Monday, April 23, 2012

New Comics from CCS Students and Alums

Let's take a look at some comics from current students and alumni of the Center for Cartoon Studies.  Some of these cartoonists have recently signed publishing deals and others are just getting started, but they all have differing techniques and approaches.

The End Of The Fucking World #3-6, by Chuck Forsman.  I was going crazy trying to figure out what artist Forsman's figures reminded me of in this series until I hit on it: Dik Browne drawing Hi and Lois.  The way Forsman draws eyes, hair and most especially big, bulbous noses reminds me of the simple but effective style used for years in that most conventional of comic strips about a family.  TEOTFW is about a makeshift and dysfunctional family of two.  As a sociopath teenage boy and his eager girlfriend leave town in his father's stolen car, they manage to create their own utopia of sorts in a lavish home left vacant by a vacationing college professor.  Those moments of beauty prove illusory when the boy finds some disturbing photos implicating the professor as a merchant of horror, but they really serve to give the boy an excuse to kill.  This changes the relationship as the couple are forced to flee, but the girl finds that she has little choice.  Each issue flips the narrative voice between the two leads, with the boy narrating issues 3 and 5 and the girl 4 and 6, and each issue fills in certain emotional gaps in the form of catch-up.  Forsman does quite a job foreshadowing the potential violence in the series and then ratcheting it up quickly, but defuses the visceral nature of the acts with this deliberately cartoony art and languid pacing.  It's the first major story that he's done without a fantastic element of any kind, but it certainly doesn't suffer for the shift away toward grim naturalism--especially since it seems to share the same sense of inevitable doom that his other comics possess.  He's hit upon a loose, sketchy style that works extremely well in telling the sort of psychologically disturbing but slightly absurd stories he seems most interested in.

Lou #1-2, by Melissa Mendes. Like Forsman and  Max de Radigues (in Moose), Mendes is crafting a minicomics series, 12 pages at a time.  Mendes is a master of depicting family dynamics.  In her Freddy stories, Mendes focuses in on a single child and the way she relates to the world as a cheerful outsider.  Lou is a story of three brothers of varying ages and their various concerns.  The youngest loves to antagonize his pre-teen older brother, while the oldest is thinking about heavy metal and smoking cigarettes.  The second issue throws in a dinner-time conflict between the younger brothers punctuated by their father's haltingly discussing maybe bringing home a puppy, to the chagrin of his wife.  There's a scene at the end where the middle child walks into his brother's room right before bedtime in order to rock out with him; it's a perfect depiction of the ways in which younger siblings seek out and absorb their older sibling's taste, as well as the way that such experiences create bonds and memories.  Mendes has a way of depicting family dynamics with warmth and sincerity but without the slightest trace of sentimentality; the ragged expressiveness of her line is a key to the success of this depiction. 

The Man Who Built Beirut and Two Stories, by Andy Warner.  These are three different exercises in storytelling for Warner, who has highly polished chops.  His character work is subtle, and it's obvious he can draw anything.  What's also clear is that he's trying to find his voice as a cartoonist.  The Man Who Built Beirut is part Joe Sacco-style reportage (his hand is heavily felt in this piece), part autobio.  Warner tries to make sense of why the death of a Lebanese plutocrat and politician could spark a new civil war that draws in any number of other countries into the conflict and finds that he can't come up with a pat answer.  I found that realization to be refreshing, actually: that an outsider has no better chance of understanding the complexity of a Middle East conflict than an expert or native.  The problem in this comic comes with Warner trying to link his own experiences to what he observes.  For example, when he talks about trying to repair a relationship via email in Beirut at the same time the politician, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated, the former feels like extraneous information.  There's no compelling reason to care about Warner's life or struggles at this point of the story, especially when he unleashes a massive Sacco-style crowd scene on the next page, pulling the reader out of Warner's story and into a different one.  Throughout the comic, he talks about his love of Lebanon and is clearly disturbed by the conflicts to seek out more information, but there's no synthesis of personal and political elements.

