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Minimalism Archives #11 -- Round-Up
posted December 24, 2004
 

Once and For All We Have Decided to Side with the Many
Minimalism by Tom Spurgeon

If you sit down and read a gigantic cross section of North American mini-comics, several things become more or less clear. As much as it seems like you might know everyone making mini-comics, the number of cartoonists working in the form continues to grow and will always outstrip anyone's ability to keep up. The favored format seems to be the single piece of typing paper, printed landscape-style, and folded over from left to right into a five and a half-inch by eight-inch book. As it's difficult to affect both writing and art in a presentational format dominated by non-commercial expression, nearly every comic has at least a little something to offer in terms of unique expression. Most mini-comics that get to the stage where they're sending them to comics magazines or giving them out at shows have achieved a sort of confidence and charm, a realization of voice, which makes it hard to review them in the same way you might go after something that belongs the more established and rigid structure of mainstream comics work. In fact, the most difficult thing about looking at a bunch of mini-comics is not so much keeping separate the obviously talented from the marginally talented, but finding those artists who have a chance to develop further, through the hints of an intelligence and approach to form animating a work that goes far beyond its basic competence. This has become even more troublesome as the advantages of the mini-comics form have become obvious to a wider cross-section of artists, meaning people work in them longer or throughout their careers. It's easy to get trapped in a loop of romantic admiration that these things get made in the first place, where the practiced offering receives more attention than the truly inspired one. The best mini-comics connect content to form in ways about which more traditional formats can barely dream, broadening the concept of what's possible while adopting more traditional arguments of what's good.

Following are reviews of 50 mini-comics received by this column in the fall and winter of 2002, a mighty cross-section of American small press output.

3.05 Metres: A Ten Foot Rule Primer
Treatment Bound: A Ten Foot Rule "On the Road" Special
Shawn Granton

The best pieces in Granton's rambling comics are the two written pieces about specific trips he took on mass transit -- one in Los Angeles, and one from Connecticut to Delaware. These are effectively researched, and dole out the contextual information on a purely as-needed basis. One gets the sense of what how the different systems of transit have developed without being smacked upside the head with it. Granton has developed a reasonably appealing semi-bigfoot style for his comics-related adventures, but the stories he tells often lack the combination of useful information and narrative restraint. Too often the reader sees Granton agonizing over beautiful women, or being grumpy about art. When he reduces his own presence the comics shine. For instance, an otherwise self-serving piece about working in a factory has a really funny joke about Marx abandoning support of the proletariat were he to come across modern workplace cafeteria conversation. Granton himself is nowhere in sight for that particular observation. The closest Granton comes to a compelling comic features a long diatribe about listening to art music as a scenester pose, and even then the best parts of the essay are filtered through his own experience in a way designed to make him look good rather than cast more insight onto subject being discussed.

(shawntfr@hotmail.com; 3719 SE Hawthorne Blvd., #243, Portland, OR, 97214.)

The Adventures of George Super Baby
Daniel Newman and Carter Ball

If I didn't think so little of the comic book industry, I'd propose that Daniel Newman and Carter Ball are the first cartoonists ever to have their book reviewed in these pages that have no idea their work has been published. The copy I own came from central Georgia cartoonists who found the work thrown to one side and have since decided that it needs to be published. Adventures of George Super Baby has the usual rough charm of anything made by what one would guess is a pair of children. The plot wanders, the art exudes crude charm, the panels float on the page like they wandered over from old issues of Yummy Fur, and much of it features misspelled word roughly lettered. In other words, it's perfect.

(Try PO Box 948, Athens GA 30603-0948).

The Adventures of… Little Artie
Art Spiegelman

The Adventures of… Little Artie is yet another xeroxed bootleg effort of the kind this column has been receiving in piles lately. This one features various early underground works from Art Spiegelman. According to what little of it I can remember, Spiegelman's early stuff featured at least one groundbreaking essay on Bernard Krigstein and a smattering of formally experimental work in various late-period underground anthologies. Little Artie clues me into a wider array of material than I was aware existed, including a couple of pieces of fan art, some really dense gross-out comics (one featuring a sentient, fiscally savvy and lustful turd), and few I remember once I was reminded, such as the "Centerfold Manifesto" and accompanying jam. The last of these still reads really well, with its advice like "We must study the work of masters… of which we have none!" It's nice to read various influences into Spiegelman's dense and now refined style, and remember a time when the guys who did dumb comics made them with an intelligence that might lead to a broad variety of work later.

(There is no price on this thing, and an address of W 47t St, New York, New York 10036 has to be fake.)

Apollo Astro #4-5
Jack Turnbull

I thought these comics were going to make me feel old because it looks like Turnbull draws his figures in the style of Alex Robinson, but instead it made me feel ancient because the cartoonist seems to be in high school (he might be in art school or college now). When I was in high school, simply having a letter in a comic book would have been crossing a foreboding expanse between the art form and me. The comics my friends and I did were limited to an audience of smirking jackasses in the back of Mrs. Payne's debate class. So while I'd like to pretend knowing the cartoonist's age doesn't change anything about reading it, of course it does. When you read a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote on the back of a 25-year-old's comic, it makes you think, "Oh, come on." Read it on a 17-year-old's and you think, "Good for you."

