Pope Hats #1
By Ethan Rilly
Distributed by Adhouse Books
This Xeric Grant-winning self-published pamphlet is over all too quickly; Rilly seems to be building a Scott Pilgrim-style graphic novel here, and this first chapter is just a small taste. But it's a good taste, one that makes you eager to read more. The cover is a good indication of the contents, with a couple of attractive young women in the city (one of them drunk), but the added layer of fantasy that comes from them riding on a horse. The interior contains no equine presence; but there is a bit of the fantastical, in that the main character keeps being haunted by an annoying ghost. But we don't even find out about that aspect until several scenes into the story; at first, it's just a tale of young people living their lives, with Lauren, who eventually coheres as the lead, kind of starting out in the background as her more outgoing roommate Vickie celebrates her first taste of fried chicken after a stint of vegetarianism, gets excited to meet a guy at a bar, and gets drunk enough to puke in an alley. But we soon realize that Lauren is kind of the more dowdy member of the pair, the one with a bit more common sense and less flightiness. She's the "normal" one, except she thinks she's going crazy due to the stupid spirit that's ineptly haunting her, acting as more of a pain in the ass than a supernatural threat:
The Scott Pilgrim comparison is kind of unfair, since this is much more sedate, but it does share the same well-realized look at early adulthood, with that feeling of insecurity about the future and habits of slacking off before needing to get things together and grow up. The art does a great job of defining the urban Canadian setting (Toronto?), and while it's cartoony enough to seem simplistic, Rilly actually captures realistic gestures and body language such that you never feel like the characters are less than real. It's a really nice little book, and Rilly is obviously very talented, delivering a funny, enjoyable bit of what will hopefully be a longer story. At the rate these things come out, it will probably be years before it's finished, but I'm willing to wait; I've got a hunch that it will be worth it.
Jin & Jam #1
By Hellen Jo
Published by Sparkplug Books
People all over the comics internet have been talking about this book for months now, and rightly so, because it's a riot, a great bit of goofy fun. Taking an influence from Taiyo Matsumoto (and not hiding it, with a quote from Black & White on the dedication page), creator Hellen Jo presents a few incidents in the lives of the eponymous characters, two (pre-?)teen punks who hang out in San Jose. It's wildly enjoyable; in the course of 31 pages, they meet outside a church, get in a fight with a pair of bullying conjoined twins, get chased around by a bicycle cop with a lasso, try to get into a rock concert, and swing on some swings at a playground across from the bar they couldn't get into. Jo gives everything an expressive feel, with characters wildly flailing around, faces contorting into strange expressions, and fighters smashing everything in their vicinity:
But it has a lived-in feel as well, as if Jo is drawing characters, settings, and incidents straight out of the real world and just exaggerating them a bit. The kids hang around on streets, make fun of each other, and think about the future just like real kids do, and the climactic swinging scene has the quality of excitement and hopefulness that comes with the beginning of a friendship. Jo might be throwing plenty of wacky, hilarious stuff onto the page, but it's got a foundation of believability that makes it more than just a cheap thrill. Now I can't wait for issue number two.
There Once Was a Girl...
By Jamie Tanner
This short, handmade minicomic by the creator of The Aviary is a sort of fairy tale about a pregnant woman who gets a magical infection of sorts when she sees some kind of wolf demon, causing her baby to be born looking like a wolf. Her husband forces her to try to find a cure for the boy's condition, but each new treatment only makes the problem worse, until she is forced to take drastic actions. It's a strange, creepy tale, especially due to Tanner's moody, heavily-cross-hatched art, and one could read a variety of metaphors into the situation. Thought-provoking comics are good; now I really need to read The Aviary.
I really think Connor Willumsen could be the next big thing, from what I've seen of his art. He reminds me of Paul Pope with his fluid, dynamic style that captures an incredible sense of movement. The Pope influence also extends to cool ideas in this mini, which relates a couple variations on scenes of a futuristic (alien?) astronaut seeking the center of the universe and encountering strange effects when he discovers it. It's a fun idea, making for some interesting uses of symmetry, some weird technology, and a wonderful sense of low-gravity perambulation:
This is gorgeous stuff; I can't wait to read more from him.
These Kids Today...
Written by Eric Skillman
Art by Connor Willumsen
Willumsen also contributed art to this short mini, which reprints a story that was published in Popgun volume 3 (you can also read it online here). It's a three-page crime story about a guy who has a one night stand with a girl and gets too attached, with the art probably being the most interesting aspect. Willumsen contributes some nicely scratchy urban settings, fluid anatomy, and a good use of color. See, he can illustrate other people's scripts too; let's get him working on a big project, comics people!
Written by Eric Skillman
Art by Evan Bryce
Below the Fold
Written by Eric Skillman
Art by Jorge Coelho
These are two more crime stories from writer Eric Skillman, one about a reporter searching for the truth behind an apparent drug overdose and finding some unfortunate political connections, and the other being a bit of action during a heist. Skillman doesn't do a bad job here, but he's especially good at picking collaborators, with Jorge Coelho being especially noteworthy, putting plenty of detail, good facial expressions, and moody color into the tale for maximum effect. "Below the Fold" is available (along with the item above) in Skillman's book Egg: Hard Boiled Stories #1 (which is available for purchase here, and looks to be online in full here). Skillman looks to be pretty good at what he does, although it would be interesting to see him stretch a bit and tell something longer. Crime is a growing genre in comics, so there's definitely room for him to tell his stories. Hopefully he'll be able to continue plying his trade.
