Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Comics Commentary: Holler #2


This is a Media Diet Comics Commentary video review of Holler #2 (It's Alive, October 2020). Unscripted, unedited. Just a guy talking about comics.

Audio only.

Transcript below...

Today we're going to talk about a self-published comic called Holler #2 done by a fellow named Jeremy Massie. Jeremy seems to be mostly a webcomics guy and does these books funded on Indiegogo. He's done two Indiegogo campaigns, one for the first issue, one for the second issue. He’s currently working on the third issue. He's also done some other work. He's done a supers team book. He did a graphic novel called All My Ghosts, which is about a small town newspaper in southwest Virginia. And he's been doing this book for a while, as well.

I picked this up at the local comic shop because it reminded me of a lot of the independent, semi-autobiographical rock-and-roll comics that came out in the '90s, mostly out of Washington state. This book is very much inspired by and influenced by that but does his own thing. Holler follows the adventures of a band called Magnesium Mama, which was active in the ‘90s in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia. Jeremy's also involved in music currently. He does a lot of band posters and fliers and I think plays in a band himself. A lot of this could be drawn from actual real-life experience as well as total fiction for the comics.

There's four characters in the band. There's the narrator, whose name is Mark. He's a church-going guitarist, and that plays a role in a backup story that we'll talk about in a moment. There's a guitarist named Jay who seems to be the person who takes the band most seriously. Another person named Dave plays the bass: kind of a goth kid, rumored at the school to be gay, and gets involved in musical theater with one of the other band members’ girlfriends. That's the center point of this issue's storyline. The last band member is named Phil: drummer, skater, kind of a rabble rouser, and kind of the Greek chorus or conscience in this comic. He's prescient in a couple of ways or at least plays that role in the comic. There's two other main characters: Cassie and Jennifer, girlfriends.

Cassie is from another town over. She's dating Jay, the guitarist, introduces Dave to musical theater, gets him involved in a production of Grease with her, and that ends up being and creating the first crisis for the band. It distracts Dave from the band. Rehearsals are more challenging. Practice is more challenging. He's got other stuff going on. If you've ever done theater, you know the rehearsal schedule can be relatively intense. Then, once production gets underway and the show is being staged, it actually threatens a relatively promising show opportunity for the band. That is frustrating to the other band members, and to Jay, Cassie's boyfriend in particular. They could have had a slot playing with a band called Jabberwocky at their local place called the Bistro, fictional in the story, of course. That leads to a fight, a lot of jealousy and anger. 

The comic is wonderful. It is quiet. It is funny. It is relatively slow paced and gentle. Massie’s art—more so in All My Ghosts, which I haven't read to completion yet—reminds me a little bit of Seth or Dan Clowes, so there's definitely a Fantagraphics and Pacific Northwest influence going on here, but also elements of some other comics of the time. I see aspects of Hate in this book, and it was a fun read.

I want to show some highlights. First is that it's an interesting shape and size. This trim size is not quite a 10-inch record but roughly a 10-inch record. It might be half legal. I'd have to check that out. The art is relatively decent, softly cartoony. This image of Phil—actually Phil throughout the book—reminds me of Fat Mike from Fat Wreck Chords pretty consistently. I like this panel work. I really like the phone line being the border to accentuate that it's a phone conversation. I thought that was pretty innovative and interesting, although I'm sure that it's been done before. I liked the color palette for the scenes at night as the crisis is leading to a head. This panel in particular I thought was tremendous. Actually, those two panels I thought were excellent.

There are a couple of other things I really liked. I liked the change of the color palette for the flashback to set off the flashback scenes from the current day scenes. There was one other thing—ah, the backup stories. There are two backup stories. One focuses on a character who's only on this handy bio snapshot page, a great idea for someone just coming to the book. I was actually starting to make notes on my own about who was who and did what, and what they were like. Then I realized that Jeremy had already done it on the inside front cover.

But this fellow right here in the end, Anders: He's Phil's partner in crime and often wears a zombie mask to protect his identity. He gets his own backup story—”Get a Real Job,” starring Anders the Zombie. It is a wordless, brief, one gag joke strip that I really quite enjoyed. I hope to see more Anders. 

The last backup story actually features either the father of the guitarist and narrator, Mark… No, it's just a story told by the youth pastor in his youth group about this Christian scientist named Zane Zanders. It’s done in a retro vintage comic style. You've got some Zip-A-Tone color palette going on. It’s basically the story of a recording made by a Christian scientist. I don't know if that means from the faith or just the fact that he was an adventurer and scientist who was also an evangelical Christian. It’s a story about the disconnect and tension between credulity and reality, faith and science. It's a story that Mark is telling to the rest of the band about something that he learned and heard at youth group at his church—and the rest of the band is rightfully questioning it and challenging the story. An interesting backup story that goes into a part that's referred to in the main story but not expanded on. Really interesting.

Also interesting—I didn't look into this to see what it actually reminded me of, but throughout this story Phil is referring to Cassie as the Yoko that's going to break up the band. That's a term and a concept that I've been familiar with over the years and only just recently realized that the popular conception of Yoko breaking up the Beatles might actually be a myth or at least more nuanced than just a girlfriend coming in, asserting creative ideas, and disrupting a band that already had interesting creative forces. Hardcore Beatles fans, feel free to flame me. I don't know enough to actually defend this point of view, but what I read recently was that not only was Yoko Ono a writer, artist, and musician on her own, but she had collaborated and performed with musicians including people like Ornette Coleman. I don't know if Ornette Coleman was actually one of the actual examples or someone like him, but she came into dating Lennon and being with the Beatles kind of presuming a collaborative creative experience similar to that which she had already experienced with other musicians of note. She might not have been someone coming in out of left field with no experience or background certainly, disrupting this band that already had its own cozy thing going on—but might have come into a band hoping to have fun, play, and collaborate in a way that she had with other relatively well-known, storied, and experienced musicians, having held her own previously. 

I'd never heard or read that before. Anyway, I was thinking about that while reading this comic: that Cassie perhaps was not the destructive force that Phil was setting her up to be or that the band was interpreting her to be, but perhaps was a potentially equal collaborator that could have brought something new to the mix. An interesting comic that made me think about stuff other than the comic, which is always cool.

Jeremy Massie has a website: massiemakescomics.com. It’s worth checking out. I’m happy to see this getting distribution through Diamond. I’m happy to see it moving from Indiegogo to a broader distribution. And I’m looking forward to see what he does with the rest of the issues, if he's got more planned. I’m hoping to see more backup stories. Every issue should have backup stories like this issue did. They were a lot of fun. 

Holler #2 was published by It's Alive. I’m presuming it's self-published, but it might actually be a small publishing company. The indicia directs you to Jeremy's website, so It's Alive might just be his own thing. I enjoyed it a lot. It reminded me of Fantagraphics books from back in the ‘90s, with a modern take.

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