Sunday, March 30, 2014

31 Days of Short Reviews #30: St. Louis Ink & Drink Anthologies

The St. Louis-based Ink and Drink collective has been publishing a couple of genre-themed anthologies every year since 2010. As one would expect from mostly amateur cartoonists doing genre comics, the results are all over the place. The running serial that somehow appears in every issue involving a teen and the tentacle monster that lives in his comics box, written by Jon Scorfina and drawn by Stephanie Main, feels like bottom-drawer webcomic fodder, mistaking references to pop culture for actual jokes. Then there are the workhorses like Carlos Gabriel Ruiz and writer/editor Jason Green. Their stories are all decent genre stuff; nothing revelatory, but nothing embarrassing either. Ruiz in particular is the one artist who has noticeably improved as a draftsman over the three year period that these books represent. Most of the stories in these books slid out of my consciousness the moment I read them, though a few artists caught my attention and my interest from volume to volume.

First and foremost is cover artist Adam Davenport. Working in the classic pulp/Frank Frazetta style, his covers for the collections are so on-the-nose with regard to the theme that they're tongue-in-cheek. I especially enjoyed the cover of Blasted!, the science fiction anthology. Yes, the "drink" portion of the collective means that every title is alcohol-related: Spirits of St. Louis (horror), Shots In The Dark (crime), Off The Wagon (western) and Hammered (fantasy). His occasional work on interior stories is also study and attractive, though it begged for color. My favorite artists in the anthology in every issue were Sam and Noah Washburn. Sam is the illustrator and Noah the writer, and their mesh of idosyncrasies stand out each time. "Raw Head and Bloody Bones" from the horror anthology is a comic that's stylish and crude, with an unusual use of close-ups and spotting blacks. The story is one of the few that's actually strange and unsettling in that book. "Case 481" in the crime anthology is a nice mix of crime and horror, with a two page spread jammed with disorienting, terrifying panels when we learn what's behind a seemingly routine insurance investigation. The way they suddenly end the hard-boiled narrative of the story's main character is especially inspired. "Alien Attack" is yet another visceral story that highlights the way that S.Washburn can make a panel funny through exaggeration. "Great Moments In Herding History" is just plain funny, as both Washburns quickly abandon the concept to just write and draw wacky stuff. The other interesting artistic find is Christina "Steenz" Stewart, who rapidly improved her cartoony, expressive style between a couple of issues to find her footing as an artist whose work is inspired by animation (and it seems, Kyle Baker in particular) but still maintains its storytelling fluidity. The other artist of note that I wanted to mention is Kevin Wolf. His "Elephant Graveyard Blackjack" is both viscerally unsettling (as a dead man and a dead elephant wager body parts and skin in a game of blackjack) and visually striking with its thick linework and scratchy details. I know that their most recent editions involve romance and stories local to St. Louis; I'll be curious to see if the artists were able to raise their game above the level of standard genre tropes in engaging those subjects.

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