Minis Monday: Joseph Lambert

Posted by on March 22nd, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Turtle, Keep It Steady!
I Will Bite You!
Hey. Be Quiet.

Joseph Lambert

Joseph Lambert’s Turtle, Keep It Steady! was selected by editor Lynda Barry for her version of the Best American Comics annual. This square (4 ¾” x 4 ¾”), handsomely appointed mini remains well worth seeking out for the original conception and execution of Lambert’s tale, a reimagining of the tortoise-and-hare fable as a drummers’ “battle of the bands.” This version unfolds with a single panel per page, which immediately accomplishes two things. First, the drawings are bigger than those found in the Best American Comics hardcover. More importantly, tempo changes. This copy reads less like comics and more like a picture book. That’s important for internal rhythm, at once more prominently and strictly measured: look left, right, turn page, repeat. As the story’s undulating word “balloons” are composed of abstracted imitative beats and drummed flourishes, there is no spoken dialogue to propel or impede, just the title as the occasional refrain. Thus it’s the reader who supplies the cadences which, by practical definition, are timed to perfection. Both versions convey the liberating fluidity of Lambert’s dancing critters.

Where Turtle … is beholden to music and tempo, an untitled large (8” x 10”), lush comic suggests a rich, ambitious cycle of paintings, one in which opaque colors are gloried and where the heavens perpetually loom. (What are they, digitized silkscreen?) The sensory flamboyance here contrasts neatly with the narrative, a depiction that, while superficially straightforward, provokes reflection and empathic deduction. Here a prehistoric man seemingly — and coincident with us — makes momentous discoveries about his mental faculties, his environment and the nature of existence during the course of the tale. How he makes sense of his world involves intuitive leaps of intelligence and alternatives to linear thought. It’ll get you thinking about Gilgamesh and Enkidu, anthropology, fantastic impossibilities and mythmaking even as you can’t take your eyes off those skies.

… and that’s leaving out entirely the moon that hangs above the story, the more passive version of the celestial personification that shows up and helps animate I Will Bite You! This comic seems a cautionary tale acted out on dual planes, one worldly, the other heavenly. The comic opens like a stenographer’s flip pad with pages usually divided into four equal quarters. The mortal plane is usually on the lower tier while the extraterrestrial globes occupy the higher. Interactions prove calamitous. This is fantasy, driven by cartoon laws and mechanics but securely grounded in all too recognizable aspects of human nature, hence its strength as weary observation and unusual admonition.

After that stately trio, Hey. Be Quiet. is a true mini in scale, ambition and intimacy. Lambert makes the most of the form’s virtues of subversion, immediacy and accessibility. He also does his most affecting figuration, nicely capturing two giggly kids acting up and goofing around. Their merriment is infectious. This is the only comic with actual spoken dialogue and even the typography acts to reinforce mood and import. The comic will bring to mind South Park’s “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics” show, specifically the segment where Shelly diligently practices the “I  Saw Three Ships” carol; actually both this mini and that cartoon present themselves as the spiritual descendants of Ronald Regan’s Latin American foreign policy.

All Images ©2008 Joseph Lambert

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