5.26.2011

White Out: Engaging Heart & Mind

White Out is an amazing foray into self-published mini-comics by Leslie J. Anderson, one which will be impossible for me to forget. It’s that rare breed of creator output which engages both sides of my brain, occupying both sides of commercial viability – it offers entertainment and artistic expression. Most creators fall prey to this false dichotomy and only end up offering one of the two modes of creativity. Because White Out contains two short stories, it allows Anderson to explore both sides of her admitted duality, feeling that she is “half way between art and literature.” Overall, White Out begs your attention with a stark cover, integrity in the production values, and the type of professional packaging which is so often lacking in the world of self-publishing.

The first tale is The Napping Deeps, which centers on Cthulhu’s quest for his missing Teddy Bear. Who would have thought that a cute Cthulhu for kids would actually work? But, Anderson pulls it off quite convincingly. The art technique she uses compliments the turbulent environment and thematic tone of the story perfectly. What lazy audience members would probably dismiss as a muddled composition actually pulls you in subtly in an effort to navigate the mysterious world that’s been created. Anderson’s playful panel direction, clear panel to panel storytelling ability, and the variety of her shot selection (zooming in and out to alter the figure scale at will), along with her distinct characterization all make for an engaging experience. Cthulhu’s search for “Grand Inquisitor Cuddles Von Fuzzington” might not be quite as ethereal as something like Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic The Little Prince, but it does possess the type of wonderment you’d find from a creator like Jordan Crane (I’m thinking of his book The Clouds Above specifically), along with the Earth-bound pragmatism of the Hemingway motifs in Sammy Harkham’s Poor Sailor. Yeah. There’s a lot going on in what is ostensibly a story aimed at kids. The full page physical manifestation of the moon is an iconic and enduring image. Anderson could probably be selling large prints of this online or at Comic-Con and do some real business.

The second tale is titled White Horses on the back cover, but Gray Horses on the interior intro page. I’m not sure if that’s actually an oversight or intentional given the nature of some of the early dialogue concerning horses’ coloring. The story is an autobiographical depiction of animal abuse and lessons learned as a child. The art style is adapted here to be a little more clear and a little less abstract. The lettering is also crisper and the end result is that Anderson is able to effectively capture the way a child perceives the world. It’s full of mystery and exaggeration, with oversized doors looming, and inanimate objects capable of haunting our thoughts, as the magical can turn into the foreboding on a dime. There’s one small typo that somehow snuck in, “transgression” spelled as “transgretion.” That aside, Anderson has created a story that is deeply psychologically engaging, almost horror-inspired in the manner that Jodie Foster’s recounting of her childhood experiences with lambs haunted The Silence of the Lambs on screen. In fact, this story is the type you might see in a horror/mystery anthology or even produced as a short film itself. Anderson has found a brilliant way to take real events and make them feel fantastical without breaking the audience’s suspension of disbelief. In the end, I think it proves that kids are capable of processing and understanding more complex events and emotions than we probably give them credit for. I review a lot of mini-comics thanks to my regular writing gig at Poopsheet Foundation and I can easily say that White Out is a mid-year contender for my annual list of the Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles. For more information, get yourself over to http://www.lesliejanderson.com/ Grade A.

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