Spandexless Reads | 05-03-2012 / by Alec Berry

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As your reading this, I'm probably taking my last final exam, wrapping up another semester of college. Two years in the university setup. Two more  ahead of me (hopefully no more). A lot happened this year. New friends made. New lessons learned. New girls to reminisce about. In some ways, I'd say the 2011-12 school year won out as my most eventful yet. I sit here now and I can't help by think back to last May and recall where I was then. On top of that, my mind slips forward and I question where exactly I'll be at next May. I'm kind of terrified, to be honest. Real life's approaching quickly.

Yet as I say that, I sort of laugh because I always sort of assumed I was living the real life, but as adulthood approaches I'm realizing how little that was true. I've always just considered myself a member of the world. When you're a kid, you never see yourself as a one. You see yourself as an individual. Now, I stand in this weird in between - at the age of twenty - seeing what's behind and what's in front. What I've already lived was sugar coated programming. What I'm about to live, well, it's not so coated in sugar, I guess. Heh. Adulthood's not at all what we made it out to be.

Ah, whatever. This is nothing new to you, the reading old timer. You've lived it. Me, I'm just some naive little scum bag talking to a computer screen, a skill so held by my generation. Anyway.

This week, another essay from me as well as an assortment of capsule style reviews. Plus, Shawn Starr drops by to provide the low down on Liz Prince's latest installment of I Swallowed the Key to My Heart. Read on, reader. Don't look back.

-----  these titles mean nothing

Alec Berry / perpetrator

The End of the F*cking World #’s 1-5 | Charles Forsman | Oily Comics

This.

This right here is why I read comics.

Yet, while so won over and ready to spill praise, I’ve sat staring at the previous two lines for, oh, two hours. A few Twitter visits in between, sure, but staring, staring ... I’m not sure how to start this one. I think that’s the sign of when you’ve truly enjoyed something, though. It’s easy to be negative or tear something down, but to convey enjoyment or state why exactly something spoke to you ... that’s hard. Because you want to get it just right, and ultimately you know you won’t because, well, there’s too much to say.

Charles Forsman’s The End of the F*cking World, like John Porcellino’s King-Cat, represents what I’d love to make if I were an artist, and beyond that, it just exemplifies what exactly it is I love about comics. It's lo-fi yet stylistic, subtle yet visceral – a version of Bonnie and Clyde bled through the lens of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, and it's completely been sown into a series of eight page mini comics cut to match the size of your hand.

And even then, I’ve just sold this thing short using a cliche “this meets this” label.

TEOTFW follows James and Alyssa - two teenagers living the classic teenage experience as they sort of face down the impending doom of oncoming adulthood. Forsman tells their story by adopting both character’s perspectives, jumping between first person points of views with each issue, using each leap in narrator to define the other character. So far, five issues deep into this however long saga, we understand James and Alyssa in one, clear way. That they hang onto each other because they seem to be afraid of the alternative: facing the future alone.

The book in general riffs on this nihilistic temperament - something I guess you could say is synonymous with adolescence - and in numerous ways Forsman illustrates, I think, the disdain, fear and existential search the teen years bring about. He may do so through a few extreme examples, like shoving a character's fist into a garbage disposal, but the idea certainly resides under the, at times, harsh visuals. The comic's pacing puts me on my ass, though, because Forsman only has eight, substantially smaller pages to accomplish all of this, yet he's nailed the mission every time. Much of this comes from Forsman apparent understanding of timing and how long is long enough for a scene or moment, and he's also just aware of what exactly needs to be seen. Every panel has a job, here. You can't say the same for most other comics.

All together, this great, solid rhythm works its way into your reading. You feel the beat in Forsman's storytelling, and it all sort of reminds you of how much can be done with less at your disposal. Which is sort of the bigger point here. I love that TEOTFW is printed on plain old white paper any of us could go and purchase at a Staples.  I love that it's a mini comic. I love that it comes out monthly. None of it says high production or hype. No red tape. No middlemen. Instead, TEOTFW embodies the "let's do it" mentality and just tells its story without any of the flare around it, as opposed to the gloss paper and PR of mainstream books or the hardback, book tour savvy graphic novels of high art. TEOTFW just goes in the face of all such examples of nonsense and extra and simply revitalizes the idea that, "hey, making comics is something open to every man, woman and child." The lo-fi mechanics strengthen the ideal perception of comics being these very direct, timely expressions and reflections.

