The Weird World of Lisa McDonnell

Posted by on January 18th, 2010 at 10:58 AM

Rob reviews three unusual minicomics from Lisa McDonnell, Spring Break 2009, Tick Tick Boom, and A Really True Story.

The three minicomics that Lisa McDonnell sent me for review are six pages, nine pages and six pages each, respectively.  The sheer intensity on each page, however, makes each comic a powerfully immersive experience.  Indeed, in the way she weaves text in and out of her images, she’s not unlike other Immersive cartoonists like Juliacks, Austin English or Olga Volazova.  McDonnell would also seem to owe a debt to cartoonists like Aline Kominsky-Crumb and (especially) Mark Beyer for her scratchy line, heavy use of ink and crude-but-expressive figures.  The weirder the story, the more well-realized the stories seemed to become.

For example, A Really True Story is about a couple of off-duty policemen who accidentally encounter a potential thief outside of his parents’ house.  The story is meant to highlight the ridiculousness of the panic of one of the policemen when he sees a kid outside his car, their blatant overreaction and then the kid soiling himself when the police arrest him.  It’s the slightest of the three comics, even if her grotesque figures are fun to look at.  Tick Tick Boom plays up the grotesque aspects even more, in a story about a ravenous mutant queen tick and a guy who was obsessed with killing huge ticks, hoping to get a world record.  The sheer silliness of the story overshadowed its weirder aspects; like the first mini, it’s so slight as to be instantly forgettable.

On the other hand, Spring Break 2009 (University of Diversity) is six pages packed full of clever character designs, hallucinagenic backgrounds, exuberant mark-making and unleashed imagination.  The plot, such as it is, involves a couple of college students (one obsessed with bugs) who win a trip to Macchu Picchu and a gateway to meet the gods.  McDonnell combines travelogue with vision quest here, all done with a cheeky sense of humor.  The students meet cat mummies, the Orb Council, the giant skulls of their ancestors, and visit the gift shop.  While the comic is a lark, the density of detail and episodic nature of each and every panel makes this comic almost exhausting to read, but in a manner that’s satisfying to the reader.  The nature of that detail includes small print that frequently surrounds the characters, Will Elder-style eye-pops in the background and the sheer thickness of her line.

I believe that McDonnell has only recently started to do comics, and it feels like she’s trying to find her voice in terms of the kind of stories she wants to tell.  It’s clear that she already has a fully-formed style, created by her fine arts background, and it’s one that works well for her.  I’ll be curious to see if she becomes a one-off strip artist like Beyer, a short story specialist like Kominsky-Crumb, or if she delves into more complex narratives like Juliacks.  Her sense of humor is certainly different than any of those artists, and I suspect that’s where she will find the best for herself.

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