A Minicomics World Tour

Time to take a look at the minicomics that have come my way, and it’s quite an interesting and varied assortment from all over the world. There’s historical adaptations, horror, humor and autobio in this batch, among other things. Let’s begin with humor.

Shannon Smith

for more details.

Rob Jackson

Jackson is from England, though he spent some time in South Korea teaching english. That story is detailed in RANDOM JOURNEYS #1 in “1st Day At Work”, where Jackson is led to a red-light district by his boss because “here you can make lots of foreign friends!” Things get weirder from there, as he’s led to a public bath and gets a rubdown, getting cleaned in places he wasn’t expecting. The beleaguered Jackson makes an amusing narrator, and his dry, smart-ass wit shines through all of his stories, even when they are ostensibly serious.
That’s certainly true of the main story in this mini, an account of a jungle expedition, but even moreso in CAFE’ LE GUILLOTINE: THE FRENCH REVOLUTION. It’s a straightforward account that somehow manages to mine the absurdity of that historical event. Especially random beheadings, heads on pikes, King Louis trying to pass as a commoner, storming the Bastille, Caps of Liberty and other wackiness. There are two very clever pages where Tom Paine (author of Common Sense and a key figure in the American Revolution) is in Paris and nearly lynched by a crowd for not wearing a Liberty Cap before he’s saved. Jackson really captures the paranoia and general craziness that gripped a nation that desperately needed change. Of course, once the revolutionaries gained power, it didn’t take long for backbiting, power grabs and murder in the name of the state to grab hold. Jackson’s take on it was that everyone involved was a yahoo, with the revolutionaries ultimately tapping Napolean. The center of the story concerns the title cafe, across the square from where most of the executions took place, and the beheadings became public sport. (An aside where a woman bakes a “monarchist pudding” and is sent to her death sort of sums it all up.)

Jackson’s ambitions as an artist currently outstrip his abilities. His composition is impressive–there’s a great-looking page where the panels are arranged to look like a guillotine. The crudeness of his figure work is probably his biggest weakness as an artist, though he compensates for this by using a few recognizable iconic trademarks for each major character. Robespierre wears glasses (adding to his aura of nerd-drunk-with-power), Marat has a bandage on his head, Desmoulins has long black hair, etc. The limitations of his draftsmanship were aided by the light-hearted approach he took to this story. Jackson’s brains, wit and compositional sense are currently his strengths, and I hope that he continues to work on his weaknesses, because he’s made some interesting choices so far in his comics career. See smallzone for more information.

Molly Lawless

Lawless’ entry is SLEEPWALKER #1, and more info (including a link to her excellent sketch blog) can be found at sleepwalkercomic.blogspot.com. Lawless didn’t write the bulk of this 16 page mini, which is unfortunate because those pages she did write were quite witty. I’m a sucker for sports comics and her one-pager on the Washington Senators’ last game in 1971 (complete with the game being called because the fans stormed the field) was amusing and sharply drawn. Lawless almost completely eschews the use of blacks, preferring a heavily cross-hatched style that adds weight to the page without interfering with the reader’s ability to process it. She perhaps overdoes it on this page, though the crowded and cross-hatched panels reflect the weirdness and claustrophobia of the event itself.

The main narrative in this issue was written by Carlton King and it’s called “The Turning of the Worm”. Her art breathes a bit more here, with a lot more white space. Her figure work is wonderful to lay one’s eyes on. The body language is subtly detailed, the figures are expressive, and eccentricities are conveyed without the use of too much exaggeration. Her art reminds me a little of Alison Bechdel’s (with a bit of Renee French thrown in), especially the way she uses facial expressions to convey meaning so effectively. The story concerns a fantasy nerd who gets a job essentially running the life of a sad-sack but very successful fantasy author. The nerd is enormously self-deluded regarding his own importance and of course is friends with similarly self-deluded creative/political types. This first episode is mildly diverting, but the one-dimensional nature of the characters makes me wonder how far this storyline can be stretched.

The rest of the issue has some nice gag work. There’s a great page called “Alien Bride”, the cover of an absurd bridal magazine that has a bride with metallic claws weepily lamenting “No ring for me…” Lawless clearly has a ton of talent (she does a lot of illustration work), and I hope she continues to write her own material.

Dave Bradbury’s PICTOZINE

PICTOZINE is an anthology by cartoonists from New Zealand. There’s a nice diversity of styles here, but each individual strip is too short to really get a sense of what each author is capable of. The two exceptions are by the best-known artists here, and their work frankly towers over every other entry in the anthology. The first is a bunch of Fred the Clown strips by Roger Langridge, who is merely one of the best humorists working in comics today. His design sense, gorgeous line, expressive figures and absurd sense of humor are a pleasure to read anywhere. The second exception is more of an illustrated essay by Dylan Horrocks, creator of HICKSVILLE (one of my all-time favorite comics). Horrocks writes an essay about his “lighthouse library”, the ideas that have been in his head for years but he hasn’t yet drawn. It’s a revealing look at his struggle to be prolific, cleverly laid out as an extended checklist of ideas.