In Two Stories, Warner has more success with "Squirrel", a visceral and emotionally powerful story that seems to lead with the climax (his pet cat killing his pet squirrel), but it cleverly ends with Warner's later recall of that incident and the way in which he unexpectedly reacts at a public event.  It's a quiet, restrained story where his grief is a palpable thing, but Warner wisely doesn't linger on any one image or memory for too long.  "A Ghost" is the story of a childhood friendship unraveling as one boy has moved on to a private school and left his friend behind, despite his protestations about how much he hates it.  The friend left behind is naturally resentful of this, and concocts a story about a kid-seeking ghost to frighten his friend, which works.  This story's dialogue feels emotionally manipulative and predictable, as Warner simply spells things out too plainly with regard to their relationship.  Warner has a strong sense of design (I love the way that black smoke dominates the cover of The Man Who Built Beirut) and imbues his characters with a highly expressive quality, even when he's telling a story naturalistically.  One gets the sense that he's trying different narrative styles out, looking for something that fits him as a cartoonist.  Once he finds his niche, he has an interesting career ahead of him because of his skill and work ethic.

Kid Clampdown, by DW.  DW is an unusual CCS student in that he's almost entirely disinterested in narrative and is more in the tradition of Fort Thunder-style mark-making.  These minis are collections of sketchbook and blog drawings, and while there's no narrative per se, they all bear the stamp of the artist in particular and peculiar ways.  In some respects, these drawings represent his own process of cycling through and exploring his influences while putting his own stamp on them.  On some pages, one can sense the heavy hand of Ron Rege' in the intricacy of his pattern-making and the design of each page.  On other pages, one can see the raw power and ratty line of Gary Panter. On others, the absurd sense of humor and detail of Marc Bell seems to be what DW is exploring.  Throughout the comics, there's a particular set of visual motifs that repeat: a sort of psychedelic set of semi-circles that form a maze pattern.  There are moments of Sam Henderson-inspired gags, random commentary and inspired bits of lunacy.  I don't have a sense of where DW is going with all this.  These aren't purely abstract bits and it seems clear that there are germs of narrative on nearly every page, but it seems as though DW is working through style before he actually tackles a true narrative.  For the artists whose work he admires, there's virtually no division between style and story.  The question for DW will be not what style he settles on, but if he hops between styles to tell different kinds of stories.

Oak & Linden #5, by Pat Barrett.   This issue of Barrett's one-man anthology features the next two chapters of his odd serial "Petrified Girlriend", which is part relationship comic and part dystopian sci-fi/horror.  The premise finds a young couple who seem to be an unlikely match wind up in an unusual situation: she simply freezes up and petrifies.  Initially freaked out by the situation, he simply goes about his business as usual and even picks up a woman from his job and brings her back to the apartment.  (In a brutally funny bit of disrespect, he starts piling his dirty clothes on top of his petrified girlfriend.)   Meanwhile, the girlfriend wakes up in a terrible world where she's pursued by a monstrous bird and winds up being pinned under its corpse.  Those moments where she's trapped allow her to reflect on her relationship, both when she cheated on him but he stayed with her and the many times he was whiny and selfish.  Barrett doesn't spell out the relationship between the two worlds, nor does he need to at this point.  Instead, he allows the details of the relationship to spill out in a way that successfully frames the story and throws in volatile story beats that jolt the reader at the end of each chapter.  Barrett's another cartoonist with tremendous chops who doesn't let his drawing get in the way of his cartooning.  What I mean by that is his naturally eccentric character design is given free reign in this comic, but the drawings possess a vital and kinetic element as they lurch, reach and stumble across each page..  The way he draws the girlfriend's bushy eyebrows and squarish face provide her with an unconventional kind of beauty, whereas the male lead is constantly in search of a look that makes sense for him, setting on an unshaven look, horn-rimmed glasses and slightly poofy hair.  Barrett also threw in an interesting art object with this comic: a flip book that doubles as the world's thickest business card, promoting his website with a vomiting frog.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

