Saturday, 31 May 2014

Yeah Dude Comics 2014 Subscription #2: Skuds McKinley's Iron Skull: Effort Matters

Attempting Style
Here is the second review of the Yeah Dude Comics 2014 Subscription. This time, we have Iron Skull by Skuds McKinley.

Over 5 miniature pages, Skuds McKinley tries to emulate the feeling of a Paul Pope book. The book itself is quite short and I didn't find it very interesting. His futuristic style didn't really do anything for me. I found the most interesting part of the book was the short descriptive essay on the process he used for the final pages. It proved key to understanding both his style and approach to his art. He mentions "I've been doing comics for four years now, and the hardest thing I've had to battle is Paul Pope". Skuds seems to channel all of his efforts at recreating Pope's aesthetic rather than developing his own style. However, one can see in his brush strokes the quiet emergence of his own style. There isn't much to go on, but you can see it start to develop slowly. The way he draws movement in the punk rocker character and in the way he draws buildings. You can see an artist emerging into his own.

Unfortunately, there is too much emphasis on the style of the book. Translucent paper may be interesting, but it is not used in a clever way apart from being there. Empty pages are also scattered throughout to little effect. In spite of those issues, what shows clearly throughout is his skill as a storyteller. The story of the punk rocker is phenomenal; he remembers the album that changed his life and channels this energy into his own music. It is only one page and yet it is engaging and entirely too short. I didn't find it to be very interesting or meaningful, but I can recognize the talent of this artist. You can also see an artist coming to terms with his own limitations and trying to move past them. Skuds seems interested in developing his skills at improv comics and seems to be looking to define his own style, through a process of absorbing his icons`styles and throwing them back on the page with a touch of personal flair. It is very interesting to see. His efforts are earnest and I look forward to his other books.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Yeah Dude Comics 2014 Subscription: #1, Pat Aulisio's Stoner Alein: One-note, One-joke

It is what it is

A few months ago, I helped to kickstart Pat Aulisio's project on Kickstarter to fund the 2014 project for his "Yeah Dude Comics(YDC)" anthology. I took a six issue subscription and I intend to review the books as they come in until the end of the subscription. Each book is created by a different artist. I have also received 3 other comics from them that are not part of the subscription, but from previous YDC efforts that I will also review once I have some time on my hands. Let's take a look at the first issue by Pat Aulisio.

Aulisio's Stoner Alien is as blunt as its title suggests. It's about an alien (the little green men kind) and his buddy, a teenage mutant ninja turtle. They basically just hang out together smoking and getting stoned. They both have a mundane existence working in a grocery store. The story here is irrelevant; it is coherent in the sense that we see one day in the life of those `dudes`, but it isn`t the point of the issue. It is a cipher for a comedy and a way to make stoner jokes. One of the jokes happens to strike a cord, but the other just fall flat. I guess comedy is subjective and a matter of opinion in the end... Maybe some of you will find it hilarious, though I doubt it. The book itself is short and spends 4 of it's 16 pages on the actual consumption of drugs and not exploring the more comedic aspects of it, as one would expect.

I did some research and discovered that this happened to be an old internet meme that you can find on tumblr. Poorly drawn and coloured, its filled with jokes; some great, some not so much. The big punchline being mostly"Wait...What?", representing a marijuana-filled brain unable to comprehend complex events. I think it's a bit lacklustre in effort and just doesn't translate well here. I don't know, maybe the concept had some kind of deeper meaning for Pat Aulisio. He certainly seems to excel in stoner comedy. His entire concept behind Bowman and it's sequels (Bowman 2016 and Bowman Earthbound) are stoner comedies. Bowman, however, is excellent. Aulisio channels Stanley Kubrick by way of Jack Kirby and throws in a smattering of Cheech and Chong. There are clever page designs, introspection and character development. It's amazing. In comparison, Stoner Alien has one joke about gravity being light. This series is nowhere near as interesting as Aulisio`s other comics and it's a damn shame. 

The Hijman body? Wait...What?

I'll also nitpick on this one panel where no one bothered to correct the lettering. It just seems unfinished. A work in progress. I expected more from Pat Aulisio. Meant to whet my appetite for more, this first glimpse of YDC just leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I am still looking forward to the other books of the subscription. In the meantime, I'll go read Xeno Kaiju and remenisce on how good Bowman was.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Dash Shaw's Cosplayers - Connection through Deception

Impersonating dishonesty

I have to confess that I love reading books about sad people. More accurately, I love reading stories about miserable, mediocre people. The sadder they are, the more I like it. As long as they are actual characters and not just proxy for horrible misery and gloom. Think about Jimmy Corrigan, the smartest kid on earth. He is a sad, weak, middle-aged man whose melancholy and grief is a product of both his personality and his environment. He is caught in this wheel of unhappiness with endless questions about the meaning of his life, which he eventually tries to resolve. It makes for a fantastic read. He is a fully formed pathetic character and I loved him for it.

