Minicomics Round-Up: Dawson, Gennis, Baylis

Posted by on October 4th, 2010 at 5:12 AM

Rob reviews Spaz #3, by Emi Gennis, So Buttons #3, by Jonathan Baylis & various collaborators; and Troop 142 #5, by Mike Dawson.

Troop 142 #5, by Mike Dawson.  Two things I noticed about this latest issue: 1) Dawson is starting to get so comfortable in drawing these characters that every drawing looks sharper and more defined; 2) Dawson cleverly torpedoed what appeared to be a major shift in the plot in the last issue, and did so in a way that was entirely in line with what we’ve seen in the earlier issues.  Unpacking these a bit, Dawson is now adding an impressive amount of detail to each page while still keeping his characters simply designed.  Those characters are also sharper, leaving behind a bit of the cartoony mushiness that sometimes made them difficult to tell apart in the early issues.  Regarding the second item, Dawson seemed to indicate that the Boy Scout camp was in imminent danger of shutdown, but that proved to be an especially corny scare tactic.  Wisely, Dawson kept the series’ conflicts on a much smaller scale, which has the effect of making them mean more to a reader.

So Buttons #3: So Horror-ble, by Jonathan Baylis, David Beyer Jr, Thomas Boatwright, T.J. Kirsch & Danny Hellman.  This is the best issue of the Baylis-written anthology series to date.  Hellman’s cover is a perfect EC-pastiche, while the mix of fiction and autobio is a bit more restrained in terms of narrative voice than past issues.  “In Need Of A Hand” is a full-color story that makes nice use of its tones, both in terms of contrasting the beauty of a beach sunset with the ugly circumstances of a break-up and their more abstract use in depicting horror-movie daydreams.  The light touch of artist Boatwright’s line is a fitting complement to the vivid colors.  “In The Old-Fashioned Way” and “In The Head, Please” deal with vampires and zombies, respectively, but Baylis subverts expectations just enough to make them interesting.  The former story is a lampoon on the real implications of vampires as a cultural force, while the latter conflates incest and zombification in a truly dreadful way.  The restraint that Baylis showed in these stories only made their dramatic moments all the more effective, without gilding the lily by overwriting.  Baylis hasn’t found his voice quite yet (and he’s handicapped in this regard by not doing his own drawings), but he’s getting closer.

Spaz! #3, by Emi Gennis.  Gennis is a young but gifted cartoonist negotiating gag work, anecdotes and other cultural detritus on her way to figuring herself out as a cartoonist.  One of her strips is about her lifetime of being old-fashioned in terms of technology and methodology, but this has certainly worked in her favor as a cartoonist.  Her self-caricature, featuring bugged-out eyes and messy hair, is an amusing style mashup between Julia Wertz and Jim Davis (!).  Her line is clear but strong, her panel design orderly and her overall aesthetic attractive and easy to navigate.

The stories in this short mini roughly fall into three categories: “Shit I Worry About”, adventures with an anthropomorphic zygote and adaptations of unusual deaths from Wikipedia.  The first set are classic autobio “stress-vent” comics (in the style of Ivan Brunetti), with funny illustrations for some unusual fears (like being barren).  That fear dovetails with her zygote strips, where said character preys on her fear of becoming pregnant while at the same time strikes at her desire to have children.  It’s a common tension for women that’s not usually touched on in autobio comics.  The wikipedia-inspired strips show off her deft comic timing and morbidly delightful sense of humor, as in the case of a congressman who accidentally shot himself while trying to acquit a man by claiming the victim’s wound was self-inflicted.  Throw in Gennis’ encounters with possibly supernatural phenomena (in the form of water), and you have an artist who has turned anxiety into art.

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