February 15, 2014

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On Your Marks Short Run Anthology 1

Written and Illustrated by Aaron Mew, Aidan Fitzgerald, Andrice Arp, Asher Craw, Ben Horak, Bobby Madness, Chris Cilla, Darin Shuler, David Lasky, Elaine Lin,  Eroyn Franklin, Ian Sundahl, Jack Hayden, James Stanton, Jason Fischer, Jason T. Miles, Jennifer Parks, Julia Gfrorer, Kaz Strzepek,  Kelly Froh, Kinoko, M. “Moseley” Smith & Reuben “W.” Storey, Marc Palm, Max Clotfelter,  Michael Litven, Pat Moriarity & Rick Altergott,  Patrick Keck, Robyn Jordan, Sean Christensen, Tim Goodyear, Tim Miller, Tim Root, and Tom Van Deusen
Published by Short Run

A supersonic cast of creators from the Pacific Northwest come together in this anthology curated by Max Clotfelter to highlight the talent on display at the first Short Run show, which was held in late 2013.

Short Run aims to be a small press show in the vein of the Locust Comics show in Philadelphia and from what I understand from others, it was a smashing success in its debut year. (I hope to be there for the 2014 show, given I'll be in Portland by then.) In a move that reminds of the old SPX anthologies I've picked up over the years, the show put together a comic featuring artists who were in the area. It's not every creator, of course, but it gives folks thinking about going next year or who, like me, need an introduction to the indie creators in another part of the country, a real chance to see what they might like--or in some cases, dislike.

When putting this together, Clotfelter definitely leaned most heavily on the comix side of things, as the cover by Chris Cilla indicates, with its complete disregard for realism. These are artists who err on the side of Crumb, going for more of a raw experience rather than fine linework or things you might see in a more mainstream indie graphic novel. So if you don't like work that breaks the rules, this is probably not for you.

On the other hand, if you enjoy experimental work, there's a lot here to like, with a few creators who don't understand that shock value only goes so far, such as Tim Root's Gut Nadz, a splash page of unpleasantness. Overeall, I think Clotfelter did a great job with his selections. My only complaint, in fact, is that they tried to get artistic with the table of contents, so I had to struggle figuring out who was who. I get being cute, but don't do that with the credits in an anthology. Let me see who is who, because otherwise, how can I explore them at your show/on their own sites?

As I typically do for anthologies, I won't go over every entry here, just the ones that most caught my eye.

  • Ben Horak leads off the anthology with a story of showing his early drawings to the rest of the world and discovering it's got a hanging problem. As he fights against a growing tide of sick jokes, we get to the punchline, which is that sometimes a tail isn't just a tail. I really dug how Horak showed himself slowly boiling in rage, ending with nuclear expositions in his ears. This was a great one-pager to open with.
  • Pat Keck fills nearly every inch of their pages with some kind of background, creating a dark dungeon for Dr. Dirks, who inexplicably has a basement full of Gremlins, who stare out at the reader like zombie commercialism. They're quickly dispatched, leading Dr. Dirk a lesser man than when we found him.
  • I think I've seen Aaron Mew's work before, but I can't recall where. Here he produces a silly story that implies a clone grown instantly out of your arm is not as weird as expecting spiders in the woods. His art style reminds me of an alt weekly, and his expressions are pretty cool, even if the characters themselves tend to hold the same poses from panel to panel.
  • Study Group Mag 2 had a short from Julia Gfrorer, and her tight panel work returns here as well, this time showing what happens when you fool around with an Ouija Board, starting from a normal stage, going supernatural, and then a return to reality across 35 panels. She's quickly becoming a new favorite of mine.
  • I know, I'm a sucker for cat stuff. But Rick Altergott and Pat Moriarity put together a series of really funny cartoons, Sunday and Daily strip-style, about two cats and their litter box antics. My favorite is the theory that we human use cat shit as currency.
  • Jason Fischer makes good use of a two-page spread, telling the story of a girl who finds a magic ring from a crab and very nearly succumbs to its power. Instead, she rejects it for kindness, despite the abilities it gives her. There's a lot of neat little touches here, like the fact that the girl has horns, but it's decorative and not related to the story, as her clothing is otherwise normal. Even in this small space, Fischer mixes up the panels and views presented to the reader, and the backgrounds establish the beach setting while speed lines indicate motion. A really solid short from top to bottom.
  • Andrice Arp creates rolling panels that find two bird creatures discussing an insanity monster, bringing more logic to its madness than even the characters find necessary, aided by Arp's visual imaginings of the possibilities. This one was really strange, but a lot of fun.
  • Similarly strange was Flannelwolf & Frankencan from Marc Palm, in which, over the course of the moon's orbit, an eyeball descends in a parachute, the Woflman turns into a hipster, and Frankenstein proves he can't hold his liquor. The art is played really straight, making this odd sequence of events even weirder.
  • Kaz Strzepek's space story features another set of packed visuals, as the artist shows the world in which the character lives, moving across the spaceways and thinking poetic thoughts about her love. There's a lot of short lines in the detail work, giving it a very busy feel that adds to the impact of the character's ultimate loneliness.
  • Despite killing a cat, Darin Shuler made me snicker as a man gets revenge on his Inuit neighbors for saying he couldn't use magic. His crude spell, which is kinda like dog poo on the porch magnified by 100, is really funny, at least to me, and the visuals do just enough to sell the gag, even if there's very little differences from panel to panel.
  • Representing for the autobiographical genre, Eroyn Franklin relates the time she got ringworm and promptly panicked. What starts as a minor problem becomes a major obsession, culminating in accusing her jeans of tormenting her. The end gag is funny--and a very human thing to say. Not afraid to reveal herself personally or visually, Franklin's linework is pretty typical of that style of comic, with a focus on the characters and just enough backgrounds to set the stage.
  • Max Clotfelter's "Randy & Travis" is a good example of what the rawer end of comics can do. A bully is beating up on Travis, who is drawn looking terrible both before and after the fight. He goes to his brother Randy, who decides to help--the bully. The unpleasant looks of the characters themselves help to make the gag work in a clever quickie.
  • Closing out the proceedings is Michael Litven, with a hysterical history of comics that pokes fun at Scott McCloud's style while mashing up cartooning with Mormonism. My favorite part is the list of 13 types, including "sad white folk" along with more recognized genres of comics.
Like any anthology, taste will vary. But this one has a lot of talented creators in it and is highly recommended for those looking to expand their knowledge of creators who may be new to them, looking, as I always am, for more artists and writers to add to my staple of folks to be on the lookout for when I'm either online or attending a show. If this is a sampling of Short Run, then I better budget some extra money if I make it in 2014.