Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column
(Amy Jean Porter)
My friends, there is a comic out there that advertises itself as “the story of a man and a spider, eating sandwiches, on the anti-social web.” That comic is the aptly named Spider, Man and its publication marks something significant in the comics world. What that significance is, though, eludes me for the moment.
In this book, Porter strains to say something, but her voice is so quiet it’s hard to hear exactly what it is.
It’s a story told in aphorisms juxtaposed with full page tight pencil drawings suffused in gray ink washes. Within each standalone art piece Porter has embedded “Txt Msg Messages” adding a further truncated layer of narrative to its sparseness. This is a story about time and loneliness, technology and, of course, sandwiches. How it all puts together, though, is a head-scratcher.
It’s as if Porter really, really, really wanted to give us some insight about these larger themes, but she wasn’t sure what they were, and figured that if she kept it sparse, it still would speak volumes. This book could be the height of pretentiousness if it weren’t so quiet in its desperation, so delicate in its execution. It’s observational, without seeing behind anything, couched in language that caresses instead of reveals.
I’m still having trouble figuring out if I like it or not. I’m reminded of James Kochalka’s Sunburn, but with an “artisanal” sensibility and all the bile that word evokes in the back of my throat. Then again, perhaps I’m over-thinking things. This is about sandwiches after all. Everybody loves sandwiches.
Porter’s art is as gentle as her voice. While there is a crispness to her figures, they float on a background of gray charcoal and ink. They stand forth without cutting through and are accentuated by the opposition. Nothing is forced, except the inclusion of the “Txt Msg” which distracts more than it should.
There is something confrontational about Spider, Man – insomuch as I feel confrontational towards it. In it’s beard-stroking, it forces me to react, I emotionally respond. With each subsequent reading that reaction gains intensity and, this being so, makes me consider its aesthetic value.
If art is meant to invoke a response in its audience, then Spider, Man must be called art. But if its message is confused, its voice too soft, what value does it hold? Does the responsibility of the artist transcend their ability? If the vision is greater than the talent, what then? Is Spider, Man itself even concerned with these sorts of questions, or is Porter actually exploring the nature of aesthetic communication in the age of digital shortcuts?
I like that Spider, Man makes me ponder this sort of stuff because it gives me faith that there is enough intent in the book to warrant it. Maybe it’s just not for me.
Maybe, though, it’s for you.
– Daniel Elkin
You can get a copy of Spider, Man through Birdcage Bottom Books.
The Littlest Littles #1
A couple weeks back, my buddy Zack and I went down to Wizard World Portland for a busy, fun, wonderfully exhausting day of pop culture goodness. WWP was a surprisingly good con, really, in part because of the fact that we spent most of our time talking and hanging out with our comics pals. And since Zack and I are both local to Seattle, and most of the same artists show up for Portland and Seattle cons, we tend to cross paths with most everyone there from convention to convention. It’s a nice sort of set up – kind of homey and pleasant, loose and light and friendly, like a big group of people who are all crazy about the same artform. I’d imagine the same is true for movie fans or white-water rafting enthusiasts or fly-fishing fans. Likeminded people tend to mix and become sociable. Even when you basically know each other just by faces, you get used to the same faces at each event.
So when Jonathan Hill offered me a copy of his mini The Littlest Littles at WWP, I was happily surprised and enthusiastic to receive it – thanks Jonathan! – and really happy to make pleasant re-acquaintance with a talented artist who I’d met before at the now late and lamented Stumptown Comics Fest.
The Littlest Littles is a fun little comic, a cute and clever all-ages comic that reminded me a little bit of The Fairly Odd Parents without those goddamn annoying voices from the Nickelodeon cartoon. Little Johnny Jump-Up and Wasabi Bobbi are a pair of extradimensional sprites who come down to Earth and quickly find themselves helping something that may be a blob of talking goo or may be a lost cone of ice cream find its rightful owner or place in the world.
Wacky hijinks inevitably ensue, mostly in a delightfully-drawn four-panel grid in which Hill deftly wields his digital toolset to deliver a smartly drawn book. It’s notable how well Hill varies his thick and thin lines in this book to emphasize different aspects of the tale he’s telling, an approach that gives this goofy little adventure so much of its animated-cartoon-on-paper life. The art in this mini seems to bounce across the page, full of silly joy in its ridiculous silliness.
That said, the story is a cute little trifle, the equivalent of an 11-minute cartoon segment on an entertaining cartoon – which seems to be exactly what Jonathan is looking for. I know he was pitching this book as a pilot for a longer book he’s trying to put together, and I hope he will, because I’d love the equivalent of a full DVD’s worth of the adventures of Johnny and Bobbi.
– Jason Sacks
Contact Jonathan through his blog.