Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pamphleteering: (Mostly) Limited Distribution Edition

Elsewhere: I reviewed Spider-Man 1602 #2 at Comics Bulletin, for some reason. Actually, it was an excuse to rant about pointless alternate versions of established characters, so there you go.

Here are some reviews of various minicomics, with one or two other pamphlet-style things mixed in:

Pinstriped Bloodbath: An Anthology of Gangland Violence by Chicago Cartoonists
By Bernie McGovern, Neil Brideau, Nate Beaty, Ricky Gonzales, Neil Fitzpatrick, Sam Sharpe, Jeff Zwirek, and Jeremy Tinder



It's interesting to see a small, self-published, pamphlet-format anthology like this one, especially one that's so well designed. The cover mimics a double-breasted suit jacket, with the back cover wrapping around the front like an actual coat, a strip of paper sporting an Ivan Brunetti illustration wrapped around to hold it together, and what appear to be hand-made blood splatters (it also comes in a splatter-free variant, for collectors). That's a great package, and if the contents inside don't quite live up to its promise, it's not for lack of trying. The creators involved mostly tell stories based in historical fact, although they use a variety of different styles to do so. Bernie McGovern's "Baby Face" depicts the last stand of Babyface Nelson, with a near-wordless bit of action and violence that uses some nice panel arrangement to convey information about the shootout. Neil Fitzpatrick uses a cutesy cartoon style to depict the death of Samuel "Nails" Morton, who was kicked in the head by a horse, prompting his fellow gangsters to take revenge on the animal. It's ends up being a jokey goof on a funny real-life story; cute. Jeff Zwirek's "The Chicago Typewriter" tells the history of the Thompson submachine gun in organized crime, using a highly deformed, cartoony style that gives the characters tiny bodies with huge heads and big eyes. It's interesting, but reliant on almost a quarter-page of endnotes to make sense of what's being depicted, with the action alternating between random gangland shootings, John Thompson alternately despairing of selling his huge stock of guns and declaring that they are only used for lawful purposes, and speculative expansions of historical events involving the gun. It ends up being interesting, but it possibly could have been put together a bit better.

Other stories take a bit more of a speculative look at gang violence. Rickey Gonzales' "Blood Red & Baby Blue" apparently sees the death of John Dillinger outside a movie theater, then backs up to look at the perspective of a couple other participants in the killing. Or is it Dillinger at all? The final page seems to indicate that the police might have shot the wrong man. It's kind of confusing, and the art is a bit awkward; this might be the least accomplished story in the comic. Neil Brideau's "Cracking" sees the first meeting of two famous gangsters, Charles Dean O'Banion and Charles "The Ox" Reiser, during a safecracking job. It's an interesting bit of character work, as O'Banion is shown to have a penchant for sadistic violence while Reiser is a professional old player. The art is a bit simplistically cartoony, but it works for the simple little tale. Nate Beaty's "Keepsake" is a quick, wordless bit of moody violence and its aftermath, as a gangster (Al Capone?) is gunned down in a barber shop and a woman stops to grab a souvenir. The art is well done, with inky, scratchy shadows and densely-patterned rainfall; it's one of the best looking parts of the book. Jeremy Tinder's two-page entry (which is apparently untitled) is a silly-looking bit of instruction in how to make bathtub gin, with a punchline befitting the violent nature of the rest of the book.

And then there's Sam Sharpe's "Change Your Name", which doesn't fit in with the rest of the stories at all. It's an apparently-autobiographical story in which he meets up with his mother, who seems a bit mentally unstable. She claims that he was abducted as a child by the Sharpe crime family, and she's offended that he still uses their name. Other than this reference to (imagined/delusional) crime, nothing here falls under the theme of Chicago gangsters, so why it's included is beyond me. It is a decent little story though, with some nice art that sees Sharpe depict the characters as anthropomorphic dogs.

Overall, it's a pretty nice package, and a good collection of comics from Chicago creators about their city. As with any anthology, it has its ups and downs, but for a minicomic-style pamphlet, it's a good deal. If the subject matter interests you, give it a look.
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Tales of Good Ol' Snoop Doggy Dogg


Minicomics are a good format for creators to tell personal stories about whatever they feel like, and that's exactly what J.T. Yost does here, first depicting three dreams he had that featured the rapper of the title, and then detailing why such an odd fellow might be on his mind with the story of how he first experienced his music at a party before getting beat up. It's funny and interesting, especially in the artistic decisions Yost makes. For instance, he depicts the dreams fairly realistically (if still in a sort of cartoony style), highlighting their surreality, and then in the true-life story, he switches to a less realistic style and soft-edged round panels, making the memory seem hazy and unreal, almost more dreamlike than the dreams themselves. It's a short little comic, but one that amuses and provokes thought; what else could you ask for?

