Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Minicomics: Morgan Pielli, Andy Warner, Sean Collins/Colleen Frakes

This minicomics round-up focuses on the end of the world, paranoia and dread.

The Creeping Things, by Andy Warner. Warner is a talented young cartoonist who's especially adept at drawing children and their concerns. This story is about two young brothers after they've moved to a new town. The older brother is consumed by his own fantasy life in the face of being unable to cope with the world shoves his way. The younger brother is far more happy-go-lucky but worships his brother, which means that he's swept up in that fantasy world as well. This comic is heavy on atmosphere and the older brother's constant (and frequently justified) feeling of dread; he channels events such as being beaten up on the playground into a monster tracking him and his brother, with only a "fortress" they have built protecting them. That fortress, a pile of rocks they build out in the forest near their house, proves to be crucial in the story's climax. The older brother constantly tells his younger brother to "be brave", despite (or because of, really) his own cowardice. That cowardice leads to the tragic events at the end of the book, which finally lead the older brother to cry for help. Whether or not help actually comes is beside the point of the story, because this is about the danger of using others to mediate your own fears.

Indestructible Universe Quarterly #9, by Morgan Pielli. This is another compelling issue of Pielli's one-man horror anthology, one that was recently collected in a volume that reprints the first nine issues of the series. Pielli has a strong sense of design and an understanding of how those choices affect mood. "Benson, Arizona" is a multi-media project of sorts, taking the lyrics of a song and expanding them into a story about an astronaut allowed only one visit with his earthbound lover, now old and gray after he first left on his trip. While the actual lyrics are on the mawkish side, Pielli counters that with sober, striking images (like his lover's picture on a pack of cigarettes) and blunt character design (like thick, rectangular eyebrows and a bushy beard). "City of Crowns" is fascinating in its mythology regarding royalty and the redistribution of wealth, though it suffers a bit from cramped imagery. I would have liked to have seen the simple design of the first story or else a bigger format. "Quantum" and "Dreams of Suicide" are thematically related and raw stories. The latter may be a personal anecdote where someone wakes up relieved that their mother's suicide was real, that she hadn't faked her death and put him in a position where he'd have to deal with her death all over again. It's a brutal, grim and absolutely honest expression of feeling. The former story is about a provocateur who murders quantum versions of himself but nudging them toward suicide, a sick pastime that comes with the nagging feeling that his "superior" will one day order him to do the same. Pielli still has some rough edges to take off his visual approach, but there's no question that he's a compelling storyteller.

Here At The End Of All Things, by Sean T Collins and Colleen Frakes. This is a collaboration between one of my fellow critics at and a favorite CCS cartoonist in Frakes. As a writer, Collins likes to stretch out genre concerns with regard to horror and examine particular angles. This story is about the apocalypse in the form of deadly vegetation that's creeping all around the world, told through the eyes of a man just trying to get home to his love. The tone is reminiscent of a Zak Sally comic, with single panel images narrated by big block text at the bottom (sort of like some stories from Sally's Recidivist). Frakes' brush is all about big, bold strokes and thick black lines with cartoony figures, and it was interesting to see her work in such a directly visceral style. There's usually more restraint in her stories, but Collins needed her to work more broadly and it worked. Collins offers the reader a sliver of hope at the end, but it's implied that it's only a sliver. I'd be interested in seeing this duo work together again.

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