Being only vaguely familiar with his name but not much else, I was quite pleasantly surprised by the minicomics I received from Will Dinski. They are by turns elegant, quirky, funny and enigmatic. He reminds me a bit of a young Bill Griffith, more in the “Griffith Observatory” days rather than Zippy. As an aside, make sure to visit his website, which is laid out as a photo page for the 1953 “Fraternity of Graphic Narrative”. Make sure to click on each of the highlighted names to get a sort of bonus story. It’s the sort of story that delights me in webcomics, something that’s not quite possible with a printed comic, that formally demands a different sort of interaction between reader and artist.
Back to more old-fashioned media: I read issues 2 and 3 of his mini-series, HABITUAL ENTERTAINMENT. Before I get to that, let’s look at “The Midwestern Artist”, an 8 page folding comic. It starts with a brief meditation on the notion that midwestern artists tend to be celebrated in the area only when they leave to become famous elsewhere. After reciting an anecdote about F.Scott Fitzgerald holing up in a particular Saint Paul address to write his first successful novel, Dinski does the same and emerges raving about his success as though he were Fitzgerald, causing an accident. It’s the sort of dry, offbeat humor that he seems to be best at. It’s not a gag, exactly, but it’s an unusual and even absurd situation that doesn’t have a ready resolution.
HABITUAL ENTERTAINMENT #3 (“Bury The Hatchet And The Cross You Bear”) is his most recent effort. The layout and presentation is interesting: it’s on red paper, with a 5 x 5 grid. Each panel is very small, cramming a lot of information on the page. When he needs to, he expands important images to take up more of the page. He solves his space problem by placing dialogue in entire panels next to images. In order to create breaks in the story, he puts in blank panels to represent pages with a crease in them. The story is about a farmer in the future, having to deal with a son he didn’t want because his wife died giving birth to him. The focus of the story seems to be on the relationship between the farmer and his son, then takes a wild left turn as the quasi-sentient machines tilling the soil do something unexpected. Despite that ending, the theme of the story (relationship between father and son, dealing with death) remained intact. There’s no pat resolution here, as the anger we see in both father and son and the nature of their conflict remain on the page.
The best of the comics in this set was HABITUAL ENTERTAINMENT #2 (“Fool’s Gold”). It’s a very clever and amusing story of an unemployed actor who gets a call to be a secret shopper as a quickie job. He looks it as an opportunity to act again. Along the way, he invites his ex-fiance and an old rival to his “performance”, which he has advertised all over town. Coincidentally, the new boyfriend of his ex happens to work at the very coffee shop that he was to appear at for his secret shopper job. The narrator of the story is a man in an audience of some kind, recounting the events. The ending gives us a double-take and then a triple-take, as Dinski pulls the rug out from the audience.
What makes this such an effective story is the way Dinski manages to create interesting characters that have their own individual quirks, and then puts them through unusual situations. The little character tangents that he makes often wind up tying directly into the resolution of the story, along with his overall themes, even if it seems like extraneous detail at first. There are lots of side-jokes peppered throughout the story, heightening the sense of absurdity that winds up being the comic’s overall theme.
As an artist, Dinski knows how to skillfully compose a page. His figures are somewhat stiff, but he compensates for this lack of fluidity by exaggerating facial features, especially absurdly long and pointed noses. That exaggeration also compensates for the sketchiness of his line. The quality of his line is workmanlike; it gets the job done and communicates things clearly and even with some subtlety. One senses that as he continues to gain experience, his draftsmanship will also smooth out a bit; at times, he looks as though he’s working hard to make it look simple. One could see his improvement just judging from the transition from HE #2 to #3. His skill as a humorist is obvious, but he’s a thinking man’s humorist, and that’s what makes him someone to watch.