Monday, September 20, 2021

Minis: Jonathan Baylis' So Buttons #11

Jonathan Baylis's anthology memoir series So Buttons continues to truck along, as he just released his eleventh issue. As per usual, he has a strong eye for choosing the right artist collaborator for the right story. Perhaps the best in this issue was his collaboration with legendary UK cartoonist Phil Elliott, a mainstay of the burgeoning 80s British indy cartooning scene. Appropriately, Elliott illustrated the story of Baylis' time in London doing a semester abroad program. His charmingly sketchy style was perfect for this tale of Baylis meeting Bruce "Skinny Melink" Paley, a Brooklyn ex-pat who ran a comics store. Baylis followed up that anecdote with some surprising connections he later learned about as they connected to Elliott, Carol Swain, and others. 

Given Baylis' own circuitous history in comics, it's a story that makes sense. He spent years as an intern at various publishers, and this issue covers his time at Topps. It's bookended by illustrations from Fred Hembeck and Rick Parker, two veteran humor/gag cartoonists. The one by Parker is done in the classic Bazooka Joe style in a tribute to Baylis' friend Jay Lynch, who was a Topps veteran. Baylis is very much someone who has all sorts of geek fandoms in his wheelhouse, and the main story (drawn by Jeff Zapata) ties them together amusingly. Here's where the high production values Baylis uses for his comic strongly worked in his favor, because Zapata's smudged style would have looked messy in a black & white comic. However, the four-color palette was ideal for evoking that bright Topps aesthetic.

Baylis is a guy who's met a lot of interesting people through his various jobs. He talked about working as a coordinator for the Make-A-Wish foundation and coordinating a kid's lunch visit with John Cleese. Baylis is a sharp observer, and his comments on Cleese perhaps finding it necessary to be extra loquacious because he was nervous or needed to entertain were interesting. He also turns it from simply a name-dropping exercise into a human moment when he revealed a moment of real human tenderness in how Cleese wordlessly helped the child cut up his meal while continuing to entertain. A.T. Pratt and Garrett Gilchrist bookended the story with Cleese illustrations (lots of Monty Python stuff) and B.Mure drew it. Mure's use of what look like watercolors gave the story a sweetness to it.

When you need an illustrator to draw a story about whiskey, who else would you choose but November Garcia? This led off the issue, and it was an appropriate opener: very silly and funny, as Baylis recounted his quest to get his hands on a particular vintage of scotch. Garcia just went to town here with funny drawings; I'd be curious to see what the script's directions were for her in terms of some of the visual jokes. Finally, there was a one-page story about Baylis slipping into nostalgia for a Waldenbooks-turned-bank in New York drawn by his longtime collaborator T.J. Kirsch. Kirsch always hits that sweet spot between naturalism and cartooniness that fits so many of the affable Baylis' stories. Having Jim Rugg do a Basil Wolverton impersonation for the cover was also a real grabber, and it was a stroke of genius to commission Rugg to do it, given his extremely broad skill set. Baylis has grown extremely confident as a writer and long ago figured out the best way to play to each artist's strengths. I never get the sense that he's over-writing, which can be common in writer-artist collaborations. Despite the fact that these anecdotes are usually fairly breezy, the open nature of his writing makes them feel surprisingly chummy and even intimate. 

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