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Minimalism Archives #10 -- Oversized Mini-Comics
posted December 24, 2004
 

Larger Than Life
Minimalism By Tom Spurgeon

Although mini-comics obviously received their name from formats that are smaller than the standard newsstand comic book, size as a defining factor of what mini-comics can be has since become a non-issue. Handmade comics of larger sizes give the artist certain advantages. Working "up" from regular mini-comic formats allows cartoonists to become more expansive and create objects that could only communicate clearly and effectively in the bigger space, while other artists make use of the larger canvas to create more detailed narratives because they know they can be scanned that way. It is also a format favored by anthologies, a strategy that gives editors a step up when it comes to competing with standard publication forms. It may in this way act as a default format choice to shepherd in work form artists working in various sizes. Oversized mini-comics can mess with the new reader's head in that they defy the most obvious definitions of the form in favor of works that reflect a certain ethos or similar production history. They are also the most likely to appear shoddy, in that they may look similar to standard publications just more cheaply produced. While a few mini-comics, particularly from the Paper Rodeo artists, seem to hint at uses of enormous sheets of paper and a corresponding aesthetic of excess, most reflect baser artistic concerns of what looks best, what works most effectively, and perhaps even what kind of paper is lying around.

The following comics sent to this column in 2002 and 2003 all make use of bigger-than-usual presentational formats and the kind of paper you might have to order special if you live in a small town.

AKA
Steve Black and Dara Naraghi

This is a detective comic of the procedural kind, meaning that we follow a couple of professional sleuths as they work their way through a case one step at a time. The interest in such a story should come as much from the verisimilitude of the particulars as the drama of the case being solved. Black and Naraghi do a passable job walking us through the details. The pacing of their story is fine, but the circumstances as they unfold seem more like plot points being checked off than the kind of messy trial and error that might exist in the real world. This keeps the narrative moving forward, but not with the strain of motion or the stops and starts that make going along for the ride interesting. It's too smooth.

There isn't much charm in the details, either. "Super sleuth" protagonists Alison Albright and Katie Kristopher are ciphers, and hue very closely to the pretty girl/spunky girl stereotype. It's like watching the girls from Ghost World forced into the narrow parameters of one of those strange PBS live-action shows from the 1980s. The case our heroines find themselves pursuing features very little shading or ambiguity, at least thus far, and seems inordinately straightforward. While this could change, and it's not a requirement of a by-the-details story, right now it makes for some dull as dirt reading. And it's not very well thought-out -- the girls are hired to retrieve something that from what's been revealed so far seems like it could only be a lawbreaking-matter for a character in 1953, hidden in a place any modern lawyer with ten minutes and a writ could retrieve more effectively. This area of storytelling is so well worn that any kind of lazy thinking stands in bold relief against sharper, better-realized work.

As for the craft involved, there's some promise displayed. A couple of creative narrative moments fall flat -- a two-page spread with a conversation on top simply doesn't scan -- but it's nice to see the artist trying to do something a bit more complicated than the story minimally requires. The figure drawing is really uneven, and is particularly weak when the people depicted are asked to move and/or physically emote. Yet while the backgrounds are never appropriately atmospheric, the buildings and settings are competently drawn. I also like the painted cover, which looks like it came from a photograph.

(The publishing imprint is Ferret Press, www.ferretpress.com, and issue #1 is $2. There are two issues to come. Ferret Press is located at 1080 Merrimar Circle South, Suite B, Columbus, OH 43220.)

All the Goodbyes 2
The Weight
Greg Cook

I hope that Greg Cook's partner in publishing can find way to mimic in their books the effect that Cook's mini-comics enjoy as physical objects. All the Goodbyes 2 and The Weight are at the opposite ends of printing quality, while featuring the same oversized paper. The Weight feels more elaborately printed, while All the Goodbyes 2 has a disposable feel to it right down to the type selected for the title. But they're both attractive, starkly designed in a way that uses multiple visual elements to draw the reader's attention to a single figure, that figure suggesting the thrust and import of the story contained within.

