Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column
Bad Dad Agamemnon
Glynnis Fawkes’s Bad Dad Agamemnon is a straightforward adaptation of Euripides’s classic tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis. This fascinating play, of deep artistic and historical importance, tells one of the side stories of the Trojan War, the tale of a tragic sacrifice that is demanded –and possibly granted — in order to win favor in that devastating conflict.
This play is both one of the hardest and easiest classical plays for readers to relate to. It’s easy to relate to because it involves issues that are universal: a child’s commitment to honor their parents and their country, the way that impossible decisions can destroy families, and the ways that religion can drive people to commit dreadful acts – even to themselves. It’s hard to relate to because the story turns on the idea of human sacrifice to the gods – an idea that’s obviously very much out of fashion for our times. The setting and style of the play can also be off-putting for new readers who aren’t familiar with the idea of a Greek chorus.
Fawkes takes a smart middle ground in this slim eight-pager, telling the story of the play clearly and all in dialogue rather than in poetic meter. She eschews the Greek chorus, wisely allowing the tale to focus on the core conflicts – the deep pain and conflict of King Agamemnon, the fascinating character arc of Iphigenia, the fury of Queen Klytemnestra. In a loose style that seems influenced by Frank Stack and Frank Santoro, all loose lines that imply more than they show, Fawkes delivers a comic that brings these intense conflicts to the surface, giving an empathetic reader a tremendous number of moral issues to consider. She’s especially good at using a few lines to clearly convey a mood on a face, and uses shading well to imply moral complexity. She also does something very special with the lettering when Iphigenia first sees her dad; a sweet little subtle thing that helps intensify the tragedy of the piece.
An eight-page comic can’t convey the full depth of a brilliant work of art, but in the hands of an empathetic creator, it can bring its major themes to life. Bad Dad Agamemnon does that to one of the great works of Western literature. I hope Glynnis Fawkes adapts more classics to comics. I’d love to have a stack of comics like this.
Buy Bad Dad Agamemnon from Glynnis Fawkes’s Etsy.
(Josh Simmons / James Romberger)
This nasty dark crime drama packs a lot of power in its 12 mini-comic-sized pages. Presented in black, white, and a smartly-accentuated red, this short-short is one of the spookiest comics I’ve read this Halloween season.
A couple is coming home from a rare and happy date one night, back home where their 10-year-old is babysitting their four-year-old. But when they arrive home the horror begins – and doesn’t let up until the devastating final panel.
Anyone who’s read Simmon’s Furry Trap or any of his comics knows that Simmons has a great mind for horror (seriously, Furry Trap is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read), and anyone who’s seen Romberger’s comics (including his recent Post York) knows that he has excellent skills at using the comic page using different techniques to accentuate the moments – an oblique angle here, a black-out there, a closeup there of a knife piercing a face. Those skills are on display here.
There’s a real power in this tiny comic story. Because it’s so short, it feels like no panel is wasted. When the story breaks, the fear is accentuated. Color is used smartly, to add mood in ways that simple black couldn’t. Dialogue is crisp and clear, important as the art at setting a mood. The whole package is like a five-minute short film – in, out, done – which makes it more frightening because it can literally go anywhere.
Moms, dads, remember this story. Never leave your kids alone without someone you trust. And never do the stupid thing that these parents do that unleashes this horror! And pick up some great horror comics, like this one.
Order Daddy from Oily Comics.
Some of my favorite comics are what you might call ‘Rorschach test’ comics. I’m not talking about that vigilante from Watchmen here; instead I’m talking about the comics that are obscure on purpose and driven by a creator with a singular vision that is very uniquely his or hers, a vision that doesn’t compromise but instead demands that the reader follow along. They demand that the reader take in the work and apply their own take to the material; filling in the gaps, making their own connections, working with the clues at hand to make sense of the world that the creator has delivered. There are no clear answers in these sorts of books – straightforward plot and worldbuilding is not their purpose – but there is a clear vision at work.
I recently wrote about Sam Alden’s Haunter, a terrific graphic novel that was a tremendously successful ‘Rorschach test’ comic, and now I have Renee French’s Baby Bjornstrand at hand.
This is one of those graphic novels that kind of defy description on even the most basic level because of its Godot like concept. Three friends – Mickey, Marcel and Cyril, who always wear masks and each light up with a certain color when they speak — wander an abstract landscape one day, chatting about not much at all. Cyril meets a strange creature that resembles a giant embryonic bird, but which mostly stands still as a statue (except when wanders into a nearby lake). The bird does… something… and Cyril grows a tail… then a bunch of other inexplicable things happen with quicksand and hats and cliffs and other strangely powerful things until the story reaches a cryptic but strangely satisfying and sad ending.
What does it all mean? Who are these people? Are they boys or men or something else? People or aliens? Why the masks? Where are they? What’s with the odd theatre scene in one chapter – is that a note that all of this that we’ve read here is artifice or just children playing? Is it a sign that we shouldn’t take this too seriously or is it a sign of the way that myths are created, stories are told and that friends explain each other to each other? What does it mean that the creature is unknown – and perhaps unknowable – and what does that imply for the way that we interact when we receive only vague signals back on what we’ve done?
There’s a sense of menace here, but there’s also a sense of peace and joy, kids having fun, perhaps despite the obstacles that they face. Kids abide, after all, and part of the charm of French’s Bjornstrand is in the way that it feels like a child’s dream come alive in an oblique way. The optimism of childhood friendship, childhood trust and benign childhood indifference imbues this story with a wonderfully benign sort of childhood play.
But of course that’s just my interpretation, and with a Rorschach test, any interpretation is valid and is more revealing of the person taking the test than of the item itself. As you can see from the thread of this review column, being a dad is on my mind and I sometimes crave my more innocent childhood… damn, see what a smartly administered Rorschach test can do?
Order Baby Bjornstrand from Koyama Press or from Amazon.