Saturday, March 1, 2014

31 Days of Short Reviews #1: Phil McAndrew

In an effort to get at my backlog of reviews, today will be the first of a month-long and daily short review feature.

First up is Phil McAndrew's Crying In Front Of Your Dog And Other Stories, published by Jordan Shiveley's Grimalkin Press. McAndrew's done work with MAD and the Cartoon Network, and you can see that style at work in many of these stories. The first, longer section of the book collects a number of minicomics done between 2008 and 2009, and the second section is shorter and more recent material. Overall, his shorter stories are punchier, funnier and weirder. The longer stories lean heavily on his exaggerated, heavily worked over and slightly blotchy style, wherein the funny drawings compensate for a lack of narrative meat and structure. There are exceptions, like the absurd and silly "Are You Man Enough?", which features a young man trying to impress his lover's father and winds up with him getting that man's magical mustache. Stories like "The Book" are really just a long, shaggy dog story that seems better suited for animation than comics, as there's not quite enough connective tissue there to make the long silences cohere into something entirely worth the reader's time. Indeed, the funny drawings in this story are entirely superfluous to the story itself; the joke is entirely text-based and could have been related in precisely the same way by having two dots talk to each other.

McAndrew's more recent material is no less silly, but keeping each story to two or three pages and choosing to go with more powerful and memorable imagery was a key to the success of these shorts. McAndrew's comics have tended to be one panel per page, a rhythm that's again more like animation than comics. In these shorter pieces, McAndrew cut done on the prose and made better use of funny images that actually contributed to the meat of the joke. For example, in "Delivery", he bolsters the silly notion of having to go out and hunt down pizza in the forest since delivery didn't exist with a photo of a manly man kneeling behind a wild pizza he had just killed with an arrow. "Internship" quickly introduces the reader to the prospect of being a wizard's intern, only the first thing he wanted you to do was teach him how to send an email with a photo attachment. It's a good joke that's reinforced by the final image of the wizard's photo being one of a beach vacation. McAndrew's jokes and approaches ranged from grotesque and heavily rendered to sparse and open, like a story about a discarded apple core leading to a tree growing in the middle of the ocean. Unsurprisingly, the book itself looks great; the design and layout are clear and unfussy in a package that is attractive and eye-catching. The book reveals a cartoonist's progress over a half-decade and shows how much McAndrew has improved, both as a draftsman and a storyteller.

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