I’ve reviewed a couple of Bryce Martin’s minis in recent weeks and, completist that I am, it seemed like I was being remiss in my duties by not offering at least some brief comment on the third of his 2020 self-published wares to come across my radar, Shov Show, but here’s the rub : I came in to this book with no knowledge of the characters involved, no real context within which to judge it properly, no real vantage point from which to evaluate its success or lack thereof — and I came out of it in very much the same position. Oh, what to do, what to do?
I supposed that reading it a few more times wouldn’t be a bad idea, and so I did that. But I’m still as utterly clueless about, and dumbfounded by, its contents as ever. What I do know, though, weird is as it may sound, is that I not only liked it, I was actually and actively impressed by it — I’m just not entirely certain why.
I trust you begin to see the scope of the dilemma I’ve admittedly brought entirely upon myself here, and yet it’s not a dilemma without its own curious merits — I mean, I like to think that I’m always up for a critical challenge, and this comic presents that in spades. The characters it focuses on, and the world it’s set within, stem forth from the pages of another of Martin’s works, Trash Manifesto Zine, which I haven’t read, and so why this particular young lady and this particular robotic head are on the show that this mini takes its title from, going through what appear to be their daily routines for an audience of interchangeable Ultraman-looking characters, well — that’s just something I can’t even pretend to be able to competently answer. What I do know is that Martin’s liberal appropriation of Japanese pop culture tropes, his homages to Garo-esque “neo manga,” his deadpan humor, his efficient linework, his interesting riffs on character design, and his utterly singular point of view all coalesce here into something highly readable, if perhaps more than a bit unknowable, and that this all works for me. Is it at all realistic and/or fair to ask for much more of it than that?
I’m kinda thinking no, at least on a subconscious level, even if the more hopelessly square conscious mind is saying “yes.” I mean, there’s such a thing as not only going with a comic’s flow, but sort of letting it flow into and through you as well — to trust in your sense of perception first and let your brain catch up to it. To take something in without necessarily worrying about what sorts of thoughts in regards to it come out. It’s a strange place to find yourself in if you’re trying to evaluate something critically, at least in my experience, but it’s also an honest one. It forces to you take or leave a work on its merits alone and nothing else, and doing that I came to the inescapable conclusion that if this works devoid of any broader contextualization, then it probably works even better as the spin-off/sidestep that it actually is. All I’m missing is the frame of reference to tell you why that’s the case.
Which, admittedly, is a pretty large piece of the puzzle to be left without. But at the same time, when something gets the job done, it gets the job done, and with his confidently minimalist art tethered to a briskly-dialogued narrative, Martin can really do no wrong. I may deserve a failing grade for not procuring the ‘zine this one builds off/out of, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t pass with flying colors.
And so we are where we are, this is what it is, all that good stuff — and this is good stuff. Unlike the recently-reviewed-here Ultra8 (shown above), which was mysterious yet entirely accessible, I found this comic to just be purely mysterious, but hey — I may be in foreign territory, and I may not necessarily speak the language, but I can sure tell that I like the lay of the land.
Shov Show is available for $6.00 directly from Bryce Martin at https://gumroad.com/forthesakeofzine
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