Attention: comics are now five dollars.

*Really, get ready for it. These things start with the deluxe projects, then they trickle down into the color pamphlets in the back of Previews, then they creep into the fringes of Marvel/DC lines (MAX titles and the like), and then before you know it they’re... there. I’d say 2008, third or fourth financial quarter, is when the indy color pamphlets at large are taken. My dates are probably off - I don’t know a lot about industry pricing schemes. I’m just reading entrails here.

But the $5 mark is coming. I can smell money. Anywhere.

Hunter & Painter

Not that everything I just mentioned really applies to something from the likes of Buenaventura Press - after all, if you’re not going to play the typical formatting games of the Direct Market-targeted comics ‘industry,’ it’s sort of pointless to try and divine omens from your output. I was just attracted to the coincidence, much like how I’m attracted to coins on the sidewalk, or dogs wearing sweaters.

So this new project might by $4.95, but its 24 pages are also formatted in a lovely landscape style, presumably reflective of the material’s original presentation in the Guardian newspaper back in 2004. It’s by London-based artist Tom Gauld, also creator of several small books and minicomics and a 2001-02 weekly strip for the London edition of Time Out, and one of those cartoonists I’m fairly certain that many of you have seen in one anthology or another, even if you don’t readily recognize his name - he’s a regular contributor to Kramers Ergot, for example.

You’re very likely to recognize his style, often featuring tiny, talkative characters -- sometimes little lumps of people and sometimes merely specks of shadow -- followed around in their activities and often set against enormous backdrops and/or contrasted with gargantuan objects and thingies. This type of approach is a natural one for this format, with the artist keeping the reader’s eye close to the speaking characters for much of the book, the vastness of his landscapes kept outside the panels until those crucial pages when the humans need dwarfing. There’s a constant, wordless emphasis of the relative loneliness and impotency of people though this visual style, one that keenly complements the anxious, sweetly comedic tenor of Gauld’s dialogue.

And ‘sweet’ is maybe the best word to use for this book. It’s neither lengthy nor deep, not overtly complex or particularly dramatic, and certainly does not set out to support hours of furrowed thematic contemplation. It is sweet, though, and never displeasingly so - it’s also witty and wry, and gently wise. It’s fundamentally a comedy, though it raises more of a knowing smile than anything. The plot concerns two cavemen, one a hunter and one a painter, the pair of them equally distraught with their jobs and eager to talk about it. The hunter hasn’t found anything exciting to hunt, so it looks like the community will be living off of mushrooms for the winter. The painter can’t think of anything good to paint for a big Opening in about a week’s time, and he certainly doesn’t want to repeat one of his prior animal-hunting pieces - he too is out of things to ‘hunt.’ He then gets an ill-fated (if good-intentioned) idea from the hunter, which results in catastrophe, but salvation isn’t more than a few pages away (this being a rather short comic).

Basically, it’s a parable, the sort of thing that thrives on brevity and simplicity. And Gauld has a disarmingly worldly message in store, recognizing the balance an artist needs to maintain between personal satisfaction and a livelihood’s demands of popular recompense, an equilibrium that can sometimes only be attained by going well beyond the set boundaries. Painting is like hunting, you see. Right there in the title. Overexplanation will only kill the effect, so let me encourage you to click through Gauld’s free online minicomics, samples from representative publications, and the Buenaventura store. A nice warm breeze of a comic.

D’Airain Aventure #1

And in total contrast, yet at a similar $4.99 price point, we have the latest project from Ashley Wood. There’s several available covers, so I picked the one with the big robot. The form of the book is that of a typical comics pamphlet, albeit a particularly sturdy one. There’s cover flaps, for instance, one of which on this particular cover features a robot either waving or reaching toward the reader on one side, and the image of a woman inserting one or more fingers into her vagina on the other. I do like a book that’s upfront.

Yesterday I compared this series (intended as a monthly ongoing) to Dark Horse’s ill-fated Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller, and I mean that in both a structural and aesthetic sense. Like the BWS series, D’Airain Aventure features three continuing serialized stories. And also, it’s utterly soaked in the artist’s particular approach to comics - design, art, theme, everything. Which naturally means the two works don’t really feel like one another at all, as evident as some the similarities are. Rest assured that this is a very nicely-produced book, 32 pages with no ads, and indicative of all of Wood’s formidable design skills.

But Wood has always been a bit more focused on the visual side of things, often in his earlier career to the point of lavishing attention on individual ‘moments’ without a lot of regard for storytelling clarity. He’s gotten a lot clearer in his panel-to-panel, page-to-page work in the last few years, but there’s still an obvious affinity for lavishly smudged and scratched visuals throughout this book, perhaps to the detriment of immediacy of plot.

For example, the first (and longest) feature of the book is the 14-page Les Mort 13, written by frequent Wood collaborator T.P. Louise. The premise of the serial gets across fine enough -- it’s about a mysterious circus star that cannot die and his mysterious quest for revenge -- though much space is devoted to eerie views of buildings and images of death and lurking around, much of it set to Louise’s captioned dialogue. I doubt experienced Wood fans will be bothered much, since I suspect they’re more than willing to simply let the artist’s visuals wash over them - for curious observers, it’ll give them a strong taste of where Wood’s interests lay.

The other two serials are written by Chris Ryall, also a regular Wood cohort and IDW’s publisher and editor-in-chief. They essentially track the paths of prior Ryall/Wood collaborations. First there’s the six-page Black Magick, something about a sinister man and an enigmatic house that doesn’t really have the space to get off the ground but remains highly reminiscent of the duo’s work on the late Doomed horror comics magazine (soon to be compiled into an omnibus trade titled Completely Doomed). And then there’s Zombies vs. Robots: Which Came First?, an eight-page debut bit of background-filling for the recent Ryall/Wood miniseries, in anticipation of the upcoming Amazons vs. Zombies vs. Robots (if I've got the title straight). It's just as odd and conversational as its origin miniseries could be, and probably the most subdued in terms of art. There's also several Popbot-themed pin-ups and miscellaneous drawings.

Very much a catalog of Ashley Wood, probably like catnip to devotees. It's possibly his most tightly-envisioned, done-over comics work, and more than slighty self-indulgent (though not nearly so much as, say, Popbot). But admirers of that art - they will be served well.

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