September 16, 2015

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SPX Spotlight 2015: Rob Kirby and "What's Your Sign, Girl?"

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! We've been highlighting creators, publishers, and comics related to SPX since the site opened in 2008, but 2015 marks our fifth year of extensive coverage that is unlike what you'll find elsewhere! It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show onSeptember 19th and 20th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.



As much as I love Rob Kirby's work as a contributor to Panel Patter and TCJ, he's also one heck of a cartoonist in his own right. As if that's not enough, he's also one heck of an editor. There's last year's QU33R, which won an Ignatz, and also Pratfall, a fun mini-anthology in which Rob and his friends talk about embarrassing moments. Now 2015 sees Kirby get cosmic by editing What's Your Sign, Girl?, an anthology made up of 12 parts, one for each sign of the Zodiac.

Now before you roll your eyes and say, "Oh God, not astrology!" hang on a minute. While I completely sympathize with anyone who doesn't think that the stars in the sky and the planetary* alignments determine our fate (Spoiler: I don't, either.), there is a ton to like about this anthology as a series of short comics by some of the most talented mini-comics creators around. Kirby takes his own sign, of course, and he's surrounded by a plethora of Panel Patter favorites: Whit Taylor (Gemini), Cara Bean (Leo), Kevin Budnik (Taurus) and Dan Mazur (Sagittarius), just to name a few. And as Rob explains himself in the introduction, he did not limit himself to those who believe in astrology. Skeptics and star-charters alike were invited to participate.

With the variety of folks involved, it's no surprise that the comics vary wildly. For example, Whit uses Gemini's twin-sign to discuss the duality and conflicts that she (and many others) feel on a daily basis. Tyler Cohen's take on Cancer is all about rejecting one's astrological sign, only to find that alternative interpretations can lead to an entirely different feeling. Kirby's contribution is how he feels like his sign fits him like a glove, such when the dishwasher starts running at the end of the night. Mazur illustrates a reading he had, and his desire to make what he does match up with it. Ultimately, he decides that things aren't quite that literal.

And of course, there's Annie Murphy's Capricorn, my own sign, which opens with information about the sign (all of which I could apply to myself, but then again, I could also apply it to Erica). There's a nice group of others who share the sign, and the idea that sharing and "aging backwards" is a big part of the sign. There's also a great history of the water goat as a creature of mythology. Murphy ends with some words of advice to anyone who's a Capricorn, and I'd be lying if they don't register, but then again, who doesn't need to be told "loosen up and enjoy life?"

I bring this up not because I want to diss on or argue with anyone who believes strongly in their horoscope, but to show that even though I personally don't put much stock in them, there's still a desire to engage and think about what they have to say about our lives. And that's Rob Kirby's point in putting this thing together, now isn't it?

I can't speak for anyone who didn't grow up as I did, but I think that a lot of Americans have a love/hate, dismiss/embrace relationship with horoscopes and looking at one's future. There's a lot of power in trying to determine why we act the way we do or what the future might hold. It's human nature. There's a reason so many religions point to the heavens to light their way. An anthology like What's Your Sign, Girl? gives us a chance to really think and ponder our out relationship with astrology, even as we read and view the relationships of others to the source material.

I'm going long here, but I can't leave without talking about the art. Rob Kirby makes sure that he keeps not just the perspectives varied, but also the art styles. Aron Nels Steinke uses thin lines and stark white backgrounds, looking like John Porcellino. Annie Murphy draws with great big patches of black, making the white lines pop to the reader's eye. Delaine Derry Green reminds me of Mari Naomi in terms of creating a free-flowing page (and also uses black backgrounds with white lines). Kevin Budnik's is in greyscale. Kirby himself looks more like what you might fight in an old Alt Weekly (may they mostly rest in peace), with 4-panel grids packed to the gills.

It's a great change of pace from chapter to chapter, yet they are all of outstanding quality and show that each creator takes time to use their own unique style to the best of their ability. Additionally, no one is light years above or below their peers here. They all feel like contemporaries. That's a mistake we often see in anthologies, where one style is so different that it's jarring against the rest. Rob Kirby knows how to make things flow, so that the pages turn as smoothly as the moon and planets going across the sky.

What's Your Sign, Girl? is a great anthology, and should be on your must-buy list for SPX this year.

Can't make SPX? Here's the page where you can buy the book from 9th Art Press.

*No, not THAT Planetary.