Graphic Youth: Solipsistic Pop 3

Posted by on February 3rd, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Solipsistic Pop; Tom Humberstone, ed.; £14.00 (inc p&p – International)

©2010 Marc Ellerby

The latest edition of the always-beautiful U.K. anthology Solipsistic Pop was designed as an all-ages comic, inspired in part by British standards like Dandy and The Beano.  On that level, it doesn’t entirely cohere, because some of the stories are clearly aimed for preteens while others are more about the experience of being young as an adult would understand it now.  Of course, the theme of this issue is “wonder,” and on that level, it certainly succeeds. Each of the stories touches on one’s sense of wonder as a child, and occasionally,  on how it is lost.  Certainly, a child of any age would find something to delight in, but there’s also work in here that would confuse many younger children and possibly bore older children. The packaging certainly suggests a book aimed at a younger child, given the funny, brightly colored strip on the cover, a separate poster that comes with stickers and an attached, free pencil that’s pasted to the front cover.

©2010 Joe Decie

As an art object perhaps designed to evoke a certain sense of nostalgia and familiarity for beloved comics now out of one’s life, however, it’s quite a beautiful book.  As always, the design is clean and attractive.  The book uses a bold red as its single color, with various shades of it uniting each of the stories.  The narrative choices range between fantasy and an evocation of everyday life that is nonetheless somehow remarkable.  Adam Cadwell leads off with the latter kind of story in “The Best Day Of My Life (So Far),” an autobio story wherein the artist recalls his father making his dream of attending a videogame show come true, but where much of the true fun comes in having his father all to himself for a day.  It’s a sweet, straight-ahead narrative, but the anthology is wise in not serving up too much nostalgia.  That said, Francesca Cassavetti’s “Pinball Wizards” is pitch-perfect in the way it depicts the visceral qualities of a treasured memory and caps it off with a little punch line.  The quick reference to being forced to spend hours with her brother in bars while her father drank is treated rather matter-of-factly; the only thing of real importance in the memory is the way they teamed up to master pinball tables.  On the opposite emotional end is “The Torturer’s Garden” (by Rob Davis), a story about the ways in which bullying penetrates one’s life at such a deep level that it’s impossible to completely escape.  John Cei Douglas’ “Living Underwater” is a bit too on-the-nose in the way it uses its titular activity as a metaphor for struggling with depression.

©2010 Rob Davis

The best stories in the anthology are the sillier ones that are visually distinctive.  Philippa Rice’s “Interdimensional Treehouse Party” seems less drawn than constructed out of various shapes and patterns that form rudimentary figures.  Rice puts her two characters (a red square-child and a flower pattern-square child) through their paces as they explore parallel universes, yet remain slightly unsatisfied and bored throughout it all.  Rice really captures the spirit of the anthology with her art, and it’s no surprise that she designed the poster and stickers that came with the book.  Octavia Raitt’s “The Wondertaker” makes the best use of red & black in the book in a story that’s silly but delivers a moral about losing one’s sense of wonder, as a blobby red creature roams the countryside preying on those who aren’t using their natural curiosity.

©2010 David O’Connell

In terms of pure humor, Andrew Waugh’s “Teething Problems” and David O’Connell’s “The Squire” provide the best build-ups and punch lines.  The former is about a scientist and his robot desperate to go outside and play and annoying the scientist out of sheer boredom.  When the scientist relents after being asked an uncomfortable question, the results are hilariously dire for the nearby city.  The latter story is a fantasy story about a bored hero’s apprentice who wonders why he’s even bothering to follow him around, until his real passion (being a DJ) is engaged in an unexpected and amusing way.  O’Connell uses swirling reds and twisting blacks to depict the fantastic world of his hero all while the bored squire is sitting in a series of tight panels at the bottom of the page.  Waugh uses a simple, cartoony line to depict his robot.

All told, the third volume of Solipsistic Pop is attractive but not entirely coherent as an anthology, perhaps because certain aspects of the theme clash with other aspects.  I think reifying that vague but evocative idea of “wonder” with an explicitly all-ages theme complete with bright trappings was a mistake, resulting in an anthology that was neither fish nor fowl.  Every story that went in a darker direction pulled against the reader’s understanding of what was to be expected here, leading to an occasionally dissonant reading experience.  Some of the cartoonists’ work felt more apt than others in terms of working as all-ages stories, even if the art direction and design of the book were flawless enough to at least make everything seem to fit under one roof. However, this speaks to Humberstone’s boldness as an editor to try a new approach in every issue and compel his contributors to avoid repeating themselves.  I doubt that we’ll see the all-ages experiment again, but I’ll be curious to see how the artists in the SP stable respond to the next challenge.  The one thing I’d like to see in this anthology is art that’s a bit more challenging visually, with artists dipping into the immersive or comics-as-poetry schools more.  Humberstone is careful to present a variety of visual approaches when selecting contributors, and so it would be interesting if he expanded his narrative choices as well.

©2010 Philippa Rice (image not from this comic, but I wanted to demonstrate her style of art)

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