Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ten Years Of High-Low

The most recent review I've done marks the tenth anniversary of posts to my High-Low blog. High-Low as a column existed for a couple of years over at, but it's nonetheless been precisely a decade since I decided to strike out on my own. I want to thank my readers, my patrons, the publishers and the artists who have supported me in my critical endeavor. I want to especially thank the late Kim Thompson, Eric Reynolds, Tom Spurgeon, Annie Koyama, the late Dylan Williams, Megan Kelso, Rob Kirby, Rebecca Perry Damsen, Dirk Deppey, Colleen Frakes, James Sturm, Michelle Ollie, Tom Hart among many others for their support, advice, encouragement and support. Here's to many more years!

Thirty One Days of CCS #13: Catalina Rufin, Alex Foller, Cuyler Hedlund

Genius Loci and Shirley, by Catalina Rufin. Rufin has a pleasantly ragged style that's made all the more effective with color. Genius Loci has an ambling pace to it, as it's a comic not so much about a specific narrative as it is about exploring a place and the emotions surrounding it. It's a story about a future where humanity was wiped out, but fairies and elves exist and have reclaimed the old spaces. In particular, it's about a fairy living in some abandoned trolleys that had personal meaning to her, but she was unable to stop living in the past. It took meeting a druid and their mentor to rekindle her interest in living her life again. There's a lushness to Rufin's style that works well with her bright figure drawing and generally relaxed storytelling. Rufin packs in a lot of information in a short period of time, as we learn all sorts of details about each character, but she's in no real hurry to get there.

Shirley is a retelling of Aesop's fable about the bat who can't join up with either the birds or the beasts because she's not enough like either of them to be accepted. She frames the whole thing in high school, with the eponymous Shirley the bat being rejected by both. She's not cool enough for the cool kids and doesn't have the same interests as the losers. Rufin takes this in an interesting direction in the end, where we see Shirley in therapy, clearly trying to shake off years of feeling unloved. It's a clever repackaging of the story that focuses on the nature of group dynamics and how even the powerless can be exclusionary. The visual approach is much the same, sans color, retaining the ramshackle qualities of Rufin's art without her distinct palette. In both stories, Rufin softens stories that in other hands might have been much harsher in terms of both narrative and characterization. Rufin shows a great deal of sympathy toward her characters, and one can feel it as a reader when all you want is for the characters to be happy.

Kid Pyramid, by Alex Foller. This was one of my personal favorite comics of the classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020, just based on my own personal aesthetic. Foller's shabby but cartoony line in this story of a teenager with a pyramid head stumbling his way through life. When his absentee father doesn't bother to show up for his birthday yet again, he goes on a quest to try to find him. Along the way, he's abused by his high school classmates (one referring to him as "ya food pyramid bitch"), traverses the desert, is trapped by a board game-loving creature underground and ultimately gets a bit of shaggy-dog joke advice from his father. The cartooning is a pure delight: rock-solid fundamentals with regard to pacing, storytelling and character design. However, Foller maintains an almost rubbery looseness that allows him to keep the story lively and unpredictable. Foller has a bright future ahead of him making some extremely strange comics.

Dear You, by Cuyler Hedlund. This is an interesting idea for a memoir comic, in that 22-year-old Hedlund found letters written by her when she was 15 and 18 years old. Each of them was addressed to a future version of herself--a senior in high school and a senior in college respectively. The fascinating thing about the letters and the comic itself is how cataclysmic changes can be during this time period. She went from being a loner child to someone building a new life with her boyfriend. Hedlund alternates pages as she goes from high school to college, with each letter in turns expressing yearning, cynicism, despair, loneliness, hope and a fervent desire to keep up with drawing.  The key to this comic was its page composition, and Hedlund created connections through time by mirroring events on pages with similar poses, similar panel constructions and similar uses of spotting blacks. There's also some smart use of lettering, where the 15-year-old Hedlund's hand is a little shakier than her older counterparts. Hedlund's line is mostly crisp and precise, but she also gets deliberately fuzzy during certain key memories. Hedlund goes far beyond the simple gimmick in the comic's presence to deliver something that's warm, unsentimental and ultimately hopeful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #12: Quinn Thomson, Kristen Shull, Eddie J. O'Neill

