September 11, 2013

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SPX Spotlight 2013: Alternative Comics and Sam Henderson

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.

Alternative Comics was founded in 1993, publishing comics from a wide range of indie comics creators, with perhaps its biggest name being James Kochalka. However, Alternative has also worked with a huge number of greats, including work from Ed Brubaker(!), Gabrielle Bell, Dash Shaw, Rob Ullman, and Sara Varon, just to name a few.

Sadly the publisher took a break for a few years, but resumed in 2012 and is working on ramping up its publishing schedule, with Sam Henderson being a big part of that revamping.

Depending on your age (I was too old, but Erica immediately recognized it when I showed her the comics), Henderson might be best known for Scene But Not Heard, which appeared in Nickelodeon Magazine and is collected in an edition that should be available at SPX, if I understand correctly.

In the tradition of the work of Mad Magazine, but tamed a bit to a younger audience, Scene But Not Heard takes a page from Sergio Aragones and also Spy vs Spy, using two main characters who never talk but get into a series of ridiculous adventures together. For example, they might play with the idea of a hole leading off to another panel of the comic or casually remove a nose along with exploded bubble gum.

Given this is a gag strip, Henderson's ability to keep it interesting and varied--especially when you see them collected like this--is pretty impressive. One story might feature a broken shrink ray and the next page is about their fear of a word balloon. Certain themes reoccur, such as the ability to manipulate panels and removing body parts, but they're done in so many different ways as to keep it fresh.

Though drawn quite simply with only a few lines, Henderson's comic timing and willingness to throw all the rules of reality out the window make this an enjoyable romp. Watching the two try to keep one-upping each other will remind readers positively of other, similar rivalries (Bugs Bunny vs anyone, for example) and despite being decidedly all-ages, the gags work even when you're an adult with no prior attachment to the material.

Henderson even includes a few behind the scenes looks, such as how a comic progresses from start to finish, which I found particularly interesting.  This is a great collection, and one that fans of Mad should check out for themselves or the young comic fan in their life


Magic Whistle, also by Henderson, should not be allowed anywhere near your child until they mature a bit, however. I almost got whiplash going from one to the other, as the same comic timing and style is used to create sex jokes and other gags that look like what might happen if someone decided they wanted to piss off every subscriber to Reader's Digest, The New Yorker, and other similar magazines that run one-panel comic illustrations.

There's a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor as well, such as a page that advertises itself as "more cartoons for your cartoon looking-at pleasure" and longer gags that extend over a few pages. They share the simple illustrative style of Scene, but are most assuredly adult.

I'm not as big on scatological humor as some, but this is very well done, and when it's just absurd--like the guy who purposely gets himself stuck calling for help from exploding dog--I found myself in stitches.

Aided by Lizz Hickey with a few guest pages, Magic Whistle won't be for everyone, but if you enjoy a dirty joke and outrageous, dumb jokes, it's worth grabbing and comes recommended from someone who's not normally into that sort of thing.

Sam Henderson will be at SPX with Alternative Comics, and he'll also be appearing at Atomic Books for their SPXplosion the Friday before the show. He'll also be appearing on two panels. Alternative also will have Karl Stevens on hand. Stevens just had a new book, Failure, debut with Alternative this year. Elaine Will, one of the last to get a Xeric Grant, will also be SPX and spend some time at Alternative's table. They helped release her work, and she may have copies at SPX.

From what I understand, Alternative should also have some of its back catalog at the show as well, but I'm not sure which books. It's great to welcome this indie comics publisher back, and I recommend seeing what they have to offer when you go to SPX.

You have Alternative plans for SPX?  Why, man why? Okay, then just go to the Alternative Comics website, where you can find out more about them and also purchase their books.