Light Brew

*Comics in Media Dept: I was somehow not aware that Jeffrey Brown was directing an animated music video for Death Cab for Cutie, but here it is - basically, it’s a Jeffrey Brown ‘relationship’ vignette set to limited animation. It’s only going to be up online until March 5. The song is Your Heart is an Empty Room, off the 2005 album Plans. This is all in preparation for the release of a dvd titled Directions, due out April 11, which will feature videos for the entire Plans album.

*Most interesting personalized LOCK DOWN reminisces of the day - Neilalien’s impassioned criticism (“One doesn't have to be a self-loathing schadenfreuder Debbie Downer alarmist to be skeptical about labeling such a preventable crappy experience for so many people as an "overwhelming success."), and Evan Dorkin’s report that really, beyond the talk and hype, from the inside the show wasn’t fundamentally different from other cons he’s been to (“The fact that NY actually/finally had a decently-programmed Wizard-style muscular comics show with guests who can put asses in seats and cash in the till seems to have made some people feel like the second coming has arrived, and it brought action figures and Mila Jovovich along with it. But if you've done even only a few shows of some variety, this really wasn't anything out of the ordinary -- except when compared to other NYC shows of this type…”). With all of the talk flying, it’s almost cozy to come across a more standard media Con reaction piece, like this Associated Press fumetti-type thing by Hillary Rhodes and Peter Hamlin, mostly ambling around and being cute but honing in on the decidedly girl-unfriendly vibe that much of this stuff still exudes.

Coffee and Donuts: A Junkyard Cats Comic

This is due in stores tomorrow. It’s $10, b&w, 128 pages, from Top Shelf.

I have not read Max Estes’ debut graphic novel, Hello, Again, so I can’t speak for whether this new book is in line with some sort of consistent tonal or thematic approach or whatnot. What I can say is that whatever the target audience for this particular book might be, I’m not part of it. Actually, I’ve been detecting a certain trend among Top Shelf releases toward the type of book this is - sweet, light, unassuming, much akin to afternoon animated children’s programming (or at least what I remember of that), gentle morals and humorous antics doled out in a very cute universe. I got that feel from Aaron Renier’s Spiral-Bound, from what I’ve read of Andy Runton’s Owly, and from this.

But Spiral-Bound was a detailed, character-laden affair, possessed with a certain vigor of world-building and measures of wit and complexity extended toward the operation of its large cast. I can’t say I was inspired to search out for more of Owly, though I’ll readily admit that the cartooning is solid enough. Coffee and Donuts, on the other hand, and despite its not insignificant page count, hasn’t a fraction of the relative complexity of Spiral Bound, and the cartooning, while hardly deficient, is oddly cramped. There’s never more than two panels per page in this book, most of them confined to small circles adrift in a sea of white space, and Estes tends to pack his character art tightly up in the foreground, giving the impression that one is actually watching these scenes on a series of unmoving television screens, the program shot largely in close-up. The character art itself is fine, somewhat loose with everyone sporting super-stretchy limbs, and Estes’ use of silhouette is fairly elegant - but that doesn’t abrogate the claustrophobic feel that these panels give off, with environments and backgrounds sometimes shoehorned in haphazardly, when there is anything other than tightly-framed characters speaking against toned backdrops.

As for the story, well, I’m not leaving much out when I say it’s about a pair of impoverished cats who, in desperation, attempt to rob an armored car and wind up harassed by a pair of mean criminals who had also planned a heist. This doesn’t actually sound all that ‘cute’ in synopsis form, but that’s the peculiar part of this book - it’s clear that there’s more shaded themes at work, visible out of the corner of the eye, questions of desperation and poverty and morals and the like, but upon any threat of rising to the forefront these things are stamped by the boot of sunny antics, ground down by the steel toe of gentle whimsy. I don’t know if Estes was attempting to contrast ‘darker’ subject matter with pleasant cartoon frolic, but the latter easily overwhelms the former here, leaving the whole thing more tonally puzzling than anything. And needless to say there’s a nice, tidy, just-darling ending, reaffirming the values of true friends and niceness, though I have to say the book ultimately brandishes a rather questionable moral stance, apparently judging people’s acts on whether they’re at-heart ‘bad’ or ‘good’ people rather than what they actually do in specific situations - maybe that’s another fragment of the work’s shadow side, burbling its way to the surface at the last second. As before, it’s just kind of curious.

Given that, I’m not even convinced this is a stellar book for kids - there’s better material out right now, and I’ve mentioned some of it above (it’s not all Top Shelf either - see AiT/Planet-Lar’s three-book Electric Girl series). And while I presume there will be some initial interest among adult readers who instantly appreciate such supercute packages more than myself, I can’t say this is one of the better exhibits out there. I may not be inclined toward such books, but I can gauge relative strengths and weaknesses, and Coffee and Donuts is awfully thin by any measure.