Tuesday, July 22, 2003

From the Reading Pile XVIII

In this screenprinted wordless, 32-page minicomic, Brian Ralph cribs from Greg Cook something fierce. Even Greg's girlfriend thinks so! An artistic alligator (hence my guesswork title for the title-free item) prepares to paint some baby chicks when a Baby Huey-scale behemoth arrives on the scene, scaring the chicks away. The alligator decides to paint it instead, but it indifferently flies away. More inspired by Richard Scarry than much of Brian's work, this piece is bittersweet, sad, and slightly cruel. The page-spread, wide-angle view approach to setting the largely static scene is a welcome innovation. Very nice despite its brevity. A perfect little item. Contact Brian Ralph for more information.

Mixtape (December 2001)
This sewn binding photocopied comic combines a glimpse of Jeff Zenick-like architecture comics with the predominant wispy simplicity of artists such as John Porcellino. Music is the major metaphor for these short, borderless strips about memory, correspondence, completion, distance, and loss. Largely dissatisfying given its slim nature -- and despite the high quality of the work itself -- the 12-page digest is a peek at a new talent in our midst. Or at least on my radar. The cassette diagram diary (p. 5) is particularly interesting. Contact Susie Ghahremani for more information.

Paper Rodeo #14 (April-March 2003)
Another wonderful 28-page tabloid edition self-published by my favorite cryptic comics kids. Amazing, and I never quite know what to make of it. Not all of the artists are credited, but I can detect Ron Rege, Jr., who shares the first comic he drew after moving back from California; Matthew Thurber; Erin Rosenthal; Casper; Brian Chippendale, who (if it is indeed him) appears to be branching out into less process comics-oriented work; Gary Panter; and Ben Jones. There's plenty of clip art and psychedelic art-inspired comics in this issue, which is mysteriously themed "Magick." Highlights include Rege's piece, "Still Inside the Stupid Cave Rave" (the Garfield vs. Heathcliff bit is a nice touch), Thurber's "A Trilogy of Misery," "Zissy and Rita," the cute brut "Don't You Think It's Weird" strip on p. 16, "Thugvillage," G.I. Comics 12, and the advertisements for local businesses. As always, brilliant and indispensable. $1 to Paper Rodeo, P.O. Box 321, Providence, RI 02901.

Reinventing Everything
James Kochalka loves his Gameboy, and a play session in a South Carolina state park brings on a 28-page minicomic musing about bits, simplification, the emotions and physical reactions brought on by playing video games, the "always on" generation, connecting with nature, and beauty. It's one of James' more didactic pieces -- "Technology is not in opposition to nature," and the twin towers of 911 indeed -- but, as with almost everything James does, it carries a gentle whimsy and a self-effacing punchline that makes the near-lecture worthwhile. The title makes me wonder how inspired this mini was by Scott McCloud, and it's nice to see more of the thought behind James' deceptively simple comics -- as well as comics-based conversations among comics makers. This may in fact be an ashcan that's part of a longer forthcoming work. Contact James Kochalka for more information.

This 24-hour minicomic project tells the tale of two space explorers who crash on a distant planet, encounter aliens, and then belly up to a bar. At 36 pages, it's impressively long for a one-off joke containing all of six or seven discrete scenes, but the art is solid (especially p. 9, panel 1; p. 20, panels 1-2; p. 28, panels 1-2; and p. 33, panel 1) and there are some nice scripting moments ("Oh, that was sweet," "Well, it's a space worm," and "It's an energy bar!"). Not a bad effort, but far from brilliant. $2 to Dick Troutman, Jasen Lex, and Aweful Books, P.O. Box 4517, Pittsburgh, PA 15205.

Street Angel #1
What a fun comic. Quite different than Dick Troutman's 24-hour comic project, this 28-page digest collaboration with Brian Maruca reminds me of Jim Mahfood by way of Warren Ellis, almost. Dr. Pangea escapes from prison and kidnaps the mayor's daughter. The mayor enlists Jesse Sanchez, Street Angel, an orphan skate rat ninja, to save her. She reluctantly takes the case, outwits some basketball-playing ninjas -- the spread on pp. 14-15 is a key scene featuring some wonderful artwork -- and infiltrates Pangea's lair to save the day. Shades of Hopeles Savages, this comic shows some real promise. And I think Troutman should work with Ellis. $3 to Aweful Books, P.O. Box 4517, Pittsburgh, PA 15205.

Who's Who
Produced specifically by Kaz, Gary Leib, and John K. as a short-run one-off for the recent 2003 Museum of Contemporary Cartoon Art Festival in New York City, this 52-page all-star digest sketchbook contains caricatures of almost 200 of the convention's guests and participants. While I can't quite tell who did what, there are many highlights: Dave Kiersh, Craig Bostick, Tomer Hanuka, Phoebe Gloeckner, Phil Yeh, Kim Deitch, Marc Bell, Prentis Rollins, and Evan Dorkin. Incorporating clip art, celebratory photos, and newsprint, there's a bit of an E.C. Segar by way of Basil Wolverton flair to these funny animal-ridden scatological portrayals that look next to nothing like their subjects. A conference rarity best appreciated by attendees on site -- or small-press completists -- perhaps. Contact Gary Leib for more information.

You're Great
Produced as part of a print run of only 60 in June 2003, this 48-page "collaborative fictional effort" by Dave Kiersh and a friend recounts high school happenings between September 1996 and August 1997. Resonant of Ariel Schrag's Potential, the book shares the story of a classroom crush turned confusion involving drugs, goals, disapproval, drinking, the questionable gift of suicide, love, adventure, and sorrow. It's a touching tribute to lost love, a love lost to mental illness, and it's more in depth than Ron Rege's work with Joan Reidy. Kiersh's art elucidates his friend's writing well, and this might be his most mature work yet. Kudos to both. Contact Dave Kiersh for more information.