Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Graphically Speaking: Blammo! #4

Words: Jared Gniewek

“What’s wrong with being a troll under a bridge?” he said. “I was brought up to be a troll under a bridge. I want young Scree to be a troll under a bridge after I’m gone. What’s wrong with that? You’ve got to have trolls under bridges. Otherwise, what’s it all about? What’s it all for?”

-Terry Pratchett

I bought Noah Van Sciver’s Blammo #4 at MoCCA Artfest this past June. It was on a whim, largely because of the title. Saying “blammo” in my best Brad Nealy voice is a staple of my hilarious antics around the house so I figured my girlfriend would get a kick out of it. This never happened. On the way home, I read the book and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was more than just a prop to reinforce my kitchen comedy.

It is a comic book. Classic pamphlet size and in black and white, I’ve been finding that I don’t tend to purchase undergrounds in this format anymore. I’ve pretty much made the switch to books. I’m not proud of it. Largely it’s that I don’t buy as many comics in general as I used to. If I treat myself to six books a year and some dollar bin stacks it’s a busy year. In any case the format of Blammo brought on a wave of nostalgia for me.

I have been feeling like something is missing with the books and web-comics. Blammo reminded me of my self righteous waltz to the back of Comics Etc. in Rochester, New York, to buy the adult comics after my eighteenth birthday.

“Oh no,” I imagined myself saying. “I’m allowed now. I’m of age.”

I had read about Yummy Fur, Love and Rockets, Zap, and (I’m a gonna’ admit it) Cherry Poptart and I couldn’t wait to read this stuff on my own. It was the alt/underground comics of the late '80s and early '90s that kept me reading comics. And each one was a sampling of yet another madman with an agenda. In the pages of these (and later Hate and Eightball) I found voices. Distinct voices with stories to tell. I loved that each book was so slight and yet such a perfect representation of the essence of someone’s work. The books can be too weighty and the minis and web comics can feel too slight. The pamphlet underground was just right. Noah Van Sciver, I feel, would have fit in quite nicely with the comics I was purchasing those many years ago.

He is a young man, though, and it is evident in his obsessions and his seeming desperation for approval. His is a raw soul, it seems, twisting between feelings of self loathing and entitlement. I love that about the book. It is so honest that it almost feels painful. His dream fantasies are grounded in real world feelings of isolation and fear of himself as outcast. It’s as though he can’t accept that he is a freak but secretly believes that he is destined for deformity (as evidenced in "Where I’m Headed If I Don’t Quit Now").

His narrative voice is similar to David Collier, particularly on the stunning "True Tale of the Denver Spider Man" piece. Dispassionate yet involved, it illustrates the running theme of the book (the gap between self perception and perceived impression—masks and facial deformity make up quite a bit of the page count) in a cold and removed fashion so it doesn’t feel like its furthering a point but rather showcasing an application of it.

He is very aware of what he is doing, who his audience is, and what impressions he’s making. His figures are jangly and loose in a fun way without being too cartoonish. It offsets the grim nature and black comedy of some of his pieces.

He is eager to learn and experiment with texture. It seems Noah Van Sciver is still finding his “ideal” style and shifts time and time again. Sometimes he uses washes, sometimes a computerized looking dot pattern, sometimes slashes of ink. All work adequately for offsetting his figures but I favor the washes he exhibits in "Denver Spider Man" and "The End of an Artist’s Career".

I’d love to see him, further this skill set. I’d also love to see him accept himself as a person but frankly, his personal demons are so entertaining that I concurrently wish him a life of self loathing. I’m sorry, I know its cruel, and do feel bad about it but watching an artist self destruct is the same as eating put the real world damage out of your head to experience it and I do love steak. I really am sorry.

Also, he is aware that most folks dislike his "Chicken Strips" and I’m going to jump right on the bandwagon with this one. I really didn’t feel any type of response except “let it end” while reading it. He writes in his closing notes that he “must continue until people love them!” I love a challenge and hope to see him find just the right gags and art to pull these characters out of the pit. They are really unlikable at this point.

And while he is still young and finding his footing it is important to me that he is there doing it, growing in a public forum. Self publishing in a comic book (a way that is falling more and more out of favor every year). Doing comic books because that’s what you do. Like punk bands who only do seven inches and the return of the thrash metal demo tapes in recent years, this format mean something to people. I am comforted to know there is still a troll under this bridge.

So all in all, if you like body horror, uncomfortable comedy, and watching a “self-deprecating piece of shit” beat himself up then this book may just be the one for you. And y’know the other nice thing about pamphlet comics is that even if you hate the book you’re only out a couple bucks and can give it away to a friend who might dig it more.

Jared Gniewek has worked in the music industry as a back line technician, performer, and promoter. He has also been a freelance writer whose work can be seen in the recent re-launch ofTales from the Crypt and heard on The Dark Sense, an audio anthology of the macabre for which he is also the story editor. Jared’s blog, Die By The Pen, outlines his philosophies and personal quest as a writer. His new website, Scary-oke, displays his demented sense of humor in the form of a twisted karoake game.