Zero Point and Quinn Thomson's Comics, by Quinn Thomson. Zero Point is a self-aware parody of Alien, more or less, employing a mix of line weights that emphasize different aspects of storytelling. A spaceship is sent on a rescue mission to an uncharted planet, and there's one guy in the crew who knows that everything on this “routine” mission is going to go horribly wrong. The stark blacks in this comic work well on the slick paper that Thomson chose, and they help accentuate his excellent work with making his faces expressive in an exaggerated way. The cartoonish nature of his line made me wish he had chosen to hand-letter the comic, as the fonts he chose were distracting. This is a funny comic that gets a lot of mileage out of its horrifying aspects and the awful decision-making of its characters. Thomson's portfolio comic shows off his expressive cartooning in an even better light with comics like “Metro”, which looks like it could be a short story featured in a French anthology somewhere. It's about a guy with stringy hair that stands up (an excellent design) having a miserable time on a subway. There are bits of over-rendering here and there, but for the most part Thomson keeps things clear and focuses on the physical humor of the jokes. In “Bibliomancy” and “Meditation Comic”, Thomson makes great use of a lively, squiggly line to create a wonderful, zaftig character in one comic and alternates between heavily spotted blacks and wonderfully scrawled faces in a deep-sea diving adventure. There's also a little of Graham Chaffee to his work, in that I could see him working comfortably in either comics or animation.

Netflix and Chill, Bones Vs. Tomes and Infernal Nihilism, by Kristen Shull. Shull is adept at the comedy narrative, as each of her three stories featured somewhat cynical sense of humor with genre trappings. Bones Vs. Tomes is a four-pager about a sorcery adept who goes out to the woods to learn spells instead of studying books to get them like wizards. In the span of four panels, she sets up the premise and introduces us to the teenage story of the story. Things go wrong (because of course) and she accidentally summons up a bunch of skeletons out for blood. Then there's a page and a half of negotiating the killer skeletons, until she's saved by a bunch of dickish wizards. The final two panels offer her wicked revenge for dealing with those bullies. Her line is decent, looking great when dealing with the main character and a bit more unsure when drawing other people. That said, her storytelling fundamentals are solid. There's nothing spectacular-looking about this comic, but her execution made it memorable.

Infernal Nihilism is a take on Dante's trip to hell, done in the Ed Emberley style of simple geometric shapes. Like much of Shull's work, it is simultaneously funny and grim. For example, Virgil, Dante's guide, takes the form of a scotch-drinking, cigarette-smoking giant squid. The planets of hell that Virgil shows Dante are filled with inconsiderate people, people who don't clean up after their animals, and those that feel they're morally superior. When Dante's relieved that he doesn't fall into any of these categories, Virgil reveals that the afterlife is all made-up, and that Dante's made his own hell. The cuteness of the story works effectively in both adding to the laughs but also making its nihilistic ending all the more stark, juxtaposed against the art.

Netflix and Chill is a great shaggy-dog joke of a comic, wherein a woman is brought out of a cryogenic sleep six hundred years after she went in and finds that all of humanity was absorbed by artificial intelligence after the Singularity occurred. The AI is fascinated by her as one of their ancestors and wants to keep her happy while studying her. They wind up throwing in another subject into her cubicle, a handsome guy, and the punchline swerves away from the common parlance of what “Netflix and Chill” means (sex) into something much more literal. Shull's line is pleasing here, working in a mostly naturalistic way but allowing her faces to be distinct and even slightly exaggerated. In general, Shull is adept at making short stories memorable, thanks to her comedic chops and strong sense of storytelling. That said, this is an artist that I can easily see tackling a long-form comic in the near future.

