Inhabiting A Space: Shitbeams On the Loose 2

Posted by on May 8th, 2010 at 5:15 AM

Rob reviews the second volume of the anthology SHITBEAMS ON THE LOOSE, edited by Rusty Jordan and Dave Nuss (Revival House).

SHITBEAMS ON THE LOOSE’s very title suggests a transgressive work of art in the vein of comics’ underground period.  That’s part of what’s at work in this modest but quite engaging anthology that was sent to me out of the blue.  It draws inspiration from any number of past anthologies, but isn’t an adherent to any one of them in particular.  There’s a bit of that aforementioned underground influence (felt most acutely in Andrew Smith’s remarkable work), but one can also see the influence of Fort Thunder, Gary Panter, Kramer’s Ergot, perhaps the old Studygroup 12 anthology and a new wave of abstract and/or immersive artists.  There’s a mix between straight-ahead narratives, more oblique or immersive narratives, and pages of art that barely skirt the idea of narrative.  Somehow, it all hangs together, in part because the editors are careful to never have one feature overstay its welcome.

The one thing each comic has in common is its sheer density.  With these stories, there’s not a lot of white space to be found as each environment depicted swallows up the panels.  The difference between foreground and background is deliberately vague in several of these stories, adding to the book’s ambiguity and amplifying its visual impact.  This is a book that’ s meant to be looked at as much as it is to be read, and the careful sequencing of the book by editors Dave Nuss and Rusty Jordan contributes a great deal to its overall appeal.  That’s because the editors alternated striking collage/non-narrative work (like from Ayo Kuramoto & Amane Yamamoto or Hector Serna, Jr) with straightforward narratives.

The most intriguing works are those inbetween.  Ron Rege’s powerfully immersive strip went farther in blending image and text than many of his prior comics in a story about illumination–both literal and metaphorical.  Rege also used a denser line and panel composition than usual, giving this story a lot of heft.  John Hankiewicz contributed his usual comics-as-poetry fare in a sequence involving a woman, a set of dresser drawers, and a mirror.  There was something enormously unsettling about the woman’s absence in a panel where we saw her reflection in the mirror.  Like Rege, Hankiewicz’s piece had an added intensity thanks to a shading choice.  Here, Hankiewicz used almost entirely black backgrounds, as opposed to the huge swaths of white or grey we usually see in his comics.

Andy Rementer’s strip (and cover) was a lively cross between Rege and Ben Jones: playful, with curvy lines and exaggerated character designs.  That made a nice counter-point to the Skip Williamson-esque, visceral style of Andrew Smith, delivering a story revolving around his usual themes: the ingestion and vomiting of food, grotesque & distorted figures (both physically and emotionally), and comical but brutal violence.  Grant Reynolds had a strip that combined immersive tendencies (especially in the way the lettering was incorporated into the drawing) and similarly grotesque images, this time of a deep-sea diver who was infected by something monstrous.

My favorite strip in the book belonged to Jason Overby, whose explorations of the meeting place between drawing, text, line and space have become more coherent and articulate.  This is a comic about the experience of reading and drawing comics, and the battle between trying to express meaning and drawing an aesthetic experience purely from the interaction of shapes.  Overby is clearly talking about the concept of the sublime here: trying to depict and recreate a particular kind of aesthetic experience that is in itself beyond capture.  All the artist can do is try and fail, but the material essence of that failure can be in itself trigger a new kind of aesthetic experience in others.  The fact that this strip was placed between a visually intoxicating Rege strip and a gag strip about crucifixion–and that it works–shows just how oddly bold Jordan and Nuss were in assembling this book.  The publisher of this book, Portland’s Revival House, is definitely one to watch.

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