6.11.2013

Blammo #8 [Small Press]

Blammo #8 (Kilgore Books): This is a good book to read in the bathroom at work when I want to dodge work for 20 minutes or so. Yeah. How about that? Where’s my cover blurb, Van Sciver?! It’s been a while since a new issue of Blammo hit, but if you picked up The Hypo (and really, why wouldn’t you?), you can probably understand the delay, and also be reassured that it was worth the wait. “Dog on Wheels” is an interesting one-pager that opens the issue and instantly sets the tone. It’s a quick strip about a rather innocuous child’s toy, but it highlights that sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants, even if it’s something that hurts the heart. It’s about that incessant pull of wanting to see and do things that you know aren’t going to sit well with you, but sometimes you can’t resist, either because you want to take a voyeuristic look, sometimes you’re just acting on impulse and kid yourself that it’s for a different reason, or sometimes just to see if you can get away with it emotionally. The eighth installment of Noah Van Sciver’s little cottage empire is a contemplative issue.

This vibe continues in the second piece, “Expectations,” a story about a guy named “Kramer” venturing to a party and encountering his ex-girlfriend Nikki, despite maybe not really wanting to see her, but knowing he’ll probably see her there all the same. Kramer and Nikki have one of those post-break up talks outside. The kind where you sort out that not only are you losing your significant other, but your best friend too, and sometimes the latter hurts more than the former, and it’s usually something you’re unable to reconcile. Kramer begins to understand that letting go is difficult when the comfort of the familiar feels like the only thing that will console you, souls once again being torn in two directions. With a creator like Van Sciver, who moves fluidly between autobiography and biography, I always wonder how much of himself he puts into projects like this. Is this guy Kramer merely a stand-in? Is it really Van Sciver who is suffering from a bout of depression, recently broken up with his girlfriend, and is wandering the streets at night encountering the specter of his former self?

“Charles The Chicken” is an urban post-apocalyptic number that humorously breaks the fourth wall. We see Van Sciver interrupt the story quickly, wondering where the hell this story is going, classic creative self-doubt, pulling and pushing one direction or another, wanting to see if he can actually pull this strip off despite maybe thinking it’s a lame idea. Meanwhile, Bill The Chicken is in hell, and it’s not exactly living up to his preconceived expectations. Van Sciver has a way of delivering hilarious lines in a totally deadpan way. “Death becomes me” being the best example in this latest issue. Next up is “The Wolf & The Fox,” which is adorned with these gorgeous decorative panel borders. It looks almost like an illustrated manuscript from the 1500s, with a level of cross-hatching and stylistic intent that almost reaches a woodcut style, all emphasizing the adaptation of a Grimm Fairy Tale. It’s always good to see NVS push himself to try other aesthetics and other genres, and he nails the free-floating text accompanying the imagery, deviating from the traditional comics sequence. It’s an interesting selection though, conscious or not, a story about a wolf who never learns from his mistakes, repetitive actions risk destroying his very being. Once again, it’s a story about a protagonist torn in two directions, instinct vs. logic.

“She’s Losing It” stars Bradley and Jimmy, an everyman and his inner demons embodied, on a quest to find true love. There’s a tragic and unexpected end that sort of gives new meaning to all that’s come before. “I Don’t Love Anyone” is an illustrated dream about the longing for a missing other. “Punks vs. Lizards,” like “Charles The Chicken,” is a recurring story, IIRC, featured in the Blammo series. With this one, Van Sciver seems to have a fascination with a rabid future world at the end of times. He wants to see what humanity will come to, no matter how horrific or absurd. It also features a character called “Brunetti,” as well as John Porcellino(!). Now, there are few things funnier in the world of small press comics than when Van Sciver draws mouth-agape friend and colleague John Porcellino. And, y’know, giant lizards fucking. Aside from the gags, this story is largely about not being afraid to settle the score, doing what’s right, even if it means your own death. It’s that mysterious pull against our own interests sometimes evident in the human experience.

“Dive Into That Black River” is an ethereal two-page spread about throwing caution to the wind and letting the chips fall where they may. Considering one of the NVS end notes about how he’s going to approach the art of comics-making moving forward, I couldn’t help but think this was totally self-referential for Van Sciver. It reminded me of an Anthony Bourdain quote as he fulfilled a lifelong dream to explore the Congo, often times at great risk to himself, and it's something I'd readily whisper to Van Sciver over a drink if we were personal pals: “Be loyal to the nightmare of your choice.”

The final four shorts are a shotgun blast of diversity, where Van Sciver (and another) change up styles at will. It’s just about having fun, and was a nice way to decompress from the sometimes heady dearth of positive emotion swirling around the preceding pieces. Matthew Thurber offers a strip as a guest, Van Sciver then uses what looks like some ink washes in another piece, and trickles out with some odd and entertaining self-referential photo collage (for lack of better descriptors) and some requisite shameless plugs from the artist himself in comic form, including a collaboration with Joseph Remnant. The back cover, “Gentle Souls” features a slightly effeminate, nerdy, not-quite-a-hipster self-consuming cultural archetype.

Blammo #8 is probably the most thematically cohesive issue of the series so far. I enjoyed the smaller half-page size, as well as what felt like heavier inks, especially in the earlier pieces, punching up the emotional weight Van Sciver was probably experiencing when putting this issue together. Anyway. Support Noah Van Sciver. I’ve been saying this for the 4 years I’ve been enjoying his work since I first discovered it. It’s a sad comment on our lack of vision, but he may not win any awards until future generations finally recognize he’s the Robert Crumb of our time. Grade A.

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