The Minicomics of J.P. Coovert

Posted by on October 30th, 2010 at 5:23 AM

Rob examines a batch of minicomics from prolific cartoonist J.P. Coovert.

J.P. Coovert was one of the first graduates of the Center for Cartoon Studies.  Every minicomic I’ve ever seen from this prolific cartoonist has been polished, cleverly designed and clearly rendered.  He settled into using a simple line, cartoony character design and uncluttered panel composition in comic after comic.  After reading his comics for several years, I’m still not sure exactly what kind of cartoonist he will ultimately become.  It seems obvious that he has a long-form comic in him that’s waiting to come out, and these minis feel like a sort of extended experiment.  The minis I’m reviewing here are a mix of collected diary strips and kid-oriented, fanciful comics.

His diary series, Simple Routines, are unabashedly sincere, emotional and open.  Issue #10 contains a touching series of strips addressing his final days at CCS before graduating, exposing just how raw his emotions were at the time.  That said, Coovert’s control over his line even in a diary strip is simply remarkable.  Working mostly in a four-panel grid, these strips are warm and welcoming, letting the reader into Coovert’s world without feeling intrusive.  Issue #11 is mostly about searching for jobs and life with his then-new wife, and it feels like Coovert trying to permanently record a series of perfect moments, big and small.

What makes these comics work is Coovert’s restraint, a trait inherent in all of his work.  There are times when one almost wishes Coovert would get a little sloppy here or out of control there, but such an approach for the emotions he’s depicting in his autobio work would be unbearable for all but his closest loved ones.  That restraint helps prevent emotion from becoming sentiment, creating a subtle tension between the two.  Despite using narrative captions, Coovert is careful to use his images and word balloons to depict the emotions of the story and keep his narrative text information-only.

The other minis are light and amusing, falling in the category of light, all-ages fantasy story.  Coovert notes in Simple Routines that he was considering a career as an illustrator for children’s books, and that shows in the way he tried out different kinds of storytelling.  Six Sided Heart is a charming story told in a minimalist style about an anthropomorphic square that’s part of a wall of fellow squares that spots an anthropomorphic pyramid walk by, leading in a change of identity that’s both disastrous and delightful.  This comic reminds me a bit of Lewis Trondheim’s minimalist comics, only with a sweet (rather than savagely destructive) ending.

Rematch is the comic that seems to be aimed at the youngest audiences, and it’s a bit reminiscent of the Joann Sfar/Emanuel Guibert Sardine In Outer Space series in that a Coovert stand-in goes to a moon to play ping-pong against a hostile alien.  It’s similarly cute, though Coovert does stray a bit into twee territory here  as it’s almost too sweet.  Heavy Handed is a more clever attempt at fantasy, as a big-handed Coovert stand-in is afflicted with a giant hand and has to go on a quest to achieve a resolution to his dilemma.  The modern vernacular and imaginative character design for the assortment of monsters he encounters make the story more of a visual treat than the usual typically austere pages one sees from Coovert.  At this point, Coovert has all the tools necessary to become a great cartoonist.  He simply needs to find the right project to prove that he has the inspiration as well as the skills to stand out in an increasingly crowded scene of talented young artists.

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One Response to “The Minicomics of J.P. Coovert”

  1. I was already impressed with JPs stuff years go when I first saw it when he was still in the Atlanta area. Good to see him still at it. I agree that it seems like there is a great long form comic in him but I hope he always will make the occasional minicomic. Folks could learn a lot from his attention to quality both on the page and in the final printed product. Always great looking books from JP.