Apollo Astro #4 has the more ambitious of the two stories, a long nerds-in-love meditation featuring robots versus cartooning called "Creator, Creation." The stories in issue #5 filter the lonely high school experience through genre conventions. I have to admit, for as much as the obvious direction of the story made me groan, Turnbull introduces his zombies/clique metaphor in issue #5's main story in reasonably clever fashion. Turnbull's work falls well short of embarrassing, and there are moments of charm and skill. He's no prodigy based on these examples, although with enough continued hard work and a desire to keep putting his experiences and emotions on the page, anything is possible.

(Issue #4 carries a price of two dollars and issue #5 has no price at all. I'd list the return address I have, but it's not in the comics and the last thing I want I someone's mom mad at me. Try a web search; I bet that works. He's also in New England, so perhaps Million Year Picnic?)

Bainst #6
FC Brandt

With its mix of autobiography and various genre-soaked stories, Bainst reminds me of mini-comics that were more prevalent ten years ago -- the omnibus mini. Brandt's two best stories here work out of two entirely different styles. "Forever in a Moment" features a thick line and figure drawing reminiscent of classic kids cartoons. Brandt's art in "The Hard Carnival" looks a lot like Spain's, with its measured pacing and worn figures. Originally done for a San Francisco travel comic, "Hard Carnival" is a satisfying take on a mid-1990s autobiographical comic staple, the profile. Brandt has hassles with a strange neighbor -- the limited nature of their contact gives the story its scope and the progression of their relationship provides narrative structure. Although nothing really knocks the reader's socks off about the story, it is told with a certain amount of authority. The other stories in the issue fill space more than enlighten or entertain, and if the drawing in the True Porn story excerpted here represents a new, more minimalist style I would say on first glance that I'm not a fan. Brandt seems to be getting work from a variety of sources now, and he's more than ready to explore these opportunities, which should afford him future growth as a cartoonist.

(This is $2.50. Try www.bainst.com.)

Bitter Disappointment
Enjoy the Hot-Dog
A Spectacle of Malformed Youngsters and Automatons Volume One Issue One
Levon Jihanian

People still do 24-hour comics, although perhaps not in the numbers that they were doing them eight to ten years ago. No matter when or where they're done, it is probably best to judge an individual cartoonist's results in the context of their other work. Something may come out in the 24-hour piece that doesn't make it through multiple drafts of a cartoonist's regular working cycle. Hidden strengths may roar to the surface -- in the case of someone like Neil Gaiman, it was a lot easier to see how his writing worked in concert with others after seeing it isolated. Any memory of Levon Jihanian's past or subsequent work escapes me, which puts me at a slight disadvantage. Enjoy the Hot-Dog seems really tight and controlled despite its aimless-at-times plot, and some of the figure design is pretty ingenious. But the basic quality of the drawing could be improved, even given the work-quickly ethos of the project. The best parts of the story feature words written directly into the panels, a nice lettering effect that changes the mood of several scenes. But nothing here startles or impresses.

Jihanian's A Spectacle of Malformed Youngsters and Automatons Volume One Issue One succeeds at most of its more modest goals. The book provides a page-by-page gallery of freak-show oddities that look like they could have come from B. Kliban's sketchbook. Like Kliban, Jihanian mines some humor out of the fact that some people are radically monstrous, while some people are merely express bus ugly. Both this and his 24-hour comic are brightly and attractively packaged. So is Bitter Disappointment, which breaks a depressing superhero vignette down into an absurd story told in a one-panel-per-page style (one panel in the middle is hand-drawn and makes little sense in the context of the work). The drawing here is much more assured, and the pacing marvelous. It's a good idea, too -- there would have to be days of debilitating injury and backfired plans if you dress up in spandex and punch people until they act the way you want them to. Bitter Disappointment is the best of the whole group, and read last, leaves me wanting more.

(www.levonjihanian.com; 407 Violet Ave Apt F, Monrovia, CA 91016)

Bomb Time For Bonzo #5
Jeremy Onsmith

Another comic book anthology, Bomb Time for Bonzo features a number of very competent talents working on very, very short stories. Cover artist Jeremy Onsmith does cartoon-style work that may remind readers of something Jeremy Eaton might come up with after reading a lot of Johnny Ryan and newer Ivan Brunetti. It's lovely and confident but appears a little inauthentic in that it still reminds of other cartoonists at the most inopportune times, breaking the reader's concentration. Paul Hornschmeir's efforts here don't look like they printed well, particularly "In Giant Eyes." Each is visually assured and written with a light enough touch to invite thinking about what one just read. Henry Ng's work, which I believe has also appeared in Non, remains visually adept and not my cup of tea. I have a difficult time immersing myself in the narrative due the extremely stylized figure drawing. Recent Xeric winner John Hankiewicz in "Hanshaw Development" gives us a story as strong as most of what he provides anthologies, although the work is generally odd enough I'm certain he could slip a stinker or two in and most of us wouldn't be any wiser. I also like the design work on the volume in general. The book is really thin but nothing seems dashed off. It would make a fine sampler of small-press talent if you were looking for one.

