Monday, October 17, 2016

Review and Kickstarter for Awesome 'Possum

The editor of the Awesome 'Possum anthology, Angela Boyle, sent me a copy of the second volume to review in conjunction with the Kickstarter for the third volume. Here's a a link to that kickstarter, and I would consider making a donation if possible. The anthology's mission is to publish comics and illustration about the natural world, and to leave that mission as loosely defined as possible so as to give the artists some room to interpret it.

That variety of approaches is what makes this a surprisingly readable book, especially given that so few of the entries here resemble conventional narratives. The other thing that makes the book a pleasure to read is the wide variety of visual approaches that were used. It would have been easy to make it a densely-illustrated book with an entirely naturalistic approach, but that would also have been boring. Furthermore, that type of art is often difficult to match up with cartoon storytelling, panel-to-panel flow and general readability. Even artists with somewhat limited draftsmanship ability managed to fit in by limiting the complexity of what they chose to draw, synthesizing the information conveyed by text with spare imagery to create a fluid piece.

Boyle is all over the anthology and has some of its best pieces. including the opener about how Opossums are enormously helpful creatures, the psychology of dogs, and the structure of fungi. Perhaps the best piece in the book was by her mother, Anita K. Boyle: a fascinating and beautifully composed ode to the role of water lilies in their environment. Though an entirely scientific account regarding these plants, Boyle's use of decorative elements, humorous flourishes, clever page design where everything is elongated much the way the lilies are underwater and a clear line made this strip the model for the rest of the book: clear, clever, entertaining and informative. Another highlight was a strip written by Steve Bissette and drawn by his former student Ross Wood Studlar (whose focus as an artist has been on wildlife). It concerned his sighting a fisher cat (a variation on the weasel) in the forest, which is a rarity, and finding that the animal stared him right in the eye. The story balanced a description of this interesting animal and its habits and ended with Bissette expressing his respect for it. This was one of the few conventional narratives in the book, and it worked precisely because of Bissette's knowledge of and respect for the Vermont woods.

Other highlights include Stephanie Zuppo's story about the Thyacine, a species thought extinct that keeps getting sighted; Kelly Swann's "first person" story from the perspective of a Thorny Dragon, which is exquisitely rendered in addition to being amusing; and Reilly Hadden's wistful account of being around Common Loons. Some of the material might have been trimmed from the anthology, but there's nothing that brings the anthology screeching to a halt. Indeed, virtually every piece is at least interesting to read, and few of them wear out their welcome. The general restraint and succinctness of the artists in this anthology definitely work in its favor. The end section, featuring a number of illustrations, provides different renditions of previously-mentioned plants and animals, this time from a purely static standpoint. This section fit well and didn't feel like the anthology was simply being padded. I'll be curious to see if the balance that made this volume work well continues to hold in the third volume, which will be nearly twice as long.

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