Posts Tagged ‘MOME’

Tim Hensley


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

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Warning: This is a light post. I just thought it’d be a good time to appreciate Tim Hensley’s Wally Gropius saga since it’s now completed serialization in vol. 15 of Mome and Frank recently posted an appreciation of Tom K’s stories, which appear in the same anthology. (Disclosure: I’m a contributor to Mome too, so it’s possible I’m biased, although that has never prevented me from disliking work in Mome so if I am biased I’m not consciously aware of it.)

Tim Hensley’s a hard cartoonist to write about. He’s divisive. The two camps are: (1) he’s not funny and (2) he’s funny. I’m in the latter camp, since I think he’s fucking funny as shit. In the climactic episode, Wally is caught in an R.D. Laing Knot as he prepares to marry The Saddest Girl in the World. This monologue is especially moving if you’ve ever been in a long relationship with a clinically depressed person.

If you don’t think his idiosyncratic dialogue and melodramatic “cartoony” performances are funny, you probably think the writing is overdone and the drawing is just a throw-back to some Archie/teen comic house style. But teen comics never looked like this:

The characters move through minimal rooms with immaculately placed objects. It’s like what he chooses to draw in the environment (and what he chooses not to draw) is determined by some graphic Feng Shui.

When his comics are at their most beautiful, these environments function both as the story’s world and abstractly.

His writing is a continuation of his earlier mini-comics (Ticket Stub) that were collage-like transcriptions of movie summaries and dialogue. If you get an opportunity to look at any of these, don’t miss it. They contain some of his best work, and it’s interesting to see the wide range of graphic languages he employed with his writing. He’s one of the few cartoonists who arrived with a writing language before a drawing one. He did these while working as a closed-captioning editor. In his Mome interview with Gary Groth, he talks a bit about how this job improved his comics formally:

I think in a way the experience of that job really improved my comics, because it’s almost like captioning is comics but they’re upside down, because you’re sort of taking an image and you’re putting a balloon underneath, and you have to position it. So you’re constantly, over the course of 10 years, making these immediate decisions like, you find a shot change in a movie, and you have to say, OK, this person’s on the left, or this person’s walking through a crowd of people, how do I make sure that you can assign the words to the person.

I think it intuitively made me think more about how the eye moves through an image in time and space.

At the same time, this probably contributed to his language sensibilities, as well as…

(from a totally random interview on an message board🙂

Maybe growing up in a family with a sibling who is learning disabled and sometimes mentally ill internalized a general scrambling of language in me or at least an interest in that direction.

These are hints at what’s behind this dialogue, but it doesn’t matter how he arrived at this. It’s clearly completely logical in its own way. They reward repeated readings. With his best dialogue, a line that you first read as being surreally disconnected on a second reading is funny and on a third reading reveals a wider scope of the story.

It’s incredible that he can pull this off in such a seemingly intuitive way. It feels like this dialogue, and these comics, just pour out of him. It’s like you’re reading a complete personality on a page. All of the characters speak in the same “voice” because there’s really only one character: the comic.

On top of all this, it’s worth noting that this highly evolved, specific personality exists inside of the guise of a personality-less “house style.” It’s a balancing act between the generic and the specific.

Now that Wally is done, I’m curious to see where he goes next. Ticket Stub sketched out many unexplored directions. It’s possible that Wally Gropius wasn’t an arrival to his final resting place, but just one path from his previous work; he could pick up where some of his past work left off and spin in a new graphic direction. Whatever happens, I can’t wait to see.

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notes on Tom K’s short stories


Sunday, August 16, 2009

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This isn’t a review or anything that attempts to cast a truly critical eye on the comics work of Tom Kaczynski. It’s more of an appreciation. For me, Tom’s work is an oasis in the desert. And the desert is contemporary alternative comics. I find 80% of today’s alt comics poorly constructed — a veritable colony of lean-to shacks that could be blown over in a strong wind. In contrast, Tom K builds comics that could be likened to a brick house. These are solid comics. Is it any surprise that many of his stories have to to with architecture or that he went to architecture school?

