Still coming down from the small-press extravaganza that was Autoptic 2018, I am nevertheless ready to buckle in and spend the next X-number of Weekly Reading Round-Up columns surveying many of the fine wares I scored from various cartoonists at the festival. First up, we’re keeping things local (as we damn well should) by looking at some comics from Minneapolis’ own Sean Knickerbocker and M.S. Harkness —
Rust Belt #3 is another fine entry in Knickerbokcer’s occasionally-produced solo series, and while it’s been pointed out by many minds greater than I that Mr. K’s cartooning style bears more than a passing resemblance to that of fellow CCS alum Charles Forsman, for my money, at any rate, his approach to illustration is slightly more considered and pared-down simultaneously, which is highly apropos from a thematic perspective in that his concerns tend to gravitate toward and around a more mature and less overtly-laced-with-shock-value exploration of Forsman-esque staples such as alienation, restlessness, socio-economic despair, and intellectual/spiritual malaise. His characters tend to be older than Forsman’s, too, so it’s not so much as a case that “shit’s getting real” for them, it’s that it’s already gotten so. In this 2014-released issue — the last, sadly, to feature one of Knickerbocker’s former-mainstay silkscreen covers — the lead story features a protagonist who is an all-too-typical northern midwestern alcoholic loser that’s consistently taxing the saint-like patience, to say nothing of the apparent largesse, of his long-suffering sister, while the backup strip is a genuinely shocking (largely for its un-glamorized frankness) depiction of a couple who have decided to punch their own tickets out of a dead-end existence in the most dramatic fashion possible. Stirring stuff that captures the abject hopelessness of life in what would go on to be referred to as “Trump country.”
Speaking of the orange-hued syphilitic shithead, 2018’s Rust Belt #4 is an all-too-realistic delineation of the exploits of a sad-sack “regular Joe” who, emboldened by the MAGA craze, has fashioned a dime-a-dozen “angry conservative” internet persona (hence the issue’s title) for himself, “sticking it to the SJWs” in the most noxious manner possible a la your average “gamergate” or “comicsgate” douche nozzle. Our “hero” is an entirely different animal at home, though, keeping his “aging edgelord” shtick several degrees removed from his wife — largely at her insistence. When he meets one of his online idols, he senses a shot at the big-time, but the Mike Cernovich analogue has other ideas — ones that will keep our man in his place and ensure that fame and fortune forever remain out of reach. Like Nick Dranso’s celebrated-to-no-end (and rightly so) Sabrina and Alex Nall’s equally-superb (there, I said it) Lawns, this is an all-too-accurate reflection of where we are right now as a country — culturally, economically, socially, intellectually — that doesn’t clobber you over the head with an overt message, but rather reveals sad and uncomfortable truths via eminently realistic characters and their similarly authentic daily interactions with others. Not a comic you want — or, truth be told, can afford — to miss. As is the case with number three, this book retails for a paltry four bucks, and is worth a whole lot more than that. Find ’em both at https://goodpalsprinting.bigcartel.com/
If there’s an “enfant terrible” of the Minneapolis scene, it’s gotta be M.S. Harkness — a take-no-prisoners cartoonist with, it seems, no fear, no filter, and no fucks left to give. Her art is solidly no-frills in its presentation, yet playful and inventive around the edges and with a keen eye toward the physical foibles of her characters, the most frequently-recurring of whom just happens to be herself. Normal Girl is a 2016-issued mini that filters the realities of her own existence through the lyrics and musical beats/rhythms of SZA’s song of the same name, and if you’ve ever wondered what a successful comic-book musical adaptation looks like — search no further. This comic pounds out a sonic and visual tattoo upon the eyeballs of anyone who’s fortunate enough to read it, and at only four dollars, there’s no reason on Earth why that “anyone” shouldn’t be you. Fucking buy it.
A Savage Journey To The Heart Of An Anime Convention, another 2016 (I think, at any rate) Harkness mini that also sells for just $4.00, earns the same unqualified recommendation from yours truly, simply because autobio doesn’t get any better than this. What could be a more harrowing experience than subjecting yourself to a hotel filled with literally hundreds, even thousands, of anime fans who have no idea how goddamn weird and sad they are? How about subjecting yourself to said scene while you’re blitzed out of your frigging gourd? It’s too glib by far to say something as simple as “hilarity ensues,” but it’s also true, and so — I’m gonna leave it at that and trust that you’re smart enough to follow my advice and order this thing up without any further delay. Yes, you really will thank me later — but thank Harkness first. Her wares are available for purchase at https://msharkness.bigcartel.com/products
Next week — more from my Autoptic haul!