Finding A Voice: These Things Happen

Posted by on August 21st, 2010 at 5:36 AM

Rob reviews the third and fourth issues of Sam Carbaugh’s minicomic, These Things Happen.

Sam Carbaugh is an interesting young cartoonist with a lot of ideas who seems to be in search of a distinctive voice.  In his series These Things Happen, he’s displayed some impressive chops and clever ideas, but his obvious debt to Kevin Huizenga.  That debt was freely acknowledged in the third issue, though the influence is most clearly felt in the surface qualities of his work rather than his ideas.  The similarities include lettering, character design, the quality of his line, the use of grays, and the examination of abstract ideas through concrete comics devices.  Huizenga, when his everyman character Glenn Ganges is off in a reverie, often uses the most iconic imagery to illustrate this dream state (like musical notes behaving like birds or his dream self appearing in a magical new environment).

Similarly, Carbaugh dipped heavily into the iconic playbook in These Things Happen #3, a flipbook about a married couple, with each story told from the point of view of one of the spouses.  The wife has a horrible illness, and the husband makes sure to keep her in the house for her own health.  She feels trapped (in more ways than one), and Carbaugh uses lettering to great effect to get across her weakness by using shaky lettering and filling up word balloons at the end with consumptive fluid.  The husband is an intellectual and is depicted as literally being surrounded by words in a cloud, one that he temporarily drains when he writes.  Carbaugh cleverly linked together inspirations from two separate short stories, matching the story of a woman trapped by a well-meaning man with a constantly-distracted man who dearly misses his wife.

One can see Carbaugh cycling through that heavy Huizenga influence in the fourth issue, as he uses several different cartooning styles.  The first story still has strong hints of that influence in the way he reduces his self-caricature to a pair of hands and eyeglasses, spreading them across a sweeping environment over two pages.  That’s straight out of Huizenga’s “Gloriana” in terms of visual effect.  On the other hand, his bus-ride “conversation” with his inspiration Charles Bukowski was both funny and a powerful self-corrective to not congratulate himself too much about finally getting aesthetic inspiration.

Carbaugh really starts to shine in the stories “Let’s Get Metaphysical” and “Lost In Transition”.  Going more iconic and using a thinner line really suits his talents.  Introducing a more rubbery, frantic line boosts the energy of his story.  One can see the lessons of Huizenga fully digested at this point, but the style is now all Carbaugh’s own.  The former story, dealing with an amusingly-drawn character passing over into the afterlife by confronting what’s beyond the line of a panel, is especially well-executed.  The satire of the latter story is a bit heavy-handed but is quite cleverly drawn.  Carbaugh obviously has talent and inspiration, but it’s clear that he’s an artist who will simply need to continue to crank out many more pages before he figures out exactly what he wants to do.

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