Let’s Put On A Show: Awesome 2

Posted by on December 16th, 2009 at 5:55 AM

Rob reviews the Indie Spinner Rack-edited anthology AWESOME 2: AWESOMER (Top Shelf).

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AWESOME 2 reminded me a bit of the plot of every Busby Berkeley musical of the 1930s: hey everyone, let’s put on a show!  The hosts of the popular Indie Spinner Rack podcast, “Mr Phil” Jackson and “Charlito” decided to do just that with the first volume of AWESOME, a wildly uneven book that they produced in conjunction with Ryan Dunlavey.  Profits from both volumes went to Indie Spinner Rack (keeping it very much in the spirit of Busby Berkeley) as well as establishing a scholarship for a worthy student at the Center for Cartoon Studies.  Both volumes suffered from their lack of focus as editors.  Their stance at ISR is very much an “up-with-comics!” sort of positivity, which is fine for a podcast but dangerous when one is gathering material for an anthology.  That’s especially true when said anthology is for charity, and not an aesthetic statement of its own.

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The result was a 200 page anthology that should have topped out at 125 pages, tops.  There were stabs at holding the thing together with the use of interstitial material by CCS alums Chuck Forsman and Colleen Frakes, but the wild shifts of tone and style found here were simply too jarring to create a cohesive reading experience.  As a result, the reader was left to sift through the stories to find experiences that happened to stick.  Variety for variety’s sake in an anthology isn’t a virtue in and of itself; it has to be carefully selected for juxtapositions that make sense.  Story-to-story flow is as important in an anthology as panel-to-panel flow is in an individual strip, and it’s the rare editor who can commission a book of any length that holds together.

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That said, there’s plenty of good work to be found here, most of which was on the light-hearted side.  Forsman & Frakes contributed a series of 1-page gags; Forsman’s strips in particular (riffing on monsters) were very sharp.  The book was at its best as a platform for humorists like Julia Wertz, Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca, and the vastly underappreciated Joey Sayers.  Wertz excels in longer-form autobiographical pieces (as opposed to her one-page strips), adding a little texture and depth to her reminiscences.  Rugg & Maruca presented another adventure of Afrodisiac, a pitch-perfect & howlingly funny parody of 70s era Marvel blaxploitation comics.  Sayers’ absurdist approach was at its best in a strip about god and the devil opening up a hot dog stand.

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There were a lot of genre comics in this book, most of which were fairly lighthearted but not bordering on parody.  Alex Robinson’s heavily Dungeons & Dragons-inspired fantasy story “Fight!” was a good example, with a lively energy often missing in his slice-of-life comics.  Speaking of energy, Ulysses Farinas’ comics fairly crackled with it in his story of a Superman-type figure whose powers threatened the world.  Elizabeth Genco & Kevin Colden’s mafia/witchcraft mash-up was mostly effective because of Colden’s ragged line.

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The weakest pieces in the book were some of the slice-of-life stories.  “Widows”, by Rantz Hoseley & Salgood Sam, was an overwrought and over-rendered story with an emotionally manipulative ending.  Jackson’s “The Walk” was another story that tried for emotional resonance that sank under the weight of its unwieldy central metaphor.  Georges Levine’s “Unicornicopia” story was genre work at its most cliched, with a plot and characters that felt like cookie-cutter fantasy work.

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The most consistently interesting part of the book was actually the CCS mini that was attached on the inside back cover.  There wasn’t a dud in there, with the delicate linework of Mo Oh leading the way.  This is an anthology to seek out only if there are particular artists of interest to the reader (there’s a Sarah Glidden gem in here unrelated to her other comics, for example), but it was otherwise forgettable.  That said, the overall quality of the contributions was a step up from the first volume, so we’ll see if this trend continues if there happens to be a third volume.

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2 Responses to “Let’s Put On A Show: Awesome 2”

  1. salgood says:

    So right about when i was going through a piticular nasty brake up over a year ago i was approached by Rantz to draw a story he wanted to submit to the 2nd Awesome Anthology. It was about the internal paranoia and anxiety of a man who’s wife is having an affair – or at least he believes she is. She is withdrawing from him, and they have two children so it’s not just the end of some fling in his mind. He’s plagued by this and by an infestation of Black Widow spiders, which is a non to subtle trigger for his already heightened paranoia. It’s not a happy subject/story. I don’t think we hit it pitch perfect. It would have probably looked better printed larger. But It was meant to be a neurotic and wrought story. It was about emotional stress and manipulations. Rantz was aware of what was going on with me at the time and suggested it was a good way to purge some of my own stuff at the time. He was right.

    So we’ve gotten a couple of reviews about it now, and they sight it for these traits as complaints. Which to me says they seem to have missed that this is the point….? It sounds like we we’re successful in hitting the notes we wanted to.

    I also have a comon complaint about how These opinions have been framed.

    I don’t mind if people don’t like my work, or have a problem with the subject matter. I don’t mind if my drawing style is not to thier tastes. But i do once in a while have to call it out when i hear personal preference being couched as an objective bar or standard. Any anthology is going to be a mixed bag. This is old news. It’s telling of the reviewer’s taste, that he liked more than anything the work of the young creators in the mini. That’s cool. Often i find reviews tell me far more about the tolerances and bias of the reviewer than about my work. And that’s ok. But there was something missing from the review. An indication that this is Robs opinion. rather than some kind of arbitrary truth. And that’s not just a mater of taste, but of grammatic fact.

    Up with comics, and down with thinking that’s dangerous anywhere Rob. It’s not global warming, it’s COMICS! it’s a matter of taste and POV. You’re playing the roll of taste maker. Don’t forget to type the words “i think” next time.

    Profits from both volumes went to Indie Spinner Rack (keeping it very much in the spirit of Busby Berkeley) as well as establishing a scholarship for a worthy student at the Center for Cartoon Studies.

    And this, the most important fact about the book was given far too little copy.

    ” Profits from both volumes went to Indie Spinner Rack (keeping it very much in the spirit of Busby Berkeley) as well as establishing a scholarship for a worthy student at the Center for Cartoon Studies. ”

    FYI: Once the printing of this book is paid for, the bias is the scholarship , not the podcast.

  2. Rob Clough says:

    Salgood,

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I don’t think anyone on this site really needs to add “IMO” to their reviews. That goes without saying. That said, I don’t think it’s simply a matter of taste. You disagree, which is fine, but I stand by my review 100%. I could go into further detail as to why I thought this was a weak piece, but I’m not sure that would serve much purpose. Suffice it to say that in my view, critical judgment goes beyond “I liked that” or “I didn’t like that”. There’s an art to editing an anthology, and the difference between one that works and one that doesn’t is usually pretty clear.

    For what it’s worth, the profits going to a good cause (CCS, though the book was ambiguous about how the profits were split) is certainly nice, but has nothing to do with the quality of the book itself and my critique thereof–nor should it, in my view.