Minicomics are America's Heart and Soul.

*A huge ice storm hit a lot of places around here last night; while I was driving this morning I passed over mountains dotted by icicle trees, perfect clear spikes drooping down from the branches. It looked like the forests were made of glass, occasionally dotted with fine green powder, like pistachio instant pudding mix. Forget the ice on the road, there’s bound to be accidents from folks gawking at the scenery…

*Now is when I must seize the moment and finish reviewing that pile of minicomics! Not ‘monatomic’ like my word processor insists the term is! Minicomics! Listen damned machine! Where is your soul?!

Tux Dog (Even though the title on the work itself appears to be “black, white, & Read all over issue 1.2”)

I got this off of Highwater’s site (apparently it‘s temporarily sold out, but the operative word is ‘temporarily’), which is still accepting orders it seems, even getting in some new items to look around at. But the item here in question is an eight-page b&w newsprint item that looked an awful lot like an issue of “Paper Rodeo” on the site, complete with contributions from such Rodeo regulars as Paper Rad and Leif Goldberg, who were also featured in the recent “Kramer’s Ergot 5” (and 4 for that matter), along with CF, who also contributes here. So there’s a lot of interesting talents involved, although the production is far more modest in scale and production polish than the “Kramer’s” books.

The concept of this work revolves around the ‘open source’ character of Tux Dog, originally created by an unnamed member of Paper Rad and subsequently released to the world. So basically a bunch of artists (besides the above named talents we have Pshaw and Jim Drain) made comics starring Tux Dog and his nemesis Bad Cat and then Paper Rad laid the whole thing out and it was presented at a public art exhibition in New York in mid-2004 and now everyone can buy it. That initial glimpse on Highwater’s site wasn’t misleading; this is very much like an abridged issue of “Paper Rodeo”, complete with mostly unsigned work (though the art is easily identifiable to the seasoned reader) and an emphasis on visual design, much of it off-the-cuff, even sketchbook-style. But perhaps merely by virtue of having a focal character with even a nominal back-story, there’s more straight narrative than usual, though presented through different means. Pshaw, for example, offers up a cute childhood playtime anecdote in traditional comics style, while another unsigned piece seems at first to be a busy visual collage but transforms into a nice action piece with a great sense of movement upon closer inspection. Other pieces take their own approaches, some offering up funny pieces of absurdity, others seemingly existing as pure design bits in the form of half-finished strips.

It’s very inexpensive (I think it was about $1) and a nice treat for fans of these cartoonists, whether you’ve just gotten exposed to them in “Kramer’s” or you’ve been following them for a while, even if subliminally.

Deadpan #1

And speaking of good old “Kramer’s”, one of the most discussed of its stories was David Heatley’s compression of his entire personal sexual history into a handful of comics pages; I thought it was n impressive technical feat, and truly fearless in its approach to the subject matter, although Heatley’s relationships began to seriously blend into each other by the end of the story. But the work was good enough that it made me want to search out this 2002 release, a painted full-color 24-page collection of dream comics. A b&w issue #0 exists somewhere out there, and there’s a more recent issue #2 for sale, with more details and plenty of art samples at Heatley’s site.

Dream comics have always been a favorite of mine, from the inter-perception play of David B.’s “Babel” to the rapid-fire riffing of Rick Veitch’s “Rare Bit Fiends”. Heatley’s work is closer to the Veitch end of the scale, but without even Veitch’s occasional attempts to group his dreams together with unifying icons or themes; this book is simply a compilation of dreams adapted to comics form. And Heatley does a fine job with it; all of the rapid mood changes and switches of scenery and unembarrassed emotional secrets that you doubtlessly recall from your own dreams are skillfully conveyed here. Even the more narrative dreams execute themselves with the eerie pull of a barely recalled sleep-time. Heatley’s layouts are very traditional, and his character drawings are simple, but his pages take on an attractive cohesion, aided handily by his excellent use of color, with thick opaque skin and clothing tones standing out against often soft, seemingly watercolored backgrounds. And certainly there’s no lack of frankness regarding content, with everything from murder to unexpected bestiality popping up, but always seemingly in tune with a fractured dream logic. These comics are nothing if not authentic feeling, a must for good dream comics.

It’s a pricey book at $5, but I think it’s worth the money. Good dream comics are difficult to find today (if they were ever easy to find), and these comics are evidence of a talented artist with a significant command of the medium adapting his dreams with craft and honesty, the same honesty that his autobiographical material in “Kramer’s” or the recent “McSweeney’s” also displays. This is a fine way to orient yourself further to Heatley’s work.