Minis Monday: Play and Shelter

Posted by on September 6th, 2010 at 10:28 AM


From Shelter, ©2009 Marek Bennett.


Play and Shelter
Edited by Dan Barlow, Colin Tedford, and Anne Thalheimer
The Trees and Hills Comics Group
B&W; 64 and 56 pp.; $5 and $4

The key to appreciating these two meaty, self-published anthologies lies in their originating organization’s “mission statement.” It appears in Play as the “solution” to the prior day’s (and nonexistent) Criptaquip puzzle: “The Trees and Hills Comics Group brings together cartoonists in Vermont, New Hampshire and Western Massachusetts to produce, publish and promote comics, share resources, and build creative connections in our diverse community.”

For the past few years, Trees and Hills has produced a collaborative annual in furtherance of these multiple goals. For their 2008 anthology, Seeds, I noted that it seemed to represent “more a cooperative project of participatory creative democracy than an aesthetic object meant to reflect a meritocracy.” That remark was intended as an admiring caveat for a book of comics as material thing. I could offer much the same sentiment about Shelter (2009) and Play (2010) but I’m really coming around more and more to the virtues of Trees and Hills’ approach with respect to process and the documentation of progress, this even while remaining absent from their gatherings and nominally outside “their” community. Three years on, the nurturing of jejune talents makes more sense, the multiplicity of voices deepens and broadens the choir’s discussion and inevitably the aesthetic high points appear all the more finely turned out.

No doubt much credit goes to Trees and Hills co-founders Dan Barlow and Colin Tedford who both contribute to and help edit the volumes. They continue to be abetted by regular stalwarts, among them such familiars and long-standing cartoonists as Matt Levin and Colleen Frakes (look, if I was really interested in namedropping I would have led with Stephen Bissette, who contributes a polished, three-page teaser to Play which ends with as ominous a from-the-knees-down final panel as was ever meted out to recreation and pastimes).

As with Seeds, these books are loosely themed with Play, appropriately, being the looser and Shelter, appropriately, being the more substantive. Shelter is bolstered by Matt Young’s “Three Stories” on three different seasons in a foreclosed house’s life and the scams and participants involved in each. Far lighter and livelier is Marek Bennett’s “I Set You Free.” Its fretting indecision will be familiar to all early-career amateur animal interventionists. And it should be noted in the “Walk the Walk” column that 25% of Shelter‘s proceeds is going to local homeless and support organizations.

Play ranges wider and benefits from comedic liberties (to say nothing of an enclosed pamphlet of games that includes the cartoon rules for “Undercut,” a ridiculously simple if devilish contest from brainy guys Robert Boeninger and Douglas R. Hofstadter). Bennett channels his inner-stick figure for summer-camp high jinks while Carl Mefferd makes the most of border-to-border frenetic imaginings in the course of “Backyard Bushwackin’.” Tedford details improvements to a classic game in “Contact Twister” with dotted T-shirts extending the playing field and with winning now a group concept dependent upon keeping the game going for as long as possible. (“We have to find a place for Bob’s foot or we’ve failed as a society!”)

And with this sport and its dotted shirts, we send the young’uns home and move on to the mature content in an offshoot project from a Trees and Hills splinter group, the adult anthology Big Sexy, come next Monday. So to speak.


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One Response to “Minis Monday: Play and Shelter”

  1. For the past few years, Trees & Hills has actually produced a collaborative biannual – one each spring and fall (Spring ’09 was a book collection of the 1st four). For SPX ’10 attendees, we’ll be at tables B14 & B15 this weekend with the newest one, Time.

    Thanks again for the kind words, Rich!