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Machine Gum #2
posted October 4, 2011

imageCreator: John Martz
Publishing Information: Self-Published, mini-comic, 40 pages, 2011, $4
Ordering Numbers: available here

This is a new mini-comic from the cartoonist John Martz, released in front of the AdHouse Books-distributed Heaven All Day. It's a snappy little package, something that falls between one of those old Arthur Waley translation poetry books and the Patte de Mouche mini-comics that L'Association did starting some 18 years ago now. The contents may remind one of that line of books, too, or of the one-pagers Lewis Trondheim and Fantagraphics put into The Nimrod. Others may see some of the Chris Ware silent routines or something by Graham Annable just with a different set of abstracted figures. These are (mostly) one-page blackout-type comedic scenes featuring a robot of the one-eyed, tentacled arms variety. You can see a bunch of them -- maybe the book's entirety, I'm not certain -- on the cartoonist's web site; they look like they started showing up about midway through last year.

I'm a fiend for pantomime comics like this one. There's something about stripped-down humor like this, really focusing in on slight movements and the manipulation of symbols, that lends itself wonderfully to comics and seems that much more appropriate when published in mini-comics form. The gags are pretty good, too -- perhaps a half-step short of the best work offered via the objects of the brutally tough comparisons suggested in this review's first paragraph. Some of Martz's progressions were a little too arch for me to follow, and others seemed removed even from the bare minimum of action required in strips like these and came across more like drawing exercises. The bulk of it is super-solid, though. If there's a theme that drifts from the pages through repetition and concision it lies in the fragility of our recurring protagonist. He's constantly tripped up, or shut down, or cracked open in some way that doesn't seem likely when appraising his sturdy, mechanical appearance. Mostly, though, this is a showcase for the cartoonist's ability to structure and manipulate a comics page and little else besides: a plate of jokes-as-appetizers.