Rising, Caged Birds, Flight Club and Rats, by Eddie J. O'Neill. O'Neill has a distinctive voice that uses grotesque and distorted images to tackle complex emotions. In Rats, O'Neill uses a blood-red patina to tell a brief, horrifying story of a person feeling rats crawling around inside of them but fearing for them if they get out. The last image is of the person swallowing the rat, because “I'm not a mother”. The fear of being an inadequate nurturer of one's own parasitical entities supersedes the body horror images of the art itself, which I found fascinating. The pathological fear of losing one's own demons is in itself a horrible fate. Caged Birds features a a group of birds-as-mental-patients. They are drawn as birds and more-or-less act like birds...except some of them are in there for hearing voices, OCD or other mental illnesses. O'Neill takes this to its logical, grim but funny extreme when one of the birds tries to escape—and runs into a window. Once again, O'Neill's images point to dehumanization and detachment from one's own body.

Flight Club was done as part of a non-fiction assignment, and it's a highly clever story about O'Neill's family's history with violent birds of prey. From a pair of auks at a highly dangerous open-air, walk-through zoo, to some hopping mad turkeys to ultra-aggressive terns at the beach, there's a lovely clarity to O'Neill's line that is aided by the highly-effective placement of spot reds that emphasize the homicidal nature of these birds. There's one panel comparing the “pure evil” of all three birds and noting that it's the same despite the size difference of each—and evil is just blood red on the chart. Rising uses a thicker line weight in this moving, grim story about a monk trained in specific sacraments relating to the dead. The monk's job was to carry the body to a certain place where the bodies would be eaten by birds, allowing the souls to move on to their next life. When a group of bandits cut down a child, the monk overcomes adversity and gets the body to the top of the mountain—only to see his image burned down. When he returns and he realizes that he can't move all the bodies, a miracle happens. It's a genuinely joyous and surprising moment, and O'Neill's careful use of spotting blacks on the final pages frame the characters in just the right way.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #11: TS Moss, Gaurav Patil, Sage Persing

The Sun And The Frogs, by TS Moss. This is an elegantly designed mini featuring a die-cut cover and a beautiful sense of design throughout, meant to mimic stained glass storytelling. This feels like a retelling of a fable, only it's one directly related to climate change. The swirling blue of water throughout the story appears placid but holds menace as it rises day after day. On one set of pages, as the story within the story is told, the frogs beg the sun not to give birth to another sun, because they would boil. The narrative continues on the next two pages, only the visuals are of a protest against climate change that is ultimately fruitless. The final image is truly the final image, and the end of the story: “The frogs boiled alive”. This is a beautiful, pointed and straightforward story that makes its point quickly and doesn't overstay its welcome. Moss' aesthetic is sleek and stylish without being overly slick; I believe this story was drawn on a computer but it doesn't have that slightly stilted feel that such comics can have.

Confidential and B.B. By Gaurav Patil. B.B. looks like it was drawn as an Ed Emberley exercise, like several other of the first-year students' assignments. Patil took the opportunity to make the story a children's story of sorts in the Emberley tradition of stripped-down, geometric drawing with basic shapes. Patil uses the format as a sort of shaggy dog joke that doesn't pay off until the final panel. The titular B.B. stands for “big bad”, who comes from a tribe of badasses and seeks out other badasses to confront in the world. Every creature he encounters simply tells him their name, and a dinosaur points out to him that he hasn't made it clear what he is the biggest and baddest of. He realizes he's a wolf at last and can finally make sense of what the other animals are doing, but things go awry when he meets three little pigs. Patil shows nice comedic chops here, as well as a solid sense of how to use negative space effectively.

