Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Telling a Story: Baddeley, Brown, Jackson, Skelly

Silent V #7, by Kyle Baddeley. This trippy sci-fi/fantasy/monster series has been the equivalent of a comics MFA for Baddeley, whose draftsmanship has tightened up and whose storytelling has become much more fluid. From designing pages to understanding how to fill particular panels, Baddeley is a far more assured artist. I'm not going to attempt to connect the finale of his time and space spanning story of robots, monsters, babies, space gods, monks and cults to the rest of the series. Suffice it to say that the hero of the story makes it back to Earth after a pit stop at a space burger, only to ultimately be left out in the cold. Baddeley's crazy imagination makes him one to watch; keep an eye on his new collaboration with Rob Jackson titled LetterBomb.

California #3 and #4, by Rob Jackson. The final two chapters of Jackson's Steinbeck-meets-Lovecraft mash-up are every bit as crazy as the first two installments, yet both are held firmly in check by Jackson's mastery over plotting and fine details. After everyone disappears after his sinister preacher brother's machinations, Billy (the hero of the story) tears out of there to get some help. He's lucky in that his old boss knows some Wise Folk who set him on the path to save his family from their mysterious fate. Things get really weird after that, as a ritual turns Billy into a head floating across the dimensions until he finds his house, and he must rescue everyone while dodging a monster and an evil intelligence. Just when it seems the story has reached its end, Jackson turns the craziness up another ten notches and injects some genuine suspense into the story as Billy desperately tries to find a way to stop the evil intelligence that threatens his town. Jackson really delights in drawing wriggly, disgusting and slightly absurd monsters, and this comic is a special treat as he goes all-out in #4 in depicting the final battle. This may be his most cohesive story yet.

Memorexia, by Box Brown. This is a short, powerful comic about a man going to a clinic in order to recover some especially painful memories from a futuristic machine. All throughout the story, it's emphazed that he can feel the memory but can't actually alter it. The result is a wistful and sweet story with a twist ending that feels earned. The use of techniques like zip-a-tone, diagrams and a rendering style that's simplified with the exception of its character designs make the comic all the more effective, as the reader slowly begins to learn that all the the technological mumbo-jumbo is just a smokescreen for a quietly and effectively portrayed moment between a father and a son. Brown contrasts red and blue throughout the story to add to the sense that one is reading a simple diagram or map of some kind, one of many contrasts found in the story. The difficulty of his relationship with his father is contrasted against the way their relationship ended, so even abusive language by the father is met with a smile. It also points to the way our minds try to create their own narrative, even in the face of memories to the contrary. This is one of many stories by Brown that I've read that have characters with abrasive exteriors that are nonetheless loving and beloved in turn.

Operation: Margarine #1, by Katie Skelly. This is the opening chapter in a stylish caper series about a rich young runaway named Margarine who gets mixed up with a rough and tumble hellraiser named Bon-Bon. After figuring out her strengths and weaknesses as a cartoonist with Nurse Nurse, one can really see Skelly's strengths on full display here. Her characters have a mod, stylish quality to them, lending a pulpy and delightfully affected feel to the adventures and interactions of the main characters. It feels like a movie or a story even as it's being told in a straightforward fashion. Skelly is just great at drawing interesting clothes, styluzed character poses and mannered yet entirely believable character poses. The way she draws huge and expressive eyes is a particular draw, especially because they are never cute. Rather, Bon-Bon's big almond eyes have a vague hint of menace, while Margarine's rounder eyes express a wide variety of emotions, allowing her to act as the in for the reader. The story itself just gets off the ground in this issue with a minimum of fuss: Margarine skips out on a mental institution but gets ratted out by a guy she thought was helping him. When she confronts him and things go south, Bon-Bon steps in and punches him out, leading to the pair escaping on a motorcycle. I'm looking forward to seeing what Skelly does with this sort of runaway set of tropes in terms of characterization; I'm sure it will carry her usual sense of style in terms of the drawings.

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