Monday, April 23, 2018

Minis: E. Lindner, J. Kieffer

The Cranklet's Chronicle #1, by Ellen Lindner. I've been enjoying Lindner's minis for close to twenty years now. While I've enjoyed her fiction, it's her autobio and reportage that I've always liked the best. That's because her authorial voice is witty and crisp, and her ability to draw people in stylish clothes is rare in comics. I was thus especially delighted to see the first issue of The Cranklet's Chronicle appear in the post, which is a minicomic series devoted to women in baseball. The titular "cranklet" is the feminized version of "crank", an obsolete term for a baseball fan. Lindner's always had an eye for style in any number of eras, so it's no surprise that she'd want to bring back an especially apt and fun description.

Using a light and dark blue wash, Lindner introduces this issue's main story by noting that in many ways, baseball is sexist. Yet she grew up a fan, just like her mom, and when her attention turned to the role of women in the game, she learned that the founder of her favorite team, the New York Mets, was one Joan Whitney Payson. The rest of the issue tells her story, as a woman born into wealth and obsessed with the New York Giants, just like her mom. Lindner really hits on the idea that sports (and baseball in particular) is largely a generational phenomenon, where one generation passes on the love of the game but also a lifetime of memories spent together enjoying the game. Later on, Payson bought shares of the Giants and witnessed the likes of Willie Mays making his famous over-the-shoulder catch in the World Series.

When several east coast teams got the idea to head west (as Lindner points out, this only happened because of post-war advances in air travel), the majority owner of the Giants turned down an offer from Payson to buy the team and keep it there and instead moved it to San Francisco. Lindner offered up a juicy fact that there was a move to start a new league to rival Major League Baseball, and Payson was encouraged to buy in. Before any of that came to pass, MLB headed off that potential crisis by offering New York a new expansion team and inviting Payson to be the owner. That team would be the Metropolitans, or Mets, and they actually played at the Polo Grounds (the Giants' old stadium) before they moved to Shea Stadium in Queens. What makes this story so fun in Lindner's hands is that she knows which anecdotes to play up, like Payson's fan superstitions amusing the crowd or manager Gil Hodges walking out of a room in anger after being mocked by a roomful of sportswriters. Lindner later cleverly tied Payson's devotion to the 1969 World Series champs to her own mom's who recalled sitting in a room with a bunch of other nurses in the clinching day game.

Lindner hits on all the emotional aspects of sports and how they intertwine with the game itself. Baseball games are long and the season is incredibly long. For a devoted fan, this creates a nice rhythm, a natural rise and fall that simultaneously makes the players a part of their daily life. The connection between different generations of fans and then the way in which the fans' overall excitement can energize a city--especially a city where everyone walks, like New York--are phenomena that go beyond the simplicity of a game and serve a function as a kind of shared belief system that everyone is part of. Lindner also includes a brief interview with (gasp!) a fan of the New York Yankees (the leviathan of baseball), asking about her fandom, the way it related to her fandom, etc. Lindner wrote this in such a way that non-sports fans could appreciate it, though it will obviously resonate more with fans of either baseball or sport in general.

Cabbagetown 1-3 and Drawing Thinking Of You Dancing, by Jason Kieffer. Jason Kieffer is at his best when he's writing and drawing about the down & out and dispossessed people of Toronto. I found myself disappointed in this minicomics version of that sort of story. Kieffer essentially indulges three different storytelling urges in each issue: the "real" origin of city-related symbology, tales of Native American gods like Coyote, and his more typical interactions with Toronto's homeless. The first bit, where he analyzes items like the statue in front of the police station or goes on about the Queen of England still being the real ruler of Canada, sound like typical conspiracy theory fodder. That there's Masonic imagery everywhere isn't exactly news, for example. The fact that he threw in a casual transphobic joke in the middle of one of his investigations certainly didn't add anything positive to these rants.

The Coyote stories he chose to tell were usually focused on sex and/or scatology, and that got old fairly quickly. The effect wasn't even shocking as much as it was juvenile. The stories that were focused elsewhere lacked cleverness, with every moment of the story being telegraphed from the very start. The best of his stories about locals was about "Ursula" in #2, which told her story with a degree of sensitivity and kindness that was in marked contrast with the far more aggressive "Jen" in #3. Kieffer positions himself as a fellow member of Toronto's underclass and positions himself on the sidewalk for "people-watching". The truth seems to be that he's more of a dabbler in that world than the real inhabitants of the underclass who are trying to cope (poorly) with mental illness and addiction, who lack that self-awareness that Kieffer possesses. As such, they are always filtered through Kieffer's own sense of safety and awareness. He doesn't mock his subjects, but they are very much "othered", even if it's done in a sympathetic manner. That said, that he engages with them at all is affirming their humanity in a way that most aren't willing to do.

The mini about dancing (co-credited to the dancer, Mairi Greig) is interesting in the way that an illustrated poem is interesting. It is an adornment entirely exterior to the original work of art itself. It is amusing and possibly interesting but unnecessary. In the case of this mini, it was interesting to see Kieffer try to capture the movements and sounds of a long dance routine, but the way he did it made him incapable of expressing what it is a dancer does with their body to create expression. It's similar to an illustrated poem vs comics-as-poetry; the first slaps an image on top of text, and there's no real two-way interplay. The second takes the rhythms of poetry and translates them (both textually and visually) into comics form, aiming for the effect of poetry rather than simply its form. Similarly, it is possible to draw comics-as-dance (Keren Katz does this), where the ways in which bodies are flattened and contorted as dancers are transformed into shapes on the page. This was an interesting experiment for Kieffer and Grieg that ultimately wound up being tedious in its repetitiveness.

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