(Issue #5 has a $2.50 price tag, and is available in both mini-friendly comic book shops and by tracking it down at comixwerks.com, pinkey.com, or sequentialcomics.com. Good luck!)

Brother Power the Geek
Joe Simon

Someone with strange taste sent me this bootleg, Xeroxed effort of Joe Simon's legendarily goofy sort-of superhero title. Set in the "real-life scene of the dangers in hippie-land," Brother Power the Geek is a life-sized doll owned by hippies, stuffed into wet clothes and brought to life by a combination of lightning and oil. That particular plot point ends up being only about the seventh or eighth weirdest thing in the initial story. In the best scene, a bunch of hippies look to solve a doll-napping. They dress as patriotic superheroes and march on a gang of bikers. Nonplussed, the bikers kick the shit out of the hippies, who then discover the bikers hadn't captured Brother Power ("Pow" to his friends) in the first place. Simon was clearly working out of his cultural depth, and some would say he might have been working out of his mind. In his defense, middle-aged men engaging the world of young people has long been a mainstream comic book formula for big hits. In the context of the many hilarious horrors that often result from this mix, Brother Power is only a slightly more extreme example of the phenomenon. I also like both public service announcements included in this mini, particularly the anti-smoking spot featuring Paulette Breen. Breen's name sounds familiar, but as presented in the strip she has some really dubious celebrity credentials. She sure impresses the hell out of the potential cigarette addicts, though.

(You can find the original of this comic in various comic book store back issue bins and on e-bay.)

California Dreamin
To Pee or Not to Pee
The Systern
Maja D'Aoust

Maja D'Aoust's work offers up some really spooky imagery, particularly in terms of its potential psychological underpinnings. People turn into monsters, witches attack, blood and landscapes become snakes, condoms stick to hair and restaurant patrons burst into flame. California Dreamin is a five and ½ inch by eight-inch mini-comic, and the other two are mini-minis. Her work stands a chance to become reasonably interesting if the craft elements improve, but right now neither the art nor the writing hold my attention for much longer than it takes me to focus on a page. I'll give anyone who names a mini after the act of peeing another chance, however. My preference would be to see more of the Asian influence that comes out in the way she renders grotesqueries. A longer story in California Dreamin about looking through the back window at a neighbor's strange habits provides a much better springboard for the stranger digressions D'Aoust favors, so one hopes that narrative path is one she continues to explore.

(Try peeweerules@hotmail.com. There is no price on any of these mini-comics.)

The Changers Book One
Disposable Boy #1-2
Ezra Daniels

Books like Disposable Boy cross the minimalism desk more frequently than one might guess. These are attractively sized and well-conceived minis that investigate a single, mundane event very thoroughly in an introspective voice. One would guess these are autobiographical. The portrait of the cartoonist forms itself out of the building blocks of repressive loneliness and idle fantasy. In the first, the protagonist rides a bus. He categorizes the people who ride with him and projects a need for their companionship on their familiarity. In the second, he attends a party, feels out of place, and returns home. These are competently drawn, with the use of different panel structures and pacing more effective at this point than the illustration of bodies and backgrounds within the pages. But while the type of alienation experienced may be genuine, it feels dull and overplayed. The narrator considers himself a nice guy who will always lose out to women because he lacks the swaggering, macho appeal that they always go for. It's dreary to hear someone speak in such generalities, and were there the slightest hint of self-awareness in the writing, one might think that Daniels suspects so, too.

The Changers Book One gives us a genre story of decidedly more character interest. I like the hook. Two characters from the far, far future travel back in time to correct limitations in human evolution that were caused by the rapid development of technology in the 20th and 21st Centuries. I have no idea if that makes any theoretical sense, but the lack of a driving mission sets the work apart -- the protagonists are likeable, and the extent to which they can adjust to what's going on around them maintains believability. The events in the more plot-driven parts of the comic prove much less interesting, and one worries that the comic will descend into something much less bright than what the first issue reveals. I am also uncertain what real-world equivalent the black skin with whiter hair communicates. So while the overall work could have been much more impressive in all of its component facets, it's surprising how much better this seems than many of its sci-fi comics contemporaries.

(The sci-fi was $3.50; the mope-driven autobio $2 apiece. Try ezra@dream-chocolate.com or www.dream-chocolate.com.)

Esoteric Tales #1
Jonathan Bennett

One of the more striking debut mini-comics I have seen in a couple of years, the first issue of Esoteric Tales focuses on organ speaker technology and the records that serve them. Bennett uses a very dense narrative approach, small figures working in several panels per page that are highly verbal. The figure drawing doesn't seem quite uniform, as if the artist were still sorting out how his visual strategy, but the art in general seems very assured. Bennett can employ a strategy of tiny panels and dropped backgrounds because he draws well. The approach is in no way a capitulation to lack of skill. With its silk-screened cover and type that may remind readers of other comics obsessives, Esoteric Tales is at the very least a very well-conceived project. One can imagine several topics being dissected through this approach, with a bevy of narrative approaches being utilized for each one. I look forward to future issues.

