They say that good things come in small packages. Sometimes they do, but I’m more inclined to believe that small packages contain generally the same ratio of wheat to chaff as anything else in the world. The minicomics from Silber Media are no exception. All of them are tiny (about 1” x 1.25”, give or take) and each page is comprised of a single panel and caption. It’s a tough format to work in, especially if you’re trying to tell a complete story in 40-50 pages, but it does periodically come out a rousing success. More often, sadly, it just kind of comes up flat…
Lost Kisses #7-10 – Brian John Mitchell
I’m going to assume that the narrator of Lost Kisses is a fictionalized version of Brian John Mitchell and not actually autobiographical, because I’m pretty sure no one out there would want themselves portrayed like that. On the surface, Lost Kisses recalls the heights of the zine revolution, when anyone could put a comic out and it didn’t matter if it was just filled with stick men, because it’s what they were trying to say that counts. What this particular comic is trying to say, as near as I can tell, is that the author/narrator is a misanthropic dick who cares little for the feelings of other people and now that he’s indirectly caused the death of one of his ex-girlfriends he can get over his hatred of women and just get on with hating the human race in general. What’s really disturbing, though, are the constant attempts of the narrator to paint himself as not such a bad guy. For instance, he hates women, but doesn’t resort to violence when dealing with them so that makes him okay. It’s like watching a sociopath cheerily justify his behavior while making the case that he doesn’t honestly have any antisocial tendancies. The narrative itself is presented very lightly and is legitimately and intentionally funny in spots, but unfortunately the moments of humour tend not to overpower the moments that make your skin want to crawl right off.
xo #5 – Brian John Mitchell/Melissa Spence Gardner
Watching the misadventures of a teenage drug-dealer cum hitman is one thing, but when it looks like a backup story in an Archie digest, I can’t help feeling that it lost me somewhere along the way. It’s not that Gardner’s art is bad—I rather enjoy it on its own merits—just misplaced. If the focus of xo was a teenage drug-dealer it might have genuinely worked, but the hitman element seems really out of place in nearly every regard. In A Complete Lowlife, Ed Brubaker’s semi-autobiographical main character was an amoral scumbag, but you believed the things that happened to him could honestly occur. In xo, after the narrator’s first target is accidentally dispatched, the narrator quickly tidies up the murder scene, slips the body into the trunk and drives off in the victim’s car, like he’s been doing this kind of thing all his life. I don’t buy it. I almost wish xo had shot a little lower in its plot aspirations, because if this had just been the accounts of a garden variety scumbag’s drug deals gone wrong, I might have genuinely enjoyed it.
Worms #3 & 4 – Brian John Mitchell/Kimberly Traub
I’m always wary when something tells me it’s recommended for fans of H.P. Lovecraft and Franz Kafka, because basically what that means is that it’s weird and creepy, but you won’t get an explanation for the weird creepiness, because that would take away from the creepy weirdness. Worms follows this pattern to a T. Here’s the plot: a woman, after witnessing the death of her father, is trapped in a strange hospital which conducts horrifying medical experiments. Strange and horrifying things include: an IV bag full of worms, an endless hallway, patients in comas and a nurse whose voice can put people to sleep. The art resembles nothing so much as the drug-addled doodles of my friends in Grade Nine art class, which isn’t the worst complement to the story, but doesn’t do it any favours either. Honestly, if you want to read a creepy Kafka-esque book about a hospital, track down Secret Rendezvous by Kobo Abe. Or, if you’re in the mood for disturbing tales of mental illness in comic form, try Tales of Ordinary Madness. Either of them follow through on their (unspoken) promises better than Worms does.
Just a Man – Brian John Mitchell/Andrew White
If the Noir Western exists as a legitimate genre and not just something my head concocted just now, Just a Man is a brilliant example of it—tight script, sparse yet beautiful art, and a complete (and brutal) story in 56 panels. A man comes home from working in the fields to find his house ablaze, his infant son killed and his wife missing. He gets his rifle and goes to deliver what he hopes is justice. A nihilistic haiku of vengeance, Just a Man is probably the best minicomic I’ve read in ages. I don’t necessarily wish for a sequel (that would ruin the perfection of the ending), but I’d like to see more collaborations between Mitchell and White.