Lauren Barnett, whose comics I reviewed recently, sent me another mini with a short note attached:
Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment, considering your last review of my work, but I figure, what the hell!
This is actually one of the harder things I struggle with in writing reviews. I come to comics with an incredibly enthusiastic attitude — everyone should make comics, everyone should draw, everyone should try and tell a story. I don't want to contradict that in reviewing work but apart from that enthusiasm I'm not encouraging anyone to confuse quality with lack of it. All things considered, readers have limited time, they ought to read the best and most interesting work (at least interesting to them). But there's a big difference in reading a (a) great comic; (b) mediocre, but competent comic and (c) really bad comic. And then overlaying that – you can often make some pretty good educated guess about the creator; does she have talent; does she have a passion for the art or the story; does she show promise to improve? So I often feel bad criticizing work, especially when it's work where I'm impressed with the creator and believe it could be better or that better work is sure to come. It's the difference between hope and indifference to comics with any number of flaws.
But in any event, here's three more short reviews of minis I've been reading this week from Al Burian, Heather Bryant and Lauren Barnett. If you're interested in getting a mini reviewed at ComixTalk, you can find our contact information on the About page.
Al Burian Goes to Hell by Al Burian
Al Burian has written an autobiographical comic riffing very loosely off of Dante's Inferno. Burian's bio is a musician and zine publisher. He posted recently on his blog about the book claiming that the current edition of the book is "a boot-leg, an unauthorized publication of work I handed in to a college art department in order to fulfill graduation requirements, sometime in, I don’t know, the twentieth century, long ago." On the other hand the publisher Microcosm has published several other zines from Burian so I wonder how much of this is all a big goof.
The comic itself has its moments. The use of Dante's Inferno is cute, but not much more than a trapping, a loose wrapper for a collection of thoughts on being young and frustrated. The beginning of the book in fact, where Al speaks first to Virgil and than to his "old friend Jeff Crumbliss" is the most self-indulgent part of the book and almost put me off of the thing completely. Once we get to the first "scene" with Al working at an obviously awful cubicle job with an zealously strict boss, the quality of the book begins to surface better. Burian isn't a great artist, but he manages to do a lot with his limited toolset and he has a decent ear for how people talk. The scenes that follow, intermixed with quotes from Dante's Inferno work a bit better, but the book never quite rises above average. It says something that the most memorable line is a lift from the Suicidal Tendencies' song Institutionalized.
Perhaps the scene that was the most interesting to me was the character of Al's interaction with his art teachers who get to really have their own voice in the scene and call Al out on his self-indulgent whining. I'm far from 20 now and maybe I'd view this comic differently if I was still that young. Apparently Burian isn't that young anymore either and I really wonder what he thinks of this work from the vantage point of having lived a bit more life now.
American, Eh? by Heather Bryant
Heather Bryant's series of mini-comics is an autobiographical look at her life from about 10 years ago. Bryant is originally from Ontario, Canada but now lives in Rhode Island. In the past ten years, she has been a film festival program director, graphic design intern, nanny, poetry book editor, college poetry instructor, and a writer. When American, Eh? opens Heather is in Canada with a recently returned boyfriend who breaks up with her on her birthday. At the end of Part One, Heather meets up with an Internet acquaintance, Michael, who is a key character in the next three books. Parts two through four follow Heather's move to Rhode Island in the United States, trying to figure out how to get a job and then after working at a film festival, deciding to go back to school to study film. She has a growing relationship with Michael as well.
I like the writing here, Bryant picks scenes that convey movement in her story and the dialogue is pretty low key and believable for the most part. Heather is a young woman trying to figure herself out, but Bryant largely resists scenes of despair or whining. Instead she shows Heather's struggle with her own self-belief and her growth as she finds a talent for the film world. The art is a mixed bag, a lot of the characterization isn't bad; I have a good sense of the main character. But there is a flatness to many scenes and a stiffness to many characters that kept me from really enjoying the artwork. I also wish Bryant was a bit more careful with her lettering – there are too many times where it's bumping up against the word balloons or reproduced too light or small to comfortably read.
Overall though, it's a charming read and nice to read about a character in a bio comic with a bit of an uplifting story arc. Each one is fairly short, only 20-22 pages. Bryant writes at her website that she in the middle of making American Eh? Part Five and maybe she'll have it available at SPX this year. In the meantime you can also check out her webcomic, Cake Brat.
Was That Supposed to be Funny? by Lauren Barnett
Okay so Lauren's book is pretty funny — a mishmash of excerpts from her actual childhood diary to oddball scenarios (why does Asparagus think Broccoli is a bad dancer?) to a few scenes from her more recent life. Her art, lettering, panel structure, etc — all still the same as the last review. This time around though I will say, it almost made me feel like reading someone's school notebook, with everything jammed together however it might fit on to each page. The use of her diary entries, all dated, is cute and she does some funny stuff in illustrating them. Also I really like the cover on this one too.
ComixTalk received free copies of all of these books for review purposes.