Showing posts with label Dave Sim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dave Sim. Show all posts

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Miniature comics make for good reading too

By Becky Cloonan

Becky Cloonan's art is always something to behold, and this minicomic (which, interestingly, was originally published in a Japanese anthology) is no exception, being full of moodily shadowed forests, agonized expressions, and visceral violence. It opens on a naked man stumbling through some snowy woods and then flashes back (with occasional beautiful panels that stand out from the dark shadows of the main story with their delicately filigreed lines) to his quest to slay a monster and the emotional pain that brings him, for reasons that are slowly revealed. It's a wonderful bit of dark action, an excellent demonstration of Cloonan's art skills as she provides lived-in details of the medieval world, the creepy wild woods, and the desperation and resigned determination so plain on the characters' faces. Beautiful work, and being a self-published minicomic, a definite labor of love from Cloonan, an example of how telling these stories is like satisfying a need to get the work on paper and in people's hands. Passion!


The Death of Elijah Lovejoy
By Noah Van Sciver
Published by 2D Cloud

Noah Van Sciver tells an interesting historical story in this minicomic, but he limits the content of the actual comic to the specific incident indicated by the title, explaining the background in an opening text piece so that the action can start immediately with the sequential art proper. Elijah Lovejoy was an abolitionist preacher and newspaper publisher in St. Louis who spoke out against the public lynching of an escaped slave, which led to a crowd gathering to kill him and destroy his printing press. Van Sciver depicts the standoff/siege, in which Lovejoy and his supporters holed up in a warehouse and tried to stay alive, running out of ammunition and making desperate attempts to keep from being burned out. It's harrowing and terrible to see the violence play out, barely understandable in this modern age to see such physical, visceral hatred over the issue of words being spoken against slavery. Van Sciver's art is pleasingly (and somewhat disturbingly, in this nasty context) cartoony, but he doesn't skimp on detail, and all the action is clear and understandable, with some nice touches like the blots of ink that splatter onto the page over bullet impacts. It's a fascinating little tale, an informative history lesson and a glimpse into the past of our country that should not be forgotten.

Veggie Dog Saturn #5
By Jason Young
Published by Buyer Beware Comics

This is more of a traditional minicomic, fitting into the autobio/essay genre where the artist just does whatever he feels like. It's not bad, but it's not at the level of the previous two works. It is pretty decent for what it is though, with Jason Young relating stories from his childhood (including a pretty gross one about eating too much at a salad bar and puking in the bathroom sink), musing about the old "desert island records" question, and describing his one-time shoplifting habit, among other various subjects. Pretty standard minicomics material, but Young manages it well enough, with a nice caricature of himself sporting an ever-present beard and large, round, opaque glasses, and he has a facility for relating stories clearly, whether they are playing out silently or being narrated via captions. This isn't exactly something I would urge people to seek out, but it's worth picking up given the chance.

Various micro-minicomics
By Brian John Mitchell, et al.
Published by Silber Media

Brian John Mitchell and his various artists seem to pump out these tiny comics with regularity, and while they're not exactly revolutionary works of art that demand seeking out whatever the cost, they're unique objects, interesting to examine as art done under constraints, with one small image and some text on each miniscule page, which can alternately make for interesting minimalism or self-indulgent pointlessness.

Of the minis pictured above, the most interesting is probably "Poit!", which features stick figure art from Dave Sim (yes, that Dave Sim) that was completed and then scripted by Mitchell. There are actually two versions of the comic, both using the same art, but of the two, "La Jetee" is a bit more effective, presenting the sudden transitions that occur along with the titular sound effect as either hallucinations or shifting realities, while "WTF" turns them into a guy apparently going crazy, leading to the same result. It might have been better to limit this to one version, but it's an interesting experiment.

On the other end of the spectrum is Lost Kisses #21, which continues a series by Mitchell in which a stick figure both narrates his thoughts and comments "humorously" on them. Previous issues in the series have seen some tired exploration of typical male neuroses, but this one takes a bit of a departure, as the stick figure discusses time travel, which he believes he has been experiencing via seizures. Presented differently, this might be interesting, but the awkwardness of the dual narration and commentary ruins it, and the ever-grinning simplicity of the art makes the comics format of the story nearly pointless.

The Lost Kisses series also seems to have some offshoots, with Ultimate Lost Kisses #12 featuring art by Jeremy Johnson and telling the story of a pregnant teenager, and Extreme Lost Kisses #1, illustrated by Nick Marino, turning the stick figure protagonist into a pretty funny version of an action movie hero, all macho swagger, nonsensical plots, and constant violence. Both are a pleasant change, but not exactly the best of the bunch.

