Friday, November 15, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #15: Steve Seck, Pat Barrett, GP Bonesteel

Steve Seck continues to hone his comedic chops in the pages of his one-man anthology, Monday Saddies. This issue features two separate stories: "Ghost Roommate" and "Locker Up!", both of which earn their humor with awful, over-the-top characters behaving badly. Seck adds weight to his pages with a lot of spotted blacks balancing the simple nature of his character design and unvaried line weights. His characters look funny, but most of the humor comes through in the dialogue. Mostly, his characters look weird, with vertical slits for eyes and angular features amid a pleasingly cluttered background. Seck's characters just seem to live in filthy settings, and "Locker Up!" makes particular use of that conceit. It's about a group of anthropomorphic objects that live in a kid's locker at school trying to make sense of their worlds. Most of the objects have devolved into highly juvenile and even senile behavior, like the "elders" that had been sitting in there for far too long. Seeing a rubber band become ecstatic upon being "raptured" by getting stuck to the kid's backpack was hilarious, as was the belligerent and foul-mouthed soda can wanting to watch dirty videos on the kid's phone. "Ghost Roommate" is a funny take-off on the ultimate form of do-nothing, slacker roommate that also mines humor from ghost mythology. Seck has really refined his line, making what could be a sloppy page easy to follow and giving his figures a pleasing, eye-catching quality. That approach in terms freshens up his slacker humor, in part because he's satirizing that kind of culture as much as he is taking advantage of it as the de facto stars of his comics.

Pat Barrett has a lush, dense illustrative style that he uses for stories that are comedic but possess a certain edge.The latest issue of his one-man anthology Oak & Linden (#6) is a micro-mini, measuring 2.25" by 4.25". The stars of the issue are his gross, goblinoid naked characters who are both representative of id-centered, scatological storytelling as well as sources of existential discussion. Of course, that existential discussion (centering around the idea of being remembered for something) winds up in a slapstick, springy fistfight, short-circuited by the object of discussion: their queen ("her flatulence"), who also happens to be the aging mother of everyone. The crudeness of these characters still gets at the heart of Barrett's point: that we are bags of phlegm, blood and shit with a biological imperative to have sex, eat and excrete. How we balance our biological imperatives against our higher selves (or rather, how we fail to do so) is at the heart of Barrett's sense of humor.

Barrett's comic How To Make Comics The Whiner's Way is a funny shot across the bow against cartoonists who constantly bitch about being cartoonists, who bemoan the lack of shortcuts, who substitute buying new gadgets for actual hard work, who use autobio comics as a crutch when they don't really have anything to say, who steal their styles wholesale from popular images, who hop on cultural memes and other easy reference points as a way of gaining readers, and who generally try to make their lives out to be worse than those undergoing actual hardship. It's all done in the style of How To Make Comics The Marvel Way, with hilariously arch "how-to" steps that flog those whom he perceives as whining their way through something that should be giving them pleasure, even if it is hard. Barrett makes a compelling case, especially as someone who went to "cartoon boot camp" at CCS, a place where artists were expected to work hard on actually drawing their comics because they loved it. This is a cleverly designed comic that should be a gut-check for every cartoonist, including Barrett himself, I would imagine.

GP Bonesteel's series Jason continues its crystallization in its second issue. Bonesteel's comics have always had a high pop-culture saturation combined with an amusingly cynical and even postmodern take on same. Jason's high-concept is irresistible: the quotidian activities of movie slasher villains. Jason from the Friday the 13th films is the series' protagonist, one that posits him as a sympathetic, lonely character in search of meaning in his life while still being a homicidal killer. Bonesteel creates a weird, heightened sense of reality where these killers all have high-profile advertising profiles that exist in real life, even as they all form a curious sort of insular and exclusive group of friends. Bonesteel plays that emotional chord in an entirely straight-ahead fashion, all while jarring the reader with hilariously over-the-top violence and murderous references. For example, the Big Brother-type program that Jason tries to sign up for is called "Tor-Mentors", designed to have slasher killers teach their trade to young kids in need. In one extended sequence, Ghost Face from the Scream movies and Freddie Krueger from the Nightmare On Elm Street films wind up arguing and have a "smoke-off", wherein each tries to kill three victims as quickly as possible. The entire comic is printed landscape, with each page featuring three panels. The figures are reduced to blank figures, with the only recognizable features being those of the killers. That simple approach works well in allowing the comic to move from comic to violent to poignant--sometimes on the same page. Bonesteel has found his groove as a creator here, though a few pages here and there appear rushed. When this project is complete, Bonesteel will have his best career work to date.

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