Wednesday, August 30, 2006

DRAWN & QUARTERLY SHOWCASE #4

I actually had to check the previous volumes of this to see how often a new one is released into the wild. Surprisingly, it appears to come out every 13 months. I would have thought every 6, but indicia's don't lie.

This is essentially the replacement series for the late, great Drawn & Quarterly anthology of the nineties. It's both thicker than the original incarnation, and slimmer than the second incarnation. It also eschews the serialization of stories and spotlights on older cartoonists in favor of presenting short stories by three (or two or four) 'young' cartoonists. 'Young,' because most of these cartoonists are at least pushing thirty or beyond). In that sense, the book is similar to Fantagraphic's Mome (again, minus the serializations), a sense strengthened this time out as two of the three featured artists are also regular Mome contributors.

The book begins with a Gabrielle Bell story that features a winsome young woman in college who seems to have lost her way. It's the sort of "is it a veiled autobiographical comic?" that Bell has been doing in Mome, although this time it focusses on painting instead of music. It's subject immediately caught my attention as it bore a strong resemblance to Martin Scorsese's underappreciated short film, Life Lesson, but from Rosanna Arquette's point of view. And with a kid. And without "Whiter Shade of Pale." The story is in full color, situating it nicely between Bell's work in Kramer's Ergo and Mome. Bell utilizes a lovely, understated palette for her understated story. Perhaps it's a bit too understated. The only character that really seems to have any real depth of character is the kid. YOu get the sense that art sensation, Frank Reinhart has an interesting backstory, but I never even stopped to wonder what makes the story's lead, Anna, such an empty vessel. She's clearly supposed to be that, but we're never given any insight into her aside from being told that she's very smart and lacking direction. The story is a nice piece for an anthology, but it lacks the "something else" that would make it a standout piece.

Martin Cendreda follows with "Dog Days." I thought Cendreda was really hitting something with his La Brea Tarpits story in the latest Mome, and this is another nice piece, but like Bell's, seems almost tangental to the actual story. It's a coming-of-age tale told about the other things happening while a serial killer is loose. There's an attempt to tie the Phillipine folk monster, the Aswang, into bits about the killer, a missing dog and the juxtaposition of a grandfather's superstitions with a boy starting to put his childish thoughts behind him, but it seems both a little too on-the-nose and tangental at the same time. It's good, but, again, not a standout piece. And certainly not Cendreda's best.

The less prolific, and Momeless, Dan Zettwoch is a creator who's art I have a strange relationship with. There's something about his art that immediately turns me off. I don't know if it's the clunky drawing, the color sense totally at odds with my own or the WPA evocation of the overall look, but I almost always dread the prospect of reading another Dan Zettwoch story. And then things get strange, because I almost always end up absolutely loving whatever he does. It even becomes difficult to see what it was that turned me off in the first place. This is a story about the great Louisville, Kentucky flood of 1934, presumably narrated by Zetwoch's own granfather. It explores the themes in Zettwoch's other stories: craftsmanship, disaster, history and diagramatic comics. He likes to look at the way things are made, particularly the way they're made by hand and he likes giving glimpses of historical details as he guides us on a tour of his subject matter. While the story is obstensibly about the great flood, it is also about a time of transition, for both Zettwoch's grandfather and the town of Louisville. In a lot of ways, it accomplishes something similar to what the other stories in this collection attempt. It presents just the right amount of details (geographic, personal and geographically personal) to suggest a certain person at a certain time in a certain place and the themes that it wants to explore. It's a neat little story, Zettwoch's grandfather cleary intends to tell a fairly simple annecdote, but is unselfconsious enough to allow these interesting ideas to come out in the telling. Zettwoch is also enough of a cartooning virtuoso to create a visual experience that complements and expands the oral history. It's a proper "showcase" of an artist more than up to the challenge of being showcased.

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