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Southern Fried #4-5
posted December 31, 2000

Creator: Jerry Smith
Publishing Info:a Self-Published
Ordering Numbers: None

Jerry Smith is one of the arguments for mini-comics that stands slightly apart from usual definitions of art. Southern Fried is a autobiographical comic notable first for the uniqueness of the artist’s perspective and hindered only slightly by any roughness in presentation. Like Joe Chiappetta upon the release of his initial mini-comics, Smith is married and a father, which gives his comics that same bracing step away from the intense careerist interests and self-involvement of most other mini-comics treading autobiographical ground. Unlike the Chicago-area artist Chiappetta, Smith hails from the small-town South, giving Southern Fried an extra sociological kick.

Smith's more entertaining work is found in his short, observational stories. "Man in the Box" in issue #5, is a charming look at the capriciousness of depression, while "Charlotte Comic Con '98" gives perhaps the least jaded perspective on a comic convention ever. Even better are those which look at a slice of southern living, such as #4's "Hillcrest" about the goings-on at a store his grandparents used to own, and that same issues "Joe Gulley," a profile of the house where neighbors used to congregate and its laid-back owner. These profiles give Smith a platform in which to do clear, expository writing, while the length means that his shortcomings as a figure artist don’t have a great impact on the story.

The longer works have their charm. Issue #4's lead-off story "Baby Pigeons" is a well-observed story about a dying relative that captures the inadequacies of comfort after a loved one has passed as well as the strange rhythms through which grief is expressed. "Bout," in the fifth issue, is longer but less effective, although a similar theme is expressed in how events in life often play against expectations. Although Smith is becoming a more expressive artist, he lacks the ability to portray a range of believable physical encounters.

Southern Fried is in some ways a perfectly-realized mini-comic: self-expression of a point of view and place in the world, where artistic impact is less important than the artist’s struggle to be heard.

Originally published in The Comics Journal #223