New Comics From Caitlin Cass

One of the common threads in Caitlin Cass's Great Moments In Western Civilization Postal Constituent series is a fascination with failure. The dominant narrative of Western civilization is one of progress through time, a sense that things get ever better as one success leads to another. Cass concerns herself instead with the ways in which the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge was either met by utter indifference or total disaster. In this, her third volume of minicomics dealing with famous historical, literary, scientific and philosophical figures, Cass depicts the struggle to obtain knowledge as a battle that is not always won, nor is a successful outcome necessarily desirable. With an increasingly expressive but still occasionally over-fussy line, Cass' visual imagination explodes off the page with a variety of clever designs for her ideas.

Volume 3, #2 is "Nabokov's Butterflies", a fascinating account of the author's obsession with the colorful insects. Cass notes, in a series of lovingly-rendered and bright images, that the author loved them because of their mimicry markings that went beyond natural selection into pure beauty, the sort of beauty that only a human mind could appreciate. That capacity for beauty in a crazy world gave him a tether of sanity, leading him to a compulsion to study and understand them as a scientist might. Of course, his methods were old-fashioned and his results largely ignored, even as he became a literary superstar. He never achieved the respect he sought from the scientific community, despite a number of unique insights that later received some notice after his death.

#4, "A Brief History of Failure", is a clever folding comic that can be read from the top down or the bottom up. It's a parody of the nation of "Western progress", noting how opposable thumbs led to opening Pandora's Box, how the writings of a saint led to a bloody war, to how the printing press disseminated information but also spread "fanaticism at an alarming rate". From the beginning of civilization, our technology has outstripped our capacity to handle it without it leading to further pointless violence. The "tower of history" Cass constructs here teeters and tilts periously, and it's topped by the ultimate instrument of pure rationality: the guillotine.

Finally, issue #3 is "Patterns and the Abyss". It's an allegorical comic about a couple of writers who manage to pull themselves up out of the abyss thanks to the strength of their ideas literally becoming objects they can hold on to and climb upon. They are of course doomed to be knocked back down into the abyss by a bullying intellectual force. Battles can be won for knowledge, but the war goes ever on. This is the one story where I thought Cass' chops were not up to the task of clearly illustrating her ideas in a dynamic fashion. The line is too scribbly and many of the images look smudged, especially when she introduces color. Still, it's a clever idea and the cardstock the comic is printed on really allows the screenprinting to pop. They are certainly my favorite comics about philosophy, and one can sense that Cass will slowly find her way to the style that works best for her soon.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sci-Fi Minis: Cardini, Smith, Costain

SF Supplementary Files #2, by Ryan Cecil Smith. Printed on Risograph (a reproduction process that uses ink and allows the easy use of color), these three minicomics (each of the three issues is #2a, 2b or 2c), find Smith once again veering away from the main narrative of his over-the-top sci-fi series to explore a particular character or indulge a particular interest. In this case, he adapts Matsumoto Leiji's Queen Emeraldas, a space pirate fantasy which is adapted faithfully in a number of respects. For example, the narrative reads from right to left, from the end of the book to the beginning. The comics themselves are bizarre artifacts that feel like they were made thirty years ago, the sort of thing one might find in an obscure corner of some dusty bookstore or comic shop. The story follows a pirate dropping a boy off on a world, only to discover that the world is a fake and the boy has been captured by a fiendish mastermind. Issue C in particular is one crazy image after another on a different one-tone color sheet. The colors feel "wrong" in the best way, as they jar the reader on page after page as the action gets more and more intense. I'm guessing that Smith chose to re-do this story because it fit into his ultimate storytelling goals for SF, but also because there are so many great things to draw: the scars on Emeralda's face, the sleek design of her spacecraft, the scenes underwater, etc. While the story is ultimately fairly conventional, Smith's design continues to be the main draw, along with his impeccable sense of pacing.

