Rich Kreiner reviews Four Squares by Tim Finn, Liz Prince, Joe Quinones and Maris Wicks

Posted by on December 23rd, 2009 at 9:00 AM

Self-published; 64 pp.; $5; B&W; Softcover

Here’s an intrinsically intriguing project: four cartoonists collecting the daily strips each did for a solid month. With Four Squares it’s pals Tim Finn, Liz Prince, Joe Quinones and Maris Wicks over a July in Boston. A single day is portrayed in a double-page spread, printed sideways, wherein each artist contributes his or her strip in a set order. It makes for a nifty tapestry, woven together nicely, thanks largely to individual talents and ensemble amicability. The format also allows the book to skirt an inherent drawback of cartoon journals from a lone artist: here, when one has an uninspiring day, another invariably picks up the slack.

Though each of the quartet introduces and distinguishes him- or herself, they gain appreciably in contrast to and in conversation with one another. Their common threads include food, pop culture and excursions. Best is when their activities intertwine and we get more than one take on a discrete event. Humor winds up being the glue and it’s interesting to compare how far each creator is willing to go for a joke. They aren’t a coherent unit, like the Beatles, but soon enough we inevitably assign each of them a distinct identity, like the “cute” one, the “serious” one, etc.

At the top of the page Wicks affixes most days with an open, comedic embrace. She’s the most likely to apply pop references not as fodder but as a leveraging tool (see July 30th, wherein a whale appropriates a Justin Timberlake song title with “Bringing Sexy Humpback”). Finn links together the most over-riding narrative, worrying a book proposal through its stages. In visual variety and narrative approach he nods to Eddie Campbell’s autobiographical Alec material. Prince, with the loosest line of them all, is often interested in honing in on the emotional tenor and dimensions of specific moments.  She’s the most willing to come off as edgy and benevolently homicidal. Finishing the day’s reportage, Quinones appears the most concertedly polished. He’s also the most comfortable with the classic format of the bell-curve narrative of a multi-paneled strip carried to payoff; among several, note July 2nd, “Pudding Through a Straw.”

What emerges is a month more full and more rich than the sum of an individual’s days, a group portrait inherently more involving than four figures in isolation.

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