Monday, September 25, 2017

Minis: M.Turbitt, J.Baylis, J.Porcellino

That blissful comics avalanche feel is upon me after SPX. All I can do is sift through and start reviewing.

How To Eat Chips, by Meghan Turbitt. Turbitt continues her hilarious, over-the-top social satire by way of exploring advertising and imagery surrounding food in this mini. From the cover that's a parody of the Utz brand of potato chips to the "nutritional facts" on the back that indicates that it provides 200% of daily laughs, 100% of advice and 50% each of fashion, fine art & literature, this mini even has a single-page inset "Guide To Eating Potato Chips". What makes this mini so successful is Turbitt's genuine enthusiasm for food and snack foods in particular. The manic energy that Turbitt provides for her drawings is inherently funny in drawings of potato chips and people eating them; the dissonance between what we expect in a work of advertising and promotion and what she does on the page is amusingly diverting. The further the mini goes on, the sillier it gets, like listing the "best songs to listen to while eating Rap Snacks", positing pretzels as the enemy of chips, creating a "chips dream team" and imagining future chip flavors like oyster, pho, and lobster roll. At the same time, while the mini becomes silly, it never becomes absurd, and stays in the gravity of its central premise: a guide to something that needs no guide at all.

So Buttons #8, by Jonathan Baylis, et al. Baylis continues to get better with every issue of his collaborative autobio comic. His writing is sharper, more concise, funnier and just has a greater overall crispness and purpose. In terms of style, he's never been lacking for ideas, and the cover for this issue was just killer: a parody of the cover of American Splendor #4, as drawn by Robert Crumb. This was the one where noted record fiends Harvey Pekar & Crumb were doing an aw-shucks trade on records they really wanted, each thinking they ripped the other off. This time around, it's a drawing of Baylis and cover artist Noah Van Sciver, doing the same thing with comics. It's hilariously on point and evocative of the original while very much being in Van Sciver's mature style.

Baylis has learned to find good matches for story subjects. "So...Porky" is about his rejection of his Jewish religious roots in terms of dogma around diet and how he embraced pork. This was a light-hearted story, so a cartoony and light line like Corrine Mucha's was a solid pairing. I especially enjoyed how he went into so much detail about something called a Shanghai soup dumpling, which amusingly has a set of rituals surrounding it that one might almost call religious. Rick Parker's versatility and ability to draw horror images made him the right partner for "So...Hallow", which is a history of his love of Halloween make-up. It includes an interlude by Van Sciver where extremely gory make-up one Halloween stopped an angry motorist he'd just gotten into a fender-bender with in his tracks. Baylis always has a way of bringing these anecdotes around to more significant events, and in this case it was his initial interest in doing movie effects make-up for a living that waned when he started doing it for others, along with a general disinterest in Halloween that started after 9/11. The happy ending is that he started finding ways to dress up his dog. "So...Bejeweled" (with one of the best artists with regard to drawing animals in Rachel Dukes) is about his first dog as an adult who died not long after they got her, while "So...Close" is an amusing short with long-time collaborator T.J. Kirsch wherein he tells his wife that the feels like their life is settling down for the better...only to run out of gas. This issue is a solid, satisfying piece of storytelling.

South Beloit Journal, by John Porcellino. This mini from Uncivilized Books has an interesting origin. After finishing drawing a book about suicide, he found himself with 91 2x6" scraps of Bristol board after he trimmed the pages to size. He was inspired to do a daily, three panel journal strip that was very different from the sort of thing he does in King-Cat Comics & Stories. There's a level of precision, even in a minimalist sense, in those comics. Those comics are poetic, and the anecdotes carefully chosen. With a daily strip, John P simply unloaded what was on his mind in the fastest, rawest manner possible. The fact that he was going through an especially low, lonely period of his life and that he did this anyway is just part and parcel of Porcellino and his approach to life. Even at his most depressed, he finds a way to keep going, keep working, keep drawing, keep connecting and keep trying. The bright moments in this comic come when he's connecting with someone else, or talking to cartoonist friends of his at shows, or getting up and drawing/working when he would rather sleep all day. He's a sort of living example of the positive effects of what is known in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) as "opposite action"--doing the opposite of what you want to do in a depressed state, in order to change mood. The journal is also proof that no matter how awful today is, tomorrow has a chance to be better. That's borne out in the back half of the journal, when he goes on an extended trip to Canada for various shows and readings, and also starts dating someone new. Porcellino is not one to overromanticize anything, so reading about him watching the hockey playoffs with his new girlfriend is a kind of shorthand for that sense of new romantic energy. Making those connections and soldiering on with his creative work doesn't make everything perfect, but in these raw, ragged and emotionally vulnerable strips, Porcellino shows that it can at least help.

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