Yet, as I've noted, Forsman's work doesn't exactly live up to the minimal format, though, which is something else I truly love about this idea of comics being lo-fi and direct. There's a dichotomy present, a phrase Joe Casey coined as "lo-fi futuresh*t." I love that in these simple productions, these pulp mags, these Kinkos pamphlets there can exist ideas or emotions far beyond the grasp of the paper. That even though you may be reading something made on an HP printer and costs a dollar, you can spend a day, or a whole essay, reflecting on it as well as gain inspiration.

Something about such a dichotomy gives me goosebumps, and ultimately it's kind of why I grow a little sad when I see such a push toward expensive book formats and year long waits for graphic novels. Suddenly, the production cost grows a little steeper, yet I'm not sure the truest impact comes along.

Because, to me, that's the most amazing part about comics. Simplicity achieving complexity.

And above all the waxing thoughts of teenage conflict, storytelling or Peanuts art style transposed over seventeen year old deadpans (nod to Frank Santoro on that point), Forsman's The End of the F*cking World hits me hardest because of its faith in lo-fi futuresh*t. Granted, I'm not sure if Charles Forsman intended any bit of such a thing, but when I read these mini comics, my head automatically goes there and I gleefully clap.

That said though, I would totally double-dip and buy a collection of this work because eventually I'm sure my copies of these comics will fall apart with age. And re-reading. Aside from my crazy beliefs on what comics are and how this series represents them, The End of the F*cking World showcases some wonderful storytelling, and it nails the bleak wonder lying behind the end of youth. I look forward to forthcoming chapters. Who knows what the future holds.

---- capsules

David Anderson / Spandexless writer

So, I was trying to find something for a review when I cam across a tumblr called twopagespread.com. Holy Christ, is it ever a time waster! If you've ever had a favorite scene in a comic book that spanned two whole pages, it's probably here. While it's mostly DC and Marvel IPs, there are a few non mainstream spreads to be found here. I have yet to figure out how deep this archive goes, but it's definitely something you could burn a whole weekend away looking through. I mean, I know the internet has everything, but damn. The internet has everything.

Alec Berry / perpetrator

The Goon #39 | Eric Powell, Dave Stewart | Dark Horse

There’s nothing wrong with pocking a little fun sometimes, but I think Eric Powell would have been better off skipping this issue of a mainstream comics rant and producing something a tad more constructive or, at least, something less annoying.  I get it. Corporate comics are a bad thing, and the time of the creator is now. But after all the fuss of Powell’s previous video campaign (which, while crude, I honesty found funny), why does the man need to make a comic book version of a point we’ve already been force-fed many times already? It’s safe to say whatever audience he holds knows his stance and has seen the video, so why waste the time producing a loud, tone deaf, aspergers-pumped comic book to hand to the same people? Seems repetitive.

And even if repetitive, it’s not as if this issue of The Goon is a good one. The book’s annoyingly brash and only proceeds to get in your face and yell at you to laugh. You don’t want to laugh, though, because Powell only cashes in on cheap jokes about super hero comics and does so in a very “look how clever I am, I write for Pitchfork” type of way.  There’s nothing constructive about it. There’s nothing funny about it. The “story” leads absolutely no where. The Goon #39 simply takes what we’ve all heard from The Comics Journal and cranks it louder.

I get it.

You do The Goon, and you make it your way, but why not just tell another Goon story rather than produce another manifesto? Actions speak louder, sir.  That phrase is supposed to be a cliche, right?

Alec Berry / perpetrator

Dark Cloud Comin’ | Ed Choy Moorman | Bare Bones Press

I received this sometime in 2009, and ever since, this comic has sat quietly on my stack as it’s waited for its time of attention. Ed Choy Moorman has produced a few mini comics, but besides his numerous works, Dark Cloud Comin’ marks my first exposure to the man’s art. About a young tomboy on the search for her lost, baby brother, this comic approaches the ever true point of “life’s tough” with a fairy tale, children’s book quality, generating this interesting, wafting adventure tone for a comic featuring a giant and a talking frog. Moorman’s line art attributes to the story book feel with its clean appearance, yet while seeming innocent, Moorman makes sure to insert a few striking, if not uncomfortable, images here and there to emphasize the point he’s after. What’s more impressive, though, is the author’s control of the page as he continually crafts each one to carry a various amount of panels, all of which progress the story in a very concise manner and maintain this brisk pacing to bring the whole package together.  Moorman comes off as a skilled story teller here, mixing clear fictional elements with subtlety, and because of such, I think I’ll make a point to purchase a few of those other comics he’s drawn.

