Tag Archives: Paul Grist

Mudman #1 | Paul Grist

My clock reads 2:28 am, yet for some reason I’m awake typing this review. My head hurts, and my body’s shouting at me with cold chills and lonesome aches. I feel some sort of illness charging my way, which of course “just figures.” Holiday break begins this weekend.

I’m compelled to tell you about Mudman #1, though. That’s sad, right? That I feel driven to tell you, the invisible reader, about this comic book? And it’s not even that good, which makes this activity even sadder. I should just get on with it, huh?

What’s funny about this new Paul Grist Image comic is that the book doesn’t even deliver what it states it will, which is a “story written for the comic book.” By now, most of you internet savy funny book fiends probably know of the open letter on the inside front cover of this printed item. I believe “news” blogs picked it up and gave it a few rounds. But, in case you’re unaware, here’s the gist of it …

“I’m not ‘Writing for the Trade’, I’m writing for the comic.”

Grist’s entire letter tells the infamous tale of how our comics and TV shows are now offered in narrative chunks. You know, the box set and the trade paper back… and Grist isn’t down with this. For him, these media are a means of serialized storytelling, so why experience the entire story at once? He then goes on to pledge his comic, this Mudman, will uphold the serialized mindset. That’s great. I completely agree with him.

Because I like comics. I like 20 page bundles, and I like staples. I like monthly installments. I like the idea of time adding to the narrative. Trades, to me, destroy all of that, and in some regard, like Grist notes, trades destroy the flow of comic book storytelling. I honestly kind of hate the fucking things. To me, you’re not getting everything when you read the story in a trade because time is not necessary involved to help supplement the tale. Instead, it’s all in your face. You’re not thinking as much as you should about it. Most likely, when you’re done, the story isn’t going to linger with you. Because you’re done with it, and it just becomes another book on a shelf where you house the rest of your shitty Fear Itself tie-in trades.

Which is itself a messed up situation … the fact that everything must now see a collection. No. Most of this shit deserves to rot in some box or backroom storage area. But whatever. Mudman.

So I agree with the intention, but Grist doesn’t translate that intention. Instead, Mudman reads like any other first issue you might see in the current landscape, except it’s little weaker. Script wise. Art wise, though, I’d say it’s a whole other story. I’ll offer a little praise first. I don’t want to be a complete asshole.

This comic looks like nothing else on the market right now. That’s safe to say. Style. Layouts. It’s pretty unique. What I appreciate the most is the abundance of white space left between the panels as well as in them. The book feels clean that way – clean and minty fresh. Which works very well when juxtaposed with the dark browns this mud-centric story implies. It also just bounces off of the majority of comics right now. So many of the big super hero titles resort to the muck coloring and “mature” stories in which Superman is a dick that this little comic suggests a breath of fresh air when you look at it. I can appreciate that just as I can appreciate the design aspect in each and every one of Grist’s pages. The panel placement suggests a sense of time invested in the creation, yet Grist’s expressionistic style offers up a quick cartooning look.

I think a lot of this comic, visually, is about emphasis. The book uses contrast to make specific elements stronger, and because of that I feel the comic keeps your eyes’ attention a little longer than most things.

But I was in ill-favor of this comic, wasn’t I? I should get back to that.

As Tim Callahan points out, intention is separate from what its actually on the page, and I agree with him, but I feel in this case intention is an element of the final product. For one, the intention is blatantly stated in the work, and two, the comic seems to be so much about offering an alternative that it cannot help but be connected to the statement of intention. I think Grist wants to do this comic because he wants to give people a monthly super hero story that is monthly as well as lighthearted, but he’s so much about that, that the comic really just seems to exist for the sake of an intention, or better yet, to be a public statement rather than to tell a story. So it’s with that I must hold the work up to the intention, and Grist doesn’t nail it.

The comic gets the lighthearted bit right, but it’s still written with an eventual trade paper back in mind. True, Grist has the notion of serialized narrative in mind, but this comic really leaves too much to be explained in future issues. There’s nothing here that’s solid or of its own. Instead, Mudman #1 sets up a lot of pieces without supplying anything concrete or satisfying for this monthly installment. The comic’s somewhat hypocritical.

But say we even remove intention from the argument and just focus on what is exactly on the page … Mudman still doesn’t really work. The plot is sown together in a disjointed fashion, going from numerous dream sequences to “real” world scenes. None of it flows together but rather makes you wonder what exactly is going on. There are even bits in the plot that don’t really work. For one example, our protagonist is at one point hit by a car – which is nonetheless driven by one of his teachers – but rather than being apologized to or taken care of, he is yelled at. That doesn’t make any sense.

But I’m not even sure if he was hit by a car because on the very next page the automobile is parked and its owner comes walking from the opposite direction, implying some weird sense that what we saw is not exactly so. Which is interesting for a mystery, but I’m not even sure if it is a mystery or just bad story telling.

The entire comic just makes for a disjointed read, and I was given very little in what is supposed to be a monthly installment to really say I received anything. That said, I’ll probably give issue 2 a shot because I’m still somewhat intrigued, but more importantly, Mudman looks really good. Can’t complain on that front.

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Absent Colors

Edit: This post may not be up to the snuff of my recent writing on this blog as it is an inventory post. I wrote this back in July and never posted it. The piece was originally intended for PopMatters, but they suck and blew me off. So, here it is. Better writing will continue next week as I bunker down and create.

