Monday, March 20, 2017

Short Mini Reviews: D.Zender, T.Yamamoto, R.Van Ingram, J.T. Yost

Giving In, by Daniel Zender. This is a beautiful comic that looks as constructed as it is drawn. It looks painted and I can see brush strokes on some pages, but it also looks like MS Paint may have been used to fill in some parts of the page. Regardless, this a beautiful comic to look at, and it's well-designed enough to be effective as a silent comic. Indeed, with the striking use of pinks, greens, midnight blues and reds helping to code emotion, Zender didn't need text to tell this story about love, loneliness and accepting a brand new status quo when finding love. The story follows a young woman who goes on a camping trip with her friends. She's obviously depressed and lonely, thanks to her body language and some of the things she does in her apartment before the trip. Late at night, as she makes her way into the forest to pee, she encounters some strange pink lights. Intrigued instead of frightened, she makes her way into a tree, where she encounters some kind of tree spirit who is obviously every bit as lonely as she is. The story is marked by the silent decision she must make: stay in this weird environment where she's found a soulmate, or go back to her familiar world. In the end, she chooses to embrace the mystery of both her new environment and being in love. There is beauty and grace to be found in this comic, but there's also sadness as well, because the story notes that there's always a price to be paid for getting what we want.

The Rule, by Tetsuya Yamamoto. This is from Japan's BigUglyRobot, which publishes all sorts of odd comics in English. It follows a young man who visits some kind of vast repository of information, as he inquires after a small (nearly invisible) object that he finds in order to return it to its rightful owners. That snowballs into a wild, apocalyptic story where the young man encounters a race of aliens that originally owned the object, the other alien that had been hunting them down in order to get the object, and a hilarious final battle that devolves into an absurd Pokemon battle. It all makes sense in context, and Yamamoto's clever meta-storytelling provides all sorts of twists and turns along the way. One of those twists is going from a loose, sketchy style to an 8-bit video game style in the final battle. The looseness and fluidity of that earlier style stood in stark contrast to the deliberately stiff art during the battle scene, making that battle even funnier despite the fact that the stakes were no laughing matter. The title refers to how the protagonist was able to take advantage of extremely rigid thinking on the part of his opponent by changing the rules of reality (including having things like Microsoft Excel in his Pokeball) instead of trying to match the opponent on his own terms. Yamamoto manages to create a comic that's funny, mysterious and exciting, playing on standard comics tropes in order to come up with some new curves.

Loser Comix #2, by Richard Van Ingram. These are underground comics in the tradition of Robert Crumb and Skip Williamson, full of heavily-rendered drawings that parody pop culture and politics. This issue was the end result of a Kickstarter campaign and it shows, with high production values and full color throughout. There's a plague story that's a thinly-veiled political allegory that has some genuinely funny lines and a densely inked, horrific quality to the art. Van Ingram's visual sense is perhaps a couple of steps ahead of his ideas, like the Loser Tarot. It's a funny concept that's beautifully-illustrated, but the actual ideas "The Ex-Wife", "The Republican" are on the bland side. The Peanuts parody Chunky Brown is tedious at best, turning Charlie Brown and Linus into loser hipster types, Lucy in a capitalist femme fatale (in one panel, her nipples poke through her shirt for no discernible reason) who sends them to work at a used bookstore. That latter development was clear Van Ingram's way of getting back at his awful used bookstore job, which was probably cathartic for him but not especially relevant for the reader. There's an accurate but tedious bit of social commentary about a yokel voting against his own interests by supporting Republicans. Van Ingram works best when he works briefly, like a hilarious strip about Richard Nixon seeing the future and the Partridge Family sending a message from 3013 to 1973, thanking them for their help in ousting Nixon and establishing a utopia. A serious strip about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson wouldn't have been out of place in World War III Illustrated, and here Van Ingram's dense but colorful style and page design perfectly encapsulates the desperate quality of his text. Van Ingram has a great deal of talent, and it's clear that he's trying to find the best way to use it.

Thanger Dangers, by JT Yost. This is a collection of odds and ends from various anthologies by Yost. "Thenthy" is an odd story about a particular way he bit down on his tongue when seeing an especially cute animal (and later, his daughter), and it leads him to wonder why we evolved with the tendency to react to extreme cuteness with an almost violent response. "The Lead Masks Case" is about the mysterious deaths of two men in Mexico that prompted the possibility of aliens, cults and other phenomena to explain a genuinely puzzling event. Yost is at his best here: clearly and amusingly laying out the facts while employing a line that skirts the edge between naturalist and cartoony. The mashup/parodies of classic comics are nicely drawn but not especially clever or funny. I did enjoy the ode to Waffle House, their absurd juke box and even more absurd styles of serving hash browns. Like Van Ingram, Yost is an excellent cartoonist who is still figuring out what he wants to say as an artist.

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