November 5, 2013

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Suspect Device 3

Written and Illustrated by Various Creators, including Pat Aulisio, Josh Bayer, Box Brown, Andy Burkholder James Kochalka, Johnny Ryan, and Noah Van Sciver 
Edited by Josh Bayer

[Note: This comic is full of adult themes, so if that bugs you, skip this one. The review talks about them accordingly. You've been warned.-ED]

Using snippets of classic comic strips, a whole host of alternative comics creators come up with new and unusual stories in one to two-page spreads in this project that's brilliant in concept and execution--if you're a fan of the extreme end of the mini-comics world.

I absolutely love the concept of this anthology. Taking randomly cut up comic strips, mostly from Popeye and Annie, Josh Bayer asks his friends to create a new story between the panels he provides to them. Often repeating the basic strips, it's fun to see how different creators approach the material. It's like the comics equivalent of sampling while also making new comics and ideas that certainly weren't on the minds of the original strip-runners, except perhaps in the secret dark recesses of their imaginations.

The place where I get hung up is that a some of the creators try to see just how "raw" they can be, especially in relation to sex jokes. I like a good dick joke myself, don't get me wrong (my favorite Daily Show quote remains the Clinton-era "If she didn't spit, you must acquit" one-liner), but the problem here is that frankly, some of it's just not funny, and when dealing with Annie--cartoon or not--I'm not comfortable with some of the things that get portrayed here. There's only so many times where seeing Popeye's little sailor works as a storytelling device.

Now I realize that I'm not the target audience for those creators, but even with that in mind, I just felt like things were a bit overdone in an attempt to be as over-the-top as possible. If you love the folks who try to out-Crumb Robert Crumb, you'll be in hog heaven with those panels. However, if you're less tolerant of the extreme comics, they're definitely not going to be for you and might cause this to be a comic you'd prefer to give a pass.

It's a shame if you do, because there's a lot of great work in here. For example, Derf's Annie-as-radical-socialist was hysterical and brilliant. Drawn by partially making it look like his usual work and partly by aping the Annie comics, it's pitch perfect and a highlight for me. Similarly, Noah Van Sciver finds a way to make the trick work without exposing a single body part by using juxtaposition of two very different comic themes.

Working with tight panels and close-ups, Caesar Meadows has room to tell a longer story, with Sandy trying to warn Annie of the dangers as Meadows fills her dialogue with euphemism after euphemism. They meet Popeye and go out to sea only to die horribly, allowing Popeye's classic form to note, "I didn't have no idear sea monskers were s'a arful." It's a great use of Bayer's offer, and one of my favorites.

The best example, however, comes from James Kochalka. For no reason at all, he has Popeye explode from the back of a trailer, announcing to the scared Annie that he's a giant, because "I sez I yam!"

Some of the comics with sexual themes are really good. James Stanton's praying Wimpy, whose cigar turns into Popeye's cock, finds a laugh out loud use for one of the Sailor Man's catch phrases. Better yet, it's all done in a style that looks like Segar and could easily fit in one of IDW's comics.

I'm not going to try to cover all of the comics in this collection, but a few others I thought were really clever included Bren Luke's "Philoso-popeye", which mixed scenes of Segar-like violence with quotes from Simone de Beauvior, Jimmy Giegerich's Popeye on Spinich Steroids (which uses a classic panel for an explosive and funny conclusion), and Sophie Goldstein's two-pager, in which Annie learns we are all made of Popeye, using Dali-like visual tricks that work well here.

In a few cases, the creators just decided to go for pin-ups. Johnny Ryan does his thing, of course, but others opted to be a bit more subtle. Nikki Burch basically does headshots with a text background, using an upside-down Popeye and blank eyes to keep the reader's own eyes off-balance. Todd James draws a naked Annie posing for a selfie, which amused me for no good reason, especially since he drew dollar bills floating around her body. The best of these, however, might be Evan Dent's, which looks very much like a modern art painting. He shows Daddy Warbucks inside the head of a giant Popeye--maybe the one featured in Kochalka!--with his pipe serving as a steam vent.

Suspect Device isn't going to be for everyone, and that's okay. It's not trying to be. For what it's worth, I'm not generally into comics that involve a lot of raw-style work, and I liked this quite a bit, though admittedly, my preferences were for those that were the most clever in my opinion and not reaching for the lowest sex joke handy. If you're looking for something experimental to grab, look no further than this comic, which you can get at Josh Bayer's website. I think you'll dig it. I know I did.

Thanks to Josh for sending this along. Sorry it took so long to get to the review!