(The price on this is 200 cents. Try www.smallestsound.com or write the artist directly at 111 Hicks St., Apt. 10-G, Brooklyn, New York, 11201)

Follow Me With Your Painted Mouth Open
Son of Gag Me With a Voluptuous Schtick!
Jesse Todd Dockery

A paragraph from the poem "to all those critics, naysayers, and ex-girlfriends," in Dockery's Offender is Not Detained, a 'zine of poems:

but I gotta say
that in a world filled to the brim
with nitwit voices
halfwit music
and witless images
i got no charms
other than than those
that emit this,
the sound of myself,
like a lone sandal washed up on the beach
or a pair of glasses lost to the ocean
in the crest of a wave
with which
to ward of the evil stench
belched up on my front door
of what we call culture

That describes in earthy terms why a lot of people express themselves through mini-comics, and why sometimes it makes no sense to review them. As far as the expectations an audience might bring to his work, I find Dockery's writing of little interest. It's essentially self-absorbed and nothing about the treatment of his life through language really makes a case for me wanting to read a lot more than I already have. Son of Gag Me With a Voluptuous Schtick offers up the same really textured cartoons and figure drawing of the first volume. Dockery draws people as if they were made out of some sort of malleable, dirty matter. Better than the cartoon drawings are the portraits of famous people, which often become compelling because they're so unflattering.

As far as someone expressing themselves through poetry and cartoon art, and finding great value in that, I have nothing bad to say about Jesse Todd Dockery at all and wish him every encouragement.

(Hanging Dog Productions can be reached at PO Box 98, Annville, KY 40402; www.dreamwater.net/art/jtdoc/index.html)

Futurista! Volume One
Futurista! Volume Two
Edited by Shawn Granton

The two volumes of Futurista! run just under 60 pages, cost $4 each, and were released at the same time. Unfortunately, this anthology of future-themed stories from various small press and mini-comics standouts does not provide$8 in value, and any criterion other than cost to separate them into two books proves impossible to figure out. The best stories can all be found in Volume One. Carrie McNinch points out that in the years to come we will all be old, lonely, and full of regrets -- a completely sensible point, and one that is brought to reader with a great deal of sensitivity that plays well against the relentless jokiness of the rest of the anthology. Ben Catmull's "The Astronaut" proves the most attractive story in either book. The sense of humor Jess Reklaw displays in "The Perfect Pet" depends on faulty logic taken to extremes of stupidity, similar to the kind of stuff cartoonist Greg Stump will do at times to similar, positive effect. In the second volume, Trevor Alixopulos mines a few nuggets of fresh material out of an exhausted source of humor (time traveling historical figure finds comparable situation in present) with "Stalin, Joe Stalin," but not enough to be re-read. These are modest stories, and should have been presented with a bit more modesty.

(3719 SE Hawthorne Blvd #243, Portland OR 97214 or shawntfr@hotmail.com)

Garish Zow #1-2
Edited by Michael Allen, Tim Goodyear, Samuel Kienbaum, and John Orloff

Before settling into a slick, book-ready, over-sized format, two issues of the California anthology were produced in thick five and half by eight inch volumes. The second effort features some surprisingly ambitious work and presentational flair. There are two mini-comics stuffed in pockets attached to the front and back inside covers. The cover itself is full color, and looks screened. Best of all, the middle sixteen pages consist of a slick paper stock that can hold full-color. The best story in the issue rests on the second half of these pages, an intermittently compelling and annoying effort by David Choe of the kind that made him famous. Choe can sure turn a phrase when he wants to, and presents his art in that offhand but remarkably assured way through which he's clawed his way to his position as one of the more interesting young cartoonists of the last half-decade or so. Most of the other comics settle into quirky modesty, like a Tim Goodyear/Jesse Hamm effort featuring what looks to be a game of "telephone" among classic monsters and other horrifying creatures.

The first issue doesn't really distinguish itself in any way. It does clue the reader of all the issues to date as to which cartoonists probably make up the "house" group around which occasional guest stars rotate. Of this group, Mark Thompson has the most interesting approach to the page and Andy Gouveia the most assured, but neither would cause me to purchase a future work based on their work alone.

(The Garish Zow gang can be reached through 647 N. Santa Cruz Ave Ste E, Los Gatos, CA 95030 or hiddenagendapress@hotmail.com. Hijinx Comics in the area might have copies of these books as well.)

The Journal of Modok Studies
Edited by George Tarleton

The fairly obvious joke of Journal of Modok Studies leaps out at anyone with half a brain particularly in that the editors don't bother to hide it; it still manages to be funny. This is a classic obsessive-interest fanzine devoted to the Marvel super-villain, he of the gigantic head and ineffectual, tiny arms and legs. The Modok character featured one of the more memorable designs in the late Marvel renaissance period. Because of the lunacy of his look, and the rather limited function he could play as a baddie, Modok's never been overexposed as a villain or become popular enough to reform and join the Great Lakes Avengers or whatever and been worked over that way -- he still has a bit of obscure pulpy "I really don't work" mystery about him. Think of Modok as an extremely limited character actor to which someone brings an entire web site's obsessive attention, and you pretty much get what's going on with Journal of Modok Studies. For the comics-only people out there, there are pin-ups by Devlin Thompson, Patrick Dean, Justin Colussy-Estes, Johnny Ryan, Mandy Mastrovita and a really lovely portrait by Drew Weing. Stephen Notley actually contributes a one-page cartoon. Tarleton seems to be going for a balance of articles, some detailing the obscure history of this cartoon non-icon and other treating his history in tongue-in-cheek fashion. These are modest goals, and easily met.

