Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Foxing Reprints #11: Tom Kaczynski, Vincent Stall, Alex Holden

Structures 1-11, by Tom Kaczynski and Structures 12-23, by Vincent Stall (Uncivilized Books). Of all the small press publishers, Tom Kaczynski's Uncivilized Books best fits my own personal aesthetics. All of his books and minicomics are impeccably designed with a minimum of fuss, creating images that are eye-catching but not overwhelming. Kaczynski's minicomics line is especially interesting, because he's willing to take chances on unusual projects in a low-key, low-risk manner in this format. TheStructures series is a good example. Architecture has always been a key interest of Kaczynski's in his comics, strictly from an aesthetic point of view. The way that geometry plays itself out in a three-dimensional context holds great power and mystery in Kaczynski's hands, and his issue features eleven structures that highlight his heavy use of brushwork and a surprising lack of angularity. That's because each of these structures is "unnatural", "unstable", "incoherent" or else a formation created from nature. Here, Kaczynski involves the almost supernatural power of architecture as a form of incantation in favor of nature taking its course in unusual ways over time; he even winks at his own brush work in "The Tomb Of Jack Kirby", a design with heavy blacks that looks like something out of New Gods.

Vincent Stall takes a different approach. His drawings are unlabeled but very much in keeping with his "king of rubble" approach of drawing backgrounds. Unlike Kaczynksi's remote, monolithic structures that stand the test of time, Stall's structures are broken and decaying, reclaimed in part by their environment or repurposed by those now living there. Stall's line weight is thinner and more fragile than Kaczynski's, which makes sense, and there's also a much more restrained use of blacks. Each of these minis is crisply printed on paper that makes the most of the linework of each artist.

Skyway Sleepless, by Tom Kaczynski (Uncivilized Books).  This coverless mini is a reprint of a Kaczynski story published elsewhere. It takes an actual downtown Minneapolis phenomenon--skyways that connect buildings so as to prevent one from having to brave the hellish winters in that city--and extrapolates it in a noir/aesthetics thriller. Kaczysnki pokes a little fun at some of his more serious stories here as the lead character, a skyway security guard, is confronted by mysterious chalk outlines in the skyway and subsequent people passing out in the outlines. Conspiracy theories, ritualized architectural magic and other supernatural ideas get thrown around, and even though they all wind up being a McGuffin for the real mystery, the ending seems to confirm that sometimes spoof has a way of becoming reality. There's a wonderful spareness to Kaczynski's line here, as he relies on thin diagonal lines, zip-a-tone and his typical lurching figurework. When his characters are in motion, there's a rigidity in their movements that matches up with the backgrounds around them, creating new geometric structures within each panel. His characters are tall and slender and don't lack expressiveness; indeed, there's a touch of Jack Kirby to be found in many of his creations. That expressiveness is balanced by the coolness and reserved nature of Kaczynski's page structure, which is always tidy and balanced even when crazy things are happening. 

West Side Improvements, by Alex Holden (Uncivilized Books). Holden fits in nicely with this sort of urban theme. His own series, Magic Hour, was all about the supernatural in an urban setting. West Side Improvements is a work of reportage originally published in the Syncopated anthology, and it's about the tunnels underneath Riverside Park in New York and the community of artists and homeless who made it their own. The focus is on Chris "Freedom" Pape, a graffiti artist who made a series of elaborate portraits in the tunnels, many of which were visible in the grates above the old railroad tracks. The comic goes on to chronicle the community of artists that grew to work together in the tunnels as well as the so-called "mole people"--the homeless who lived there and who drew media attention when a book was written about them. Amtrak, who owned the tracks, announced that the tunnels would be closed, but not before the homeless were relocated to public housing. This is a thorough, thoughtful take on a forgotten and hidden part of New York, a reflection of the way that the city has slowly snuffed out artistic reclamation of old spaces in favor of corporate reclamation. The art in this mini is less effective printed at a smaller size, especially since so many panels are crammed onto the page. That's especially true when trying to show the scope of the murals painted by Pape. The smaller scale doesn't hurt Holden's characters as much, given that he tends to use a cartoony and minimalist approach in depicting them. The mini does include a great deal of bonus material, including several pages of reference photos taken by Holden.

No comments:

Post a Comment