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RPM Comics #1-2
posted January 4, 2006

Creator: Rachel Masilamani
Publishing Information: Self-Published, $3/$4
Ordering Numbers:

Rachel Masilamani may be the first cartoonist to remind one of Neal Adams and Phoebe Gloeckner in the same comic book. Masilamani has a way of doing faces that recalls Adams' 1960s-era "civilians" in fully rendered and heavily shaded close-up, but her figure drawing in general and the way she spends more time on certain faces making them pop off the page bring to mind some of the comics portions of Gloeckner's Diary of a Teenage Girl. That's pretty heady if bizarre company, and while Masilamani is in no way close to being a fully developed talent, the work in both issues of RPM Comics feels really promising for its fresh perspective and hints at hard-won drawing skill. The work surprises several times. For instance, it's hard to remember more than a tiny handful of short stories from a new talent in comics that offered a really good hook at its center. Masilamani does a great urban legend-style tale in issue #1's "Personality Records" that conveys a really fanciful conceit in compelling terms, and then re-casts the slightly tall tale in a different light at the end without ruining the spell the story might have cast over the reader. Showing she's not a one-trick pony in the idea department, Masilamani provides a slightly heartbreaking and fascinating piece of off-hand, modest fantasy imagery -- radiators as pets -- in #2's "Bus The Bus." This sounds hackneyed, but the cartooning used to bring the devices to life works despite that, all curves and hesitancy against the backdrop of a cold but very rigid larger world. Masilamani also reinforces the point she makes by entering into the organic/item comparisons early on, with the drawing assignment at school sequence that opens the story.

Masilamani's soft pencil work may look amateurish at first glance, but once the reader becomes invested in the stories the art brings a recorded, hand-made feel to the overall experience. More confident lettering and bolder shading makes #2 a definite improvement over the first effort, a Xeric winner. An out-of-nowhere and extremely pleasant surprise, Masilamani's comics are worth checking out right now for dedicated fans of the form who want to catch a promising talent early on. While one can never tell which cartoonists are going to make excellent work in a few years, there is a feel to this cartoonist's storytelling that make you hope she is one of them.

This review was written in the late 1990s as part of a then-ongoing freelance gig; I apologize if it reads oddly or seems incomplete.