Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Review: Supertalk Issues 1 & 2 (Bird Cage Bottom, 2010)

Anthology | 20 x 25cm, black & white | $5 per issue | Out Now

A warm fuzzy tingling extends itself throughout my stomach lining each time a new issue-based anthology comic arrives at HQ. Far from being as perverse as it sounds; my fondness for this kind of publication is inextricably tied to my development as a young comic reader. Starting from my first, tentative steps across the pages of The Beano and The Dandy on the sofa with my father, to my agonisingly mercurial teenage years reading Dark Horse Presents and Zero Zero, there's something about the format of a short succession of stories that I’ll always hold dear to me.

Because of this, the central pleasure of anthologies for me is discovery: discovery of new creators, new styles, and new or revisited potentials of the form. So, it’s with much appreciation that I thank Birdcage Bottom Books head honcho (and creator of the excellent Old Man Winter and Other Stories) J. T. Yost for sending the first two issues of Supertalk our way. "Cobbled together by commission", and featuring so many ultra-talented "beneath the radar" creators to make you worry that an invasion of comic awesomeness might occur, it's definitely one of the most exciting anthologies I’ve read in a long while.

Issue 2: Tory Sica's "I Said, I Hate You!" is a pitch-perfect fantasy sequence all about a universal experience. At one point or another, every child wishes liberation from their tyrannical, parental overlords. Here, James' supercool babysitter/ personal superheroine liquidates his mother and takes him on an awesome day out.

Although I'll be the first to admit that I'm prone to bouts of hackneyism from time to time, I haven’t simply just used the word “exciting” as a throwaway adjective of approval. I mean that these comics are absolutely legitimately exciting, in the most exciting sense of the word. Rivalled only by Desert Island’s Smoke Signal in terms of manic, no-holds-barred variety, Supertalk lives up to its name; never pausing for breath, intonating unpredictably in its production of wave after wave of lively, enthralling strips.

With most stories clocking in at just 3 pages long, there's a focus on narrative brevity or creating isolated moments hanging freely from implied or mysterious contexts. Overflowing with well-told stories that utilise the super-short format rather than simply submit to it, Supertalk paces back and forth between ultra-tight, perfectly-formed vignettes and unfathomable visual non-sequiturs. Mindless action, bizarre horror, childhood wonder and intimate social interaction battle for your attention, creating the core rhythm (deafening, in this case) that’s essential to any good anthology.

Issue 1: Adam Kidder’s “Fundar the Barbarian” is one of the comedic highlights of the anthology, reading like one part Evan Dorkin and one part Michael Kupperman, which obviously means that it's all awesome.

Whilst some anthologists might actively avoid this staccato-style delivery, here it is embraced, colliding quantity and quality in a way that compliments everything and sacrifices nothing. It's difficult to pick stand out contributions when, every six pages there's some new brilliance to knock your socks off. Andres Vera Martinez and Tory Sica, bring identifiable humanity to the issues, with subtle, nuanced storytelling that reflects the simplicities and eccentricities of human interaction. On the other hand, Anuj Shrestha and Nick Sumida go in the other direction entirely, with silent, otherworldly strips that are as much about grossing the reader out as showing off the expressive narrative possibilities of dialogue-free comics.

Appropriately for the magazine-sized format, there are a few works that evoke the classic humour of MAD or Cracked (although, as Daniel Clowes rightly reminds us, “No one was ever a fan of Cracked”). Paul Hoppe’s “Reverse Ventriloquist” and Adam Kidder’s “Fundar the Barbarian” play out like loving homages to classic American yuck-yuck magazines, pulling cultural objects or activities inside out, exposing their inherent senselessness and hidden, innate funniness. Supertalk actually has something more in common with these publications too, in the sheer variety and sheer diversity of material represented.

Issue 2: As close to perfection as any three page comic can be, Anuj Shrestha's incredible "Red Dream", features an unsuspecting fellow going through a mysterious (not to mention agonising) transformation. He'll be luring Rick Moranis into a Faustian bargain before you know it.

J.T. Yost's earnest, low-key storytelling offers a contrast to Josh Burggraf's more esoteric Newave-esque dysmorphic cartooning. Issue 1 cover artist (as shown at the top of this article) Jeremy Polvony's immense part graffiti/ part Fleisher/ part anime-superhero meltdown splash page acts as counterbalance to Victor Kerlow's untidy but wholly organic stylistic bent. I could pretty much repeat these comparisons with every contributor in the comics; it's just that well put-together. Like string-theory, it's impossible to understand exactly why this madness works together, but it all merges together into one phenomenal, working mess in the end.

Although it's lamentably banded about for everything from faux-organic Pepsi to Nicole Scherzinger’s bedroom manner, the adjective that comes most to mind with Supertalk is 'raw'. Supertalk is that good kind of unstable. It's the loose cannon of the anthology world, only you don't so much worry about when it will go off, rather if it will stop firing at all. Although sometimes the dialogue might be un-proofed or the illustration might be a little rough, that’s all part of the frenetic adventure. It’s a delightful barrage, and one that pays very little regard for the delicate optic nerves connecting readers’ eyeballs and brains – in a good way. You defiantly won't regret discovering it. I certainly don't. Thanks, J.T.!

Andres Vera Martinez' "Dear Chicago" features one hell of an altruistic-misfire. Included here because, well, nothing rounds off a review like scenes of men incapacitating the needy. 

  • Buy Supertalk 1 and/or 2 via the Bird Cage Bottom Books website

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