August 26, 2013

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SPX Spotlight 2013: Noah Van Sciver and Blammo 8

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Noah Van Sciver is without a doubt one of my favorite creators working in the indie comics field today. Erica and I are both big fans of his work, which we first discovered when we picked up a copy of Blammo 6 (Erica's review here), and it's continued to this day.

Van Sciver was also featured in last year's spotlight for Blammo 7 (review here) and he was the only creator to make my favorites list in 2012 for both a mini-comic (1999) and a graphic novel (the excellent Hypo, which I still need to review), showing his craft in both the short and longer forms of comic-making.

Noah's work runs the gamut, ranging from fictional stories of people who've made mistakes to incredibly well-researched historical pieces to personal tales that show Van Sciver is a very complex individual, a trait that shows up in his comics. For those who don't know, Van Sciver is an ex-Mormon, and that effectively means being cut off from most of his family, because it's a religion whose ties run deep. (An ex-Catholic myself, I can completely relate to how your religious upbringing never leaves you, even after you leave it.)

His latest work is Blammo 8, which Noah was kind enough to send me in advance of SPX. It is just as good as its predecessors, and if anything, is showing that Van Sciver is only getting better as he goes along. After opening with a skewering of EC Comics letter pages and a few jabs at his own abilities (one letter states Dark Horse wouldn't publish him and another suggests he practice more), we move into another collection of shorts that once again offers a little bit of everything.

The highlight here for me was the unexpected adaptation of a Grimm Fairy Tale. I wouldn't have expected him to do one, but The Fox and the Wolf works well under his guidance. He decorates every panel border, works hard to make the backgrounds the characters inhabit suitably timeless and each panel selection highlights the action described in the caption, such as when dishes are broken or the wolf is threatening the fox. I wouldn't mind seeing more of this, maybe as a collaborative anthology with others who might not normally be associated with a project of that kind.

We also get the usual relationship stories, ranging from the touching (Expectations, in which a man worries about becoming re-associated with mutual friends of an ex-girlfriend) to the disturbing (She's Losing It, a deadly tale of the difficulty of dating when you're socially awkward). We also get a return of the hell-bound chickens, which was fun and unexpected, and the wry skewering of Punks versus Lizards. Van Sciver also includes a few short, one to two page stories that range from serious to silly, mirroring their larger counterparts.

Showing that he is once again a master of the one-man anthology, the art styles on these comics range just as much as their content. Expectations finds Van Sciver playing with his use of shadow, taking the character in and out of the light, as he withdraws and exposes himself to potential pain and drifts in and out of certainty. It's a great use of style to reinforce the overall theme.

On the other hand, Charles the Chicken Gets Tough, is drawn loosely, alt-comix style, with seemingly little regard for how it's constructed--but that's deceptive. There's just as much care put in to making the comic feel raw as there is in making it seem intricate. I love the comic pacing on this one, and though it could not be more different from his Grimm adaptation, the panel selection serves the same purpose--the visuals drive the story by matching the dialogue of the characters.

Punks versus Lizards is somewhere in between the finer work and that of the alt-comix style. There's a lot of care taken to make the world intricate and the monsters have great proportion. But you also see the lizards having sex and the tone is definitely a shout-out to DIY comic-making that clearly appeals to Van Sciver, even if he is increasingly moving away from the raw presentation of his talent. (In this way, he reminds me quite a bit of Box Brown, even if their artwork is vastly different.)

Blammo really deserves a collection (Top Shelf? Fantagraphics? Kickstarter?), but until that time, do yourself a favor and pick up the individual issues. They're well worth the $5 and Van Sciver really puts on a one man show that fans of mini-comics shouldn't miss.

Got a case of the Hypo so you can't make SPX? You can find the last 3 issues of Blammo at the Kilgore shop.