Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Minis: The Ladybroad Ledger, The Magic Whistle

The Ladybroad Ledger, edited by Stephanie Zuppo. Billed as "Vermont's Femme Alt Comics Collective", this broadsheet is distributed for free throughout Vermont and not surprisingly has a lot of cartoonists who have or are attending the Center for Cartoon Studies. The cover strip went to Glynnis Fawkes, an illustrator and cartoonist who specializes in stories about ancient Greece and Greek mythology. In hues of dark orange, brown and red, she spins a tale of someone dressed as a minotaur who seduces a young woman away from the party they're attending to another "party" in his labyrinth. It's a chilling scene, made all the moreso by pursuers who came along later in an effort to rescue her. Fawkes' ability to inject charm and even whimsy into what is in reality a horrifying situation gives this strip a certain tension that continues to ramp up until the end. Julianna Brazill offers an appreciation of the Apsen tree, which is as much a tree colony as it is a single organism, while Bridget Comeau offers up a sharply-drawn recipe for "Finnish Pie".

Rachel Lindsay's silly exercise about an imaginary relationship between a highly evolved Luna bar and a rugged Clif bar was hilarious--especially the ending, when the customer she's telling the story to walks away. I had seen Iona Fox's comics before in one of her minis, but it's always nice seeing her unusual character design that's a touch on the grotesque side. Kelly Swann's naturalistic take on the life of a woman inspired by her gravesite was effective in its evocation of what made her tick, while Michelle Sayles' political cartoons are well-rendered but more than a little over the top. Zuppo's strip about an unscrupulous funeral director trying to secretly upsell her family on a casket was outraging. Angela Boyle tends to draw about interesting species of nature, and her strip here was a mysterious and silent story about a young woman finding the remains of what looked like a great whale on land as she tries to capture what look like tiny seed pods. Susan Norton's strip is an extended metaphor about drifting though life as an as astronaut drifts in orbit, finding solace upon being back on earth, albeit sitting around a campfire. Sandy Bartholomew's finely-rendered strips explore the nature of character dynamics in relationships as well as some brutal commentary about not just heat & passion, but also about how she reacts to guns and gun culture. The strips are both funny and harrowing, especially one where she's being given a spiel by a gun salesman that emphasizes things like stopping power. Finally, Laura Martin's distinctive use of blacks highlights an obliquely-told story about a masked ball and the mysterious intentions of one participant in particular. All told, this is a stylish broadsheet with a number of different storytelling approaches, with a solid level of craft throughout.

The Magic Whistle, Volume II #15, Volume III #3.0. All edited by Sam Henderson, Marc Arsenault, and David Nuss. After years of publishing Magic Whistle as a solo minicomic, the last three issues of MW Volume II were devoted to establishing a humor anthology, with several guest artists per issue. With Volume III Henderson has made that the primary mission of each issue, with a wide variety of comics veterans as well as new artists given space for their work. Henderson's sense of humor has always simultaneously been the silliest and the fundamentally smartest in all of comics, as his ability to break down the structure of a scenario like a guy continually getting stuck in a dogflap or how having an extra ass is hilarious on an almost scientific basis. His comics range from that visual/verbal split in the form of gags or longer narratives, always building to a punchline but often undermining that punchline with a deconstruction of the gag that is in itself hilarious.

MW #15 was the last in the old numbering format that Alternative Comics released. Henderson is pretty much a gag machine and can fill up dozens of pages, but his material works especially well when it's interspersed with other comedic approaches. Still, the "Your Ass Directed By" two-pager is Henderson at his absolute best, with eighteen ass jokes on two pages referring to Hollywood directors, each one intricately connected to their source material. The jokes about Ed Wood and Shia LeBoeuf are especially funny. Henderson's exaggerated autobio comics are also always highlights, like his "Mr Slitzka" feature starring an especially cruel physical education teacher and several running gags. "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" is about a toxic couple who escalate cruel pranks on each other after their break-up, but Henderson puts on the brakes and whips out a far different and funnier punchline than the narrative initially suggested. "First Drafts" reimagines key lines from famous films as something extremely dumb ("we're going to need a bigger goat"), while jokes about the future, "Rom-Coms For Other Species" and "Famouser Firsts" read like really well-done MAD gags. An especially nasty and funny installment of the Dirty Danny saga (featuring Dirty Danny inviting people to a garbage island with no rules) caps off an especially strong issue for Henderson. Meghan Turbitt's interpretation of the Marvel character The Thing as a mother nursing an adult version of her was the usual kind of hyperkinetic weirdness from the artist, while Steven Kraan's crudely-drawn absurdities are a perfect fit for this issue. Top it off with a great Victor Cayro masturbation gag on the back cover and some reprints from old humor magazines, and you have a nearly perfect humor comic.

Magic Whistle 3.0 made plain what Henderson really wanted: an anthology humor periodical that included his own work. This first issue in the new format (keeping the same minicomics size) featured a running "Sid & Sid" feature from John Brodowski, which included an art museum devoted to paintings about horror movies, a bell jar craft exhibit featuring butterflies and tiny replicas of authors committing suicide, a momentous undersea archaeological find in the form of a sponge with square pants, and horrifying first contact with aliens in the shape of clowns. JB's comics have always been funny, but he comes down more on the side of straight gags than the funny but unsettling material he usually does.  Manuel Gomez Burns' rubbery figures are as sharp a contrast from Henderson's deliberately crude figures as Brodowski's naturalistic style is, but Burns' work is similar in that it works on a conceptual as well as visual level in deconstructing time and space in a comics panel.

Henderson's comics often have a vicious quality to them as well, and Leah Wishnia's revenge comic about creating the perfect spitball to destroy someone who slighted her fits right in, Her gleefully crude line and over-the-top demonic explosions at the end are hilariously cruel and give the comic a greater  edge. Ansis Purins is another cartoonist who mixes humor and horror, and his comic here is no exception, as it follows two brothers (a jock and a nerd who can't be separated from his tablet) going out into nature. The jock berates his brother and throws away his tablet but feels bad--until he's confronted by an army of monsters and zombies. His younger brother saves him and they bond over smashing monsters together. This comic gets its humor from the action as it does from a particular gag or concept, making for another departure in the comic. Speaking of violence, Jesse McManus takes the characters from Henderson's old Nickelodeon comic, "Scene But Not Heard" and puts them through ultra-violent and psychedelic paces in a way that honors the originals but adds McManus' own trippy and slightly rubbery line as his own signature. The real find of the issue was Peter Bagge digging up some old comics from his older brother Doug, which happen to be absurd, angry and highly pointed. Bagge wasn't exaggerating when he said that drawing comics and being funny came naturally for his brother, who lost interest in them prior to dying young. These comics are a fantastic find and point to Henderson as not just a humorist, but someone who thinks constantly about the craft and history of comics. The way he likes to include reprints of old humor magazines also points to this, and it made for a remarkably rich issue.

Henderson went out of his way to up his own game, with a joke about what chewing gum is called in each state that's a parody of the sort of infographic one might see on Facebook. He actually went the extra mile of coming up with one for each state, including items like "Goof Pickles", "Nobody's Applesauce" and "Windowless Christmas". There's the serial "The Cappy Jennings Story", about a popular 1950s comedian whose catchphrase is "Look at my ass!", and his rise and fall. It's the prototypical Henderson long-form comic in that it provides a warped view of history that still feels familiar and pairs it up with an incredibly stupid punchline. Henderson also included his share of single-panel gag strips, this time acting as interstitial material instead of as the meat of the comic--a role they are perfectly suited for. The next two issues of Magic Whistle, which I'll be reviewing tomorrow, have a slightly different format.

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