Friday, July 23, 2004
Who's stronger, Hulk or Superman?
It's been quite a nice day, which is such a novelty this summer (yesterday the rain, thunder and lightening were of almost biblical proportions here in lovely (HA!) Nottingham), that I decided to break my 'not going into the City rule' (a rule that gets broken far more often than I'd like actually) There's not much about the City that's actually worthwhile (unless you believe the local radio station, "Nottingham, the greatest City in the world!", who in their right mind would make such a claim?), but I did buy a few comics (gosh, that makes me feel manly, I only venture out the house to buy comics, oh well) and what great buys they were. Apologies for the following ‘review’, but ah gots to spread da word.
CONVERSATION by James Kochalka & Craig Thompson pub by TopShelf
Oh boy, this is something special. James Kochalka is a comic-making machine, he cranks them out with remarkable regularity and they are all works of genius. It's hard to pick out a favourite title, but his diary comics are something special. Every day for a few years now James draws a little comic strip in his diary, sometimes it's about what happened that day, sometimes it's just his musings. The diaries have to be read in big chunks to fully appreciate what a genuine ARTIST James is, fortunately the separate issues of the diaries are pretty chunky and they've just been collected into one big fat book (called American Elf I think) that I couldn't afford today, but will be picking up ASAP. James Kochalka has quite a few detractors, and I guess I can understand why, his simple, cute and quirky art style and pretty oblique stories are certainly an acquired taste, but it's a taste worth acquiring as his work sparks and crackles with life.
Craig Thompson made quite a splash with his debut book Goodbye Chunky Rice, and not surprising, beautifully drawn, sweet, sad and charming, the story of love and breaking up gained power through anthropomorphics (using animals as humans (kinda), like Mickey Mouse or Maus for example) and marked Thompson out as a creator to keep an eye on. Blankets, his second book was quite a change.... but not. Obviously drawing on similar experiences of love and loss that he'd used for Goodbye Chunky Rice, Craig once more created a sweet, sad and warm book that tugged at the heartstrings. But this time he used humans and, wow, can he draw people. The art in GCR was astonishing, combining elements of Jeff Smith (creator of Bone) and Dr Seuss yet uniquely Craig’s own, Blankets proved that Craig had more going for him than great brushwork and cute characters. Clearly owing a lot to Will Eisner (a comics giant) but yet again, all his own, Craig produced a huge autobiographical (although not entirely, things were changed, but Craig doesn't hide being invented characters so semi-autobiographical doesn't seem like the right description) book (almost 600 pages making it one hell of a fat comic) that explores his early years and relationships with his family, peers and friends. It's a fantastically well done book, but it's really strength is not in the excellent drawing or fine writing, but in it's bravery. Craig doesn't shy from showing young love in all it's naive puppy dog glory, he doesn't distance himself from it or portray it ironically, he shows it for what it is, one of the most powerful experiences in a young persons life.
So, what happens when these to creators get together and draw a conversation? A wonderful comic obviously. James and Craig alternate pages to discuss the nature of their art and while it's not a revelation it is as charming honest and warm as their individual work. Later in the comic James and Craig draw on the same page and the work is a joy. I would never have thought they had compatible art styles (other than being 'cartoony') but they work so well together that I hope they do it again.
Craig also has a new book out that is a sort of sketchbook come travelogue that makes me grind my teeth in jealousy and admiration of his artwork.
As you can see I'm not exactly a 'critic', more an enthusiast. Still, it helps in my job, I may not be able to offer great insight into why something is good, but I can usually communicate my enthusiasm.