Finally, another review.

The Vagabonds #2: Of Two Minds

This is a new pamphlet-format release from writer/artist Josh Neufeld of A Few Perfect Hours, published by Alternative Comics, a company I haven’t heard from in a while though they seem to have a fair number of projects in the pipeline for the near future. The book was on display at SPX, so it should be making its way into Direct Market stores relatively soon.

Neufeld notes in his introduction that he’s always geared his work toward collaboration, having provided art for series like American Splendor and Duplex Planet Illustrated over the years; this particular piece of work is dedicated to exploring all the different types of ‘collaboration’ a comics artist can enter into, from proper ‘written by, drawn by’ to sequential adaptation of preexisting work to simple formalist play. It’s a pleasant enough experiment, even if the results generally don’t result in much more than diverting little works; this is the kind of book you have to view as a capsule of diverse narrative approaches, appreciating the multiplicity of viewpoints in their total form, in order to derive much resonance from the affair.

The comic, which is $3.95 for 32 oversized pages, divides itself into four distinct thematic segments: Confessions, Health & Welfare, Echoes, and Loss. The first section (Confessions) explores the various ways in which one might convey a direct narrative by another person. There’s a pair of contrasting, somewhat clipped-feeling anecdotes by Peter Ross, a septuagenarian reflecting on his life in both cutthroat business and foreign farming, executed in as traditional a narrative form as one might imagine. There’s also separate single-page ‘talking head’ narrations, a simple one by Martha Rosler (Neufeld’s mother) that regularly shifts from simple dialogue to stationary images accompanied by narrative caption, and a more adorned page with poet Eileen Myles, that sees the narrator growing up panel-by-panel by taking on the form of various and sundry familiar comics characters. All are illustrated in variant forms of Neufeld’s clear, unassuming style, which gently shifts from exaggerated big-head cartooning to realist representation, depending on what’s necessary; in a way, the visuals are indicative of the stories, in that they don’t as much stand out on their own as they hold value through comparison with each other.

And comparisons can be made the varied approaches of the comic’s other sections. Health & Welfare sees contrasting (plenty of this-and-that contrasts in here) stories by spouses Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar, one told as a mock narrated filmstrip and the other as a typical American Splendor short. There’s also a ‘collaboration’ with Neufeld’s own injured finger, illustrating the extent to which a creator’s work is influenced by their own personal state, which leads right into the next section (Echoes) and a team-up with the artist’s imagined mirror image, complete with art from his non-drawing hand. Further discursion follows, such as an involuntary teaming with writer Gerry Conway as Neufeld plugs his Superman #351 narration and dialogue into a non-superhero context, and a story in the final section (Loss) that takes The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and extrapolates a little story from its final verses. There’s also a number of teamings with poets and troupes and performance artists like Nick Flynn, The Civilians, and Andrew Rashkow, some of them taking a symbolist route to illustrating non-prose, and others presenting the comics page as a fragmented landscape adorned with words like signposts for travel (think those old Frank King Gasoline Alley Sunday pages).

Very few of these skits and stories extend for more than three pages, and less still carry much singular resonance. They are lightly pitched (even when nominally weighty), and not always successful in their formalist drive; it eventually becomes clear that Neufeld is more adept at handling icon-laden page structures and looming landscapes than something that might demand multiple styles of character art on a single page. And yet, The Vagabonds #2 may well prove valuable to the interested reader for its determination in elucidating the assorted facets of collaboration and narrative conception. Its immediate impact is muted, but the possibilities it raises through its careful associations might be of more lasting flavor.