Thursday, October 12, 2006

Review: Capacity #6

Capacity #6
By Theo Ellsworth
Self Published, US$3.95

Although it's about a year old, one of the best mini comics I’ve read recently (besides Jesse Reklaw’s outstanding Couch Tag #3 which you should go order right now), is Theo Ellsworth’s Capacity #6. I discovered Ellsworth's book, quite accidentally, during a recent trip to Portland, Oregon in August. Portland is famous for its Saturday Market, an extensive street fair downtown which features tons of musicians, food stalls, street performers and arts and crafts. It’s a great, Bohemian kind of scene, and I just happened to find Ellsworth sketching by himself in a small booth near the restrooms. After a quick glance at his books, I could tell he was far more talented than your average mini-comic artist, so I asked him which of his books he was most happy with. Not surprisingly, he recommended the newest issue, #6 (though since that time, #7 has also been completed), which I bought, along with the first issue, thinking I could always go online and order the rest if they were any good.

Well, they are much better than good. In fact, Ellsworth is such an incredible draftsman, he’s bound to be discovered by the crew at Fantagraphics or D&Q sooner or later. His artwork is reminiscent in some senses of David B’s Epileptic, though it’s more free-spirited, and certainly more richly textured. There’s also a healthy dose of Jim Woodring mixed in there, though more in the bizarre concepts and characters than in the actual drawing style. Rather than straight forward storytelling, Ellsworth experiments with visual poems and short strips, including several pages of single panel gags, entitled "Shorts (as Opposed to Pants)." But the real highlight of the sixth issue is the opening poem, "Thoughts" in which the artist strips away all barriers of storytelling and character and simply lets his imagination run wild on the page, accompanied only by the sparse lyrics of his simple rhyme. What Ellsworth is really doing here is exploring the origins and nature of his own thoughts, and the whole thing is filled with fascinating creatures, machines and landscapes so compelling, you literally feel like an explorer visiting some distant planet. Ellsworth’s line control is amazingly precise and his panels are dense with his singular visions, yet despite the meticulous detail, everything is clearly defined. The story also makes clever use of the thought balloon, that ubiquitous storytelling device that is often taken for granted, as he literally surrounds his panels with thought clouds. Ellsworth also hand letters everything in the book, assimilating the text into the art, adding to the overall effect.

Overall, this was about as good a mini-comic as I've found in recent memory, and Theo Ellsworth is an artist with a lot of promise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like his website is setup to take online orders (though you should definitely browse through his online gallery), but you can e-mail him and I’m sure he’ll happily sell you a copy. Grade: 4.5/5

**Also check out Shawn Hoke's review of this issue, with some additional scans, over at his SIZE MATTERS Mini Comics Blog. In fact, Ellsworth is the artist of his blog's logo!

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