Monday, October 14, 2013

Minicomics: Seitchik, Farrell, Skelly, Dinski, Taylor

Brendon and Going Rate, by Greg Farrell. There's no question that these comics are a major step forward for Ferrell. His Yo Burbalino comics had amusing moments, as it was clear that he was a good storyteller with no end of interesting anecdotes to share, but the stories felt rushed and the execution underworked. He also relied on the cheap joke and shock because they were both easy. With Brendon, a story obviously based partly on his own experiences (though it's explicitly noted as a work of fiction), Farrell retains the crude charms of his previous comics with a far greater sense of restraint and subtlety. This is a really sharp story that has a knowing sense of just how pre-teen boys relate to each other. The story revolves around a porn mag that "Greg" trades with the titular Brendon, a Hispanic kid who's become his best friend. Farrell homes in on the frequently homoerotic relationship young boys have with each other, even as there's a hyperawareness about not really being gay. That extends as far as actually performing sexual acts on each other as a sort of way of less expressing real attraction and more as a way of using their bodies. Farrell also relates tales of cruelty, betrayal and confusion, creating a book that is light on nostalgia and heavy on lives as they were lived, warts and all. Farrell keeps his line simple and utilitarian, rarely varying line weight or using many effects. Instead of using a grid, Farrell has an open page layout, which works because of the way memories and experiences bleed into each other.
While Brendon was Farrell's best effort to date, a look at his short story collection, Going Rate, reveals that this change didn't happen in a vacuum. "White Whale" is an interesting account of Farrell's obsession with one particular missing hip-hop album from his collection, and how he feel actually he after acquires it. "Jumbo Jockey" is about the B&H lunch counter in Manhattan, and Farrell does a great job capturing the essence of the place, the kind of food they serve and the sorts of people who eat there. "420" starts out as what seems to be another tedious story about someone's personal drug habits but turns into a story about personal responsibility and being a role model, all without taking on any kind of faux-moral tone. "I Am The Son Of A Small Business Owner" talks about the realities of the internet and corporations destroying small businesses and talks about the only way a small business can survive is to provide knowledgeable and personable customer service for those who happen upon their store. There are other, more-hastily drawn stories in the book, and while they're appropriately expressive, Farrell's line is too loose in those stories.

Children of Divorce and Still Life #1, by Daryl Seitchik. Seitchik is one of my favorite young cartoonists, and she flexes some different aspects of her talents in these two minis. Still Life has strips in the vein of her recent comic Sub: meditations that dip into magical realism and stream of consciousness thinking. Seitchik uses a very simple, fluid line in relaying stories about wanting to be a ghost (and how she suddenly realized that she had become one after getting high), hilariously overreacting to her toe going numb while watching a show in bed, and flashing back to remembering the sound of an ocean she heard in a beloved sea shell while using it as an ashtray while listening to music now. The way Seitchik draws herself as tiny goes beyond simply being short, as exemplified in the strip "Dinner With An Adult", where she draws herself as just a few inches tall, sitting in a gigantic chair opposite someone asking her if she's depressed and where she sees herself in ten years. These are comics about drifting, about the feeling of being betwixt and between. Fortunately for the reader, they are stylishly drawn and quite funny. The strip where the internet gives her possibilities for why her toe is numb is amusingly drawn, as she conflates "inflamed" with "enflamed" and draws herself on fire. In other strips, the way she spots blacks to create dramatic negative space is striking.

Children of Divorce is not quite as assured in terms of the drawing, but Seitchik displays some skill in the ways in which children act cruelly toward each other. The physical version of this comic is in black and white, which actually wound up flattering her character design a bit more than the way she used color online. The main character fancies herself a witch, giving out fortunes. While she's the lead, she's far from sympathetic, as she's jealous of her best friend giving attention to "Medusa", a girl with a lazy eye who is nonetheless one of the popular kids. I loved the way Seitchik drew thin, flailing limbs and skinny legs looping around. Best of all are her exaggerated faces with contortions worthy of Peter Bagge in some panels and subtle, tiny lines that nonetheless are packed with emotion in others. Seitchik will have a comic out with Oily Comics soon, and I imagine she will shine in that format, especially since she seems comfortable with her style and storytelling abilities. I'm interested in seeing what kinds of stories she'll tell from here.

