Tiny Pages Made of Ashes 5/17/2013: Two Study Group Comics In PrintA comic review article by: Danny Djeljosevic, Daniel Elkin, Jason Sacks
Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's roundup of small press comics reviews.
Elsewhere on Comics Bulletin:
- Singles Going Steady covers the latest single issues including the beginning of new run of Suicide Squad and the dinosaur-laden Archer and Armstrong.
- This week's Digital Ash takes on The Private Eye, a one-pager from Sloane Leong and something called Poop Office.
It Will All Hurt #1
(Farel Dalrymple; Study Group)
Study Group -- a staggering collection of great comics talent -- has put out the first two parts of one of their regular webcomics, Farel Dalrymple's It Will All Hurt, into a sizable print edition with a gorgeous pink/purple Risograph cover. It's worth the money for the tactile experience of reading a comic where somebody actively cared what paper it as printed on, not to mention living in a world where there's more physical evidence of Farel Dalyrmple's art.
Right in line with his work on Prophet and the Jonathan Lethem-penned Omega the Unknown series, It Will All Hurt is a strange sci-fi/fantasy art comic where the focus seems to be whatever Dalrymple feels like illustrating. As a result, we have a comic where the diverse lineup of characters include a some little kids, an astronaut and a guy with a sword. It's the freedom of creation at work, where the artist can stop for a moment and change his focus from the story to the narrator himself. For some it'll be too obscure and weird for them, but for the special folk It Will All Hurt is meant for, it's exciting to decipher.
Regardless, part of the appeal is Dalrymple's art, some of his best work yet. All imperfect lines and understated watercolors, he relies on three-tier, six-panel layouts as a default but seems itching to break the formula, which he does frequently and gleefully, often making amazing use of the negative gutter space as parts of his panels bleed out into it or inhabit the white space entirely. It's always interesting for the reader as the artist keeps himself on his toes.
By the end of this first printed chunk of It Will All Hurt, it's clear that Farel Dalrymple has more characters and ideas to introduce and expand on as his world grows richer with further artistic exploration. Get in on it early before you out yourself as "uncool."
- Danny Djeljosevic
Reptile Museum #2
(Cody Pickrodt; Ray Ray Books)
Last time I talked about Cody Pickrodt's Reptile Museum, I compared it to a doorway, one which swings wide to let you in to a world of potential. The first issue was all about world building, scene setting, and initial character introduction.
Issue 2 continues along this vein, adding to each part of the storytelling. Pickrodt's world expands as we are brought to the actual Reptile Museum; characters are introduced -- like Olgethorpe and Gristin Gray -- and we learn a little more about our protagonist. His name is Pants, the Prince of all Things that Creep, our Common Shaman, the Seawanderer, and they say he killed his mother. We also learn what happened to the dogs.
Did I mention that the hero of this book is named Pants?
Pickrodt is doing some interesting things with this series, certainly in terms of the story he is telling, but more importantly with how he is telling it. Pickrodt eschews the classic panel structure of traditional comic book making, and instead works on open pages without boundaries, organizing each in such a way to capitalize on the reader's supposed natural inclination to decode left to right, top to bottom. I'm wondering, though, how this structure would work with someone unfamiliar with how to read comics. The layout relies on prior knowledge, understanding how narration works in this medium. For those of us who do understand this, though, Pickrodt's choice of panel-less pages works flawlessly, adding another level of participation and interaction between reader and creator.
Reptile Museum #2 begins with huffing induced hallucinations -- Pickrodt's art bends and waves to echo the phantasmagorical nature of this -- and it's a subtle ploy to add to his portrayal of Pants (our hero). He is an alien, even though he is of this world. His journey has set him apart.
There is a conflict brewing in this series, but still, two issues in, it seems far off. Pants has to be welcomed back into the group first. The question is, though, can he fully return after having traveled so far abroad, and, if indeed the rumor is true that he has killed his mother, can he ever actually rejoin the group? In this world, can the individual survive? Where does an outcast go? How is this all connected to the idea of snakes and gators in cages?
Issue #2 of Reptile Museum doesn't give us enough information to answer these questions, so I'm kinda spitballing in terms of a thematic understanding of what Pickrodt is doing with this series, but he's opening up doors here, swinging them wide, inviting us in. With issue two, we remain on the threshold, looking inside. I'm ready to step through.
- Daniel Elkin
You can order Reptile Museum Volume 1 Issue 2 from Ray Ray Books.
In the future, life will be pretty much the same as it is now.
Oh sure, we'll have spaceships and colonies on Saturn's moons, genetically engineered workers and amazing space mining. But in the future, we'll also have labor unions and racial struggles, financial strains and battles between the genders and some emotional and personal and metaphysical frustrations that we simply can't imagine.
There are a whole lot of frustrations in the life of MNGR João da Silva, a productivity expert sent to Homestead Station on Saturn's moon Titan to decide whether to kill the colony or refurbish it. As João says, "if I can't turn things around, increase profits and productivity, I'll have 50,000 pissed off, unemployed Titans on my hands." Oh, and if that dilemma isn't bad enough, those 50,000 Titans are genetically engineered giants -- truly titanic men and women that were concocted in a lab to literally do all the heavy lifting on Titan.
João thrown quickly into the middle of an extremely volatile situation, forced to work with the Titan union leader Phoebe Mackintosh, with whom he has a very difficult, often confusing relationship. Is the tension between man and Titan symptomatic of potential romance or anger or something more subtle? As the old saying goes, "a Terran and a Titan will never be seein' eye-to-eye."
François Vigneault has created a multifaceted, fully dimensional universe in these opening two chapters of a six-part series. Any science fiction fan can quickly find themselves comfortable in the setting of this tension-filled moon. But the setting on the moon feels unfamiliar because it's so specific, so unique to Vigneault's imagination and so full-fledged in its vision.
There are many small touches that make the moon feel real: the interesting vernacular speech that the Titans use feels interesting and makes me wonder what their accents sound like. The settings of the mining colony are presented in small but telling details in the foreground and background -- we're neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed by detail. Instead we get just enough detail in Vigneault's artwork -- wonderfully presented in black, white and orange - to make Titan come alive as we read about it.
That said, there are times when I would have loved to have seen more detail in the backgrounds of these pages. The complexity of the characters' lives gives the story real context, but we don't get a really strong sense of how large the moon colony is, or what the world is like that the characters live in. How large is the colony space? We see just enough backgrounds -- sometimes with armed guards in the backgrounds -- to imply that the colony is tiny. But that really depends a bit on the reader figuring that out for themselves. If Vigneault had included more establishing shots, it would have helped this setting feel more grounded.
The next few chapters of Titan can go any number of different ways. That's ultimately what makes me want to come back for the next four chapters. Will the tensions get better or worse? Will anything follow the sci-fi clichés or will François Vigneault bring this surprisingly complex story to its own specific, internally logical end? Isn't one of the joys of reading indie comics knowing that there's just no way to predict what the cartoonist will do?
- Jason Sacks