Confidential [Top Secret] is a variation on a world with mutants and how they affected the world. Someone would experience an “awakening”, which would unlock “their true potential.” Some were recruited by a sinister organization called The Agency, and this comic explores a mission featuring agents code-named XI (super-hearing) and XII (super-strength), as they went on a mission. It's an amiable enough comic, rolling on with a distinct sense of humor without resorting to outright spoof. The characterizations are exaggerated slightly to the point of silliness, but there's a darker core here. Patil's drawing here is serviceable as it's clear he understands his limits as a draftsman. He's careful to make clarity a priority in his storytelling and drawing, even if his actual drawing is wobbly at times.

Sage Persing submitted a whole bunch of comics that fell roughly into comics about family, comics about queer and trans issues, and other stuff. I'll start with the latter. Dead End was done using an unusual twelve panel grid, shoving a lot of story into each page. That pushes the reader through what is otherwise a relatively placid slice of story featuring two teenage girls who are wandering around. Persing's draftsmanship is shaky here, but their storytelling is confident and clear. Moreover, their sense of verisimilitude regarding the dialogue is spot-on, as this feels like a real anecdote that sums up a brief but crucial point in the lives of the two girls. Be Well is a portrait comic featuring various people saying things to them, often related to wellness—and mental health in particular. It's a comic of gratitude—thanking people for being there for them when Persing reached out and needed them. The portrait work is raw and expressive, and it captures something lively about each subject.

Visiting Dad is an excellent series of anecdotal memories of visiting their father in the hospital. The things that Persing remembered and chose to record are precisely the kind of fragments that stick with you during a traumatic and transitional time. In this case, it was hospital socks that Persing drew in great detail, recalling that they were supposed to have finished reading Kafka's The Metamorphosis before the grade started, and details of the restaurant they went to afterward. There's no other narration or information given, because the point of the comic was memory, not narrative. Good Friday sees Persing using watercolors to detail a particularly volatile argument between a daughter and her father; while it's not explicitly autobiographical, there are certainly family dynamics at work here. The argument is with regard to the existence of god, and it upsets him so much, that he stops the car and gets out. The comic is not so much about the substance of the argument as it is about the memory of the event itself. The moodiness of the color scheme is key to the success of the story, as Persing's character design is wobbly.

Things I Know About Nanny is Persing's Emberley assignment, and they made it a doozy. It's a family history of their grandfather (Nanny), including the bizarre events surrounding their great-grandfather (Cactus) and how his wife ran off with another man and took the children with them—until they dumped them. Persing not only expertly uses Emberley-style shapes in an efficient and clear manner, they also add a color scheme that makes the story pop. The narrative goes until the death of their grandfather, who at a certain point was paralyzed after an accident but lived long after that. The story concludes with Persing's birth, which was the anniversary of the day of Nanny's paralysis.

The Beasts, The Birds and the Bat is Persing's take on the Aesop assignment. The story is about the bat refusing to take a side in the war between birds and beasts, claiming to be a beast when asked by the birds to join and vice-versa. When peace arrives, they shun the bat. Persing turns this into a metaphor for being trans, with Aesop's admonition to “be one thing or another” especially brutal here. On Queerness is a single-page comic done in the form of a quilt to honor the work of David Wojnarowicz, who often used “stitches and thread”. It's symbolic of the patchwork but beautiful “chosen and created” families of queer folk, and there's a similar kind of beauty to be found in this representation of Persing's own chosen family. The metaphor of wounds being stitched-up by one's chosen family like a quilt is stitched is a powerful one. Finally, Tranny Joke is a brutal, personal account of the way trans people have long been used as a punchline in comedy—dehumanized, reduced, slurred. Persing relates how especially hard this is because comedy is so important to them, and shows that are otherwise incredibly important to them are instead attacks on people they love. Persing's potential bursts off of each and every page: as a memoirist, as a political cartoonist, as a slice-of-life storyteller and more. Persing's got the goods, and at this point it's just going to be a matter of refinement for them.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Thirty One Days of CCS #10: Natalie Wardlaw, Emily Zea and Alexander Washburn

Full Bore, by Emily Zea. This comic is only four pages line, but Zea offers up a lot of clues as to what kind of cartoonist she is. This brief story is the first part of a longer saga about an outlaw family in the old west. There's a nice swerve in this story, as what seems to be an innocent victim is actually the newest member of the family, helping her father rob a train. Zea has a loose, expressive line and a strong command of page composition. Her varied line weights add an emphasis to her characters in motion and her mix of difference perspectives makes this a visually interesting comic. For something so short, Zea packs a lot of information into this comic and makes it a single, satisfying unit. 

