Welcome to another edition of mini-comics reviews! Today’s selections were chosen without any sort of over-riding theme in mind, so let’s just jump right in and take a look at what we’ve got this week:
Two months ago I had the great fortune of being asked to participate in a live comics reading at the KGBar in Manhattan. The lineup included many artists I admire, and they all did a killer job. One man, however, knocked it clean out of the park. That man was Jeffrey Lewis. Rather than merely read his comics off of a projector screen, Lewis arrived with a specially drawn cue-card-sized comic in one hand and his guitar in the other. He read, he sang, he engaged in a conversation with a pre-taped Jeffrey Lewis. Part indy artist and part rock star, Jeffrey Lewis is an odd mixture of influences and approaches.
Fuff #8 is the most recent in his long-running collection of beautifully drawn and eclectic short comics. The bulk of this collection is a series entitled “Stories My Dad Tells” that recount how Lewis’ father built a cabin in the woods of Maine. The tales are told Rashomon-style from the perspective of Lewis’ father, mother, a family friend, and even Madonna (whose life did intersect, however briefly, with that of Lewis’ parents). Each story presents the reader with a different type of unreliable narrator, and the omissions and inconsistencies therein serve to illustrate the relationships between the various storytellers.
As much as I enjoyed the “Stories My Dad Tells” tales, my favorite part of Fuff #8 was the “Meteorite Mite.” Couched in the guise of a coming-of-age superhero spoof, “Meteorite Mite” seems almost autobiographical of the author’s adolescence. If it’s not a thinly-veiled true account of childhood humiliation, this speaks even more to the talents of Lewis for creating lived-in and believable characters.
Either way, the story has great emotional weight to it. Apart from the superhero elements, “Meteorite Mite” paints a very realistic portrait of how boys begin to think about sex as they enter puberty; lacking the mental maturity and benefit of life experience needed to understand it.
Spider Monkey #1 by Jesse McManus with Austin English
This is a tough comic to describe. Both visually and story-wise, Spider Monkey #1 is a twisting, constantly shifting ribbon of a tale. Ostensibly the story of a boy who can talk to animals, the book moves further and further away from conventional narrative. The art, provided by Jesse McManus, has a disturbing quality to it that reminded me of a looser, more Tex Avery-inspired version of Jim Woodring. Cartoon physics blend with real-world consequences (except when they, um, don’t) to create an environment of constant unease. Austin English’s story bounds across the world that they have created as though he were laying railroad tracks in front of their own moving train. The end result is a story that reads like a nightmare or a nervous breakdown.
And yet, despite the extreme and elastic surreality of both writing and art, there is remarkable clarity to the book. The geography of the story is always clear; I never found myself unable to read a panel or understand where the characters are in a given space. Spider Monkey #1 is a high wire act. It is impressive to read, albeit a little overwhelming. This is only the start of a larger story and I will be interested to see if this careful balance can sustain itself without collapsing in on itself or becoming exhausting to the reader. Well worth checking out.
As always, everything I review can be found at Forbidden Planet NYC and on our website (www.FPNYC.com). In addition, you can find more from Jeffery Lewis at thejeffreylewissite.com, Jesse McManus at heyfu.com, and Austin English at http://windycornermag-austin.blogspot.com.