Those that follow the mini comics scene will observe that geography plays a large part in forming artist support groups. These groups provide encouragement and critique for young artists and play a part in their development. The recent development of a sustained book publishing beachhead in the world of comics has suddenly made being an art comics practitioner potentially lucrative–or at least something that could pay the bills. Look at Raina Telgemeier. She went from self-publishing minis to getting a story in an anthology, which led her to get a contract to do graphic novel versions of the BABYSITTER’S CLUB novels for Scholastic. Then there’s the FLIGHT crew, who took a chance with a full-color anthology that has become so successful that the third volume was picked up by Ballantine.
In recent years, those loose associations have yielded some interesting results. In St. Louis, the USS Catastrophe crew of Kevin Huizenga, Dan Zettwoch and Ted May have not only served as a focal point for mini comics distribution, they’ve gone on to much wider regard. Huizenga and Zettwoch in particular are rising stars for Drawn & Quarterly and the cutting-edge KRAMER’S ERGOT anthology. Huizenga also has a series for the prestigious Ignatz line at Fantagraphics. In Chicago, the Holy Consumption group of Paul Hornschemeier, Jeffrey Brown, Anders Nilsen and John Hankiewicz have also taken the art-comics world by storm. Three of the artists have regular gigs in Fantagraphics’ wide-reaching MOME anthology, and between the four of them, have comics published by Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Dark Horse, Sparkplug Comic Books, Top Shelf and Buenaventura. Just a few years ago, they were honing their craft in mini comics. Thanks to their talent and a broadening market, they’re now significant figures in the comics world.
As a writer, critic, editor and general observer of the comics world, I make it my business to track the most promising mini comics artists. Not only to determine who might produce great work in the future, but because the mini comics themselves are such an engaging and immediate form of the comics experience. Emerging from a West Coast group of artists that includes Jesse Reklaw, Andrice Arp, Lark Pien, Thien Pham, Jason Shiga and others, Trevor Alixopulos has shown an astonishing learning curve in recent years. He’s gone from making crude but promising mini comics where he was clearly working out his influences to developing his own voice.
That voice is hard to characterize. There’s an edginess, a certain paranoia, that surrounds his best work. In particular, a long minicomic called DREAD was a big step forward for him. MINE TONIGHT manages to combine all of his interests in one cleverly-designed format. It’s part paranoid political thriller (albeit with a 21st century twist), part love story, part dream journal, part history lesson, part autobio comic. It’s got the feel of noir fiction and slacker/punk stories. The art is loose and expressive, with a moodiness belied by his exaggerated figure drawing. The nervousness and anxiety that his characters feel is expressed nicely through sweaty faces and a sense of claustrophobia. The whole package works, and the result was a story that was a genuine joy to read.
The story follows Lukas Blum, the sort of lost soul not unfamiliar to noir stories. Except Blum followed a run of dissolution by hooking up with an unusual political machine, headed by mysterious Hungarian financier George Miklos. Miklos is a thinly-veiled version of George Soros, the billionaire who donated money to groups like Moveon.org in support of John Kerry. Blum had met him at the last great moment of American protest: the 1999 WTO protest in Seattle. That event looms large in the book, as Blum flies to New York to put a plan of Miklos’ into effect. That plan is for Blum to find 5 million dollars that Miklos has hidden in a shell organization and get it to Kerry’s campaign in order to help him win the 2004 election. Despondent, adrift and confused, Blum contacts the one person he knows in New York: cartoonist Trevor Alixopulos.
The book takes plenty of side trips and diversions, as Blum reads a weird strip by Alixopulos in a weekly newspaper, we get detailed accounts of dreams that are haunting Blum, and we see a story by Alixopulos about his own involvement at the WTO protest. It’s clear that the experience was a significant one for him, but that he also went through a long period of disillusionment and confusion. He also is clearly self-deprecatory towards his own career up to that point; one senses that he regretted wasting time on trivialities but that he’s past that point now. Through his own character and that of Blum (a sort of alter ego), this book feels like the author taking stock of his career. There’s a certain wistfulness here, but also hope for the future.
While the book has a noir feel and plot, Alixopulos subverts the reader’s expectations at every turn. The culmination of his mission is deliberately anti-climactic, partly because of the electronic age we live in. Blum has every opportunity to act the tough guy, but can’t bring himself to do it, and falls in love with a woman who’s the key to completing his mission. In the end, the book was really about the possibility of reinvention and ends on a hopeful note.