L. Nichols, writer/artist
self-published on the web, September 2009-August 2010
Read it at DirtBetweenMyToes.com
I worry that I over rely on comparing comics to still other comics when reviewing them, but once this comparison occurred to me there was no way I wasn’t gonna use it: L. Nichols’ Angel is like Benjamin Marra’s Night Business crossed with Megan Kelso’s Artichoke Tales. Like the former, it’s a straight-faced homage to the trash aesthetic of late-’70s/early-’80s black-and-white genre comics and grindhouse/straight-to-video movies — this time it’s not erotic urban slasher thrillers being saluted, but post-apocalyptic gang-warfare stories. And like the latter, it’s using a somewhat disreputable genre as a filter for a story about violent conflict’s disruptive effects on friendships, love, and sex — Angel‘s funneling of queer sexuality through an idiosyncratically Brooklynite (lots of bike-riders!) Warriors-scape replaces Kelso’s multi-generational saga of lovers tossed around an epic anthropomorphized-artichoke fantasy framework by the winds of war
To be sure, it’s not quite as accomplished as either of those works. In a way, the seriousness of the emotional stuff Nichols is working with undercuts one of the great strengths of Marra’s comparable comics, which is how hard he can make you laugh at the sheer go-for-the-gusto-ness of it all. Where Marra’s sex and violence is garish, gaudy, and over-the-top, Nichols’s is a bit subdued and somber, and ironically that makes the pulpy prose (see page one above) harder to swallow. At the same time, though, the romantic entanglements, however far afield they roam in terms of the gender and sexuality of the participants, are much more firmly in the straightforwardly star-crossed lovers mold of traditional genre comics and movies than Kelso’s richly imagined couples and families. Moreover, the action sequences tend to be pretty much one beat per panel, making it difficult to get a sense of where characters are in relation to one another or what the consequences of any given shot or swing or explosion really are. The climactic battle sequence builds up an impressive momentum with its page after page of isolated action incidents, but in smaller doses, this method of pacing can be frustrating.
But that pacing is hers. That’s the important thing here, I think. And that melancholy combination of over-the-top ’80s-action cheese and bodice-ripping (or strap-on-wielding) romantic intensity is hers. Like the best alt-genre/”new action”/fusion comics, Angel isn’t an artist molding her ideas into a preexisting template, it’s her using her ideas as the template, and pouring bits and pieces of the genre art she loves into the mix to fill it up. When it works, it’s really exciting: Those staccato panels, which hardly ever show two people in the same frame and frequently don’t even show entire faces, create a real sense of paranoia and insecurity in that post-apocalyptic landscape. And the romantic material is affectingly personal despite its clichés. It’s not an action comic with heart, it’s a heart comic with an action, if that makes any sense. It’s not intended to be rad or stylish or awesome or sexy or cool or now, it’s intended to be exactly the combination of personal preoccupations and obsessions that it is. If I could say that about all alt-genre comics, whatever their other flaws, I could read them all damn day and still feel like I wasn’t cheating myself of the unfettered personal expression the best of the “alt” side of that equation can offer.