Monday, August 6, 2018

Minis From Daniel Spottswood

Daniel Spottswood uses a Raymond Carver-style overlapping series of individual narratives that meet at certain key points in his minicomics. There's a mix of slow-burn narrative but also a certain repetitive series of gags surrounding his characters, as the reader always expects certain things when a particular character is spotlighted. Visually, Spottswood uses a cute, simple style that emphasizes one or two features for each of his characters. He also puts in sly references to Marvel comics and other pop culture, like the cover of Disquietville Showcase #1 being a reference to an old series of Marvel covers during one month. Mostly, Spottswood gives the reader a set of slice-of-life narratives that start to become familiar and welcome fairly quickly. His ability to get to the essence of a character allows the reader to understand them thoroughly and look forward to what they might say or do next, especially as they interact with other characters.

For example, in Disquietville Tales #1, we're introduced to Owen and Patrick, a father-son duo who each act problematically in their own way, yet show each other unconditional love. There's Patrick, the artist, who is followed around by the silent ghost of his ex-girlfriend, presented on the page as just a series of dashes. Glen's a nerd who prizes getting a rare toy instead of the winter coat he badly needs. In the middle of the comic, it folds out for a tale of gathering spot "Pablo's Diner", where a number of these narratives intersect or give the reader a taste of what's to come later. It's intricate and overwhelming, but Spottswood is careful to bring the reader along gradually in and out of these narratives.

My favorite character in the book is Margie, the anxious and put-upon waitress who's always showing up late, fibbing to her boyfriend as a result of her forgetfulness and constantly anxious about her inability to focus on what she really wants to do in life. She's the embodiment of ambition undercut by anxiety-driven procrastination. Her design, with hairbows and short pig-tails, really fits her cute exterior that belies that mixture of worry and hedonism.

Disquietville Showcase Featuring Doug #1 is all about a particular misanthrope who works in the convenience store and is friends with Glen. Some people are born misanthropes, but in the case of the permanently unshaven Doug, his hatred of the world was created by lazy co-workers who took advantage of his good nature and team spirit. It didn't take long for him to take his revenge on them through never leaving the job and making them miserable. There's a centerfold feature about that history and his horrible coworkers, one of whom calls him a "faggot". There's a surprising sense of ease with which Spottswood uses homophobic language, but it's always either said by an obviously awful person or else it's actually corrected by another character.

Unstuck is a series of presumably autobiographical, single-page images that are memories (like Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five) that are "unstuck" from time. From being introduced to his baby brother to remembering an especially amazing Christmas gift to losing his job to a particular sexual encounter to meeting a future girlfriend for the first time, each image is powerful on its own. Spottswood's gift here is conveying a great deal of information in a single panel with a minimum of dialogue. The reader knows that they're jumping back and forth in time, and we see the same images of important people at different times. Spottswood's understanding of the complexity of emotion and memory, especially with regard to family, is hard to explain and understand, as an image of his father hitting him and a later image of him praying that his father doesn't die illustrates. The use of blue wash adds just enough of a touch to illustrate how the images are linked together, giving a sense of being slightly faded and flickering, like an old TV set. Spottswood's comics take advantage of his invitingly cute character design and allow him to inject a number of adult themes without ever losing track of their appealing, welcoming quality.

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