Monday, May 20, 2013

Pondering the End: Puppyteeth Volume 3

The third volume of Puppyteeth represented a big step up in terms of both format and the quality of the contributions. Every cartoonist takes maximum advantage of being able to use color, and as a result every story looks great without going too over the top into slickness. I also liked that there wasn't an explicit theme stated anywhere, but the contributors nonetheless submitted stories that dealt with issues related to death, mortality and legacy. Matt Czap's opener is a bright bit of silliness, wherein a narrator starts babbling about a story featuring a group of entirely unconnected characters. The foreward (sic) by Dan Tallarico strains really hard to try to advance its shtick and falls well short of being funny. Jory Griffis' parody of the TV show Pawn Stars is another bit of silliness that led me to believe that this anthology would be all dumb goofery, all the time.

Things pick up a bit with stories from Eric Kubli, Brandon B and Jessi Zabarsky. Their art is all of the "cute" variety, with a clear line, bright colors and strong animation influence. Kubli's story is about two kids who find a cel phone that turns out was misplaced by the Grim Reaper. It's a funny story that grows increasingly dark until they walk away from it. Brandon B's story was one of the best in the entire volume; it extrapolates a horrible cyst/boil he had on his leg and turns into a voraciously hungry and evil supernatural entity. The scene where his doctor tells him "Your leg is haunted" was one of the best beats in the whole book, and the slight flatness of his line works nicely. Zabarksy's mostly silent story involves the main character (of whom we strangely get a lot of panty shots) opening up a door in her apartment to find a flattering supernatural presence that later becomes more menacing when she steps all the way through. The transition from the cool, metallic blue in the early part of the story to the garish and disgusting extradimensional room is the best part of this mostly one-joke story.

Just as the anthology seems like it's going to be just a succession of gags, things go in a different direction. Liz Valasco contributes a genuinely strange strip done in a thin and wavering line with a subtle color wash. It's about this tiny figure who confesses to his host that he ate her cat in one bite. There's no set-up or explanation, other than the figure revealing at the end that he's some kind of avatar of death (his eyes read "you are next"), albeit one who speaks in a halting and slightly nagging vernacular. Alex Martin's strip is a pixelated series of color patterns combined with some word balloons from old Marvel comics.  The pixels get bigger from page to page until they become blocks of color, given context solely because of the word balloons. The story after that features more abstract work by L.Nichols, as she addresses the concept of entropy by starting with a photograph and slowly breaking it down into fractal patterns. This is a very effective piece of comics-as-poetry, as her connections between chaos and order cleverly play themselves out in the images she chose to use. Kevin Czap's collage/paint/comics piece "Nude Heaven" is another visual stunner, a witty piece about chasing utopia that fairly uses doodles and scribbles almost as a kind of graffiti on top of the other images.

Niki Smith's "Your Hair" is about the death-throes of a relationship done in an elegant, slightly scratchy pen-and-ink style with a russet and olive color wash. Hair is the metaphor for both connection and dissolution, as a planned haircut is a sort of death-knell. Pieces by Keith Pakiz, Mandy Sampson and Cherry Au are all visually striking but not especially memorable as narratives. Au's piece is the stereotypical "artist who doesn't know what to draw and procrastinates" non-story, redeemed by the fact that she's an excellent artist. Pakiz' story is a silly one about a World War I flying ace, while Sampson's details a childhood memory. The real stand-out piece in the back of the book is Liz Suburbia's homage to Joan of Arc as a kind of punk rock figure. This is a beautiful, funny and apt framing of the famous martyr that combines stained-glass framing and iconography with comics technique and the quintessential punk attitude. She really has become a major talent and her work really shines in color. Overall, this is a solid anthology that ranges from good to very good, with a couple of excellent pieces that stand out. As a showcase for a particular group of cartoonists, it's an impressive sign that they are committed to getting better in public.

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