For those unfamiliar with my predicament: last month I found myself trapped in the basement of Forbidden Planet NYC, buried beneath a mountain of mini-comics. Each week I try to dig my way out, but I cannot remove a comic from the pile until I have reviewed it.
And with that pointlessly complex and contrived framing device, here’s my review of:
Nate the Nonconformist and other “Stories”
Nate the Nonconformist in: The Big Breakup is an early comic from cartoonist Stephanie Mannheim, drawn during her days at the School of Visual Arts. As one might expect, it’s rougher than her current work. However it’s always nice to see evidence of an artist’s growth, as opposed to
those who seem to burst onto the scene fully formed and then never evolve (pet peeve time! Hi!). All that aside, this is a nice mini comic. The cover is screen-printed cover and the binding hand-stitched.
The titular character of Nate the Nonconformist is a wonderfully hypocritical misanthrope. In The Big Breakup he’s having one of his daily tiffs with girlfriend and foil Charlotte; a person of a remarkably similar disposition. In keeping with the comic’s theme of teenage angst and faux-rebellion, the art and writing are very expressive and over-the-top. Manheim’s story holds up a fun-house mirror to the period in life where our identities are both at their most fluid and their most deliberate.
The drawings are lively and animated in a style that reminds me of Jen Sorensen’s Slowpoke comic. The non-character drawings in Nate could have used more attention, particularly cars, which have a sketchy and uncertain line quality (in fairness, cars seem to be right behind hands on the list of things most cartoonists I know hate drawing. Lord knows I hate drawing them). I really liked the way Manheim composed her pages. She plays with the traditional grid in some unexpected ways that are dynamic without being distracting (though this does sometimes result in the crowded dialogue balloon).
This mini comic has two other short one-pagers in it that are fun, if a bit out of place. My favorite is Gotta Light?, which is very strange and silly. I snorted out a laugh as I face-palmed.
Overall, this is a very fun book and a great look at the early work of an active member of the alt comics scene.
How To Be a Lolita
How to Be a Lolita is a sort of other-worldly how-to for those interested in the Lolita scene, a fashion that hails from Japan that mixes Goth with baby-doll type clothing (Oh Wikipedia…what must you think of us humans?). There’s no story here; just clothing and acsessories depicted with a light, tongue-in-cheek tone. I do get the impression that Jojo is a genuine fan of this scene. For that reason I would have preferred a more in-depth reporting-style comic rather than one that tries not to take seriously that which the author clearly takes seriously.
How to Be a Lolita is an affable, if quick, read. The art has a fashion magazine look to it, eschewing all sense of character in favor of simply providing figures on which to display various articles of clothing. I do wish that there were some sort of environments for these figures to be displayed in. If you’re going to draw a comic wherein you’re essentially dressing up dolls, they need to exist somewhere. With no plot or character interactions with which to establish an atmosphere, this job would fall to the setting. A sense of place would go a long way in helping me, an outsider, understand the atmosphere of the Lolita scene. Is it ironic? Is it “dark” ala the Goth scene? Is it over-the-top sugary?
It is clear that Jojo enjoyed making this comic; there is an obsessive quality to it that reminds me of when I would carefully catalogue Star Wars ships in my middle school textbooks. And, while I appreciate the care and attention that went into the loose-but-crisp line work and the light-hearted writing, there was nothing for me to take away from it. Indeed, I’m not sure who the audience for this is (a phrase I am loath to type). I’m not sure those in the scene will find anything new here, and those of us on the outside aren’t going to learn anything that a Google Image search couldn’t teach us.
Losers Weepers #3
by J. T. Yost
The downside to a reviewing approach that has me grabbing comics at random is that I will often find myself with a comic that is well into an ongoing story. In such cases I try to track down an earlier issue. I was unable to do so with Losers Weepers, but fortunately Number 3 stands well on its own. In fact, I think that this comic’s story is a stand-alone tale that is simply set in the same world as other Losers Weepers books, but it feels so fully realized and lived in that I can’t tell for certain.
Yost does a tremendous job of establishing his characters by way of their actions and a line of dialogue here or there, allowing the reader to ease into his world and trust in Yost’s ability as a writer. For this book he uses three found objects; a sign advertising Spanish lessons, a cryptic note, and a letter from a prison, to frame the story and arc of protagonist Alvaro. Alvaro is a man for whom English is not his first language, trying to navigate a cultural minefield in order to simply make it through the day. The found objects give Alvaro something to react to; and he is at his best as a character when he’s at odds with the universe.
The artwork of Losers Weepers is very polished. Judicious use of computer dot-tone accentuates the brush-like nib work. Yost’s panels never feel static, nor do they rely on a single “camera” angle. I worried initially that the inclusion of real-world photographs (of the three found objects) would be distracting, but the author skillfully integrated them in such a way as to add an air mystery and a subtle menace.
This day-in-the-life style story of a man who feels like an outsider in his own country is as touching as it is compelling. I greatly admire the clarity of its telling as well as the draftsmanship behind it. Combine this with a gorgeous cover drawing and an established world that makes me eager to track down the rest of the series, and you have a comic that I could not recommend highly enough.
Morgan Pielli’s latest comic, The Worry Tree, can be read on-line at www.MorganPielli.com