Sometimes a comic’s format is so utterly unique that it’s worth commenting on in and of itself — and may even raise it a notch or two in any given critic’s estimation. It shouldn’t, I suppose, be that way — the quality of the story and art really ought to be all that matters, in theory — but what if the publication in question is so innovative in terms of its physical presentation that said presentation becomes an integral aspect of the art itself?
This is particularly true in the case of a mini, where a limited number of pages necessarily makes the manner in which those pages are delivered to readers really stand out, for good or ill. Which brings us, an unforgivable two paragraphs in, to Max Huffman’s latest self-published mini, the intriguingly-titled Funky Dianetics.
This attractive riso-printed number that rolled off the presses in November of 2018 features two short “collections” of Huffman’s popular “I’m Good” gag strip — primarily concerned with mundane day-to-day activities such as work and commuting to and from it filtered through a pleasingly absurdist lens — sandwiched around a Jack T. Chick-style tract entitled “Big Drink” that adopts a strikingly different tone as it spins its yarn about alienation and isolation in small-town America, the end result being a very deliberate study in contrasts on just about every level from the narrative to the artistic to the thematic.
All of which means that we’re talking about a comic that punches well above its weight class, a sum total of 20 pages leaving a far more distinctive imprint upon a reader’s memory than its brevity would, at least at first glance, seem to allow for. That’s ingenious, to be sure, but it also means that the content itself needs to match the ingenuity of its format.
Fortunately, of course, we’re talking about Max Huffman here — a guy who’s comfortable adopting just about any style in service of his aesthetic and storytelling goals. The remarkable thing about his approach, though, is how undeniably intuitive his choices are, how pitch-perfect yet free of any sort of calculation, much less any inherent cynicism. A strong presentation backed up by strong cartooning in a couple of different styles? That’s worth paying attention to, at the very least, and for emerging cartoonists looking to “make their mark” it’s probably well worth emulating — although I’d caution, as always, against direct imitation and/or appropriation. Save that whole “sincerest form of flattery” thing and find your own voice and your own method of communicating your message — but don’t be afraid to use a mini like Funky Dianetics (the title of which makes a kind of sense once you read it, trust me) as a blueprint, but not a strict template.
Does that make sense? I dearly hope so, although I understand that the distinction I’m attempting to throw into at least semi-sharp relief is a slender one. Still, it’s innovation that makes this mini stand out (in addition to some gut-busting humor), and that spirit of innovation is what I hope prospective future artists cleave to as the most important de facto “lesson” Huffman delivers herein. For my own part, all I can say is that while I like a whole lot of comics, very few rise to the level of actually impressing me for both what they are as well as how they are. This is definitely one of them.
Funky Dianetics is available for the more than fair price of $5.00 from Domino Books at http://dominobooks.org/funkydianetics.html.
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