Wednesday, September 28, 2005

SPX Mini-Comic Reviews

One of the things I will be doing over the course of the next week or better is take time to review many of the cool comics I picked up at last weekend's SPX con in Bethesda. I hope to spread the word and hopefully some sales to these publishers and artists. As I wrote in my last blog entry, the SPX show was a real mixed bag of comics and cartooning. Top notch looking work, inspirational even, mixed together with really poor, amature, less effective work. I suppose that's one of the things that gives this type of show a charm, it's like a big treasure hunt spread out over three rooms full of some of today's best...and not so great, cartoonists from all over the US and a few from Europe.

I don't know if the ratio of good comics vs. bad comics is any better or worse at the SPX than say any Wizard World con, that probably depends on what your own criteria is for comics, good or bad. Wolverine killing Ninjas vs a Thimble Theater looking lout cutting off a princesses head by accident. For me it's simple. I want good, strong drawing, clear effective storytelling and design as well as a sense of fun and joy from the artist who's creating the work. I like seeing artists in command of their skill, not artists in confusion, poor staging, bad, lazy drawing, photo traced corpses, detail instead of clarity and form, as compensation to hide weak drawing, I want good cartooning.

Sometimes journeyman-like craft is enough to get me to buy a comic. I dare say 90% or better of the comics I buy fit this category alone, since I am an artist and the art is what attracts me to comics, keeps me coming back. If it has a good story, is entertaining, well even better...but I don't buy comics for the story, I buy em' for the art, though that doesn't mean I don't always want a good story too. Being a professional cartoonist I also think puts me in a different spot than 99.9% of the readers of any comic. I am behind the curtain, I make em' for living for 20+ years now.

I'm a way harsh critic dude! In recent years my buying has decreased, I find myslf putting way more comics back on the shelf after scanning even just a page or cover in the comic shop. I can't seem to justify buying a book I think is just "OK", they cost to goddamn much and in the end I have piles of "eh, comics" laying about my studio gathering mites, silverfish and dust. Comics are worthless for the most part now, so you can't trade em' back for anything. I'm also just more impatient with the overall stream of crap all media and mediums spew out. I have only so much patience, money and time then to spend on comics, TV, movies, music of any sort.

But I love comics. I really do, there are few things to me as great as discovering some great new art, cool new cartoonist. I was hoping that the SPX show would give me an opportunity to do just that. As I walked about the con I came across The Artist With Problems table and chatted with Damien Jay. I picked up some of Jay's work at the MOCCA show, a great little silk screened, limited edition comic entitled, A Case in Tokyo. I picked up a few more books from Jay this time, one called The Probe.

The Probe is a mini-comic that packs a lot of storytelling between silk screened covers. It's about an alien who comes to earth and it's attempt to lure and capture a rabbit for study. Jay employs a standard nine panel grid to good clear storytelling effect, only employing splash pages or full page drawings on the first and last page. How many mainstream comics are told in this clear and linear a fashion? I showed this comic to my students this week as a great example of good comic storytelling employing clear staging and gesture, all the more important as there are no word balloons, the action told in a pantomime/silent film way. There is a certain "fast drawing" crudeness to the art that I also like, a speed that carries from Jay's pen or brush to the reader.

While this comic didn't have the mood, poetic and "hand crafted art" feel that A Case in Tokyo did, it was hand made and an enjoyable exercise in storytelling and craft. Jay seems to be a natural storteller and I look forward to reading more of his work. You can find out more at: Damien Jay
P.O. Box 344 Brooklyn, NY 11222 or via his website.

The next comic I'm reviewing is a cool comic called Blar by Drew Weing. Blar, a big loutish looking fella, with a pin-head atop a small torso with huge arms and legs looks like a reject from Segar's Thimble Theater, a very retro, throw-back type character with a bit of Lewis Trondheim and Hagar tossed in to boot. The cover of the comic also sports a die-cut, the splatter of blood trailing from Blar's sword. The red of the blood made up of the interior page or front piece. It's a handsome little comic. I don't know if Weing went to the trouble of hand cutting out each copy or had the printer do the die-cut.

The stories are fantasy fare with minimal dialogue as we follow Blar as he hacks his way through, trolls, monsters and more. Blar only speaks once, in the first panel of the first story "The Legend of Blar". So Blar is a man of action, not of word, as most barbarians or strongmen are. The staging Weing employs throughout the book is very much like an old comic strip, where we have a fixed camera view of the action before us, like we are watching a play. This is standard fare in comic strips, and Blar seems to read more as a comic strip in a comic book format. The drawing, pen inking and detail are nice, lush without being overly rendered or ugly, again reminding me a lot of Trondheim's the Dungeon and Segar's Popeye. This might be the nicest comic I bought at the show as a design and production, simple yet elegant. It's oblong format is also cool. I love to see this type of experimentation with formats, something the Babymen always hate. Fuck putting everything in a goddam plastic bag! I also picked up a few other books from Little House Comics that I'll review soon. I look forward to more Blar!

More reviews tomorrow!


Shawn said...


I picked up both of thos ecomics and loved them. I was just sitting down to write about Blar. Now I don't have to. It was one of my favorite mini-comics from the show for the reasons you've already mentioned.

Nice job.

Richard said...

Hi there Mike M, I was just cruising the blogosphere searching for the latest information on poster art and came across this great blog. Although SPX Mini-Comic Reviews wasn’t quite what I was looking for, it has excellent articles. I see now why I found your page when I was looking for poster art related topics. I’m glad I stop by, keep up the good work.