Those stories are also very different yet strangely similar. Cook displays range and a strong, idiosyncratic style that's instantly recognizable. In All the Goodbyes 2, a glacially paced domestic drama, Cook drops his backgrounds in favor of putting the entire emphasis on his characters. This makes sense considering that's where the drama is here, the incremental movements towards one person or another and how they have a ripple effect on ever widening circles and relationships. The odd thing here is that Cook's characters have physical character but little expressiveness. This puts the focus on their movements and interactions rather than trying to read the physical effects of an inner monologue. It reinforces the notion that we don't know these people all that well, although we probably know people like them, a suitable direction to push material about small betrayals and regrets.

Ironically, both stories in The Weight depend on depictions of outward appearance. In the title story, the reader is asked to see the guilt of murdering a young boy on a man's face, while in the more episodic second feature the outward appearance of guilt has wreaked enough visual havoc a man is made unrecognizable. Both comics are in Cook's episodic style, scenes accompanying narration of stories drawn from a historical narrative (I have no idea whether these are legitimate stories or not, and it doesn't matter to me, although I would imagine this is easily confirmed or disputed). A little storytelling of this type goes a long way, particularly in that the pictures that Cook provides are so tiny and stylized that they work better as narrative connections than illustrations over which to linger. They would certainly be unreadable in a smaller format, and the domestic drama of All the Goodbyes 2 would be harder to follow, so the oversized comic is used to good effect in both cases.

(Try highwaterbooks.com for the latest in mini-comics from Mr. Greg Cook)

Attempted Not Known #7
Peter S. Conrad

I respect anyone who can come up with a halfway decent variation on the saw in the cake convict gag, as Peter S. Conrad manages in one of the "Stymied" cartoons here. When he keeps that sense of the absurd -- what's funny about the saw gag is the eye-rolling awareness of the hackneyed set-up, not so much the punch line -- then Conrad barrels along. When he tries his hand at generic social commentary, the returns flatten considerably. There are a few 9/11 cartoons here that now read like slow death. One of the more interesting things about Conrad as a talent is that he draws some of his strips in a more traditionally rendered style, the kind of black and white art that would be very familiar to anyone reads a lot of small press comics. This gives some of the work a deadpan quality, like a strip called "Pink" where the humor derives from the appalling but quite regular circumstance of a stripper bringing her child to be watched backstage while she works. For the most part, I prefer the stylized iconography. I'll award Conrad a bonus for his use of size and presentational format. The comic looks ash-canny and cheap but still attractive, and the cover takes advantage of its size to work in a lot of details.

(Contact Peter S. Conrad, PO Box 64522, Sunnyvale, CA 94088.)

Bland Like Water
Thomas C. Marquet

This is a really early effort from the artist and look like it -- as such, it isn't really worth picking up unless at some future date the cartoonist flowers into a major cartoonist. Marquet works in a series of very meticulously designed pages that tell dry fable-like stories about man's basic relationship to the universe. Think Richard Hahn's work, although much less visually assured. On a certain level, this is really just noodling, and except for a page near the middle where the line gets fatter there's nothing of visual interest to keep one motivated to stay on the various journeys presented. The tendency to break the page down into tiny components and using that to show incremental action makes for a unique narrative rhythm that could be exploited, but at this stage in the artist's development it simply makes for turgid reading.

(The price is $2. The artist is best reached at thomasm@safe-mail.net.)

Come One Come All
Souther Salazar

I think I should give up on reviewing Salazar's mini-comics for a while. I've pretty much liked them all, and I'm not sure I have anything more to say about them. In fact, at this point I like them so much I'm scared to send them away for review because that risks my not getting them back. The problem that arises is the works from Salazar have frequently been the best mini-comic in any system I've devised for making the large mini-comics pile into smaller ones for review.