Still, it’s not terrible. An interesting point is made, and I feel it’s worth the time. Please only excuse some of its construction.

Hell, though, you may think it’s right on par with everything I do. If so, fuck you.

In comics, color tends to be the major indicator of tone. It can’t help but be. Above pure style or detail or simplicity, it’s the piece of comic art that makes the first impression. Why? The human eye is naturally attracted to color, or more specifically light. Our eyes respond to light. That’s their job; they take in light, process it, send messages to our brains, and our brains sketch out the world we see. Light holds no specific color, though. It’s just light. What builds our perception of color are the wavelengths possessed by the light our eyes process. When our brains decode the wavelengths though, it is believed that we make judgments of our world based on our perceptions of color. Want a healthy snack? The bright green of celery may be a good indicator.  Safe place to live? The neighborhood with the bright, red rose buds and the white picket fences probably appears secure.

If this belief be true, which I feel it is, then we are constantly reading tones in our everyday lives. It makes sense that a violent splash of red gives a comic book a sense of danger. For reason why we respond to specific colors in specific ways, I’m not sure, but there is this great essay from writer Matt Seneca on the subject (seriously, read it).

So what’s the case for black and white comic books? They certainly exist, and they certainly contain stories with emotion and idea. How do they communicate their tone? Maybe simple subject matter has something to do with it – see The Walking Dead – but I have a feeling that in the absence of color art line art carries a little more weight.

For a random example, take Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. A comic book that uses a lot of cross-hatching and small lines to create a feeling of grit and urbanness while populated by lines making animal shapes to build a sense of parody.

Even with color, line can still dictate tone. Sam Kieth uses many angular lines to convey the edge his work his after while Frank Quitely’s line gives off a vibe of fun energy with its round, almost wafting quality.

This next example may not be as “glamorous” as the few previous, but I’ve recently read a collection of short strips from Jack Staff artist Paul Grist that is to blame for the thought I’m typing here. While Grist collaborated with writer Phil Elliott in the early years of their careers, the men produced a handful of comic strips for magazines such as Taboo and Escape. Recently, these early strips were collected into a mini comic collection by Slave Labor Graphics which is titled Absent Friends. I, believe or not, obtained my copy via Erik Larsen’s garage or at least an associate of his who obtained this Larsen-garage treasure and then sent it to me. Yeah, sorry, I had to name drop. Anyway, these tales explore the usual ideas with stories of friendship, career, and sex, but they do so without coming off as just another “auto-bio, young man’s view of the world” comic. Even though they do cross the usual thoughts of indie comics, these strips do so very well by simple fact of their craft. Elliott writes a story that never spells it all out. His scripts are tight and fast paced. You never really get it all on the first read through, but you still get enough to entice you back for more. The second reading is when narrative details pop; a quality I’ve never really seen in short, vignette comics. There is actually something quite short story, or even Hemingway about them.

I’m here to talk about Grist’s work, though. As you recall, this post did start out with thoughts of visuals and tone, and I feel the work in Absent Friends really is a nice example of tone through line work. Grist is well-known for his charismatic, dynamic style because of his comic Jack Staff, but Absent Friends carries more of a rigidness. It’s not bad rigidness, like Alex Ross or recent Scott Kolins would present, just rigidness in the sense that this is a young artist, as of yet, without a particular style, and in the context of Grist’s current work it’s comparatively stiff next to Jack Staff.  Grist understands mechanics and can tell a story, but he just lacks a flamboyant style that comic readers are accustomed to.

The rigidness is one of the techniques that convey tone, though. As described, these are stories about relationships, lost friends, and struggling artists, so the stiff, more serious aesthetic of his line actually works well to communicate the point that most of these stories are not to be laughed at but rather thought about. The line art is very blunt in it’s nature. This work well for these comic strips because writer Phil Elliott, while not spelling everything out, is sort of blunt in his storytelling, or at least the nature of his narrative is very visceral. It’s not visceral in a violent sense, but the stories do present their events in a very forward fashion. The approach could be described as  “Look, this happens. Now, it’s over. Move on. Think about it when you’re done reading.” The sort of up front, no flare about it artwork Grist creates reflects this tone very well and furthers its transmission.

Grist also gives attention to his backgrounds for the cause of tone. Absent Friends isn’t one-hundred percent serious. There are a few, I guess you’d call them, “gag strips” or humorous takes on relationships throughout the collection. They’re intermingled, and the collection transitions through an array of emotions. Grist helps separate these stories by taking advantage of or destroying open space. Stories that exist to be taken a bit seriously usually contain panels with cluttered backgrounds. Grist uses devices such as rain, snow, simple cross-hatches, or a wide array of dispersed objects to tighten up the panel. That tight, almost claustrophobic feel contains the reader into a certain emotional mindset. The humor strips are the opposite. Grist leaves a lot of white space in the backgrounds, lettering and sound effects appear enthusiastic, and even character’s heads are a little more round and cartoonish. The humor stories, because of the environment Grist puts them in, look very dynamic.

This is an early work from Elliott and Grist, but in some ways it feels like years and years of experience were on hand when they made the stories within Absent Friends. These comics are well crafted, and while printed in black and white, Grist makes use of the line art to sell the heart of these stories. More importantly, Absent Friends made me consider the role of line art. I tend to think it’s job is simply style and obviously building shapes, but there is more to it, especially when you read a comic book that takes advantage of it. Color will always be the dominate messenger of tone, certainly, but I think next time I read a comic I’ll study the line and see if it too is sending a message.

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