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The Comic Queen
Lone Star State
Last year, I proposed an essay to Alexander Danner over at Graphic Novel Review about the different ways comics and prose fiction approach "point of view" in their respective styles of storytelling. I started work on it, but then GNR went onto the back burner, and then the Grind started up, so I doubt I'll ever have time to put the whole thing together.
If I ever did, though, I would now have to talk about Lonnie Allen's Lone Star State and the wonderfully odd things he's doing with POV, one of the basic parts of story structure. 'Cause I think this is the first time I've ever seen a comic told literally in the 1st person: each section so far is devoted to one main character, and all we see on the page in that section is what that one character sees. All we hear is what that one character hears, and that character's thoughts appear in captions for us to read.
I can only think of a couple times when someone's tried this in the more visual media--there was a movie of Raymond Chandler's The Lady in the Lake made back in the late '40s that was filmed as if the camera was attached to the main character's forehead, and Humphrey Bogart did one like that, too, but I can't recall the name right now--and I've always found them to be pretty contrived and not all that convincing. I was starting to think that 1st person narrative couldn't really be done other than on the written page or over the radio. But Allen's gone a long way toward proving me wrong, and I'm enjoying every page of it.
Now, if this was all Allen was doing, it'd be interesting enough to a structure-nut like me. But he's also telling a very effective story about the horrors of high school, throwing us into it right from the first page, then pulling back without ever letting the tension ease. And by moving the sections of his story around, showing us the same events from several different characters' POVs, he lets us, the readers, put together pieces of the story in ways that none of those individual characters can.
An interesting story being told really, really well.
Another anthology this one with three stories. My favorite was the second, about a mother coping with her sick daughter. The pictures and words told two different sides of the same story, which was very clever.
Comic World News
This is the first issue of a new regular series by Lonnie, although "regular" in the small press comics world could be interpreted in a number of ways. Two comics in a year can be considered regular, so we'll see what happens. And, not to give anything away or anything, but keeping the same title for the rest of the series might be a bit tough. There are three stories in here. The first is about a boxer who's lost faith in the world, the second about a young girl whose mother has killed herself, and the last about life and death and everything after. This was a really great read, and I recommend it for anybody who happens to be going to SPX this weekend (you lucky bastards), but it also felt a bit like a punch to the gut. A bit depressing, if you will, what with all the death and futility of it all. If you're looking for something happy I'm sure there's something with puppies on this site somewhere, but if you're looking for a solid comic, well, here it is.
Tell Tale Signs
We've seen these minimal symbols on washroom doors, telling us where to find a phone, escalator or ski-lift. There are hundreds of different ones and variations - I recycled a hand from a "stop" sign to create the brand-new "applause" icon, above - some stylized into incomprehensibility. (One "woman" symbol looks like a silhouetted woodwind instrument!)
These featureless, geometric little entities have acted in brief sequences before, but now Lonnie Allen's crisply-produced and consistently funny Tell Tale Signs has them star in a book-length tale. In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud suggested that simplified, "iconic" characters facilitate audience identification more than realistically rendered ones, and indeed - though he showed "cartoony" characters as examples - it's odd how easily here one is pulled into empathizing with the travails of One Bad Day in a nameless chap's life.
He exits his job with countless others, fends off requests from panhandlers. Dialogue's conveyed via word-balloons carrying the appropriate symbol, sometimes aided by a "?" or "!". Over much liquour consumption, he attempts to pick up a woman in a bar, has a fight with a recalcitrant ATM, and during a boozy, rainy drive afterward, we see the "slippery-when-wet" skidding-car road sign, then the familiar duo of youths from "school crossing." Oh, NO! His car upside-down and in flames, he ends up pursued by police dogs, struck by lightning, and his troubles are far from over...
In Tell Tale Signs, Lonnie Allen's wrought an amusingly bleak story, his cleverness, wit and sense of pacing and design well displayed. Further, here's another title to add to that "Best comics to show someone not into comics" list. It's eminently accessible, in the best sense of the word.
Lonnie Allen's Tell Tale Signs is a 40-page minicomic made up of pictograms, the kinds of symbols seen on street signs and informational placards. The main character looks like the guy on the men's restroom sign, and he talks in symbols, like the international no circle-with-slash. The plot is fairly typical for this kind of thing: guy tries to hook up with girl, guy gets shot down, over-the-top tragedy ensues. Message: drunk driving kills. The closest thing to a splash page is actually quite impressive in its combination of vehicles, trees, and figures. I especially liked the classic look of the dog silhouettes. At its best, this comic can be read quickly, due to the well-chosen symbols. The use of the diving pictograph was a particularly funny surprise. Other choices are strained, making too much of themselves. "B + (eye)" was probably the worst, the rebus disrupting my reading flow. Still, the creativity outweighs the occasional stumbles. It's a clever demonstration of what can be done outside the traditional art approach. Repetition of the concept would destroy the surprise, but as a $1 one-off, it's a treat.