(From Second Period Industries, PO Box 948, Athens, GA 30603. They are two dollars postpaid.)

Keeping Two Part Two
Jordan Crane

The best scene in Crane's Keeping Two Part Two features a man who keeps slamming the door on his wife but then throwing it back open to make a further point. It feels real, but more than that underlines in subtle fashion both the severity of the emotional wounds on display and the male character's own divided nature concerning how to deal with them. Any difficulties come directly from the soap operatic drama on hand and one's ability to invest in them. Crane struggles at times by keeping his focus on the emotional realities of what's happening at the expense of more observed details which might better ground his story. The formal touches that nearly overwhelmed at times in part one have also been scaled back here, and the use of silhouette to show the sensation of loss, or even the fear of loss, proves very affecting. To kiss a cliché right on the lips, Keeping Two Part Two reads a lot like a cartoonist learning to get out of his own way with a specific way of telling a story.

(Keeping Two Part Two lacks a price; you could try and find one at both reddingk.com, which is Crane's site, and highwaterbooks.com, which is where this story was initially serialized.)

Last Wish Part One
Last Wish Part Two
Adam Berenstain

Like many of the comics in this grouping, Adam Berenstain's Last Wish has several strong points, and the weaknesses come in terms of general execution rather than conception. Last Wish gives us the story of Moses, whose unreliable and chaotic childhood starts to make an impression on his adult life by reinforcing the sorts of doubts that come with being right on either side of graduation and meeting career resistance for the very first time. Berenstain's Buffalo New York is appropriately seedy and downtrodden although many of the interiors look like set pieces rather than lived-in, idiosyncratic spaces. Berenstain uses a heavily moody art style that serves equally well each contributing factor to Moses' nascent depression and self-sorting, brooding qualities. The skill Berenstain brings to his visuals the choice of lettering style -- it seems typeset, but it may just be ugly -- fairly baffles. I also had a hard time telling some figures from others. In terms of the story, two issues in one may find themselves suspicious that Moses' own deep dark secrets are very dark and/or interesting. He says very early on "I want to be someone else" but the central desire to leave his own skin has yet to be reflected in any sordid reality from which a rational person might wish to escape.

(lastwish@twcny.rr.com; www.angelfire.com/art/lastwish; PO Box 3843, Ithaca, NY 14850-3843. Each book is $3. There are plans for six in all.)

Litmus Test #10-11
Nick Mullins

The tenth and eleventh issue of Litmus Test find Nick Mullins making those important first steps on the final stage of coming a cartoonist to watch. Most of the narratives here are silent and deal with an everywoman character named Kit Kaleidoscope as she comes across various interesting tableaux. Issue #11's "Kit Kaleidoscope and the Mermaid in the Jar Part One: The Dead Taxidermist" features very thin, almost feathery pen and ink work. The drawing is delicate to the point that the cartoonist adds weight to certain object by adding an almost imperceptible thickness of line here and there. It's very promising work, although when the give and take of the narrative becomes confusing at story's end one has to wonder if pantomime was simply the choice the cartoonist had to make or a choice the cartoonist picked on half of whim. Compared to the cute but done-to-death analysis of homoerotic subtexts in adventure comics that appears in the same issue, it seems that Mullin may have found in Kit an appropriate style for his first considerable work. How effective they become depends on how much Mullins refines his talent.

(Try www.nijomu.com, nick@nijomu.com, or 416 Gold Ave, Felton, CA 95018)

Mortgage Your Soul
Peter Ross, Josh Neufeld

This is a mini-comic preview of a pamphlet-sized comic that Neufeld distributed as a sort of advertisement for that later comic and to call attention to his work in general. Neufeld draw in a kind of understated, very clean style -- it's odd that his one-time flip-book partner Dean Haspiel is the one that would work with Harvey Pekar because Neufeld seems to be exactly the kind of artist that Pekar has favored over the years. "The True Business Adventures of Don Hadley, American Entrepreneur" excerpted here detail a unique impediment to a business deal (Hadley's company had been stealing from the company he wished to buy) and a snapshot of gentleman farming in the Barbados suffused with anecdotal gold. Ross and Neufeld seem to believe that talking to someone like Hadley, who enjoyed various ups and down but would never be featured in anyone's financial news, gives their reader a unique entry point into the American business system. I'm inclined to agree with them.

(Mr. Neufeld publishes many of his comics through the Alternative Comics scion Jeff Mason, and can be tracked down that way, I believe.)

One Way or Another
John Kerschbaum

In my perfect world, admittedly one that suits my need at the expense of individual artists, DC Comics would stop trying to find Peter Bagge a solo showcase, give him editorship of Mad Magazine and John Kerschbaum would become one of his star cartoonists. One Way or Another keeps Kerschbaum's streak of supremely entertaining and high-quality minis going. It's a flip book, featuring a very difficult "sport the errors" cartoon at its mid-spread and a few upside-down, either-way-you-turn them head shots of varying effectiveness. The stories are Kerschbaum's usually mix of lurid cartooning and dark humor. One is about a giant who wakes up after a long sleep to find himself captured, while the other features a Cyclops raging around town and what finally gets him to stop. Both are much funnier than those dull descriptions because they reveal what's going on through the progression of plot. One isn't aware that the man who woke up late is a giant until he finds himself captured, and suddenly his practice stomps around his castle apartment become really funny test-run for inflicting terror on the populace. In these days of weak-ass anthologies and people being given a solo showcase who barely have enough quality material to fill double digits in pages, one wonders that Kerschbaums doesn't have a do-whatever-you-want contract with some publisher. Their loss is mini-comics' gain.

