Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Minicomics Round-Up: Nichols, Zwirek, Puppyteeth

I'm still poking through the minicomic riches I received at SPX, and today's batch yields some interesting gems:

! and A Shadow And Its Source, by L.Nichols. There's a restlessness to Nichols' work that I enjoy, as she's constantly flipping between genres and formal elements in her narratives. !, for example is a 24-hour comic that's a sci-fi story about a mad scientist whose experiments defy the ruling theocracy. The comic details the "Shadows" sent to hunt him down and the efforts he takes to retaliate. Nichols uses a fat, bold line that is perhaps meant to imitate a Kirby-style of powerful genre storytelling. This comic is obviously a lark, but it's a successful experiment in that she manages to create tension and depict action in a fluid manner. There are also plenty of drawings that are simply nice to look at. A Shadow And Its Source is the polar opposite of ! in that it's comics-as-poetry. It's a meditation on the work of artist & filmmaker William Kentridge, known for creating images built on erasure and repetition of images regarding his native South Africa. Nichols connects the pain expressed in his work with pain that she feels, both as an individual and an American. Flipping between Kentridge's photorealism and her own more whimsical style creates an interesting tension between the two, as Nichols doubts her own ability to communicate even as she creates striking images.

Blackstar #5 and Leper, by Jeff Zwirek. Zwirek's debt to the Brunetti school of figure drawing based on geometrical structures is obvious, but he goes in a lot of narrative directions with it. This issue of his anthology series Blackstar features a wide variety of genres and formal approaches. "The Lost Plumgrove" is a full-color fantasy story involving shenanigans between a couple of poor travelers and a vicious guard. Zwirek's work really takes nicely to color, and he makes some bold choices here to help tell his story. "Chicago Typewriter" was featured in his own Pinstriped Bloodbath gangster anthology, and it's one of his best stories. It's about the history of the Thompson sub-machine gun and how a weapon designed for American soldiers became the weapon of choice for gangland massacres. The other stories in the anthology are less remarkable; I found his Mario Brothers-inspired story to be difficult to understand and his pharaoh story to be dull. However, "The Reason", an attractive one-pager about fatherhood, was clever because of the use of color to depict the protagonist's dwindling reserves of energy throughout the day--until he got home. Leper is an odd but beautifully-designed mini about being a victim of violence & trauma, how it wreaks havoc on one's everyday life, and how one can help combat this trauma. Zwirek is a bold visual storyteller and his best comics are usually the wordless ones, and this mini is no exception.

Puppyteeth, edited by Kevin Czapiewski and Liz Suburbia. In terms of design and format, this is a bare-bones anthology photocopied somewhat haphazardly. In terms of content, this showcase for young and relatively unknown artists is understandably uneven. Suburbia's story "Our Lady Of The Bridge" opened the book and turned out to be the strongest story in the anthology, detailing two kids and their near-fatal encounter with a shadowy creature. It's a genuinely suspenseful story leavened by a bit of unexpected humor toward the end, and its effectiveness is owed to the expressiveness and clarity of Suburbia's line. Darryl Ayo contributes a handful of strong one-page pieces done with his usual piercing wit and increasingly confident line. Matt Czapiewski's story about an extremely old minor-league baseball player was hilarious both in terms of his thick, exaggerated line and his understanding of the psyches of sports fans. At the other end of the art spectrum, Jess Wheelock's collage-and-pencil meditation on curmudgeonly Statler & Waldorf characters from The Muppet Show was clever and touching. On the other hand, Martinez E Garcias' "Sex Zombies From Outer Space" was one of the single worst stories I've read in a long time. Worse than the hackneyed premise was that Garcias spelled out the entire plot (such as it was) with the very title of the piece! Alex Martin's "Gotcha" was trying to be clever in its attempt at meshing game and story but wound up as difficult to parse. The other stories were mostly forgettable, which is not all that surprising for what promises to be a loosely-affiliated comics collective that will keep roughly the same lineup from issue to issue in an attempt to get better in public.

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