Tuesday, May 3, 2011

New Post: Minis from Laura Terry, Ross Wood Studlar, Bill Volk & Sean Ford

Here are some recent minicomics by alumni from the Center for Cartoon Studies.

Stranger Knights, by Bill Volk, Mary Soper & Casey Bohn. This is a slight but amusing anthology edited by Volk, an artist who seems drawn to a grungy and unglamorous version of folklore and myth-making. All three feature smart-ass and off-kilter superhero stories. Volk uses a clear and clean line in depicting the adventures of Shamash, the Mesopotamian god of justice. Midway through, the story takes a left turn as he must go home to ask a favor of his grandfather, Enlil, who insists that he try some potato chips. Despite the story's whimsical trappings, it has the tight plot of a Silver Age Marvel story, right down to the interpersonal squabbling of Shamash's superhero teammates in the "Stranger Knights". That light touch, combined with just a touch of angst, continues in the Volk-written, Soper-drawn story of Incantrix X. This is a sci-fi superhero story about a character who uses her mind-clouding abilities to defeat alien dinosaur men but is given a prophecy about turning evil in the future. Soper's line is expressive and exceedingly fine, which gives the whole story a breezy feel. Bohn's work is similarly quirky, as he depicts the adventures of a superhero who uses an electric guitar to fight evil. His art is crude, not unlike a Golden Age cartoonist who had a week to crank out a nine page story, but it has a primitive energy and stays remarkably clear. I wouldn't say that Stranger Knights is a remarkable comic, given the scores of fusion-light superhero comics that have emerged from the alt-comics scene in recent years. I will say that it's one of the more enjoyable comics of its kind that I've encountered, especially in the way that it kept its mood light while being entirely aware of the sort of story it was telling. This looks like it will be the first issue in a series, and I'd like to see what Volk can do in future issues.

Only Skin #7, by Sean Ford. This is the final issue of this storyline, one that will be collected by Secret Acres in 2012. That publisher has released minicomics collections from several CCS cartoonists, including Sam Gaskin, Joseph Lambert and (tangentially) Ken Dahl. Ford says in this issue's notes that the series will continue with a new story. I won't say much about the actual story given that this is the last chapter, but this is very much a denouement to the explosive events of the previous issue. It's a line-dividing issue that very much has the feel of a monster or zombie film where the heroes didn't quite win and are lucky to get out alive. What's interesting is that ultimately the most destructive, (literally) society-obliterating elements of the story turn out to be human ones. Ford makes this issue a mirror of the first one, where there was page after page of bleak, full-page shots of the desolate setting. In this issue, we see that environment burned down in page after page, with Ford's distinctive smeared pencils creating an eerie, shifting environment. This series has been quite an opening salvo in Ford's young career, one that has seen him refine his line while creating beautifully composed and balanced pages.

Morning Song and b.f.f by Laura Terry. Terry has always been a strong storyteller with a distinctive voice, but these two minis demonstrate a newfound devotion to craft and detail. They're both what I refer to as "convention minis"; that is, minicomics that are art objects as well as comics. They generally tend to be slightly flashier and more gimmicky than a standard mini. What makes these minis by Terry stand out is the way she manages to fold in function along with form. The gimmick of each mini serves the actual story (slight as it is) well, and the story would not be able to function well if it didn't appear in this particular form. Morning Song, for example, is an eight-panel comic. It's about a young man whose fiddle playing gently nuzzles the wildlife from sleep to wakefulness. It's tucked into a cute cardboard rodent head. When you pull the comic out, we then read the first two pages, as we see the song bringing dawn. The reader then unfold the comic up to reveal the next four panels, as we meet the musician. Finally, we unfold the comic one more time to its full 11 x 17" length to see the final scene. Reading this wordless comic takes less then thirty seconds, but the physical experience of folding and unfolding it is a clever way of making the reader understand the passage of time.

b.f.f. has a clever wrap-around cardstock cover featuring two girls in a tree; opening up the right front flap changes the picture so that only the girl on the left is present. This story reveals just how much Terry's overall chops have improved. Her line is thinner and more confident at the same time. One of Terry's strengths has always been the depiction of movement, and this mini sees her using some interesting techniques to depict movement by moving the reader's eye across the page in a zig-zag fashion. The story is semi-auto-bio, based on a childhood experience where she had her heart broken by a girl. What I liked best about it is the way it resolves; rather than end on a self-pitying note or a cheer-up platitude, it instead unites "Laura" and her anthropomorphic heart by having them engage in "petty revenge". Terry seems ready for a next-level jump, and so I will be quite interested in seeing her tackle a long form work or short story collection.

Avian Tales From Crater Lake, by Ross Wood Studlar. Studlar is a park ranger who also happened to attend "cartoon school". Unsurprisingly, his subject tends to be nature. In terms of his drawing, this comic is a step forward from the previous comic I reviewed of his, The Raven And The Crayfish. His line is no longer quite as labored; drawing directly from nature is a nice match for the looseness of his line. This eight-page comic is a collection of small observations of birds at Crater Lake, from young eagles' leaps out of their aerie to the way diving ducks plowed several dozen feet into the crystal-clear lake in order to devour fish. Studlar also has a prose piece connecting mythology and folklore to the unpredictable and threatening nature of storms on the lake. This is a slight comic at best, one that hints at many more interesting anecdotes and observations to come. Studlar is clearly still trying to figure out just what it is he wants to do as a cartoonist, and his eye and interests are so different from that of the average cartoonist that he has the potential to do some interesting work. A book full of these stories and observations, linked together with prudent editing, could produce a unique comics artifact. As long as he continues to use a more restrained line for both his true life and mythological interests, that book could be a compelling read.

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