This August 2003 effort combines some color, some journal writing, a few sketchbook drawings, and a lot of loose beyond loose narratives. Come One Come All perfectly reflects the kind of constant engagement with the world that you slip into when you're young and talented and in your first really prolific period. On top of that, it is frequently lovely, and those parts that are rougher or seem rushed seem less like substandard efforts and more like the reflection of a way of working. Salazar seems to be on an early '90s Tom Hart/changeover issues King-Cat tear right now. I would hate these comics in advance if someone were to describe them to me but stand helpless before them when I see them in person. They're really good. You should buy them.

(Come One Come All purports to be printed in a single lot of 60. Salazar frequently appears at shows in the Southern California area, and his regional shop Meltdown does a good job of carrying minis.)

Eighty-Six
Potrzebie Illustrated
The Skyman #1
Anonymous

Someone out there is putting together bootleg assemblies of old comics with an eye on either outright great artists (Will Elder) or good to great artists who rely heavily on the representational style of illustration (Jesse Marsh, someone who sounds familiar but I can't automatically place him named Paul Dean). The copies are way too good for anyone to make money doing this, which might be a good thing considering that making copies of existing work without someone's permission is probably still illegal. The Dean work -- Ogden Whitney is credited on the cover, and I'm generally bone ignorant when it comes to Golden Age artists, pseudonyms, and credits -- in Skyman is fun shtick because of its barely-serious take on an obviously second-hand superhero, and due to the compiler's fealty in giving the reader the secondary features and the back cover ad. The Marsh work is more considerable, and the editor put together several single illustrations (heavy on the animals) from multiple issues of Tarzan comics. There is a fundamental strength to the drawings that is made variable in its effectiveness by what one would guess is the deadline situation. Some are really striking, though, and if any artist drew like the worst of these pages today people would stumble over themselves to buy their comic. The Goodman Beaver story in Potrzebie Illustrated is still really great -- I'm always struck by the clash between text and art here, and the various style modulations in the art itself. If you see these at a convention or someplace similar and you're not the kind of person to stay up at night worrying over legalities, jump on them.

(Who knows? I have a guess about who it might be, but these came without a real price tag in an anonymous envelope)

Fleep
Jason Shiga

Fleep is the first Jason Shiga book I've held in my hands for more than 20 seconds, for reasons too embarrassing to go into. Various members of the small press and those who pay attention to it (i.e. Scott McCloud) have been praising Shiga's work for about 18 months now. Fleep manages to impress despite the usually damning context of effusive comics-y praise. The plot is fairly straightforward. A man wakes trapped in a phone booth with no other memories of the recent past, and must piece together where he is, how he came to be there, and how to get out. The progressively logical, long reveal of the circumstances that led the man to his current situation unfolds with sterling story sense. Everything makes sense; nothing seems like a cheat. Shiga's graphic sense, which seems to draw on iconography more familiar to Asian comics than North American, communicates the facts of the situation without adding much in the way of atmosphere. This is fine with a story like this, because the dry precision with which the story moves forward echoes the mood of the protagonist. Most readers overestimate the necessity of evocative art as an equal partner to this kind of precise, pulpy writing, anyway, and in that sense Shiga is more than able to bring the goods. The ending twists what we know an appropriate three hundred and sixty degrees, even while straining credulity in a way the pacing never does. All in all, this is a really fine early work, well worth picking up.

(Try www.sparkplugcomicbooks.com. It costs $5)

Gag Me With a Voluptuous Schtick!
Like Picking at Scabs: The Lives and Times of Lumpy the Limbless Wonder
Jesse Todd Dockery

Jesse Todd Dockery works the same general artistic neighborhood as artists concerned with texture over everything else, like Blair Wilson and Henriette Valium, yet remains a significant step or two behind that pair in terms of visual flair. When Dockery moves out of the stand-alone illustrations like Gag Me and into comics-style presentation as in Like Picking at Scabs (on which Dockery hastened to scribble "just an abandoned prototype"), the ability to maintain one's interest level depends entirely on seizing for oneself the same narrative potential that the artist sees in their own work. For most readers such a step could prove absolutely baffling. The things I like most that Dockery does in these two offerings are the portraits of literary figures like Jim Thompson and William Faulkner. Those illustrations have a genuine, rough charm, a sense of the mediocre qualities in most faces that fails to play to the glamour that many bring to portraiture out of a desire to publish or a wish to flatter the subject. Dockery's work could develop into a very interesting direction or eight, but right now these books seem like teases rather than the real work.

