5.25.2011

Monty Comix Trifecta

After reviewing Monty Comix #2 at Poopsheet Foundation, creator Kayla Escobedo tracked me down and was kind enough to send in issues 1, 3, and 4 of her ongoing mini-comic publication for review. It’s interesting to have a group of issues in front of me and chart the evolution of the work from issue to issue. The first issue begins in slightly out of focus black and white, though the cover is in color and is absolutely eye catching. It’s got a nice graphic design sense about it, in the manner of those old produce crate labels that yuppies now use to decorate their kitchens. Escobedo’s anthropomorphic ciphers tell supposedly “true stories” as the cover indicates. The best part of these figures is that their facial caricatures depict their personalities very well, whether timid or intimidating, the facial characteristics convey the right tone. High School Train Blues involves an incident with strong arm robbery for lunch money, while the cipher character, an interesting amphibian looking whale, appears naked and exposed while navigating this seedy world. The fact that in her recollection she’s naked is revealing, it’s symbolic of her being unable to defend herself, much less help others around her avoid the same type of plight. The violence found in this issue makes the protagonist afraid to engage with the world around them, positioning this issue as thematically consistent with the idea that Escobedo’s characters are constantly struggling to find their place in the world. The first issue ends with a two page spread that captures the more whimsical elements I find appealing in her work.

The third issue of Monty Comix focuses on stories about Whale Girl, and immediately there’s an evident jump in production quality. Escobedo has utilized better paper stock, crisper printing, and more lush inks. Not only do we see the anthropomorphic Whale Girl, but also some of her plump nondescript “gingerbread folk” (my description, not hers). There’s also something I like to see, which is better marketing and self-promotion, via Facebook and an eventual publisher with the next issue in the form of Dexter Cockburn’s The Comix Company. This issue is more sophisticated all around, not only in execution, but in the manner it addresses its subject matter. We find Whale Girl growing up and doing more ostensibly grown up things, but she’s not really feeling anything. In fact, she has to step on glass to feel, because she’d probably rather hurt than feel nothing at all. She spends time with a Fox who isn’t really engaged in the relationship, and the theme of finding her place in the world emerges yet again. Whale Girl has an incredibly awkward self-image and there seems to be a void existing existentially for her, to the point that she holds on to her pets after death, because it’s one of the only relationships to hold any meaning. Whale Girl seems to seek escapism from this mess, and maybe that’s one of the truths that drives the more autobiographical elements of the work. As with the second issue I previously reviewed at PF, the back pages seem to be reserved for closing commentary on female objectification and how that’s pervaded society in subtle ways.

If I’m not mistaken, the fourth issue is the first full color issue inside and out. It begins with an impressive wrap around cover that possesses the kind of fine inky detail that calls to mind South American artists like Rafael Grampa or Juan Jose Ryp. This issue contains more Whale Girl adventures and Escobedo’s artistry has now grown leaps and bound in the space of just four issues, if you compare the first issue to this one. Take a look at that first page with the stinky dead cat in a bag and you’ll see more fine art technique seeping in than traditional made-copies-at-Kinko’s mini-comics penciling. The story The Sleepover seems to boil things down to their essential components required for the audience to grasp meaning. For example, a stray bag of chips is simply labeled “Salty Chips.” That direct singular approach is very refreshing to me in the sometimes obtuse world of mini-comics. Whale Girl seems to be trying hard to transcend her ghettoized origins by hanging with the “cool crowd,” and even watching some porn at a sleepover, because that’s the kids’ perception of what grown ups or cool kids actually do. They’re obsessed with society’s perception of them, and this issue seems to send a clear message to the youth of America that when you seek such external things to make yourself cool, you’ll never truly find them, and if you do attain that coveted “thing,” it will ring hollow when you do finally obtain it. It’s almost as if we’re learning and growing with Escobedo in this oddball coming of age story which highlights the pitfalls of vain personality characteristics. In short, just be yourself and that internal uniqueness will make you cool, not chasing whatever fad is perceived as cool by homogenous society at large. I’m constantly struggling to make a name-drop comparison only to show how great Escobedo’s work has risen to become. In that way, this notion of finding your own quirky personality subtly reminds me of Josh Cotter’s work in Skyscrapers of The Midwest, and the tiny panel strips at the end of Monty Comix seem very Chris Ware-ian in their execution. Kayla Escobedo is certainly one to watch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, a larger publishing house such as Sparkplug Comic Books or AdHouse Books became interested in distributing her work. For more information, check out www.kaylascomix.com Grade A.

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