Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sequart Reprints: Short-Form Round-Up: Cahill, Davis, George, Gauld, Dinski

Time to dip into my mailbox and review some interesting new short-form comics that have come my way. It's always exciting to be exposed to the work of a promising young artist for the first time, and this was certainly the case for Christopher Davis' work. Each of the three minis, though quite different, clearly could all take place in the same world. The most introspective of the minis, "I Walk With My Wife In The Evening", still takes flights of often-disturbed fancy in the narrator's mind. The narrator starts off thinking about his wife as they take a walk, but his thoughts then drift to clouds "raining down something coarse and dirty". That leads him to think about some contagion being unleashed in a city, with the government putting up razor wire and quarantining his house, and giving him a body bag for his dead wife. His thoughts then drift to the apocalyptic novel On The Beach, where a group in Australia waits for the world to end after nuclear war. Back at home, he entertains the fantasy that time can't catch up to he and his wife. The sensitivity of Davis' pencils give his meditations some narrative weight, both in how they accent and contrast his musings.

"Why I Never Joined The Strawberry Resistance" stars our same narrator, but this time it's in a very strange world. Bananamen run the world, exploiting snowmen in menial jobs. Those characters, plus a parking robot giving out tickets, all come together in a huge collision. All of this takes place against a high-tension city protest by a group called The Strawberry Resistance. The comic has the tension of a Robert Altman movie with a fanciful twist. The surreal elements help leaven the political content of the strip, allowing for a pleasantly ambiguous ending. My favorite of Davis's minis was "No Buses. Chickens.", a comic that encapsulates Davis' output. A young man is at a bus stop in front of a mini-mall in a city. Waiting endlessly for a bus, he sees a group of chickens devour a young woman who had been sitting motionless on a bus bench. We don't know how he got there or where he's going, and he basically doesn't care-- "If the buses didn't come? Then I guess I didn't have to be anywhere, any time soon, anyway". The deadpan tone and realistic pencils are a perfect balance to the grim absurdity of the strip. Davis has a very interesting future as he decides what kind of stories he wants to tell. At the moment, he's more of a writer who draws than an artist who has fully integrated both skills. His chops are incredibly impressive for a newcomer, as is his sense of composition, but it would be interesting to see him do a story where he relies more on visuals than text.

Things come into focus with the second issue of This Is Still America, by George.  The reader begins to understand that the young boy who is the central character of the comic was sent to live with his vicious father because he was constantly getting into fights. His only dream is to be sent back to his mother. In this issue, his father sees him back down from a group of young toughs, and then slaps him around until he goes out to challenge them. The boy, knowing that he's breaking his word, goes back to those kids and proceeds to pummel each of them in turn--crying as he does so. The comic gets truly intriguing when we delve into the boy's fantasy life. We never see his father's face until one devastating sequence: the father burns the boy's possessions in the backyard and kills a snake with a 2-tined fork. When we finally see his face standing above the fire, he appears as the devil. The boy's dog urged him to leave at the end. Graphically, this comic is much like the first issue: spare and stylized. Something that I picked up on in this issue is the influence of video games on the comic's graphics. When the boy is playing Pac-Man, we later see him walking in the street and the view is directly from above like in a video game. Once again, George's vision is unique. The second issue seems to be leading us to the boy going off on a journey of some kind after leaving his father, but it'll be interesting to see where this story winds up. 

Will Dinski is a favorite of mine, and his two new minis did not disappoint. Endorsement of Smoking is a fold-out mini designed to look like a pack of cigarettes. Once unfolded, the back of the mini shows cigarettes. The front of the mini has a strip where a character discusses the nature of addiction. The payoff, both verbally and visually, is quite satisfying, though on a small scale. What I like most about it is that it couldn't possibly work in any other format than this mini. The payoff is clever, made moreso because of the format. Others, as described in the subtitle, is "two short stories about the disenchanted and solitary". The first story, "The Pressman", is a funny and clever account of a night worker at a newspaper. For fun, he enjoys going to other people's jobs and blending into the background. He watches a corporate scandal unfold and is also in the background at the police station where they uncover the scandal. It's unclear, but implied, if he has any role in the scandal unfolding. "Get Away From Me" is about crowds, and a bird's pontification thereon. After complaining about crowds of people, he desperately tries to join up with a crowd of birds. As always, Dinski's style is utilitarian and assured. His layouts and figures don't dazzle, but instead serve the story and composition. Like many talented minicomics artists, I'm curious to see what he could do with long-form stories.

One of the first reviews I did for this site was for Alex Cahill's The Last Island. His new project is a collaboration with writer Jad Ziade called Poison The Cure. It's hard to pin down exactly what genre this falls under, but perhaps it could be called political science-fiction. The issue I received was the first of four, and it looks like it'll take a couple of years to finish it, especially since this issue was a beefy 104 pages. This issue is almost entirely prologue and set-up, yet the story is a compelling one. We spend the first 16 pages looking at the day-to-day activities of a group of alien explorers of some kind. They're sent to examine an abandoned world and figure out what happened, with the aid of one of the crewmembers who is a professional telepath. He can relive the lives of others (referred to cleverly as being a sort of reality-TV) and finds the "life-trail" of the one telepathically-aware person on earth. In trying to find out what happened to this person at the end of their "life-trail", the alien nearly has his brain fried. Going back a bit in time, the story begins.
The story takes place on Earth at some unspecified time in the future. It's the sort of dystopia where there are shady corporate and government deals. A young man returns to what seems to be his family to find out that a woman has died who is close to them. It turns out they are in a country resembling Mexico and were trying to get information on a corporation dumping toxic waste, and the woman was murdered in the process of this investigation. Throughout the course of the issue, we wonder who it is who will become the telepath. By the end, this is made clear, as the saga truly begins. We know from the ruins we see at the beginning of the story that the telepath will end up in Washington, DC, and so the rest of the story will be about that journey. Poison The Cure reminds me a bit of Megan Kelso's Girlhero serial "Bottlecap". It's a futuristic story where politics is at its core. Even the character Mugshot is someone who could have come straight out of that story. The focus of Poison The Cure is a bit different, however--the political intrigue is secondary to the mystery of how we get to this sort of apocalyptic ending. Cahill's character design is lively and carries a story that must have been challenging to depict. Cahill's secret weapon is his use of black & white contrast. His artful use of this technique makes for a nice shortcut in depicting certain scenes, though there were some occasional close-ups that were unclear and required a lot of time to decipher. That hurt the story's flow a bit, but happily those panels were few and far between. There's a long way to go in this story before it can be fully evaluated, but this is certainly an interesting start.

Lastly, there's this offering from the only "major" publisher in the group, Buenaventura Press. It's Hunter and Painter by the very droll Tom Gauld. The story is just 18 pages, long enough to set up a great gag. In a primitive culture (drawn in Gauld's spare but expressive style), an artist is expected to come up with his next great masterpiece, depicting the latest hunting conquest. He's stumped trying to find something inspiring for his next painting, but knows that all of the big conquests have been done. He hits on doing a painting of the women harvesting mushrooms, which gets him driven out of the village. A hunter who's a friend of the painter seeks him out, and they make a discovery that not only resolves that story, but provides the punchline for the story. Gauld's deadpan style makes him one of the most underrated humorists working today, and his strips are always a highlight of whatever anthology he happens to be a part of (most notably Kramer's Ergot).

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