Thursday, August 27, 2015

Comics for the one-percenters

Over the past few years, I've met the crew from One Percent Press at shows like CAKE or the Chicago Zine Fest, and they've been kind enough to give me a few of their comics for review. Now that I'm trying to blog more regularly, it's about time I took a look at some of their stuff:

Broken Summer and Super Mega Buds
By J.P. Coovert
Published by One Percent Press




J.P. Coovert appears to be one of the "stars" of One Percent Press, contributing a number of diary-style minicomics and also these enjoyable books targeted at younger readers. Of these two, Broken Summer is the highlight for me, following the adventures of some kids of varying species (a human, a dog, a bird, and a troll, I think) living in a fantasy world, as they hang out, play video games, and listen to music. It's fun, low-stakes stuff, with the biggest drama coming when Sam (the bird) attempts a magic spell and the others think he is about to accidentally summon a demon. But don't worry, nothing bad happens. In fact, the book goes to lengths to do the opposite, with the friends supporting and encouraging each other as they have fun together, whether that means finding a way to include Flik (the troll, who broke his butt skateboarding) when they go to see his favorite band or make sure James (the human) has fun at the swimming hole, even though some girls are there and he's self-conscious about his body. It's good-natured young-people stuff with a magical bent, which gives Coovert a chance to show off some artistic flourishes, like the way Sam's neck elongates and piles up like spaghetti when he chants his magic spell, or the cool cut-away design of the gang's clubhouse. While I wouldn't mind seeing some actual adventures from these characters (which I think happens in a couple of other volumes), it's fun to see them enjoy themselves together as friends.

As for Super Mega Buds, it's much more slight, taking the form of a short minicomic following the adventures of two color-coded pals as they go on adventures in outer space and take on the evil Dr. Bionical's army of robot frogs in Sector X. It's a videogame-inspired romp, with enjoyable action and some neat flourishes involving spot colors, cool weapons, and goofy power-ups, leading up to an expected reveal, but for the short time that it lasts, it's a lot of fun.
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Press Start...and Fight
By J.P. Coovert
Published by One Percent Press



Coovert's other main contribution to One Percent's line is the minicomic series Simple Routines, which, in the couple of issues I've read, is a pretty, uh, routine diary comic, with Coovert spending a few panels at a time detailing an event that happened to him on a particular day. They're not awful or anything, but there's little that makes them stand out as more than just "this is what happened to me today," without the the minimalistic grace notes of John Porcellino or the ability to highlight specific emotional moments of James Kochalka, to name two exemplary takes on the genre.

Luckily, Coovert finds a way to break out of the confines of his simple diary comics with this pair of comics. Press Start seems to start out in the format of Simple Routines, with some four-panel strips involving Coovert's girlfriend (wife?) Jacie getting a job which will require them to live apart for a year, and his ensuing despair as he worries about growing up and accepting adult responsibilities. However, when he can't find the inspiration he needs to make some comics, he goes to play a video game, and suddenly falls out of the borders of the diary strips into an adventure that fills the entire oversized pages of the comic. This is one of those metaphorical adventures though, so while he starts out having fun and goofing off, he quickly gives up when faced with a formidable obstacle, gets stuck doing an unpleasant grunt-work quest, and gives into some destructive impulses that lead him to the true target of his anger, the symbol of the "guy" who is taking Jacie away from him.

It's an interesting bit of self-examination from Coovert, and he uses this expanded format to make it pretty visually exciting as well. And then he even includes a smaller minicomic called And Fight in which he creates a more preferable outcome to his encounter with his imaginary nemesis than what happened in Press Start.

While I'm not especially taken with Coovert's diary comics, I do like his art style and imagination quite a bit, so it's cool to see him do something different. He definitely has the chops to create some great adventure comics, and even tackle some stories with emotional heft, so I look forward to seeing him do more along those lines.
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Rough Age
By Max de Radigues
Published by One Percent Press



While much of pop culture seems to find the teenage years to be endlessly fascinating, I think I've reached the "cranky old man" phase of my life, in which I find myself less and less interested in the activities of dumb kids. It's not that I had a bad adolescence, but it wasn't a magical time either, just a part of my life during which I mostly wanted to move on and be an adult already. Luckily for me, this graphic novel, by Belgian cartoonist Max de Radigues, seems to share a similar point of view, even though it is almost entirely populated by teenagers. Instead of glorifying these kids' lives, it highlights their boredom, aimlessness, and awkwardness. This makes it seem more realistic than many depictions of youth, seeing its cast hang around, smoke, fight, cheat on tests, try to figure out how to relate to the opposite sex, and just generally try to survive their awkward transition to adulthood. There's little in the way of plot or character arcs; it's really a collection of moments following a bunch of characters who go to school together, presented in an almost minimalistic style, with thin lines and simple features defining the characters against nearly blank backgrounds. There's not much to it, but many of these moments seem so true to life, whether it's one kid worrying about whether a girl will go out with him and then, to his horror, accidentally doing something that will probably make him hate her, a kid trying to dry off a t-shirt with a hair dryer because he absolutely had to wear that shirt to school that day, or some kids getting annoyed at the couple that won't stop making out all the time. There's enough specificity here to make things realistic, and while it's all very low-stakes, that's realistic too. If you have to relive your teenage years through fiction, you could do much worse; here, it's neither an ordeal to be survived or a great time that you never want to end, but simply a period in which nothing all that special happens, just a passage to adulthood. Sounds about right to me.