There are other funny bits: Robin E Kenealy checks in with “I Made a Toastie Pie for Satan”, a gag that pretty much explains itself. Matt Scheurbert’s “Discovery” is a one-pager wherein a man picks up a sheet of paper with a surprising message on it; the dominant use of black adds a bit of weight to a clever but slight set-up. On the other end of styles, Steve Saville’s stylized and exaggerated figures in “The Forgotten” nicely match the nihilism of the strip.

The other strips don’t do much for me. Some are slick but empty (like VL Dreyer’s fantasy sequence), some have gags that are punchless (Grant Buist’s “Fitz Bunny in Hell”) and some have interesting ideas and images that are hard to follow (Tim Danko, I think). Another problem is that the order of the stories doesn’t exactly match up with the artist list on the back, and not every story contains an artist’s signature. As a whole, it’s not an entirely satisfying read. The only thread running between every entry is that each artist is from New Zealand, and that’s not quite enough to provide a coherent reading experience. Overall, I’d say that this was a noble experiment that didn’t quite work, but it did at least expose me to a few more artists whom I want to see more out of. Contact Dave Bradbury at dave@pictozine.co.nz for
details on ordering.

Elizabeth Genco & Assorted Illustrators

Genco submitted two minis: WEIRD SISTER and RED. Both are horror comics, a genre in which I don’t have much interest. Still, Genco managed to win me over with an intelligent, clever approach to old saws like witch and werewolf stories. Not an artist herself, she was somewhat at the mercy of her illustators, and the style of each artist had a huge impact on how effectively each story completed its aims.

WEIRD SISTER is about a young witch who summons up a hellhound to kill a couple of vicious thugs, protects a special child from someone she accidentally drove mad, and protects a friend from her now-undead ex-boyfriend. What’s most interesting about the stories is the way Genco slowly reveals details about the character and her motivations. She’s a witch who has some sort of mission here, but what exactly the mission might be isn’t clear. The lack of detail the reader is given in the first story is not aided by the murky art by Adam Boorman. It’s hard to make out what’s happening from panel to panel at times, and the attempt by the artist to create a mood is hampered by this lack of clarity.

On the other hand, the extreme stylization of Dash Shaw in the second story makes it an interesting read. The man accidentally driven insane by the young child is a sweaty, scarred mess; we can feel his desperation as he’s about to kill the child. Meanwhile, Shaw’s composition and style choices on the two big action pages nicely convey the weirdness of the situation. There’s almost a Ditko-esque quality to some of the action and close-ups of the characters. Again, we don’t learn much about a lot of the characters in this story, but we are left wanting to know more. The art-comics sensibility that Shaw brings to a horror story is quite an effective pairing.

That’s what makes the third story such a disappointment. Jeff Zornow’s generically-slick horror style, combined with a cliched ex-boyfriend from hell storyline, makes this a rather dull episode. Especially since the main character gets out of every jam in the same way (summoning up the hellhound). It was disappointing because the reader could at least somewhat sympathize with the madman in the second story; the zombie boyfriend here is a rather tedious self-destructive tough guy. There is some interesting potential in this cycle of stories, especially the idea of a witch in modern Brooklyn. The idea of secret magic in the city is a clever one, but I wish all of the characters could be fleshed out as well as the protagonists–especially the male characters here.

Genco likes writing psychotic male characters, and does a decent job in RED. Sequart.com’s own Kevin Colden does the art, with clever splashes of red throughout. Indeed, the use of color actually acts as a secondary narrator of sorts, drawing one’s eye to important story points. Using the psycho as the story’s narrator reduces the cliche’ factor a bit, especially when we are introduced to our heroine on page two. In a black-and-white comic, she is wearing a red hoodie that draws not only our eye, but also that of the psycho killer, who has just claimed another female victim. She’s Little Red Riding Hood, and he’s the vicious wolf. He follows her and they strike up a conversation, and she winds up inviting him over to her sister’s house for dinner. When the moon comes up, he gets a big surprise when the real wolves are revealed. The end is enormously clever and satisfying, in large part due to Colden’s expressive figures and the use of color. I also like the fact that Genco seems to specifically write horror from almost a feminist perspective, which is a welcome point of view for a genre that at times has been notoriously
misogynistic. Check out http://www.streetfables.com for more.

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Rob Clough fights cancer by day, and writes about comix, college basketball and funky music by night. He is the comics editor of Other magazine and is happy to have published many fine cartoonists. He used to write for Savant and just finished something for idea-bot. He is married to award-winning poet Laura Clough (formerly Jent), with whom he lives in lovely Durham, NC.

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