Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Review: The Comics of Brian John Mitchell (Silber Media, 2010)

Brian John Mitchell & Various | Tiny! | $1 upwards | Available now

Brian John Mitchell specialises in mini comics so small that they're probably best described as micro-comics. I’ve seen many small press creators supplement their traditional DIY output with a few super-tiny publishing experiments over the last few years, but Mitchell really takes this practice to the next level by exclusively focusing on these matchbox-sized books. Working as writer only, he enlists the help of a wide variety of artistic collaborators to illustrate his work, from unknowns to even Dave Sim of Cerebus fame. Featuring avenging cowboys, giant worms, gory gangland killings, post-apocalyptic wastelands and demon fighting, it seems like all weird and wonderful things come in small packages.

Ironically, considering their diminutive size, the content of these comics is almost always epic in scope. As you might be able to guess from the list of features above, there's an extensive focus on loud-and-proud genre work, with pop-culture staples like Sci Fi, Fantasy and even Western, prominently used in his work. The advantage of this is that the stories have an efficient, boiled-down quality to them; providing the reader has some understanding the genres they are channeling. Some work, some don’t, but all have a certain charm to them; tiny creative perspectives that gradually form a larger picture of Mitchell’s overall style.

Up top: Judith reads Just a Man; Here: Cleo reads Mecha

Of the selection Mitchell kindly sent us, Just a Man (drawn by Andrew White) stood out as the most successful in its aims, reducing the Western genre to its core semiotic components. It's a familiar story: a nameless man laying a bloody road of revenge across the West following his wife’s murder. Though truncated, it builds on the preexisting expectations of the reader, economically building a satisfying narrative and setting. In this sense, it reminds me of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth; where the comic partially relies on readers’ understanding of genre archetypes to be engrossed as quickly and subconsciously as possible. Admittedly, I’ve only had the pleasure of reading the fourth “issue”, and an introductory story within the Silber Mini-Comics Sampler, but I was nonetheless impressed by just how atmospheric and engaging it manages to be.

Also of note is (the slightly bigger in format) Mecha, labelled as an accompaniment to a Silber Media released album by Remora (Mitchell's music project) of the same name. I don't know much about the music itself, other than one Remora CDs features a picture of a Zentradi mech from Robotech/ Macross, so obviously its  okay in my book. The comic itself is a post-apocalyptic story about a man's discovery of a gigantic aging mech. In a narrative archetype so classic it rivals Homer's Odyssey in terms of replication, he subsequently repairs and pilots the machine. Drawn attractively by Johnny Hoang, it reads very much like the kind of dirty 1970s Sci-Fi comic you'd find at a garage sale amongst a tattered pile of 2000ADs and weird 1970s-era Kirby covers; which you shouldn't need me to tell you is no bad thing at all. No sir.

I'd be remiss not to mention the reversible crime comic Cops & Crooks, which, features a story from the titular factions on each side. Affordable, portable and coming with oh-so-handy tiny plastic comic bags, head on over to the Silber media website to load up on these miniature marvels now. They May get lost in your longbox, but at least you'll be able to fit them in your wallet for your next ride to work. Ride on public transport that is, we really don't endorse reading mini-comics whilst you drive. Peace!


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