REVIEW: Awesome

by Jeff

Adam’s Graphic Novelties
Comics reviews by Adam McGovern

(Adam McGovern writes for the TwoMorrows mags, Comicon.com/PULSE, and ComicCritique.com. He contributed to and copyedited The Superhero Book, has appeared on or MC’d panels at the San Diego and New York Comic Cons, and will be running a tour in November at the Montclair Art Museum’s superhero-themed show in New Jersey. He also has an Ignatz-nominated comic, “Dr. Id,” with artist Paolo Leandri. We here at ComicList are honored to have him write a review for this site.)

Awesome
(Evil Twin Comics)

The publishers of the unexpected indie hit Action Philosophers and the diligent talent scouts of the Indie Spinner Rack podcast bring you the latest collection of comic creators you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. You won’t find a better range and sequence of styles, a bigger bargain (less than 15 bucks) or a brisker 208 pages.

Many creators take advantage of the brief, isolated anthology form to breeze through Grade-A absurdity, as do Robin & Lawrence Etherington in “Braindead & Loving It,” a live broadcast from an intergalactic E! Channel show that manages both insane intricacy and animated spontaneity in its drawing and breakneck, well-considered humor in its seemingly improvised script.

The idiocies of mainstream comics – and their persistent pleasures – are well-portrayed in the several pages of J Chris Campbell’s storybook-like untitled robot rivalry. On the other hand a few contributors fall victim to the event-less tropes of indie comics, as with a likable slice of life abroad, “To Karnak and Back,” by Alexis Frederick-Frost, which starts out endearingly eccentric and sputters to an insipid non-finale. But with the right sense of purpose there’s room for unadulterated charm, as in Michele Riganese’s unselfconsciously naïve and effortlessly wise “Start Over.”

Some creators scrawl out a single page just to be counted here, but some harness the smallest of spaces for the most intriguing of narratives, like the mystic, elliptical “The Golden Deer” by Sam Hiti (and its surreally goodnatured counterpart “The Enchanted Stag” by Sarah Oleksyk), and the hilarious sacred-cow-tipping fragments of Neil Swaab (who, by virtue of being wrong on so many levels, appears about five times).

History is a major recurring character in the book’s unconnected vignettes, from the cover-scene of pop eating itself by way of a contemporary comics fan biting into her de-slabbed Amazing Fantasy #15 onward. The Action Philosophers MCs themselves, Ryan Dunlavey & Fred Van Lente, stake out the sordid heyday of crime comics in an uproarious survey of that lurid 1940s-’50s genre (a teaser for the team’s next nonfiction opus Comic Book Comics), while public-domain pathos is to be wrung from Keith Champagne & Dev Madan’s noirish tale of three characters from Popeye and the Frankenstein Monster walking into a bar.

Also playing a part is personal history and the biography of the mind; there’s a kid inside every comics fan no matter how sophisticated, and rites of passage both mundane (“When Doubt Comes Busting Through the Door” by JP Coovert) and mythic (“Day One” by Jamie Burton) punctuate the collection to satisfying effect.

To be Shocking and Awesome is to run a few risks; Josh Finney & Kat Rocha’s “Post Mortem” takes tabloid headlines of infanticide and turns them into Lovecraftian high art while ISR’s own “Mr. Phil” Phil Jackson’s “Secrets and Lies” mines rape in a way that just seems exploitative. (A promising effort for his first published piece, but next time his sparing, somber narrative devices should not overshadow the substance of the work.) For the most part, though, Awesome’s artists puncture hypocrisies and push the event-horizon of good taste in ways seldom seen since the heyday of underground comix, and often with more pokerfaced sophistication than their forebears.

The heritage of classic cartooning is on view too in Chris Duffy’s kinetic and witty “Steve and Katsy and Whuff,” and its frontiers are in sight in the deliriously inventive design and formally innovative storytelling of “Lies” By ISR’s own Charly “Charlito” LaGreca. Formal ingenuity doesn’t save everybody; a tricky choreographing of multiple inner critical voices turned into physical clones nagging and distracting Joseph Lambert isn’t enough to make his untitled piece rise above the writer’s block that remains the only story he came up with.

Still, the book overflows with creators who command the artform’s craft as much as they advance its content; Jesse Post & Ben Towle in “The Gates of the Garden” (a sketch of the dreams and delusions that created modern Iraq that’s an Eisner Award waiting to happen) and Hanvey Hsiung & Gia-Bao Tran in “We Are Not Alone” (a lifegiving urban fantasia of flying-saucer samaritans) particularly make the most of the collection’s black-and-white format for a graphic brevity and painterly abundance of shadow and tone.

While Awesome shows the state of the art of comics’ present, it helps ensure the medium’s future by donating all proceeds to Indie Spinner Rack’s not-for-profit reporting and the Center for Cartoon Studies’ support of emerging creators. But don’t let the good cause scare you off – this is simply the most good reading you may see in one place this year.

Four out of five exploding novas

Awesome_Cover REVIEW: Awesome

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