Thursday, October 12, 2017

Minis: J.Lisa, K.Krumholz, S.Sharpe/P.Goodrich

View-O-Tron #3, by Sam Sharpe & Peach S. Goodrich. This has very quickly become a must-read two-person anthology, with Sharpe in particular turning in memorable stories. "That First Summer After College We All Stayed In The City And Founded Religions" is told in Sharpe's typical anthropomorphic style, and it's an achingly familiar story about that first awkward year after college friendships start to fall apart in the face of adult life. The titular activity of all their friends starting their own cults may be absurd, but it was contextually just a metaphor for young people doing something kind of ridiculous when they can still get away with it. What was interesting was that when two of their friends founded "The Church of the Sandcastle", it had a fervor that piqued the interest of both the narrator and her boyfriend at separate times. There's a metanarrative about a novel that's being read out loud that's also about relationship and a search for meaning, as each character separately finds themselves going to a sandbox service and only one of them emerges as a true believer. Sharpe really gets at that sense of utter certainty and energy of youth that goes hand-in-hand with a sense of aimlessness and a lack of meaning. His characters are far from deadpan; in fact the bulging eyes of the boyfriend after he's found a way out of his personal malaise, even if it came at the price of brushing his girlriend off.

Goodrich's pieces are about seekers: one, a stand-in for the artist, and other a giant monster (also possibly a stand-in for the artist) trying to find one's way in a hostile world. The first piece is an extended visual metaphor as the author goes on a literal hike around the world, only to be told to come home, where their house is made out of their friends. The rest of Sharpe's strips are shorter and more absurd, yet all of them pull on that same sense of displacement in his main story, only he uses sci-fi allegory to get across that point in silly ways. The final strip has callbacks to several earlier stories in a story about stress and how different people react to it, starting with a woman walking down the street and ending with a cosmic eater of worlds, who thinks about the woman walking when it's stressed out. There's a sense of yearning in these comics, of wanting to be comforted by someone or something that knows better. It's implied that the true believers who find a way to become happy are both extremely lucky and hopelessly deluded, like someone had flipped a switch in their heads that not everyone possessed. The cartooning is crisp and attractive, with Goodrich using a thinner line weight, as compared to Sharpe's denser comics. View-O-Tron is just one of many recent traditional comic books that's shown just what can be done in a short story format, but there's no doubt that it's one of the best.

Dotty Spotty 1-2, by Jennifer Lisa. This is a collection of classic 4-panels a day diary comics that mix whimsy and weirdness with frank talk about her emotions. The strips about the anxiety that an ultrasound produced are nicely built up with humorous tension that's diffused when all the portents turned out to be nothing. There's another strip devoted to a deceased and beloved dog, where Lisa talks plainly about allowing herself to forget that her dog was dead, then fake-jokingly noting "Hey, remember? Remember how we healed each other of broken pasts?" The drawings are spare and quick in this strip and in general, as Lisa doesn't get overly precious with her line. Lisa is also frank about trying to find the time and energy to do her comics, as much as she loves them.

The second issue is even sharper than the first, with a strip about playing pinball for an anniversary date that uses repetition nicely in its punchline. Then there's simply a strip about struggling with ADHD, including getting people to take ADHD seriously as a problem. There's a whimsical strip about wanting babies & toddlers to look like forest creatures (the mushroom-raised baby is particularly cute AND disturbing). There are strips about feeling shy in public and depression that resonate thanks to how immediate and urgent all of these comics feel. There's a note in issue two saying that while it's now 2017, she drew the comics in 2015 and hadn't done any since. This is unfortunate, because Lisa's willingness to let her mind wander and then snap to attention on a particular image, or emotion, or memory give the reader a crystal-clear understanding of that experience, whether it's funny or sad.

Revolt To What?, by Daniel Landes & Karl Christian Krumpholz. While this comic takes place in a bar (Krumpholz's specialty as a cartoonist), the story is by Landes, seemingly trying to channel Hunter S. Thompson and Joe Sacco simultaneously. It isn't quite successful, because Krumpholz's figure work is highly stylized in a way that clashes with Landes' already bombastic prose. The story is set in the early 90s in Prague, after the Soviet Union had collapsed and it started to dawn on the Czechs that they weren't exactly being handed paradise in being raided by capitalism. There's a character who is Landes' stand-in, an Argentinian scholar, a highly sexualized female revolutionary, and a world-weary male revolutionary. There's a bar, there are locals acting like American frat boys, and there's general unrest. There are musings on the strength of Czech beer. There's lots of pontificating. It just does not cohere. There's an interesting story to be told, even about these characters, but Landes' stylizations as a writer renders his characters into cliches. Krumpholz' line is out of control with spiky hair on everyone, an excess of cross-hatching and and dull grey-scaling that is suffocating, and an overall lack of restraint. Indeed, Krumpholz is far more restrained as a storyteller with regard to his own work.

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