No Second Acts: Trigger #1 and You Can’t Be Here

Posted by on November 17th, 2010 at 5:18 AM

Rob reviews You Can’t Be Here, by Nicholas Breutzman and Trigger #1, by Mike Bertino (Revival House).  This pair of artists deals with themes surrounding being an outsider and how a return to one’s roots isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Nicholas Breutzman is an exciting young artist whose grim comics inspire feelings of dread and malaise. Breutzman has been ambitiously and aggressively experimental with regard to format and design with his early works as he’s explored some uncomfortable subjects. You Can’t Be Here was done in broadsheet format, giving each panel a certain power and heft that he filled with zip-a-tone. Breutzman once again zeroed in the subjects that have informed his small body of work to date: the darker side of small-town life, the way the claustrophobia of such an existence leads people to do strange things, and the ways man and nature have an adversarial relationship. Breutzman is a master of both the single striking image and overall restraint with his storytelling, a combination that helps create that air of dread. The reader always gets the feeling that something awful has happened or will happen. The image of a washing machine on the side of a wooded road as roadkill and its subsequent “crossing” is Breutzman at his best, combining the absurd with the unsettling.

Breutzman’s style is unusual in that he mixes naturalism in terms of his backgrounds and character designs with slightly loose, rubbery expressions on his characters’ faces. The result is both amusing and disturbing, like a boy appearing on an ATV with bugged-out eyes, freckles and a crew cut. This comic concerns a down on his luck young man who leaves New York (after having been swindled by fake crack) to return to his small town. His recollection of two kids he knew when he was younger who did horrible things to the local opossums early in the story referred back to the title of the story, giving it a different meaning. It’s not just that he and his friend weren’t allowed at a nearly abandoned housing development, it was that simply being back in old patterns was going to lead him down a dark path, one that part of him knew he would enjoy taking. Breutzman is going to be an artist to follow for quite some time.

Mike Bertino is an outstanding talent whose work seems like a cross between Ted May and Ron Rege’. Trigger is a one-man anthology featuring three stories with completely different styles and emotional tones. The first story, “Grown Ups”, was the first part of an ongoing serial that nonetheless had a powerful punchline of a conclusion. is about a young man who gets an upgrade from PE teacher to history teacher at an inner-city school. This story is less about the school experience per se and more about a group of defeated slackers and a ridiculously idealistic kid.  This is the story that reminds me the most of May’s work in the casual nature of its dialogue and a looseness to its line that relaxes the reader into slipping into this world.

“Flannels Are Cool Again” is more cartoonish story that has a certain Johnny Ryan (with Ron Rege’ faces) feel to it with an emphasis on scatology, over-the-top characterizations and generally outrageous behavior.  It’s a cleverly-constructed series of misdirections with vividly-imagined characters as various agenda are pushed in a bar one night.  Contrary to the first story (low-key story with outrageous storyline), this one has a low-key punchline capping a crazy story.  The final story, “Below Us”, flips between a naturalistic style done with a very thin line and a series of nightmarish hallucinations that employs background blacks.  This is a disturbing yet ultimately uplifting story about a young man who survived the murderous attack of his father, an event that killed his mother.  He constantly hallucinates his now-dead father taunting and torturing him, until the young man is finally able to take control in a series both grotesque and emotionally affecting.

Bertino is an artist in total command of his line, and his ability to modulate the emotional impact of each story in surprising ways served to subvert reader expectations time and again.  This is a true comic book that wouldn’t have felt out of place in the 90s, and Bertino makes good use of the format.  My only complaint with his work is a lack of concern with regard to spelling errors; the comic is simply rife with them.  While I did enjoy this format, part of me wished to see Bertino work a bit bigger and on nicer paper.

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