Dog City #4
Various artists, Editor not listed
Dog City Press 2015
Writers of comics, rejoice! You are needed! Having read a few recent comics journals (called by some editors ‘anthologies,’ though they are on-going series), the majority of the ‘minis’ found in them, written and drawn by an artists only, are lacking some good, basic, storytelling.
The most recent example of this is Dog City, a journal out of Pittsburg. This issue, #4, has an interesting twist: artists were asked to pair and collaborate with another artist, who they didn’t know. The results, while visually interesting, are scattered.
The best story, or ‘mini’, is “Crossed Memories”, by artists Sarah Bowie, and Iris Yan (whose work I reviewed previously for Comics Bulletin in a ‘Webcomics Profile’). While the other artist teams seem to flounder their ways to finding some kind of narrative, Bowie and Yan instead opt for a non-linear project. Here’s Yan from the artists’ page:
We settled into the them “memories” and the….format where I would draw one page, send it to Sarah, and she would draw a page back in response to mine, and so on. The rule was to use a panel or element from the other person’s previous page to ignite some of our own memories and draw our page.
The result is a series of slightly connected visual poems, almost. Though I also confess I just liked their drawing styles better too. Both are minimalist, and I guess what one would call more ‘figurative’. That is, compared to some of the more abstract and zany are from the other teams, theirs is more subdued, allowing room for the dialogue.
And, their idea of a series of sketches plays well with the whole collaboration concept, opting away from a story, and using actual real dialogue from actual real people in their lives. Other minis, although trying for a ‘story’ just don’t come up with anything very interesting (Alan Moore is the master at writing a story in a limited amount of stories: see my review of ____) nor does the dialogue end up being anything more than an excuse to have…well, dialogue. Random page opening to the last mini, “Inside Flo’s Backpack” about three female animals talking about….food:
Fox: Phew. So what you wanna eat?’
Possum [?] singing [? musical notes in panel]: Hm. That’s a tough question / I need something more /
Frog and Possum: Sub sub sub sub / stantial.
Frog: We don’t have any subs.
I think this is supposed to be funny? Like, maybe this is sung to the David Bowie song “Fashion”? The artists give no clue to that, no way to tell me how I should read these panels.
Given, the counter-argument these artists and maybe some readers would give to me is that the story doesn’t matter, that these minis are exercises, and fun ones at that, in art, in drawing (these are all black and white), and that anyone reading these journals/anthologies isn’t doing so for the stories. But, that’s my point. I’m a reader, and I value story, these left me wanting. Again, it’s not just Dog City. The last two journals/anthologies I read, although different in visual style, had the same problem, lots of cool art, but in a silly and absurd series of panels.
All that said, a lot of the art is interesting, and a welcome change from the Big Two slick stuff. I’d venture that creators and readers of these underground-ish (I mean, I guess) comics are a completely different set from the creators and readers of Big Two, or even Image and Dark Horse, comics. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s happened before.
But I just would urge artists like those found in Dog City (except Bowie and Yan, they’re doing fine and should do whole books of their own) to think more about story, and how their panels connect together, through Space and Time in the story. Also, dialogue: don’t try and be silly and clever, because then you’ll always only be thought of a silly and clever.
Or consider taking all the writing classes you can, along with your art classes. And read tons of regular prose books too. And, consider collaborating with a writer. They’ll be all around you at your next ComiCon, and they’re dying to work with artists.
As long as I’m ranting, I will acknowledge that I’m asking a lot from comics creators, and that my tastes run to dark and serious and Meaningful, and that the current trend seems to be to reject that, and be silly and have fun with comics. So fine. But one might look to certain Big Two comics for how to be playful and serious, while still having a story: She-Hulk for one, has always been fairly light-hearted and funny. I don’t read that series all the time, but when I do I appreciate that there’s a story being told.
Counter rant: I do appreciate that there are journals like Dog City, with editors (in this case, unlisted) willing to put their time and effort into getting a collection of up-and-coming-yet-underground artists together, hosting a community where beginning comics creators can experiment and get weird and, yeah, make mistakes, and learn. And, you know, with the amount of slop coming out from the bigger comics companies now (though not a new phenomenon) you might do better to spend some of your weekly comics fund on a journal like this. They’re stocked at any good local comics shop. Reading is a process of experimenting and getting weird too.
My webcomics profile of Iris Yan, here.
My review of Ro-Busters in which I discuss Alan Moore, here.