Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column
LIL: Volume One
(Michael Young / Marc Crane)
LIL: Volume One is a collection of previously published singles by the UK-based duo of Michael Young and Marc Crane, and functions as a crime-infused low-budget morality play. The unnamed town deep in the US is a place where desperate souls are simply “living and dying, and trying to make sense out of the shit in between.”It’s the seedy underbelly of the social noir genre, where “ain’t” is a proper verb and self-reliance is the only thing you can trust, well, maybe that and the harsh kiss of a vodka bottle early in the morning. The titular Lil is a straight-talking, hard-drinking, 34-year old waitress who’ll size you up, to see if you can fill her up, within 7 minutes of meeting you. She’s a classic noir man-eater, psyche fractured, and sharply portrayed as a being whose depression and insecurities drive her faux type-A alpha female behavior. Her life is decidedly out of control on the large scale, so she overcompensates and acts quite controlling on a smaller scale path of self-destruction.
If you can forgive two or three little typos sprinkled here and there, including one on the very first page, the direct injection language is very engaging, and the black and white art will probably win you over. It’s full of memorably rendered characters, and Crane’s weighty and inky lines remind me of what artists like Becky Cloonan or Jeremy Haun were doing 10 years before mainstream audiences ever heard of them. They take you right down into this dark world, where hope is fleeting, and there’s always been trouble on the horizon for Lil, but it gets amped up the second a mysterious package literally lands at her feet during a would-be sexual encounter in a dive bar. If you can mentally pair the butterfly effect criminal stylings of Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance with the voyeuristic tendencies of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s Local single “Polaroid Boyfriend,” that’s about where Lil sits on this genre blender spectrum.
There’s a brutal sequence in the dive diner Lil works at, which crescendos the tension Lil is experiencing in her life. In this scene, a dirtbag customer begins harassing Lil quite aggressively. Young and Crane create an atmosphere where the tone and the visuals make us feel as dirty and uncomfortable as the participants, as frustratingly “off” as Lil must feel deep down about her fragile existence. The close up of the fly sitting atop the greasy food punctuates the cacophony as some sort of straw atop the camel’s back. There’s the incessant irritation of that damn kid’s airplane noises, it’s just masterfully manipulative. You wonder just what Lil is capable of with regard to taking back some degree of control, if she’ll exert this same raw power against the other antagonist(s) in her life. LIL: Volume One is what it says, the first volume in an ongoing story, so there is little in the way of resolution to the mysteries introduced, but it’s a very effective and moody immersion. Through misdirected anger and a plot that suggests revenge, this is an engrossing and intense mystery that promises even more rich nihilism in future installments.
– Justin Giampaoli
For information on ordering LIL, visit the LilComic website.
Raygun Roads & The Infinity Loop Death Trap of Ulysses Pomp
(Owen Michael Johnson / Indio)
In a vanishing kingdom, an Asgardia for pop culture’s many pantheons, ornate day-glo edifices gleam against lavender skies while superheroes, minotaurs, and witches alike bemoan the gloriously punky Raygun Roads’s passing. Yes, we open with her death, springing writer Owen Michael Johnson & artist Indio’s trap; for if Raygun is gone then whither Raygun Roads? Who is this story really about?
We begin to glean the answer in another realm, “reality”, where teeth and flesh are as rotten as the (Fox-esque) media coverage, stains are persistent, and blue-haired Vince Paradise is slowly being ground down by Job Centre conformity in the person of sloppy sandwich-spraying Deaslepod. The shift from funeral to Job Centre is rapid, setting a high tempo that never lets up as panel to panel we flit between locales, characters, and moments in time with little to no signposting, trusted to fill in the gutters. Johnson’s flowing script ensures these quickfire transitions never jar, Indio’s art forgoing the faux suspense of off-panel gazes and page-turn reveals for a chaotic continuity of actions, dream logic storytelling wherein each panel is a solid beat of its own, moments fully realised for an infectious momentum. Once Raygun and her Kittlebach Pirates crash through the job centre walls, liberate Vince, defeat the first grotesque foe, and signal it’s time to flip the disc (Raygun Roads is an LP-style flipbook, complete with track listings for chapter names), you may be surprised how hard you chase the next track.
Entering the B-side takes us into the cosmic realm, whose exact parameters are best left to the reader’s judgment. Somewhere between Vince’s psyche, Ideaspace, and the collective unconscious will suffice, and it is here that Vince must give Raygun’s “Art is a Weapon!” motto meaning through his deeds. If you haven’t noticed yet, this isn’t about the plot. Literalists and acolytes of the Church of Continuity need not apply, this is Hero’s Journey minimalism, just enough plot to perform. What happens isn’t the point here, it’s the agency behind it, who’s making it happen, who’s doing something.
Raygun Roads stands apart not for the format, the aesthetic, or its mercurial density of allusion and influences. Raygun Roads‘ strength is honesty. At its heart is the one story, the greatest story, of a charact
er making ideas live through action. The nods to the great creators, to Dredd and Kirby and Bradbury and Moebius, they’re not there as secret handshake namechecks. They’re in the comic because they’re in us. What Johnson and Indio have done is craft a magic mirror of pop culture lore, and dare us not to recognise ourselves in the both the reluctant hero, and the soulless forces facing him down.
– Taylor Lilley
Beyond The Moon
Frank Candiloro may be the most prolific self-publishing comic creator around. In the interim since I last reviewed two of his books, Candiloro has published three more! How do you account for such output? Maybe it’s his Australian work ethic (if there is such a thing), maybe it’s the epic number of stories he has flying around in his head that urge him to get them all down while there’s still time, maybe he doesn’t need to spend any of his time on such mundane things as eating or sleeping or watching reruns of Home and Away.
My pal Lucy Bellwood has a great new minicomic out about her adventures with a group of friends, rafting the rapids and enjoying the magnificence of the Grand Canyon. Her daily journal comic of that trip, Grand Adventure, does a lot of what I read these sorts comics for: it allows me to watch Lucy’s life and escapades from her viewpoint, vicariously exposing myself to the torrential rain, the amazing hikes, the sunburns, great booze, incredible food, and ideal companions. Oh yeah, and it’s all presented in a fun, light, charming style.
Because she drew this comic each day during her excursion, we see how complicated it can to create the seemingly spontaneous activities on her journeys: the world’s largest shopping receipt including $1200 of food; the detailed planning and important stops along the way that allowed the journey to be completed on time; even how one of their pals buried a giant bag of beer along one river bend so that everybody could have an ice cold drink on the 8th day of the expedition.
I really enjoyed all the wonderful color drawings that Lucy presents in the book and how nature sometimes left her speechless. As she says: “More than once I find myself close to tears, overwhelmed with happiness and the feeling of being small.” Because she’s so honest with her emotions as the three weeks go by, we don’t just get a set of images about Upper Elves’ Canyon and Tequila Beach in this comic; instead, readers feel part of Lucy’s reactions to the events and see ourselves in her excitement and worry and absolute joy. It’s similar to hearing a smart friend telling a series great stories over lunch about her fantastic times spent immersed in the Grand Canyon’s splendor.
Grand Adventure presents a fun escapade for Lucy, and a delightful travelogue for armchair travelers such as me. I may not have ridden the Colorado River Rapids like she did, but I loved reading Lucy Bellwood’s stories about that.
– Jason Sacks