Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's roundup of small press comics reviews.
Elsewhere on Comics Bulletin:
- Singles Going Steady covered comics that should have been crap but weren't, and also some crap.
- Digital Ash took a break this week but the most recent installment was pretty good.
Cartoon Clouds Part 1
Art school has been a much mined subject for comic creators. For some reason, they seem to have a love/hate relationship with the very institution wherein they learned their craft, honed their skills, met their friends, and drank themselves drunk. Is it the regret they feel for having spent all those years in a creative bubble where their future seemed fraught with possibilities and each day brought new artistic excitement? Now, trodding through the realities of a life in a world where their merits are no longer lauded on a daily basis, do they reflect upon their utopia as wasted time/money/effort? Does this bubble popped lead to castigation of the very womb from which their current sensibilities were gestated?
The waffle iron across the face that some art school grads experience upon leaving their hollowed halls can be the impetus for a creative endeavor. Joseph Remnant is exploring this in his new self-published work, Cartoon Clouds. This is a story about Seth, who, at the start of this book has just finished his final review at the College of Art and Design, is now set adrift into the world, trying to, as Remnant says, "figure out what to do with the rest of his life and largely failing in the process."
Remnant sets his sights squarely on the pretensions of both teachers and students, shooting barbs at their vanity, self-importance, and massive egos. The scene at the beginning of Cartoon Clouds in which Seth endures the bombastic posturings and masturbatory self-lauding of Professor Kaiser are particularly pointed (which made me slightly uncomfortable as Remnant draws Kaiser to look like a certain critic who may or may not be writing this review). While the pretentious art professor is a bit of a cliched character, Remnant takes his portrayal to new heights of smarminess for some real comic effect.
But it's what happens after school is done that is the focus of this book. Seth and his friends gather at a party, adrift in their new freedom, horrified at their fellow students, rudderless, and confused. What has the art school experience brought them other than to delay the inevitable? What the fuck do they do now? As Seth says in the book, "Seriously, how dumb and conceited are we all to think, even for a second, that we're all gonna become famous artists or something?"
Ironically, Remnant's art is at his best here. He crowds his panels with details, but never sacrifices the emotive quality of his characters' faces. Everyone wears their hipster hard with the requisite beards, mustaches, and tousled hair — plaids and trucker hats, striped suits and bowties — Remnant knows his art school graduates well and his lines are thick with that casual irony his characters so seek to portray.
Cartoon Clouds is about lost people, the products of, perhaps, just a little too much false encouragement and delusional thinking. It is about transitioning from your dreams to your life and how utterly fucking difficult that can be. It's about looking into the mirror on the very day that you no longer see reflected who you want to be; the face staring back at you is who you really are.
This is just Part One. Part Two is still in the works.
– Daniel Elkin
Now You Die!!
(Zack Worton, Britt Sanders; Primitive Urges)
Now You Die!! is something I ended up grabbing a few months ago at LA Zine Fest without knowing much about it. Basically, a well produced self-published with a great cover and actually a great price considering its large size. Despite its grindhousey title and the fact that one of its stories is based on a Goosebumps book, Now You Die!! is an incredibly effective horror comics single.
Effectively a double-feature, Now You Die!! opens with "Black September" by Zach Worton, a meaty story that embraces the old trope of "outsiders stop in a backwoods
small town" as our big-city couple gets weird looks from the local hicks. What follows is ultraviolent, creepy and barely carries a satisfactory explanation. To me, that's true horror — being in a horrible situation for reasons you could never fully understand. That Lovecraft guy had a good idea there, I think, fear of the unknown and all that. But what makes Worton's story even more horrific is his vaguely Craig Thompson-like art, a style of cartooning that one doesn't typically associate with horror. But as Worton lays on the thick ink blood, his story grows all the more irresistible.
Britt Sanders' R.L. Stine-inspired "The Haunted Mask" pretty accurately adapts the story of the original Goosebumps book — at least at first, as teenaged Carly Beth gets pranked by kids at school and wants revenge by getting the scariest possible mask at a very curious costume shop. From there Sanders deviates from the story, possibly going off of how she remembers the book affecting her in her childhood. That's purely speculation on my part, though I will say the earliest entries in that series were surprisingly harrowing horror tales before they got really popular and the content grew more tame.
"The Haunted Mask" is a quicker, breezier story than its lead-in comic, but I'm really into Sanders' art in this story as she switches up her linework depending on what she's rendering. Faces are generally made up of delicate, thin lines, but group ridicule is rendered in what looks like hurried Sharpie art. It works fabulously, and Sanders' storytelling is on point with some really striking sequences.
So, yeah — horror comics. Read this.
– Danny Djeljosevic
Buy Now You Die!! from Primitive Urges.
Human Interest Stuff
(Rodney Schroeter, William Messner-Loebs)
We don't usually feature material by very well-known creators in "Tiny Pages, but this week I have to mention the new small press book illustrated by the wonderful William Francis Messner-Loebs.
You might remember Loebs from his outstanding work writing and illustrating the fantastic Journey in the 1980s or his skillful writing on comics like Wonder Woman, Thor or The Flash). Well, as happens with many writers, Loebs fell out of fashion and actually hit some pretty hard times.
But he's still creating comics. Loebs's latest book is a benefit book for the Wisconsin Writers Association Press, an adaptation (with writer Rodney Schroeter) of the short story "Human Interest Stuff" by Albert Payson Terhune.
Human Interest Stuff tells the sweet love affair between a man and his dog — get your mind out of the gutter, you know the kind of love that I mean. It's is an absolutely charming tale. I was legitimately moved by the kindhearted way that Schroeter and Loebs tell the story of Mel and Tatters, the dog that he initially hated but which ended up saving the man's life. Human Interest Stuff is the tale of how a lifelong companion's eal adoration can completely change a man's behavior, how a pet can make a man feel a certain amount of noble pride.
Apparently Mr. Terhune was a big dog aficionado. He wrote story after story about loyal dogs and their loving owners. Who knew that was a thing?
The sincerity of this story and the vividness of Loebs's storytelling bring this oddball tale to delightful life. Loebs's style is similar to the comics he produced on Journey. He still seems to channel Will Eisner's linework, but with a beguilingly joyful looseness that adds energy to his scenes. Loebs has always used exaggeration in different ways from other artists. That predilection is well on display here. I was thoroughly charmed by that attitude.
Included in the back of this nice package is the original short story by Terhune; it provides an interesting contrast to consider how I would adapt Terhune's narrative if I was doing the scripting of this comic.
Human Interest Stuff is a sincere and modest return to comics of a creator whose work I really missed. Yay, Bill Loebs is back! And he loves dogs!
Find out more information on Human Interest Stuff.