Perhaps it’s merely the tantalizing near-arrival of spring, but it seems like we’ve seen a number of debut books by new cartoonists pop up out of the ground lately (if I may hammer the spring metaphor down ever further). Here’s a look at three of them:
Salty Air practically screams “my first-ever graphic novel” from panel one, page one. Not that its execution is sloppy or awkward — his pen line radiates confidence and his pacing is assured — but more that the premise itself as well as the characterization is fundamentally wrongheaded.
The plot: Hugh is a fisherman who loves the sea until his mom accidentally drowns (off panel) and then he hates it. So much that he decides to kill every fish and aquatic animal he can find, just because. His wife, Maryanne, meanwhile, is pregnant and tries to talk some sense into him to little avail.
There’s also this giant squid that serves as some sort of awkward metaphor for the primal forces of nature. Or an ambivalent God. Or both. No points given if you figured out that Hugh and the squid tussle it out before the book’s end.
Nothing about Hugh’s reaction to his mother’s death or his subsequent grief resembles actual, honest emotion in any way. Both he and Maryanne feel more like servants to Sievert’s plot than actual people. As a result, the happy ending that gaces the final page feels rushed and undeserved, Hugh’s unexpected sacrifice aside.
In the end, That Salty Air is so weighed down with meaning, so desperate to make you care, so eager to matter, that it becomes heavy-handed to the point of irritation. Sievert doesn’t just overplay his hand. He waves the cards in front of your face and screams “See? See?”
While it doesn’t necessarily save the book, what does give one hope is the fact that, plot aside, Sievert comes off as someone with considerable talent. I particularly enjoyed, for example, his early scenes of ocean life, the way he uses full-page spreads and long, horizontal panels to suggest the teaming multitudes of life that exist below the waves and their near-constant movement. In fact, I think I’d rather read a book that featured nothing but lots of fish and squid swimming than something like That Salty Air. Hopefully by the time he starts his next book, Sievert will too.
This is a new mini-comic from one of the current students at the Center for Cartoon Studies. The main story concerns a despondent young man who is kidnapped by robed, seemingly malevolent, smart-aleck person and his water buffalo helpers. It all spirals out from there, as the man’s friend tries to rescue him and fails, the friend’s son and stoner companion attempt to get high with seemingly disastrous consequences and the kidnapped man enters some hallucinatory world where a naked boy is in search of his papa.
It all sounds cringingly awful to be sure, but Forsman makes it work for the most part. While mining a strongly surreal vein and juggling a sizable cast of characters (think Robert Altman meets Luis Bunuel), Forsman is able to evoke a palpable sense of dread there’s a strong sense of inevitable disaster that runs through the book, both in the main story and in the short, accompanying back-up — a theme of evil, or at least indifferent, forces out to rob you of everything you hold dear at the drop of a hat. And yet for all that the comic never feels ponderous or lacking in humor.
Which is not to say that it’s perfect. Like a lot of up and coming cartoonists, Forsman tends to wear his influences (the Fort Thunder crew, Kevin Huizenga, Sammy Harkham, Jordan Crane) on his sleeve. His draftsmanship also needs work. The characters appeared to be off model more than once and a few character poses seemed awkward if not outright physically impossible. More than one panel should have been redrawn from scratch.
Still, there’s a lot to like here and I find myself anticipating the second issue, wondering if Forsman is going to be able to follow through on the mysteries he’s set up here.
All We Ever Do Is Talk About Wood
by Tom Horacek
Drawn and Quarterly
42 pages, $9.95
You don’t see the sort of one-panel, gag cartoon cartoon books like this very often anymore, if at all, so I’m grateful to D&Q for taking a chance and putting this out. I’m especially grateful considering that the majority of the gags are really, really funny.
Horacek’s rigid, impossibly large-headed characters (comparisons to Fisher-Price and Playmobil have been numerous and perhaps unavoidable) are amusing enough in and of themselves to aid in the overall puckishness of the book’s enterprise. And Horacek shows enough variety in both his setup and delivery to give you confidence that he’s got more goodies up his sleeve. I’d to see him do this as a weekly Webcomic.
The content, meanwhile, easily strides the gap between the New Yorker and Ivan Brunetti — a little edgier than the former not quite as dark as the latter. It’s a nice package overall and one I heartily recommend, especially for those who miss the days when you could pick up a George Booth book at your downtown store and not Alibris.