Morgan Pielli’s Pile of Minis: Otto Zeplin, I Am Beauty, & Skully Flower

Dear Internet. I have been trapped under this pile of mini comics for a week now. And by the arcane compact of the Mole people, I can only remove comics from the pile upon reviewing them. SO SPEAKS THE MOLE KING.

The Life & Times of Otto Zeplin vol. 4 by B.T. Livermore

This is the heart-warming story of the possible life of a young Otto Zeplin (who, the preface is careful to tell us, was a real person who died at 8 months of age, and that no disrespect is intended) and his best friend, the ghost of Ulysses S. Grant (who was also a real person, according to money).

The first thing that drew me to this comic was the gorgeous exterior. Livermore has done a fine job with a tightly-registered two-color black-and-gold screen print and hand-stitched binding. I often complain to all those who will listen (mole people) that I’m sick and tired of the trend of making mini comics into art books; object d’art with hand-colored or hand-printed covers, specialized paper stock, custom bindings; drawing the focus from the comics inside to the book itself. But the reality is that, time and time again, these are the books that catch my eye. They belie a care and attention that I cannot help but assume (rightly or wrongly) extends to the comics within.

And happily The Life & Times of Otto Zeplin vol. 4 is no exception. The comic is winningly charming, using a single-panel-per-page approach that is evocative of a child’s picture book. Each panel is a vignette, some of which interconnect into larger storylines. The result is a breezy read that is very approachable to new readers. The art is character-ful and expressive, although I did find myself wishing for more detailed backgrounds (a complaint you’re bound to hear from me fairly often. This is one of those things that cartoonists often neglect), if only to have environments that are as inviting as the characters and story.

Favorite quote: “Otto and Grant build a blanket fort and stay up gossiping all night long.”

You can read more comics by B.T. Livermore here.

I Am Beauty by Alex Kim

Let me start with a bit of a disclosure: the mini comics community is kinda small, and therefore a lot of us know each other; or are at the very least acquainted. I want this blog to remain as objective as possible; so while I don’t go out of my way to avoid reviewing the work of people I know, neither do I specifically seek it out. I simply grab what intrigues me at first blush. So for the record, Mr. Kim and I were classmates at the Center for Cartoon Studies class of 2008. Now to tear him a new one.

OK, not really. Because I Am Beauty is a very strong comic. Kim has an interesting visual style that is very striking. He has a crisp sense of composition and design, employing it here to position the elements within his panels in a clear and dynamic fashion.

This is the darkly funny story of a mysterious black creature that rises from a long slumber to possess the body of a lobster. It is told in a straightforward, beat-by-beat manner that keeps its surreal quality grounded and clear. I also enjoyed the way Kim was able to create compelling character with very little information; a cleverly drawn beasty whose motivations are joyously sinister and over-the-top.

I do wish that the book itself was more dynamic. The cover is BW photocopy on pink cardstock. By no means ugly, but very plain. His detailed artwork helps a great deal, but it still looks a little dashed off, even for a one-off side-project.  This does a disservice to the great story within.

“I am beautiful! Haw haw! Haw haw!”

More of Alex Kim’s work can be found here.

Skully Flower #2 by Dragon Green

Lastly, we have the adventures of a girl (Hydra) and her skull-flower (Skully Flower). This is the second book in the series, but Ms. Green does a very good job of reintroducing the protagonists without the book feeling front-loaded or forced. The two characters have an easy chemistry and I enjoyed the sense of discovery is still present between them. The secondary characters could use more fleshing out, but that is largely due to the small role they play. The story belongs primarily to Hydra and Skully, yet I think it would benefit from moving them out of their comfort zones more often.

Green makes good use of exaggerated facial expressions and has a nice sense of character design. Her backgrounds would benefit from the same attention, as well a more rigorous use of perspective. Additionally, the characters have a tendency to be crowded within the panels; they work best when she pulls the “camera” back and lets them breath. Another tip that might help her composition is to put more space between the word balloons and the panel boarders.

Green shows promise as a cartoonist, and I think exposure to a range of comics would be a benefit to her artistic growth.

“While we’re on the subject of weird human stuff- who buys dirt?”

For more by Dragon Green, visit her website here.

Morgan Pielli will be in Portland Maine for this years’ Maine Comics Arts Festival (MeCAF) with his series Indestructible Universe Quarterly. If you’re in the area, come by his bright red table and say hi!

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