The pile continues to smother me in her inky embrace; once more I reach my dusty mit into her toothy hide and pluck free three mini-comics at random.
Water and Fall by Martine Workman
If today’s review had a theme, it would be “experimental,”which can run the gamut from beautiful to pretentious. Happily Water and Fall belongs to the former. This mini reads more like a sketchbook or an illustration series than a comic. Indeed, upon exploring the artist’s website, it seems that the author considers this to be a sort of ‘zine.
Regardless, it is a lovely little book A meditation on the title, artist Martine Workman draws in delicate lines of blue and white. Some pages bustle with activity while others isolate a lone figure or shape. There is a solemn quality that I very much enjoyed.
That said, this is not a book I would recommend to those who prefer their comics to be narrative. While there IS a sort of narrative, it is very subtle; functioning more as a leitmotif. I WOULD recommend Water and Fall to those who enjoy work that is experimental and aesthetically daring. This is a gorgeous book filled with haunting imagery. I found myself flipping through it repeatedly, finding new elements that captured my attention each time.
Strings Attached Presents: Amy’s Birthday Party by Ali Solomon
In stark contrast to Workman’s expressionistic comic we have a collection of newspaper-style comic strips. Ali Solomon’s series follows the adventures of a tight-knit group of friends. The strips in this book all revolve around the main character’s birthday party.
The series is gag based, and while it largely succeeds in what it sets out to do, the book would have benefited from a more ambitious take on the theme. I like the idea of doing a strip collection that revolves around a single event, but I would have preferred to have seen that event explored in more depth, and perhaps told in a fashion that isn’t so rigidly linear. Also, while the large cover art looks very nice on this square-shaped book, this formatting choice does a disservice to the strips within. They don’t really fit this shape, leaving a lot of empty space in between. Repackaging strips into a mini comic is generally a tough sell (IMO). While this is a valiant attempt, and I applaud Solomon for leaving her comfort zone, it still doesn’t quite feel cohesive.
All in all, if you enjoy ongoing comic strips, I would suggest checking out the Strings Attached series. The strip it is a light, fun read and the mini-comic, though not entirely successful on it’s own, makes use of an interesting high-concept.
Sweetheart #3 by Austin English
Prior to reading Sweetheart, a collection of two short comics, I was aware of artist Austin English by reputation, but I had not encountered his work. My friends and peers think very highly of his comics, and so when I read Sweetheart, my first thought was “maybe I’m just not getting it. Maybe this is over my head.” Perhaps this is indeed the case, but my problems with this mini aren’t of an abstract and unquantifiable nature.
My first problem is the production quality. While I don’t think that mini comics need to all have silk-screened covers on specialized paper stock, I do feel that a basic level of care needs to be applied to the work for the sake of clarity. And not just clarity, but also so to feel like the artist cares about what he or she is putting out there. A half-assed mini reminds me of cons where the artist behind the table seems annoyed at having to be there, daring me to like his or her work as though they are some sort of auteur too good for the common man. While I could chalk up the poorly-photocopied pages of Sweetheart #3 to an aesthetic choice in keeping with the comic’s child-like feel, I can’t tell how much of that is intentional and how much is just carelessness. If this were a comic from anyone else, I don’t think it would get a second look. Some pages are cut off and others run over onto previous pages. Photocopy ghosting and blurs cover some of the artwork. Cut-out panels are pasted onto pages awkwardly. Some of these issues seem deliberately careless while other aspects just look slapdash.
The artwork itself is interestingly abstract; consisting of scribbled blocky abstractions and child-like drawings within unusually-shaped panels. Unfortunately, I don’t find that this aesthetic choice adds anything to stories themselves, instead feeling forced onto them. Yes, it’s abstract, which is interesting, but it’s also frustratingly difficult to follow. The biggest problem, however, is the way English handles text. The book is lettered without any sort of guide and dialog has a tendency to change size and become illegible. Indeed, the text seems like an afterthought the way is is crammed in and around the figures, often with little room for the poorly-defined word balloons.
The first comic in this collection, “Laurie,” is about the life of a woman born with terrible scars. On its own, it’s a very compelling vignette. But through the lens of the above-mentioned aesthetic and production choices, the story has to fight for attention. I found these distracting factors pulling me out of the comic again and again.
These same deliberate choices of craft and design were less of an issue for my favorite of the two stories: “Joel and Me.” There is an existential, creeping anguish that runs as an undercurrent to the relationship between the two characters. A silhouetted best friend chips away at the spirit of its companion in order to works its way inside; a living depression that seduces the protagonist. I enjoyed this story a great deal, and I could forget the awkwardly artsy and careless qualities because they better fit the frayed emotional state of the story. That said, I still feel that this story would have worked better without them.
All in all this is a tough book to recommend, and a tough one to review. I have no doubt that I will take a lot of grief from my friends on this one. But the fact is; experimental comics don’t always work. I respect English for trying something unusual, but the experimentation at play doesn’t feel organically arrived at or well thought out. Instead it seems superimposed over unrelated story ideas.
Morgan Pielli’s latest comic, The Worry Tree, can be read on-line at www.MorganPielli.com