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.

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