Monday, January 30, 2012

Three Minis By Grant Thomas

Grant Thomas is a cartoonist who enjoys working with and around formal constraints to achieve varying effects. His one-man anthology series Dodo provides a grab-bag of stories told in such a manner, revealing his interest in the way other arts can be expressed through comics. In #2, his "Homage To Leone" is a series of panels derived from the Sergio Leone "spaghetti Western" The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Given that that film is famous for its tight close-ups on the principal actors, it was only natural to take that a step further and freeze those famous images on paper. I like the looseness of Thomas' pencils here in avoiding a simple copy of frames, but he loses it a bit in the final panel with a figure that's too sloppy. "Drawing From Life" is an amusing but unremarkable anecdote about art school and nude models, with a whimsical line that heightens the humor of the situation. "Visions of Johanna's Concert" is a Comics Pantoum, which involves a repetition of panels from line to line in a specific, rigid pattern. It's comics-as-poetry of a different kind, emphasizing form over content. That form was somewhat interesting but ultimately didn't make much of an impact in terms of how the strip was read. "Why Have You Shut Your Eyes?" shows Thomas using a more decorative line as a sort of homage to religious art in this anecdote about an encounter between a man and a demon.

His mini My Life In Records #1 has a much tighter focus: autobiography as mediated by his experience listening to records. Starting from his earliest memories, this issue focuses on anecdotes about him and his younger brother. They are represented as anthropomorphic versions of the stuffed animals they held dear: in Thomas' case, a rabbit, and in his brother's case, a bear. It looks very much like they're wearing animal masks, a familiar but effective trope. This book reminds me a bit of Jesse Reklaw's Couch Tag autobio series in that deeper personal truths are expressed through a mediating factor of some kind, but there's not much darkness to be found in this comic. Indeed, it's more a spirited tribute to his brother and the memories they shared experiencing and creating art. That creativity is at the heart of Thomas' work, a kind of restlessness that demands thinking about storytelling in a number of different ways and trying to find any number of different methods of expressing oneself.

As a cartoonist, Thomas' formal thinking sometimes exceeds the grasp of his draftsmanship. Some of his images look over-rendered and more under-rendered, as though he's struggling to find a style that he's fully comfortable with. That struggle emerges in the micro-mini Submarine, which cleverly folds in on itself to amusingly tell the tale of a doomed vessel. The drawings themselves just aren't quite interesting enough to hold my attention, nor is the joke beyond the format itself funny enough to prevent that from mattering. Thomas is certainly getting more assured as he continues to experiment in public, and I expect his formal boldness to match up with the maturity of his linework sooner rather than later.

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