Minis Monday: Tag Team!

Posted by on January 24th, 2011 at 1:00 PM

By Dennis Pacheco, Pat Barrett, Robyn Chapman, Sam Carbaugh, Colleen Frakes and Morgan Pielli; B&W; 26 pp; Team-published

You can’t improve upon the participants’ own definition of their title: “Tag Team is a sweatshop-style comic anthology with an indie vibe.” Gathering in White River Junction, Vermont, six cartoonists — Dennis Pacheco, Pat Barrett, Robyn Chapman, Sam Carbaugh, Colleen Frakes and Morgan Pielli — created six stories using a modified Exquisite Corpse arrangement in the round.

Seated at a circular table, participants took a turn working on one of the tales performing one of six successive tasks — plotting, scripting, thumbnailing, lettering and paneling, penciling and finally inking. At the end of timed intervals, they passed the evolving work along to the creator to their left (meaning that during the first period, everybody was plotting one of the six stories; in the next period, everybody’s scripting the pre-plotted narrative just passed to them; then on to thumbnails next go `round, etc.). Whatever their task and whatever the tale, each was “encouraged to develop the story, improve it, and put their own stamp on it.”

It sounds like a great exercise for thinking about and working through formal (if atomized) facets of comics-building. But it’s an even better way to foster a sense of communal creativity. Potentially it sidesteps personal sticking points (“God, I hate inking;” “I never have any good ideas;” etc.) while diminishing impediments to invention like absolute control, artistic perfection and proprietary ownership.

As would be expected with even six “ordinary” stories, quality and interest varies. So does topic, ranging from casual realism through accented caricature to nurtured fantasy. More efforts adopt a lighthearted tone although there are exceptions. All are four pages save the last with five. All feature the same seating arrangement among artists, hence the same string of contributors merely broken by different folks at beginning and end (taking the successive tasks for the opening story, by way of first initials, were C-M-S-D-F-R; the second was produced by R-C-M-S-D-F, and so on. No, hey, that’s important, as there’s only six permutations of talent instead of, you know, 6 factorial or 720 different combinations … ). Did I mention that additionally all stories explicitly include a public transportation bus pass?

To adapt Tolstoy’s observation about families, all the happily wrought stories are happily wrought in the same way: An intriguing premise is developed and fleshed out, paced with respect to flow and momentum and rendered with sympathy and skill. These pages go by quickly. “Full Ride” establishes its tension immediately, maintaining no small amount of suspense until its concluding comeuppance. “Depth” is submarine sci-fi that skirts genre conventions to arrive at its peculiar but decided grace note (yes, with bus pass). “Expired” is a cartoon character study affectionately if rankly rendered.

By comparison, less happily wrought efforts are less happy for different reasons. Thin conceptions aren’t bolstered down the line. Action does not progress smoothly, to advantage. Mood is not corroborated. Words don’t engage or don’t communicate enough, be they too few or too many. Art does not sufficiently substantiate. In fact, as object lessons go, such offerings serve to demonstrate just how many things need to go right and in coordination in order to create good comics.

Images ©2010 Dennis Pacheco, Pat Barrett, Robyn Chapman, Sam Carbaugh, Colleen Frakes and Morgan Pielli

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One Response to “Minis Monday: Tag Team!

  1. cfrakes says:

    Thanks for the review, Rich! Afraid I sold out of this mini a long time ago, but Dennis might have more copies-