I’m purposely composing these notes without any of his stories in front of me. I just read all of his MOME stories in order, one after another. And now all those volumes are back on the shelf. I chose the images for this post as randomly as possible before I wrote what follows below. The idea is to let the stories “work” on me like a half-remembered dream and to try a decode what it is that’s successful about them. Also, I’m focusing on their construction rather than the stories themselves.

Sense of space/place
I feel firmly rooted in Tom’s stories. I understand where the characters are, where I am as a reader. Never a bottle-necked area of the page or spread. It’s all very clear and airy, like walking through some Beaux-Arts 19th century library building. There are clear sight lines and strong centers on every page.

-The “Highway Story” (100,000 miles) is interesting because it balances a certain sense of movement along with a realistic, believable sense of scale. Cars packed on a highway in slow motion, car crashes, cars lined up in a parking lot. Close-ups of the protagonist in his car and long shots of endless highway ribbons. It’s a short story, maybe only 8 or 9 pages—yet within the first couple pages a world is defined by the landscape itself. Also worthy of note is a remarkable transition in which a suburban tract of houses (replete with countless cul-de-sacs) sort of fades into a drawing of a pair of lungs.

-The “Condo Story” (976 sq ft) in contrast is less about balancing movement & scale as it is about scale itself. It opens with a couple on a rooftop looking down on to the street where a woman is walking a dog. So immediately here is the set-up: Seeing the world, or more specifically a neighborhood as a scale model. There is also a wonderful transition where the condo in real life fades into an architectural scale model of the same building.
There’s a mirroring here too of the condo itself and the panels on the page. The story begins with a six-panel grid and ends with a nine panel grid; there’s a crowding of space that reflects the characters feelings towards the building. The new condo being built in the neighborhood is taking away the sky and the crowded pages in the latter half of the story reinforce this anxiety. There’s a great vertical panel in the middle of a page that is taller than the rest; it breaks the grid. Fittingly, it’s the moment when the new tenants of the condo move in (directly across the way from the couple’s window, so it looks like the scale model. Just perfect framing.)

-The “Corporation Story” (Million Year Boom). I can clearly see in my mind how perspectives & sight lines carry the reader across panels and the spreads of this story. There are very strong “horizontals” in this story (almost in counterpoint to the strong “verticals” present in the “condo story”). The corporation headquarters is low & wide, and the page compositions are tailored to convey the sense of open yet contained space. There’s a great scene when the protagonist dives into a long rectangular pool that spans two panels. Another beautiful coupling of panels illustrates the top of a parking garage. And I can clearly see one of the characters standing near a grove of trees and while gesturing to the trees, his motion rhymes with the sweep of the trees themselves. Characters change scale rapidly. Simply by walking around the corporation grounds is an exercise in alternating camera angles. This strengthens the narrative which is pregnant with a particular kind of corporate anxiety & alienation.

Figures in landscape
The solidity of the figures in Kaczynski’s stories is also worth noting. The figures are rendered objects, as “real” as the landscape they inhabit. This is important. It’s clear to me that the pages are composed to allow, to facilitate a smooth transition between “figure” and “ground.” There is no rift, no schism between the two. Whether simply sitting on a couch, walking down a street, or standing before a wide vista—the characters do not dominate the page design (as they do in most comics). There is a very strikingly ordered balance. Again, this strengthens the narrative.

Kaczynski’s use of tone/color is very helpful in this regard. Strong lights & darks, and strong “modeling” of forms both of the figures & of the forms within the landscape creates a pleasing depth. The figures stand out from the landscape rather than blending in or disappearing into the background.

Also, Kaczynski creates depth by often pulling the camera back & up slightly. The reader is positioned above the action and different sight lines are created because of it; it’s less of a “flat” angle. Add to that his seemingly innate feel for “airy” panel and page compositions. He only draws what is necessary for each panel, each scene—there appears to be a lot of room to breathe in the pages themselves. By doing so he can add details and important elements without ever crowding the frame or the page (unless, like in the “condo story”, he wants to).