Why Did I Put this Town on My Face?
By Matt Weigle
Available from Partyka
This is a collection of short stories from Matt Weigle, and they're enough to make me want to pick up his more well-known minis, like The Four Husbands or Seven More Days of Not Getting Eaten. I especially liked "Prairie Dog Encountered by the Corps of Discovery", an account of the Lewis and Clark expedition trying to capture a specimen of the titular species. I'm not sure if it's accurate (although it has the tone of a historical story), but it's interesting. "[anchor symbol]" is a fun little tale of a tattoed guy dressed like a pirate who apparently has the power to make pictures come to life, with gruesome results. "The Omega Dome" is a pretty hilarious alien-invasion story involving child abductions and farts, and "Your Career Is Not Working Out Like What You Had Planned" is a hilarious one-pager that illustrates four humorous examples of the title. I love Weigle's style, which uses lots of thick lines, heavy blacks, and some expressively chunky cartoon physiology:
He's a guy that definitely deserves more exposure. If you want to see more, several of these stories are available to read online here.
Whiskey Jack and Kid Coyote Meet the King of Stink
By Shawn Cheng
Available from Partyka
Shawn Cheng has a cute, detailed style, and he's good at telling short, humorous stories (or more serious ones, like his and Sara Edward-Corbett's entry in The Best American Comics 2008), like this little hand-stitched mini about a couple animals who transform into Power Rangers-style heroes to fight a giant skunk who is terrorizing the countryside with his farts. It's silly and gross, a fun little bit of fluff. I need to read The Would-Be Bridegrooms, which features the same characters, and I do hope Cheng will do more and longer work in the future.
By Sarah Oleksyk, Elijah Brubaker, Chris Cilla, Jennifer Parks, Bobby Madness, Shawn Granton, Tim Root, Aron Nels Steinke, and E.D. Nilsson
This was a free sampler book published by the three companies listed above in 2008 (they followed it up in 2009 with Bird Hurdler). It features short comics by a range of creators, and it's a great way to get excited about some of the indie comics artists that are working. Sarah Oleksyk begins the volume with what might be the strongest entry, "Fifteen Variations on 'The First Day We Met'"; it sees two characters interacting with each other at various points in their life, from childhood to old age, and it's breathtakingly beautiful in the way that makes you realize that everyone on earth has a story to tell. Oleksyk is another creator who was included in The Best American Comics 2008, and she's obviously a rising star, someone to keep an eye on. Elijah Brubaker's (untitled?) entry is a sort of illustrated sea shanty about a woman who is enticed to leave her husband and run off with a former lover, to dire results. Brubaker has a wonderfully expressive, cartoony style that features a lot of scratchy blacks and a hint of a German expressionism; his series Reich always gets lots of acclaim, and this makes me really want to read it.
Those are the highlights of the volume, but some of the other stories are notable, including Jennifer Park's surreal "A Lone Wolf and the Search for the Missing Babooshka", Shawn Granton's look at Portland's proposed Mount Hood Freeway, and Tim Root's goofy tale of teenage parties, rock and roll, and odd superpowers. It's a nice little comic, and you can get it from Sparkplug for only 1 cent plus postage. Check out Bird Hurdler too while you're there; it's the same price.
Look Out!! Monsters
By Geoff Grogan
I've been hearing about this comic for a while; it's another Xeric Grant-winner, and a fascinating use of monster movie imagery to comment on current and recent events, most notably the events of September 11, 2001. It's also kind of out of place in this post, since you can't call it a minicomic at the huge size of 11 x 13.5 inches. Creator Geoff Grogan uses a collage of torn up bits of newspaper as a canvas on which he paints images of Frankenstein's monster, bits of weird science, violence, and tributes to Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics. It's fascinating stuff to behold, and the almost complete lack of description or illumination leaves interpretation up to the reader, although visible newspaper pictures of the World Trade Center wreckage or headlines involving terrorism do provide a clue. It's very thought-provoking, and I'm still not exactly sure what I think it all means; perhaps the "creature" created by mad science correlates to the arming of anti-Soviet militants that eventually used their skills against their "creators? Or you could go even more general, with the weapons of war that man creates being our eventual undoing. I especially found the close-up views of Benday dots that we see contain bits of newsprint interesting, as if they're pointing out the way the nuclear age informed the creators of old comics, whose simple morality seems to have taken over much of the modern political discourse.
This is definitely a fascinating book, a wonderful bit of art that sticks in the mind and makes the reader ponder its message long after the reading experience ends. If you're interested, you can purchase it from Grogan here.
That's definitely not the last of what I got, but everything else that I wanted to talk about is of the longer, book-style books, so they'll take more time to read and probably merit longer entries. So stay tuned; I'll get to them eventually.