Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Small Press Anthologies: Three #2, Candy Or Medicine, The Sorry Entertainer

Let's take a look at three anthologies of various shapes and sizes:

Three #2, edited by Rob Kirby. Nothing in this issue of the queer-themed anthology of Three matches Eric Orner's story from the first issue, which earned an Ignatz nomination. That said, there's a certain sweetness and vulnerability to be found in each of the three stories in this issue. "Dragon", written by Sina Evil and drawn by Jon Macy, is the least compelling of the three. It's about a young man who meets a cartoonist he admires and feels close to on the basis of his familiarity with his material. They have a romantic encounter during which the young man is coerced into doing things that made him somewhat uncomfortable, yet are rationalized away because of the connection he imagines between them. The "dragon" metaphor (and insertion into the story), however, is a painfully obvious metaphor, especially when something dramatic happens. It's annoyingly "cinematic", adding little to a story that's already a bit bland to look at.

Things pick up with "Help Wanted", a jam between Jennifer Camper and Michael Fahy. This is a delightful little comedy of misunderstandings with a distinct romance comic flair. What's surprising is that even though Fahy and Camper alternate panel tiers, there's a remarkable sense of continuity in terms of both story and art between the two. This is quite unusual for a jam comic, which usually tend to be huge messes. I don't know if the two improvised from tier to tier or if they wrote it beforehand, but the smooth result speaks for itself. I like the way that Camper and Fahy play up the romance comic tropes, down to lines like "Happy, darling?" being followed by "Oh yes! A thousand times yes!" coming after a man's FTM transexual boyfriend reveals that he's pregnant and once had a fling with his sister.
The best of the three stories is "Nothin' But Trouble", a collaboration between Craig Bostick & David Kelly. It's a story of a closeted country-western singer who picks up a prostitute after a gig but falls in love with him. There's a clever narrative trick where the story is told first by the singer (Jimmy, drawn by Bostick) and the prostitute (Butch, drawn by Kelly), alternating every couple of pages. The trick comes in terms of coloring: the red-toned pages belong to Jimmy and the green-toned pages belong to Butch, allowing the cartoonists to make whip-crack transitions with a minimum of narrative disruption. Bostick has always had an appealingly clear line, and the cartoony quality of his line is a nice counterpoint to the low-key melodrama of this story. There's no easy happy ending to be found to this story, yet both characters wind up having a surprising and positive effect on the other. It's a pitch-perfect slice of life story, with the two artists meshing remarkably well despite portraying two different but complementary narratives.

Candy Or Medicine: The Compleat First Year, and Candy Or Medicine #14 & #15, edited by Josh Blair. Blair decided to reprint the first four issues of his all-comers minicomics anthology which has a lower hit-to-miss ratio than virtually any other anthology, yet always yields some gems. As Blair notes in his introduction, this is a deliberate strategy. He's less an editor than an "OE", to use APAzine parlance. That is, he serves to collected and publish material sent to him, with the money he earns from sales (at just a dollar an issue, it can't be much) to support collating and copying each issue. His hope is that every story will appeal to at least some readers, even if they aren't necessarily the stories that he likes most. From the very beginning, Candy or Medicine attracted people who could barely draw or conceive of a coherent narrative as well as great cartoonists with no other print outlets. Brad W Foster (a Newave era stalwart) and Matt Feazell (the DaVinci of stick-figure minicomics) make early appearances with drawings instead of comics. The strip has also drawn an unusual number of international cartoonists eager for any kind of exposure to American artists, like Greek artist Kostis Tzortzakasis and Briton Kel Winser.

The most recent volumes (#14 and #15, sold as a two-pack for two dollars) show that the anthology is both much the same but has also started to attract a better quality of cartoonist. #14 is a particularly strong issue, with a strange and beautifully drawn story about how the mold in a kitchen spawned a new ecosystem and saved a marriage as its centerpiece. Emi Gennis contributed one of her "Wikipedia List of Unusual Deaths" comics, this time about an old man who was exercised to death by his wife, who happened to be a MTF transsexual and who also happened to be the child of old family friends thirty years his junior. Gennis' line just gets sharper and sharper, matching her wit as well. Lauren Barnett's absurd scribble is typically funny, especially in the way it makes fun of her own limited draftsmanship. Issue #15 doesn't feature any stand-out strips but is still interesting for publishing short comics from Lithuania and Guatemala. I love that Blair is so committed to this anthology, giving cartoonists the opportunity to get better in public.

The Sorry Entertainer, edited by Simon Moreton & Nick Soucek. This is a cheap newsprint anthology from the UK that includes contributors from Ireland, the US and Argentina, based around the theme of performing and performers. The results are a mixed bag, as some of the artists don't really rise to the occasion of using the space in an interesting manner. On the other hand, there's plenty to like here from a number of artists who have been making some noise in the UK and US scenes the past couple of years. Moreton's own strip follows a schoolboy persecuted by his peers who slips into fantastic reveries, acting as a sort of prologue for the kinds of stories that follow.

The tone of the anthology slips from light-hearted to the contemplative. Paddy Lynch, for example, submits a wispily-drawn story about a man going to a park musing about how difficult it is us for to live in and enjoy small moments while listening to a guitar player, only to have a policeman come by and shoo the guitarist away. Jason Martin's adaptation of Mike Watt's tour diary is hilarious, with his rough style a perfect match for Watt's whole demeanor. Another example of that swing is David Z. Greene's full-page wrestling strip that winds up with a silly (if bloody) punchline. Greene's one of the few artists in the whole broadsheet who really makes use of the space, filling up the page with big images that go a long way in selling his gag. Rol Hirst and Andrew Cheverton's "Face For Radio", on the other hand features an ex-DJ with a new gig: introducing records at a retirement home.

The ubiquitous Noah Van Sciver contributes a story about a four-eyed man shunned by society who joins a traveling freak show, grows embittered and kills his audience and the circus. Van Sciver crams the story into fifteen panels, yet nothing feels cramped and his drawings carry the story. The bitterness of performing is ground that's covered by Richard Worth & Jordan Collver as well as Chris Fairless. The former story is a detailed character portrait about a magician who first waxes nostalgic about his career, and then when the page is flipped, complains bitterly about it. Its outer border is that of a playing card, and his story is supported by a lightly penciled series of figures in the background. It's a clever bit of cartooning. Fairless' story is about a young immigrant who performs in a park by speaking truth to power until he gets busted, and then simply performs as a statue. Fairless uses shadow and light contrasts to tell his story, and the modulation of these tones is what gives the story its emotional power.

Other highlights include a typically goofy strip by Lauren Barnett about a sad clown who performs for Jesus, a funny strip about a comedian with a particularly lowest common denominator for a gimmick by Sam Spina, Peter Batchelor's story about a psychic with a horrible secret, Soucek's account of a story about a rock band who got the greatest gig of their lives under dubious circumstances, and of course an epic bit of full-page lunacy from the inimitable Rob Jackson. His account of an entertainer who recalls his life's story is full of hilarious non sequiturs, with his typically rough style somehow accentuating the effect of his silliness. While there were no true duds in the anthology, none of the rest really registered after an initial reading. That said, this broadsheet was an interesting alternative to the typical minicomics anthology, allowing artists the opportunity to go big with a theme vague enough to allow them to tell the sort of story they wanted.

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