He definitely got one thing right in these two efforts -- Dockery's work should be printed in the large format as often as possible.

(The address I have on these is Hanging Dog Productions, PO Box 98, Annville, KY 40402. You might also try www.dreamwater.net/art/jtdov/index.html)

Garish Zow #3-4
Various

These are handsomely mounted small press anthologies that I appreciate most for bringing work to my attention I've never seen before. In fact, the fourth issue contains only one cartoonist with whom I'm familiar, making this the opposite of most anthologies that add more familiar names as they proceed. The sampling aspect is key, because most of these comics feel like one-offs, short and sweet introductions to a certain style. Of the cartoonists with which most readers of this column should be familiar, FC Brandt and Souther Salazar contribute quality work to the third issue. That volume also contains an accomplished story by the scarily young and skillful Dash Shaw, a simple but really entertaining use of a narrative disconnected from the type of illustration provided. The fourth issue features a piece by Leland Purvis, someone I've certainly heard about although I can't recall if I've read the comics he's done. Unfortunately, it's one of the poorer stories in that issue, despite being much better than average looking.

There are a few cartoonists from whom I'd like to see more. I enjoyed the cover work by John Orloff (#3) and Adam Stone (#4) and the move to inside covers rather than endpaper style bookends is a smart one. "Good Drugs, Bad People" by Mike Bertino in issue #4 made me laugh, and I liked the look of the piece with its stylized figures and a thick, appealing line. The vast majority of work proves incredibly dull, however -- tedious stories, some heavily reminiscent of better material, presented in various rough graphic styles not quite ready for prime time. Naming names would require having to read many of the stories again, something I'm not sure I'm prepared to do. A short story small press anthology with quality production values and a primer-like quality is too good an idea to let go to waste, and too good an opportunity for the artists involved. One hopes the material begins to catch up with the presentation.

(I don't see a price on either one of these books, but maybe I'm just dumb. Try 647 N. Santa Cruz Ave Ste E, Los Gatos, CA 95030 or hiddenagendapress@hotmail.com. Printing was limited in both cases to 500 copies.)

Garlic
Various

Garlic is a surprisingly strong outing that gains much from being a low-tech mini-comic rather than a more elaborately presented standard format work. It looks to be the first in a series of food-related efforts, and the editor Sean Duncan has selected an unadorned style of presentation. In other words, this is a mini-comics anthology that meets our expectations for standard literary collections. The cartoonists featured are generally well-known for their consistency and skill -- Salazar, Zervakis, Hankiewicz, Lasky, Kiersh and Huizenga among them -- and do work that even when it fails to be good usually proves interesting. That's mostly the case here. Souther Salazar's little story settles far short of the impressive strides he's made in his solo work the last 20 months or so, but is a fun glimpse into a more improvisational story structure and features skillful use of rhyme. Porcellino and Lasky provide minor variation on their strengths that feel like comfort food, and the stories by Zettwoch and Dave Kiersh are decent takes on elements in their work that I never found appealing but are in no way painful. In addition, Zettwoch's is very appealingly drawn. John Hankiewicz provides the most ambitious story in the book, a written narrative intercut with various pictures that gives the reader yet another take on his strange but appealing sense of pacing. Tatiana Gill, Kevin Huizenga and Jenny Zervakis all submit perfunctory work, a shame given the heights they are capable of reaching.

As long as this mini-comic series remains modest in its aims, the occasional slap-dash effort and general minor-league feel will do nothing to harm its overall effect. "Tea" is next, although since this came out in early 2002, perhaps "Tea" is already done. This is a solid if slightly perfunctory little anthology.

(The web site given is wiseanduncanny.com/food. The e-mail is foodcomic@yahoo.com. I can't find a price on here -- just like I can't on raw food! Haw, haw.)

