Jumbly Junkery #8
L. Nichols, writer/artist
self-published, October 2009
Jumbly Junkery #9
L. Nichols, writer/artist
self-published, April 2010
Most of the minicomics I’ve read have one overriding, primary purpose: They’re an art object, they’re a formal exercise, they’re a concise storytelling or visual statement. L. Nichols’s Jumbly Junkery has a purpose, I think, but instead of a well-placed sniper’s bullet, it’s a shotgun blast. The goal of her one-woman anthology minicomics series appears to be nothing more or less than creating a vehicle for the unfiltered self-expression of a cartoonist with a massively prodigious work ethic. It’s a conveyor belt from the artist’s brain to the reader’s.
Most of the strips in these two issues, based on my unscientific survey, are little autobiographical sketches. They’re the sort of comic where
each new phrase
is separated out from the others
and captions each new panel
for an effect that is at once staccato
Which is not my favorite writing style in the world, admittedly. But in Nichols’ case it doesn’t come across like the comics-as-poetry nightmare you might be picturing, because it’s so clearly tied to her compulsion to create. It’s like she can’t help but draw a new panel for every phrase and clause. The two issues are peppered with strips where she either contemplates her constant drawing or perseverates on the worrying feeling that, you know, this is all there is, occasionally combining as she fears that what she’s doing is an insufficient means of transcending both her own inadequacies and those of humanity in general. In all three cases, there’s a sense of obsession that goes a long way toward undercutting any potential cutesiness in the art or execution. Throw in the repeated motif of mathematical formulae, derived from her own studies IRL and serving the same purpose as those spotted mandalas in Blankets, and you can understand what she’s going through even you’re not quite ready to go along with her.
Nichols works primarily in a pleasantly cartoony style best exemplified by her self-caricature as a stuffed doll with x’d-out button eyes and a mohawk. Again, there’s the danger of twee, but it’s undercut by genuinely deft gray shading, the doll’s unsettling featurelessness, and an overall attention to craft. Moreover, issue #9 displays a wide array of styles, from a wiry, scratchy, more recognizably “altcomix” philosophical comic to an abstract comic with Mondrian-style squares to a cleaner, slicker “comic strip” style complete with zipatone to an almost xkcd-ish bit on the white noise of technology to a funny-animal thing that feels like a Matt Furie comic drawn by someone who does kids comics for First Second. And since most of the stories in both issues are just one or two pages long, there’s a pleasant idea churn. Don’t like this strip? Don’t worry, there’s a new one on the next page. All told, Jumbly Junkery is a fine example of a minicomic as a means to an end, a record of and venue for a cartoonist’s progress rather than a discreet declaration.