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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Oh, to Be Young and Experimental

Posted by on Sat, Jun 4, 2011 at 11:04 AM

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I love to read comics artists at the beginning of their careers. They're less like artists and more like scientists, pushing at the boundaries of the forms, doing experiments on the things that make comics comics. Fantagraphics just reissued local cartoonist Megan Kelso's first book, Queen of the Black Black. If you were to do a page-to-page comparison, the comics in this book don't look very much like Kelso's new work. Contrary to the fine linework that she's known for today, she was doing lots of interesting work with deep, inky blacks and trying various tricks with lettering (including an unfortunate sidetrack into THICK BOLDED LETTERS THAT DISTRACT FROM EVERYTHING ELSE ON THE PAGE. But that's what experiments are for; some of them are guaranteed to fail.)

You can see Kelso's themes just beginning to germinate—she tells stories of girlhood and early adolescence with an sharp eye for naturalism. There's magic at the edges of all her stories, but she doesn't often directly acknowledge it. Kelso doesn't believe in anything so melodramatic as a loss of innocence. Her work is about learning, about expanding as a person, and about becoming comfortable in your own skin. For that reason, it's good that Fantagraphics is keeping this work in print; we can watch Kelso as she learns to become an artist, and it informs her more recent work in a highly narrative fashion.

I_Will_Bite_You__and_Other_Stories_by_Joseph_Lambert.jpeg
Joseph Lambert is at the beginning of what I believe will be a long and fruitful comics career. His new book, I Will Bite You! and Other Stories, is jagged with experimentations; many of his strips have no words, or the pictures interact with words in interesting ways. (In one strip, an alien intruder steals the word balloons of his intended victims and crushes the words in the balloon until they form jury-rigged suggestions of completely new words.) This is a collection of Lambert's mini-comics work, and there's a bit too much repetition—I'm not sure the book needs two separate stories of children who fight the sun, for instance—but it's a great showcase of his artistic restlessness, his desire to keep trying until he gets it right. I'm sure that one day, Lambert will make comics that will inspire a new generation of artists. But for now, I'm happy to watch him just fuck around and see what he can do.

 

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