Hush Hush Part One
Mark Burrier

Mark Burrier works in a moderately elegant minimalist style, with borderless panels that focus on a few foregrounded elements making up the bulk of his pages. One positive aspect to this approach is that the reader fills in many of the details on figure and background. What he depicts may be a very specific place, but it's close enough to the suburbs of my hometown in Indiana that I can project that setting on it. A potential negative is that the cartoonist must have a very assured grasp of language and visual iconography. So much depends on how a sound may be depicted, or wind, or the cartoon aids to a character's emotions in the form of lines outside of their head. In this, Burrier proves not quite settled. At times the attention of the reader is drawn away from the narrative and into how the artist found his way around a particular presentational strategy.

There is certainly as much promise here as in any other elaborately produced mini-comic I have devoured recently, but the effectiveness of where the story evolved from this set-up should prove whether or not much of what happens in this issue was worth reading. I meant that in a very specific way. The conversation between two adults over one adult's writing is incredibly awkward and stilted, and doesn't feel genuine. It's not until I read the story in its entirety that I'll have any clue where the writing was rough and how much the author intended for the conversation to be clumsy. For right now, take note of the strengths in design and nearly settled visual language and place your bets.

(I don't see a price on here, but the contact information is www.markburrier.com and maburrier@aol.com. The street mail address given is PO Box 984, Myersville, MD 21773.)

Lena Vista Death Cult
Jamie Craw

This is odd and loud and too roughly drawn for my tastes. Something about the approach makes me think that Craw is drawing the way he does partly for effect. When he rounds his figures out and adds details to the backgrounds, the look settles into something much more effective and appealing. There is a landscaped page in the best story in the issue, "Beef Suit," featuring characters at a burger joint. It is to my eyes far more lovely than the rest of the issue combined. The stories themselves seem to combine a lot of underground, small press and even EC Comics modes of presentation. None of them are memorable, and all flee from the mind the moment the book is closed. There is an unnecessary mélange of typefaces and pacing. I would suggest the artist find and stick with the most effective visual style and in general slow the shorter stories down to a less than breakneck pace that the art doesn't flatter. Also beware stereotyping figures; certain shortcuts may make the reader uncomfortable.

(Readers may buy Lena Vista Death Cult from its creator for $2 a copy. Retailers can buy them for re-sale at half that. Try 1217 Westwood Dr #1215, Rosenberg, TX 77471, or hubcity71@aol.com)

New Repetition Comics
Bill Driscoll, Sarah Freeman and Thomas C. Marquet

This is a fine way to experience new cartoonists. New Repetition Comics is cleanly produced and the cartoonists within seem to all be within shouting distance of each other in terms of talent. I'm afraid, however, that based on the work presented none of them is shouting anything particularly interesting. Although the book doesn't contain a table of contents so that I can confirm, I think the best pieces are by Thomas Marquet: a strange cover featuring a pile of rabbits, and a bunch of two-tiered strips featuring a character called "Man Whore Calling!" The Man Whore material works that stretch of creative road where you take a dumb character and then make them do something that' s not particularly related to their central concept. The strips feature Man Whore calling a woman to harass her, and the woman's various ways of dealing with Man Whore's attention. The repetition becomes reasonably funny, as does the you-know-they're-coming wannabe non sequiturs like "Leave Man Whore alone!" Although there is potential in the set-up of the Sarah Freeman strips, and the way she provides narration is appealingly divorced from comics conventions, they are simply not well enough executed. Bill Driscoll has the making of a nice, fat and appealing ink line but the material of his presented here proves really tedious and seemingly improvised not in a good way. Nothing here says "Buy me!" but nothing here says "We will never produce better comics!" either.

(Milo, you need to add the ordering information here. If Milo hasn't added the ordering information, all the readers should now laugh at Milo.)

