Thursday, July 13, 2017

Silver Sprocket: M.Sweater, L.Prince, J.Stanton

Please Destroy My Enemies, by Michael Sweater. For a publisher that focuses on punk, Silver Sprocket releases a number of comics with a high cute factor. Michael Sweater (nee' King) is a good example of this sense of being betwixt and between, as his comics are indeed very cute, but they also have a fairly dark quality as well. In a series of four-panel gags, the titular entry finds the little girl praying to god and then finding the corpse of one of her enemies as she holds his skull with a self-satisfied smile. That sets the tone for the rest of the book, as Sweater acts as a kind of train station operator, either pulling a narrative in a somewhat expected manner and then going over the top to sell the gag, or else switching tracks at the last second as a way to create the punchline.

Whether it's a vampire buying a lamp, a dog somehow talking its way into taking a driving test, a rabbit hating its dietary choices, a picture frame being hung in a way that makes the house crooked or a zoo where all the animals are obvious fakes, these strips make up Sweater's strongest work. They're conceptually precise and punchy, and he knows just how to draw out the laugh. His linework is neutral and tells the story without interfering or adding to the final outcome that much. Sweater also experiments with some three panel daily strips that don't pack the same punch and are less interesting visually. Sweater's at his best when he works big, works in a cartoony style and keeps his figures simple & direct. There are some hints of Aron Nels Steinke in his work especially in the way he draws big, cheesy smiles. Sweater has hit upon a formula that works very well for him, and the result is a funny book with some bite.

Be Your Own Backing Band, by Liz Prince. I've often found Prince's autobio work about her relationships to be derivative and too often slanted in a direction that's alienating to the reader. Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed? tries for Jeffrey Brown-style warts 'n all honesty, but it strays too far and often into giddy silliness. Alone Forever has precisely the opposite problem: after a series of break-ups and relationship failures, this book wallows in self-pitying melodrama until Prince is able to make a tentative peace with her status. The real problem with both books is that there's too much stuff about relationships and not enough about what makes Prince tick. That's been solved by her very good Tomboy memoir (about gender identity and appearance) and this new collection of strips originally printed in Razorcake. Prince talks a bit about how finding punk and DIY had a huge, positive impact on her life. These strips are a sort of contemporary snapshot of how punk continues to influence her life at age thirty and beyond.

Prince is a curmudgeon about public displays of affection at shows (oh, irony!) and people taking selfies, which a friend points out is simply a different kind of enjoying the experience than Prince had. For the most part, Prince is wildly enthusiastic in sharing her experiences managing to get into shows, seeing friends, eating food and generally disrupting her life and sleep in order to have these powerful aesthetic experiences that center around camaraderie above all else. While some of the strips are about specific bands and why their music is important, more of them are about specific adventures Prince had with particular friends in order to get to a show or after a show. Many of the strips are about her friendships with the musicians, as Prince took to drawing concert fliers and such to become a part of the scene when it was clear that she had no musical talent. In many respects, having punk as a focus gives Prince the ability to tell stories about her relationships, her feelings about gender and how that's evolved, her feelings about art and her feelings about community. Punk mediates each of these aspects of her personality without her going too far down any particular rabbit hole. It gives her a constraint to work against, which makes her comics more dynamic and interesting. It's also obvious that writing about punk is an expression of pure joy for her, channeling all of her emotions (positive and negative) onto the page. There will always be a central sweetness to Prince's work that borders on twee, but this book never crosses that divide.

Squatters Of Trash Island, by James The Stanton. Stanton often writes about monsters and the apocalypse in a breezy, funny way. The end of the world is inevitable; it's just the "how" that's in question. And as such, there will always be people who cling to and exploit the slow or fast doomsdays that afflict the planet. This mini is about the strange and few who live on trash heaps in the ocean, trying to survive and even thrive in horrible conditions in a remarkably cheery manner. Some adjust by having sex with dolphins. Some distill disgusting substances into a kind of liquor. When a couple of representatives from a cola company come by to scrape the labels off their bottles (bad PR), they are horrified at the "society" they find living there, consisting of cannibals, perverts and outcasts. Of course, the cola company is as complicit in causing this breakdown of society as anyone, a point that Stanton drives home in contrasting the straightforward (if demented) moral code of the squatters with the sleaziness of the workers. Stanton further drives everything home with his relentlessly grotesque (but cartoony) art. There are weird figures, disgusting fluids or nausea-inducing colors on virtually every page, but it's still Stanton's writing that's the funniest thing about his comics. It's smart and over the top, but there's truth in every weird twist.

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