The Less You Know, The Better : Bryce Martin’s “Shov Show”

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.

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Shov Show is available for $6.00 directly from Bryce Martin at https://gumroad.com/forthesakeofzine

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

What’s In A Name? Bryce Martin’s “Untitled” Mini-Comic

Normally, I tend to think that artists who don’t bother to put a title on their works are either being lazy, pretentious, or both — but after reading Bryce Martin’s recent self-published mini Untitled, I have to admit : If I were him (and he should be damn glad I’m not), I don’t know what the hell I would call this thing, either. In fact, even describing it is tough enough — and I say that as someone who at least likes to think that they’ve seen just about everything this medium has to offer.

All of which means, of course, that while this ‘zine doesn’t represent anything especially new per se, it does represent something quite different. And it kicks a lot of ass along the way to becoming and/or being — well, whatever it is. And in a very real sense, trying to define it, whether with a “proper” name or even a detailed description, rather defeats what I take to be the entire purpose of the work. Which may sound like me trying to be, as I just put it, “lazy, pretentious, or both” myself, but I assure you — it’s not. I’m not being paid enough to lie to you good people.

Look, here’s the deal : I’ve been poring over this thing for a good few nights now, and apart from figuring out that it’s got characters, and they’re on some sort of excursion or journey of discovery in some sort of over-crowded metropolis, there’s not much more about it I can really tell you without veering into the fascistic realm of informing you how you purportedly should think about this work, so I mean — why bother with that? What I will say is that Martin uses a more anarchic and intentionally ill-defined or “squiggly” line here than he does in the last one of his minis I reviewed on this site, Ultra8, and that he appears to probably have channeled most of this right from his subconscious to the page —and for this critic, at least, that almost always represents not only the most honest, but also the most exciting type of cartooning. There’s some garish colors at play on the back cover, and what looks very much to my mind like washes in some of the panels here and there, but by and large this is mainly heavy pen work with a ton of energy that incorporates some of the manga influences that I’m coming to realize are par for the course with Martin’s comics, as well as maybe a bit of a Pushwagner vibe, minus his precision. It looks great, it reads great — even if a lot of the dialogue is obliquely self-referential in that it refers to events and personages (?) that exist in a world we know nothing about — and it whisks you along for a ride from points unknown to points even more unknown, so really : what more could you ask for?

I’m tempted, at this point, to reflexively regurgitate some variation of “I don’t know art, but I know what I like,” but that’s not really the case. I rather flatter myself that I do know art, specifically comic art, and sometimes I actually have a pretty tough time deciding whether or not I well and truly like something, so — ah, shit, I don’t know where that leaves us. I really don’t. And it’s just as true to state that I don’t know where this ‘zine left me, nor do I know where it started, so hey : can I just say I liked it a lot but can’t precisely opine as to why that is? Please?

Maybe you deserve better than this review. Bryce Martin certainly does. He created something utterly “out of left field” here that’s probably not going to garner a bunch of reviews — and the one it does get is written by some third-rate clown who’s having a tricky time telling people what’s so great about it. But it is great, of that there’s no doubt, and I think the reasons as to why it is are probably going to vary from reader to reader. I know that for me, it has that profound feeling of sheer and unmediated inspiration to it throughout, and whenever you can find that in something you really should be grateful for it. To it. Whichever.

Your own mileage may — indeed, almost certainly will — vary, of course, but Martin’s crafted a righteous work of such immediacy and raw vitality here that you’re going to get some kinda mileage out of regardless. One day maybe I’ll crack its code and discover that it holds the secrets of the universe. Or maybe one day I’ll come to the conclusion that’s it’s just a zany neo-futurist runaround hastily cobbled together while it was all still fresh in its creator’s mind. Who’s to say the two are mutually exclusive?

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Untitled is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/untitledbryce.html

Review wrist check – Squale “1521” classic blue dial model riding a marlin NATO strap from BluShark’s absurdly-named (but cool-looking, and that’s what counts) “AlphaShark” collection.

Bryce Martin’s Ultra Weird “Ultra8”

Falling somewhere between what we — or at least I — think of as an old-school underground mini and a Garo-esque “alternative” manga, Bryce Martin (who’s on a real roll this year, having produced five comics in 2020 by my count) has produced a uniquely curious item with his self-published Ultra8, a philosophical treatise on emerging and becoming told by means of a team-up between Japanese pop culture icons Ultraman (who, for the record, isn’t real) and Tadanori Yokoo (who, equally obviously, is).On paper, then — which is what this printed on, after all (and very nice paper, at that) — what we have here is at the very least a study in contrasts between a pair of incongruous figures, but in reality is more than that, in both theory and practice. Possibly even a lot more. But I’m not entirely sure what that “something more” consists of.

And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, it’s good. Comics that one can quickly get a handle on are just as quickly forgotten, even dispensed with, but Martin’s stuff really makes you think. His concerns are fairly narrow and fairly singular, but he finds a lot of real estate within them to explore not just what they mean to him, but what they mean in general. Answers are hard to come by within his experimental narratives, but the questions he poses bear serious consideration and analysis, and that’s the important thing.

To that end, here are the basics of the set-up for this one : an Ultraman stand-in gets thrown off a train and is duly challenged to keep up with legendary artist Yokoo, not just physically but conceptually — to “up his game,” as the saying goes, by becoming something more than a physical being. By becoming an idea. Which, of course, is precisely what Ultraman is anyway. So you see the challenge here — the contradiction, even. In fact, it’s both stark and inherently inexplicable all in one go.

Martin’s brisk, minimalist dialogue conveys this in a manner that glibly suggests it’s all less philosophically dense than it really is, which is both clever and populist, but it’s the choices Martin makes with his art that really underscore the multi-faceted approach he takes to his subject matter in a more general sense — employing a crisp line throughout, he leans on figure drawing that’s sharp and detailed for for one character (Ultraman) and ephemeral for another (Yokoo), and peppers both of them (as well as their extra-dimensional surroundings) liberally with what sure looks a lot like Zip-A-Tone, but is likely a digital approximation thereof. Then he oscillates between yellow and pink color schemes before finally introducing light blues when something like transcendence — or a bridge to it, at any rate — enters the fray. It’s all evocative as hell, but again — not necessarily in a way a reader can immediately put their finger on.

Comics don’t get much more subjective than this, then, nor does art in general, but for all that the trajectory here is pretty straightforward — even disarmingly so. Those of us who read a lot of “art comics” are used to feeling or intuiting our way through things, but you don’t really need to do that here — although I’d posit that doing so will lead to a much deeper and richer experience. Still, I suppose it’s nice to know that if you only want to spend a handful of minutes with something, Martin affords you the opportunity to do that with this work while still ensuring that you’ll walk away entertained and even temporarily transfixed, if ultimately somewhat befuddled. Again, though, we don’t mind “befuddled” around these parts, and you can just as easily spend hours poring over this comic and ultimately feel that way about it, as well.

By the time all is said and done, then — no matter how long a time we’re talking about — what we’re looking at here is auteur comics at their very best. Bryce Martin has created his own unique brand of visual narrative and proceeds accordingly, telling his story his way — with two characters that aren’t his, per se, but who he nevertheless very much makes his own and utilized for his own purposes.

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Ultra8 is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/ultra8.html

Review wrist check – Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 68” in burnt orange.