Noburbs #1-2
Gary Ellis

This is accomplished work from someone I've never heard of before. Noburbs tells the story of two kids dancing around either a friendship or a forthcoming act of violence in the midst of an average, scary suburban school. Ellis provides the reader with a generally compelling overall picture of how the kids interact with one another. The school seems like a gauntlet of humiliations, like most schools, and the kids have very loose ties that are based on embarrassing information each may hold over the other. The best parts about Ellis' work are his art, his ability to suggest the sexual undercurrents of boys relationships at a certain age without coming anywhere near broaching the subject, and a series of wonderfully captured details. I particularly liked a conversation between mother and son that features a flipped over dress tag that and a kid putting the plate of pop tarts squarely on his head before bringing it down to the table.

I would hesitate before calling Noburbs completely successful, however. The particulars feel right but the general thrust of the story has so far been clichéd. The story features some bordering on maudlin work in it exploration of the relationship between a single mother and her child. And for someone with such an assured baseline visual approach, Ellis surprises by moving away from it in a lot of scenes. I guess this is for effect, and it's one that usually works for cartoonists. However, there was enough variety in the depictions throughout that I found the more wholesale shifts unnecessary. I also felt myself hugely distracted by these moments when they occurred. Whether or not this turns out to be a good work or one merely noteworthy for some of its craft elements depends on how #3 turned out in terms of resolving the thematic and narrative through-lines. But there could be good things ahead for this cartoonist.

(Try gary@noburbs.com or www.noburbs.com or 155 Costa Rica Ave, Burlingame, CA 94010. I have the first two issues listed at $7 each. This doesn't seem like a high price for these incredibly thick, well-mounted volumes.)

The Reader Part One
Davey Oil

This reminded me of one of the early Beanworld comics, but instead of beans the central iconography has based itself on clip-on ties. I don't see too many of these super-strange, abstract comics stories that often, anymore. It occurs to me this kind of art may have found a more appropriate home in computer-generated and on-line art. Some of the basic imagery is designed reasonably well, but the overall story here becomes hampered by lack of craft. An assured artist could get a lot more mileage out of the story. The best parts of Part One arise from Oil's playfulness with language. Some creatures, including the protagonist, speak in a reasonably complex but still understandable language of symbols. More interesting scenes bloom out of nowhere when that language runs up against traditionally spoken tongues, but not enough of them. I'm also wondering why this format was used. Oil fails to use the oversized page format to any narrative effect, and as mentioned the art is not particularly lovely. A smaller page might have forced Oil into a better storytelling rhythm. I'm happy when anyone works this obtusely and obscurely; there's something heroic about it. It's much more fun to hear about than read, however.

(Contact daveyoil@hotmail.com for details, or maybe try Confounded Books in Seattle)

Snow Monkeys #2
Megan Whitmarsh

This year 2000 effort is much more effectively realized than the first issue, reviewed in a previous installment of this column. Snow Monkeys provides a mixing of fantasy and the mundane familiar to readers of cartoonists like James Kochalka. Here the art that Whitmarsh puts to page has become more consistent, and she slightly expands her cast of characters to good effect. Hers is a very limited idiom in a lot of ways, and barring magnificently effective art and hilarious scene work generally doesn't work for anyone. Your appetite for these comics will depend greatly on how much you like this kind of life-through-cuteness approach to stories. For me, this is like watching one of those British sitcoms where no one is really all that funny, or attractive, but there's something absorbing about the dingy wallpaper and slightly awful line readings. In the end you're conflicted over whether or not you wasted the time spent, and the final decision over whether to go back is probably dependent on the answer.

(Whitmarsh may have #3 done by now, as well as something called "Tiny Little Unicorn." Each of these comics is $4 postage paid from Megan at 1600 N. Ave 56, Los Angeles, CA 90042. I also have megan@tinyindustries.com as a contact, and she claims to sell her work through Meltdown, Quimby's, Printed Matter and Big Jar.)

