Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Minicomics Adaptations: Choy, Gamboa, Stripling

Three intriguing minis this time around, all of which use the language of comics to adapt works of literature.

The Book of Job #1, by Scott Stripling. The artist was new to me, and there's no contact information in the comic. From the way that the book's panels were hand-drawn and out of alignment to the sketchy nature of his line, this comic feels like a sketchbook job done by a beginner. Nonetheless, Stripling packs a lot of interesting detail into this slightly modernized retelling of the biblical story of a virtuous man named Job who is beset by all manner of woes by God as a test of faith, though God is egged on by the Devil. What's interesting about this version is that God appears to be more of a concerned bystander who reacts with alarm to Job's woes but is seemingly powerless to stop him from losing all he has or to prevent his wife from running off with the pool boy. Job dies and goes to hell, but then emerges to much worse: a real accounting of his sins. Stripling implies that the supernatural force judging him is his own consciousness, or perhaps a part of him related to a sort of superconsciousness. The end of this issue sees Job struggling to figure out what questions to ask, and the result is something closer to Zen Buddhism than traditional Western ideas, though mixed with a carnival barker's patter. This is an odd little comic that's a big jumbled and disorganized, as though the ideas and images came faster than the artist could record them, but I'd be curious to see more.

Ed Choy Draws James Joyce, by Ed Choy. Choy is one of my favorite young artists but still seems to be slowly experimenting in public as he refines his chops and his style. Choy obviously takes great delight in exploring just how vulgar and scatological the great Joyce was, as his stream-of-consciousness writing frequently zeroed in on sexual obsession. Here, Choy chooses to tackle a couple of Joyce's more conventional works ("Araby" from Dubliners, and an excerpt from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), while teasing out some anecdotes from Joyce's life on the cover.  I could have read an entire comic's worth of these hilarious three and four panel strips, as Choy really plugs them into the language of comics. In "7 Words", for example, when Joyce delivers the punchline that he doesn't know what order the seven words he wrote that day go in, the person he's talking to does an old-fashioned plop take. It's all fun and games, but Choy also gets at something here, even in the hilarious four-panel strip where Joyce writes a love letter and talks about how much he loves his girlfriend's farts. He gets at the total immediacy, that total indulgence in the id that Joyce represents and that is quite familiar to an alternative/underground cartoonist.
The short stories look beautiful (this was printed on a risograph and really make the dark blue and pink hues he selected pop on every page) and flatter Choy's line and figure drawing, which is becoming ever-more assured. "Araby" sees a young man with a crush on a woman come to terms with the unreality of his desires, and it's a rather conventional adaptation. His excerpt from Portrait is more interesting, using a fuzzy zip-a-tone effect to create a dreamy atmosphere that befits the story lingering on school days. All told, Choy continues to push himself formally and experiment in new and interesting ways as he explores culture and finds new ways to interpret it. I like how deliberately he's working through his ideas, though I'd love to see him become more prolific as he gets better in public.

Miss Lonelyhearts #1, by Gabrielle Gamboa. Gamboa is a familiar name to alt-comics fans from the 90s, and she's returned to doing comics after a nearly eight-year absence. This Kickstarter-funded comic is an adaptation of the Nathanael West novel from the 1930s, and Gamboa uses a number of interesting visual tricks to add a vein of pitch-black humor to the grim nature of this story. A young man is given the task of writing the "Miss Lonelyhearts" column for a newspaper in the 1930s. These sequences in the book are drawn in a grey-scaled, naturalistic manner, echoing the somber nature of the story. While trying to figure out which letters he should chose for response so as to beat a deadline, the young man reads three tales of woe, each more brutal than the next. The twist that Gamboa provides is illustrating each of the three letters in the style of a different comic strip artist. The sad story of a Catholic woman whose unfeeling husband keeps getting her pregnant despite a very serious health risk is drawn as Popeye and Olive Oyl. The letter from a teenaged girl pondering suicide because of her deformed nose is done in the style of Little Orphan Annie. Finally, the story of a teenaged boy worrying about his deaf-mute sister's well-being after she was raped while enduring an abusive mother is done as the duo were Nancy and Sluggo.
Gamboa is not a style mimic a la R.Sikoryak or Roger Langridge, but she gets her point across with these visual approximations. The fact that they aren't exact reproductions actually works in her favor, allowing her to go a little more grotesque, like an image of the "Popeye" character looming with a disgusting leer on his face as he has sex with "Olive". Another example is the touch of pathos she adds to "Nancy" and "Sluggo", making them feel more real than the impenetrable Ernie Bushmiller originals. It's a bit of a gimmick to be sure, but one that works within the context of the story as West's prose is truly bleak, as his protagonist faces the most desperate of pleas for help. The fact that the protagonist's boss comes along and dictates a heap of platitudes for him to expand upon makes his task all the more grim. I'll be curious to see where Gamboa takes this series visually as she continues to adapt the novel.


  1. Thank you for the review of Book of is indeed a sketch book comic that I never really intended to do anything with...the response I got posting pages on my Facebook page gave me the confidence to publish it...there are four more Book of Job's ready to go so Facebook page is probably the best way to check out more of my work right now, about to get a website up once I get some decent pictures of my paintings though...
    Thanks again!
    Scott Stripling

  2. Thank you for the insightful review, Rob! Nathanael West once said that as he was writing Miss Lonelyhearts, he envisioned it as a comic strip. I felt like that gave me permission to just run with it. I’m really enjoying the challenge of the adaptation, but I urge anyone who hasn’t read the original novel to go and read it tout de suite. In the process of adaptation, I’ve had to jettison some of the most beautiful prose, but unfortunately that is what you have to do to create something new instead of just an “illustrated novel.” I'm working on #2 right now.