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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.