Division of Labor: Tag Team #1

Posted by on July 28th, 2010 at 5:09 AM

Rob reviews the first issue of the collaborative anthology Tag Team, by Pat Barrett, Robyn Chapman, Colleen Frakes, Morgan Pielli, Sam Carbaugh, and Dennis Pacheco.

Tag Team is a collaborative comic in which six artists contribute to six four-page stories.  Each artist has one task per story, be it plot, story, thumbnails, lettering/panels, pencils or inks.  Each artist performs one task in each story, and then everyone switches.  It should come as no surprise that the particular group of artists behind this comic are graduates of the Center For Cartoon Studies.  I tend to enjoy this sort of experimental comic, from the OuBaPo efforts led by the likes of Matt Madden to the Mike Wenthe/Isaac Cates-edited mini Satisfactory Comics.    Unlike that comic, where collaboration is largely conceptual and it’s the hands of Wenthe and Cates who do most of the work, Tag Team is done in the tradition of the comics sweatshop.

The results of this process are surprisingly entertaining and seamless.  With a chart at the beginning of the comic illustrating who did what on each story, the lineup of Pat Barrett, Robyn Chapman, Colleen Frakes, Morgan Pielli, Sam Carbaugh & Dennis Pacheco only gave themselves one constraint for each story: the depiction of a 30-day bus pass.  Amazingly, that small story thread contributed to a remarkably smooth flow from story to story.  The tightness of this group collaboration no doubt contributed to that flow, especially since they’ve undoubtedly had to do similar sorts of exercises at CCS.

What makes this comic work is the sense that it was much more than a mere exercise or gimmick.  Each artist seemed to throw themselves into each tightly-wound four-page story, each acting almost as different parts of the same organism, with everyone trying to make the other look good through their individual efforts in the collaboration.  Tag Team showed off a diverse set of art styles and page design concepts, which contributed to each story feeling different despite the same general constraints.

For example, “Full Ride” felt longer than four pages because it used more panels per page than the other stories.  The clear-line style of Barrett meshed well with Chapman’s heavy ink line in a story that used the bus pass as a favor granted but mistakenly unacknowledged.  While the first two stories were slice-of-life anecdotes (one cheerful, the other grim), “Wheels On The Bus” veered into surrealism with a bus whose journey was both enigmatic and somewhat sinister.  The Pielli-plotted and Carbaugh-written story was counter-balanced by Chapman’s dark line and Frakes’ light touch on inks.

The comic switched from that note to silliness with “Expired” (with the expired bus pass being the payoff gag after a series of jokes about smelly objects), horror with “Depth” (the Pielli/Carbaugh team on pencils & inks, respectively, made for a wonderfully atmospheric tale), and warmth in “Oscar’s Commute”.  The Frakes/Pielli art pairing was especially interesting in that last story, given that Frakes’ stories are rarely this cheerful.  Hopefully, this crew will stay together for future editions, because they really seemed to hit on something here.  I’m curious to hear what each artist thought about the experience and how it changed the way they go about creating their own comics.  At the very least, this sort of change of pace has to make one reconsider how one does things and why.

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