The Tortoise and the Hare, by Alexander Washburn. I believe a story involving the tortoise and the hare is a regular early assignment at CCS. This one involves martial arts (a ninja tortoise?) in addition to the classic race. Washburn goes all-in on using a thick line and over-the-top expressiveness in telling this story. It's all about flop-sweat, arched eyebrows, clenched teeth and emotions yelled out loud. It reminded me of something like Naruto as much as anything, only on a much smaller scale. I have no idea what Washburn's interests as a cartoonist will be, but he definitely has the fundamentals to do an action strip in the vein of a Stan Sakai. 

Rehabgiving, Chronic, The Princess In A Suit Of Leather, Run, Trigger Warning, and Just One Branch, by Natalie Wardlaw. This is an astounding suite of comics by an excellent young talent. The order in which I read them worked out well, as more and more of Wardlaw's frequently traumatic life was revealed in each subsequent zine, as well as her process of healing. Just One Branch is her version of the Aesop fable "The Man and the Wood", and like Issy Manley, she provided a feminist take on it. However, the take was a bit different; in her version, the lumberjack is a seductive man slowly but surely insinuating his way into the life of the tree (who is feminized with a human face) until he cuts her down and rapes her. The reaction of the nearby tree: "Well, she did let him have her branches". It's a brutal story that illustrates how consent can be given but then brutally overstepped, leading to a reaction of "she was asking for it."

Similarly, her take on the story The Princess In A Suit Of Leather finds her own attitudes toward the ending shifting as she aged and understood that men and relationships were not going to save her. In the story, a girl who was raped by her father runs off to the woods and manages to put herself in the skin of a fierce animal. She winds up with a prince who cuts away her skin. When she was younger, she thought the prince freed her, but now she looks at the story as a man cutting away a woman's defenses before she was ready to give them up. It's a cogent critique, and one that makes sense in terms of the tone of the story.

Chronic has a medical intake form as its cover, which is filled out on the third page. It's a story about Wardlaw's chronic pelvic pain suffered from age 15 to age 21. It's especially brutal and poignant because it's not only true that modern medicine has a horribly limited understanding of women's health issues, it actively ignores symptoms and information in favor of throwing ibuprofen at it. Wardlaw had to suffer through three operations before they got it right and she was freed from a life of pain, though she notes that the reminders of pain are something she holds on to, because in a time when she had no voice of her own, the pain was all she had. Her naturalistic art is simple, effective and powerful.

Run was inspired by the simple Ed Emberley technique of drawing with basic geometric figures and building on them. This is done as a fairy tale where Natalie goes out to the desert and things seem to be going well, but a guy moves into her house who is violent and abusive. Of course, everyone makes excuses for him, and he keeps threatening to get her. The metaphor of fear as a little animal in her head telling her to run is a powerful one, especially at the end where she kills it. There's a common thread in these comics of numbing and detaching herself as a way of coping with extreme trauma, and that carries over into the next comic, Trigger Warning. 

This is a brilliant, harrowing piece of art told in six separate anecdotes. One shows images of trying to pretend fear wasn't there by pretending she didn't feel it, until she was proven horribly wrong. Another is the swing between feeling suicidal and homicidal as she goes through emotional swings, as well as the cycle of whether or not autobio comics about trauma are helpful or harmful. There are strips about feeling like she had "asked for" sexual assault and/or manipulation because of substance abuse, strips about her shifting body image, and a funny and awful strip called "The most truthful thing I ever said after sex". In that one, a guy asks her if she wants to be his girlfriend (in so many words) after sex and she replies, "I'm sorry, I can't...I have problems". This is an emotionally raw comic with delicate, assured drawings and a powerful emotional narrative, one that doesn't have an easy or pat conclusion. Indeed, being in a place where trauma was no longer actively happening had its own set of difficulties, making her wish for that time when all she had to concentrate on was trying to survive in the moment.