Annie the Cosplayer and her nameless friend, which I will refer to as "the photographer" for lack of an actual name (though she is apparently called Verti, according to Fantagraphics), are just as sad and miserable as one could hope for. Both are alone, longing to connect with someone. Their meeting and its connection to cosplaying proves key to understanding their relationship. They first meet at Otakon while Annie is cosplaying as Sailor Venus from the manga Sailor Moon. Cosplay is more than just about the costume. One also adopts the maneurisms, speech patterns, expressions and looks of the subject. It is about becoming the character completely. The cosplayer transforms oneself; acting and behaving like the character they are impersonating. Its obvious that someone dressed as Gambit or Magneto is not truly that fictional character, but it is deceitful nonetheless. This dishonesty permeates the entire book and their entire friendship. It is on nearly every page. Annie even carries a green screen in her own home. Her online interactions are always conducted under a false name (orlyman, lazymercenary, etc.). Special effects are even performed with a hidden camera `spy film`. The entire basis of their relationships is a lie.

The photographer is fascinated by Annie and they become friends, although it seems quite one-sided. Annie is not herself in their first meeting. She is Sailor Venus, played by Annie. She doesn`t just lie to others, but she is constantly playing a role with herself as well. She wants to be an actor and is extroverted when she is cosplaying, yet she is naturally shy and insecure. She displays mean characteristics and completely lacks empathy. The photographer is not any better; she longs for a deeper connection to someone and is willing to trade the truth for it. She maintains their deception until the end; the deception being that what they have is a friendship, and that they are making a film. It is through their deceptions of one another and the rest of the world that they are actually able to connect to each other. "You might see one of us and think we're delivering your mail, or waiting on your table, but we're actually acting and we've given you a bit part". But their friendship crumbles when one of them realizes that her false life leaves her feeling empty. The photographer meets a boy and wishes to form an honest connection with him. Annie discourages her, but she tries anyway. She lies, but it rings false. She convinces the boy with her lies, but she can't convince herself anymore. She is not Scarlet Witch, nor is she Daenarys Targaryen. He is not Magneto, nor is he Khal Drogo. They are who they are, and no one else. The sadness ends once she realizes that she does not need to lie to make a connection.

Just some guy

This comic book is too short and it manages to be more meaningful and more beautiful than most major releases. I didn't want it to end so abruptly, but the experience will stay with me for a long time.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Structures 24-34: Michael Deforge and our national objects

Our National Structures

Returning from the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) with an interesting mix of books, graphic novels and mini-comics. I'll try to review them all as soon as I can. Let's begin shall we.

Structures 24-34 by Michael Deforge is the third mini-comic in "Uncivilized Books" series "Structures". In this series, various artists are contributing various structures or objects in a mini-comic format. I haven't yet seen the previous minis (Structure 1-11 by Tom Kaczynski and Structures 12-23 by Vincent Stall), but I will seek them out shortly to get a better perspective on this project. 

Deforge's structures are a fantastic showcase of his artistic talent. I would recommend to anyone who have not yet done so to seek out his material, in particular, Lose, Very Casual and Ant Colony. In Structures, Deforge uses a familiar and recurring technique which occurs in many of his previous work, the juxtaposition of the descriptive, emotionless text and strange, inexplicable and esoteric drawings. He used this technique previously in Lose #4 in the story on Canadian Royalties and in Very Casual in The Spotting Deer short story. A clean description, almost like an encyclopedia entry, mixed with unusual, mystifying drawings that both enhances the words and confound the readers. There is a profound disconnect between what one read and therefore expects, and what one sees in the art. It is not however discomforting or disagreeable. It somehow manage to enhance the reading experience. It is engaging, fascinating.

Structures 24-34 is all about Canada's national objects, Chairs, fire places, stairs, etc. There is still a disconnect between what is written and what is illustrated, but it is stripped to it's most basic element. What we read is "National insert something". It allows the artist to expand on what is written and shatter expectations. This constant theme (national objects) allows for countless variations on the mundane objects and amaze the reader. This is very much an art book and it looks absolutely fabulous. 

Michael Deforge's "National Fire Place"

I only wish the book was bigger. At 5.25 by 7 inches, this book is much too small to enjoy the art to it's fullest. Uncivilized books should be congratulated for publishing such a weird little experiment. I just wish I could gaze at this art on a larger page. It would have been impressive. Perhaps it will be if they ever collect the entire Structures.

But perhaps the size is not the point. I was basking in it's glory over 20 small pages. Marvelling at various shapes and forms and for a short little while, I transcended the realm of reality to stare at our national living room, our yards, our ladders, and it was magnificient.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

It will all hurt #1 - Where the mind goes

Reverie Fellowship
Farel Dalrymple's It will all hurt is a fantastic comic book. A dreamscape set on a post-apocalyptic earth. A shapeshifter, a wizard, an astronaut, a martial artist, a community forming slowly. A confrontation between them and a Red Sword Wizard named Every will happen eventually, but it is hardly the point of the book. It is a dream we delve into.

Dalrymmple explores themes of loneliness, friendship and adventure. Dalrymple's art, his watercolor landscapes and esoteric characters, is fabulous and delightful to admire. And perhaps this is what truly matters, the journey being more important than the destination. There is a strong feeling of unease for the characters as we know the world is dangerous, filled with rules we do not fully understand yet. The unknown is mysterious and strange. This land is perilous and risky. The adventurers are brave and audacious. It is fascinating.

I have been lucky enough to acquire a print copy from Study Group a few months ago and have since contributed to their kickstarter to obtain the second copy of It will all hurt. It is a fantastic accomplishment and I'm glad I've been able to gaze upon such a wonderful book. The print edition of #1 contains the first two chapters and chapter 3 to 5 are already available on the Study group website. I highly recommend it for any science-fiction and adventure fan. This book is thrilling.