Trashola #1-2
Josh Divine

It's always fun to see someone work with humor by barreling ahead not giving a shit until they hit the punch line like a body on pavement. The artist's heroes should be obvious to any cagey reader even before they see who gets thanked in the credits. Although a lot of alternative comics types might not believe it, there are much worse people to emulate than Johnny Ryan, particularly if the aims are to irritate and make people laugh. Ryan's comics are really clean and easy on the eyes, communicating their jokes effectively while allowing for a real horror show of atrocities to pass by in a way that doesn't invoke the reader's literary gag reflex. Josh Divine, on the other hand, at this point makes comics ill prepared for an audience much bigger than his immediate peer group. The writing needs to be sharper, the art should become more consistent, and the stories need to build more interest before their climaxes. There is some improvement between issues, but not a marked jump in quality. The best strip in either book is the first one of the first issue, "Wendy," where Divine engages in a bunch of weirdness that gives his story a strange, slow build that is funny in itself and allows the comparably sly ending to work as a pay off. Divine needs more instances of clever storytelling like this, and fewer rambling narratives like "Socks and Mittens in Meteor Trouble."

(Try www.trashola.com. Both issues are marked $3.)

Untitled Mini (Bee)
Untitled Mini (Snowman/Rabbit Flip)
Sara Varon

The majority of Sara Varon's comics work to date has been collected this year in the Alternative Comics title Sweaterweather. These are two of the mini-comics from 2002 through which she received her initial burst of attention. The flipbook contains two stories that both hinge on reciprocal acts of kindness -- warmth is shared and returned, the remains of a friendship are utilized to cement a potential new relationship. The appeal is in the design. Varon's characters look like iconographic children's storytelling and make their way through sparse and empty cartoon worlds. She smartly plays this up as isolating and potentially cold, the human interaction at each story's center a marked contrast from the presented environment. The bee story is a bit more substantial because it imparts scads of information about beekeeping in diagrammatic form. It shares with the other comic a strong sense of narrative economy, which is interesting because many stories sporting this sort of "look" wander interminably. These are fine, very modest early efforts that hint at the beginnings of good works to come, although right now I imagine the demand for design efforts like t-shirts and prints might outstrip the audience's desire for the comics. Certainly reading these works as minis is as appealing, if not more so, than devouring the collection.

(Varon screenprints and sews her mini-comics several dozen at a time and then has them available at shows like SPX and MoCCA's summer arts festival. Her web site is www.chickenopolis.com. The Alternative Comics collection sports an ISBN number of 1891867490.)

Zoonbats #1-7
Giles O'Dell

If you read as many mini-comics as I have this calendar year, you become grateful for work that diverges from the beaten path whether or not you really like it. Here's a character description found on one of the first pages of issue #1 of Giles O'Dell's oversized mini.

Toast Duerr. Employed as a dishwasher on the graveyard shift at a 24-hour restaurant. About a year ago, a series of escalating conflicts with a loud group of howler monkeys in the apartment upstairs reached the boiling point when one of the monkeys threw a potted daisy down onto Toast's head. Since then, it has been permanently affixed there. Soon after the incident, Toast took up the hobby of building robots. Recently, Toast completed his first one, the giraffe-robot Inaara. However, just as he powered her up, she bolted out of his workshop for no apparent reason. Now he and Bloom are trying to catch up with her and find out why…

Now that's different.

Zoonbats reminds me of independent comics as I discovered them in the early 1980s, where half of the titles featured ambling fantasies that seemed to make sense to the extent you let yourself go and accepted their multiple absurdities. In Zoonbats, we're on a different world with different races and familiar, broadly generic politics. Even the plotlines ramble, with stories and flashbacks taking up as much space as any of the forward-moving narratives. It's interesting because it's so odd, and because you just don't see comics like this any more. The art looks like Alex Robinson ghosting for Matt Howarth, with meticulous cross-hatching and the occasional flight of fancy manifesting itself in a curved truck or dropped background. The dialogue moves around equally as often. O'Dell isn't a good enough artist for this to hold a lot of interest to a lot of people, not yet, and the philosophical undercurrent seems pretty ordinary so far. Still, I'm charmed enough to want to know what happens next. How often these days do you get to read something that might have found a place for itself as a third feature in Critters?

(Try www.zoonbats.com -- I'm kind of too scared to.)