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Catch as Catch Can
posted October 10, 2001
Publishers may be recognized for their top-tier talents, but the true key to their identity is identifying their labors of love. Some cartoonists have sensibilities so delicate and peculiar that a wider audience -- even as defined in the narrow field of arts-comics -- may always be just out of their reach. But that doesn't stop the publisher for whom the artist comes to represent not just their company's Quixotic nature but a romantic distillation of their own sensibility. Kim Deitch and Ted Jouflas fill that role at Fantagraphics, as once did the late Paul Ollswang. Judging from how well their works mesh in with the rest of the line, I'd say James Sturm and David Collier might play that role at Drawn and Quarterly.
If I had to guess, and in a line that features Fort Thunder cartoonists so bizarrely unpublishable this becomes extremely difficult, I would say Greg Cook is Highwater's cherished artist, at least of the moment. As evidenced in his mini-comics work, Cook is an extremely versatile cartoonist capable of nostalgic paens to childrens' stories as well as sensitive, formally-aware evocations of adult moodiness. In Catch as Catch Can, Cook plays around with children's storybook icons like the Gingerbread Man and the Big Bad Wolf. Cook infuses the story with a kind of wistful, teen romanticism familiar to readers of post-alternative comics, thankfully leavened with sardonic humor and the grumpy details of day-to-day life.
The best thing about Cook's work is the art: joyfully fat, ink-filled lines giving ludicrous shape to cars and figures and landscapes. Cook gives his pictures a chaotic energy without making his drawings ragged -- they literally pulsate and move, shaped against the laws of physics and anatomy by their inner vitality. Unlike Craig Thompson, Cook draws in a style that stands completely divorced from most people's ideas of good art. Despite wearing many of influences on his sleeve, there are very few of the frustrations one might normally associate with an approach this peculiar. Catch as Catch Can is not a great work by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a richly idiosyncratic one. Those reading Cook's work may develop secret crushes all their own. Tom Spurgeon
(Catch as Catch Can is available from Highwater Books, PO Box 1956, Cambridge, MA 02238. 1-617-628-2583 is given in the indicia. Try www.highwaterbooks.com, too.)