Friday, October 4, 2013

Minicomics: Burkert/Rhodes, Paine, Bongiovanni, R.Jordan, Van Sciver

Too Many Nitrous and 2 Many Nitrous, by Billy Burkert and Samuel Rhodes. These sillly and entertaining comics are very loosely based on the silly and entertaining Fast and the Furious movies. The Vin Diesel character is reimagined as a former fat kid who only takes up bodybuilding and driving as a way of getting revenge on a masked driver who destroyed his favorite fast-food joint. The comic is at its best when making fun of the ridiculous "street" lingo from the films as well as the nonsensical gearhead content relating to cars and add-ons. That latter element appears especially ridiculous as the cars are all drawn with what looks like a primitive drawing program, making the racing scenes ridiculous instead of exciting. The figures are cartoony and exaggerated, with dark, bulbous noses and rubbery faces that mimic the smirks and mugging found in the acting styles of the movies. There are absurd sub-plots (like one friend of protagonist Dom [the Vin Diesel character from the movies] going off to find ghostly racing apparel worn by his father), over-the-top slang ("Streets is up!") and other such nonsense. Fans of the films will likely enjoy the gentle pokes the comics aim in their direction, though others may be utterly baffled.

Alamo Value Plus #1, by Rusty Jordan. This is a new series by Jordan, who seems fascinated by mutating the world of low-value retail into bizarre, improbable adventures. This one features recurring Jordan character Duane and a ridiculous character named Baldemar Pretzeldorf, who recounts a harrowing tale of escaping from the Nazis with his mother while on break. Jordan's rubbery character design employs nice, fat, rounded lines and exaggerated character poses. The effect matches realistic storytelling with highly cartoony figures, not unlike a Skip Williamson drawing. Jordan actually makes the action sequence quite compelling, especially when contrasted with the adult Baldemar's bombastic speaking style ("That's the smell of another wonderful day in variety retail!") and the younger Baldemar's slang that's informed by Arnold Schwarzeneggar-style quips. This issue is packed with crazy events, yet it's really just a set-up issue. Jordan has a way of stopping on a dime and escalating the lunacy of his stories, so I'm curious as to just how demented the second issue will be, when Baldemar is confronted by his old Nazi nemesis.

Selfie, by Anna Bongiovanni. Bongiovanni's comics tend to trade in dark themes and wilderness settings, exposing the raw nerves of emotion and experience. This hilarious mini couldn't be any more different from those comics, even as it pokes at loneliness and awkwardness. The comic features a couple of friends named Riley and Sam; both are lonely and having trouble finding company in different ways. Sam is a straight woman who isn't being helped much by her flatmate Riley, an out 'n proud lesbian who is a self-described "creeper". Rather than being told in Bongiovanni's usual dense, cross-hatched style, this story is instead done in red ink with occasional yellow zip-a-tone effects and drawn in a loose, scribbly style. The only other visual effect is that whenever someone uses a phone to take a picture (like one of the titular "selfies"), an actual b&w photograph is used on the page. Whether or not that's meant to suggest that this story is loosely autobiographical or not is beside the point, because the arc of the story, featuring Riley as someone who's both swaggeringly confident and relentlessly insecure about herself, leads to some sharply-designed comedic sequences. Indeed, Riley takes a picture of a girl she instantly crushes on from afar, then winds up drunkenly running over her with her bicycle. Bongiovanni captures the desperate need for affection along with the genuinely funny tension between friends Sam and Riley, a pair that's gone far beyond the ability to truly offend the other. Bongiovanni is truly on a roll this year, and this mini is proof that she can tell any kind of story.

Kit and Luisa Stories, by Virginia Paine. This mini features three stories about a couple of teens who have a tenuous sexual and romantic relationship. Kit is a taciturn, hoodie-sporting young woman who has a serious crush on Luisa, a religious girl who nonetheless feels compelled to put Kit's affections on a string by sending her mixed messages. Paine seems to have done a lot of thinking about these two characters and knows them inside and out, which allows her to be restrained about what she chooses to show. There's a lot of deep, churning emotions and a powerful but enervating tension between Kit and Luisa, a tension that drives Kit to walk away at the end of the book even as Luisa once again is unable and unwilling to safely navigate the waters between friendship and flirtation. Paine heightens this tension by subtly introducing fantasy elements, like Luisa's ability to control fire and Kit's bizarre job involving a demented potato room. Paine's greatest asset as a drawer is her ability to zoom in and subtly depict emotions; she's on shakier ground when she tries to show dance club scenes and other, wider environments. Still, Paine's clearly hit on something here, and I look forward to seeing this story evolve as a webcomic in the future.

Saint Cole Part One, by Noah Van Sciver. This is a collection of the first 46 pages of Van Sciver's strip on his website, The Expositor. It's a typically bleak, hilarious account of a loser in over his head. In this story, a waiter named Joe has to work crazy shifts as a waiter to barely support his girlfriend and infant son. Like many of Van Sciver's characters, he is slowly undone by his own actions (boozing on the job, fantasizing about screwing a co-worker's 17 year old sister) as well as others (his hilariously shiftless, profane mother-in-law who forces her way into living with them). There's a level of grungy authenticity that's almost poetic in how Van Sciver creates a character who is unlikable yet entirely sympathetic. I can't wait to see where this one goes.

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