Entropy #7, by Aaron Costain. Costain sent me just the seventh issue of an ongoing series, but it's an intriguing one. There are two different storylines. One involves a man's car breaking down on the side of a road in a heavily forested area. He walks with his infant son on a bridge that crosses a river until he is accosted by a dog and falls off the bridge. In the book's key sequence, we see the man tumble off the bridge in a series of five vertical, rectangular column panels, and underneath them, we see the baby tossed to and fro until he loses consciousness. On the next page, we see a humanoid figure impaled upon a huge spike for an indeterminate but obviously long period of time in a series of five vertical, rectangular columns. Beneath those columns are smaller square panels that go from all black (unconsciousness) to a close-up of the inert humanoid form being buffeted by the seasons. The creature, as we learn, is a golem, and an angel appears and gets him off the spike. He carries him much like the father carried the baby for much of the issue, cleans him up, and revives him. The golem's obvious question as the issue ends is "Papa?". I'm not sure if the connections between the two storylines were more obvious in the earlier issues of the series, but Costain cleverly uses a number of visual tricks to keep the reader interested in what is essentially a bunch of walking around. For example, the angel is first seen as a burst of energy defined by blank space in the shape of a man, and then inverts the energy to become a sort of man-shaped vibration. Simply looking at the angel performing mundane tasks is interesting because of the way it sticks out in every panel. I don't have much else to say about this comic in terms of narrative, other than that Costain likes to take his time and make the reader think about the physical reality of both mundane and highly strange activities.

Vortex #1, by William Cardini. I've enjoyed Cardini's development as an artist and the refinement of his heavily Mat Brinkman-influenced style. Cardini works big in this sci-fi/fantasy battle comic, but more interestingly, he uses a deliberately artificial-looking style of line. You can see the dots and pixels on the page, giving the whole thing a cold and digital quality that is trying to separate the reader from Brinkman's warm, organic and oozing imagery. That slight distance and primitiveness of the line quality (as opposed to the drawings themselves) adds a certain extra comical layer to a story that involves a wizard quite graphically and viscerally biting off the arm of a monster. The whole thing has a light-hearted feel, much like the rest of Cardini's work, odd as it may appear on the surface. Working bigger certainly suits him, and I enjoyed looking at the images as images.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Couple of Worthy Fundraisers

Just wanted to bring a couple of worthy fundraisers to your attention.

First, Sparkplug is still about $5,000 away from meeting their goal of fully funding their next three projects. This is their first publishing effort since the death of Dylan Williams and meeting their goal would go a long way in allowing them to continue to publish new work. The perks included in this fundraiser are pretty great, so please consider donating.

Second, interesting new cartoonist Grant Thomas is trying to fund the second issue of his series My Life In Records. I reviewed his work here, including the first issue of his series. Check it out.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Comics-As-Poetry: Badman, Moreton, Zervakis

Let's look at some recent minicomics examples of comics-as-poetry:
No Way Constant and Untitled (Sternwood), by Derik A. Badman. Badman is a critic whose comics play around with appropriating and repurposing the texts and images of others to create new and frequently elliptical meanings. Untitled is one of his most successful comics to date. The front half of the comic consists of images appropriated from stills taken from a variety of film noir examples, including The Big Sleep. We see close-ups of doors, telephones, revolvers, cameras, statues with hidden compartments, shower stalls with bullet holes, and finally a wisp of cigarette smoke in the dark. Badman is ingenious in the way he strings together unrelated images and completely eschews depicting any people to create a more accessible narrative, yet the atmosphere he creates and the images he chooses make it easy to roughly understand what's happening. The key here is his choice of a midnight-blue wash in every panel, truly creating the "noir" atmosphere found in those sort of movies. The back half of the comic has a dark yellow wash and similarly depicts a place and a set of objects. The difference is that it's modern-day and that the things he depicts are stripped of the cultural meaning imbued in film noir: it's just a normal person going about their day. Yet, many of the objects he portrays could easily have a sinister bent depending on coloring choices and the juxtaposition of images. This comic is a witty depiction of how we read, comprehend and contextualize images.

