Sunday, May 14, 2006

Crack Shots - May 15, 2006

By Jamie Tanner
Self Published by Jamie Tanner, US $3.00
Catastrophe Preview Pages

Jamie Tanner’s comics are always a treat, and Amber is one of my favorites. The first person tale of a ghost haunting a flooded city is an obvious parallel of the effects Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans, and Tanner’s quasi-fictional city – from the French-style architecture to the conspicuous gaslamps – is clearly meant to evoke New Orleans. Yet, as with many of Tanner’s stories, there’s a sad sort of wistfulness that mixes with the supernatural. Not much really happens as we follow the ghost as he inhabits one body after another, getting each drunk before moving on, while at the same time recounting the fragments of memory he can recall from his former life. Tanner’s tightly drawn, crosshatched style is very reminiscent of Kurt Wolfgang’s Where Hats Go, though his robots and mannequins and especially his recognizably distinct bird-like characters give his work a unique look and feel. If you’ve never sampled Jamie Tanner’s work before, this is a pretty good place to start. Grade: 4.5/5

Manhole #2
By Mardou
Self Published by Mardou, US $4.00
Catastrophe Preview Pages

I was really excited about this one, especially after seeing the beautifully designed collage cover on the Catastrophe website. The back cover, which unfortunately is the book’s highlight, is also interesting – a sixteen panel strip about different library patrons in a small town. Mardou links pop culture and the personalities of the different characters very nicely, creating a microcosm of this small town through the lens of the local librarian. But once you get past the cover, the book falls apart. The main story, “King of It,” chronicles a woman’s journey into infidelity, but there’s something very cold and stiff about the story. For one thing, the art is awkward and amateurish. Mardou seems to have particular difficulty conveying emotion with extreme facial close-ups, a major problem for this particular style of story. In the big romantic scene, the two characters share a sexual encounter that is hampered by mediocre art, and there is an awkwardness in the way their bodies come together. The anatomy is off, breaking the reality of the scene. The story itself is also cold. The narrator is a young writer who is so in love with herself, she goes and has a meaningless affair with some other hotshot writer, leaving her husband, just so she can write about the experience. It’s tough to like a character like that, and I think that’s part of the problem with the story. One other short story about discovering some old postcards in a thrift shop rounds out the collection, but hardly redeems it. Yet despite these flaws, I do feel like there’s real potential here and I have to admit, I am very much looking forward to what Mardou does next. Grade: 3/5

Crushed #1
By Cole Johnson
Self Published by Cole Johnson, US $3.00
Catastrophe Preview Pages

Crushed is the first issue of a straight forward high school romance tale. Cole Johnson, whose previous mini-comics work Sugar Free Days was enjoyably bizarre, downplays much of the sarcasm and irony here, offering up a fairly generic first day of high school story. This issue is mostly setup, but the basic foundation has been laid. Brenda, an insecure young woman, meets Wesley, the new kid, on her way to school, and develops, as teenagers often do, an instant crush. That her friends also find him cute draws out some jealous thoughts. Not much more happens in this first issue. Crushed falls somewhere between an Andi Watson comic and Tomine’s mini-comics work, with a fairly mundane premise, clichéd characters, and little more than some nice, simple art to recommend it. I like Johnson’s previous work a lot, and based solely on that, I think this is worth following to see if it develops into something, but this first issue doesn’t really feel inspired or unique. Grade: 3.5/5

Spit-Toons #1
By Onsmith
Self Published by Onsmith, US $3.00
Catastrophe Preview Pages

If you think people spitting on each other, or stepping on hypodermic needles is funny, then this is the book for you. Personally, I had higher expectations that this Underworld-style gag strip comic would be funnier than it was. The preview pages on the USS Catastrophe website were the best 2 pages in the book, and in general, the humor skewed more toward the bizarre (a six year old girl goes with her father to get breast implants) or the gross (one friend asks another if he’s “checking out” his infant sister). Onsmith’s cartooning is the selling point, though, as he clearly knows how to exaggerate characters’ physical traits in service of a gag. In fact, his best strips are the few where he lets the art deliver the punchline, rather than text. While not bad, this small little package is hardly essential. Still, it might give you a chuckle or two. Grade: 2.5/5

