Beyond Spider-Man : 2005 : Two NZ Minicomics

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Date: May 13, 2005
Next: Girl Genius
Prev: Dork Tower

To me, self-publishing is one of the most wonderful things about the comics format. Before the Internet, comics were one of the few mediums which allowed for creation and distribution by individuals. Books were hard to print, movies impossible, artwork difficult. But comics? Comics were just made to be photocopied and distributed by hand. Even with the Internet now, comics still seem to be one of the mediums that "work" on the net. I don't know about you, but I don't enjoy reading prose on a computer - I much prefer a book. I also don't like watching movies on my computer, my TV is much more comfortable to sit in front of. But I follow around 20 web- comics and/or cartoon strips online, and read them daily.

The NZ "Armageddon" pop culture convention in Wellington earlier this year featured booths by a few of the local names in self-published comics, including the folks behind "Chopperchick", and a few of the names from the "New Ground" anthology series. It also coincided with a bit of a local comics bash as well, including some lectures, some radio exposure, and a display at a local art gallery. The gallery show was a bit light on "art" content, but there was a surprising number of local comics for sale - nearly all of the good old fashioned Xerox'd variety.

There would have been at least 40 different self-published NZ mini-comics available for sale at the gallery. Even accounting for overlap, there were still at least 20 creators represented. I was taken aback. I hadn't expected so many local people would be creating comics. I also hadn't expected that so many of them would be such utter crap. Over the next few issues of PPP, I'll cover a few of the best of the local self-published NZ comics that I picked up at the gallery, and at the Armageddon pop culture convention. If you're naughty, I might even cover some of the worst.

Review Not Required
[No Spider-Man]
Vaultman and Stuff (Director's Cut)
Year 2004 : NM ($5.00) : No Spider-Man
Creator:  Andrew Kepple, Jason Lennie
Staff Only
Issue
Review

First up, "Vaultman and Stuff", by Andrew Kepple and Jason Lennie. This is a 16-page minicomic, with a color cardboard cover. The comic looks laser-printed, and the production quality is great for this kind of thing. This is a re-released and re-edited version of this comic, hence the "Director's Cut". The original version was produced in a bit of a hurry, and must have needed some touch-up.

The comic is an assemblage of stories of different lengths, plus some shorter one-offs, and a few short tales on the same theme. The drawing style is basically the same, a heavily cartoonish "fun" style, and the stories are all humourous, but the content and themes are quite varied.

The title piece "Vaultman" is rather lame, and is a disappointing start. It features a guy who is a "living vault", but once the visual gag is over, there's nothing going on here. After two pages, the story is "...Continued in Funtime Comics #21". Funtime is perhaps the most sustained NZ comic title, and we'll review some another time. But in any case, the Vaultman made for a pretty cover, but nothing else.

Inside the front cover, there's a one-pager about a suicide-themed amusement park. This is more like the kind of irreverent stuff that comics can do very well, and this bit really hits the spot. The other satirical story is another one-pager named "Untitled", in which a famous artist creates a comic with three blank panels, and is heralded by as a genius by the critics. I must admit that I personally feel that comics should avoid self-referential stories whenever possible. Comics desparately need to reach out to a wider audience, and comics written about comics typically turn the whole genre introspective, and drive away new readers. However, that said, "Untitled" is a very witty and clever story.

There are two other longer pieces in this book. The first, entitled "It Ain't Half Bad" features a couple of green alien students/soldiers/slaves causing and receiving trouble in various spots around their galaxy. This is light-hearted silliness that tends towards the juvenile. It's perfectly harmless, and if nothing else it is giving the creators some practice at timing, framing, and basic comic technique. Sure, it's basically unsatisfying, but it is at least competent.

The other long story is fragmented through the book. It begins with Clifford and his bride Cynthia on their wedding day. Mid-ceremony, Cynthia realises that the priest is an old school chum, in fact, a former boyfriend. Cynthia used to be a bit of a hottie back at school, and she and the priest start getting very cosy indeed, leaving Clifford somewhat embarassed and annoyed. Cynthia and Clifford move to their honeymoon, where varients of the scene are repeated to great effect, with former boyfriends popping-up all over the scene. When Cynthia and Clifford are prematurely killed they arrive at the Pearly Gates, where Cynthia would be sent to hell, except that she and Saint Peter had this "thing" a while back...

Cynthia and Clifford is a perfect example of what comics do well. The B&W art is perfectly suitable for telling the tale. The art and the text compliment each other in building the characterisations, and the comics medium is perfectly capable of following the characters through the increasingly strange scenario. The story is silly, but the deft sense of timing makes it clever at the same time. To be fair, I must say that there isn't really a "point" to the story, there is a climax of sorts, but it doesn't really say anything interesting. Still, the telling of the tale is good, and it's clear that the creators are developing a strong voice.

Some bits of this collection are funny, some are clever, some are strong in the telling, and some have a point to them. At times, two or even three of these aspects are found in the same story. If Kepple and Lennie can get all of these aspects to combine at some stage, then they'll really have something worth shouting about.

You can find out more about Jason Lennie's comics at his website, cubed.comics.org.nz. Andrew Kepple's site is tmst.twu.net.

Review Not Required
[No Spider-Man]
Paradise Lost: The Minicomic
Year 2004 : NM ($5.00) : No Spider-Man
Editor:  Margaret Silverwood
Writer:  Margaret Silverwood
Artist:  Margaret Silverwood
Staff Only
Issue
Review

This is a coverless 48-page B&W Xerox'd minicomic by Margaret Silverwood. The art looks like it's pencilled without inking. The book contains only the one story, features only one character, and contains only two text balloons. The majority of the story is told in pure sequential art. The plot concerns a middle-aged woman who wakes up, gets out of bed, checks the mailbox, then heads around the back of her section where she discovers a strange sight, an elevator that leads to... Paradise?

The art is "fine art" style, rather than cartoonish. The panel framing is creative, with good of use of inset panels, frameless panels, and intelligent panel sequencing to provide a sense of temporaral flow and story focus. This is a comic book created by somebody who has studied the basics, and is aware of the potential of the medium. This is very much the kind of material that the NZ comics scene really needs, and I take my (metaphorical) hat off to Ms. Silverwood.

I do have one comment on the physical comic. The photocopying process has not been very kind to the purely pencil art, and some inking might have helped. However, it's fair to say that the light pencil style suits the ethereal nature of the story, and also works well with the near-absence of textual content. Perhaps a compromise might have been to scan the art and thicken the pencil lines electronically?

As for whether the story "works" or not? Well, to be honest, I did find the ending rather jarring. The spoken panels are at the very end, and they hit quite hard after the preceding 40 silent pages. However, because they are jarring, they do stick in your mind quite firmly. In the final analysis, this is an effective comic book, and that has to be a good thing. I'll be seeing what else I can find by Silverwood.

Next: Unfortunate Creatures.