Friday, July 14, 2023

Short Reviews Of Short Minis: Desmond Reed, Fredo Noland, Stuart Stratu

Troubled Teen, by Desmond Reed. Reed is at his best when he gets to depict highly detailed, grotesque characters. This is a first-person narrative featuring the titular character, who is pock-marked with acne, has that distinct teen stubble, and comically exaggerated nose and ears. Reed establishes the visual stakes right away with dense hatching and cross-hatching, dragging the reader into a world that is already discomfiting. Immediately upon establishing the character, Reed takes things in a totally absurd direction, starting with "Like most folks, I was discovered in a trash can when I was a baby. I matured over a period of four weeks." It goes from there, as he spawns mini-clones through his acne that he keeps popping and then tortures his little brother, an egg-shaped head atop a torso with disturbing amounts of hair. The whole thing is disgusting in a Basil Wolverton sort of way; there's not much in the way of narrative. It's more a chance for Reed to briefly sketch an amusing, gross idea. 

Stratu's Diary Comix, August 2015, by Stuart Stratu. Stratu is an Australian artist who does crude, full-color, 12-panel diary comics. His self-caricature dominates nearly every panel, and his head dominates the rest of his body. With giant eyes, spiky bangs, a two-tooth smile and lots of exaggerated expressions, Stratu gives the reader something interesting to look at on every page, which is important when one considers the general dullness of daily anecdotes. The text-heavy panels are mostly carried by that memorable self-caricature, as Stratu does at least endeavor to deliver a gag of some kind every three panels. That keeps things moving at a fast clip, and his strong opinions about music and movies keeps things lively. A month's worth of these strips is just about the right amount; a longer collection would be difficult to read. 

Black Sheep #4 by Fred "Fredo" Noland. Fredo was one of my favorite late 90s/early aughts alternative cartoonists, and his mini sees him in fine form. Centering around a music scenester and critic named Ivan, Fredo delves into an incredibly detailed and dense slice-of-life story that sees him being harassed by a woman named Lattie in an ongoing game of "insult tag." Ivan hits the record store. He goes to a punk show, antagonizes people, has difficulty with his own Latino background, and later goes to a record party. Vinyl, of course. Every character is so well-observed and precise, the character design is absolutely top-notch, and the ending is a wonderfully surprising swerve. There's also something wonderfully and painfully familiar about all of these characters and settings; if I didn't know a lot of people like this, then I saw them from across the room. Like the best slice-of-life stories, it was a pleasure to simply hang out with these characters, and I was disappointed when the comic ended.

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