Taken For a Ride
By Ken Dahl
Self Published, US $2.00
Catastrophe Preview Pages

I remember exactly where I was on the first anniversary of 9/11. I was working in an office less than two blocks from “ground zero,” and that morning, we all gathered in one of the conference rooms facing the vacant pit where the Towers stood, and watched the depressing parade of grieving families as various celebrities and “heroes” read the names of every single victim. The memorial lasted several hours. It was a chilling scene, and I remember feeling both uncomfortable and moved. Taken For a Ride is Ken Dahl’s autobiographical story of his own experience on the first anniversary on 9/11, and reading it brought back many of those feelings. Dahl spent the anniversary traveling, and his story is a straight forward recounting of the sometimes ridiculous lengths people went, in the aftermath of that tragedy, to prove publicly their patriotism, as well as the awkward and frustrating overreactions that were felt most profoundly in the air travel industry. Yet Dahl, whose work I have not seen before, delivers a clever, articulate and certainly familiar recounting of his bizarre experience, from traveling in a cab with a foreign driver to checking in at the airport, and which culminates in a bizarre in-flight scene in which the captain leads the passengers in the Pledge of Allegiance. Dahl’s opening quotes from Orwell, Lincoln and Schlessinger, Jr. are appropriate and in some ways chilling, as they set the stage by exposing the racist hypocrisy of this excess patriotism. Dahl’s art, which relies mostly on a single panel per page, is solid, if not exceptional, though it’s his hand-lettering that stands out as the most effective storytelling device. There’s a lot of smart ideas here, as well as some very sharp writing, and while so many mini-comics are little more than sandboxes for artists with little to say, Dahl delivers an intelligent, thought-provoking story. Grade: 4/5

By Ken Dahl
Self Published
Catastrophe Preview Pages

Ken Dahl’s other book, No. is a great collection of short humor strips with a sharp-wittedness not often found in mini-comics. The highlight is “The Origin of Army Guy” which cleverly parodies the Sarge character from Beetle Bailey to lampoon the American military. The Sarge recruits a young man from a small town in Iowa with promises like “get the fuck out of Iowa,” “kill ragheads,” and “son, this is your ticket to prime pussy worldwide.” It’s a clever, barbed indictment of the ridiculous tactics military recruiters will use to convince people to join the military, and Dahl’s perfect imitation of the Sarge makes this strip. Dahl also includes several other short strips which are variations on a theme. One is called “skillshares” in which a character named “Gordon Smalls” tries to convince us that his somewhat strange personal habits, such as “peeing in the shower,” “swinging at night,” and best of all, “putting frozen bananas in your cereal” are habits we should all adopt. There are also several one page strips featuring “old punx” which pokes fun at aging punk rockers. The book also reprints “Paul,” Dahl’s True Porn 2 anthology contribution in which he and a friend, as young boys, discover their father’s porn collection, and explore “butt-fucking” with no real idea what it means. It’s disturbing and sweet at the same time, and demonstrates Dahl’s ability to capture innocent childish moments well. Throughout the book, Dahl proves he definitely has the artistic chops to pull off the visual humor, and also has a clear understanding of how to pace strips and deliver punchlines. Overall, this was a pleasant surprise and Ken Dahl is a creator I look forward to seeing more work from. No. is funny, well paced, and definitely worth checking out. Grade: 4.5/5


Mardouie said...

Hi there,
thanks for taking time to review my comic (Manhole). I really appreciate getting different points of view on my work. I feel you've misrepresented me here though:
"The narrator is a young writer who is so in love with herself, she goes and has a meaningless affair with some other hotshot writer, leaving her husband, just so she can write about the experience"
That's really not what the story's about at all!
There's an other review posted here if you're interested.
my best, Mardou

Marc said...

Dear Mardou - thanks for your note. I'm sorry if you feel my review misrepresented your book, but this was my honest opinion of the book. I do look forward to seeing your future work and wish you all the best.