Minimalism: Comics Youth #1

Posted by on January 9th, 2010 at 7:08 AM

Rob reviews the first issue of old-school zine COMICS YOUTH, edited by Blaise Larmee.

I wanted to talk about COMICS YOUTH #1 in part to spotlight one of my favorite blogs about comics, Co-Mix. This blog is comprised of cartoonists Austin English, Sam Gaskin, Jason Overby and Blaise Larmee, all of whom lean toward the immersive/abstract side of comics. English was already a known quantity to me, with one of the most idiosyncratic and well-considered critical voices in comics, but reading what Larmee had to say proved to be quite enlightening. His comics lean toward the abstract, though they also carry a narrative quality in his mash-up of representative images and color tone-poems.  After making a few interesting minicomics (as well as an appearance in the ABSTRACT COMICS anthology and a turn in SUNDAYS 3), he was just awarded a Xeric grant.

When he decided to put out a zine of interviews, Larmee decided to go extremely lo-fi.  COMICS YOUTH #1 is an illustration-free zine featuring interviews with English, Overby and Jason T. Miles.  The interviews don’t follow a standard Comics Journal format of grounding the reader in what the artist does first before systematically analyzing their career.  Instead, these interviews feel more like loose conversations (it’s noted that many of the exchanges came from gmail chats) that start somewhere in the middle, with bits of structure imposed here and there by Larmee.

Miles, whose best known work is DEAD RINGER (published by Zak Sally’s La Mano), makes interesting connections between Herge and Gabrielle Bell–noting that those are immersive but closed experiences, as opposed to reading a novel where he feels like a more active “collaborator” in the story.  In an aside to the current floating debate about working with editors vs having no outside interference, Miles surprisingly notes that Sally told him that the concluding line of DEAD RINGER was perhaps not the right one.  It was his grandmother who wound up coming up with the last line, after noting that he had raised a question that hadn’t been explicitly answered in the story.  It was interesting that Sally’s response to this was intuitive, while hers was structural.

English, who has always drawn from film (but more in terms of characterization and construction than what we consider a “cinematic” approach to comics), talks about how he sometimes longs for his characters to be played by actresses to give him a little distance from the material.  This interview was about English’s struggle with drawing and storytelling styles in the way that he felt torn between several approaches simultaneously.  His struggle with the emotions generated in creating a story vs the feelings he gets while making marks was also interesting, revealing that English is still far from a fully-formed cartoonist in terms of his approach–he’s figuring things out along the way.

Overby talks about his approach as an organic one, trying to find ways to create spaces on the page that look like they’ve developed on their own over time, and then hardening these bits into a structure with his inks.  He gets to the heart of the difficulty of “creating” something organic, of trying to represent the infinite within the being of each character he creates, of “how you build true abstractions”.  Of the three artists, Overby seems to have the most intentionally philosophical approach to his comics, though that approach involves him trying to tap into the abstract through a spontaneous methodology, as contradictory as that sounds.  These interviews were interesting because of Larmee’s natural curiosity about the creative process and the idiosyncratic way he approaches this interest.

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One Response to “Minimalism: Comics Youth #1”

  1. I’ve probably just over looked this but today is the first time I’ve noticed the “Minimalism” being used again in a long time. That makes me happy. That makes me happy.