Sam Ombiri on Spider Monkey by Austin English and Jesse McManus – plus other comics news!
Sam Ombiri here: Out of nowhere, very recently, I found the first issue of Spider Monkey by Austin English and Jesse McManus. It was a fantastic read, and it continues to be an even more fantastic comic to keep re-reading.
Austin English is someone who makes these images that look like they were done by someone else. There’s clear intention (and this intention shows) that his images and words are working together, despite being somewhat independent of each other. Austin’s characters typically waddle clumsily, bounce, and skip through the narrative as it progresses. Gary Panter describes Austin’s work as “Tragic Polish puppet plays.” It reminds me of how Yokoyama views his characters as models and not really as real people – maybe their interactions are real, but they are limited in the things they can express, and everything they express is only expressed in these specific ways. Gary Panter also describes Austin’s drawings as sculptures, so it makes sense that there’s a kind of split from the words. The words, to some degree, pander to the clumsiness of Austin’s character’s movements, but they feel like they are doing they’re own thing. Before they submit to the predetermined purpose in the work, it feels like two different people, with different things to bring to the project, collaborated.
Now with Spider Monkey, perhaps as a result of Jesse McManus working from Austin’s script (or rather Jesse feels the obligation to work with the script) we end up with a work where the words and images are completely working together. Austin said that it was purely Jesse’s book, and he wrote it as something Jesse would draw. To my surprise, as I was reading it, I found that it didn’t feel that way. Maybe Jesse drew it like it was one of Austin’s comics. Also, Austin does not stay doing the same things very much, so this shift doesn’t feel like a sharp turn for him – with an artist like Jesse there couldn’t have been a more perfect path to be taken.
Austin says to be only writing is “significantly easier”, but it’s clear he didn’t do this collaboration because it was easier – he just found that it was. It ends up being organic. He doesn’t do too much to compensate for only writing. He doesn’t set out to “Wow” people, like with Disgusting Room (although make no mistake, I was wowed by Spider Monkey). Austin just does what he does best, approaching this book not as if it isn’t a special occasion – he just dresses up casually.
Additionally, we get special guest Jesse McManus to do fantastic, fantastic artwork. Jesse is every reason this book is as exciting as it is to read. It’s like we have been given a clearer, but appropriately disjointed fun-house lens to look at what Austin typically portrays in his work. The gags turn into a repulsive, uncomfortable demise, which the characters encounter with laughter and with the laid back attitude of business as usual, but for us the audience it reads not so much that way. With Austin’s artwork it would feel increasingly horrific and grotesque, but Jesse adds a way more whimsical charm to what’s happening, as opposed to a total nightmare.
I’m all for nightmares, but it feels easier to consume Austin’s more difficult work in what feels like an event. Austin describes difficult work as vegetables – you need to eat them to be healthy. So Jesse, like a parent telling a toddler “Here comes the airplane!” gets us excited to eat our vegetables. – Sam Ombiri
Sam Ombiri – 5-18-2017
Buño, an imprint of Magnetic Press that was founded by cartoonist and Judge Dredd writer Ulises Fariñas last year, is publishing their first creator-owned series – Cloudia and Rex. The series is written by Ulises Fariñas and Erick Freitas, with artwork by Puerto Rican artist Daniel Irizarri. In shops July 2017 – you can pre-order it HERE.
On the Same Wavelength
- Ben Passmore talks to Geek Soul Brother about his current projects, and his comic Your Black Friend – HERE.
- Marvel is canceling Ta-Nehisi Coates and Yona Harvey’s Black Panther & The Crew after only two issues, bringing an abrupt end to “the only mainstream comic book featuring a majority-black team of heroes” – pretty uncool. More details via i09 HERE.
- Be sure to follow Adam Griffiths’ ongoing webcomic American Cryo – HERE.
Blinkers – 5-18-2017 – by Jack Brougham
Suzy and Cecil – 5-18-2017 – by Gabriella Tito