Welcome, wayward traveler, to the very first edition of Morgan Pielli’s Pile of Minis, wherein I slowly dig my way out from under an enormous pile of mini-comics that collapsed on me, trapping me in the
basement of Forbidden Planet NYC for all eternity. Fortunately, I can move my hands just enough to reach my computer and a flashlight. Sometimes mole people bring me sandwiches and Shasta.
The first pair of comics that I have come across are Journey Into Misery #1 and #2, by Brooklyn-based cartoonist Paul Hoppe. My eye was caught by the lovely book design. Photocopied covers are very hit or miss, but Mr. Hoppe makes great use of metal-flake cover-stock and cut-to-bleed wraparound art. Over the artwork are screen-printed white highlights; a very nice touch indeed. The interior pages are on tan paper, further adding to the hand-made DIY feel. So overall: very nice looking books.
BUT WHAT LIES THEREIN, KNOWLEDGE-SEEKERS??
The first book, Journey Into Misery #1 features two stories; the “Journey Into Misery” and “Captain Afternoon.”
Journey Into Misery, about a pair of disgraced Wall Street employees who are abducted by aliens and experimented upon, bounces along thanks to fun writing and a loose, seat-of-the-pants story. Some of the jokes are a bit forced and could do with more polish, but the overall vibe is breezy and enjoyable. The art is appropriately loose, with subtle influences being drawn from Jack Kirby. Paul’s brush and nib-work has a sketchy quality that gives life and vibrancy to his figures, but makes some panels look rushed. I was happy to see that he draws feet with confidences, something that a lot of cartoonists fudge or outright avoid. I only wish the same care was taken with some of the background props. Also proof-reading. Both books suffer from the occasional typo (typos still happen even when hand-lettered. Cartoonists of the world: get a friend to proof your book!).
The second story of Journey Into Misery #1 is “Captain Afternoon.” Holy god how I love that title. The story is, not surprisingly, about a superhero of the same name. This is where Mr. Hoppe’s Kirby influence bursts out from the edges of his art; square-jawed and surrounded by energy balls. Hoppe employs an interesting technique wherein he draws the Captain in an exaggerated Kirby-style while using a more naturalistic, almost Will Eisner-y technique for everyone else. The result is a juxtoposition of Captain Afternoon’s urgent calls to action against the lackadaisical response of the citizenry. “Captain Afternoon” may be a one-joke story, but it is a very clever, funny one-joke story.
The second mini-comic, Journey Into Misery #2, consists of just one story: “Journey Into Misery 2: Ghost In the Apparatus of the Spirit in the Shell of the Machine.” Picking up where the first issue left off, more or less, we find our curmudgeonly heroes adapting to life chained together. A quick trip to the desert to meet an old friend, and our pair are thrust into a super-science mystery. Much of the humor of the Journey Into Misery stories come from the increasingly ridiculous situations that seem bent on trying to top each other. This can make the stories’ rambling, tall-tale quality become exhausting at times. Break-neck pacing yields laughs, but it doesn’t give us much time to get to know any of the players. The protagonists read as somewhat one-note. I don’t really have a sense as to why Kelly is so grumpy and why Jenkins is so depressed and bumbling. Kelly’s friend Madison is a welcome addition, but then we zip pan away to plot points and “later that night” gags so quickly that there’s no sense of comradely beyond the hurried introduction.
Overall, both books are fun and loose. I preferred the stand-alone “Captain Afternoon” story as it made the best use of Hoppe’s gag-a-second style of storytelling, but I am interested to see what he does with his titular duo in the two books that follow these.
I’ll leave you with some of my favorite lines from these books, completely out of context for your reading confusion:
“These are not clothes, they are spices!”
“Careful, glass on the floor…”
“Relax man. We’re just moving from one hideout to another.”
“God, this is soo uncomfortable!”