Mike Bertino, writer/artist
Revival House, April 2010
They don’t make ’em like this anymore. Time was, a fella could stand in the aisle of one of your better comic book shops and watch one-man staple-spined anthology series like what Mike Bertino’s Trigger #1 augurs roam the countryside in huge horizon-spanning herds, from the halcyon days of Eightball and Optic Nerve to outliers like Rubber Necker and Uptight. Now, Buenaventura Press’s quixotic damn-the-torpedoes efforts aside, the format is the provience of minicomics and micro-publishers. And bless ’em, because as seen here, it’s a useful format.
Bertino puts himself through the paces with three comics done in three different tonal and artistic styles. First up there’s a literary-fiction young-professional thing about a teacher’s first day with a new class. You’ve got your white-guy class’n’race issues, the ominpresence of alcohol, and a sexual politics sideswipe–the material suggests Tomine, while the straightforward, oval-eyed art reads to me like part-Jessica Abel, part-Hope Larson. Then there’s the funny middle section, which seems to use the fact that flannel is in again to tell a very ’90s altcomix-style story about a drunken debacle in a dive bar. Shit jokes, cusswords, crude and emasculating romantic mishaps, an anthropomorphized unicorn named Buttface abound, the story unfolds with a charming well-paced “one bad night” logic, and Bertino flips his style around to a rubbery Johnny Ryan/John Kerschbaum kinda thing. Finally, in a story of the sort that would likely find the most purchase in other alternative-comics anthologies today, a young man comes to terms with his abuse-scarred past via a series of might-be-visions, might-be-hallucinations. Here the art is at its most delicate and loveliest, like a thinner-lined Gabrielle Bell or a sturdier Anders Nilsen; the visions are done in a melty Mat Brinkmany freakout mode, with flame effects that reminded me of Jesse Moynihan. As a bonus, there’s the multicolored art-noise cover and equally messy/melty/monstrous/indecipherably fonted endpages, a sort of Providence-school cameo appearance.
Sandwiched together as they can only be in the solo anthology model, the disparate stories and styles provide a snapshot of Bertino’s range of interests and abilities; moreover, the whole product takes on an invigoratingly restless feel, as reader and artist alike appear not to know which way he’ll head with the next story. I suppose all the name-dropping above indicates that it comes across as a sort of greatest-hits package for the past decade and a half of alternative comics, and that it does, but I’m not complaining! After all, Bertino appears to know exactly which style to employ to achieve each of his desired effects, which is smart cartooning. Besides, the point of one of these one-man shows is to have room to explore, experiment, dabble, pastiche, parody, imitate, whatever, whether in service of a fully formed statement down the road or just for the love of the game.