Comics Carousel: aliens, spider dating and pet detectives
Stuff what I’ve been buying round-up:
Bird by Melissa Mendes, Oily Comics: Mendes is currently the best person around when it comes to portraying the essence of childhood and children, and she achieves that through this particular interaction between her characters and their environment. It results in an atmosphere of quiet focus that’s natural and never overdone. Bird is a largely wordless, picture per page affair, following a young girl boarding the bus to school, returning, taking a bike ride through the woods- a girl who can occupy and fend for herself. She falls off her bike and hurts her knee, but she gets up, goes home, bandages it and watches TV.
Another thing Mendes excels at is depicting the parent/child relationship; where most children’s literature resolves to get rid of Mum and Dad in some way, allowing kids to indulge fully, Mendes usually has a parent present (or the suggestion of one), with appearances and exchanges intermittent, but real: here, Dad comes home with a pizza and the two eat and watch TV on the sofa in companionable silence. Parents are represented in the way kids see them: important and there, but low on the list of a child absorbed in their own world and happenings.
The bird of the title is one that crashes into the window, leading the two to go outside and investigate. Mendes doesn’t lead the reader with the parallels that only just begin to stem from this, ending her story as quietly as it began, leaving any thoughts to marinate.
Resident Alien volume 1: Welcome to Earth, Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, Dark Horse: Resident Alien is a stellar example of a simple story really, really well done. Alien spaceship crash-lands, leaving a stranded lone survivor with no means to return or communicate with his planet or people, who adopts the guise of a retired doctor and lives quietly in woodland cabin. Two years into this existence, he’s called upon by the nearby town’s sheriff to sit in temporarily for the local doctor, who’s had the temerity to get himself murdered. This is very much a set up volume, but hugely enjoyable, with Steve Parkhouse’s art a lovely big fat factor in that.
Courtship of Ms Smith by Alexis Frederick-Frost, One Percent Press: Ms Smith is a highly eligible young female spider to whom a number of suitors flock, attempting to win her affections by singing special songs they hope will entice her into a relationship. Such is the mating custom and ritual. However, Ms Smith fears a life of eternal loneliness, as whilst she has been attracted to a few hardy fellows, something comes over her and she devours them instantly. It’s a distressing problem for a genteel lady spider simply looking for companionship. It may sound like a weird story, or one that you think you know the direction of -many female spiders eat their mates, after all- but it’s definitely an original tale, with an ending which, though you don’t see coming, works completely. Frederick-Frost’s fine art lends it all a delicate beauty that offsets the cannibalistic subject matter nicely.
Halo and Sprockett: Welcome to Humanity by Kerry Callen: Callen released this collection back in 2003, the first volume of strips featuring a girl, an angel and a robot who live together. Callen loves to explore seeming unanswerable questions and silly idioms, with a mixture of theological, scientific and relative approaches (you can guess who provides what). It’s funny and entertaining, but the purpose is the setups here- there’s no real narrative or characterisation, thus easily forgotten once it’s over.
Four Days in Brussels zine by Lizzy Stewart: I’m really liking comic travelogues at the moment and one of the interesting things is seeing the way different creators approach them, some cramming in as much as possible, others more sparse and minimal, in a variety of formats and layouts with some sticking strictly to panels, others not. Four Days is one of the better ones I’ve come across, with Stewart documenting buildings, people, tat from souvenir shops, art, food. Some pages will have a small story or explanatory passage, while others speak for themselves. A page titled ‘Almost Purchase’ strikes a resonant chord, listing items which common sense left behind. Stewart lets her art, the landscape, what she saw, do the work, there’s not much of her on the page, and it’s an effective approach. The landscape format really gives it an extra luxe feeling too.
Guinea PI: The Ferret’s a Foot by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue, Lerner Publishing Group: Collen Venable’s series about a group of animals living in a pet-shop, amongst which the gloriously monikered Sasspants is the reluctant titular guinea PI, is one of my favourite series. Hamisher the hamster, Pants’ adoring, self-appointed sidekick is in my pantheon of beloved comic characters -seriously, I love these comics a great deal. And I don’t really care if they’re supposed to be for 5 year olds.
In this book (the third volume), the animals are prompted into action when loveable but slightly demented petshop owner, Mr Venezi, puts up a ‘help wanted’ sign, something they’re opposed to as their current confusing signs means they don’t get sold as much and can stay together. So they decide to create correct signs for each of their cages, temporarily convincing Mr Venezi not to hire an efficient assistant. But the signs mysteriously disappear and reappear, all mixed up (chincillas as gorillas, lizards as blizzards), and so Detective Sasspants finds herself a new case. Venable’s comics are pure joy, with Yue’s art the perfect accompaniment- if you haven’t checked these out, do so now, they’re guaranteed to make you smile, and the animal characterisation is spot on (take a look at the goldfish above).
An Enchantment by Christian Durieux, NBM: One of the nice things about reviewing books is that sometimes you get sent something you would never pick up on your own and proceed to enjoy greatly. An Enchantment is an example of this: written and drawn by Christian Durieux, it’s a beautiful poetic tale that reminds me of Raymond Briggs Snowman in its magical, yet melancholy tone. An old man prepares to attend his retirement party (or funeral, as he calls it), but instead sneaks away with a bottle of wine, where he’s waylaid by a young woman (both real and imaginary) and together they reflect on life, decisions, regrets, choices made, what impressions they leave behind, and the way great art reflects all life- the artists, ours and others.
Make an effort to read this somehow- it’s a book that won’t get much attention, but is worth every minute of your time.
Farm School by Jason Turner, Retrofit Comics: Farm School is set in a rural, run-down slightly dystopian future, in which small communities have been set up. The narrative revolves around Hester, who carries a large rucksack and bedding on her back, running errands and sleeping outdoors, Hester who seems to want both push her boundaries and leave, but is also afraid and wants to stay. To be frank, the story isn’t substantial enough to be significant nor really engaging enough to be of interest. In addition, the lettering is very off-putting, it has an uneven, tremulous appearcne, so the letters in one word are higher/lower than each other and reminds me of those dripping chiller fonts: it immediately gives you that association and feel which is obviously at odds with what’s being presented- it’s a really odd choice.