Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sequart Reprints: Nerd Burglar, Good Minnesotan 2-3

A couple of interesting mini-comics anthologies to ponder:

Nerd Burglar, published jointly by Tugboat Press, Teenage Dinosaur and Sparkplug Comic Books. This is a free anthology designed as a convention give-away for new readers by three like-minded small-press publishers. Containing the work of artists published by each of the publishers, it's an attractive mini with a variety of approaches. The standout here, as she was in the Awesome anthology, is Sarah Oleksyk. Her story "Fifteen Variations on 'The First Day We Met'" is not only a great concept, it also has a great punchline. The title says it all, as we view different variations on how a couple might have met, from childhood to doddering old age. What carries the piece is the way Oleksyk depicts and varies the body language of the characters from panel-to-panel, from intimacy to alienation and points in-between.

Elijah Brubaker's interpolation of a William Blake poem and his adaptation of a traditional ballad is typically clever and ambitious, while Chris Cilla and Jennifer Parks contribute stories with bizarre fantasy imagery. Aron Nels Steinke contributes mini-stories of self-reflection with his typically stripped-down, cartoony style. The major misstep in this anthology was Bobby Madness' ridiculously ham-handed political satire, though even that strip had a sort of admirable energy. The overall effect is like reading an especially eclectic issue of Papercutter, or the highlights of a longer anthology. While the variety of artistic and narrative approaches seems to be calculated, the overall effect is still take-it-or-leave-it. I'm not sure it would convert readers completely unfamiliar with art comics, but it might serve well to make potentially sympathetic or adventurous readers aware of these publishing concerns. For a reader already familiar with these publishers, Nerd Burglar is a pleasant little bonus.

Good Minnesotan #1 and #2. This is an anthology edited by Raighne & Meghan Hogan, and both issues have the air of raw talent and potential. Raighne in particular employs a heavy ink-wash technique that is highly stylized. The panel-to-panel transitions in his first story in #1, "Cookie" were at times murky and hard to follow, especially since he used a minimum of guiding dialogue. "Time Travel and Teddy Bears" was more focused but no less distinctive or aggressively experimental. Hogan loves light/dark contrasts, and there's one beautiful panel in particular where we see lightning crashing down on a village at night. The story flits back and forth in memory as a man recalls his relationship with his child's mother to her. Meghan Hogan's "Monkeys on the Bed" is similarly beautiful and stylish, but also suffers from some problems with clarity.

Issue #2 expands the anthology a bit, adding some new artists with different styles. "Back Pages", by Ed Moorman, takes on the legend of a very famous "good Minnesotan" in Bob Dylan. It's a clever story that projects a particularly aggressive interviewer with Dylan at his 1966 crossroads onto a flowing series of environments. That includes the Minnesota countryside as well as places mentioned in Dylan's lyrics, along with the iconic alley where he filmed a bit for "Subterranean Homesick Blues". It's a clever interpretation of Dylan's own words and relationship with the press. Meghan Hogan changes things around in this issue with two stories that employ a scribbly, sketchy style with a positive result. "Yard Work" in particular effectively conveys regret, resignation and new determination.

Several of the other newcomers made a splash in this issue. Joseph Nixon contributed a scribbly piece that combined what looked like sketches from life and graffiti-inspired art to depict a particular memory of a fire that he happened upon that temporarily inspired him to want to become a firefighter. Luke Holden employed a tiny 24-panels-a-page grid to create an effect that resembled animation cels as it did a comic to tell a story within a story of a yeti-like creature's journey. It reminds me a bit of some of Mat Brinkman's comics. Nic Breutzman teamed up with John Holden for "The Ripoff", a funny story about a man who loses a penile piercing in a very sensitive place, and the ramifications that provide the punchline.

This is a group of artists with an interesting and distinctive set of voices that's still working through their styles and influences. The Hogans in particular show a great deal of promise, bringing in influences to their work that are clearly outside the world of comics. The design and presentation of the anthology are already top-notch and striking. There's a good mix of storytelling styles and a palpable desire to experiment. That boldness is the anthology's greatest strength and what will carry it while its artists continue to refine their storytelling abilities, striking a balance between experimentation and clarity.

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