Noel Freibert gave me a copy of his latest comic, "My Best Pet," and I asked him if he wanted me to review it. He was noncommittal, and I said that I can only write about things that haven't had much said about them. While I've only seen one review of the comic, that review set off a big back-and-forth between critic and artist, where Noel explicitly stated his aims. Luckily, there's some things that went unsaid, which is great, because maybe my writing about this will get more people to give me comics for free. This is to be a positive review, absolutely tainted.
Anyway, Noel's comic is one of the first "actual comics" he's done. The work he's done in the past I'll characterize as "artist's books" for the sake of distinction: Fully silk-screened books, lots of layers- some of it is almost storybook format, but pretty heavily formal in its use of colors on top of each other. His mini "Entertainment Catalogue" is an example of this: It's all a hand shape and some text, using various masking effects, all advertising a yet-to-be-printed comic called "The Blue Hand." He's a pretty good silkscreener, as the three-color cover shows. There's a distinct 1990s Providence influence in how the colors play against each other in a way designed to avoid "paint by numbers" effects- the use of one color as a fill for another's line is deliberately avoided. It looks good. Here, the interiors are in black and white- as they were with his comic in Closed Caption Comics 8, with which this forms two parts of a trilogy. These are straight-forward comics, playing by the rules, using a six-panel grid. Without the multiple colors, the line drawing is pretty simple- there's no blacks, the line never wavers from a default that looks like it could be done in a ballpoint pen. (The exception being a shadowy figure on the first page and a slightly thicker line used for one character's word balloons in one all-dialogue sequence.) It's a pretty effective horror comic- EC is the reference point but the plotting is driven by dream logic more than a sense of ironic cosmic justice. This makes it disturbing beyond the "shock" animal cruelty violence that led to criticism. Despite all the exposition, the actual cause behind the events depicted is unexplained, attributable to just a pervasive evil, that exists outside the comic's basement purview.
Lane Milburn's side, "Feeble-Minded Funnies" does the same thing that annoyed me in his contribution to Closed Caption Comics 8: Being the most on-the-nose thing fucking EVER. In CCC 8, some orc-monsters in a ruined world find the miniatures used to role-play with and talk about their significance. Here, a creature called Pukeball tries to get people to read his art comics. It's pretty stupid, a gloss of commentary on Mat Brinkman comics to make it obvious. There's a Chris Cornwell comic that did the same thing and was similarly a bummer for me. We get it. Anyone who would read these comics doesn't need them. They're written for an imaginary audience that needed the existence of Multi-Force explained to them by something not as well done. The other comic here depicts basic human urges as monsters fighting. It's the same thing, basically: The self-explanatory explained. He either needs better concepts or more faith in art for art's sake, because this particular vein is very much the sort of comic you'd imagine an art student making. (On the blog there's pages of comics thrown out and abandoned, and it really wouldn't surprise me if that stuff was better but he just thought that these comics were "smarter," somehow, than that stuff.) It also reads, ironically, like the work done by a dude whose only interests are in comics and monsters and things like that, and this is him trying to justify that interest. I do congratulate him on his winning a Xeric grant and hope that the resulting published work is less self-conscious.