Minicomics From Sam Spina

Posted by on March 10th, 2010 at 7:29 AM

Rob reviews a batch of minicomics from Sam Spina.

Sam Spina is an artist clearly searching for his own voice, if his early minicomics are any indication. ABOUT A MONTH and SPINADOODLES are diary comics in the vein of James Kochalka’s AMERICAN ELF, down to the cutesy line and focus on minutiae. Spina doesn’t transcend his influences, reducing these comics to pleasant but utterly disposable reading. There are points where he struggles to find something to say, and other points where it seems as though he’s only engaging in this exercise to force himself to draw something every day. The comics diary is difficult to do well, and it requires an artist to find a voice other than simply recording what they’re doing every day. It didn’t help that Spina’s line was so reminiscent of Kochalka and Todd Webb.

It was clear that Spina wanted to do something of significance, but didn’t quite know how. Perhaps he was frustrated because his other work was so light and farcical. The trouble is, light and farcical is where his talents lie. FRESH TO DEATH was a ridiculous story of white-boy hip-hop braggadocio in the vein of the old Herbert Kornfeld columns from The Onion. The mini’s payoff, with a hated nerd co-worker turning out to be the masterful DJ Fuckwolf, was an amusing one. It’s a book whose gag probably would have worked just as well given fewer pages, but Spina’s loose and expressive penciling made it fun to look at.

The other thing that became apparent when reading Spina’s comics was that as the premises of his comics became more ridiculous, the actual comics themselves became better realized. HOODLE ORIGINS, for example, was about a child alien trying to learn about his origins, getting ever-more-ridiculous stories from his grandfather even as it turned out they were living in Texas. Spina’s real epic was SHARKER, THE FORGOTTEN: THE STORY OF SEAN KERR. It’s the story of a shark hit by lightning that tries to eat a man named Sean Kerr, an unfortunate dragged out on a boat trip by his girlfriend. During a thunderstorm, the ship rips apart and he winds up attacked by that same shark. Hit by lightning again, man and shark somehow fused into one.

Spina takes that origin story and turns it into something truly loopy, as the now shark-man teams up with a talking shrimp. They go back on shore, find his girlfriend (now married), draw the enmity of a lobster and wind up getting into adventures. In fact, the shrimp and the lobster had a side adventure which was chronicled in another mini (“This Is What Shrimper Did When He Left”) tucked inside the back cover. The reason why this comic works is that the more absurd the concept, the straighter Spina plays it. It’s assumed to be completely matter of fact when it’s revealed that the lobster has become a landlord and owns a lot of property. Sharker himself is a funny drawing but is a character who isn’t funny, just tragic. Spina works a number of laughs out of his horrific appearance and seems to have set up a durable set of characters for any number of stories. This mini shows that Spina has promise as a humorist and simply has to continue to hone his voice and identity.

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