REVIEWS

U.D.W.F.G. #1

udwfgWhen one is pressed to precisely describe the Fort Thunder aesthetic, it must be noted that it was both a collaborative project that directly tied into the surroundings of the building in which its inhabitants lived and a series of highly individuated and stylized works of art. That said, the interests and influences of primary co-founders Mat Brinkman and Brian Chippendale had quite a bit of overlap. The influence of role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons is obvious, both in terms of the fantasy subject matter in their strips and more fundamentally in the way their characters wander through their environments in an episodic fashion and an almost quotidian manner. Brinkman’s scribbly style in particular has been a huge influence on several dozen other cartoonists who also attempt to reinterpret fantasy tropes with unusual formal and narrative techniques. The episodic nature of his stories—which lack any kind of obvious plot scaffolding or reader-friendly narrators—is the heart of this experience of being in these worlds and exploring them. And this is not just for the reader, as one gets the sense that in the pages of Oaf and Multi-Force Brinkman was acting as both player and Dungeon Master, creating a world and exploring it simultaneously.

That Fort Thunder aesthetic is kept alive in the Italian anthology series U.D.W.F.G (Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds). Editor and publisher Michele Nitri is obviously enamored of this style of storytelling, as he’s published the first chapters of five different serials from five different artists all working in this style. Brinkman is the name most familiar to English-speaking audiences, though his visual approach will appear startlingly different to anyone who hasn’t been following him in recent years. The visuals in his serial “Cretin Keep on Creepin’ Creek” are dark grey smudges with a dense, black background. The video game and superhero comic elements present in his earlier work have been mostly expunged in favor of a soupy, atmospheric approach. The visuals are actually quite similar to the work he did for the Cave Evil game a couple of years ago.

brinkman udwfg

While the series looks unlike anything Brinkman has ever done, the subject matter is about the same. Eschewing the witty dialogue of Multiforce, Brinkman has returned to the silent exploration of Oaf. This time around, his protagonist (the Fork Imp) is a tiny demon who’s basically just on the job. He has to keep a monstrous hand-in-a-jar in line—and eventually is driven to throw it into a deep pit. There’s a hierarchy of monsters here, but one gets the sense that this series is as much a workplace comedy as it is an adventure.

martin

Nitri cleverly sequences the book, alternating between denser and lighter strips. For example, Spanish cartoonist Miguel Angel Martin’s “The Emanation Machine” is a loosely-drawn strip that features a number of bulbous characters and settings; there’s barely a hard angle to be found here. Like Brinkman’s strip, there’s a light-hearted sense of weirdness in this story of two alien low-lifes who are given something called an “Emanation Machine” from a dying scientist. There’s a scene in a bar where they order a drink called a “gloryhole” (that’s made in precisely the manner in which you would think) and get into a fight after cheating at a game that’s not unlike Russian roulette. One can sense the germ of a plot here, even as the characters themselves seem to be fairly disposable.

tura

Tetsunori Tawaraya’s “The High Bridge” features a series of highly detailed drawings of Lovecraftian horrors defending and/or attacking a bridge. Of all the artists in the book, Tawaraya’s characters are the ones I stared at the longest, because of their imaginative intricacy and weirdness. There isn’t much story that I could discern, but simply studying his use of texture, stippling, and mood is worthwhile. On the other hand, Ratigher’s “Five Mantles” is text-dominated and the story most overtly resembling a traditional D&D adventure. It’s a quest comic and by far the most conventional work in the anthology. The Italian cartoonist relies a lot on zip-a-tone and other effects, and the story will be quite familiar to anyone who follows work inspired by Fort Thunder. It was perfectly adequate but much less exciting than the other comics in the book, though it did act as a nice palate cleanser between stories.

hell

The final story, Paolo Massagli’s “Hell” is drawn in a style most closely resembling mainstream fantasy art. It’s somewhere between Craig Russell and Milo Manara, more explicit than the former but far less eroticized than the latter. Indeed, this is a story about a female demon looking for her heart, but she’s really just looking to devour it. The story is aided by its strong devotion to its particular aesthetic and an absence of words, forcing the reader to navigate the mysterious, hellish environment that is nonetheless cleanly and even attractively rendered on its own terms. It’s less interesting than the first three stories but has the potential to become something more interesting in future installments.

Speaking of which, the second installment is due to be released this month and Nitri plans an ambitious publishing schedule of twice a year. Considering that the paper stock, printing, and design are all of a high quality, that will be an enormous task. Indeed, the book’s design is one of its selling points, as Brinkman’s drawings are used as interstitial material and the dense use of black throughout reflects that sense that the reader has picked up some kind of forbidden, arcane tome. Readers who have enjoyed Paul Lyons’ Monster anthologies will enjoy this as well, but U.D.W.F.G. is far more focused, both as a package and a group of serial narratives.

FILED UNDER: , , , , ,

7 Responses to U.D.W.F.G. #1

  1. Brian chippendale says:

    Yeah zip-a-tone was huge with all those Fort Thunder guys you nailed it, this book really carries the Forts zip a tone torch

  2. Brian chippendale says:

    I’m kidding uhm I’m psyched you reviewed this book all hail Brinkman, but I’ll be honest I don’t consider this a book that remotely holds up the Fort Thunder aesthetic, what ever that might be. It’s just not hippy enough .

  3. Ralphe Ostrander says:

    Everything’s a joke or a pose with you clowns, isn’t it? Keep on keeping everything at a distance, except your action figs and video games. Good times. Art is dead; your art is crawling back inside the hole it came from.

  4. who is that guy talking to?

  5. Dan Nadel says:

    Good question! Guy, who are you talking to?

  6. sorry Rob, i do appreciate all the coverage you have given to underground comics, and I’m grateful you are pointing attention to this book, which is a weird one. It’s lame for me to come marching out of the non commenter woods to get all snarky on here. The late night brain takes no prisoners. But this book is a hard one to classify. I guess it resembles Monster in a way, but Monster is a book that was published way back from the Fort, but then continued at a later date not from the Fort. And even in it’s initial run Monster wasn’t all Fort artists, when i think of Monster i think of the most Fort Thundery thing about it was it’s handmadeness, not necessarily it’s cartooning content. Its all nitpicky I guess. It’s just strange to watch the evolution of what the “Fort Thunder style” is even now so many years later. I’d say this book is very much anchored by Brinkmans style, and whether or not that by default makes it Fort Thundery I’m not sure. I’ll leave twelve more comments on here tomorrow.

  7. Rob Clough says:

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks for the comments. All of your points are well taken, especially the one where you note that this is a Brinkman-anchored book above all else. I will admit that I am most familiar with his work (and Ralph’s) in terms of the sheer volume of work I’ve read, and will also admit to conflating his aesthetic with the Fort Thunder aesthetic.

    Regarding Monster, I know this is now a Paul Lyons thing, but it still has enough Fort artists to be considered at least a Fort offshoot or at least descendant. Brinkman was in the last Monster, for example. And UDWFG is certainly a cousin to Monster by way of Brinkman, its overall editorial tone and the content of the stories (though not, as you note, the visuals).

    It is difficult sometimes to disentangle the legacies of particular Fort Thunder cartoonists, especially since your narrative interests and influences were similar, even if the resulting products looked different.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *