I live by a simple motto around these parts : if it defies classification, description, and rational analysis, then it’s something I want to see. Other critics can give you the lowdown on stuff that can be categorized, labeled, genre-boxed, and otherwise defined — and hey, I do a fair amount of that myself — but when it comes to the stuff that starts somewhere beyond the point where the ability to articulate a traditional critique of it stops, well, that’s the kind of work that’s always going to catch my eye and always going to be something I want to talk about, if only because the very act of talking about it is such a tricky proposition.
Comics is an art form that I feel lends itself rather well to such efforts, simply because the fourth-dimensional construct of time can be fucked with, or even dispensed with altogether, so easily in sequentially-formatted visual language, and because a series of images is almost always going to have a progression to it — even if it needn’t necessarily be a linear one — that “stand-alone” drawings, paintings, etc. are devoid of by dint of their very nature. Stuff happens in all art, but stuff is happening in comics, and the possibilities for both what that stuff can be, and how it can be communicated, are pretty well endless.
This all sounds haughty, I’m sure — perhaps even up its own ass — but when a cartoonist really gets it and subsequnetly commits themselves to going for it, the results can be pretty spectacular. Such is the case with Mike Shea-Wright’s 2018 self-published mini Beeline For The Crafty, and now it’s my solemn duty to live up to my admittedly boisterous claim issued at the outset here of being “your guy” when it comes to critiquing the ostensible un-critiquable.
Actually, I’m tempted to say “sorry for the new word there,” but new ways of relaying information are Shea-Wright’s stock in trade as an artist, and that fact has never been more obviously on display than in this “everything-and-the-kitchen-sink” ‘zine, a kaleidoscopic diaspora of the contents of one person’s conscious and subconscious minds that is part self-generating “feedback loop,” part infinite recursion to its own beginning, part treatise on life’s various stages, and part just plain trippy shit. Shea-Wright borrows liberally from Marc Bell, Brandon Graham, Basil Wolverton, and August Lipp (among others) for his visual vocabulary, but the style here is always and unquestionably his own, as is the purely intuitive placement of — well, shit, everything I guess — within space. Things are cluttered, to be sure, but then so is the jumble inside most anyone’s head, and given that “if it’s in you, then it’s gotta come out” seems to be the closest thing we have to an operating ethos here, I have to say that a traditional layout for this work would ring incredibly false.
Which, I assure you, is not just me making excuses for an inherent sense of inexplicability herein. Indeed, despite appearances this comic really does make perfect “sense.” It’s just that it’s entirely its own kind of sense, which means it’s as fundamentally challenging as it is fundamentally honest. The occasional generational jab aside, there’s little to grab onto here that gives one any sense of a structured theme, but if unstructured themes are more your bag? Then you’ve just hit a gold mine, because this is a comic that is rich in purely interpretive allegory, humor, passion, and even polemic. There’s plenty one could fairly label as gross or weird, maybe even sick or wrong, but anyone that out-and-out fucking square is probably likely to take one look at the cover and say to themselves “not for me, thanks,” — and that’s just as well. Shea-Wright’s not in the business of kow-towing to them — nor, for that matter, to anyone else.
Which could conceivably lead you to conclude that this comic is too arcane to be understood, too hermetically-sealed to be accessible. I can assure, you, however, that nothing could be further from the truth : there’s so damn much going on, and it’s all laid out in such an open and fluid manner, that it’s fair to say there’s a little something for everyone here, and a lot of something for most. And just as one can measure a circle beginning at any given point, you can enter this ‘zine almost anywhere you wish, read it in any “order” you care to, take whatever you want from it, and subsequently exit at any “juncture” — but you’ll be back. And reading it will be a whole new experience all over again.
Beeline For The Crafty is available for the unconscionably low price of $3.00 from Mike Shea-Wright’s webshop at https://gumroad.com/mikesheaindustries?sort=price_desc
Review wrist check – Monta “Atlas GMT” blue dial model riding a night and forest (that’s dark blue and green for the unpretentious) Chevron strap from Crown & Buckle. I thought the two together might be too much blue, but lo and behold, I think it really works.