No Way Constant is just as intriguing in its own way, working as a mash-up between Robinson Crusoe and 1940s/1950s romance comics and jungle girl comics. The way he juxtaposes Crusoe author Daniel DeFoe's prose regarding desire and danger with both the sort of action one would see in a jungle comic and the yearning found in a romance comic is especially clever. The one problem with this attempt is that Badman's attempts at copying masters of motion like Jesse Marsh comes out looking stiff. The sheer lushness of image that made those comics interesting is absent here, and as a reader I found myself being taken out of the page by the crudeness of some of the drawings--especially the figure work. It was an interesting experiment, but it's nowhere near as fluidly successful as Untitled.

Strange Growths #15, by Jenny Zervakis. For a variety of reasons, this 90s and early 2000s minicomics mainstay has had a reduced work output over the past few years. Like her friend and peer John Porcellino, she does autobio comics with a heavily poetic bent, focusing on the meaning to be found in small but significant moments. Her line is scribbly and warm, echoing the way her text invites the reader into her life without necessarily giving them much context. It's a portrait of a life lived, moment by moment, told in a series of short anecdotes. "Iceberg", for example, talks about an iceberg screensaver on her computer that comes to represent the feeling of stasis she herself was experiencing--especially with regard to being creative. This issue marks the melting of that iceberg, as she herself put forth the question. Much of this issue focuses on family, like the sort of things her daughter says or connections back to her relatives in Greece. Zervakis seeing the world through the eyes of her daughter is especially fascinating, as she treats her observations seriously but without overt sentimentality. Zervakis also has an ear for what others say that's reminiscent of Harvey Pekar, like a conversation she overheard on a bus between two people who were putting down someone else. There's a lyricism present in her work that gives each story a satisfying quality on its own, but the accretion of her short stories in this issue adds up to a gestalt that's warm, sincere and honest.

Smoo Comics #4 and The Escapoligist, by Simon Moreton. Moreton continues to refine his voice as a poet and cartoonist. Smoo #4 is an especially lovely meditation on the town he grew up in as a teen-ager called Marlow, which is essentially a suburb of London. Working with a spare, scribbly and occasionally smudged pencil line, Moreton evokes memories through geometric figures, lines and shadows. The way in which he leaves so much open space on each page allows the reader to fill in the gaps while still maintaining the essential sketchiness of both image and memory. Moreton takes the reader on a recapitulation of his perceptual journey of Moreton, going from the awe of childhood to the contempt of his teenage years to the ways in which he and his friends tried to create meaning. The revelations Moreton provides about his sense of growing old externally but not feeling it internally are not especially innovative, but that does not diminish the impact of the revelation as he feels it, nor the beautiful way that he expresses it on the page. I loved the added touch of Moreton attaching an envelope that has a postcard and a hand-drawn map of Marlow.

If Smoo is Moreton's take on John Porcellino, then The Escapologist is his attempt at Warren Craghead's style of comics-as-poetry. Here, Moreton cleverly juxtaposes the solidness of place (brick walls, bushes, lawns of carefully cut grass) with his geometrically spectral figures. Like in Smoo, this is a comic about being from a particular place and knowing particular people, and how the sum total of our personality is constructed in part by our relationships with others. It's a short and sweet depiction of a feeling and a sense of loss, of being connected and feeling apart.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Comics Of Luis Echavarria

Luis Echavarria is an artist of Colombian descent, whom I believe attended the Savannah College of Art and Design. His sign-off on his comics is "Ud Ve Lo Que Quierre Ver", which roughly translates to "You see what you want to see." Many of his minicomics relate to the twin themes of misdirection and transformation, especially in how easy it is to ignore the latter. For example, Ole' is about the end of a bullfight that takes a surprising, unsettling turn as the bull not only refuses die despite how hacked up it gets, it gets stronger--much to the horror of the crowd. Echavarria brings a visceral quality to his art, with ink blotches and heavy use of spotting blacks giving his art a gritty quality. This is one of the many stories of his that touches on the supernatural, the relationship between man and nature, and the ways in which violence can rip apart lives but also become a part of one's everyday existence.

