Reviewing Important Comics [Part 3 of 5]
Important Comics Are Bad (Self-Published by Dina Kelberman): This volume of Dina Kelberman’s work collects the first two years or so of strips published in the Baltimore City Paper. If you want a terrific example of her subversive sense of humor, look no further than the negative pull-quote singularly featured on the back cover from a reader pleading for CANCELLATION of her strip! That killed me. The sheer confidence exhibited is something I’ve always wanted to do with a mini-comic. It reminds me of a pull quote that adorned a run of (was it Erik Larsen’s old Defenders???) a Marvel Comic in the 90’s which read something to the effect of “This is the worst comic being published today.” Bravo to Kelberman for wearing their scorn like a badge of honor. Important Comics Are Bad is twice the length, at 88 pages or so, of the previous two collections I read. It’s another book where you can track the progression of her style. It begins with more traditional black and white strips which are wholly contained within their panel borders (the color is something I found myself desperately missing), and then leaps to a more abstract style, with free floating imagery and lettering, where the panel borders break down and morph. The non-sequitur endings would indeed sometimes baffle the average newspaper audience not familiar with the mini-comics movement that spawned them. I think it’s a frickin’ riot that these ran in the paper for the years they did, flying in the face of the old paradigm. That’s a dynamic I enjoy. Kelberman once again takes her self-critical exploits and ports her own life into her cypher stick figures. She questions why anyone would want to publish her book, contends with the reaction to her strips form the general public, and occasionally a relatively simple strip like “Breakthrough” will hint at hope, at some type of self-analytical revelation. From a formatting standpoint, I have to say that it was a little annoying to continually turn every page sideways. I understand that in order to fit the size of the publication and get two per page in every layout it was necessary, but nevertheless my neck started hurting about a third of the way through. There are also a couple of pretty bad typos, such as “sponteneity” lurking about, but these small stumbles are usually overshadowed by the humor. I really liked the earnest take-it-or-leave-it nature of the raw block of text Kelberman used when she was sick, explaining that she couldn’t do that day’s strip, and the important lesson about her that taught the readership. You rarely see that willingness to interact so directly in a newspaper setting. Another experience I can relay is that occasionally the strips become repetitive in tone and commentary after consuming so many back to back in one setting. It’s probably something that someone other than me as a reviewer wouldn’t experience, but nevertheless I found it to be true. In any case, I hope Kelberman doesn’t genuinely fret about “rigorous pointless art projects consuming her life,” because one of those words just doesn’t belong. Grade B+.