Tiny Pages Made of Ashes 3/21/2014: Eye Contact and Finger PointingA comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Jason Sacks
Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's small press review column
It's all about the faces.
Faces show intimacy. Faces bring connection. Faces emphasize empathy and unspoken understanding, a sense that we can truly appreciate what's going on inside a character's head.
The first thing you notice when paging through Alec Longstreth's wonderful Basewood are the faces – confused, happy, wistful or angry, the faces in this book look out directly to the reader, beckoning us to share their tale, pulling us in and allowing us to share in the experiences that the characters in this superb, almost poetic, graphic novel are having.
No matter the fascinating intricacy of the world that Longstreth creates in this book – and it is a remarkable place that seems from some unknown, unread legend – the faces keep readers grounded and give this intimate epic a human scale. That's important because what's important to Longstreth, really, aren't the events that happen but the people that they happen to. Basewood is different from many fantasy novels because it's not about the grand adventure. The characters drive the adventure instead of the adventure driving the characters.
The world created in this comic is superbly depicted. It's a world of chance encounters, quick friendships and longterm relationships. It's a world of dragons and dreaming, of visions of flying machines and the frustrations of actually building flying machines. It's a world of giant treehouses and sheer cliffs and, most of all, the work of a tremendously talented creator following his own vision. But as this surprisingly personal tale unfolds, the people in the story keep us grounded.
This approach actually covers up another impressive aspect of Longstreth's methods: his thoughtful take on his storytelling. Again and again he uses techniques to show a progression of events that both tell the story well and feel innovative. He's fond of multi-panel sequences with a "steady cam" view that show the character taking a series of actions in a steady progression: three panels of a feverish face, four panels of the protagonist falling asleep in front of a fire, a smart depiction of an action sequence that uses the "steady cam" view to emphasize the drama of the events.
These techniques provide a metronymic feel that gives Basewood a special sort of rhythm, a pace that depicts the passage of time in a considered way. By forcing readers to take our time and by keeping his "camera" steady, we're pulled into the story. We feel like we're watching the events in characters' lives unfold as if we were there in front of them. The intimacy of the eye contact reinforces that approach and keeps the book as a relationship between the reader and the characters rather than the reader simply watching events unfold.
Basewood is an epic adventure on a very human scale. It's a scale as intimate as the eyes of a character – and the discerning eyes of Alec Longstreth.
- Jason Sacks
For more on Basewood, visit Alec's website.
There's a movement afoot in modern humor that has begun to use "self-awareness" in lieu of actual cleverness. My sixteen-year-old son is constantly talking about this to the point where I have finally understood, much to my horror, the concept of "the generation gap".
The next step is obviously my certain death.
I mean I get it, right? Humor evolves as each generation embraces their own definition of savvy. When my father would get a twinkle in his eye and giggle "Take my wife ... please," I had to suppress the urge to jam a pencil, point-first, into my ear. I'm also pretty sure that nowadays when I launch into my Kevin Meaney "Big Pants People" routine, my son begins to eye the knives.
Still, I wonder if there is a breakdown in the concept of "humor" when being an asshole to people is the banana peel upon which a generation slips. Then again, funny is as funny does and if it gets you giggling who am I to judge?
Well, I guess I'm just like everyone else, a hairy bag of water who knows exactly what is funny and what isn't. Let me tell you something. I think a lot of the things my son finds funny just ain't.
When I first opened up the pages of Neil Fitzpatrick's Everythingness, I was worried that I was going to be sitting on my metaphorical porch pitching my thundering baritone voice, admonishing youth to depart from my lawn while frowning more profoundly than Grumpy Cat (and how the hell is Grumpy Cat funny? Someone explain that to me).
But I was wrong. Everythingness uses its self-awareness to be clever, and in its cleverness it becomes perspicacious and profound. This is a collection of short, black and white gag comics that reference each other as they reference something cosmic. It's kind of hard to explain what is going on here – it's like explaining the mechanics of a dick joke in order for your grandmother to "get it" (wait... that sounded wrong). If you aren't clever to begin with, something cleverly presented will forever be a mystery, enshrouded in a miasma of intention.
Everythingness examines our conceptions of a Creator in a way that is brutally humorous and intelligently profane. Trust me, if you can't see the irony in the death of Fred Phelps, Everythingness may not be for you. In its exploration of the role of the Creator, though, Everythingness cannot help but examine the role of Fitzpatrick as a creator. Who's actually in charge of a work of art -- the artist, the muse, the audience, or something beyond our limited understandings?
Like I said earlier, there more going on here than simple gags featuring a big finger pointing at itself yelling, "Look at me, look at me, look at me, I'm FUNNY!" What Fitzpatrick has captured is a question of pacing and a trust in the patience and intelligence of his audience. And that's a really nice thing to come across.
Oh, and it's pretty fucking funny.
- Daniel Elkin
Get your copy of Everythingness from Hic and Hoc here.