Monday, November 14, 2016

Minis: Beat Panel, Charles Brubaker, Ian Brauner

Beat Panel, by Anonymous. The artist of this web-to-mini gag strip is anonymous for some reason, which is too bad because there are solidly above-average humor comics. The artist's line is functional and reminiscent of your average humor web comic, but that's less important than the solid sense of comic timing in each of the strips. Beat Panel tends toward the absurd but is built around a familiar set of recurring characters. The joke about two characters singing "Do You Know The Muffin Man?" is turned into a conspiracy gag. There's a joke about David Lynch's breakfast that has just the right beats, and a joke about Superman being in a melodramatic telenovella that's funny because of its use of Spanish and the juxtaposition of the normally virtuous "Hombre de Acero" being a cad. There are jokes about being an adult who plays video games and in many ways still acts like a kid. A favorite recurring bit is having Sauron from The Lord of the Rings as the worst roommate ever. To be sure, there's a lot of familiar ground that the artist covers here, but the execution and thought behind each gag reveals a solid comedic presence. The art is simply there to convey information, and the artist doesn't worry about realistic rendering and avoids over-rendering as a result.

Smallbug Comics and Ask A Cat, by Charles Brubaker. This is more typical webcomic-style humor, featuring witches and gags about furries and cats. The cartoony and stylized character designs have a pleasingly thick line that adds a lot to each scene, but Brubaker's extensive use of hatching and cross-hatching is a distraction. The attempt to add depth and weight to the panels seems pointless, given the silly and simplistic plot lines. The occasional use of spotting blacks that pops up in the strip more than does the job with relation to balancing out panels and giving the composition of each page a little more pop; Brubaker needed to do less with his drawing after that, not more. His characters already present such exaggerated facial expressions and poses that the extra detail actually made some drawings hard to decipher. The jokes themselves are nothing ground-breaking; the stories are competently told but not especially memorable. Connections between characters are assumed without really being explained, and while the relationships can be sussed out after a while, they feel generic. Throw in a mini where Brubaker has cats answer actual questions from readers, and you have a meme-friendly enterprise, especially since the spontaneity of the cat strips gives them a certain energy and tension lacking in Brubaker's other comics.

Spacebird, Muldoon Year One and Prime Puns, by Ian Brauner. Brauner's comics have a smudgy, scribbly charm to them. In terms of subject matter, he's interested in genre, but he's certainly all over the place. Spacebird is a sci-fi story about a high-tech "sheep"-herder on a far-off planet, who has to deal with tedium and a giant whale-squid who threatens to eat his herd. The unapologetic use of scribbles here becomes the default style, and it adds a dynamic quality to the comic. That style perfectly meshes with Brauner's character design, especially the titular character's wavy eyebrows. This is just the first issue of a larger story, but the bit of narrative presented here was a satisfying taste. Muldoon feels like a more primitive version of Brauner's style, as this story about a monster hunter in Africa feels more dashed off, and the small scale of a number of the panels gives the comic a wobbly quality that undermines the action. Prime Puns is a full-color extravaganza of silliness, as Brauner draws visual puns based on Transformers characters, Optimus Prime in particular. The cover image, "The Primes They Are A-Changin'", imagines Optimus Prime as Bob Dylan from the 1960s, and it's truly not an image I had ever expected to see. The best thing about the comic is Brauner's genuinely beautiful use of colored pencils to go with some of the funnier allusions, like Optimus in a guillotine in a Tale of Two Cities play on words captioned "It was the best of Primes, it was the worst of Primes", or the shading in the Fiddler on the Roof spoof "Optimus L'Chaim". They were funnier than the strips where he pairs up Optimus with another geek reference like Star Wars or Star Trek. Brauner is clearly trying to figure out his style in these stories, and I'll be curious to see what his next experiments will be like.

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