The Origami Pet
Dan Moynihan

The Origami Pet is a lovingly packaged and elaborately produced mini-comic featuring a lot of nice drawings surrounding a very commercial-seeming idea -- little paper animals that can refold themselves into different shapes according to their needs and desires. The first story appeared in a Nickelodeon Magazine, which should give some idea as to both the quality of the art and the lack of depth in the stories individually. Moynihan makes great use of shading -- although the original story may have been in color, which gives it a denser look -- and doesn't do anything that drives the reader from the story. Still, the reader's response of reading a bunch of these in a row might be, "Okay, I get it already." Sometimes a good one-off feature might do better in the midst of other work, or even as the germ of a future set of ideas. It's certainly pleasing to the eye.

(Try PO Box 442118, Somerville, MA 02144, dan@mreow.com or www.mreow.com. There is no price on this thing, but it looks to be relatively expensive.

Pinokio
Kurt Wolfgang

Pinokio appears to be a lengthy selection from the start of Kurt Wolfgang's forthcoming massive adaptation of the classic children's story that will no doubt carry the same name. Like some of his peers, Wolfgang releases short mini-comic versions of his last book as well. It makes a certain amount of sense to have such a book on hand. It keeps people aware of the forthcoming feature in a format that lacks the loveliness and physical appeal of the final product. It might also serve as a confidence builder and momentum builder, as there's nothing like seeing something in print and holding it in your hands. Certainly I would not have given Wolfgang's next project any thought
without this book in my hands.

Wolfgang provides enough material that the reader can become immersed in the story, and as such it may even be possible to guess at the future project's stronger points. Wolfgang provides another visually appealing and imaginative world, mostly by ignoring the strong imagery that tends to run throughout the various filmed versions of the story. The story looks like it may anchor his work in strong themes and an effective narrative, leaving Wolfgang some room to fill in the various emotional portraits and have fun with the incongruities between the classic version and his own. Wolfgang's inventive use of silent comics, particularly his elastic representation of various sound effects, looks to be as strong as ever.

(No address or price, which would fit with a comic not strictly intended for sale. Mr. Wolfgang attends shows on the east coast of the united states, and this one was picked up at I believe this year's Museum of Comics and Cartoon Arts festival.)

Plates are Cult
Damien Jay

It's unclear exactly what's going on here most of the time, but it looks like fun. The attractively designed front cover to Plates Are Cult shows jumbo jets flying among the dinosaurs; the back covers shows both groups dancing around a fire. You have to look twice, but Jay has depicted the two scenes in different art styles. Throughout the mini, one gets the sense that Jay has more in the way of art chops than always comes out. Three dull-looking pages end in a pretty good joke about Picasso, but the cartooning that follows looks generally terrific. The center spread in particular features fine design work and a joke that counts on the reader's attention to the drawing as a whole. It's almost as if Jay makes a few bad choices as to what constitutes simplifying his artwork for publication, or doesn't feel quite up to putting together a more straight-forward narrative. The abstruse meanderings and sketchbook summations are fine for now. This is another one to watch.

(The contact information I have is PO Box 344, Brooklyn, NY, 11222; Damien@damienjay.com is the e-mail.)

Quagga #2-3
Trevor Alixopulos

Cartoonist Alixopulos certainly has his moments in these two issues of Quagga. He displays a nice sense of humor that comes from observation rather than hyperactive shtick. Two different recurring features -- or features that look like that might occur -- give the reader recurring characters that would allow for a broad range of stories. I'm particularly fond of the cast of aimless, drunken underemployed guys and if-they-have-to-be thugs in the stories "Saturday Night's Alright for Dyin'" and "Nazi Paingasm." Alixopulos really nails down the thin line between terror and stupidity, self-possession and self-loathing that infect male relationships of a certain type that are extended from adolescence into adulthood. When he drifts into more fantastic stories, like #2's "I Hear America Barfing," the only interest seems to be that he did so; the stories themselves read poorly and the cartoonist lacks the craft chops to make them interesting visually. These minis remind me of someone who has found a voice for the stories he wants to tell, but has stopped short of the development needed to make those stories appealing to a wider audience. I only mention this because one autobiographical story gave us the cartoonist displaying regret over the artistic obscurity that comes in comics, and a few of the stories seem to indicate that Alixopulos has been at this for what he considers to be a while. He should find encouragement in his unique sense of humor and ability to find new life in a few well-traveled storytelling modes, but continue to exercise his chops.

(The issues of Quagga reviewed here are $2 each and can be ordered from PO Box 524, Fulton, CA 95439 or at www.alixopulos.com.)