Finally, Rehabgiving is about checking herself into a clinic where she was treated for addiction, among other things. The interesting thing about this comic is her focus on other people's issues in terms of narrative. It makes sense, so most addiction recovery groups focus on group work and being there for others, caring enough to hear their stories in a non-judgmental way. The beginning of the comic is a tarot reading that outlines a road to recovery and strength, while the end notes that the clinic did not "cure" her, but started the process of recovery in a powerful way. It's a strong statement of its own in a remarkably coherent way. Wardlaw has a powerful narrative voice, and as she refines her already-strong storytelling skills, she has the potential to turn her life into an unforgettable comics narrative, if that's the path she chooses. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #9: Andres Catter, Issy Manley and Tim Patton

Stone Harbor and Photobooth, by Andres Catter. These are quiet, personal comics about small, intimate moments. Photobooth takes its inspiration from “the story of J.J. Belanger and photoboots as a queer safe space”, and the comic itself is shaped like the strip of photos one might get from said photobooth. Each page features a different queer couple: smiling, kissing, touching, embracing. It is a powerful statement of being seen, even in an otherwise potentially dangerous set of circumstances. Stone Harbor is a story of late summer and time slipping away. It's done in colored pencil: blue for the boy who hurries from a swimming pool with clouds swirling above and red for his love, waiting for him at the beach. The girl he meets does not immediately present as male (though she does wear a top and bottom when they go swimming in the ocean), and this ambiguity is deliberate. We don't know their story other than their love and that time may be running out. That each panel is a single page points to this idea that both want time to go as slowly as possible, savoring each moment.

Small Plates, The Sound Of Snow, and An Axe To Grind, by Issy Manley. These are politically charged comics that question the core beliefs of society. An Axe To Grind interpolates the Aesop fable “The Man and the Wood” with a speech by Donald Trump in the wake of the Brett Cavanaugh hearings for the Supreme Court. It's a clever approach, as the fable's moral is “Give not your enemy the means to destroy you”. Manley notes that many white women in particular have fallen right in line with regard to supporting Trump, despite his policies being actively hostile to women. She asserts that part of this is because their race and class make supporting fascism in their best interests overall, so they become complicit in such policies. Manley uses a naturalistic style that does the job in terms of getting across her points, but it felt like she wasn't entirely comfortable drawing this way at times.

Small Plates is a folding comic that once again hits on a striking image—that of the “small plates” of many tapas restaurants—and uses that to talk about being in the service industry. Everything in the restaurant is measured solely by its utility, and that includes the workers. The contrast between the care each pair of hands must take with the plates and the way the workers rip open their disappointing paycheck is the payoff of the comic, and it works well. The Sound Of Snow is a silent comic about a woman skiing with a man who's an instructor of some kind. The question is, what kind? When she creates sounds that are mere echoes of what's around her, it's an embarrassing failure. When she sits with nature and actually hears the “real” sound of snow, she's able to sing it out loud. It's drawn expressively and underlines the difference between hearing and speaking.

Gemini, Non/Dom and Oscillator, by Tim Patton. Patton is a member of the mark-making school of comics, where the line qua line is every bit as important as any narrative it's a part of. It's all about creating an environment for the characters to react to. Oscillator is wrapped in a ribbon and bound by three rings, with each page a different card to flip. The cover page is of a person (perhaps the author?), whose face is entirely made up of these rabbit-like creatures. On the following pages, they wriggle, jump, bounce, vibrate, melt and mutate into all sorts of shapes. It pukes and multiplies until the hare inevitably is consumed by a tortoise who becomes full of energy, zips around, gets stuck from being too big, and cries itself a river. It winds up landing on another rabbit, discharging its energy. Patton has an extremely assured, thin line that allows him to craft tiny images with a great deal of clarity.

