Saturday, July 1, 2017

Strum and Drang by Joel Orff

Joel Orff did various mini-comics including two issues of Cole Slaw and contributed to some small press publications in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s such as Marvelous Martha's Comics and Stories.  He also created the comic strip Great Moments in Rock 'n' Roll and published two absolutely amazing stand alone graphic novel from Alternative Comics.  His short pieces have a real off-the-cuff style that perfectly illustrates the anecdotal stories he tells.  It's a very personal cartooning style, the panels are without sharp borders and the text is never strictly ruled and the characters never drawn repetitively.  For me, this is part of what make's Joel Orff's comics special.  They feel as though they were produced by a real individual which creates an intimate reading experience - as if you were being told these stories in a whisper from a dear friend and hanging on to every word.  Joel is also a master of atmosphere.  His stories often take place at night and his environments, while always set in the real world, take on a dreamy, labyrinth like appearance that begs the reader to further explore Joel's world.

Strum and Drang, #1 from 1993 is Joel's earliest comic that is still available.  I've seen some earlier comics by Joel that are wordless and take you through remembered landscapes - and he would continue those journeys in his later graphic novels, combining it with his ability to tell memorable narratives.  The first issue of Strum and Drang is a collection of short stories written by Joel and Mike Haeg (creator of Rump magazine - an early collection of Rump was published by John Porcellino via Spit and a Half in the late 1990s).  The story by Mike Haeg is probably the most memorable in this collection.  It's the true story of when Mike is working a humiliating job at a shopping mall and becomes infatuated when he sees a two-headed girl.  Other stories are more atmospheric, especially the one detailing a remembered trip to San Francisco.  There is some rich variety here though: the tale of a cab driver, a nursing home, and a criminal clown scare.

The second (not numbered) issue of Strum and Drang is a collection of Orff's excellent "Great Moments in Rock 'N" Roll comic strips and this was published ten years later by Alternative Comics in 2003.

If you like human, down to earth stories about real people and are fond of folksy art styles that don't seem to rely on any of the traditional highly stylized tropes, I highly recommend all of Joel's work.  There is something timeless about his books, because I'm at a loss when trying to compare him to other artists, and I keep on revisiting them.
You can find his website here and most of his comics can still be purchased from Alternative Comics.

Joel is not a cartoonist who you here about often, but he really deserves to be talked about more because his books are really that great.

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