Saturday
Lark Pien, Jesse Hamm

This is a very slight book, story by Pien and art by Hamm, from 2001 that features a day in the life of two children sharing one body. Hamm's art serves the silent story very well; it is expressive and moves without being ugly or overly stylized. The slightness of the story becomes mirrored in the potentially baffling question of what message one might read into the central characters' unique physical relationship. On one hand, the reader might suppose that the potentially tragic circumstance becomes lost in the simple joys of a summer weekend day vigorously embraced; it also might be some sort of commentary on the intimacies of sibling relationships one has growing up. On the other hand, it might not mean anything at all, something that would certainly be supported in the simple joys extolled throughout the narrative. If that's true, what might be called into question is how much space needed to be devoted to such an empty point -- Pien and Hamm's work providing little inspiration in itself as a sort of display of cartooning craft.

(Try larks_hrududu@hotmail.com or Emmaus@inreach.com; there is no price on this book.)

Savage Daisies Book 3
Savage Daisies Book 6
Savage Daisies Book 7
Jesse Hamm

Jess Hamm's comics bounce along winningly, and the artist doles out the jokes in a very assured fashion. He waits for the humor to come to the story rather than forcing the laughs into his narrative. Savage Daisies is Hamm's repository for fantasy stories, fantasy in the broader sense to include horror, superheroes and other related genres. Book 3 contains his riff on the Superman/Clark Kent/Lois Lane/Lana Lang love rectangle; Book 6 and Book 7 are the first two parts of a five-part Snow White adaptation. The latter work is infinitely preferable to "Supernal Man," which manages to bring out a few clever moments out by making Lane feverish after the sensitive hipster Kent but ultimately becomes much too leaden and obvious in its opinions of shallow young people's culture. "Bitten Apple" depends much more on non-satirical humor, and Hamm's ragged art style gives his work a sense of energy that one might not get from more traditional illustration. Hamm is anthology ready now and could probably hold his own title if making a substantial profit weren't a fact. If he makes that move, one hopes that the design would be generally improved. The overall look of the minis, particularly the covers, is tremendously ugly.

(These don't have prices on them, but I assume they're for sale. Try emmaus@inreach.com; www.oklahoma.net/~silvrdal/jesse.html; or PMB 355 1040 West Kettleman Lane 1B, Lodi CA 95240-6056. He's been known to frequent this magazine's on-line message board, so perhaps you could accost him there. Be nice.)

Stories from the Ward Book Three
Lark Pien

Since according to the indicia this volume was published in 1999, Lark Pien is long overdue for some attention from this column. Most of the work here falls under the designation of having interesting component parts rather than presenting a compelling whole. Pien uses some very stylized figures to good effect, particularly in contrasting them with her protagonist, in the book's first major story. A series of bee and flower stories sprinkled throughout show real visual flair despite their rather hackneyed take on adult co-dependency seen through the prism of a child's fable-like story. A long story about a zombie making its way into the city where it is cleaned up and provided clothes interests because of the questions it doesn't answer, the whys and hows of the character's current situation, and the rather straightforward way it presents the remarkable occurrence in dramatic terms. I would be interested in looking at subsequent volumes, but wouldn't extend them endless patience.

(Try 999 Wisconsin St #3, San Francisco, CA 94107; larks_hrududu@hotmail.com)

Strange Child
Allison Cole, Loretta Cole

Strange Child features the writing of Allison Cole's mother Loretta, describing the artist as a child. The monologue features a bevy of imaginary friends that Allison enjoyed as a kid -- including the Statue of Library -- and related sources of acting-out behavior. Loretta Cole's tone proves to be reasonably funny all on its own. The text starts with an up front "Ally, you were a very strange child," and keeps that acerbic, bemused but exasperated voice throughout. If Loretta's speech isn't a fabrication, then Allison's contribution is to put the text into a lovely schoolbook cursive and to supply silk-screened illustrations in accompaniment. The drawings are fine, colorful, and descriptive -- and as they come from the imaginer herself, they exuded authority. Overall, this is one of the stronger efforts in Cole's group of comics and comics-related offering. The picture on the back cover of Cole as one of her imaginary characters emanates creepy cuteness.

(No price; you might attempt to reach the artist at goldmarmalade@hotmail.com)

Sugar Free Days #1
Cole Johnson

Johnson's story of kids aimlessly interacting with one another gets the feel of aimless existence just right. He's aided by an art style that favors elongated, wire-cleaner figures and lengthy faces against sparse backdrops. The entire issue is rendered in very, very thin lines as well. The abstract style might not be the best support for a story were it grounded in detail, but it fits here. Johnson isn't building a believable world out of details but by getting the tone of the various emotions just right. The best scene in the first issue involves a group of kids meeting in an underground space and losing track of one of their members when a rock gets thrown at his head. The panic that the narrator Contour Hardy feels, and the way in which kids can suddenly view an area tactically, feels spot-on. The material is awfully dry and never light on its feet, and more humor might really give the book more life. There seem to be attempts: a scene where a boy with a head-injury returns to school and verbally assaults one of the teacher should be funnier than the rather dry, disturbing exchange that develops on the page. Sugar Free Days seems at several points like some sort of new Japan cinema version of an unpleasant childhood experience, with actors mouthing the lines.

