that while she's not exactly, the tight, slight smile on her face reveals that this is happy as she's going to get. Bussiere's sense of design and composition really carry the story, as he tries to exercise as much restraint as possible with regard to dialogue. He packed a lot of power into a very short story, and it seems clear that he has a future with regard to these sorts of intense character studies.