Empanadas: It's What Sells The Most is about a man who buys a house formerly owned by the mob who finds something terrible and wonderful behind the walls. The matter-of-fact and entirely sensible way he deals with what he finds makes sense, given the nature of mob dealing in South America. Solid Gold is a two-sided flip book bound in the center about a man who thinks he finds gold, but is fooled by his own greed. Like many of his comics, they are interesting art objects in their own right and catch one's eye. Trip's Over is not so much about violence but about the grim reality of death for the poor, as a family tries to transport their dead mother in a box tied to the top of their car realizes something horrible has happened in transit. This one's a folding comic bound to pieces of cardboard, mimicking the experience of the box tied to the top of the car in a grim but amusing manner.

Indeed, no matter how grisly things get, Echavarria manages to keep tongue in cheek. Bizarre Love Triangle involves an animal trainer, his beloved tiger, and a model that the man falls for. With the tiger growing enraged at flash photography, it's only a matter of time before the worst happens, but not before Echavarria throws some pointed barbs at the model industry. Las Chuchas throws barbs at both science and fanatics in this story of the discovery of a bizarre rodent in the wild. Echavarrias's pages tend to be cluttered, but he makes that clutter work thanks to the way he designs his pages and panels. He wants the reader to be suffused in this messy, uncomfortable world, but he's willing to lead them through it in a way that makes sense.

Getting back to this idea of transformation, El Diablo sees Echavarria try a clearer and more direct style as the Devil tries to kidnap a potential son and teach him his ways. More to the point, he's trying to become relevant again--the Devil is now a joke, and even the Devil-masked little boy isn't frightened by him for a second. Guino Danino ("harmful blink", roughly) is about a young man whose merest gaze breaks things, and the doctor who quickly assesses and cures him. The doctor has a medical practice complete with a receptionist, but he dresses as a shaman and uses a relic for the man's cure as soon as he's gone through his memories via hypnosis. One thing that I like about these comics is that Echavarria takes a clever idea, runs through it quickly and doesn't try to pad it out.

My favorite of Echavarria's comics is also his most elaborate and most autobiographical: Nothing Is Private. The cover flap depicts a pair of scissors going into a lock, and the reader must pull it out of the lock to open up the comic. It's a comic about the ways in which our bodies go on display with our families as we grow up in frequently unwelcome ways. The story depicts Luis and his younger brother Juan (ages 11 and 5, respectively) as constantly being interrupted and embarrassed by their sister who "accidentally" barges in to get something when they were showering together. A plan to get even with her backfires in the worst way possible when they thought they were going to walk in on their sister and instead walk in on their grandmother. The look of sheer horror on Luis's face when he realizes their mistake but his younger brother doesn't (and is laughing hysterically) jumps off of the page through Luis' eyes. That shared intimacy with his brother ended when Luis started to go through puberty and "grow hair on his pipi"--and tell everyone they knew. Echavarria ends the book with a punchline that gets him a little bit of schadenfreude regarding his brother.

