Tuesday, December 31, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #31: Mike King/Michael Sweater

Mike King, currently using the pen name Michael Sweater, does what I sometimes refer to as "pop-punk" comics. These are artists who very much live a DIY, punk ethos and do frequently sweet, punk-themed comics, often revolving around a fantasy theme. His collection of comics from 2013, Lion's Teeth, puts all of his influences on display. Graffiti art, tattoo art, manga, fantasy comics, autobio comics, and more all are all there, blended in a confident and stylized line that's the clear result of drawing a lot of pages. The five issues of Lion's Teeth add up to nearly five hundred pages, including some work drawn in 2011. The cumulative effect of all of this is closer to looking at an intensely worked-over sketchbook than a coherent anthology series, but that rawness is part of the appeal.

The best strips are the ones featuring Dave, the wizard school student. Armless due to a curse, he loves magic but claims to hate everything else: the perfect, disaffected protagonist. Of course, that's all a pose, as he has a strong friendship with his anthropomorphic owl friend Argyle and a frenemy relationship with Richard, the snake who lives in the tree in his backyard. King's character design is top-notch, but the barrel-chested Dave is particularly inspired. Dave and friends are just as likely to go on a quest for death-summoning skull as they are to go out and eat the best pizza in the world, and that's part of the charm of the strip. Death himself is just a guy who has to go out and do a job, and it's frequently an annoying one. His adventures run parallel to Dave's until he is finally summoned, and their conversation is a surprisingly poignant one. I'd love to see more of these characters, especially because they provide such an interesting alternative to the all-too-familiar "wizard school" trope.

There are a lot of interstitial pages here devoted to King's graffiti/tattoo art designs. Here, he uses a big, bold line with stark black/white contrasts. It's different from the rattier, looser line of his comics, while also use zip-a-tone and gray-scale effects to fill in negative space in order to add weight to the page. There are also the "Clyde" comics, which are done in big, chunky lines on the back of old priority mail envelopes. There's also his older "Make Me" comics from 2011, which are more random bits of humor. There's one running bit where a human refuses food to an animal or threatens to hurt them, and then a huge boxer shows up to beat the human to a pulp. King's comic timing is sharp, and his use of callbacks like this is smoothly developed. There are also comics featuring little punk kids being schooled in how to be properly punk by adults. The other major comics in these collections are autobiographical, where he draws himself as an anthropomorphic cat and his girlfriend (now wife) Benji as an anthropomorphic mouse. King can actually get pretty raw and real with regard to his mental state in these strips--both in the comics about himself and in the Dave comics in particular. That mix of well-developed craft and a willingness to try anything is a hallmark of his work, which has continued in the books he's done with Silver Sprocket.

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