Thursday, March 9, 2017

Minis From Andrew Alexander

Andrew Alexander is an interesting young cartoonist who works very much in the Gary Panter "ratty line" tradition. Dead Dog Daze #1 is a perfect example of this, with the distorted faces and heads mixing that Panter aesthetic with a sort of distorted Archie-by-way-of-Clowes concept. This first issue begins with a drug dealing kid named Anthony who calls his recluse friend Henri because he discovers a dog that's been hanged on a football goal post with some strange symbols carved in it. The comic switches first-person perspectives with a large cast of high school (and slightly older) kids and their connections with the crime and with each other. Alexander's ear for dialogue and willingness to go deep into the darkest aspects of his characters made this a riveting read. That was especially true as his grotesque, exaggerated character design was in some ways a parody of Archie (Anthony bore a resemblance to Jughead, for example) but in other ways it represented making each character's appearance reflective of their self-image or inner character.

There are a lot of levels of story here. One interesting diversion in the story is when Anthony goes to visit his supplier Heff (a shut-in obsessed with chess), and Heff tells him that everyone in town plays a role like a piece on the chessboard. Henri is the detective and Anthony is the orphan, and that observation fuels the rest of the issue, as Anthony starts wondering about his life in an existential sense. For the reader, it becomes clear that detective really is Henri's role and that this is a twisting detective mystery with a rogue's gallery worth of suspects. There's even a haunting detail from the past in that Henri was the one who discovered the body of his friend Wren in the forest, an event that clearly altered the course of his life and not in a positive way. There are muscle-headed football players (including one with stitches on his head that make him look like Frankenstein's monster), popularity-seeking girls, and concerned grandmas (one whose face consists entirely of wrinkles, like she's the Dick Tracy villain Pruneface). I'll be curious to see how Alexander resolves this.

Headfirst #2 (as Alex Dicker) is a collection of Alexander's short stories. They are more scribbly and less ambitious than Dead Dog Daze, but they are certainly still interesting. The first story involves a road trip and a quartet of life-long friends going in very different directions. This one is all about the ways in which aggression goes hand-in-hand with friendship and communication, and how different life choices cause that level of intimacy to fracture. The pivotal character in the story is Ralph, who has moved away from California and his friends, and that resentment is palpable even as he finds it hard to relate to his old life. That's especially true when it's revealed along the way that the purpose of the trip is a drug deal, and Ralph actually fantasizes about busting up the deal when he imagines he sees a cop. The constantly sleepy character instead simply dreamed this intervention, and the deal (financing his friend getting his and girlfriend's upcoming baby) was all to set up a new life, one even further removed from his. The other stories involve a post-Civil War narrative about a returning soldier always in search of the next fight, and sees him being manipulated into hunting down Native Americans by the neighbors of his family. That one's a bit on the convoluted side, and the lack of clear storytelling doesn't help. There's a funny bit of autobio involving rebellion and connection at an older age, and there's also a clever story about a living toy who's constantly being torn apart by his owner. This mini shows a restless mind at work with some solid characterization, but it doesn't quite cohere. The difference between this 2014 comic and the 2016 comic reviewed above clearly shows Alexander's development, and it's obvious that he's going in the right direction.

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