Operation Margarine #2, #3, by Katie Skelly. Skelly seems really at home in this mod-inflected road story about two women whose paths cross in interesting ways. The first issue set things up for Margarine, a rich girl frequently kept in a mental institution by her mother, and Bon-Bon a tough girl on a motorcycle who simply punches out a guy who hassles her after selling her out. These issues set up what Skelly really wants to do: draw images of the open road, introduce mysterious guys with scars and stylish women with different-colored eyes to hassle them. There are motorcycle and arms dealers in the middle of the desert and a funny diner scene wherein a long-suffering waitress is made to look every bit as interesting as the leads. Skelly clearly loves combining glamor and menace, as Bon-Bon pretty much exudes that on every page. She's like a ronin on a motorcycle, waiting for something to do and someone to protect while trying to think about her past as little as possible. Margarine has been broken for so long that she's looking for someone to put her back together in an entirely different environment. Skelly really plays to her strengths as an artist here: character design, gesture and body language. She minimizes background detail in such a way that it's not lacking on the page when needed, but doesn't interfere with the two leads when she wants the reader to zero in on them. This series will be collected by AdHouse and will undoubtedly look great.

Alarm Clock, by Will Dinski. I've been reviewing Will Dinski's comics since I began High-Low over seven years ago, and he continues to produce thought-provoking, funny and occasionally disturbing work. This mini is a grab-bag of shorter work by Dinski, including an extended sketchbook section. The cover, a tribute to Gluyas Williams' work from the 1930s, leads to a hilarious punchline when one opens up the back cover as well. It's a well-designed gag that adds an enormous amount of character detail in the service of pulling the eye in one direction. Even though this is a series of shorts, Dinski manages a callback gag in the last story from the first in two stories that otherwise have nothing else to do with each other. One's a bit of hyperbole about a man who's always late and the extreme measures he takes to try to reset the clock, and the other's a droll bit of satire about a cruel but dim executive who prefers delegating unpleasant tasks to underlings. In general, each of the strips carries the titular quality of nothing happening and then alarms going off; In "Wait", a man is anxious to shake things up, but his friend tells him to sit still despite an ever-escalating series of crazy events, until the craziest event of all is an opportunity to act. "A Fine Job In The Execution" is about a watch and a conversation a man has with himself sitting alone in a room, imagining various men of authority praising his work.It's an inner dementia at work here, an alarmed mind that is stirred by a timepiece and a possible reminiscence of being a state executioner. Dinski uses a variety of color schemes here to reflect the action; the first story employs shockingly bright colors and exaggerated figures, while "Wait" employs a red and green scheme for key phases of the story, with green representing calm and red representing action. This is a fine sample of work from a smart cartoonist with an impeccable sense of design.

Stethoscope Microphone, by Whit Taylor. This is a real change of pace for Taylor, who generally tends to do autobio and semi-autobio comics. This is a comic about the rise and fall of The Doctors, the greatest funk band of all time, and Taylor takes every music trope she can think of, puts them in a blender, and sets it on Space Bass. Taylor throws in elements from Parliament-Funkadelic, Rick James, the Beatles and every other Behind the Music idea and lets the absurdity flow. Taylor works in color here, which gives her very thin line some definition and greater structure, allowing her to pull off the kind of images she needed for the story to work. Taylor isn't afraid to get very silly, making a woman adopting the persona of Betsy Ross as the main love interest of the narrator. Overall, this is a pleasant diversion that's actually quite well-researched in its own way, and fans of funk in particular will enjoys some of the references.

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