Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Two From Kilgore: Unicorns Of Planet Earth, Kilgore Quarterly #7

Unicorns Of Planet Earth, by Lauren Barnett. Barnett doesn't do a lot of minis these days, but there's no question that she's become funnier and funnier over the years. Her latest comic is kind of a conceptual sequel to her excellent I'm A Horse, Bitch, except that it's from the point of view from Barnett as a "unicorn scientist" instead of from the animal's point of view, and it declares horses to be "snooze-fests". Barnett's comedy is mostly conceptual in nature, combining total absurdity with a deadpan quality that's razor-sharp. The crude drawings of unicorns (in full color, no less) are always funny in and of themselves, and made funnier by supporting text like "This unicorn is an alcoholic, though he would say he's just 'going through a rough patch.'" Even better is when she describes the fact that unicorns mate for life, she says, "I love knowing that true love is out there, even for unicorns! It doesn't make me want to stab myself in the face or anything like that. I'm just happy when others find happiness. Super happy."

The comic goes from there, absorbing aspects of the likes of Lisa Hanawalt and Lauren Weinstein and giving them Barnett's own sardonic spin. What makes the comic so successful is Barnett's comedic sense of rhythm and the way she plays it off the bright, colorful and silly imagery. The mini is the perfect delivery system for this kind of humor, as her design and sense of humor is all over it. Barnett is the master at taking a seemingly thin premise and absolutely wringing out every possible laugh.

Kilgore Quarterly #7, edited by Dan Stafford. This latest issue of the in-house anthology collects a number of "orphans"--short stories by various interesting cartoonists that are now hard to find. It opens with a superb Summer Pierre piece, "Dappled Light", that starts off exploring her current relationship with old TV sitcoms from the 1950s (including the humor-free Father Knows Best) and then slips into a reminiscence about how TV was an escape from what was hinted at as a rough and abusive childhood. Pierre's drawing of herself as a girl is perfect in this regard: dots for eyes, a simply-drawn face, long straight hair. In the scene where she imagines herself inhabiting the world of Leave It To Beaver, just for a little while, that simplified self-image perfectly encapsulates her fragile emotional state. To be drawn with any more naturalism would be unbearable.

Tim Lane's "Steve McQueen Has Vanished" is typical of his deeply noir-inflected stories, only with a twist. Drawn in Lane's typical naturalistic, shadowy style, the story sees a drifter approach a roadside motel in a beat-up pick-up truck. The twist is that the drifter might be the missing actor Steve McQueen, who disappeared for a time in the early 70s. Another interesting storytelling decision is Lane himself being the narrator of the story but having the dialogue play out in real time, as though the narrator has no control over it. It's a story about regrets, rivalries, identity and the sinking feeling that one has made the wrong decisions in life. Lane also uses a metanarrative of McQueen's disappearance being on the news program McQueen watches in his motel room, as well as one of his earliest appearances (in the monster movie classic The Blob) being on TV.

Joseph Remnant's "I Told You So" is a story about heartbreak, obsession, falling in love with someone through their work and jumping into a new relationship just to reduce the pain of an old one. He's also an artist who uses a naturalistic style, but unlike Lane, it's more in the R.Crumb tradition of lots of lines and lots of cross-hatching, giving it more of a nervous energy than Lane's cool comics. It's a story about doing everything the wrong way but things turning out for the best anyway, and it's got a mixture of brutally sarcastic supporting characters and impractically idealistic protagonists.

Also in the issue is a hilarious Sam Spina "autobiographical" comic about a fish named Sam Spina who's having trouble getting laid, seguing to the actual Spina who then gets beaten up for looking like a threatening homeless presence. It's wish-fulfillment and anti-wish-fulfillment, all in one story, and in Spina's typically frantic, scratchy style. Leslie Stein's "The Desk" was taken from an Oily Comic she did where she sets up a desk in front of her room as a child made of fake bricks. It's a story about playing being an adult (her mom leaves to go to a meeting) and working through crisis, in the most delightful of ways, as she uses her trademark stippled style. There are also a couple of interviews in the book that are handwritten, featuring the cartoonist Jason and singer Grace Slick (!). This is a nice, tight little anthology that is surprisingly cohesive, given the differing styles and subject matter.

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