Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Koyama: Ben Sears, Alex Schubert

Blobby Boys Two, by Alex Schubert. Frank Santoro really nailed it in this slim collection of Blobby Boys comics, in that Schubert's aesthetic resembles that of a crude video game, with weird bits of debris and unused artifacts hanging flatly in the background. There are certainly cartoons and other comics that have come along since Schubert debuted his strange characters that use the same kind of "attitude" and shock value, but few can match the intelligence and care that Schubert packs into each panel of his comics. Everything in Schubert's comics is flat: the characters, the colors, and certainly everyone's emotions. He rides the line between having his green, alien, stoner hipster title characters ride roughshod over their environment with no repercussions like Evan Dorkin's Milk & Cheese and having them constantly dealing with their feelings like Simon Hanselmann's characters. That was seen in a strip where a big fan of the Blobby Boys band joined the group, only to get terrorized by the actions of the band in a number of hilarious scenes. The more deadpan the strip became, the more Schubert could get away with.

Even better than the Blobby Boys strips was the Fashion Cat epic. This ridiculous character is every fashion model cliche' rolled into one, as he goes from hyper-aggressive and arrogant in one moment to hyper-insecure the next. That whiplash effect is used repeatedly throughout the story, like when he pours out his heart to a flight attendant in one beat and then asks her if she's "trying to suck my cat dick" in the next--and then tells her to get out of his face when she says no. Schubert has a knack for drawing humor from the most entitled and abusive of characters, getting laughs from their over-the-top actions while understanding that their position means that they will never get a real comeuppance. If the Blobby Boys are a sort of nihilistic set of punchlines, then Fashion Cat represents the ways in which outrageous privilege conveys a similar set of reality-warping values, where every whim can be indulged and the possibility of meaning becomes ever more elusive. Schubert's comics are great because they work both as visceral, transgressive gags and deadpan satire.

Night Air, by Ben Sears. This is a breezy little sci-fi/fantasy/humor romp about a young guy named Plus Man and his robot friend. Sears' overall aesthetic is sort of like if Farel Dalrymple's comics were a lot more light-hearted, as they share a similar, subtle palette as well as a vivid imagination. Plotwise, Night Air is as boilerplate as it gets: a young rogue escapes those he swindled at a card game and then gets drawn into trying to find treasure at a castle. He gets overconfident at the castle and winds up imprisoned. While the tropes are all familiar, Sears makes this comic entertaining but slightly warping those stale story elements with gags that aren't quite as self-reflexive as the sort of thing that Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar do in Dungeon, but they're wacky enough to draw laughs and subvert reader expectations. For example, the evil master of the dungeon wanted to capture heroes for the purpose of having enough attractions to open up his castle as a haunted house. There's also the fun of Plus Man actually being kind of dumb and making rash decisions, and encountering allies like a severed floating hand, a shrunken head and a haunted typewriter. Sears clearly doesn't take anything in the book very seriously, with the exception of the actual aesthetics of his story. Sears certainly has the goods with regard to his drawing chops, his page design and character design. I founding myself wanting a more substantive story despite enjoying what I had read, given his obvious talent. At 56 pages (and with some pin-ups in the back to fill up some space), this felt like a teaser of Sears' talent, and I'd love to see him build up a more substantive world with characters who are better defined.

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