Mini-comics are a lot like chapbooks or zines: often handmade in small print runs, they celebrate the DIY aesthetic. But mini-comics are worth paying attention to not just because they are precious objects (although that would be enough), they are grounds for experimentation among some of the most exciting cartoonists. Many of the wildest stories I’ve ever read have come in the form of mini-comics, like brief encounters with something new and unknown.
(For Brooklyn locals, it’s worth noting that I buy most of my mini-comics from Bergen Street Comics, but I’ve included links where they can be purchased online.)
Lose #5 by Michael DeForge
Toronto-based Michael DeForge is widely considered one of the most promising indie cartoonists. At the age of 25, DeForge has already garnered two Eisner Award nominations (one for Ant Comic and another for the previous issue of Lose), and Very Casual, a book collecting some of his on- and offline work, is already considered by many comics critics to be among the best of the year—and count me among them.
Lose #5 collects several unsettling, darkly funny stories that showcase DeForge’s breadth as an illustrator and storyteller. His obsession with two-dimensional planes, geometric patterns, and thin lines recalls the work of Chris Ware, which is probably the highest praise you could give a cartoonist. (Also similar is DeForge’s meticulous lettering, which in true Ware-ian fashion, can sometimes be squint-inducing.)
There are several stories in Lose #5, but the centerpiece is “Living Outdoors,” about teenage love and getting high on octopus ink (they also use it to paint stripes on horses to make them look like zebras). The story moves in and out of a universe that is ordinary and one that is hallucinatory. But buried beneath DeForge’s warped worlds are deeply human narratives, imbued with such heart, albeit a strange one. It’s consistent with DeForge’s artwork, the way disparate shapes can form something that looks hauntingly familiar.
Frontier #1 by Uno Morales
The resurgence of mini-comics in the past few years feels in part like a response to the digitization of the medium (even if the internet has helped enable it). I think as readers we’ve come to appreciate the craft of hand-making objects too.
What’s fascinating about Frontier #1, featuring Russian artist Uno Moralez, is that it’s a mini-comic of digital art. Moralez is best known for his pixel art (much of what appears in Frontier can be seen in GIF form on his portfolio, but there’s something illuminating about the aesthetic dissonance of seeing pixels on a printed page. Frontier #1 has some narrative, but it succeeds more as a work of bizarre, abstract moments. Tonally grotesque, Moralez draws thematic parallels between horror and sex. It’s the good, awe-inspiring kind of weird.
The Frontier series will showcase different artists, the second issue of which will be written by Hellen Jo and make its debut at the Small Press Expo in September. I can’t wait.
Turtie Needs Work by Steve Wolfhard
Steve Wolfhard is a storyboard artist for Adventure Time, and the show’s influences—both artistically and with its off-kilter sense of humor—are clear throughout Turtie Needs Work. The concept is simple: Turtie, a tiny turtle, keeps accepting jobs that he is too little to do. Wolfhard commits to the two-panel punch line, and each of the fourteen strips elevates the running joke about Turtie’s size.
A few weeks ago, I was hanging out at a friend’s apartment, and we passed a copy of Turtie Needs Work around the table. Seeing each person laugh to themselves as they made their way through Turtie’s desperate attempts at employment was almost as delightful as reading it. I’ve been keeping my copy of Turtie in my desk drawer at work. On several occasions, in need a 30-second break from the monotony of answering emails, I flip through Turtie Needs Work and find that, even though I have the whole thing memorized by now, I remain endlessly charmed.
(Hat tip to my friend Miranda for the recommendation.)
¿How Do I Know Who I Am If I Forget? by Luis Echavarría Uribe
Even after some light googling, I had a hard time finding much about about Luis Echavarría Uribe. The bio on his blog is in Spanish, and the most I learned about him was on his LinkedIn profile (lives in Brooklyn, likely raised in Colombia). But his work speaks for itself. ¿How Do I Know Who I Am If I Forget? comes in a gorgeous silkscreened cover, and the artwork is exceptional—Echavarría Uribe’s pen draws a rich grayscale of thick lines, deep blacks, and detailed backdrops. Most notably, the full-bleed cityscapes evoke an isolated beauty.
It’s the perfect setting for Camilia, an ordinary teenager with a peculiar method of remembering the important moments of her life. ¿How Do I Know Who I Am If I Forget? is about memory, and you’ll likely not forget the exotic fish in a home aquarium, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind reference, and Camilia’s trip to the emergency room.
Men’s Feelings by Ted May
Ted May started writing mini-comics in the late ‘80s, but Men’s Feelings is his first solo work in a decade. As the title suggests, Men’s Feelings is concerned exclusively with stereotypical male dilemmas like football, marriage, and pooping. May’s vignettes poke fun at the cultural stereotypes that men inhabit and, in many ways, reinforce.
Maybe it’s just because I personally love the NFL, but my favorite story in Men’s Feelings is “Reception,” wherein a guy watches football attentively, stares out the window, and answers the door for the pizza delivery man in tears. It’s unclear whether he’s crying because he is so invested in the game or because it has revealed some sort of emptiness inside him. Like the strip’s title, it could have two meanings. Either way, I laughed.
Kevin Nguyen (@knguyen) is a founding editor at The Bygone Bureau, book reviewer at Grantland, and an editor at Amazon Books.
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