Thursday, February 14, 2013

Catching Up With Conundrum

Let's look at a few more recent publications from the fine Canadian publisher Conundrum.

The Blaring House, by Claire Seringhaus.This is a book of densely-detailed (think early Drew Friedman), naturalistic and completely absurd gags and borderline dada drawings. As back-cover blurber Joe Ollmann notes, there's bits of Edward Gorey and Terry Gilliam to be found in these drawings, though unlike those artists there's no attempt at a sequential narrative. Ollmann's more on target in comparing Seringhaus to Glen Baxter, both in terms of the drawing style (that stiff, old-fashioned illustration approach that Michael Kupperman also employs so well) and the single-panel design of her gags. Unlike Baxter, Seringhaus frequently goes much farther into absurdity, with images that lack a coherent punchline and are simply, profoundly odd. One can sense that these are the sort of drawings that the artist felt compelled to draw strictly for her own amusement--ideas that more-or-less escaped from her brain and out through her pen. Her naturalistic style makes these images sort of the mirror image of Sam Henderson, an artist who frequently uses similiar sorts of genuinely strange anti-humor, only with deliberately crude (but clear drawings). The antiquated feel of Seringhaus' drawing style combined with captions that sometimes comment on the image nonsensically and sometimes directly sell the gag (just like Henderson) creates a reading experience that makes each subsequent image funnier. There's an additive effect where one eventually begins to enter Seringhaus' headspace, and that is an odd feeling indeed.

Britt Wilson's Greatest Book On Earth, by Britt Wilson. This is a collection of funny and frequently delightfully filthy vignettes. Wilson is a talented draftsman who makes an easy transition between naturalistic and iconic styles of art with great ease, often mixing the two. Her cartoonier work reminds me a bit of Kyle Baker. While she draws funny pictures with great ease, her actual gag construction is a little shaky at times. Some of her comics feel like inside jokes while others sometimes have jumbled storytelling. Her Viking comics in particular sometimes felt like the reader needed to be familiar with the original source material to really understand what was going on. Still, the strip where she and a friend had to negotiate a peril-filled park on the way to celebrating Canada Day (one of my strips in this book involving scat and/or fart humor) and the story where her boyfriend falls into a hole and has to fight dinosaurs have an incredibly manic energy that's highlighted by her rubbery, expressive line. Wilson's sheer enthusiasm for drawing is such that she's sometimes a little too all over the place; a little tightening-up of the gags here and there would serve to give her work a more lasting impact.

Unspent Love, by Shannon Gerard. This is a lovely comics-as-poetry collection that's a series of vignettes that are related in an emotional sense though not a narrative one. The book's subtitle is "Things I Wish I Told You", and that's the unifying theme in this series of ruminations accompanied by pen-and-ink drawings. Gerard employs a clear, crisp and distinct line in depicting her figures moving across the page. These are not comics per se, in that they don't depict time moving forward in a conventional sense. Rather, they are more like small bursts of visual memories, like flipping through a set of snapshots from a memorable day. Gerard is a spare, evocative poet, hitting heavily on details that ground her emotions in what feel like real events. Whether or not the events in the book are autobiographical is less important than how real the sentiments feel, and so very many of them are heartbreaking. They tend to break down into drawings of men, drawings of women or drawings of both. The text sometimes directly comments on the images, and at other times is juxtaposed in opposition to it. One such strip involves happy scenes from a young couple's wedding, set against text that talks about how and why the marriage dissolved. Mostly, Unspent Love is a catalog of 20/20 hindsight and regrets ameliorated by way of confession and retrospective praise. It's a testament to both the power and fragility of love.

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