Out of Picture Vol. 1: Art from the Outside Looking In
Villard, 160 pages, $19.95
This book has actually been available in hardcover format for awhile; a self-published effort from a group of animators who worked together at Blue Sky Studios (responsible for the Ice Age movies among other things). I picked up a copy at MoCCA last year.
Now, however, it’s out in softcover from Villard (a subdivision of Random House), the same folks who have brought the Flight anthologies, among other things, to the great unwashed masses.
Out of Picture actually shares a lot of similarities with the Flight books, not the least of which being an decided emphasis on craft and technical skill over cohesive, involved storytelling. Most of the contributors here seem more interested in wowing you with their artistic prowess (and, to be fair, much of the work is impressive on that scale) than in telling a story containing any real depth of meaning. Most of the stories contained herein go for trite morals, sentimental cuteness or obvious jokes (I think I’ve seen enough fairy-tale/detecive noir mash-ups to last me the rest of my life, thank you very much).
There are some gems. Benoit le Pennec relates a lovely, surreal dream of an elderly man that flows easily from panel to panel despite the constantly shifting landscape. Peter de Seve adapts an old sea shanty with good humor and a nice sense of exaggeration and caricature. And David Gordon gives a story of terrorism a disturbing pop art sensibility by making all of the malefactors colorful fuzzy animals (the final, full-page panel, featuring a grinning pink teddy bear, is particularly unsettling).
But those segments are exceptions. Despite the pretty packaging, there’s nothing underneath the book’s shiny veneer to support it. In the case of a few contributions, there seemed to be a real lack of understanding in how exactly to convey information sequentially. I’m still not sure exactly what happened in Daniel Lopez Munoz’s tale of a soldier in a Banana Republic, for example, or Daisuke Tsutsumi’s story of a young woman facing her demons.
Still, for some the contributors’ considerable ability with pen, paint and paper will be enough to wow them. I found myself wanting more. A second, lengthier volume will be out in June. I hope that release shows them aiming a little higher.
Hotwire Comics #2
Edited by Glenn Head
Fantagraphics, 136 pages, $22.99
When the first volume of Hotwire came out last year, it was a decisive firing across the bow of the indie comix scene. Edited by Glenn Head, Hotwire set itself up to be everything that today’s “graphic novel scene” was not. It’s a deliberate throwback to the heady days of the 1980 and early 90s, when anthologies like Snake Eyes (also edited by Head) and Zero Zero ruled the landscape. You can keep your sissy-ass Mome and your artsy-fartsy Kramer’s Ergot fancy boy, Hotwire was here to RAWK!
I mean, just look at the cover to the second issue:
That’s totally in your fucking face dude.
Overall, this is a pretty decent anthology, though it doesn’t seem quite as strong as its predecessor. The first volume had a concentrated vision to shock and disturb, this one feels a bit all over the place, with folks like Mark Newgarden, Carol Swain, Craig Yoe and David Lasky, rubbing shoulders.
But if the book feels a bit haphazard at times and missing a cohesive theme, perhaps it’s only because Head had a lot of quality material to choose from. Highlights include R. Sikoryak’s Little Nemo/Dorian Gray mash-up, Mary Fleener’s autobiographical tale of a bad drug trip, Johnny Ryan’s Sin City parody and Onsmith’s tale of a passive-aggressive gay roommate.
There are a few low spots though. Head’s piece on Wilhelm Reich felt a little too forced and Lasky’s odd bio of Clash singer Mick Jones seemed lacking in structure.
Mention should, I suppose be made of Tim Lane, who provided that totally bitchin’ cover and has not just one but three stories inside. Lane has a book collection coming out later this year from Fantagraphics, entitled Abandoned Cars, featuring, I have no doubt, some of the material that graces Hotwire.
Lane’s stock in trade seems to be noir of the grim and gritty kind — his stories focus on hard-luck losers and malcontents unwilling or unable to better themselves. While his art is reasonably assured — if a little too reminiscent of Charles Burns — the writing edges dangerously close to parody. It’s hard to know how seriously Lane wants us to take his work, and that can be a real problem in trying to assess its success.
Still, there’s enough good material to be found in this second volume for me to recommend it, particularly if you have fond memories of the underground/early-indie scene that Hotwire so desperately wants to evoke.