Minis Monday: Square Dance #4

Posted by on January 31st, 2011 at 1:00 PM

Colin Tedford; self-published; 24 pp.; $2; B&W;

This particular edition of Colin Tedford’s Square Dance suggests what underground comics might have been in their nth iteration if maybe America and its cartoonists had progressed differently. For instance, what if, when head shops disappeared, the undergrounds migrated and were sold in farm and feed supply stores?

What if they’d made a wholesale shift into the funnies section of the free local papers?  If they became less burdened by revolution and throwing off the shackles of repression and more fully cognizant of being irreparably part of “the system,” consequently committing to work from inside said system?  If doing one’s own thing hinged less on sex, drugs and rock and roll and more on tending one’s own rows in the community garden?

Of course, no modern comic escapes the legacy of the undergrounds any more than it transcends the influences of its times or can divorce itself from the talent and preoccupations of its creator. Still, few comics celebrate such legacy, cultural grounding and personal distinctions quite like this. Square Dance #4 is fun-loving and solidly entrenched — socially, politically, economically and agriculturally — working to make the world a nicer place one panel at a time.

While there’s little dead space to be found anywhere, the issue, for the most, is carried by three large features. “Spinning World” is a collection of short strips in diverse formats and sizes wherein Tedford’s outlook and attitude is most explicitly developed. Cold-weather holidays loom large. Thanksgiving gets a jaundiced eye while Christmas appears less irrevocably stained, tracing fond holiday traditions only so far back as the disco era where “colorful lights in the dark” represent an evolution from the mirror ball. While various sober topics are broached (“On average, it takes 10-15 calories of fossil fuel to bring you each calorie of food that you eat”) before skewering, special attention is reserved for nuclear power, beginning with Tedford’s neighborhood nuke, the creaky Vermont Yankee. (Haven’t heard much about nukes lately? Wait’ll it’s time to decommission your own neighborhood plant.)

If you can imagine Wonder Wart Hog wanting selflessly, guilelessly, desperately to be of service, then the title of “Super Friendly Garlic” pretty much says all you need to know about his story. A high point is where S.F.G. poops out two cloves into the waiting hands of a needy cook. (Pooping is noteworthy in Square Dance. Check out The Almighty there on the front cover, His face showing strain, His fists clenched atop a porcelain throne of clouds.)

“Winter in Headville” offers a closely observed cartoon burg (pooping dog alert!) in the grips of a spectacular snowy storm, a condition made all the more daunting for its citizens being oval heads atop stick legs. But busy, engaged ovals! Imagine a whole city of Trondheim’s Mister Os drawn, if anything, even smaller. And without arms. Throwing snowballs and making snow angels is all the more challenging, but the frolicking kids (and Tedford) carry it off with merry aplomb. Headville bustles with seasonal seriousness (front end loaders piling urban snow drifts into dump trucks to be hauled out of town) and silliness (hey, I said heads on legs with no arms). Mundane pains, like crossing a really slushy street, as well as special problems — a worker in hardhat putting up decorations grows wobbly after winding around the town’s Christmas tree — find resolution in fantasy: In a woodsy scene on the final page, one head warmed by a plaid cap with earflaps unrolls a blanket and shares a hot thermos full of something with a fir tree. After a bit, they both go their respective ways. Pulling back in an aerial shot, we see that the forest is crowded with such pairs, heads and trees, their respite over and resuming business, but not until they’ve advanced an elegantly charming notion of community `way beyond the conventional norm.

And what’s that on the back cover? That mummified snowman? A victim of  inventive vandalism, some T.P.’ed Frosty? No, no, below that. Why it’s Tedford’s self-portrait. But what’s he doing, gesturing like that? Voguing? Striking a disco pose? Square dancing? A hip-hopper turning over the action to the next person? Yeah, “Wave yo’ arms like you jus’ do care!”

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