Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Minicomics Round-Up: Fisher, Young, Gullett, Viola

Time for a look at a variety of domestic minicomics that have come my way...

3-D Pete's Star Babe Invasion Comics #3, by Mike Fisher. This fanzine devoted to b-movies and the women who starred in them doesn't overstate the value of it subject matter nor is its devotion ironic. Fisher simply likes the sheer entertainment value of vintage b-movies and the beautiful women who starred in them, and writes clever and crisply drawn comics that celebrate this fact. "Queen of Outer Space is King of the B-Movies" is a tremendous appreciation of the awful titular film, as Fisher shares weird factoids about the movie (including Zsa Zsa Gabor's role in the film as a rebel). He correctly calls out the male roles in the film as being painfully stereotypical, but it's his sharp use of a boldly-defined line and evocative figures that make reading his comics a real pleasure. Fisher's own thoughts on fandom are equally cheerful, as the actor Marc Singer made him feel warm and welcome at a convention, even if Fisher's encounter with him was a bit weird. Anyone interested in the subject matter will delight in Fisher's observations and drawings.

Blacked Out #1, by Max Young. Young is the king of high-concept minicomics ideas. His last comic, Jetpack Shark, has an appeal that is self-explanatory. This comic is about a slightly douchey college kid prone to blackout drinking binges who learns that drinking alcohol gives him superpowers. Recruited by a grizzled man at a bar whose alcohol-based powers give him the ability to control smoke, the issue ends with the kid ready to be trained in how to use his powers in order to fight some unnamed menace. Young's art is fairly naturalistic with the odd tic of elongating his heads into "long faces", but it's clean and packed with details. The idea of a society of super-powered drunks is a very funny one, and Young milks the concept for all its worth. The comic is funny despite the fact that virtually every character is fratty and obnoxious, but then that's exactly the sort of culture that's going to produce young, super-powered drunks. I'll be curious to see how far he's going to take this story.

Air Ghost Illustrated #1 by Jim Gullett.  This is a continuation of the Gary Panter-influenced story that appeared in a recent issue of the anthology Candy or Medicine.Gullett's lightning-bolt headed, big-toothed character post-apocalpytic bounty hunter Ziff feels like a more stylized version of Panter's Jimbo character, though Gullett's overall visual approach is much cleaner and more straightforward than Panter's. In other words, Gullett may have taken inspiration from a certain kind of comics storytelling, but he fuses it with more conventional kind of genre narrative. Still, this book is interesting because of the intensity and detail of Gullett's drawings, which overpower the reader without sacrificing readability or flow. The story, such as it is, emphasizes action and conflict: the bounty hunter gets captured by a vengeance-seeking lizard man and gets back at him using a vital piece of technology. There's no question that this is a great-looking minicomic that, like the other comics examined in this column, are not ground-breaking or innovative but rather represent successful and skilled iterations of older formulas.

Herman the Manatee Has Had Enough (Volume 5), by Jason Viola. As Viola prepares to wind up this strip that's gone to some unexpected places considering that its premise involves the title character getting hit in the head repeatedly by boats, this latest volume features some of his sharpest cartooning and best gags. There's an extended riff about robbing baby seahorses from a seahorse "gated community" that has lines like "You know, reef today is ten times stronger than when we were kids". Rather than bogging down in extended continuity strips, Viola balances basic gags with shorter, punchier stories that land a lot of hits, mixing goofy gags with existential angst. While many of Viola's strips in this series haven't landed successful jokes, it's been a strong proving ground for him in producing clear, strong art that ably supports his premise and an opportunity to gain a certain rhythm as a cartoonist. There's no question that he's a much better cartoonist now than he was when he started the strip.

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