- Posted by Johanna on July 23, 2007 at 6:50 am
- Category: Minicomics
Last year, I started a recurring feature called Minicomic Mondays, where I reviewed minicomics on that particular day of the week. This year, I’ve let it slip, but I’m starting up again, because there are plenty of good small-small-press comics out there.
This time around, I’m focusing on several works by a particular creator. First up: Brandon Hanvey. I don’t remember how or where we met online, but I liked his clean, simplified character design (makes sense, since he’s a graphic designer in his day job), so he sent me some print books to try. His figures are reduced to the basics but still expressive with personality, even when they’re standing still. (See, for example, the introduction character who titles this strip.)
I first tried his diary strips, The Little Things. I have two print collections, one from 2003 and one from 2004 (half the size and price of the previous, since he did fewer strips that year). This is a popular genre, because it seems so easy to do, but it’s tricky capturing just the right incident in the right amount of space without boring your audience. The reader needs a reason to care.
I like Hanvey’s approach. He’s optimistic and cheerful about things, and we have some of the same likes and interests. Comics, of course — almost half the strips are about attending conventions or meeting famous creators — but also exotic food and Alton Brown and the simple interaction of two people who care for each other. The strips feel like a comfortable conversation catching up with a friend (even though we’ve never met).
I even liked his strip, which everyone does at some point, about why he hasn’t been doing strips, because he looks a little beyond himself to categorize his reactions.
These minicomics are no longer available in print, but they’re online as webcomics, a medium better suited to the ephemeral daily content. Here are the beginnings of the 2003 book and the 2004 book. There’s a bunch from 2002, too, although those are in an earlier, less accomplished style. They’re too short, too reminiscent of Kochalka, and too dependent on color to make up for a lack of confidence in the linework. The strips really come into their own when he moved to black-and-white (starting here). Based on the URL, he also took a six-month break before returning with the new look, which likely helped.
The Little Things stopped when he started working on The Stereos, about high schoolers who put together a band. There were two comics. The first, Battle of the Bands, falls into the gap between a minicomic (black-and-white, self-printed) and a small graphic novel. It’s square, the size of a single, and out of print (although the first six pages are online). You won’t miss it… instead, look for In the Garage, a more professional publication. Although created later, the story starts earlier, with the formation of the band.
This self-published graphic novel has more accomplished art, distinctive linework, and better writing than its predecessor. The four band members are diverse, allowing for natural conflict — a goth, a nerd (a girl nerd!), a slacker, and a punk are going to have different styles, but they all want to work together for the band as a whole.
The opening uses the same approach as the previous book. A row of four panels with a time caption shows how each different character simultaneously starts their day, setting up their personalities wordlessly. As we follow them hour-by-hour, we’re waiting for their threads to cross, which they do in study hall detention. The band is born!
The story isn’t anything new, but its familiarity works in its favor, and it’s executed with good feeling. The parents are suspicious of the kids’ activities, until they’re won over by wanting the best for their children.
The writing can be a little stiff at times; I wonder if Hanvey needs to read the dialogue aloud in order to double-check that it sounds plausible for high school students. He seems to avoid contractions, which doesn’t help. (And he has trouble with homophones: “effect” should be “affect”, “vice principle” should be “vice principal”.) He also needs to work on developing distinct voices for characters with different backgrounds and motivations. These are common areas of improvement for younger creators, so they shouldn’t be held against him.
I haven’t read Hanvey’s followup book, Entanglement, a romance across class boundaries in a longer format, but it looks even better. That’s great to see, an artist continuing to stretch and improve. His latest work is Realms and Reality, about online roleplayers. These books can be purchased online.