Writing and Drawing
I really enjoy his writing and drawing. He definitely owes a debt to the works of J.G. Ballard and Daniel Clowes. This is not a bad thing. Ballard was a surgeon with his words and the same could be said for Clowes with his drawing. Kaczynski has incorporated both masters’ approaches into his own work in a way that I find inspirational. He went through his influences and came out on the other side with something new, something his own. Like some hauntingly familiar “house style,” the approach fits the subject matter like a glove.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

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An anonymous source sent in the information below. Who knows why. Eric Reynolds, Fantagraphics shill and dear friend was, as we all were, a young fan once. Why, I myself once waited in line for what seemed like hours to have a stack of comic books signed by inker John Beatty. Yes, we all have our secrets. I shudder to think what long lost letter/picture etc. someone might find of mine. Like the one I wrote to Jaime Hernandez when I was 15 explaining about this awesome band I’d just learned about: The Clash. That was in 1991. Oh boy.

Dear Mr. Goodwin, Elektra: Assassin is some of the finest (if not the best) work Frank Miller has ever done. It even topped his recent issues on Daredevil and Dark Knight for DC. The events dealing with Elektra’s birth were very shocking. I never knew the details of Elektra’s birth or origin, and this story gave me an idea. I was really glad you could fit Matt into the story (if only for a few panels).

As for Bill Sienkiewicz, (how does he get “Sinkevitch” out of that?), I’m not too sure about his art. His old Moon Knight stuff is some of the best I’ve ever seen, but this book looks like he drew while on acid. I’ll have to keep in mind that Elektra was drugged during this story, which I hope accounts for her abstract thinking. If she is sane and/or not drugged next issue, I hope the art will reflect Bill’s true talents. All in all, it was a great book and I’m looking forward to next issue.

Eric Reynolds
Huntington Beach, CA

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Links & Promotion


Friday, January 12, 2007

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I know a lot of Comics Comics readers have already seen Marc Singer’s recent part-right, part-way-off-base review of MOME, because I recognize the names of a lot of the commenters there, but if you haven’t seen it yet, the post itself and the comments that follow are pretty interesting.

Via Jog — who, by the way, somewhat recently wrote one of the more insightful reviews of Cold Heat (drawn, as you probably know, by CC editor-at-large Frank Santoro) I’ve yet seen.

Speaking of Frank, judging by their Website, Copacetic has only a few copies of his ’90s masterpiece Storeyville left, and I believe they’re the only place where you can still purchase it. So this may be your last chance if you want to get your hands on Storeyville in its original format.

Finally, and via Tom Spurgeon, a Steve Gerber anecdote from Marvel’s Tom Brevoort. [UPDATE: Gerber has responded.]

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Odds and Ends


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

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Sorry we missed a day blogging. I ate too many burgers this weekend, and kind of needed a break. (Green-chile cheeseburgers are amazing things, but should be eaten in moderation.

Anyway, I still haven’t come up with the energy for a really well-considered post, so here are a few random things I thought worth noting.

1. The week before last in the New York Times, John Hodgman wrote a really nice review of recent comics, including MOME, Ganges, et cetera. (Most of you probably saw it.) I don’t agree with everything he has to say, but it’s thoughtful, informed, and it isn’t patronizing. This isn’t the first smart comics review Hodgman’s written in the Times, and with any luck, it won’t be the last. Maybe other writers for big-time newspapers and magazines will even follow his example.

2. Last week, on his invaluable Comics Reporter blog, Tom Spurgeon advanced an argument about superhero comics addressing hot-button political issues that happens to more or less, kinda-sorta parallel one of my own recent posts, albeit in a much more focused and coherent manner. Marvel Comics’ own Aubrey Sitterson wrote in to disagree, mostly using straw-man tactics.

I was going to write more about all of this, but ultimately decided against it, as I don’t want to bore readers by talking about superheroes too much. But suffice it to say that Sitterson is only able to think of one modern superhero comic that actually supports his argument, and it’s Watchmen. As usual.

I forgot to mention it earlier, but maybe the fact that none of the characters in that book are used to sell Pez dispensers has something to do with Watchmen‘s artistic success.

3. Many of you may already be aware of Big Fun magazine, but if you’re not, and you’re a fan of classic adventure strips, I highly recommend that you seek it out. The included strips are fairly hard-to-find elsewhere, and they’ve been extremely well-reproduced. Leslie Turner’s Captain Easy, Noel SicklesScorchy Smith, and Warren Tufts’ Lance are all currently being serialized, and the artwork is simply fantastic.

More, and better, entries later in the week.

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