Non/Dom looks like a jam comic he did with Hachem Reslan, featuring two characters in bobcat suits doing all sorts of odd things in the forest. The entire story looks like it was made up on the spot as they traded a sketchbook back and forth, both trying to draw in the same hand. It's an interesting experiment with some funny parts and some surprisingly cogent call-backs, but its too wobbly to be anything but an experiment. Gemini is Patton solo once again, and this time he works big but still uses the same kind of storytelling. This time around, the titular twins are one being split by lightning and have to find their way back to each other. It's a wordless epic as they endure hardship as they cross deserts, mountains and oceans until they see each other and their mutually binding rope. It's fascinating to watch Patton experiment like this, as he's clearly thinking about different kinds of world-building and different methods of achieving it.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #8: Emma Hunsinger, Hachem Reslan, Kat Ghastly

I spent the first week of my CCS reviews mostly looking at the work of old favorites. Now it's time to turn my eye to the classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The Last Mather, by Kat Ghastly. Subtitled "Inherited Karma", this is a short shaggy dog joke of a story about a ragged homeless man (derisively referred to as "the trash king" by a local) having a horrible day. He gets bitten by a wild boar and loses his shoe, he steps on a nail, he gets soaked with a bag of piss, etc. The final scene, where he confronts a famous ancestor, is actually a pretty hilariously complicated reference having to do with the concept of predestination. Ghastly's cartooning is spare but expressive, pointing the reader to every portion of each snowballing misfortune.

Under The Sun, Trickle Down, and Karantina, by Hachem Reslan. These are all short, weird minicomics made by an artist clearly interested in the absurd and horrific. Under The Sun I starts as a story about a lovers' quarrel. The comic is set in a nine panel grid, but there are no panel borders set, giving it an open feel. Reslan uses a number of interesting perspective tricks, like putting a door in the upper right hand of a panel to indicate its distance, but not moving the “camera” closer as a figure approaches it—he gets smaller on the page as he moves further away. It's an effective device for showing the emotional distance between the man and woman having a fight. Then a vampire appears in the woman's room, whom she mistakes for her lover at first. The eventual conflict is told with a series of shifting perspectives, the use of shadow and light, and the eventual collapse of panels on the final page. It's a short, smart comic told with a fine but steady line.

Karantina is about a woman surviving in a war-ravaged area. The comic is all about rituals of survival, focusing on water above all else. When that runs out, she has to move on. She finds a stream but also a dead, decaying dog, which she shoves into the stream in an act of mercy. The comic is about her attempts at not just survival, but dignity, and it's told with that same steady hand. Trickle Down is pure nonsense, as Reslan channels Joe Daly and possibly Cowboy Henk in talking about Ronald Reagan's exploits rolling skating and subsequent disappointments. It's pure absurdity, from the interactions of the main characters to the use of Reagan's image over various other people in the end pages. Reslan's work is imaginative, strange and well-executed.

The Pipe Family, by Emma Hunsinger. This oversized comic (about 12" x 8") is pure, glorious nonsense from beginning to end. Hunsinger's over the top ridiculousness, grotesque cartooning and distorted images form a weird, funny but logically consistent story about the Pipe family moving to "No River Junction". The Pipes have a monopoly on both pipes used for plumbing and smoking, and a couple of curious kids investigate why they've moved to their dusty old town. Hunsinger heightens everything here--dialogue, character design, plotlines--in order to make the narrative particularly silly. There are creepy-eyed children, impossibly large mustaches, non sequiturs, and plot twists to go with hilarious, deadpan dialogue. This comic is raw in the best possible way, as it looks like it just popped fully formed from Hunsinger's head.