November 30, 2014

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Screw Job Anthology #1

Written and Illustrated by:
Blood Test by Box Brown
Shattered Dreams by Pat Aulisio
The Return of Wild Wanda by Lale Westvind
All Pig, The Book, and Adonis by Josh Bayer
Death to Hulkmania by Blake Sims
Folding Chair by Brian Ralph
Medico Asesino by Paul Lyons
Dear Deidre, Fantasy Role Model by Mickey Zacchilli
The Brief History of Limbslicing in American Professional Wrestling, Part 1 by Walker Mettling
Edited by Paul Lyons
Published by Hidden Fortress Press

Screw Job jumps into the anthology ring with several heavy-hitters, unrestrained creativity, and a nice variety of wrestling-themed stories in this 64 page mini-comic.

Wrestling and comics goes together like, well, just about anything and comics, really. I'm afraid that the interest in wrestling doesn't extend to me (I gave up on it sometime in the 80s), but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the enthusiasm that others have for the sport or an anthology themed around it. In fact, I had a lot of fun reading this one, as it features a lot of really imaginative works where the inner censor was not only turned off, but removed, smashed, set on fire, and then shot into space.

These are short stories that definitely fall into the raw, primal end of the genre. They'd fit right in with your copy of Suspect Device, and it's no surprise to find Josh Bayer here, along with frequent anthology mates Box Brown and Pat Aulisio. These creators understand that while anyone can make a raw comic, it takes talent and time to make something that takes that artistic freedom and craft a work that people want to talk about long after reading.

In the case of this anthology, it's clear that all of the creators involved are having fun working on a theme they'd happily talk to you all night about at a bar, if you were so inclined. While these stories are mostly fanciful (with the closing number by Walker Mettling going over the top, coming back, then finding his way over the top again), they are definitely based in a love of wrestling, then looking what the most outrageous ideas they can come up with are. (NOTE: In some cases, these stories may be based on actual wrestlers/events, and I'm not hip enough with the history to know. Any errors in noting fact from fiction are mine.)

Leading things off is Box Brown's story, which may be the most restrained of everything you see. Based on an actual situation (wrestler Abdullah the Butcher and an accusation of giving another player Hep-C), it's framed as an interview. Box's distinctive use of shapes and color works well here, highlighting the blood and matching it to Abdullah's shirt. It's a bit of an odd choice to lead things off, given how insane things go from there, but any chance to read more Box Brown comics is a good thing. Turns out that Abdullah really did do it, by the way.

A panel from Lale Wesvind's "Wild Wanda"story
From there, we move on to Pat Aulisio, with the color palate changing from the red-orange blood of Brown to a canary yellow, following a wrestler trying to face up to the fact that they didn't win a belt. This is Pat using his more abstract style, emphasizing patterns over figure work. [Edited to add: It's also about a real wrestler, Goldust, according to Pat.]

At this point, things go insane for the first time, with Lale Westvind's "Return of Wild Wanda," which features a female wrestler crashing on the scene via a motorcycle, violently taking down a plethora of male wrestlers, and ending with a rather creative use of ripped-off faces. It's filled with cartoon-level violence, and Westvind just barely keeps everything in line, using a style that makes all the characters big and blocky. Wanda grins despite the pain, and once she really gets going, her opponents lose more body parts than a broken Mr. Potato Head. It's really silly, laugh out loud funny--and will certainly only appeal to a select group.

Josh Bayer follows with the first of his three short pieces. Two of them focus around Freddie Blassie, who brags about his greatness and talks shit on everyone else, including the audience. Anyone who's read Raw Power or Theth will see some thematic similarities here, which also continue into the third short, which has Mister Adonis in the spotlight. All three comics relate to challenging the world, coming from the mouths of characters who are anything but likable. You'd think that Bayer would be one of the most outlandish creators involved here, but he's actually quite restrained, or at least it feels so, when you just come off reading a story where a person's spine is used as a weapon to skewer people. There's a lot of tight panel work, allowing Josh to fit in everything he wants Blassie to say, and the media figure head is appropriately vapid. There's a real consistency from panel to panel, as you're easily able to tell that it's Blassie by sight (if you know him), yet it still feels free-form. Just really great work, showing Bayer continues to get better with each passing comic.

Anyone sensitive about blasphemy will want to skip "Death to Hulkmania" which makes the dangerous choice to parody the death of Christ using wrestling figures, as Hulk Hogan is betrayed and taken down, only to rise again, which is appropriate, given that after a period of time, his career got a revamp as a darker figure. Blake Sims plays the art very straightforward, and really echoes the things that happened to Jesus before he was crucified. His figures remind me a bit of Fred Hembeck, which adds to the joke, and the offset red background coloring makes it almost feel like it was 3-D art. It's unlike anything else in the anthology.

As I mentioned above, however, the show-stopper here is Walter Mettling's "The Brief History of Limbslicing in American Professional Wrestling, Part 1." Set in the not-too-distant future, it takes the current need for things to become more and more outrageous and turns it into a vicious satire. As we move along, scientific advancements in transplant surgery don't make for better people--it leads to ever-increasing freaks of nature, as shark-arms, bear-bodies, and other "enhancements" lead to where we're inevitably headed--legalized murder on television. Mettling's line work is very thin, and often two-dimensional. If you've ever seen Daniel Johnston's work, you're not far off the mark here. Mettling's style isn't going to put him on the cover of The Comics Journal, but he more than makes up for it with visual gags that are hysterically funny. There's always enough for the reader to quickly understand what's going on, and whether or not it's in proper perspective isn't given a second thought. Once we get into bringing back former Presidents, it just goes into the surreal, and again--I just love the humor here, but as with most of the anthology, it's going to be something you either really dig--or really hate.

Screw Job is a niche work. Everyone involved knows this. But if you like wrestling and you like your comics spelled "comix" and are willing to brave the waters of the raw cartoonists, this is a lot of fun. Come for the names you know, and stay for the ones you'll be looking for later. This gets a hearty--but very specific--recommendation.

You can find Screw Job at the Hidden Fortress website.