(The cover price on this issue is $2. The contact address in the book for Mr. Johnson is PO Box 2547, Austin, TX; www.sleepovercomics.com)

Tread #4, #6
Worker Bee
Greg Vondruska

Greg Vondruska seems like a thoughtful cartoonist, which is why it's interesting rather than irritating waiting for his visual skill to catch up with his sensitivity as a writer. Tread #4 features the first part of his two-part Wedding in India story, and Vondruska proves a really fine tour guide. He makes the right inquiries into the things the typical reader would wonder most about (observations about a servant, the price of taxis per kilometer), and sets the various scenes with economy and grace. Tread #6 contains some of Vondruska's best art to date in a short story that features comics critic, writer and Vondruska fan Robert Young's writing. The story "You Waited at the Airport" features some really nice panel-less page construction, and several interesting, offbeat observations. "Insomniacs and Cockroaches" disappoints when compared to the previous two, and seems a rote exploration of nightmares and synchronicity. The very long, very attractively packaged Worker Bee, shows Vondruska to be a capable and original writer -- the scenario he selects is involving, and seem familiar without giving away anything about where it might go next. The art here is much more assured, particularly the final scene in a staircase that features an effective use of grays and blacks. Unlike cartoonists who seem to have developed fully into limited talents, Vondruska seems to be an artist in the very early stages of what could flower into very good work someday.

(Tread #4 is $3.50, Tread #6 and its slick cover only $3, and Worker Bee $4. Try gregvondruska.com for more information.)

The Unboring Manifesto
Ikea Publications Department

I visited an Ikea once, and have since blacked out on most of the details. I seem to remember that the store was laid out like a cross between a showroom and a really boring automaton-less A-ticket exhibit at Disney World. On the other hand, the Ikea television commercial starring the VW bug loaded down with boxes of gun shelves or whatever, came on only twice a year and allowed me to mark the slow passing of my late twenties. But that's more than enough about me. What matters is that furniture superstore Ikea produce a number of materials that use various comics-related ideas, I think because perhaps they understand that the real market of the Golden Age we all need to be reaching isn't children but stupid people.

Still, I was surprised to find that one of my mini-comics to review was in fact this little commercial thing from that company. It sure reads like a well-produced mini-comic, though, and the photos and type are pretty classy looking. I'm sure we could all learn something by looking at it, like the pleasing hand-held nature of the mini or the how nice type and presentation looks when some slight attention is paid to them. The manifesto in question seems to be that one should fight dullness by buying wooden furniture and lamps, which I can sort of get behind. I find the constant reminder that the company is producing these things for the people kind of annoying, like we should all be grateful for candles or something.

(Try an Ikea store, listed at www.ikea.com.)

My Uncle Jeff
Damon Hurd

The mini-comics version of a title that I believe has now come out in self-published pamphlet form and as a comic either from or in partnership with a publisher, My Uncle Jeff features the cartoonist's musing on family relationships. The cartooning and writing are adequately crafted, and Hurd displays a surprisingly even hand towards even the worst people in his family. At least at this point, however, scenes of conflicted interest like an opening family tree don't become reflected within the narrative. The reader may see this as Hurd not being able to deal with his family on his feet the same way he does when he stops to think about them, but more likely the trenchant observations simply afford the reader a certain trust in Hurd's judgment that he does not make good on through the majority of the narrative. It feels like he's not at liberty to talk when his family's in the room.

(A more complete version of My Uncle Jeff should be available through your local comic shop or through Alternative Comics directly.)

We Have Big Plans
Thomas Marquet

Nothing much happens in this follow-up to Thomas Marquet's Bland Like Water. A salesman with new, improved sand samples makes his way across a large desert to a city. He meets a man out in the desert and attempts to pitch him on the sand. He makes it to the city, where two men stand on top of the wall and engage in witty batter. Once he makes it inside the city by climbing the huge and impressive stairway that acts in lieu of a gate, the salesman takes a meeting with the Department of Sanitation head. The meeting turns out to be a mistake caused by the fact the department head is the brother of the prime minister with whom the salesman hoped to confer. He re-schedules. The best parts of We Have Big Plans come from Marquet's pacing, which owes its laconic feel and resultant humor to the numerous panels-per-page approach the cartoonist utilizes. You get every piece of back and forth, ever bit of dialogue, and the details of the extended pitch, especially where it involves trying to get over the concept of "better sand," develop into the best lines. Marquet's ability to shove silly situations through these incredibly detailed and realistic, even ultimately boring, exchanges, reminds one of Tom Hart. He needs to become a sharper and a more consistent writer and artist to remain in that kind of company past a basic description. He also must find a visual style that appeals on roughly the same level as the writing.

(Try ThomasM@safe-mail.net. This book cost $2.)

We The People
"Abe Franklin"

A round robin of notes from schoolgirls whereby they passed along a section of the preamble to the Constitution, this looks like a one-off from someone in the Fort Thunder sphere of influence. This could be found art, but it seems manufactured; the best parts are the code at the end and the mysterious capper to meet somewhere after school so that the note can be explained. There is certainly great potential in using the passed-note form to create a longer and more meaningful work; it's instantly familiar.

(I have no idea, and nothing on the mini helps, either.)