Mitchell definitely seems to do better when he branches out into varied subject matter, although recurring supernatural concepts like monsters and demons do seem to show up pretty regularly in these comics. "Monthly", which is nicely illustrated by Eric Shonborn, is kind of neat, about a guy searching for love, with the title and time period of his searches making sense after a revelatory twist. "Star" seems like it could also be interesting, following a traveling singer who is constantly being pursued by demons, and featuring some of the best artwork that fits onto these small pages by Kurt Dinse, full of moody, expressive shadows. It is a bit over-narrated though; Mitchell could stand to either pare down the language he uses or work on varying his style, since the declarative, staccato nature of his captions gets pretty repetitive over several of these comics. That probably wouldn't help "Vigilant" much though; it's a silly thing following some hooded figures who have apparently retreated from society so as to beat up ne'er do wells, with crude art by PB Kain.

In other genres, XO #7 continues the story of a sociopathic assassin who, in this installment, falls into drug-fueled debauchery and lets a woman get too close, but manages to survive a death threat through his sheer amorality. It's creepy in its depiction of a dead-eyed, near-emotionless killer, with pretty good art by Melissa Spence Gardner. Built #1 looks to start a new sci-fi series about a football-playing robot of the future who gains sentience and makes an attempt at freedom, and it's compelling and almost heartbreaking in its depiction of the robot's desire to live as more than a slave to violent entertainment. The art by Joe Badon is a bit scratchy and rough, but that's mostly just a style to get used to, and it works when depicting the action of the football game and the frantic flight of the robot.

Finally, the "Small Art Sampler" series contains some tiny paintings by Mitchell, all centered around various themes, printed in full color, but mostly just consisting of blobs of color. There is some attempt to explain the themes of each booklet through short text pieces, but they're pretty inscrutable, although I did kind of like the way the images in "Climb" resembled chain link fences. These were apparently all featured in a gallery show, which may have been a better manner of presentation, but they do make for an interesting collection of abstract art, and could allow one to make all manner of interpretations, if one was so inclined.

As always, it's nice to see Mitchell and pals making their attempts to expand the idea of what comics can be through contraction of the space used in the comics themselves. They're not always successful, but they're out there pumping these things out, obviously passionate about their art, and that's something to be admired. Hopefully they won't be quitting anytime soon.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I still can't draw, but I can apparently trace

Here's an interesting project: Images Degrading Forever.  It's by Robin Blanchard, who, prompted by Matt Seneca of Death to the Universe (another interesting blog that I'll have to start reading), has posted five images from Dave Sim's Glamourpuss (Blanchard was featured in the 12th issue of the series), encouraging anybody and everybody to download and ink them, then send him the results.  He'll take the images people send and replace the originals with them, continuing to do so over and over, with the intent of making them, well, degrade forever.  I liked the idea, so I gave it a try with a drawing app on my Iphone, and here's the result:

There, now anybody who wants to try it has to draw over me!  This is a cool idea and a fun project, so I encourage anybody reading to give it a try.  Art!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vacation Guestblogstravaganza! Jason Powell indulges Dave Sim

Here's another piece from Jason Powell:

Glamourpuss #1
By Dave Sim

When Paul O'Brien used to do a monthly capsule review for every issue of Cerebus during the series' last two or three years of existence, he acknowledged every so often that writer/artist Dave Sim's artistic predilections and obsessions had become so rarefied that the series was now more or less for "completists only."

Alas, the same complaint is probably true of "Glamourpuss," Dave Sim's new series, only more so. Whereas Cerebus contained -- even during some of its most opaque and impenetrable phases of existence -- on ongoing narrative that always was engaging enough to take readers over the rough spots. The sheer momentum and sweep of Sim's storytelling remained even though Cerebus' turbulent final years.

Glamourpuss doesn't have that momentum stored up; nor does it have any kind of coherent narrative. It's a hard sell, by any standard.

What it does have is 20 pages of gorgeous artwork by Dave Sim. That is probably not enough to attract most of the comics-buying audience, but I'm happy to acknowledge that it's enough for me. Sim is truly a master of comic book art. Cerebus will always stand as his masterwork, a series that -- over its 26 years of existence -- boasted innovative storytelling techniques that were so often ahead of their time.

Glamourpuss, by contrast, is more backward looking. It is less about breaking new ground and more about exploring some of the previous generation's pioneers of comics art. Since Sim himself is a pioneer of this generation (I'd even say he's on the top of the heap, the greatest visual innovator of his day), what better person to guide readers through the work of his precursors?
True, it's a little bit stream-of-consciousness in its delivery; it's somewhat scattered and unsteady as it tilts back and forth among critique and personal rumination. Sim also wraps his entire tutorial in a gloss of fashion-magazine parody. It's far from the refined, focused writing that characterized Cerebus at its peak.