-Johanna Draper Carlson
Comics Worth Reading
It's an inventive use of common icons and an amusing story.
A Fine Mess
A story told through icons. Love it.
It had some interesting twists, and just when I thought (it) used every symbol up, (it) found a way to tie another in. Good Stuff.
There aren't many comics where I could honestly say that the author has ingeniously used street signs to tell a story. Well, I can for this one. This is the story of a man who goes out, gets drunk, hits on a woman, and then wanders off. Any more than that and it's ruined, and this is one of the tougher books to sample because what do you pick from a book with no words and have it make sense? Oh well, who said this had to make sense? This book is only $1 (which is pretty amazing, considering how professional this book looks), and it was a great idea done to perfection.
I've seen other comics using picto-people, but (it) is the first one to make me laugh! The book, achieves greatness with the three-page accident scene. The story changes tone from comedy to deadly serious and the symbols become even more abstract, then switches back...so the pages in the middle are kinda like the "guitar solo" in the story! Also, I liked how the guy gives up by saying [Yield Sign]. HAHA!
Amazing Cynical Man
This is really clever stuff...
This is hilarious!
-Josh an 8 year-old at Majesticon
The Cheerleader and Other Stories
These two minis, from 2003 and 2004 respectively, showcase Lonnie's abilities as a writer of powerful, emotional short stories. The first mini features a quiet, grim tale about the fallout from a teen pregnancy, and one about (I assume) the author's childhood brush with racism, and how it left him literally scarred for life. Boxer is less successful, teaming the dramatic title story with two woolly cosmic meditations ? like Antaeus, Lonnie is strongest when his feet are on the ground.
This publication features four tales. The first "The Cheerleader" was the deepest in both storytelling and underlying emotion. The story had to do with a teenage abortion, but a short description doesn't suffice here. This was my favorite of the comic. My second favorite was a two-page interpretation of W.B. Yeats's poem, "He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven."
-Erin M. Schadt
The Comic Queen Blogspot
In an industry that belches out carbon monoxide poisoned formula, (The Cheerleader and Other Stories) is a gasp of life-saving oxygen. Nevermind the superhero shlock - even autobiographical comic books have become staid and predictable in the current comic book scene. That's why newcomer Lonnie Allen and company should be commended for throwing everything in the mix with equal weight and coming up with a book rich with low key thrills and real life moments. My favorite stories, hands down, are the more introspective, personal narratives. You can feel the vivid pain of discrimination and wounded pride in "The Red Thing on My Nose" and, by the triumphant final, subtle panel, you can taste the victory and vindication. "The Cheerleader" also effectively conjures up feelings of teen angst and confusion. These two stories stood out for me like bells chiming in the eerie night. When you hit these stories in the journey of reading (it), they hit you back. Powerful stuff. Most of all, I really appreciated the fact that Mr. Allen let his creative muse dictate the overall concept and content of his anthology. If more cartoonists created from the heart and strived for originality, instead of spinning endless variations on "The Punisher" or "X-Men" (it's been done, so let it go, geek boys out there!), the comic book world would be a much more interesting, and respectable planet to visit.
El Gato Comics
Frank Miller's GEN ERIC by Nick Mamatas, Lonnie Allen, and T. Motley
So who saw the Sin City movie? Complete mayhem all around, blood and guts all over the place (although not red blood), and all of the quiet moments from three Sin City books taken out for the sake of keeping up the frantic pace. Well, this parody has a lot in common with that, with the extra added bonus of being funny. Oh, if only my scanner worked and I could show you the back cover of this book, if sums the whole thing up beautifully. Anyway, if you're looking for a plot here, you're looking in the wrong place. It's a mish-mash of sex and violence, which shouldn't come as a shock to anybody, considering the subject material. The art is vaguely Frank Miller-esque, more than enough to keep the little book moving, and it was great to see a Sin City plot crammed down into mini comic form. More than enough here to keep fans (and haters) of the series happy.
It's a parody of Frank Miller's Sin City. I haven't read enough Sin City to know how well these guys did, but I do like that red and black cover.
U.S.A. War : Instruction Manual
Inside, Matt Dembicki's "Blonds Have More Fun" takes a Joe Sacco-like approach to a WW2-era story that is genuinely horrific and frightening; Lonnie Allen's "USA WAR Instruction Manual" is reminiscent of the agitprop to be found for the past couple of decades in World War Three Illustrated, using a clip-art style to comment on out-of-control U.S. aggression quite pointedly. These are the stand-out pieces...
-David Alan Doane
Comic Book Galaxy
Lonnie Allen and Bart Johnson both use this anthology as a soapbox, but they do so humorously enough that the reader may not even notice.