July 13, 2015

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Rob Kirby on 3 Pacific NW Minis by Kelly Froh, Robyn Jordan, and Tom Van Deusen

Seattle has always been a great place for alternative and small press comics (perhaps reaching its zenith during the nineties), but it seems to me that it has been particularly reinvigorated lately by a whole new generation of artists. A few testaments to that statement showed up in my mailbox in recent weeks. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?



Minicomics veteran Froh has been on a creative roll, as the one of the founders of the successful indie comics show Short Run and as a self-publisher and cartoonist (of course). She has produced a rich array of minis covering a number of different subjects, among them a famous gorilla named Samson, a childhood road trip memory rendered entirely in colored pencils, an examination of her various ailments and illnesses, and an inquiry into dark family secrets. According to the copyright page of her latest, Froh performed Ideal Pants at Pecha Kucha in Seattle earlier this year, which makes a lot of sense – it seems tailor-made (no pun intended) for live performance. Froh starts out describing a magical pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans she once had that fit her like a dream. When they finally disintegrated she found them utterly irreplaceable. This prompted her to email a question and a request to friends: "In what ways do your pants fail you?" and "Describe your ideal pants."

The results are illustrated here, along with some right-on commentary about various brand names for jeans ("The Boyfriend," "The Flirt," "The Diva" – all rightly deemed by Froh as "repulsive"), and certain practical features that manufacturers of clothing for women often don't take into consideration, such supplying actual pockets ("Where in the heck are we supposed to put our Kleenex, gum, cell phone, keys?"), and issuing over-designed, distressed, and bejeweled jeans ("What kind of lifestyle do you think I am trying to represent here?"). Among the many clever ideas for improved pant designs are "The Equestrian," which would feature reinforced leather thigh guards to prevent inner thigh wear-out, and "The Hills are Alive," which would "fit your rolls."  Speaking as a guy, reading Ideal Pants was educational: I honestly didn't know just how much of a challenge finding a decent pair of pants can be for women (though we all know the trauma of swimsuits). As always, Kelly Froh keeps it real and makes a great plea to women's clothing manufacturers to do the same in this delightful rant-cum-manifesto.



This lovely little full-color zine features a pair of autobiographical stories from 2014: "Ten Lives," originally published online at Narratively, and "Just the Two of Us," originally published in Mutha magazine. Both center on themes of loss and acceptance. In the first, Jordan describes the long illness and death of her cat, Stan, concurrent with the terminal illness of her father-in-law, Vidal. The surreality of experiencing death in the midst of daily life is movingly described: “the strange mixture of the uncanny and ordinary…eyes seeing you and then not seeing you.” It’s a moving piece. The second story depicts an experience Jordan had after she experienced a miscarriage. In an effort to heal her sense of grief and betrayal, Jordan had a cranial-sacral massage, an intense experience that ultimately helps her to move on. Jordan renders her body/soul disconnect by drawing them as separate selves, the body half being red, the soul half as blue - an example of how to use color cartooning to put across concepts simply but efficiently. The final panel is quietly effective. Jordan’s straightforward yet evocative style is very appealing and her narrative voice is heartfelt but never twee or earnest. I’m really look forward to reading more of her work (her comics about teaching are good, too).



In a completely different vein, we have this burlesque of the dating scene, body image, misogyny, and over-indulgence from Van Deusen, an up-and-comer whose work has been seen in the free Seattle comics newspaper Intruder, among other places (he is also the proprietor of Poochie Press, which released this book). Van Deusen's work is funny, sweaty, rude, and often uncomfortable, which puts him squarely in the camp of such contemporary creators as Max Clotfelter (with whom he collaborates on Intruder) and Tim Root. Eat Eat Eat focuses on Van Deusen's cartoon alter-ego, Tom, a delusional young man of enormous physical proportions who self-sabotages at every opportunity.

Though Tom is a pretty obnoxious character, there’s pathos to him— as there often is when people have little-to-no self awareness. When he goes on a date with Emily, a cute girl he meets through Facebook, his inability to resist the slightest culinary temptation they come upon proves disastrous, as are his ridiculous (and hilarious) attempts at being “smooth.” In the aftermath, he tries to improve his physique, with dire results. Van Deusen drew Eat Eat Eat between 2011 and 2015 and the growth in his drawing skills is evident (“I was learning,” he notes); his scratchier style becoming more confidant and fluid mid-story (a recent poster he drew for a local block party reveals his considerable compositional skills as well). Eat Eat Eat has a go-for-broke, elbow-in-the-ribs style of humor that always makes me laugh, with a denouement that is completely appropriate: Tom manages to graduate from the School of Hard Knocks having learned nothing whatsoever. It will be fun to see what insanity Van Deusen draws up next.