This week we’ve got a really interesting a new anthology to look at! Originally formed as a collective of Midwestern cartoonists, Shortpants Press has blossomed into an indie publisher of curated talent. Now they’ve put out their first anthology; a three-color collection of some of the groups’ artists. According to their website, Shortpant Press was described by Tom Spurgeon as “one of the half-dozen most reliable sources for quality mini-comics going right now.” I’m happy to report that The Shortpants Observer Issue #1, edited by Sarah Becan, lives up to that high praise.
The book features four artists, each with a very different style and choice of subject matter. Normally (as I’ve expounded upon in previous reviews), this could have easily resulted in a scattershot anthology; bereft of focus. However, perhaps because of their relationship with the Shortpants collective, these artists share a similar rhythm and sensibility. So, while the comics themselves are very different, the tone of the book has a subtle cohesiveness.
Mr. Magic in: Holey Moley by Anya Davidson is a surreal story about a slick huckster; part con-man and part sociopath; who has almost supernatural powers. Davidson’s thick marks and loose line-work is reminiscent of Lynda Barry. Coupled with a prose full of 60s-era Robert Crumb swagger, there is an intimacy to the story, as though it were being told specifically to you. There is a lot going on here, both visually and textually, and it can become a bit overwhelming at times. But overall Davidson strikes a good balance with her conversational tone and aggressive mark-making.
Four Short Comics About Death by Corinne Mucha are conversational in a different way. These autobiographical ruminations about mortality are as funny as they are frank. Mucha draws in a pared-down style that is rich with charm and flows nicely with her writing (though she could do with more variety of facial expressions). My favorite comic of the anthology was her second-to-last of the four; Easy Life, Hard Life, Hard Life, Easy Life; is about something a since-departed friend once said to the author that always stayed with her. Indeed, that friend’s mantra (the story’s title; about the dangers of procrastination) stuck with me as well.
Sorties by Becca Taylor is a fascinating mash-up of different existing texts, culled presumably from nature programs and documentaries about sharks, as well as excerpts of prose and poetry. The comic reads like a stream-of-consciousness narrative. Coupled with the fluidity of Taylor’s delicate line-work and isolated visuals, the story has an appropriately dream-like underwater quality to it.
Lastly is Forever by Jeremy Tinder, a melancholy moment-in-time piece about three friends (a girl, a boy, and a bear) in the woods. It feels like it was part of a larger story, but it functions well as a stand-alone piece all the same. Tinder presents an interesting mystery as the story’s focal point; an atomic clock in the middle of nowhere. The artist has a refined style that he is working with; honed to maximize clarity of story-telling; that reads like visual language. His people (and bear) are as characterful as his writing is nuanced.