This week’s Round-Up is going up early because this weekend, which is when I usually writing these things, is all about Autoptic 2018, the latest iteration of the Twin Cities’ premier bi-annual small press comics/indie publications show, and so I’m going to be too damn busy buying and reading a whole bunch of new comics to have any time to write about them. Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of good stuff to talk about already this week thanks to Minneapolis’ own David Tea, who was very appreciative of my review of his Five Perennial Virtues #2 — so appreciative, in fact, that he hooked me up with some more of his comics, and I supplemented his generous “donation to the cause” by reading a couple others that he has available via Amazon. Let’s have a look :
Magic Horses is a bumper-sized reprint volume of issues five and seven of Five Perennial Virtues, and while the hows, whys, and wherefores of Tea’s re-packaging “strategy” are as utterly indecipherable and impenetrable as much of his work , that’s quite alright with me — in fact, I hope that both he and you realize that I mean that as a compliment. The contents of issue five revolve around Dave’s fictitious gig as a “professional gardener,” his struggles to repair a trellis (complete with a history of, and rumination upon the subject of, trellises in general), his battles with his own lethargy/laziness (he becomes very weak out of nowhere working on a trellis and is magically healed by an inter-dimensional “cosmic portal” of some sort), and his walks around town to buy coffee. Weird interruptions in the story for blocks of hand-written text, “clip art”-style patterns, double-page spreads of immaculately manicured lawns and, you guessed it, illustrations of trellises give the proceedings an otherworldly vibe that you’re either going to appreciate or not (I do, but I also realize that Tea’s are the very definition of “your mileage may vary” comics), and those same “ground rules” also apply to issue seven, which sees Dave pondering the “red eye” on the planet Jupiter and the shape of clouds before hitching a ride on a magical winged horse to a Japanese-style cloud palace, only to find an 1898-issued penny on his possibly-imaginary journey before returning to Earth. The art style varies from sketchy to intricate, with some bizarre photos of the cartoonist himself (one with his head super-imposed on the body of an ant) thrown in for good measure. Weird, inexplicable, deeply personal stuff that seems to be produced for the author’s own personal edification and little else. In other words, pretty much a perfect comic.
Old Stones, Old Shrubs is another thick reprint collection, this one showcasing Five Perennial Virtues numbers four and three (yes, in that order), and four may just be the most utterly bizarre Tea story of ’em all, as his reverie on stepping stones segues into one about skipping stones segues into an encounter with a friend who has a (non-sexual) fantasy encounter with a couple of teenage girls segues into a Zen Buddhist monk who takes Dave and his buddy on a cosmic journey that apparently was too tough to draw, because the last five or six pages are hand-scrawled text. The usual jarring, interrupted pacing, double-page lawn spreads, etc. are all present and accounted for — as is also the case with issue three, but this time the visual sidebars make a bit more sense given that the “plot” revolves, once again, around Dave’s job as a gardener, and he spends most of his time trimming and shaping shrubs located on the grounds of an expensive apartment complex. In addition to shrubs, the author also has “deep thoughts” on cowboy hats, “hole cards,” the weather, the so-called “butterfly effect,” those “helicopters” that fall off maple trees, and even Paul Gulacy. Dave has always liked Gulacy’s art, and guess what? So have I. Some of the pages in this installment are the most detailed and quasi-“professional” I’ve seen Tea do, others look like they were composed by means of some cheap “dot-matrix” computer program, and a couple even feature nothing more than stick figures. Fucking brilliant stuff that “flows” only with respect to itself. Which is, of course, a logical impossibility — but it’s true nevertheless.
Nature Trail dates all the way back to 2001 and features Tea’s most overt attempt at a traditional narrative, focusing on a walk along a — you guessed it — nature trail undertaken by protagonists Luther (an obvious stand-in for the cartoonist) and Olive, who are something more than friends, less than lovers, you know the drill. Rather than going the obvious route of riding the potentially-raw nerve of their ill-defined relationship and exploring the inner lives of either character in any detail, though, Dave has both of them spend most of their time engaged in the sort of out-of-left-field historical and philosophical ruminations that would go on to become a defining trait of his later work. The glaciers, the “Gaia Theory,” environmentalism, the Ice Ages — I guess they’d rather talk about all this than how they feel about each other, and you know what? That’s cool with me. A not-quite-love story for the socially awkward illustrated in a style best described as “sketchy” and “ill-defined” even by Tea standards, this is thoroughly engaging stuff almost entirely in spite of itself.
Coffee Shop Table Of The Stars is a 2017-issued sequel to Nature Trail that sees Luther and Olive reunited by sheer chance for the first time in many years, and fall right back into their old conversational habit, only this time out politics is the major topic of discourse, with Dave — sorry, Luther — coming off as being a lot more conservative that I would have guessed. Not to worry, though, shit gets reasonably theoretical after awhile, and once again, both characters reveal more about themselves when they talk about anything but themselves. Tea returns to his “neo-primitive” roots with the art for this one, and hews closer to the rules of standard narrative, as well. Not as “trippy” as any of his Five Perennial Virtues material (and, by the way, I still don’t know what the virtues are — and at this point, I think it would kill the mystery somewhat if I were to find out), but more accessible by a wide margin. I enjoyed it quite a bit in its proper context as companion piece to an earlier work, but I’m not sure how well it’d function as a “stand-alone” work. It’s nice to see Tea display a stronger grasp on subtleties — of dialogue, atmosphere, setting, etc. — than I would have probably guessed, though, and that alone makes this one worth your investment of time and money.
And so concludes another Round-Up column. Next time, as you’ve doubtless already surmised, I expect to have some books picked up at Autoptic to opine on, but until then, if you want to find some or all of these David Tea comics, they’re not nearly as difficult to get ahold of as you might think, at least not if you have a Kindle. Dave doesn’t have an Amazon “author page,” but if you follow this link you’ll find all of these books, plus one or two others :https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=David+Tea&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=David+Tea&sort=relevancerank