Monday, May 19, 2014

Minis: Nick Sumida, T.V. Alexander, Jordan Shiveley

Baybeez, by T.V. Alexander. This is a short, nasty and funny mini about babies, drawn in a grotesque and visceral manner. The results are absurd, hilarious and disturbing, like one strip where a woman seems to get pregnant from a toilet seat and then immediately starts giving birth to baby after baby, until all that remains is her skeleton. That strip was like a deranged cousin to the Chester Brown classic "The Man Who Couldn't Stop Going". Some of the strips are excuses to draw out puns, like "Babies shaving babies". It's an all-too-short collection for a clearly witty cartoonist.

Snackies II by Nick Sumida. This is a killer collection of gags that manages to work loneliness, pathos and a sharp satirical eye into a single, attractive package. Sumida is a great writer who sloughs off the self-loathing one would expect from this kind of comic with a powerful wit that results in real laughs. As an artist, he uses a clear line given weight and texture by making the entire comic red (this looks like the work of a risograph) and then adding extensive use of zip-a-tone and other effects. The lettering is not unlike Edie Fake's hand, a sort of cross between an old EC Comic font and a mechanical font. At the same time, Sumida shows some affinity for Michael DeForge style body horror, sneaking it into strips at key moments. What's amazing about his comics is that he manages to breathe new life into tired subjects like internet dating and personal ads in general. In "Meeting People Is Easy", Sumida describes using the hilarious "Arm's Length Method Of Intimacy Aversion (Practiced by 'Children')", including methods like throwing wads of wet paper at them, abstaining "from ordering food and just flick your tongue over the surface of a glass of tap water", etc. The slight cuteness of Sumida's drawing style is immediately subsumed by the sheer weirdness of his images. An ever better strip is "How To Deal With Stress", where Sumida tells friends he does things to let off steam, and we cut to Sumida setting fired to a car, taking a chainsaw to a mannikin while yelling "you're not my father", and more. Sumida stacks the deck with gag after gag, and then ends the story with a killer punchline. He skewers the narcissism of missed connections personals with one about mistaking his own reflection for another hot guy in an increasingly ridiculous set of scenarios, while trying to come up with a witty good-by phrase like his friends leads to an ear-piercing and glass-shattering scenario. I could have easily read another hundred pages of gags like this. Sumida's sense of pacing, page design and character design are all top-notch. The red tones got to be a bit much after a while, but they did create an interesting reading experience. This is a cartoonist who's ready for bigger things and deserving of a collection.

Rejoice, by Jordan Shiveley. This is a funny book of shorts by publisher/editor/designer Shiveley, whose Grimalkin Press has published some good-looking books. This is a collection of short strips about mice facing existential crises, relationship problems, and of course dilemmas relating to desire in the form of cheese. It's an interesting comic read right after Sumida's, considering that Shiveley has some similar points to make about relationships and loneliness, with a similarly cynical and darkly witty voice. A number of the strips don't have punchlines, as such, but rather painful endings (like the one above). Shiveley provides a number of punchlines after the fact with his index, with listings like "callous disregard", "disheartening truth of our situations" and "moment you realize she is leaving and nothing you can say will stop it" all getting multiple citations. Shiveley's line and page composition are remarkably open and light, yet he still manages to squeeze a lot of emotion and pathos out of these mice characters. The comic works because it provides a simple and even cute layer of imagery as a buffer for these painful emotions and thoughts. By not even attempting to anthropomorphize these mice, Shiveley wisely just lets their ids do a lot of the talking. Sex, death and sustenance resonate on every one of the pages, and Shiveley is wise not to overplay his hand. Instead, he keeps things light, crisp and in motion, as one strip bleeds into the next with few defined stops. If this strip was a form of therapy for Shiveley, I'd like to see more of it.

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