Just a Man #1, Lost Kisses #9-10, Worms #4, and XO #5
Brian John Mitchell, writer
Just a Man #1 – Andrew White, artist / 56 pages
Lost Kisses #9 & 10 – Brian John Mitchell, artist / 36 pages each
Worms #4 – Kimberlee Traub, artist / 40 pages
XO #5 – Melissa Spence Gardner, artist / 44 pages
Silber Media, 2009 (I think)
Wow, these little suckers put the “mini” in “minicomic.” They’re just under an inch and a half square, limiting the comics they contain to one image-caption pairing per page. It’s an interesting constraint to work impose upon oneself, given that auteur Brian John Mitchell is already up against his own inability to draw. That’s not a subjective assessment, by the way–we’re not talking Jeffrey Brown lo-fi or Brian Chippendale noise or John Porcellino minimalism or Anders Nilsen stick figures or anything else that’s a matter of taste in the Mitchell-drawn Lost Kisses, we’re talking actual stick figures, with little happy-face faces and five even tinier sticks for fingers. Mitchell’s enthusiasm for making comics outstripped his ability to master even its most basic necessities. Which is kinda cute, I’ll admit, and works well enough for the kind of ramshackle navel-gazing confessional humor he’s doing in that particular series, but the air of self-indulgence is unmistakable. Making matters worse is a problem with image flow–I know, hard to believe given that you’re just dealing with one tiny picture and caption on every page. But Mitchell places the drawings on top of the captions even though the drawings respond to what’s said in the captions, so that you either have to read bottom-to-top or constantly spoil the gag for yourself. I have no idea why he does that way–surely he noticed it doesn’t scan? I don’t think it’s a formal innovation done for effect, like Chippendale’s chutes-and-ladders layouts–I just think it’s a mistake.
Which is what makes the other three comics in the envelope Mitchell sent me all the more surprising. Not due to the presence of other artists, mind you–White’s work on Just a Man is scratchily effective, particularly with some effects involving sun glare and flames, but Traub aims for abstraction and ends up coming out just sorta sloppy, while Gardner’s basic cartoony figures look like they came from any number of entry-level webcomics or student-newspaper strips. No, what’s impressive here is how the physical constraints of Mitchell’s tiny format are made to enhance his storytelling. When you have so little room that simply printing a sentence at a legible size eats up half your page, you’ve gotta keep things terse, so why not go hard-boiled and tale tales of murder and mayhem committed by flat-affect protagonists? Just a Man is a Western morality play of violent retribution; a couple of moments overstate the case, I think, but in general it’s a chilling thing, with some memorable facial expressions from White and a surprisingly, refreshingly open and un-cliche ending. XO is a series, but this is apparently the origin story for its blase hitman protagonist, and believe me you didn’t need to know this to appreciate the bracing matter-of-factness with which the character unwittingly but unhesitatingly graduates from selling drugs to eliminating an exceedingly minor threat to that undertaking. Worms is the least effective of the trio–the art just doesn’t do what it wants to do–but the story seems like an engaging enough Cold Heat-style weird-tale sci-fi mindfuck involving a young woman in peril and fighting to break free, and it sure does take a turn for the suddenly brutal at one point. In more assured hands, all three could be really killer melds of form and function. As it stands, they’re maybe not quite there, but if you wanted to spend a measly buck per book, even just to examine what they do right and what they do wrong, you’d have my blessing.