Sunday, March 26, 2017

Minis: K.Wirick, J.Zwirek, J.D.Woods

Jimmy Plays The Drums and A Natural Family, by John Dermot Woods. These are interesting, enigmatic comics that play a lot on the grid (the first is a product of Frank Santoro's correspondence course) and on very differing uses of color. Jimmy Plays The Drums is a story about expression and elusiveness, told in a time-fractured style over a long period of time. The entire story is done in bright CMYK in virtually every panel (with the black simply being the lines delineating the characters and the lettering), with the characters and backgrounds flipping colors in each panel. It's an interesting visual effect that forces the reader to reorient themselves on a constant basis as we figure out why the bespectacled Jimmy drummer is constantly trying to escape (from childhood) an older man. The people Jimmy hangs with and his peculiar abilities are only hinted at, but what is made clear is that his parents never allowed him to leave his penthouse home, and he only had the gardener as company--the man chasing him. It's a story about chosen family, a love of art that was not allowed or encouraged, and a slightly magical world that's given life but Woods' almost-exclusive use of colored pencil.

A Natural Family is more conventional in some respects. The use of color is purely functional and even bland. It presents with an unusual occurrence: a brother and sister (both adults) living alone in their family house, with the sister having fallen asleep for two straight days. It's told from the perspective of the brother, with a film crew, the police being brought in to observe the phenomenon and (presumably) have someone do something about it--to no avail. Woods then time-jumps back to the siblings, three days earlier, and reveals that a once-boisterous and happy familial relationship had been reduced to silence, and the suggestion by the brother that one of them leave the house to explore "missed opportunities" leads her to fall asleep in response--a move that prevents him from leaving. Much is left unsaid in this comic. What, precisely, was the nature of their relationship beyond being familial? There's a panel of the man in bed with a presumed sexual partner in the morning, seemingly ready to kick her out. The last page reveals that she went to bed naked, but it's clear that he put a dressing gown on her before he invited in the media. Is her escape into sleep a way of protesting her brother abandoning her, or is it something more? In both of his minis, Woods provides a lot of clues but ultimately leaves a lot of the answers up to the reader.

Stand-Up Comic, by Jeff Zwirek. Zwirek's one of my favorite comics formalists, especially in terms of the actual physical construction of his comics. This short mini about a stand-up comedian is made in such a way as to literally have a stand in the back, as though it were for display. It features a deeply schlubby comedian named Buster Guts, a pear-shaped fellow with a face that looks like it was arranged by Picasso. Zwirek starts off in a four-panel grid that falls away to an open page format as Buster Guts actually proves himself to be a top-notch, self-deprecating comedian whose gags go from tired to genuinely funny. This comic is a nice combination of gimmick and gags, with one grabbing the reader's attention and the latter standing on their own but aided by the mere sight of the comedian.

Nervenkrank #1, by Katherine K. Wirick. This is the first chapter of a much longer work about the life of German Dada artist John Heartfield, born as Helmut Herzfeld. There has been a proliferation of comics biographies as of late, mostly coming out of Europe, and they have a tendency to be pretty to look at but largely mundane. Wirick's work has a chance to be an exception, as Nervenkrank is clearly a passion project, not just a project researched for a contract. Heartfield's work is obviously important to her on a deep level, and it shows in the intensity of the rendering on each page and the emphasis on a slow narrative pace that establishes his emotional state as a soldier. The story opens in 1915, in the middle of World War I. Heartfield is a hospitalized soldier, clearly traumatized by what he's seen. Wirick emphasizes that by noting that his roommate literally won't come out from under the bed, another patient can't stop screaming about being bombed, etc. Returning to his boarding house, he is presented with compassion by the wife of the owner and contempt by the owner himself.

Wirick depicts the stuttering Heartfield as delicate and sensitive but not weak. He steals the German flag flying outside his room and burns it. Dada was born in large part as a reaction to the pointless stupidity and brutality of World War I as the people were sent to die for no good reason, and this issue emphasizes all of these issues. Wirick is a skilled naturalistic artist who masterfully uses greyscale to balance depth and density in each panel. It's clear that she thoughtfully and carefully resolves issues like negative space, character interaction in space and how to make her realistically-rendered characters still manage to appear alive on the page. Her page design is functional, relying more on her figure drawing than on an innovative approach, but it's clear that this story is meant to appear in a larger format. This mini came out nearly four years ago and I haven't seen another issue since, but I hope she continues to persevere on this project.

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