August 10, 2015

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Maximum Rocknroll #383 - Comics & Arts Issue


There are over 50 different artists featured in Maximum Rock N' Roll's comics and art issue and nearly all contributed a one pager or less. Some of them are dumb gags, some are violet surreal short comics, most are one page illustrations that look like notebook doodles or flyers not advertising any particular show.

Art by Alex Heir
Alexander Heir turns in one of the strongest pieces - not particularly different from things he's drawn before. He returns to the same well repeatedly with his art: police brutality, Russian-tattoo influenced stippling, skulls, exposed lizard skin, etc. There isn't anything subtle or particularly nuanced about his artwork, but art that is rooted in a punk tradition and then pulls in an occasional fine art influence is cool. Specifically I’m thinking of how the vertical lettering on this piece recalls Peter Saul which makes sense as political comparison as well. Usually art goes the other way - dipping into punk rock or comics when it’s convenient. When it starts in the world of comics or punk and successfully references fine art without betraying a sense of inferiority, I can’t help but get excited.

Art by Heather Benjamin
Heather Benjamin also shines in here. She tends to get lumped in with comics makers - primarily because she makes zines that get sold at comics conventions. But regardless of how she is categorized I can't think of any other art in any medium that comes close to evoking the level of physical reaction that her Sad Sex zines did for me a few years back. Her illustration of a woman here is similar to others she has done recently, but has miniature skulls cut and pasted throughout her hair like an infestation of bugs and a desiccated face emerging from the black tangle of her hair. Her nose is bleeding and the rose she is holding is covered in thin trickles of blood as well - although the source of that blood is not clear. As a traditional symbol of femininity, love, and faithfulness, an oversized rose covered in droplets of blood reads thematically as a miniaturized version of the image taken as whole. And it's a neat trick like staring into a spiral or a repeating fractal.

Many of Benjamin's women have hair that seems to take on a life of it's own in undulating braids or unruly rats’ nests and this is no different. The skulls and the spooky face within the spider's web tangle of black hair draw your eyes away from the woman's face and body as if she were a medusa and her hair were waiting to ensnare you. Across the top of the page there is a banner with repeating skulls wearing police caps and the phrase, "There is a policeman in each of our heads. He must be destroyed." The police skulls across the top echo the skulls in her hair – and complicate a reductive reading of the woman as a medusa. It’s less confusing if you think of this existing in a larger continuum of illustrations by Benjamin where women with similar features and surrounded by similar imagery change in ways that cause you not only to think about your reaction, but to think about the differences in your reaction from one image to the next.

The biggest problem with the issue overall is that unless the artist signed their name or you are already familiar with their art, there is no practical way to determine who did what in here. The table of contents is a giant unwieldy list of artists without any page numbers to help you out. MRR would have you believe that tables of contents and page numbers are as antithetical to punk rock as bar codes, but this is particularly non-user friendly. It doesn’t interfere with the reading experience though, it just makes it harder to write about.  And if you are interested in the artists featured there you can go to MRR's website which has bios and interviews with most of the artists.

This issue came out in April and the April Fools' gag was that MRR would be turning away from bands and focusing on comics and art because "cartoonists and artists, like writers, are the true outsiders of today's punk scene, working alone in their room for days on end, with little to no fanfare. They don't need an audience to validate their existence, hence they are the deal deal, the real underground, hard-working, underestimated heroes and heroines of punk." This is written tongue-in-cheek, but I wish it weren't.