Echavarria is an interesting young artist who is going about his development in a way that makes sense. He's doing it in public with short stories that develop one good idea into a satisfying end. He's varied his style from expressionistic to naturalistic, depending on the setting (Nothing Is Private was done in a highly naturalistic style) and genre. His storytelling is sophisticated but still raw in places, and it's interesting to see him refine his chops as he figures out what kind of stories he wants to tell. He's got the skills of an illustrator but the eye of a cartoonist, and certainly knows when to rein in the visual pyrotechnics. It seems obvious that he's ready to do a long-form work, and I'll be curious to see how that might take shape.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New Comics From Tom Galambos

Tom Galambos was a familiar name in alt-comics circles in the late 90s, winning a Xeric grant for From Hungary and producing a number of minicomics. Galambos dropped out of the comics scene for a decade to teach and paint, but reemerged at SPX 2011 with two new minicomics. Both of them reflect the ways his years as a painter have both improved his overall technique and loosened up his approach to comics. Instances "grew out of my ongoing installation project done with artist Greg Lendeck". It has page after page using a scratchboard technique that forces him to double up on lines to emphasize their thickness against the darkness of those thin, dark lines that make up the comics' negative space. In terms of narrative, it's a bit related to immersive comics in that standard visual and narrative cues get warped and the reader is asked to adjust to this scratchy world and the way shapes are both very obviously drawings but also active, living characters, like a bird swooping down into the ocean to grab its prey changing into the sky above the ocean filling up with clouds and raining down on a man. This comic is about milestones (like the earth reaching the halfway point of its rotations) that go unnoticed, the dark secrets of the ocean and the hidden depth and complexity of its inhabitants. The figures here look as much like cave drawings as they do comics drawings, and that's an effect that seems to be deliberate.

Of greater interest as a work of cartooning is Mesomorph. It purports to be a parody of the Dan Clowes short story "Ectomorph", from Eightball #11. That latter story is a screed written by an over-the-top version of the sort of scrawny, spindly neurotic art student that rails against the dumb jocks and beautiful people of the world. Like most of Clowes' work of that period, it's satire largely rings true, but it's also quite self-deprecatory and at times self-loathing at its heart. Mesomorph takes the structure of that story and turns it on its head in autobiographical form, as Galambos has always had the physique of an athlete. That physique (and his plain form of dress) makes him stick out in art school, a place where the ectomorph is on solid ground. Galambos intersperses funny but also bitingly painful anecdotes about being misjudged on the basis of his appearance with these full-page, heroic renderings of himself in the nude drawn on onion-skin paper, as though he were the model, not the artist. These drawings are absolutely hilarious as well as being compelling as drawings. Galambos effortlessly slides forward in time from anecdote to anecdote, even coming face-to-face with the Clowesian character. The nature of their conflict is encapsulated when the ectomorph yells at Galambos about how awful it feels to be an adult and to be afraid that you might still get beaten up. Galambos retorts, "Nobody looks at you and thinks 'Uh-oh, I hope the big dummy doesn't punch me.'" It's an interesting frame of reference for someone looking to impress with his intelligence and sensitivity--though Galambos does quasi-jokingly note that "sure, I'm not hip, but I think I could take most of these guys."

His cartooning is outstanding here, using a sort of superdeformed character design with big heads on small bodies. Those forms are further accentuated by using a thick line for his character design and mixing cartoony with naturalistic styles. Just seeing his square-jawed, bespectacled self-caricature among hipsters, weirdos, weirdos and wannabees is amusing in and of itself, but it's Galambos' use of gesture that really draws the humor out of each situation, like in the last panel of the book when a student asks him how much he can bench. Wearing an artist's apron, he simply cocks his head, his shoulders shrugging and his arms spread wide, with a bemused smile on his face. His website seems to be down at the moment, but I'd urge readers to try to seek it out.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mini Anthologies: Candy or Medicine, Fuzy, Holy Shit

Candy or Medicine #16, edited by Josh Blair. Blair has been putting together this entry-level anthology that takes all comers for several years now, and the results have always been decidedly (and understandably) mixed. From beginning to end, #16 is the best issue of the anthology, with every entry worthy of attention. From the clever cover by Emi Gennis to single-page drawings by Andy Nukes and Robert Dayton, Blair manages to put together a wide variety of styles and storytelling approaches. Jim Gullet's story about a bounty hunter going after a lizard man has deliberate echoes of Gary Panter, and it's told with a touch of wit to go along with its grim reality. Nate McDonough's excellent, strange character designs add a lot of energy to his story of the ways in which a very tall man and very short man conflict on the street. Finally, Harry Nordlinger's story about a kid going into a forest filled with monsters has a certain Edward Gorey quality to it in the way he lists the various sorts of monsters that he might encounter. Like the other work in this comic, that strip has a lot of energy, even if the line is a bit thinner than some of the other strips.

