Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Webcomics shoutout: Hey, have you guys heard about Kate Beaton?

Yes, yes, I know, everybody is always talking about Kate Beaton, and how great she is, and I completely agree. If any web-cartoonist deserves the acclaim, it's her. But what I want to talk about isn't her most visible stuff, the history/literature/whatever comics she "officially" posts on her website, but the more off-the-cuff, diary-style stuff she posts on Twitter. (EDIT: of course, when I go to her site, I see that the strip I'm talking about has been posted there too. Whoops.) That's one of the great advantages of our current information age, at least for art-process junkies like me: artists being able to share their napkin doodles, life drawings, sketchbook pages, and random nonsense with the world. Beaton's output at this sort of thing is unceasing, and now that she has scaled back the posting schedule of her regular work, it's one of the few places to see her new stuff on a regular basis. I love the way she captures interesting moments or scenes from her life, sometimes just transcribing scenes on paper before they disappear in the mists of time and memory, like this scene of an old woman crying at a bus stop:

And other times exaggerating events and turning them into running jokes, like this super-cute polite kid who she imagines going around doing good deeds:

But I especially love the strips in which she interacts with her family. The way she depicts her parents as slightly clueless and eccentric, but good at heart and full of love toward their children, it ends up being a beautiful reciprocation of that familial affection, a depiction of the willingness to accept those closest to you despite (or because of) their occasional weirdness and aggravating tendencies. This recent strip in which she remembers building a birdhouse with her dad is wonderful for all sorts of reasons (the body language, especially of present-day Kate climbing a tree; the dialogue that manages to relate a certain accent and cadence even if you haven't heard it spoken; the wide-eyed, open-mouthed cuteness of lil' Kate), but what really gets me is how the depiction of her dad in the flashback is so obviously the same character that I've come to know and love (which is weird to say, since he's a real person that I've never met, but I do love when he shows up in her comics), but at an earlier time in his life. In the present day, he's usually depicted with a sort of gruffness communicated through slouched shoulders, a bushy moustache, and opaque glasses that somehow also function as a furrowed brow:

But in the past, he's recognizably the same guy, just younger:

Without glasses, his face seems more open, his dotted eyes lifelike and active. His moustache is still there, but smaller and neater-trimmed. His hair seems darker and fuller. Even his body seems bulkier, a subtle way of showing how parents can seem so large when you're a child, but so small once you're grown. The whole thing is a marvel of subtle storytelling, a figure pulled probably unconsciously from Beaton's memory, but one that even complete strangers like me find familiar.

That's what I love about Beaton's work: it seems like she just has to get certain moments, stories, thoughts, and memories down on paper, even if they're not fully fleshed out, but she's good enough that she can capture so many details and nuances of her life and what happens around her without making a big deal about it or making it seem like it takes a lot of effort. She's a marvel, an ever-increasing talent and a cornerstone of the modern comics scene, and her apparent need to keep making art and sharing it with the world benefits us all.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tale of Sand: Grains through the hourglass, I guess

Jim Henson's Tale of Sand
"Realized" by Ramon Perez
Based on a screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl
Published by Archaia

Jim Henson's name, image, words, and legacy are all over this book, but lest you go in expecting Muppety comedy, the introduction by Lisa Henson the Henson Company's Karen Falk makes sure to spotlight his work with experimental short films and animation, such as the Oscar-nominated "Time Piece", which definitely seems to be the precursor to what was meant to be a feature film but eventually ended up as this book. It was wise to calibrate expectations, since this is not the cuddly puppeteering of Sesame Street, although the story does retain the anarchic sensibilities that Henson utilized so well in his best work. The type of story is completely different than one would expect though, being a surreal, absurdist, possibly metaphorical string of craziness, one which doesn't make much sense, but is certainly memorable in its ideas and imagery.

Said story might be a Joseph Campbell-style hero's journey, or a symbol of the randomness and unpredictability of life, or just a bunch of non sequiturs piled on top of each other, but whatever the case, it's entertaining and fast moving, following a blank slate of a man (apparently named Mac, although I don't think this is ever stated in the story itself) who wanders into some sort of festival in what appears to be a small town in the American Southwest, then, after the festivities turn out to be in his honor, gets sent on a quest through the desert to reach an eagle-shaped rock formation, although the reason for the journey is never specified, and a sinister man sporting a pointy goatee and eye patch is pursuing him and apparently trying to kill him, or at least make the trip as difficult as possible.

And off we go for non-stop insanity for the rest of the book, with goofy shenanigans dogging Mac's heels at every turn, whether he's being shot at or attacked by tanks, run over by cars on suddenly appearing on an empty road, hit in the face with a pie by a sunbathing lady, captured by sword-wielding Arabs, or pursued by cowboys and football players. He starts out confused by all the oddness going on around him, but eventually figures out how to use the random-seeming resources allotted to him to his benefit, or at least to keep himself alive and barely one step ahead of his pursuers. Things eventually devolve into an extended chase scene that resolves in a near-apocalyptic manner, with little in the way of resolution except that he reaches his destination and the book ends.

I would like to be able to tease out some of the metaphors in this story, but it's all too nonsensical and goofy to really mean much more than whatever arbitrary symbols one chooses to ascribe to the myriad characters, incidents, and settings. But that doesn't really matter when the thing is so damn entertaining and lovely to look at. It's pretty much a book-length chase sequence that barely stops to breathe, each new incident more surreal and silly than the last, and laid down on the paper with such energy by Ramon Perez that one can't complain without seeming like a killjoy.

Perez proves himself as a hell of a talent here, delivering gorgeous landscapes, appealing character designs, and fluid movement that makes all the action clear (or as clear as possible in a world based on dream logic) while using a minimum of dialogue. He regularly lays out double-page spreads that see a bunch of smaller panels cluster around a main image, bringing a chaotic energy to the story that is nonetheless easy to follow and entertaining as all get out. And the colors! The basic palette follows the yellow-and-purple of the cover, but it doesn't stop there, introducing pinks and blues when scenes unexpectedly shift to new locations and seemingly-incompatible characters and settings get smashed together. The clear, solid linework occasionally fades into gorgeous watercolors that spotlight the desert location, but given the high energy, it never fails to snap back into clarity, even when the proceedings have devolved into a jumble of nonsense.

I can't say I understand this book, but I sure had a great time reading it. The assortment of entertaining weirdness, movement, expression, and design that Perez throws onto the page never stops being enthralling, and even if it ends up making little sense, it's a journey worth taking again and again just to marvel at the gorgeousness of the presentation. Not everything has to make sense, but when it doesn't, it's especially nice if it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Groo Watch: Sergio Aragones Funnies #6

I only spotted two Groo appearances/references in this issue. The first is on the cover, as our man is one of the cascade of characters tumbling out of Santa's bag:


And then in the very first panel of the issue, Sergio is wearing a "Did I err?" shirt:

Man, I hope more cameos sneak in to future issues, or I'm going to be positively salivating over Groo vs. Conan...