January 5th, 2013
Windowpane #1, by Joe Kessler
There’s a point early on in this comic where you realise that you’re not so much watching characters describe a landscape as watching the landscape try work out how to describe itself. This might seem counter-intuitive but from the end of the first story onward the pattern repeats itself – Joe Kessler’s garish, pastel-hued compositions either break down into their constituent lines after exhaustive exploration or sit there seemingly unaffected by the words and actions that have passed through them.
The best example of the latter category involves a wet-dream about a pig in a dress, whose fall through the night sky is contrasted against an unflinching cityscape with a moment-by-moment precision that does far better justice to the pithy punchline than this description:
In the former category, the Invisible Cities-derived third strip is as close to definitive as Windowpane gets. The way it links its characters shared status as splashes of ink and colour on the page with their philosophising about the interconnected nature of reality — “…a cluster of atoms resembles a cluster of galaxies.”/”Well they’re both clusters” – might seem trite in isolation, but the surrounding stories make these philosophical observations feel more like a little bit of texture on a varied landscape.
All of this might sound a bit chilly and distant, but Kessler’s human figures are depicted with a deceptive sort of ease, as a series of curving lines whose relationships to each other is nevertheless very carefully observed and delineated:
Still, in keeping with Kessler’s paradoxical thematic schemata it’s the backgrounds that are the focus here, existing as they do on the precise point where detail blurs into abstraction. The interaction between text and territory here has a sly kinshsip with Dylan Horrocks writing on maps and comics, and perhaps also with Kevin Huizenga’s conception of the comics page as a place for exploration and discovery, but Kessler’s backgrounds have a forcefulness to them that resists his characters attempts at attaching meaning as much as it encourages them.
This is tricky relationship is most clearly explored in the final two strips. In the penultimate entry, words shrink on the page as Kessler depicts his precarious human figures parachuting in to kindle-worthy hillscape:
Thought and language here is reduced to a form of quaint annotation that is far less effective than the blocky symbols that line these panels in terms of providing a guide to this hazardous landscape.
The final story focuses on a burned lover who – uh, *SPOILERS* – tries to find solace in the freak resemblance between a man and a decapitated bull. It plays out like a sneaky assurance that the process of muck sitting up and looking itself and trying to figure itself out isn’t totally meaningless, but it’s the sort of assurance that’s both underlined and undermined by the fact that, unlike any given sunset, you know this resemblance was put there to be noticed.
I Don’t Like My Hair Neat, by Julia Scheele
Only a couple of the stories in this zine feel like they want to be described as such, but that’s hardly a problem here – Julia Scheele‘s artwork is startlingly confident, her linework bold and dynamic even while she’s detailing the minutae of intimate experiences . Whether she’s depicting a close encounter with the possibility of pregnancy (in ‘Positive’, story by Katie West) or allowing the words and pictures to blur into the punishingly poetic (‘Diem’, words and concept by Chrissy Williams - more about her later), Scheele’s pages always command your attention as firmly as a Becky Cloonan action scene or a Jamie McKelvie dance sequence:
It’s not clear from this collection whether Scheele is building up to do long form narratives or grander experiments here, but one of the best things about this comic is that it makes this sort of question seem almost totally unnecessary. There many paths suggested within the pages of I Don’t Like My Hair Neat, and you’d be daft not to accept an offer to walk down any one of them with guides as striking and well-orientated to their moment as these.
Tuk Tuk #1, by William Kirkby
Being: the first in a series of publications detailing the adventures of Messrs Slade and Hill as they bluff their way through a series of romps, scams and adventures, all taking place in a generously designed sprawl that begs for comparison with the worlds created by the Graham/Stokoe axis while also establishing a style that’s distinctly Kirkby‘s own:
As in the comics created by those much-lauded cartoonists, there’s almost an over-abundance of visual information in Tuk Tuk. As such, the humorous interjections and explanations feel painfully necessary here – like the colours in your average James Stokoe comic, these word bubbles and textual asides exist to guide the reader’s eye through a dense thickets of angled heads and buildings that might otherwise become interchangeable:
I can’t make any big claims about where all of this is going, but the journey so far has been so entertaining that it made me forget that I was staring at it through a cute framing device, to the extant that I found myself right there with the little kid who’s being told this tale when the pages ran out: I’m glad that there’s more to come but frustrated that I can’t get the rest NOW!
Prophet #32, by Simon Roy and Ed Brisson (back-up strip by Daniel Irizarri and Andrea M. Pecinkas)
Godzilla: The Half Century War #4, by James Stokoe and Heather Breckel
Speaking of the Graham/Stokoe axis! And yet, what do we have here except the first issue of the relaunched Prophet to make it out into the world free of Brandon Graham‘s name. The fact that you wouldn’t know this if you read the comic in question blind is a testament to the efficiency of the all-consuming formula Graham and co have established here.
Prophet was easily the most exciting adventure comic of 2012, with the ever-shifting line-up of artists and characters working to evoke slash adapt to a variety of bracingly alien landscapes. It’s this seemingly endless hunger, this constant focus on artistic and imagined economies, that provides the emotionally connective throughline that Abhay Khosla failed to detect in these pages:
Simon Roy‘s loose linework almost wriggles off the page as he draws panel after panel full of gross, inescapably biological shapes, all of them battling away to find some sort of foothold in this world, a way to either dominate or survive.
The on-page victories in Prophet feel like minor successes in an unremittingly harsh universe but with every issue it gets harder to escape the feeling that something is going amazingly right behind the scenes. Honestly, it’s almost enough to convince you that the medium might have a future as a popular, collaborative medium, despite all evidence to the contrary…
James Stokoe‘s work on Godzilla: The Half Century War has been pretty overwhelming for something that promised to be a romp. I’ve never quite managed to shake the (sneakily pleasant) feeling that the last issue is going to end with an actor ditching the Godzilla suit and going out for dinner, but I was surprised to note that this issue saw our protagonist transition all the way from hot blooded awe in the face of the beast to a state of weary familiarity. I imagine that this journey will be familiar to some Godzilla fans, albeit in a less life-or-death sort of way, but I don’t have enough of a grounding in this stuff to say for sure. That original movie was definitely a raw, melancholy bit of fallout though, eh?
On a sillier, more personal note, it’s good to see that Stokoe is still up for throwing shout-outs to Team Mindless’ very own sponsorship boys in there with all the mechagodzillas and space beasts:
Look, it’s a beautiful comic about Godzilla kicking fuck out of other monsters, what more do I need to say?
The Jam Trap, by Chrissy Williams and various
“Listen, I know you don’t like comics or poetry, but you should read this,” I said.
“What is it?” you replied.
“A book full of prose poetry with some comic panels mixed in,” I said.
“No but seriously, it’s brilliant – Holly was talking about how they need to set up some sort of respite system for comics widows, or how maybe we should get a big bloggy house so we can be excited about the same nonsense together at seven in the morning, and this just made me think of that,” I tried.
“Look, you know how over-enthusiastic nonsense is my greatest sin?” I said.
“It’d be in the top ten at least,” you sighed.
“Well this catches some of that, it gets the feeling for the sort of chats we’ve had since we moved in together, the way the easy flow of difficulties plays out in the…” – I cut myself short, seeing that you were now lying flat on the bed, a second pillow wrapped neatly all-too-neatly around your head.