- Posted by Johanna on June 11, 2006 at 7:57 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Pam Bliss
- PUBLISHER: Paradise Valley Comics; $12.95 US
This anthology contains the best of eight years of Pam Bliss’ minicomics. There are short thought pieces, longer stories, and pinups plus new material, including stories about her continuing characters.
My favorites of her stories involve groups, like the crew of the Travelling Travelall. Ex-Soviet scientist Alexei Petrov has settled on a farm in Indiana, where he put a time machine in the 1961 equivalent of an SUV. Along with his companions Nakht-Min, an ancient Egyptian, and Katherine, who chronicles their adventures, the group wanders through history, always making it home in time for tea. Alternatively, they might choose to picnic in the prehistoric era among dinosaurs. Even then, their concern is not getting chased by ferocious reptiles or adversely affecting history. Instead, they hope that the dog doesn’t get sick from eating things she shouldn’t, as dogs are wont to do. They also manage to help a sasquatch find love.
Those Kids! are another mixed group of personalities, a small-town group of neighborhood kids. Their enthusiasm about bringing excitement to everyday (and sometimes not so everyday) activities reminds me of a quote by Leslie Charteris (creator of The Saint); he said something about people with the right attitude being able to find adventure while going for a bus. The “First Kids on Mars” story is also included in this collection. It gives character profiles of the kids while discussing which strengths each of them would bring to space exploration, emphasizing how everyone has valuable talents.
Many of Bliss’ other tales are about dogs. From her original character, Sparky, she’s moved on to capturing her corgis’ everyday behavior. One cute story is about how her dogs might explain a hole in the carpet by blaming a flying saucer. Another has a collection of one-panel followups to “if my dog was governor of Texas”. (I especially liked the one about barbecues.) Yet another shows her walking the dogs when a field of corn flies away; the story ends up celebrating delicious homey corn dishes.
Also included are series of one-panel cartoons about Radiation Man. They feature non sequitur sentences about likes or actions illustrated by a faceless character in a bombproof suit. I’m not sure I get the point, but they work for me as a “pause that refreshes”, a Zen-like moment of reflection, jazz in comics form. There’s also Diggby, an odd blend of cartoon and character who looks like a kid wearing footy pajamas, and some stories illustrating song lyrics.
Many of her stories take place in an idealized town in Indiana. The comics are friendly and welcoming, a product of the heartland in more ways than one. They’re comfortable, involving hardworking decent people with good manners. Even with whimsical touches or outright fantasy, the stories are down to earth, dealing with the everyday. Handling the material simply and directly makes the magical events more plausible.
Once inside the panels, there’s rarely a straight line used in the drawings. Bliss’ style is self-taught. I could describe it as primitive, but not in an unprofessional sense. Expressions and gestures are well-observed, and the material reflects her enthusiasms. Bliss is an accomplished storyteller with a different view of the world than that frequently reflected in popular culture.
The stories are imaginative; they give the impression that anyone can experience wonder. All the characters are distinct, with full personalities and unique appearances, facial features, and clothing styles. Their voices are varied and evocative, perfectly suited to the variety of characters. They’re educational, as well. I learn things when I read these comics, from new words (“ugsome”) to how to gum off of cats (use chunky peanut butter). Mostly, they’re heart-warming. These stories are the comic equivalent of sitting by a warm fire with a cup of cocoa.
Bliss continues to produce minicomics regularly as well as contributing to anthologies like Brainbomb (a “cartoons in the classroom” anthology that includes a Those Kids!/Travelling Travelall crossover story), Imagination Rocket (a followup to Brainbomb), and Storytime (from Friends of Lulu). Bliss has also released the following full-size comics: Atomic Wonder Comics: The Phantom Airship (a full-length story about the Travelling Travelall), B-36 #1-3 (32-page anthologies), and Kekionga #1: Oliphant. That last one is intended to launch a new series, beginning with the story of a sasquatch who blogs and a junkyard manager who talks to animals. A variety of strange and wonderful creatures appear, including a mammoth, a thunderbird, talking frogs, and a superhero. It’s named after an Indian word that means “blackberry patch” and set in her usual small town in Indiana.