Friday, December 28, 2018

Short comics from the 1990s with a long impact

I was born in 1979, so I was a teenager throughout most of the 1990s.  Ever since I was a little kid I loved comic books.   By my early teens I grew tired of superheroes and was looking for something else.  I never really loved graphic novels though (still don't).  I suppose the comics that appealed to me the most were short stories that ranged from 8 to 50 pages.  The following are comics that have stayed with me for many years. The 1990s were a great time for comics although you may have overlooked some of my favorites.  Here they are as listed below:

Sputnik was a short lived glossy black and white magazine from Canada published in 1993 (Black Eye).  Only two issues exist.  Michel Vrana is an excellent designer and he brought to his sophisticated taste and a mature visual sensibility to all the titles he published.  This anthology title felt different from other comics in that it really focused on short stories.  There were also "about the author" or "author profile" sections that proceeded the stories.  The presentation looked very high-end and professional.  It felt very different than an underground comic or an art magazine like Raw.  I don't think there has been anything like it, before or after.  The first issue features such artists as Jay Stephens, Dylan Horrocks and Carol Swain.  

The real standout here though were the comics by Adrian Tomine that were reprinted from his mini-comics.  I've always loved the looseness of Tomine's brushwork in these comics.  I guess his work matured and became tighter and more mature eventually but this early work really spoke to me.  I was also familiar with Tomine's work because he had a strip that was in Tower Record's free Pulse magazine.  I used to pick those up just for his strip which I'd cut out.  As a teenager, I redrew these comics wall size and had them hanging in my bedroom.  I always wanted to find Tomine's mini-comics but they were difficult to locate.  Eventually they were reprinted several times by Drawn and Quarterly.

Issue 2 of Sputnik has a very lighthearted short story by Eric Searleman.  It is about Superboy hitchhiking a ride with a stranger.  I love the whimsical nature of Searleman's comics and previously sang the praises of his short lived Jazzbo comic in a previous post.

Belmont Harbor was the first story by John Porcellino that I ever read.  It felt as direct as a personal letter, written for me about the alienation I felt as a 15-16 year old.  The deceptive simplicity of the drawings also inspired me to start drawing comics of my own.  This particular issue is one of the few standard comic book sized issues by Porcellino.  It was a flip issue with Joe Chiapetta's Silly Daddy #8.  That is one of the few issues from Joe's oeuvre that has never been reprinted due to more adult content which involves hanging out with friends at a bowling alley bar and flirting with the bartender.  Also a great example of autobiography in comics.

Another collaborative issue of King-Cat that I loved was # 45 from 1994.  This issue is about a trip John takes with several of his cartoonists friends including Joe Chiapetta, Jerome Gaynor and Jason Heller.  Each artist draws their own version of the story.

The previous comic also introduced me to Jerome Gaynor's Funkapotamus/ Punk Anonymous zine (1994-95) which was available through John's Spit and a Half Catalog. The last two issues of Jerome's zine featured 2 short stories entitled Microwave Brick (parts 1 and 2) that were drawn simply, like Porcellino, but had a really different approach with stories that were far more fictional and almost bordering on fantasy. There was more Microwave Brick in Jerome's self-published anthologies Flying Sauce Attack and Bogus Dead.  Jerome also did a cover and several back covers to the music fanzine Roctober.  

Fawn Gehweiler makes a guest appearance (in name only) in the last issue of Funkapotamus because she was also doing mini-comics at the time. 1998 saw the release of her xeric award funded Bomb Pop comics and stories which reprints several of Fawn's minis as well as an adaptation of S.E. Hinton's Rumble Fish.  Unfortunately this would be the first and the last comic book that Fawn would publish.

Jeff Levine was another prolific autobiographical cartoonist who made minis and had a series published by Slave Labor called No Hope.  Later the series would be retitled Lust For Life.  His comics are very honest but also often dark and depressing.  My favorite example of Jeff's work is from the final issue of Lust For Life.  In this issue is Jeff's longest fictional story entitled "The Cat Got My Tongue".  The story is about a 20 something woman who gets high and goes to a club with some friends.  She eventually becomes disgusted with them and bursts out in a fit of violence.  The story is told entirely through the dialogue of these characters.  It feels powerful in its realism.

Levine also published the best fanzine about independent comics appropriately titled Destroy All Comics.  It was through this fanzine that I'd discover the work of many other cartoonists.  The issue below, for example, had a review of a Jeff Zenick comic/zine.  Zenick's approach to cartooning and life in general was inspirational to me.

Seth's Palookaville #2 and #3 from 1993 has never been republished.  It's my favorite of all of his comics.  The two part story is a coming of age tale that details the summer a young Seth worked at a restaurant and lost his virginity.  I feel that this comic was more emotional and heartfelt than his later work and probably the same could be said about Chester Brown.  Brown's I Never Liked You (originally serialized in Yummy Fur as "Fuck") is one of the most moving comics I have ever read and so different than the emotionally distanced work that would define the rest of his career.

Two more very underrated comics from 1997 were Matt Madden's Black Candy (Black Eye) and Ariel Bordeaux's No Love Lost (Drawn and Quarterly).  At about 52 pages each these are perfect short stories in a comics format and definitely my favorite works by these creators.  The same would be true for Tom Hart's original Hutch Owen comic - a short story that feels very strong in terms of content.

Lastly is Peter Kuper's Stripped (Fantagraphics, 1995) which collects several of his comic book short stories dealing with the subject of sex - mostly from Wild Life #1 and #2.  This is very funny and honest cartooning that sort of reminded me of the HBO sitcom Dream On that I was watching at the time. Kuper has done many amazing comics since then that are more elaborate and sophisticated but these are the ones I find the most relatable.  In fact the stories in this book were later repackaged with additional material in order to create a more marketable graphic novel.  But I prefer this earlier version.  While I realize that the short story in comics is not a profitable format, it is still the one I gravitate towards (however unmarketable).

Thank you to all these creators for making personal work that was both meaningful and memorable to me.

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