Holy Shit, edited by Sean Knickerbocker, Katie Moody, Dakota McFadzean, and Amelia Onorato. There have been a number of attractive anthologies from the Center for Cartoon Studies over the years, but this is one of the best. From small details like the biblical appearance of the book with Gothic lettering, gold-leaf tipped pages and a ribbon bookmark to the stories themselves, this is an anthology that holds together at every conceptual level. As one might expect, the anthology centers around religion, with four different takes on belief. McFadzean's strip is a sort of shaggy-dog story about a schlubby older guy who goes through his morning routine, down to popping a zit and beating off in the shower. The final reveal as to his true significance was funny, even if the joke felt a little easy. His attention to detail was crucial for making the strip work. Knickerbocker relates an anecdote from his childhood where he was trying to fit in with a church youth group because he was so lonely and desperately wanted friends. The sinking feeling he experienced when he realized he was around crazy people shattered any number of belief systems, especially social ones.

The best story in the collection is Katie Moody's long explication of growing up Catholic and how she decided to reject her faith. Focusing on a childhood incident that festered until it became a source of constant guilt and anxiety, she overcompensated by trying to be perfect in order to combat that guilt. When she realized that she and the church no longer shared the same values, she left...but it wasn't easy. Her cartooning is extremely sharp and innovative here, with a lot of decorative lettering and unusual visual cues. Onorato's exploration of how religions evolve out of each other (framed as a discussion between her and a "cute" Jehovah's Witness), her take on the tragedy of the Children's Crusade and the wonder felt by the Western discoverers of Easter Island reveal an artist whose work isn't as personal as Moody's or Knickerbocker's, but do reveal a sharper satirical point of view than the other artists in this book. The fact that there isn't a unified approach or point of view regarding faith (other than deep suspicion) makes this a stronger anthology.

Fuzy, edited by Mark Thisse. This is a beard-related anthology consisting of stories contributed by members of the classes of 2007 and 2008 at CCS. Despite having such a silly premise, there's a surprisingly strong range of stories to be found here. Steve Seck's excellent sense of comic timing is on full display in "The Beard's Beard's Beard", an absurd story about a famous set of Hollywood facial hair who disguises his homosexuality by being married to a female beard, only to find out that his wife is having an affair with his boyfriend, who is in fact a female beard in disguise. This is every bit as silly as it sounds, but Seck manages to imbue his story with just enough pathos to give it some narrative weight. Baldemar Byars' "My Whiskery History, 1966-1967" is an account of the artist running headlong into facial hair and cultural expectations. This very funny set of anecdotes finds the artist called a Marxist by his family in Texas, but it's also assumed that he's ready to join up with bomb-throwing protest organization SDS. His drawing is a little on the cartoony side, and it's functional without standing out in any particular way.

Sango Imai-Hall contributes something rare for the average CCS graduate: a straight-ahead, sword-and-sorcery story, albeit one whose main character is a young woman with a red beard. Aaron Cockle adds his own version of a genre story, in which an imprisoned, broccoli-bearded man is visited by a man with a beard of bees. As with most Cockle stories, he alludes to events and scenarios that remain hidden, adding a level of intrigue to a story that has an unexpected punchline. Jeff Mumm's guinea pig comics are exquisitely drawn and jammed with sight gags, while Mark Thisse's comic about a magician who disappears his own beard, only to recover it when he least expects it. It's not an especially eye-catching story, both in terms of the drawings and the story. Still, there are a lot of gems from some artists whose work I've never seen before.