Friday, September 2, 2011

Minis From Across The USA

Most of the minis I receive tend to come from comics strongholds like Brooklyn and Portland. Of late, I've received minis from some unlikely sources. Here's a quick survey.

Foie Gras #1 & 3, by Edie Fake. Fake is the "minicomics sommelier" of the excellent Quimby's in Chicago, a city with a traditionally vibrant comics scene that is now spawning a younger generation of cartoonists. Fake's Foie Gras minis feature art appropriated from the old Joy of Cooking books, focusing in on desire and transformation (the twin subjects Fake usually tends to be interested in). Fake adds other images to the clear-line drawings of food cutting, preparation and assemblages while adding commentary that is frequently hilarious. In Fake's sexually charged fantasy comic Gaylord Phoenix, the penises of his characters are depicted as tubes--the sort of spiraling tubes that one sees folded and handled in The Joy of Cooking. So there's a superficial level of humor to be found here (like when a fist is thrust into a puckering hole in a pie), but there's also tenderness to be found in the commentary, as well as a commentary on how and why we adorn ourselves and what this means. (That's especially true of #3, which contains a number of highly elaborate food preparations with commentary hinting at why we play dress-up.) Of course, Fake turns these minis into beautiful little art objects, with silkscreened and brightly colored covers. These comics are an interesting take on comics-as-poetry.

The Dudes, by Alex Schubert. Schubert is from Kansas City, MO, and these three stories mix slacker lowlifes, a biographical comic about two weird brothers, and a set of gags about "famous last words." The title story is the most interesting one in this short comic, following a group of guys who hang around in parking lots to pass the time, with one claiming to be in a gang called "The Dudes", allowing him carte blanche in their narrow world. There's a relaxed, almost benign sleaziness at work in this short story, aided by Schubert's simple character design. His "famous last words" strip takes actual last statements from various historical figures (the "uh-oh" quote from space shuttle Challenger captain Michael Smith was especially nasty) and piles them up, juxtaposing the funny, the poignant and the tragic. Overall, this feels like an old-fashioned kind of mini with mild ambitions. It's a dumping ground for ideas, scenarios and relaxed drawings, and Schubert makes the aimless, vaguely dangerous world of his slackers sleazily appealing. Schubert would fit comfortably in an anthology like Hotwire, and I hope to see more of his comics.
Sequential Vacation #1, by Sar Shahar. Shahar is from Los Angeles. This silent comic was a compelling read and the artist shows a great deal of promise. The comic centers around repetition and grids, as it follows a window cashier at a fast-food restaurant through his life. The book starts with nine straight panels of the world outside his window: different faces from different cars who all want the same thing. We then follow the character to a club, where he waits in line (lines and waiting are also repeating motifs in the comic) to get in, but is slump-shouldered and miserable until a young woman wearing huge sunglasses takes him by the hand and they wind up sleeping together. For him, it's a transformative experience. For her, it's another day, a fact hammered home when she drives through his line at the fast-food joint. She's not just another face in the window for him, but she very much views him as an "object-at-hand", a person who does a job. There's evidence that him being a fast-food worker turns her off, given that she seems to lead an idly rich life (going to a matinee of the hilarious named movie "Motorcycle Vs Helicopter II" while he's working, perhaps breaking a date they had set up earlier to see the film at night). When he meets a new girl who happens to start working at his story who looks a bit like her, it all seems like fate will break his way--until she tragically is killed and he has to clean up the mess. (That bit of commentary on the dehumanization of minimum wage workers was especially affecting.) He winds up with another lookalike in the end, but it's unclear what will come of it. Unlike the other comics in this survey, this story feels closely tied to the locale of the author. The city feels like LA, with its car culture, emphasis on grids and night life. The repeating visual motifs are clever and striking, and the stark use of black & white reminds me a bit of what Robert Sergel does in Eschew. Shahar is not as clean a draftsman as Sergel, especially in terms of character design, but the page composition shows an artist who clearly thinks a lot about images and how they carry a narrative. I'm eager to see Shahar's next comic.

Brain Dead Phylum #1 & #2, by Kyle Nolan. Nolan is from Davenport FL, which is near Orlando. It's obvious, however, that he's heavily inspired by Fort Thunder-era comics, bringing a slightly more jokey version of the Brian Ralph/Mat Brinkman/Brian Chippendale aesthetic to his minis, the sort of thing that Sam Gaskin does. The backgrounds are dense in the way they create a solid environment, with every brick and stone drawn in detail. Nolan's not nearly in their class in terms of his draftsmanship, so some of the pages look a bit wonky in terms of their rendering, distracting a bit from the overall visual effect. Fortunately, this comic is played strictly for laughs, so the occasional slapdash drawing is ameliorated by the gags at hand. The comic follows a couple of robots out in "The Sludge Pit" who desperately need some coffee and go on a quest to get it. Their dialogue is amusing and contains random influences to pop culture (some of it outdated), like one robot being named Parker Lewis and another asking what Survivorman would do. Their spaceships are oddly named after brands of cheap beer. The second issue brings them to "Salt City", wherein they encounter a not-exactly-subtle parody of Mormons awaiting their arrival. What I like most about these comics are the shapes of the protagonist robots; their character design compels the reader to look at them move across the page, thanks to their appealing boxiness. I get the sense that Nolan is throwing every idea he has against the wall to see what sticks in this series and will hopefully refine his style, narrative focus and humor as he progresses from issue to issue.

Class Reunion #2 & #5, by Charlie Newton. Newton is from Birmingham, AL, which is not exactly a comics hotbed, but these minis also show heavy influence from underground and Fort Thunder style comics. Each of these comics is very short (six pages, plus front and back covers), but they have a strong visual impact. Issue #2 features a character that's a cross between an octopus and Humpty-Dumpty sitting at a table and hallucinating all sorts of horrible thing, including a brain oozing out of the bottom of a skyscraper. This silent comic is about the ways our minds can wander to the most grotesque of images. #5 features two characters with enormous heads having a conflict over waffles, only for one of them to be pursued by a waffle-hungry monster. There's also a wordless comic involving one of Newton's blobby characters trying to find out where "the delicious" is, starting a dialogue with the man in his TV set about it. There's no real attempt at true narrative in these comics, but rather a stringing together of emotional, visceral images. Newton doesn't have total control over his line and page design, so the going can be rough at times, but his draftsmanship is good enough to provoke the reader into paying attention, even if the rewards are small at this point. Certainly, his comics are interesting for his strange point of view, and I suspect they will become increasingly coherent but complex.

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