Posted by: Douglas Wolk on October 3, 2009
It’s 24 Hour Comics Day, and it’s also Read Comics All Day Day, and I figured I might join the festivities myself. I’m not going to be reviewing comics here all day–I have some things I need to write for other places–but figured I could mention a few worth-seeking-out things I picked up at SPX, as well as some other stuff. Below the cut: three of my favorite things I’ve read lately, “Woman King,” “Driven by Lemons” and “Ganges” #3.
WOMAN KING: This is a small, self-published book by Colleen Frakes that knocked me for a loop–an understated but sharp-fanged fable about a human girl who becomes king of the bears during a war between bears and humans. (There’s a 30-page preview of it here.) The basic setup (cute little silent girl + bears) and four-panels-a-page pulse remind me a bit of Chris Baldwin’s “Little Dee,” but its tone is fascinating and really original: Frakes plays with the reader’s sympathies constantly, and keeps feinting toward the way things can be expected to happen in fables, then pushing the story somewhere else. Here’s a great panel lifted from Rob Clough’s review of it:
Now, that’s a total Calvin & Hobbes sort of image there, but what’s happening in the scene is that some other bears have just killed a pretentious artist dude (who’s sketching the big human-bear battle, noting that “I am not interested in drawing action as much as the quiet spaces in between”). Off-panel, of course. Quiet spaces! Frakes has done a lot of clever design work here, too–her bears are, like, eight lines and two dots, and their personality comes out in the subtleties of her brushstrokes. It’s EXCELLENT, and it makes me really excited to see whatever she does next.
GANGES #3: One of the many, many things I like about Kevin Huizenga’s work is that a lot of his comics are about things that are not likely candidates for visual representation, and he manages to make them fascinating to look at anyway. Most of this issue is about the process of perceiving one’s own consciousness–the sort of hyperconsciousness of your own mind that happens when you’re trying to get to sleep and can’t–which is potentially the least interesting thing anybody could draw. And it looks fantastic: here’s the second page, which is just about the least ambitious page in the issue and still gorgeous and full of smart ideas. (Jog has a couple of my favorite pages embedded in his SPX writeup.)
Huizenga’s Glenn Ganges (image lifted from The Balloonist) is vividly aware of the workings of his mind–what’s happening here is that he’s thinking about having seen a newspaper earlier (a footnote hilariously reminds the reader that it happened back in issue #1, 3 1/2 years ago), and the image is rising through the flat, rippling substrate within his mind from which thoughts emerge. (It’s a little bit like Larry Marder’s map of the Beanworld.) The joke of this issue is that that sort of self-awareness is mighty frustrating when you’re trying to get to sleep; the “big action scene” on the last page is a perfect punch line. EXCELLENT.
DRIVEN BY LEMONS: This one, though, was my favorite book I picked up at SPX–a reproduction of a medium-size Moleskine that Joshua Cotter filled start-to-finish with something that keeps shifting between not-quite-explicable narrative and not-quite-non-narrative abstraction. It surprised me to realize that there are only a few pages that would really fit in that Abstract Comics anthology Fantagraphics just published, and most of them actually serve the story in their context. Like this one:
It’s scribbly in an appealingly fanatical, graphomaniacal way–look closely at that first page, and the way the blue part starts out as a mass of minuscule triangles. (In fact, there’s a running theme in the book about blue triangles and red squares.) Even a sequence where Cotter fills the better part of six straight pages with black doodles looks like it’s actually specific forms overlaid on one another until they fill almost all the space on the page; a lot of those forms look like parts of the bunny who’s the book’s main character. One of the longer sections–laid out in a helpful “table of contents” that kind of corresponds to the actual contents–is called “The Get Better Factory,” and it centers on a bunny-in-the-hospital sequence that is close to the same “lying in bed, not going anywhere” problem that Huizenga plays with. Cotter draws it a very different way, though: a repeated, static, 16-times-a-page image of the hospital bed, with its details shifting along with the psychological state of its occupant (including incursions from the terrible pain that’s always nearby in a “get better factory,” impossible to escape), until mental noise overtakes and devours the entire scene. Anyway, it’s an EXCELLENT book, and I feel like I’m just beginning to look at it–I want to come back to it and think about it more. I’d also kind of love to see some other cartoonists take on the fill-a-Moleskine-and-publish-it challenge. (Dirk Schweiger’s Moresukine kind of counts, I suppose, but not as much as this.)