After spending the last couple of years mainly re-visiting old material (as opposed to merely re-printing it, given that he’s made changes ranging from the significant to the less so to pretty much all his earlier comics in their new iterations), it’s nice to see that Minneapolis cartoonist David Tea is back to producing original stuff with Five Perennial Virtues #11, the latest issue of his intermittent self-published series that’s been going for, what? Nearly two decades now?
My, how time flies — even if, in Dave’s ‘zines, it seems to either crawl or loop back in on itself. Or both. In any case, the “Broken Pieces” subtitle for this issue is entirely apropos, and while tonally and structurally it’s of a piece (or, if you prefer, of a broken piece) with previous installments, it’s also quite different and fairly unique unto itself. Spoiler alert, then : I think you’re going to want this comic. And this is the part where I tell you why.
For one thing, Dave’s illustration is getting more confident and recognizably his — yes, it retains that “outsider” look and appeal, and there’s still some of those “clip art” cut-outs and patterns that I’ve grown bizarrely fond of, but he’s sharpened and worked out some crucial elements of his technique without resorting to anything so dull as actually refining them. He draws some things (I won’t say what, that would be telling) in this mini that I frankly didn’t think he had the ability to, and since I’d rather be surprised than right, this is a welcome development indeed, and probably goes some way toward explaining the longer-than-usual gap between his last issue and this one. Rest assured that it was time well-spent, and that you’re sure to see maybe not a leap, but at least a solid step forward in the look of his work.
Fortunately, though, that doesn’t mean he’s shedding his overall idiosyncratic approach to making comics. As with all of Dave’s stories, you could make a solid argument that nothing really happens per se in this one, but that’s never the point here — his stream-of-consciousness “plotting” is a thing of joy to behold even if it still essentially boils down to : Dave walks around lost in thought, then notices something and gets lost in another thought, then some nominal “event” occurs that ties into either the first or second thought he was lost in, and then shit gets downright surreal. Oh, and there’s usually room for one or two long-form digressions on some historical subject or other in there somewhere. I make that all sound more standardized than it probably is, but what of it? On paper it can also be said that Gerald Jablonski’s comics all essentially play out the same way, yet no one would have the temerity to claim they know what the hell to expect from any of them. Ditto for Tea’s stuff.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dave’s stories, though — and never has this been more evident than it is here — is that for what amounts to a series of non-sequiturs strung together with the most threadbare of connective tissue, there’s a remarkable fluidity to them. Tea may only traverse the space of a handful of city blocks in this particular installment, but on a purely conceptual level he goes everywhere, and the obviously intuitive approach he takes to his art (for the life of me, I still can’t explain his choices in terms of inserting strips of typeface text into certain panels — nor why he even puts them in there in the first place), coupled with the more circular than linear nature of his plot “progression,” results in an experience that feels less like “reading” and more like being exposed to unvarnished transmissions from another person’s id. Comics don’t come much more auteur-ish than this, friends.
The irony, though, is that for a ‘zine that seems so free-flowing, I know for a fact that Dave put a lot of precise planning into this one — I think he passed two or three “preliminary versions” or “rough cuts” on to me before finally settling on this final iteration. Near as I can tell, the majority of the changes he made along the way were minor, but that just goes to show the sheer amount of thinking and attention to detail he brings to his art. If you take a look at the cover image for one of his prior efforts pictured above, Bronze Table Of The Blade Masters, you can see the difference from “then” to “now” clear as day, yet you’ll also harbor no doubt that not only are they clearly the work of the same person, they just plain couldn’t have come from anyone else. And that’s David Tea’s comics in a nutshell — always different, sure, but always unmistakably his. If he keeps on doing this for 20 more years, I won’t complain in the least.
Five Perennial Virtues #11 is available for $6.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/fiveperennial11.html
Review wrist check – I was wearing my Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 68” in burnt orange while writing this one, and if it seems like this one’s been turning up a lot lately, that’s because it has. Like a bear, this watch tends to hibernate in the winter, and then gets real active in the summer.