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.

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