Yet, at the same time, there is an attractive kind of dreamy logic to it all. "Self-indulgent" is often used as a pejorative, but certain artists are just so fascinatingly idiosyncratic that -- in my opinion -- they become more entrancing the more self-indulgent they get. Sim falls into that category. Glamourpuss is Sim indulging his own fascinations to the Nth degree -- the entire thing feels like an uncensored, undiluted, unapologetic first draft. And while it's certainly a strange amalgam (glamour magazine meets comics-art tutorial?), Sim's sense of purpose is so strong, and his artistic talents so monumental, that it hangs together quite well. There is no logical reason why it should, but it does, thanks to Sim's sheer visual genius.

Also, while his writing can be a bit fussy, I have to say I still think Sim's sense of humor has got some real chops. I recall reading a bit somewhere in which Sim lamented critics who slammed Cerebus when it "stopped being funny." Glamourpuss showcases Sim's biting sense of humor as well as some of Cerebus' best comedic moments. His "Skanko" bit at the end -- basically an advice column encouraging women to behave like sitcom caricatures -- is a fantastic send-up of pop culture's pervasively brainless gender politics. (Ironic, considering that Sim's own have come under major fire for years.)

Glamourpuss also features some extended, Andy-Kaufman-esque conceptual bits; not as biting as the "Skanko" parody, but compellingly bizarre in their own right.

The whole package is probably too bizarre to appeal to most, but I'd still encourage people to check out the first issue anyway. Many may find it incredibly inaccessible -- but a few might, in spite of themselves, become hooked. I certainly have.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Judenhass: Not really the place for jokey post titles

By Dave Sim

I think I tend to overuse the word "horrific" in my reviews when describing war scenes or depictions of gore, but I don't know if there is a more apt word that I could use in conjunction with this book. But it's not the kind of visceral revulsion that results from seeing some blood and guts splashed around a page; this horror is the kind that reaches right into one's soul; I was literally trembling by the time I finished reading it.

Judenhass translates from German as "Jew hatred", and the book is a study of exactly that, with an awful array of quotes from various world leaders of the last few centuries, all leading up to what would result from those sentiments in Germany in the 1940s. And as background to all of this, Sim fills the pages with images of dead Jews in concentration camps, recreated from photographs. But rather than just alternating pictures and text, Sim presents the images as a sort of comics-style collage or wallpaper that sits behind informational captions, quotes, and depictions of historical figures, with panels cinematically panning across piles of bodies, zooming in and out on haunting faces and emaciated body parts:

It's harsh stuff, imagery that you can't (and shouldn't) get out of your head. The near-endless repetition of images seems like it would become monotonous, but it actually works to cement them in place in your memory. Details sometimes seem indistinct, but they gradually become more and more detailed, until the full horror is revealed:

Seeing these terrible pictures again and again, and knowing that they are all too real, makes them impossible to ignore. This is real. This really happened, as disgusting and incomprehensible as it seems to us today. But that's Sim's point, as he states in the introduction of the first few pages: there was a historical record of anti-Semitism that stretched across the world, eventually leading to one of history's worst tragedies. It wasn't limited to Germany; that was just where it reached critical mass.

And that's the lesson that we need to take here. Hatred and bigotry are exactly that, whether in form of violent action or simple attitude. Some of the quotes on the pages might seem kind of mild, along the lines of "Oh, those Jews can be such trouble. It's best not to deal with them; after all, they did kill Christ". But while those sorts of sentiments might seem fairly harmless, the images behind them show where they can lead. Think of that, bigots, the next time you paint all Mexicans as lazy or all blacks as violent and ignorant (or all women as emotional, creativity-sucking basket cases); the images here are the logical endpoint of that line of thought. If you treat a particular category of person as subhuman, you might as well gather them up and systematically murder them.

I do take issue with Sim's assertion that non-Jews don't speak out against the Holocaust, or that they have to qualify it with statements that others were included in addition to Jews. As a gentile myself, I certainly don't feel that that is true. But at the same time, I am two generations removed from anybody who directly saw or experienced the events. It's good to get a wake-up call, reminding us what can happen if we let it. These days, the Holocaust is known more as fodder for movies or books that use the emotional resonance of the events for easy artistic affirmation. Sometimes we need to experience something that remind us of the true horrors that humanity is capable of, and pledge to do everything we can to ensure it will never happen again.