December 14, 2013

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Stethoscope Microphone

Written and Illustrated by Whit Taylor
Self-Published

[Note: Yeah, yeah, I know, Whit is a part of the Panel Patter team now. Doesn't mean I'm not going to review and comment on her comics work. -Rob]

They had it all, and lost big. That's the sad story of Stethoscope Microphone, a duo that began as a Temptations sound-alike and rose to power via drugs, funk, and ego. It's a tale of hubris, penance, redemption--and exotic aquatic animals, put together VH-1 style by creator Whit Taylor.

After seeing most of Whit's work in the realm of either straight-up autobiographical work or comics with non-fiction themes, it was fun to get a chance to watch her create a comic that would be right at home in the Retrofit stable. Showing off her ability to play with form, crack jokes, and riff off the history of entirely too many musical acts, Whit puts together a comic that's a lot of fun to read to see which singer histories she's homaging.

Starting off with her main character thinking about where it all went wrong, Whit quickly moves us into the 1960s, when two young men try to get their act together, but end up doing so only after getting into acid, which is hysterically represented by a smiley face, the word "acid" in dripping green, and American Flag-colored swirls, which will tie into a later part of the story. Funnier still is one of her characters nose-down to a table, snorting coke, and this section is topped off by the pair being super-excited at reaching #499 on the charts.

As things get bigger and better for the group, our narrator gets involved with a Yoko Ono analogue named "Betsy Ross" (he later discovered that wasn't her real name, you see), who takes him further away from the music, doing historical re-enactments. The clincher to this part of the story is too good to spoil here and had me actually laughing out loud.

Soothing his woes in more killer creatures, the narrator falls further and further as Rolling Stone condemns the band and even cruise ship women won't sleep with him. The band separates, leaving him floundering. Only his friends save him from the fate of his band mate, who is taken into a Guru's cult in a nice twist and commentary on something that happens so often in celebrity life.

By the end of the story, there's redemption, remembrance, and a photo that Whit probably wishes had never been taken, but shares it with us anyway. Things are looking up for our protagonist, if he can only remember not to let past mistakes become new ones.

The tone of this comic is extremely light, which means the happy ending (sort of) fits well. Taylor knows just which buttons to press to make this one feel real, even though it's a complete fabrication. Her artwork matches the feel extremely well, with visuals that are intentionally funny. She doesn't try to make her subjects look good, showing them in awkward, comic moments (like snorting up) or trying (and failing) to woo a lady. The panels are small and tight, with only just enough backgrounds to make the scene work. We get a lot of eye contact between the characters, and their body language tells a lot in this parody of a morality play.

Whit's use of color for this comic is interesting, and I think it worked well. Despite the small size of the panels, she opted to use bright, garish colors that jump out at the reader, sometimes complementing one another, sometimes clashing. This would not work in a normal story, but because we're dealing with acid trips and rock stars, it fits and complements what she's trying to do. When things are fading for the narrator, the colors fade, too, which is a nice touch. Color in a mini-comic is a tricky thing to pull off, but I liked it in this case. The changing shades and contrasting scenes make it fee like we're covering more ground than we actually do (since this is just a a short mini, after all.)

Given this is a bit different from Whit's usual style, it's probably not the comic to start with from her. However, if you are a fan of her other work, definitely pick this one up and see the lighter side of Whit Taylor. I'm hopeful she'll do more comics like this one soon. She's got a great sense of comic timing, and it would be a shame not to let that into the mini-comics world, where it is sorely lacking.