Friday, October 14, 2016

Minis: S.Mannheim, B.Heinly, D.Johnson/R.Lockie

The Amazing Vanishing Man: Prelude, by Daniel Johnson and Rosie Lockie. This mini is about the juxtaposition of fame and performance with a desire to escape it--escape from all contact. It follows an escape artist in a circus who comes to want to escape the ultimate trap: his own body. By learning astral projection, he's able to accomplish this, but then he starts having trouble getting back into his body, realizing that the only way to accomplish his goals is to do it in his laboratory of performance: the stage. The pressure of the stage paradoxically allowed him to relax into performing his tricks, as having something at stake allowed him to concentrate in a way that trying in a less risky fashion couldn't. This comic was just the first part of a larger story, and it was interesting to see how the artist (Lockie) expanded on the script, using a variety of compositional techniques on each page. Sometimes she went for a straight grid with minimal detail--especially with regard to the other characters in the story, who naturally were fuzzy because of the escapist's indifference toward them. On other pages, she used a lot of heavy hatching and cross-hatching to get at the heaviness of certain experiences, like trying to escape from one's own body. The final product felt rough, both in terms of writing and drawing, in a way that I don't think the artists were intending. It seems to be the work of younger artists figuring things out in an ambitious manner, and I'll be curious to see how they develop as a team as the series progresses.

Roxie #6 and #7, by Stephanie Mannheim. These two issues complete the saga of rocker Roxie, an over-the-top stew of sex, drugs, violence and rock-and-roll rendered in the tradition of Peter Bagge and Johnny Ryan. The plot is actually reminiscent of Josie And The Pussycats more than anything else, only everyone in the story is either looking to get laid, get famous, get revenge or some combination of all three. The plot is about two rival bands, one all women and one all men, and their various sexual/romantic entanglements and mutual plans to sabotage each other. The story comes to a head in the final issue, in which all of these terrible characters do awful things and get some partial comeuppance for it. Of course, these comics work because Mannheim has a great sense of the cultural zeitgeist and just the sort of references that make the most sense for it. In particular, her commentary on fame, what creates it and what people will do for it is especially on-target. Of course, the main appeal of these comics is her frenetic and funny cartooning. Her characters have crazily gritted, cartoony teeth, bulging eyes, and pointy noses. With all of that visual "noise", Mannheim did something especially clever on a page where she drew two characters falling in love in a naturalistic style, representing a truly over-the-top and sappy event in the story. Mannheim isn't afraid to get mean, which gives her work a powerful source of energy. Over the course of this series, Mannheim has also refined her line, giving it a precise crispness that makes the eye-popping quality of her subject matter all the more effective. It's cartoony art that is powerful because she has total control of her images, as well as the compositional elements of each panel and page.  In many respects, this series felt somewhat disposable, as though it was a way of stretching her writing abilities such that she could put together a longer narrative while keeping it both coherent and funny. I get the sense that the best is ahead for Mannheim.

Camp and The 3:00 Book Best of 2016 Again, by Beth Heinly. Heinly, a friend of Meghan Turbitt's, works in a similar, unfiltered and funny manner. The 3:00 Book reprints her internet single-page gags as well as her Facebook commentaries on same. Many of the commentaries wind up being funnier than the actual strips in question. Sometimes it's because Heinly is beating herself about a weak strip and hilariously over-explains, a favored comedy technique pioneered by Johnny Carson. That kind of meta-humor is in full effect throughout this book, but Heinly is careful not to pour it on too thick. Sometimes, the commentary is just commentary, adding context or an anecdote about the set-up. That said, the commentary is almost always funny no matter what its aim. The big weakness in these strips, and something that she gets at in the introduction, is that there's no particular point of view that emerges in the course of reading them. Heinly says "There is really nothing special about me or these comics because there about 500 straight white cis freckled girls who write the same shit." I think what differentiates the better autobio cartoonists is that they find an angle, be it Turbitt's over-the-top cultural commentary, Vanessa Davis' layouts and sharp awareness of how she relates to others, etc.

Where Heinly excels is in more conceptual humor, something that gets lost in the midst of doing a diary comic. That's why her comic Camp, a "stoner horror comedy", is so much more effective as a cohesive work of comedy. The cover promises that "Everyone dies" and Heinly lives up to that promise, albeit in the most hilariously convoluted manner possible. The concept is that a group of stoners are camping out in the woods with the idea that they're going to rough it. The only problem is that most of them are either stoned, stupid or both. Rather than an external force hunting these clowns one by one, the only real threat to them is their own stupidity. Two of the stoners find rare mushrooms in the forest, which may or may not be poisonous. Of course, they eat them and then die. One woman stacks way too much wood in the fire pit they've built, catches on fire, and falls into the inferno she's created. Heinly keeps escalating things from there, with the members of the party dying in increasingly absurd ways. The real humor of the book is that they're pretty much either too stoned or too sociopathic to care that their friends are dying left and right. The survivor was, of course, the stupidest and most stoned member of the party who was more concerned with getting joints off the dead body of a friend than either the friend's death or the need to actually find a way out. Heinly then takes that premise and goes way, way over the top, suddenly turning scene after blase' scene of people dying into something truly horrific. It's a grim final joke, but Heinly pulls it off thanks in part to the rhythm and structure of the story. Her line is serviceable and more effective here than in her other gag work, because her simple but exaggerated character design makes sense within the context of the story. Her strict use of a 2x3 panel grid keeps the story zipping along, another element that shows how carefully she considers and structures her work.

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