The minicomic is available for purchase here.
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Tragic Relief
By Colleen Frakes


While it started out as a minicomic, this version of Colleen Frakes' Xeric-winning Tragic Relief is more of a graphic novel, squarebound and spanning about 70 pages. And while it's a quick read, it's very well done, affecting and full of really nice art. The story is a fable of sorts, following a hapless man who falls in love with a series of women/mystical creatures, only to have them all accidentally(?) killed by his mother. He finally ends up with a normal human woman, who seems to immediately take the old woman's place. That's the simple description, but watching Frakes play the story out through a series of beautiful, dialogue-free images is wonderful; she has a real flair for pantomime, and the way she plays the images across the page without any panel borders fits the story's atmosphere perfectly:



In the end, it seems to be symbolic of the way people can be dominated by their parents, and even when they manage to escape that influence, they seek out somebody who is exactly the same. It's a fairly simple idea, but a pleasure to see what Frakes does with it.

The book is available to purchase on Frakes' blog.
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I Want You #1


Lisa Hanawalt has one hell of a weird sense of humor, but since she can also draw really well, that means she's able to come up with books like this, which feature humanoid animals and their strange attempts at romance, little bugs that live in a computer keyboard and constantly have sex, car accidents all caused by an obsession with horses, animals wearing bizarre hats, "common dirty talk and the questions it raises", and, most amusingly, "menstrual terminology". That last one is my favorite, since it's the kind of girl humor about something they have to deal with regularly, and the final punchline is that guys are terribly grossed out by it. It's a good collection of the kind of stuff that Hanawalt apparently obsesses about, and the art is pretty incredible, full of tons and tons of detail, interesting patterns, and lots of weirdness. It would be interesting to see her work on some longer-form comics, but if all she wants to do is this sort of quick, jokey stuff that empties the stranger contents of her brain onto the page, at least we'll get to see more of her incredibly unique sensibilities.

The comic is available to purchase from Buenaventura Press.
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Uptight #3


Jordan Crane is a pretty incredible cartoonist, and this issue of his anthology series demonstrates that wonderfully, with two stories that are different enough that it's impressive that they came from the same creator, but both beautifully drawn and well-told. The first is "Vicissitude", the first chapter of a story about a mechanic and his wife, who is cheating on him. It's a realistic portrait of an unhappy couple, and while it seems like it might lead to a confrontation and explosion of drama, it's not a typical story that you might see in a movie or TV show, and explanations quickly gloss over the conflict and leave it simmering, to be picked up later. The deep shadows and heavy use of grays and blacks make it seem like a gloomy, sad tale, and the expressive character work makes these people come to life. Future chapters probably won't be very happy, but they should continue to make for a good story.

The second half of the issue completely shifts gears, following characters from Crane's graphic novel The Clouds Above, which appears to be a children's story about a boy and his talking cat having adventures. If this short piece is anything like the longer book, it should definitely be one to check out; this is a cute, fun romp following the boy, his cat, and a friend as they get in trouble at school and help a maintenance man figure out what is wrong with the cafeteria freezer, ending up causing even more trouble. The art is pleasing, with expressively cartoony kids and tons of detail as the kids explore the intricate machinery and piles of boxes of food, and encounter the surprising reason for the malfunction. It ends abruptly, obviously meant to continue into a longer story, but just this portion is enough to get one excited about what Crane has planned for the story. Hopefully he'll be able to continue it soon, but whatever he works on, it will be worth reading, since he's a pretty amazing comics talent.

The comic is available to purchase from Fantagraphics.
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Cowboy Ninja Viking #1-2
Written by A.J. Lieberman
Art by Riley Rossmo



The title of this series seems to indicate one of those oft-tiresome mashups that show up in nerd circles as they become infatuated with one "cool" character type after another, like "pirates vs. robots" or "vampires vs. werewolves". But while that aspect might have informed this comic, it's got something different going on, telling a story of globe-trotting action, espionage, and assassination. Or something like that; it's slightly hard to follow, as writer A.J. Lieberman jumps around to different locales, skips back and forth in time, and fills pages with lots of witty banter that distracts from the main plot, which takes one full issue to really get started with an introduction and then just sort of jumps past further explanations to a second issue where the real conflict is underway. That plot can be pretty interesting though, following a man named Duncan who suffered from multiple personality disorder and underwent training and conditioning by the government to turn his personalities into, well, you've already read the title. He's not exactly a competent killer easily making use of his personalities' skills though; he's crazy and unsure of anything, with the personas arguing amongst themselves and fighting for control. He would be happy to stay living in a mental hospital, but he gets dragged out and put to work by a rich, powerful man and his vaguely-defined organization, and it turns out that he's going to be fighting others like him who have undergone similar treatment. So maybe this is a genre mashup after all, but it's one that throws everything at the wall and doesn't stop; the first foe is a gladiator/pirate/deep sea diver, and it should be interesting to see what other silliness Lieberman comes up with in the future.

The art, by Proof's Riley Rossmo, is pretty nice, full of scratchy expression and neat scribbly effects, not to mention occasional well-rendered gore. He uses a nice two-color scheme, with the first issue bathing everything in a cool blue, but the second switching to a bright pink to emphasize the kick-started action, which ends up being well-choreographed and fun. It's kind of crazy and frenetic, and it fits the mood of the story really well. One especially effective touch is the word balloons which include the shape of a gun, a sword, or an axe to indicate which of Duncan's personalities is speaking; that's a neat idea.

Overall, it's kind of silly, but it takes itself just seriously enough to make the idea effective, and there's plenty of funny dialogue and crazy little tangents to keep things enjoyable and interesting. It should be fun to see where Lieberman and Rossmo are going with this thing.