Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Minis: Ansis Purins, Lukasz Kowalczuk, Anuj Shrestha, Sar Shahar, Jared Rosello

Vreckless Vrestlers #0, by Lukasz Kowalczuk. This is an odd little mini by Polish cartoonist Kowalczuk about a wrestling manager from the future who kidnaps warriors from across time and space to fight for a championship with the motto of "one rule - no rules". With a fat, cartoony line reminiscent of Johnny Ryan (Prison Pit would seem to be an influence here), Kowalczuk uses a wordless approach (save for brief narrative captions) in introducing the eight characters who will wind up fighting each other. From valkyries like Barbarica to creatures like Vegan Cat and Crimean Crab, every aspect of this comic is over the top and blatantly ridiculous. Unfortunately, there's not much here in this "#0" terms of actual carnage for the reader to enjoy, but it would seem that the eventual payoffs will be visceral, silly and imaginative.

Magic Forest #1, by Ansis Purins. This is a collection of bits and pieces from the upcoming and longer Zombre #3. The concept here is a magic forest where some of its denizens are in alliance with human forest rangers, resulting mostly in goofy and occasionally violent gags. Purins has solid comedic timing that particularly shines through in a strip about an elf desperately asking a ranger for aid against the Spider King and his army. The ranger, of course, had been contacted by another ranger about a spider infestation in a cabin, but Purins strings things along amusingly with the elf relaying an epic tale until the ranger reveals a secret weapon: a can of "Spider B Gone". In another strip, a ranger tries to get official information out of a mermaid who doesn't speak english, chastising her that nudity isn't allowed on the beach while desperately asking her to keep singing. What makes this comic interesting is the way that Purins balances bigfoot drawing, traditional fantasy character design and naturalistic drawing. The remarkable clarity of line allows Purins to juggle all three styles while still retaining a coherent overall visual approach. Part of the reason why Purins does this so well is the consistency in the way he depicts gesture and expression; even characters drawn in different styles tend to act and move in the same recognizable set of patterns, one that's heavy on body language to such an extent that a reader could ignore all dialogue and still understand the comic.

Genus 3, by Anuj Shrestha. The third issue of this crazy conspiracy/sci-fi/horror/mystery comic ramps up both the mystery and the craziness while still retaining its signature crisp, restrained style of art. The plot follows an office worker who first dreams that there are multitude of others whose heads have been replaced by vaguely obscene, bulbous plants. Then he realizes that he's become one of them and is guided, Matrix-style, by a phone caller who seems to be able to watch his every move. In this issue, he poses as a plant-executive, having gained control of the ability to transform, and is again guided to a building where his two subordinates are killed by his savior, another plant-headed man. Of course, things once again aren't exactly as they seem, as our protagonist winds up tied up and injected by his supposed savior while being given a speech about corruption and being expected to behave. Shrestha's line is incredibly thin and precise as the suits he draws are as crisp and clean as the plant heads he draws are bizarre and disturbing. It's difficult to review just a single issue of this series, as it's obvious that there's much more that's going to be revealed, but so far it's a fascinating critique of corporate culture and science told through sci-fi tropes, but designed to be as clean and antiseptic as possible in terms of its execution.

Sequential Vacation II, by Sar Shahar. Secret Acres picked up the follow-up to Shahar's excellent first issue in this "travel" series, one in which the vacation is more of an imaginative one, one that draws a person out of their daily life. That certainly holds true in this issue, "Beach Fantasy". Grids are a key element of Shahar's art, omnipresent in his character's lives even as they try to find ways to break free of their boxes. It's no accident that the more fantastical aspects of Shahar's stories often have splash pages as opposed to the rhythm of a four panel grid or two panels on top and one panel on the bottom. After the opening fantasy sequence, the reader is literally presented with a huge grid: a sheet of graph paper that essentially makes up an office building. When that building explodes (literally destroying the grid), we see that our protagonist is watching a 3D movie in a theater, the idea of destroying the grid firmly implanted in his imagination. The next image, that of a hand scanning a UPC symbol on a flowery shirt, is a clever one because it's once again a splash page. The shirt represents fantasy triumphing over the grid, a dream of something else. Of course, the reader is then reminded that the grid is everywhere: on the cashier's computer, on the tile at the ice cream stand the hero goes to next, on the buses and in the city of Los Angeles itself. Wearing that fantasy shirt, the reader can see that he has a dating profile up on his computer ("Who's up for drinks?) along with itunes blaring, suggesting a party. We see the image of two beers being clinked, only to discover that it's on TV and the man is drinking alone. The man watches the box (TV), clicking from channel to channel in a dispiriting series of panel-to-panel transitions, the evening ending with a bomb on a TV show laying waste to its environment--in much the same way the evening has been a devastating failure, with the spilled cheetos and box of bagel bits a depressing reminder of this "party". The sun turns into the moon, which regenerates the beach fantasy, with a mystery man reappearing on this fantasy beach and a squeeze on the knee while boating providing a moment of aching delight. Of course, the final two pages contain the odd image of what appears to be a factory on the shore, with twin smokestacks framing the final image. Shahar has an uncanny knack for portraying the desperation of loneliness in a clever and frequently funny manner, using familiar imagery in unusual ways. When he has enough stories to fill up a book, he'll gain a considerable amount of attention for his work.

The Well-Dressed Bear (Will Never Be Found) Book One, by Jarod Rosello. Told in a narrative style not unlike Edward Gorey (and there's a touch of Gorey to be found in the page design and even some of its decorative qualities), it's about a bear who starts getting weird, unwelcome phone calls. The third chapter is when it starts to get cooking, when the Bear leaves his brownstone home to go about his business in the city. The city, however, is a bombed-out and decaying wreck, something not at all addressed in the narrative. There are almost hints of City of Glass to be found here, in that "it all started with a phone call" and that identity plays a key role in the story's proceedings. The narrative turns from simple description to balancing paranoia and even desperation. Rosello's crisp linework and rubbery, looping arms remind me a little of Megan Kelso's comics. I'd love to see this mini eventually reprinted at a larger size, as it would highlight the decorative quality of some of the pages more emphatically.

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