Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Short Reviews: Jo Dery, Sleazy Slice, Grady Klein

Short takes on a few works: QUIETLY SURE--LIKE THE KEEPER OF A GREAT SECRET, by Jo Dery; SLEAZY SLICE #3, edited by Robin Bougie; and THE LOST COLONY VOL 3, by Grady Klein.

QUIETLY SURE--LIKE THE KEEPER OF A GREAT SECRET, by Jo Dery. This is another beautiful book from Little Otsu: well-crafted, well-designed and lovely to look at. Dery's art has a slightly immersive quality (not unlike Theo Ellsworth's approach) but also makes the reader look at the page perhaps more than read it. There's a loose narrative about a series of creatures searching for meaning or solutions to their woes, all of which wind up eventually crossing over into each other. There are actually some quite clever narrative touches to be found that coalesce after a couple of readings that evoke a certain wistfulness. Dery has the rare skill of being able to modulate the story's emotional content purely through her use of decorative flourishes. A shadow here, a lonely tree there and a set of background designs all serve to move the reader's feelings rather than just one's eye. This is a book about seeking what's missing in one's life: sight, a true home, knowledge, and how finding them is sometimes a matter of letting them find you. This is a book that in many ways is incredibly slight and manipulative by turns, yet is ultimately redeemed by an almost palpable sincerity that matches the artist's skill.

SLEAZY SLICE #3, edited by Robin Bougie. It's a Robin Bougie-led project, which means three things: 1) It will be impeccably drawn, with an emphasis on detailed linework; 2) It will have lots of sex; 3) It will be incredibly violent. Bougie's "Human Cows" gleefully shatters any number of taboos with this story of women used to pump milk to feed to cows in a world where cows are dying and the rich still need meat. Like most of the stories in this comic, there's a real bleakness and cynicism regarding sex and human relations. The brutal ending of this story reminded me a bit of what the Marquis DeSade used to do in his stories, but the upbeat Bougie still manages a nod and a wink in acknowledging the source material for this particular kink. Josh Simmons' "Cockbone" is no less brutal a story, but is filtered through his own surreal sensibility. Simmons creates worlds with his story that run on dark magic and dream logic as much as they do on rationality. He especially loves to play out twisted, hillbilly family dynamics in the form of a Candide-like innocent forced to run a gauntlet of misery. The story I enjoyed most was husband-wife team SCAR's "Wild Bessi", a bizarre and hilarious mix of wild west tropes and pornapocalyptic weirdness. A man on the run in the wild west encounters all sorts of weird and dangerous sex-related creatures: cowgirls who are part cow and part girl, centaur women with multiple genitalia, sex-crazed horses, dickworms, etc. It's the funniest story in the book, in large part because it plays it straight. Like most of the things Bougie publishes, the audience for this one is largely self-selecting: one look, and you'll know whether or not it's for you.

THE LOST COLONY, VOLUME 3, by Grady Klein. I hadn't read the first two volumes of this series and was prepared to be baffled and/or disinterested. Klein is also an animator by trade and it shows in his exaggerated character design, thickness of line and dependence on color for storytelling. When I often see a comic done by an animator, it's usually too slick-looking for my eyes to latch onto. I didn't find that to be the case with Klein's work, however, in part because of the eccentricity of his characters and the surprisingly dark story that he tells here. It's sort of like BONE meets NAT TURNER in this comic, dealing with a mysterious, hidden land teeming with secrets that happens to be a haven for escaped slaves, mystics and other outsiders. Like BONE, the central character is an innocent with a strong will who has some unusual connections to her home. However, the racial tensions in the story are always simmering and come to a head at the end of this story.

Klein pulls it off because of the way he positions Birdy, the little girl who is central to the story. Like most of the story's protagonists, she is not entirely sympathetic as a character, even though her heart's in the right place. She has a certain Dennis the Menace quality to her, especially when Klein draws her flitting all over the landscape in a single panel, as though she had clones of herself. The last connection to BONE is actually a connection to Jeff Smith's twin inspirations of Walt Kelly & Carl Barks. Like Kelly, the island swampland is its own character of sorts, informing the lives of every character. Like Barks, there's a constant propulsiveness to the cartooning, especially with regard to Birdy but with other characters as well. Klein transcends his influences with his own unique mythology and grounding of the fantasy elements of the story in history.

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