This week I am switching it up a bit. I asked Ariel LeBeau to contribute two reviews to New Talent Showcase and I am batting third. Ariel is one of the few people I know who seems to be really up on most new art comics. Plus, I want to read more reviews by written by women. Does that sound sexist or something? Forgive me, that statement is not intended to sound off or off-putting. I could go on and on here about how the comics scene is way too male-centric in viewpoint, but you already know that. So take it away, Ariel.
Skuds McKinley (review by Ariel)
Skuds McKinley's I'll Take You to the Moon and Leave You There, Vol. 1 is a moderately-sized chapbook that looks like a strawberry milkshake on the outside and a monochromatic ink-soaked nightmare on the inside. The book anthologizes a collection of short comics and illustrations, offering more of a tasting menu of the artist than a fully realized series, but a strong representation nonetheless. Most of the comics are 1-2 pages each, making them quick to ingest, but with an uncanny way of weighing down your gut. Each vignette reads like a lucid dream; not the whimsical kind, but the deranged and mildly forboding kind that tends to linger for a while after you wake.
Aesthetically, McKinley's line treatment evokes Paul Pope, mixed with a jittery gloominess vaguely reminiscent of Pushead's illustrations for The Misfits. The heavily lined, black and grey drawings are just rough enough to peak interest, but not so cacophonous that they convolute the narrative. This is good, because McKinley's narrative is excellent. The stories volley between science fiction to psychedelia to horror to romance -- none less disquieting than the rest -- and depict monstrosities both visceral and psychological. Chaos and catharsis are two hands* of the same beast. (* or spider legs, as it were.)
The transparency of the narrative comes and goes, sometimes leaving you feeling confused or displaced in a way that appropriately supplicates the book's title. The territory is surreal, yet the malaise is all too familiar.
You may purchase the book and/or view more of the artist's work here: http://batshitart.com/
(review by Ariel)
I've been unconsciously aware of Heather Benjamin's work for some time, in the form of flyers she illustrates for diy punk/hardcore shows here in Brooklyn, but up until recently I never had a name to associate with the imagery. Fortunately, thanks to something called "the internet" I happened upon her blog, which houses her illustrations, comics, zines, and more.
If there were a more eloquent phrase to describe Benjamin's work other than "fucking badass" I would consider using it, but I just don't think there's any other way. Her illustrations are arresting on their own, but her comics leave me feeling hungry for more. The work is extremely graphic, in terms of rendering and content alike. Her subject matter is consistently lewd if not blatantly pornographic. Usually of women behaving carnally. Benjamin manages to be crass without surrendering class. She continually pushes the envelope but never in a way that seems even remotely desperate. The work doesn't beg for your attention, it commands it. The compositions are forceful and the line work is meticulous even at its most chaotic.
It feels pertinent for me to mention that I don't typically appreciate sex comix. Most of the sexual content I see in comics is disagreeable or else unappealing to me/my taste/my humor/my whatever, for one reason or another. Furthermore, the incidence of comics -- independent or otherwise -- that specifically address female sexuality are few and far between. It is unfortunate when people marginalize the discussion of an artist by needlessly insinuating politics, so I'm not going to do that, but suffice it to say that I find Heather Benjamin's portrayal of the female body and emphasis on female sexual agency immeasurably refreshing. This comes across in her work in general, but especially in "sad sex" (a serialized mini available through Floating World). This work is satirical and humorous with latent connotations about sexual identity, gender identity, and construction of femininity.
A certain sense of dichotomy is one of Benjamin's obvious strengths: her work is comical and cerebral; grotesque and beautiful; primal and graceful. Most of all, she is unflinchingly aggressive and unmistakably feminine, which-- as far as I'm concerned --is the best combination anyone could ask for.
Aron Nels Steinke
(review by Frank)
I've seen Aron's work around for years. Dylan Williams would always push his work on me - but I gotta admit that it really wasn't the kind of drawing I was into, or am into, really. Sort of a more detailed John P kind of style without the looseness. But I still followed his career and would peruse his books at Copacetic or at Dylan's table at shows.
Anyways, it is with his latest book, Big Plans #5 that I finally found the right combination of subject matter, art execution and story length to fit my taste. Here, Aron chooses to do short stories that are at times dark, humorous and touching. These stories unfold very easily. They are very easy to read and very enjoyable to read. One is about being freaked out by a incidence of violence. This one uses text in an inventive way. The text will often take up whole panels and there is a nice interplay with the images. Aron uses a 12 panel grid of small squarish panels (the comic page is basically standard "Kevin H" mini-comic size) and will mix it up with whole pages only being taken up by one or two small squarish panels. It's a powerful and simple story about how we grow up watching violence on TV and then when we encounter it in real life we are are scared shitless. Another story is about being home alone drinking, watching TV and feeling one's soul being crushed by the internet. My favorite story is about going to a comic book lecture - hating it, thinking the speakers are awful. That one really cracked me up.
Aron makes very legible comics. I think legibility in comics is somewhat rare these days. So many comics are hard to read. I mean, just figuring out which panel to read next is hard. Seriously, if you wanna draw like Chippendale but don't also imitate his steady beat grid then you are missing a key ingredient. The way the stories in Big Plans #5 are organized and the way they unfold is very well done. Sometimes there is a six panel grid, sometimes four panels per spread, sometimes the spread is one big panel. All are smooth transitions. Aron is someone who is very, very comfortable with the way that he sets up his "reveals" and his punchlines and gags. This is excellent cartooning. Excellent cartooning that is well written. And while he may not have a fancy avant garde art style like all the kidz these days - he is making solid, well written and well drawn comics and that is more of an accomplishment than filling up a tumblr with wacky images with no story.
Check out his short stories on his blog and tumblr. Aron is really hitting his stride these days, don't be late to the party.