Thursday, August 7, 2008

Review: Fatal Faux-Pas (plus: more on my convention phobia)

Fatal Faux-Pas
Samuel Gaskin
Secret Acres

I've repeatedly mentioned here how much I hate the idea of comics conventions. Not so much the reality--the only noteworthy convention I've ever attended was the 1994 Heroes Con in Charlotte--but the very idea of spending time in an enclosed space with people who know more about Red Tornado than me (not that my knowledge of Red Tornado is especially deep by internet standards, but I surely possess greater knowledge of the character than the sort of person one might typically describe as living a rich, fulfilling life). I don't even like shopping in a comics store on a busy day; the last thing I want to do is spend hours with such folks in an environment which encourages them to completely surrender to all their nerdly impulses. And that's not even counting all the industry schmoozing, the presence of G4's on-air personalities or Star Trek extras, or any of the other things about San Diego which made me too depressed about comics to write anything here for several weeks.*

And, frankly, there's some social anxiety at work as well. I don't like crowds, I'm sort of shy with folks I don't know, and I'm kind of suspicious of using alcohol as a social lubricant, mostly because I'm sentimental and long-winded when drunk. And so I have no idea the last time I was drunk in public. I'm not really sure when I was last drunk--probably when I last made risotto. Cause, really, there's not much else to do besides drink a beer or two when you're trying to cook risotto. Oh, and I don't like bars. So nothing about a convention seems as unpleasant to me as hanging out in a crowded hotel bar with a bunch of people I just met, just drunk enough to start pontificating on the role of comics in my childhood relationship with my father within the earshot of any other living human being.

But, having said all that, I'm still planning on hitting the two big west coast alternative comics cons (APE and Stumptown) because I really like the idea of a convention from the perspective of a consumer. I can completely understand why the folks at IDW are skeptical about the advantages of a convention--even the horrible comic store in my new city of residence** carries IDW titles, so it's not like they really need the exposure or sales that come with a convention appearance. But a small press show (theoretically) exposes you to material you wouldn't normally find in a local comic shop, no matter how good.

And that, at long last, brings us to Samuel Gaskin's Fatal Faux-Pas. This isn't a comic you will have to go to a convention to track down--it's on Amazon--but it seems like the sort of amazing discovery you read about people making at shows like SPX. Actually, it seems like several amazing discoveries put together, as Gaskin works in a number of veins. There's heavily ironic, pop-culture referencing strips, sketches, avant-garde passages, satires of other comics (most notably John Porcellino's King Cat), and a couple of longer, funny stories as well.

Those two stories probably are my favorite out of everything in the book, but they're really nothing alike. The first, "My Kinski," deals with a mainstream filmmaker who decides to make an "independent" film by copying the worst excesses of Werner Herzog. The latter, "Escape," is the story of someone escaping from prison; maybe it's because I recently read Boy's Club, but I found it somewhat reminiscent of Matt Furie, especially a scene in which the protagonist eats the filling out of a taco. The very loose plot primarily serves as a venue for Gaskin's humor, much of which involves grotesque/surreal body manipulation. "My Kinski," however, has a much tighter pace, delivering precise gags intended to highlight the absurdity of the situation.

I thought both these stories were pretty funny, which speaks well for Gaskin's range as a cartoonist. Perhaps even more impressive was the success of the strips referencing pop culture. I generally hate this kind of humor, especially if it's the lazy, Seth MacFarlane-ish recognition humor. (You know, "Hey, do you remember old toothpaste commercials? So do I! Awesome!") These were much funnier, not entirely reliant on the reader's familiarity with pop culture artifact (with the possible exception of the Harry Potter/Black Sabbath strip, which probably makes no sense at all if you aren't familiar with Sabbath and at least one other band (I won't spoil who), and which is probably even better if you are more familiar with Harry Potter than I am; my wife, who is familiar with both Harry Potter and Black Sabbath, seemed to really like it).

I was especially impressed with the Saved By the Bell strip. I've never seen an episode of the show, and my knowledge of it is limited to knowing that Screech is the one who is a nerd. But Gaskin keeps my interest with some pretty clever formal play and off-kilter execution (for instance, all the speech balloons snake around, the tails exiting the speaker's mouth in a somewhat unsettling way). And it was still funny.

Fatal Faux-Pas has a very tossed-off feel to it, the more developed strips sitting alongside sketchbook material and short, hastily-drawn comics. I guess you could interpret this approach in two ways: you could think of this as a hint of Gaskin's potential, or you could appreciate its loopy, eclectic charm. I'm kind of in the latter camp, even though I thought the more polished material was generally much stronger. So I guess I do expect greater things form Samuel Gaskin in the future, but there's plenty here to enjoy right now. If you appreciate the work of Michael Kupperman or Sam Henderson, or possibly even CF or James Kochalka, you'll find Fatal Faux-Pas well worth your time.

*Also I was busy. And distracted--we get Boomerang and NFL Network now. I never thought I'd be having conversations with my wife about the merits of Jabberjaw vs. Muttley, or Brett Favre's unwillingness to put in time in the film room.

**More on that in a few days. Man, am I bummed about this situation.

Review copy provided by publisher


Leigh Walton said...

see you at APE and Stumptown!

Winstrol said...

You just don't like crowds

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Well I don't like comics... I just like some animes and mangas, but not to the point of being a freak, it's just a sometime hobby, well I barely go to conventions and stuff like that when some friends want to go or well I feel like going but I don't really like crowds.

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