August 20, 2012

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SPX Spotlight 2012: Noah Van Sciver and Blammo 7

Welcome to another entry in my SPX Spotlight 2012!  You can find all of my SPX Spotlight posts, including those from past years, by clicking here.

Noah Van Sciver is a relatively new creator to me (I'm actually more familiar with his superhero-drawing brother) but his storytelling technique, short-story mindset, and willingness to be brutally honest when working autobiographically quickly caught my eye.  Able to make some really awful people interesting, Noah's work should be appealing to fans of Jeffrey Brown and Box Brown, and probably other cartoonists not named Brown.

Van Sciver's latest project, which he tells me will debut at SPX, is The Hypo, published by Fantagraphics.  Noah's first graphic novel, the subject is none other than a young Abraham Lincoln, focusing on one of the uncertain times in his life.  A comic that's also about an icon of American History drawn by a man able to craft dark and moody work that's compelling reading?  I'm all over that, and can't wait to get my copy in just under a month.  You can find more info on The Hypo at Fantagraphics, where you can also pre-order the book, if you can't make SPX.

Moving on to a book I have first-hand experience with, Blammo 7 opens with some patented self-depreciating humor, in which Van Sciver pokes fun at the media's need to sensationalize comics news by terrifying them with an indie comic book.  It sets the tone for the rest of the issue, which balances on the razor edge of comedy and tragedy, even when examining the origin of Van Sciver's birth religion, Mormonism.

The first main story features a man whose first name is Jesus, a loser who gets tempted when a hot girl loses her wallet filled with cash on the bus.  His internal angst is both funny and poignant, leading to a punchline that I didn't see coming, yet was extremely appropriate.   Noah keeps the story going just long enough and makes a good use of tight paneling to drive the plot, letting his slightly shaky style really drive the emotion on Jesus's face.

"Because I Have To" is the longest feature in Blammo 7, complete with a visual intro and outro, giving some extra meaning and importance to the story.  A man who's suffering the loss of a brother is in danger of sinking even lower when a lost little girl insists he help her trick or treat.  They grow slowly closer, as the man  does his best to be a better brother to her than the one who left her behind.  In the end, she, too, is almost lost, and in a great transition, it's changes everything for the man.  There are sweet, dark, and comedic moments back to back to back in this story, showing Van Sciver's wide range as a storyteller.  "Because I Have To" reminds me quite a bit of the postmodern fiction I used to read a lot of before I moved to comics and non-fiction as my two main reading options.  The visuals fit the story well, being more open and empty to start, just like the man's life, only to get more full as his attachment to the girl grows.  I think this is my favorite of the Van Sciver stories I've read.

Two shorts that are quick, punchy, and bloody remind us of Van Sciver's alt-comix inspirations (a chicken goes to hell in one of them, wishing he'd read more from a Chick Tract) before we move into where we learn the origins of the Mormon religion.  Van Sciver is a former member of the church, explaining in a text piece later that his mother left the faith and left Van Sciver to deal with the idea that all he thought was true was actually a lie.

Having your values questioned leads to doubt and skepticism in all things, something I can relate to, and something you definitely see reflected in Noah's work.  Anyone who's seen the South Park episode or read anything about Mormons will be familiar with the story, which Van Sciver plays respectfully straight, letting the improbability of the actions of Smith speak for themselves.  (Then again, not to get off on a tangent--how do we determine that Smith is improbable, but a man who starts a reform movement in ancient Israel is the Son of God?)  The artwork here is the most straightforward, which makes sense if you're doing a historical piece.

The issue closes on another short horror note, one that would have fit perfectly in Creepy Magazine,an archive of which I just happen to be reading lately.  Never trust a person who doesn't trust the postal service!  Creepy and suspenseful, it ends things on a chilling note and makes me look forward to more stories in a future Blammo collection.

Noah Van Sciver is one of the best I've read at doing a one-man anthology comic.  If that's your thing at all, or if you like alternative comix that have a story to go along with their edgy material, he's a person you should  visit at SPX.