Friday, October 25, 2013

Adventure Comics: Lindner, Cartozia Tales, Von Gieson

The Black Feather Falls, by Ellen Lindner. This period whodunnit is a perfect fit for Lindner's distinctive visual style. Set in 1920s London, the story follows an expat American named Tina Swift who sees a body covered up by police in front of her workplace. When certain things about the behavior of the police and a weird clue (a black feather falling out of a bible with a missing page) pop up, she enlists the aid of a woman at a newspaper, whose boss also turns up missing under similarly mysterious circumstances.  Lindner cleverly has her heroines navigating sexism as a barrier as great as the mystery itself, with Swift seeking help from unconventional sources, many of them scandalous. Lindner is totally in her element here, clearly having a ball drawing fancy period clothes and splashing her pages with orange, yellow and lavender.The brightness of these colors adds a highly refined sense of stylization and elegance to this murder mystery, making it feel very much like a sophisticated story rather than something "real", yet Lindner is careful to ground her characters in humanizing detail. The result is a delightful balance between a tightly-plotted and paced mystery and a colorful character-oriented narrative.

Cartozia Tales #2, edited by Isaac Cates. The second issue doesn't quite have the same level of aesthetic appeal in terms of its guest stars as the first (replacing Jon Lewis and Dylan Horrocks with James Kochalka and Adam Koford was a step down), but seeing the characters and settings rotate over to a new set of artists was fascinating. Indeed, it's in keeping with the very mission of the comic, which will see characters pop in and out depending on what area of the map the artist in question chooses to focus on. The interesting result, as editor Cates points out, is seeing what essential elements of each character remain after being handed to different artists with greatly differing styles. One thing I greatly enjoyed was seeing a number of different formal tricks in use, which makes sense given that the whole series is essentially one big formal trick. The biggest trick of all is making the contents enjoyable as stories first and experiments second, something that Cates (and artist partner Mike Wenthe) cut their teeth on for years in their Satisfactory Comics series. Beckie Gautreau and Sarah Becan, in their story about "Upside-Town", tell the entire story upside-down, because that's how physics works in the magical city. However, the word balloons are right-side-up because that's how they want the story to be read. A good example of issue-to-issue continuity is Tom Motley taking the storytelling crow from the first issue and actually expanding a panel from the first issue into a larger panel that reveals a brand new context. It's a clever move that also expands upon the overall narrative. The two MVPs of the issue are Shawn Cheng, thanks to his delicate linework and imaginative, lush design; and Lupi McGinty, whose playful and cartoony style is a perfect match for the robot and the scullery girl we met in the previous issue. Of course, the issue in general is packed with extras, like paper dolls, pin-ups, etc. I'm delighted to report that Cates met his Kickstarter goal, because he has the potential to publish a truly memorable all-ages series that works for a number of audiences.

Eel Mansions #2 and #3, by Derek Von Gieson. These comics just get crazier and crazier. There's so much going on and Von Gieson is so restless in racing from storyline to storyline that these comics fairly vibrate with energy. In some respects, this comic is like if Dylan Horrocks' Hicksville had thrown in a supernatural conspiracy plot in on top of the larger story of a critic trying to get at a cartoonist's working process. Indeed, much of the second issue is devoted to an interview between a critic and cartoonist Janet Planet, criticizing her recent work (the hilarious named Doomin, which is a cross between Tove Jannson and Simon Hanselman's comics) and telling her to get back to her long-running series. We see pages of her comics (as well as her friend's) interspersed between pages of the actual narrative.One of her characters is even an autobiographical cartoonist, and we see her work as well! Inbetween those long meta sequences, we see bits and pieces of the queen of the lizard men, a retired mystic brought back in for a big case with the tempting thought that his family might be alive, a couple of weird children wander around, a rookie government agent is given his occult indoctrination, and other crazy stuff. Von Gieson's work crackles with excitement, as the pages look like they're simply flowing from his pen. One almost senses that like his comics writer stand-in, this series gives him a chance to draw whatever the hell he wants on a page-by-page basis. He gets to switch between his typical, brushy style to a something more cartoony, then something denser and harsher when he feels like drawing monsters. All of these stories fit together and even overlap at points, and I imagine he'll continue to draw those narrative strings closer together in future issues.

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