Alec Berry / perpetrator

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death | Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, James Harren | Dark Horse

Even the harshest of critics will tell you this one’s worth a read, and I’m inclined to agree with them.  The Long Death clearly carries on some running B.P.R.D. plots, but even for those on the out (like myself), this three issue mini series still supplies a satisfying experience because of some wonderful illustration of pure, raw, tooth-and-claw violence. All of which exists in part because of James Harren and Dave Stewart. Granted, action sequences are easy to come by these days, but the way Harren carries these occurrences of violence it’s as if he’s putting you in between the two combatants, forcing a visceral reaction. The body language his line art evokes brings the title of this mini series, The Long Death, to life. Rather than illustrate these fights as mechanics in the plot, Harren puts you through the agony, and at some point, you want one of these characters to die just so the pain’s over. But they keep going, dragging out the eventual end you come to, and Stewart only backs all of this up with the warm, gooey reds he implements.  As a B.P.R.D. installment, I’m not sure how it functions, but as a fight comic, well, it’s a damn fine one.

----   This Town Ain't Big Enough For the One of Me

Shawn Starr / some dude with a blog (future Spandexless contributor)

The third installment of Liz Prince's I Swallowed the Key to My Heart debuted at MOCCA over the weekend. Actually, it debuted at the Boston Comicon two-weeks ago, which is where I picked up my copy, but MOCCA sounds so much more distinguished I figure we can just say it debuted there. Indie credentials must be up kept, right? I've always had a fondness for Prince's work. Jeffery Brown refers to it as "kind of what I try to do...except cuter, and without all the wallowing and self pity," which is as good a summation as anything I could come up with.

The bulk Prince's work revolves around her breakup with Evan, the central character in her first published work, and a lingering presence throughout the body of her comics. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Prince avoids much of the melodrama which plagues the genre, instead focusing on the humor of life and relationships. Her first two published works are simple collections of gag strips.This has made Prince a consistently fun read, a auto-bio pop singer of sorts, but has ultimately stopped the work from becoming anything substantial. With I Swallowed the Key to My Heart, her first foray into "long form" narrative, Prince begins to move past these confinements and craft a compelling story of life. That's not to say there's no humor as I Swallowed the Key to My Heart retains all the obtuseness and awkwardness found in her earlier work, but they are used to provided color to the story,here,  instead of driving it.

This issue centers around Prince ending her relationship with her boyfriend and beginning a new one with a guy named Craig, a frequent customer at her place of work, "Newburry Comics." Prince is able to depict both events, the break up and start of a new relationship, without turning either Craig or Evan into the bad guy, which makes the events unfold in an all more confusing manner for the reader. Depicting both as, relatively good guys, doesn't allow the reader the typical "out" of picking sides, making the situation all the more complex. If anything, Prince depicts herself in the wrong. After leaving Evan to go ride bikes with Craig, we see her struggling with the event: "I can't do this. I can't hang out with Craig, even just as friends. It would hurt Evan to much." Once you flip the page though, it's revealed she's sitting alone with Craig. What stops her from coming off as a Joe Matt-esque figure is the continued self doubt over the situation. You see her struggling to find a common ground between the two choices, but by the end its clear there's no third route, its one or the other. As frustrated as you are at the character of Liz, you know she's even more frustrated than you.

Prince's artwork has always been simple, spawning out of the Jeffery Brown and John Porcellino school of auto-bio comics, although as she's continued to refine her artwork with each new book, the simpleness persists. The big leap forward, artistically, in this issue is Prince's use of spotted blacks to depict isolation. Towards the end of the book, there's a "wonderful" scene between Prince and Craig where Craig appears in an almost completely black panel, used to show his isolation in the narrative. This is the final scene that Craig appears in, and Prince's choice to use blacks allows her to isolate his physical presence from the rest of the narrative. The following page also depicts a store sign being flipped from "Open" to "Closed" which further reinforces the disconnect in the relationship.

I Swallowed the Key to My Heart #3 shows Prince's continued progression as an artist and a writer. By finally dealing with her breakup with Evan, she sheds an added depth seen in her previous work, and will hopefully progress past the event in her future work.

--- the exit

Get out of here. We're done.

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