Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I’ll admit it, it’s a bit of a shock to see a Brian Ralph comic that isn’t about some deceptively adorable character adventuring their way through an impeccably rendered rubble-strewn environment. Then again, is surviving the San Diego Comic-Con really all that different? The Daybreak cartoonist and alumnus of the influential Fort Thunder collective is chronicling his experience at Comic-Con International 2011 in diary comics form for The Comics Journal all week long. Day one’s a doozy, a journey from misery to triumph and back to misery in the space of a few panels. Look out for the cameo appearance from Drawn and Quarterly’s staff supercouple Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin, who emerge as a sort of obscenity-spewing Statler & Waldorf.
I hope my illustrious colleague Brigid Alverson doesn’t mind me elbowing my way into her regular webcomics spotlight, but with the announcement the other day that Brian Chippendale is placing his eye-popping, rib-tickling webcomic Puke Force on hiatus for a few months, I simply had to point everyone in the strip’s direction.
Chippendale, the cartoonist behind last year’s acclaimed doorstop of an action-buddy-scifi comedy If ‘n Oof, is a co-founder of the influential Providence art/comics/printmaking/music/etc. collective Fort Thunder and the drummer for the band Lightning Bolt (which if you’re not familiar with it is sort of like if noise violation citations from your local law enforcement authority had an elemental, like how plants have Swamp Thing). His comics are famous/infamous for their “snake-style” layout: You read each page one row at a time, first from left to right, and then from right to left, and so on, zigzagging back and forth like a snake and allowing him to draw you through his complex physical environments with ease and choreograph action and slapstick alike with precision timing. Chippendale’s art is rough-edged and hyperdense, his characters look like little mutant and monster refugees from your favorite forgotten action-figure line, and his wild-and-wooly sci-fi stories may seem simply crazy or goofy at first glance, but in truth deal with the political, emotional, and philosophical ramifications of urban life today with sophistication and laugh-out-loud wit. Puke Force is no exception: In its installments you’ll find sardonically hilarious takes on everything from Twitter to terrorism. Best of all, you can catch up on all six months’ worth of material on the PictureBox site and be ready for Chippendale’s triumphant return in late summer/early fall. I know the visuals and layouts can be challenging, if not headache-inducing, at first, but stick with it and you’ll experience a truly singular comics sensation.
Like the characters he chronicles in If ‘n Oof, his new book from PictureBox Inc., Brian Chippendale is prone to wandering. He just returned to his home base of Providence last week following a tour with his acclaimed two-man music group Lightning Bolt, whose sound can be best described as “What if Thor’s hammer and Loki’s helmet formed a band?” He’s also gearing up to hit the road again in another couple of weeks for a brief cross-country book tour with fellow PictureBox cartoonist CF.
But it’s Chippendale’s artistic travels that interest me the most. Each new Chippendale book feels like an experience miles removed from its predecessor. Maggots is a tiny softcover with incredibly dense pages, drawn on top of a Japanese book catalog so that even the white spaces are filled with visual noise. Ninja is a gigantic hardcover with a smoother approach to Chippendale’s trademark “snake-style” layout — you read the first row of panels on a page from left to right, then hop down to the next row and read that one from left to right, then down another level from right to left, and so on back and forth — and a healthy dose of comics he drew as a kid thrown in. If ‘n Oof is a doorstop-sized softcover in manga dimensions in which every page is a splash page or part of a spread. And while all three share Chippendale’s unmistakable rough-hewn line and love of sci-fi, fantasy, and action — an approach forged in the hallowed halls of the late great Fort Thunder collective, alongside artists like Mat Brinkman and Brian Ralph — If ‘n Oof‘s buddy-movie storyline of two lovable creatures battling their way through a wasteland in search of home (and snacks) is the artist’s most accessible work to date. Robot 6 managed to get Chippendale to settle down long enough to talk to us about the new book, how it stacks up against his new webcomic Puke Force, and the tantalizing possibility that as far as If and Oof’s world is concerned, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
Now this is a trend I can get behind! Alchemic Ale, the makers of Ron Regé Jr.’s pioneering minicomic/beer hybrid Yeast Hoist #15, have returned to the underground-comics well, this time with a bottle full of Mat Brinkman. The Fort Thunder alumnus and Regé’s fellow Highwater Books veteran has graced a 750mL bottle of Bokrijks Belgian Ale from Belgium’s Brouwerij Sterkens with a drawing entitled “Monsters,” from his current gallery show at NYC’s The Hole.
Here’s a guide to where the beer can be bought. Chug-a-lug, artcomix fans!
(via Ron Regé Jr.)
Maybe it was the sharpened instincts I gained from reading Brian Ralph’s first-person POV post-apocalyptic thriller Daybreak, which uses that unique videogame-style eye-view perspective to put you in the middle of the action like no other comic from the zombie craze. Or maybe I’m just a good guesser. But when Ralph (an alumnus of the ultra-influential Providence art/comics/music collective Fort Thunder) started posting never-before-seen Daybreak cover sketches to the New Bodega blog last week, I had a hunch this meant that the acclaimed three-part series had a collected edition in its future. Now Drawn & Quarterly’s Tom Devlin confirms the upcoming creation of a Daybreak hardcover, kinda, with a series of rhetorical questions: “Next Fall?…Additional epilogue? Deluxe hard cover treatment? Comic-Con debut? Are these things in the offing from D+Q?” I’ll bet my right arm that the answer to all these questions is “yes”…
They’re gettin’ the band back together, man! Tom Spurgeon reports that members of Providence, Rhode Island’s late, great comics/music/art/noise/wtf collective Fort Thunder are planning a one-off reunion issue of their anthology title Monster, to debut at
the San Diego Comic-Con UPDATE: the Small Press Expo via exhibitor and Fort alumnus Brian Ralph. Though the Fort produced everything from installations to art-rock to bicycles, we comics folks know them best through the output of a line-up of cartoonists that included Ralph, Brian Chippendale, Mat Brinkman, Leif Goldberg, Jim Drain, and Paul Lyons. It’s tough to imagine the alternative-comics world without them anymore — their aesthetic heavily influenced or outright inspired entire publishing lines, including Highwater, PictureBox, Buenaventura, Bodega, and post-Tom Devlin Drawn & Quarterly — so for fans of comics’ outer limits, this is at least as exciting as the Faith No More reunion tour currently underway. Which is pretty damn exciting.
Brian Chippendale is a just-plain interesting cat. He’s a co-founder of Providence, Rhode Island’s hugely influential art/comics/music/madness collective Fort Thunder, he’s the drummer in the insanely intense punk/metal/noise band Lightning Bolt, and just for fun he writes a blog about Marvel Comics.
Now he’s talking to NPR station WRNI about the whole shmear. Listen to the interview for details on his 800-page (!) upcoming sci-fi graphic novel If n’ Oof for PictureBox Inc., his experiences being evicted from multiple residences by the city of Providence, his drumming style, the pitfalls of political comics, the faded glory of the “mill scene” in which artists lived and worked in abandoned industrial buildings, and more. And be sure to check out the bonus video below, in which Chippendale shows off some gorgeously dense If n’ Oof pages.