Amazing Montage Magazine

for February, 2000

Dear Julia

This small gem displays
Brian Bigg's consumate mastery of visual storytelling. The story of Boyd Soloman, a man with the curious belief that he can fly, Dear Julia captivates us in ways that are difficult to understand.

Dear Julia copyright 2000 by Brian Biggs. Part of its appeal is its perfection of style. The consistently four-panel pages are models of economy and organization. Bigg's art is pleasingly eccentric, but with a firm grasp of anatomy and perspective.

The lettering deserves special attention, a rare case where an oddball style fits in perfectly (it has several variations-- the script style of a written letter; an off-kilter Roman font for dialog; and briefly, bold block lettering for the dialog of a cop.) Once again, economy plays a roll-- if the text were not so paired down and minimal, the style would become overbearing.

Biggs also understands economy in storytelling. In 100 pages he conveys a lifetime of obsession, a failed marriage, a mysterious friendship, and a growing paranoia about a fantastic conspiracy. Yet he still has the luxury of an opening 5-page scene containing nothing more than a man walking up stairs and knocking on a door. Stranger still, that 'empty' scene is crucial to the success of the whole.

Biggs demonstrates that what we don't show can be as important as what we do show. Boyd himself doesn't appear until we're 10 pages into the story, although his narration begins pages before while we're scanning his empty apartment. The title character, his wife, is never seen, although we're shown several photos where her face is obscured by scribbling.

What's not shown creates a sense of the fantastic in a pivotal scene, when a little man named Leopold Legyscapo suddenly turns up in Boyd's apartment. How he got there is only implied, which somehow makes it more real.

And the climax, where dreams literally come true, is staged carefully to show but also to mask. It's consumation is never revealed-- it exists instead in our imagination, and in Leopold Legyscapo's quiet smile.

Top Shelf Productions
P. O. Box 1282
Marietta, Georgia 30061-1282

Slow Jams

A epic of love, violence and alienation in urban Oakland, David Choe's graphic novel resembles an illustrated diary with the typed words laid in collage-style.

The first impression is of a punk necronomicon-- the opening full-color pages are so garbled as to be unreadable. But as it settles in on its storyline, it becomes surprisingly coherent, and absorbing. The text is linear, at least for the most part. And the densely doodled-up pages do a surprisingly fine job of supporting the narrative.

Choe is a superb graphic artist, and each new page is a fresh departure. His palette of grunge textures, paste-ups, cartoons and diagrams is complimented by evocative semi-realistic renderings. The constant stylistic back and forth suggests varying levels of comprehension, as the story's grunge hero passes from drunkenness to acuity, romantic obsession to sudden panic.

As a fictioneer, Choe delivers the goods. First he immerses us in the moment-to-moment details of the protagonist's life. Then he delivers the hook-- 'When i arrived at Jenny's nothing could have prepared me for what was about to happen that night. Something would happen that night that would affect how i live and breathe for the rest of my life.'

A cloying variation on 'Affair to Remember' follows, but with a shock ending devoid of sentiment. And our hero emerges, battered but unbowed, as if from a rite of passage.

Not a traditional comic, Slow Jams succeeds because of its intensely personal focus and the sheer bravado of its art. If one defines comics excellence as the ability to create effects that cannot be reproduced in either prose fiction or film, then Choe scores extremely high marks. 'Rock the boat!' he implores in his introduction; this book does just that.

Images Without Words

'It is possible to tell a story through imagery alone without the help of words.'

'Images without words, while they seem to represent a more primitive form of graphic narrative, really require some sophistication on the part of the reader (or viewer). Common experiences and a history of observation are necessary to interpret the inner feelings of the actor.'

-----Will Eisner, from COMICS AND SEQUENTIAL ART

There's a surge of renewed interest in the pantomime comic, a comic that conveys its narrative without the use of captions or dialog. The international anthology COMIX 2000 used the approach to create a comic truly without borders. And a trio of recent independent comics put the technique to good use.

ZZZ #1

Alan Bunce's background as an animator is quite apparent in this tour-de-force dream sequence about a nameless moustached man who embarks on a subterranean adventure. The storytelling is clear, the action frenetic, the draftsmanship confident.

Nameless stumbles across a cavern filled with treasure. Pulling the cork on a shape-shifting vase, he is taken aback when a gigantic genie emerges. The genie hops onto Nameless's shoulders and insists upon a ride.

The tale goes into high gear with a chase scene after Nameless finally unsaddles the genie. With each succeeding episode, the action gets more paradoxical. Its playful use of transformation is reminiscent of Jim Woodring.

Bunce cannot be faulted on technique-- he's a major new talent. But the story lacks substance. Each new turn of events seems intended only to surprise. Maybe its enough for a children's story, but for adults its mere fluff.

One small quibble: Bunce pays tribute to Asterix with a Dogmatix-like cat that follows Nameless around. The only problem is, chasing after one's master is dog behavior; cats don't act that way!

Alan Bunce
66 Pacific Ave. #1509,
Toronto, Canada M6P 2P4

The Yearning

The Yearning copyright 2000 by Dean Chiang. 'As each moment slips by
my heart aches with desire
power lines crisscross the sky
and my mind is filled with confusion'

The passage above constitutes the entire text of Dean Chiang's hundred-page epic about a few moments in the inner life of a young short-order cook.

Taking in a glance of an attractive young woman on the street, the protagonist's mind surges with emotions ranging from tender romantic yearnings to volcanic anger. Episodes from his childhood reveal past lost, and a cosmic travelogue suggests an uncertain reconciliation between the self and the universe.

Chiang's luscious art style keeps us enthralled by this montage, even though its meaning is often obscure. But jaded comics fans will be disappointed when Chiang falls back on old material. Kirby-inspired monsters breaking through the concrete, and crowds of caped heroes rushing into battle are stale spectacles that shatter the mood of inner exploration.

SLG Publishing
325 S. First St. #301
San Jose, CA 95113

Electric Girl #4

Electric Girl copyright 2000 by Mike Brennan. Mike Brennan's beguiling heroine has been turning lots of heads lately, and the Electric Girl series is emerging as a all-ages comic to watch.

The concept is simple-- a statically-charged child with an (imaginary?) gremlin friend-- but its execution is affable and adventurous. Brennan obviously enjoys playing with concepts, and appreciates the thrill of the unpredictable.

The latest issue is noteworthy for a pantomine dream sequence-- Electric Girl is dragged before a nightmarish kangaroo court where she's prosecuted for the static shocks she's inflicted on others. Her sentencing adds an ironic touch.

The problem with the story, and the enterprise as a whole, is that it all seems rushed. The ideas lack depth, and the art, while often charming, seems clumsy and thrown together. When using a loose, simple style, its essential that an artist convey precision and a sharp sense of compositon; Brennan is not quite there yet.

Mighty Gremlin
P. O. Box 255
Arlington, MA 02476