Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Miniature Comickal Entertainments

Don't worry, I'm not dead, and hopefully I'll be able to avoid that state of perpetual slowdown that happens to blogs when they peter out and die.  I just need to try to keep some momentum going.  Let's see if this helps...

Various Silber minicomics
Written by Brian John Mitchell
Art by Melissa Spence Gardner, Johnny Hoang, Jeremy Johnson, Brian John Mitchell, Eric Shonborn, Kimberlee Traub, Andrew White, and Jason Young
Buy them from Silber's website

Brian John Mitchell certainly has a very specific method when writing his minicomics (which take the "mini" part of the word especially literally, measuring about three square inches); being limited to one small panel and a caption per page, he usually sticks to first person narration describing whatever plot is occurring, but manages to branch into several surprising directions from there, covering genres from Western, to sci-fi, to horror, to drama, to annoying pontification (I reviewed several of them here).  The best taste of they style can probably be found in Silber Mini-Comics Sampler #1, which serves as an introduction to several of the series, although rather than excerpting any of them, it provides a short story from each, the equivalent of one-page strips in a regular-size book.  They all work pretty well as samples, although Western series Just a Man fares best, with Mitchell and artist Andrew White even going so far as to use two panels per page, an innovation which could stand to spread to other titles, given its effectiveness here.

The regular Just a Man series continues as well, with the fourth issue seeing our hero, an Eastwood-esque no-longer-retired gunfighter continue his mission of vengeance against, well, everyone, taking time to rescue a prostitute and track down an evil rich man.  It works, with the same grittiness that was present in the first issue, although this installment seems to be one of those middle chapters that ties up some plot threads and sets up more for future issues.  And although it's probably the least offensive along these lines, there are a couple moments in which the narration describes exactly what is happening on-panel (a gunshot paired with a caption reading "I fire." is the worst offender), rather than using the limited page space to let the art do the work.  Overall, though, this is probably the best of the bunch.

XO is another decent series, with the sixth issue seeing its teenage murderer taking a road trip to drop off a dead body with somebody who takes care of that sort of thing.  Most of the story sees him ruminating on his future, as teenagers are wont to do, with the dark joke of the purpose of his journey underscoring the mundanity of his thoughts.  Melissa Spence Gardner's art serves its purpose well (when the captions aren't compressing it into to a sliver of an already tiny page), giving the character and those around him a bland, unemotional feeling as they commit terrible deeds.  As a whole, this series might end up being a striking darkly comic crime story; it's certainly another of the better series here.

Another series that has potential is Cops & Crooks, which takes the interesting approach of splitting its story into two halves, presented as a flip-book and illustrated by two different artists, Jason Young and Eric Shonborn.  The idea here seems to be to present two equal-and-opposite protagonists who follow their respective fathers into careers of crime-fighting and cop-killing, destined to meet at some point in the future.  This first issue is dedicated entirely to setup, and reading the two halves back to back seems a bit repetitive, since they are designed to mirror each other, but this could certainly turn into something interesting, depending on how intricate Mitchell is planning to get with his structure.

And then there are the other series, those which don't really make the grade.  Worms, which seemed like a creepy, psychedelic bit of horror in a previous issue, seems like more crude imagery (courtesy of Kimberlee Traub) and nonsense about psychic powers or something in its sixth issue.  Marked, a series about a guy who gets possessed by a demon in order to kill other demons, could be halfway decent, but it is ruined by Jeremy Johnson's ugly, Rob Liefeld-like art.  And Mecha, which appears to be Mitchell's attempt at a sci-fi epic if only because of its "large" size (a whole 2"x2"!), rolls out every cliche in the book, from alien invasion, forced gladiatorial combat, and rugged freedom fighters to an abandoned giant robot that just might be the savior of humanity.  It could get better, but this first issue is pretty dire, with an attempt at detailed art by Johnny Hoang that isn't done any favors by the small size and a hard-to-read script font for the captions.

However, any way you swing it, Mitchell and company have a neat little (ha ha) enterprise going here, throwing comic after comic at the wall and seeing what sticks.  Not everything works, but the comics are unique and continue to make good use of their format.  When it comes to minicomics, that's not bad at all.

Veggie Dog Saturn #4
By Jason Young
Buy it from Buyer Beware Comics

Jason Young, one of the artists of the aforementioned Cops & Crooks, also has this minicomic series, which is more along the lines of the standard minicomics model, telling autobiographical stories of his childhood at a more readable size, but while the format is familiar, the comics are quite entertaining and well-made.  Young varies his approach, telling stories of different lengths and using different styles of telling the story, from presenting them as a standard anecdote, to having his adult self relate the tales directly to readers, to narrating via caption.  And the anecdotes themselves are interesting and entertaining, whether a simple memory of receiving a head wound, a story about Young and his brother constructing an elaborate monetary/barter system using plastic figurines before they discovered real money, or the proud moment when Young discovered the tantalizing world of bikini magazines.  He's got a good sense of pacing and can sell the humorous moments well, although a strip about discovering the effects of racism also serves to demonstrate his more serious side too.  Overall, it's a nice example of the genre, if minicomics can be said to have one.  If I saw this on a convention table, I would be happy to lay down a few bucks for it.

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