Sick of New York stories? No? Good, we’ve got a pair of those this month. And for those of you who could care less about the plights of Brooklynites in the early 21st century, no need to fear -- there’s also the tale of a big, blurry sea monster and a vampire with disablingly large canines. Comics are fun! Oh, and hey self-publishers, we want to feature your minis in upcoming columns. Drop us a line, and we'll tell you where to send 'em.
New York Drawings by Adrian Tomine. Drawn & Quarterly
There have been all of, what, three issues of Optic Nerve published in the past decade? Adrian Tomine, you’re given those of us in the indie comics trenches some serious abandonment issues here -- those of us who cite the series along with Eightball and Hate and Love & Rockets as the books that helped up our eyes to the potential of this medium in high school and college. Oh, we know why you haven’t been around a lot. We get it it. We live in a world where making a living as a cartoonist is a tricky proposition even for someone whose convention lines wrap around to the other side of the room. And yeah, if we thought for a minute that The New Yorker wanted what we were selling, we’d drop everything in an instant -- and once they did, tales about angsty 20-year-olds might not have the same resonance.
But then you open this collection and realize Tomine is still Tomine. That the sequential floppies have mostly morphed into single-page illustrations (which, wild guess, likely pay orders of magnitude more than full issues ever did), but the cartoonist has used this opportunity to condense short stories into single panel tales. Yeah, some of the content is likely just commissioned supplementals for others’ text stories that do most of the heavy lifting, but divorced of text, Tomine has become a master of conveying real world complexities in the context of a single frame. And as you stare and search, the book store is changed from a stationary object for coffee tables and dusty bookshelves into something more vibrant -- not quite a graphic novel per se, but a portrait, certainly, of the world around him.
The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz. Koyama Press
There’s a disclaimer disguised as a “fun fact” at the beginning of this collection, explaining away the title as a spoof of those abstract, self-important “New York literary elite” novels. And while anyone familiar with Wertz’s work can happily tell you that taking herself too seriously has never been a cause for concern, The Infinite Wait certainly marks a shift in focus for the cartoonist’s work. Wertz is still mining her only life for material, as she did on her long-standing web strip The Fart Party (yes, she’s acknowledge many times over that she’s not great at naming things), but the move from single paged joke strips to the short story format has afforded the cartoonist a different approach.
This means two immediate things: first, it’s not as funny as often as her older work and second, it’s a lot more real. Yes, there’s all kinds of wisdom in those infinite adages about truth in humor, but dissecting the world into beats over the course of a weekly strip has the tendency to erode nuance from memory, facts and thoughts rearranged in service of punchlines. There are tales of tackling the chronic disease and regretful drinking that defined much her 20s spent in San Francisco and New York.
But don’t let such earnestness dissuade you, coming off the joke-centric world of Wertz’s work thus far -- there are other topics, too, that lend themselves a bit better to the cartoonist’s snark, like crazy parents and a factotum of shitty, short lived jobs (the “wait” that gives the book its. There’s even the occasional fart joke, you know, just for good measure. It all adds up to a work that is, far and away, Wertz’s most honest work to date.
Bjornstrand by Renee French. Picturebox
I’ve got a lot of questions here. Let’s start with the simplest: what’s the word for a sequel released at the same time as the original, which itself might actually be a prequel to the other? A simultequel? A samequel? Whatever the case may be, I suspect that Bjornstrand is not a think meant to exist on its own, but rather a supplement to French’s wonderful new on-going webcomic Bjornstrand, which plays like It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, if Linus swore like a hockey masked sailor. The Picturebox-published mini is a beautiful thing to look at, no surprise there, with French’s characteristic fuzzy style reproduced in a purplish hue that brings to mind classroom mimeograph papers, making something deep inside fight the urge to give it one big huff.
I suspect the whole thing will make more sense at the web series unfolds, giving some background on the giant, adorable beast, who emerges from a body of water like some wide-eyed, beak Godzilla villain. As it stands, it’s a strange sequence of events -- albeit a delightful one with colorful curses, terrifically drawn, as ever. There are none of the grotesqueries here that define some of French’s earlier works, but there’s plenty of mystery to have at. And even if it never makes any more sense that it does today, I’ll never feel cheated, having been afforded the opportunity to spend a few more minutes in the cartoonist’s strange, blurry world.
Sabertooth Vampire Unleashed by Mike Russell. Self-published
Okay, here’s an old one (2011 old, that is), found on the mini comics shelf at the front of Portland’s absurdly wonderful Floating World comics. I’m not sure how I missed it the first go ‘round, though this is probably a good time to note that keeping up with webcomics has never been a particularly strong suit. I’m never sure whether to tell an artist when I’ve passed a book around to nine or ten people -- it’s one of those compliments that has strong overtones of, you know, taking food out of an artist’s mouth, $6 at a time. But yeah, I handed this thing to everyone I know in the Rose City.
Artist Mike Russell, I’ve since discovered, is actually a movie reviewer for The Oregonian. That’s all well and good, but someone needs to give this guy some kind of a cartooning medal for the hilarity he’s managed to squeeze out of the adorably thin premise of a diminutive Dracula with canines longer than he is tall ( had a rabbit once with a similar problem. Far less funny, that). It’s a vampiric disability with delightful consequences -- and some pretty fantastic merchandising tie-ins. In fact, here’s hoping it gets its own Adult Swim short one day, if only so I can buy one of those amazing Sabertooth Vampire mugs.
Brian Heater (@bheater ) is a senior editor at Engadget and the founder of indie comics site, The Daily Cross Hatch. His writing has appeared in Spin, The Onion, Entertainment Weekly and The New York Press. He hosts several podcasts and shares an apartment in Queens with a rabbit named Sylvia.