Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Thirty Days of Short Reviews #21: 30 Miles of Crazy!

Karl Christian Krumholz's 30 Miles of Crazy! is dedicated to the ways in which a particular place can have a sort of debauched culture that creates and rolls up its own colorful mythology. In this case, it's Denver's Colfax Avenue, known for its sleazy bars, sex workers, drugs, creeps, lunatics and shady motels. It is also a street with its own unique aesthetic sense and set of regulars who knew how to navigate its dangers while reveling in its pleasures.

Krumholz's perspective is very much that of an outsider. A Boston native (another city with a powerful sense of place tied to identity), he came to Denver to be with his girlfriend, and so looks up Colfax and its history with the cool detachment of an outsider who has found his tribe. He uses a two-tier, six panel grid for most of his stories; a weakness of the book's overall design is the way it feels more like a collection of web comics than something that's been properly adapted for print. The repetition of the address sign (even when it changes when he travels to other cities) gets tedious and takes up too much of the page. That said, the actual art is expressive and lively, mixing naturalism with regard to the setting and going flat-out bonkers with regard to his figures. His figure work reminds me a bit of Evan Dorkin in terms of gesture and body language, even down to the way he uses blank eyes on occasion in the same manner as Dorkin.

The anecdotes themselves work because Krumholz doesn't have to go out of his way to mythologize or exaggerate. He allows Colfax to slowly reveal itself to the reader, because nearly everyone he talks to has a least one Colfax story. Stories are a kind of currency, as random souls walking by a fixed location will often try to trade one for money. There are stories about finding dead men in toilets, a cattle drive in the middle of the city, a homeless woman whose sob story for money involved her being pregnant--for 16 months, and the slim difference between a person raving incoherently on the street and someone you might meet at a comics convention. While Krumholz goes mostly for comedy, there's also a remarkable sense of warmth in this comic, as his girlfriend is portrayed as an especially delightful sort of character and his friends help him form a unit that's become its own outpost on Colfax. The strips where Krumholz talks about going back to Boston for a funeral and other visits mostly maintains the format while allowing him to give the reader more depth and insight into who he is, what he's doing and why. The book never quite descends into repetition, though patterns repeat and the kind of brief anecdotes he tells start to coalesce a bit. That's again the danger of a web series instead of a longer narrative approach, but it's to Krumholz's credit that he's in control of the stories he tells about Colfax within his larger narrative as a person and "citizen of Colfax", instead of simply allowing this to be a series of outrageous anecdotes.

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