Collaborations blend humor with dark subjects

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Comics

Barfwater #1

Edited by Tim Root
44 pages, Black and white
Available by crappycomics@yahoo.com

Cartoonist Tim Root’s cover for “Barfwater #1” is absolutely gorgeous. It grabs the eye with its impeccable design and brilliant use of white space. It’s a wordless, letterpressed illustration executed in olive-marker green and dense goldenrod of a wrinkled old fart, apparently of old fart royalty. Adorned with a hat made from a Joy Divison LP cover and a chain pendant made of a bar of soap, the man is dementedly enjoying a hot, steamy basin bath of goopy, thick up-chuck provided by four older servants.

The cartoonish cover is detailed with flabby old men’s skin and emptied cans of Horton’s chili and Hungry Man soup. And the background is a field of lighting bolts! It’s striking and grotesque, vomit-inducing and utterly, deliriously hilarious.

“Barfwater” isn’t really much of a comic book. It’s more like a zine of comic art. The issue’s high number of contributors (14, including the letterpresser) gives the anthology an infectious level of energy and excitement. Everybody’s here to have fun; you can almost see the goofy grins these guys must have had putting this together.

Californian artist and publisher Tim Goodyear redraws the covers of David Lynch VHS tapes. Illustrator Jim Blanchard contributes a silly faux-woodprint tear-out centerfold of a made-up “Saint Cloris ‘Work-Knockers’ Aldrovandi,” a barfing old woman with goat-man legs and a beatifically ironic halo. Joe Cocker illustrates the lyrics to a Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles song with comic-book apocalypse imagery.

The penultimate page of "Barfwater" works as a sort of unaccredited manifesto. It neatly sums up the spirit found in the issue’s pages with impassioned handwriting. “The word normal is a gross word for unoriginal bullshit ... it takes up too much room. We only want books that make us think or cry.”


 

Elfworld Volume 2 #1 

Edited by François Vigneault
36 pages, Black and white.
Available at family-style.com 

“Elfworld” is an anthology pamphlet of self-described “sword and sorcery comics” put together by San Francisco Bay-area publisher Family Style.

You would be excused for thinking it’s a Sammy Harkham project, with its super-slick hand-printed cover and artsy spin on genre-comics leanings. Actually, “Elfworld” is the brainchild of now Portland-based cartoonist and publisher François Vigneault.

Vigneault, a cartoonist and designer of the ridiculously sophisticated book (it’s a comic book pamphlet with endpapers), recruits the likes of David Enos, Ben Costa and Dash Shaw to create a retrospective; an almost nostalgic reimagining of fantasy tropes and images.

Dash Shaw is quickly becoming the king of short, one- or two-page features in anthologies. The 28-year-old animator and cartoonist told USA Today’s Pop Candy blog that he is working on a feature-length animated movie right now. He has backing from the Sundance Institute and Texas-native John Cameron Mitchell of “Hedwig and the Angry Itch” and “Shortbus” fame. Shaw also works on similar short pieces for Mome, Strange Tales and other anthologies in his spare time.

“The Orc of Nagwath” reflects Shaw’s well-documented love for the tabletop game, “Dungeons and Dragons.” Shaw gives us the internal dialogue of a villainous orc moments before he is to be hanged for various unspeakable dastardly deeds. The orc, drawn in Shaw’s signature wrinkle-faced style, waxes touchingly reminiscent of his first murder (“I slaughtered my mother just moments after she gave birth to me. I crawled back inside her holding a knife and cut myself out through her chest.”). A computer-generated crosshatching filter is jokingly applied to the illustration. The two-page strip visually references everything from pulpy genre stories to '50s romance comics and is darkly humorous to boot.

Ben Costa (sharing writing duties with J.R. Parks) pens a delightful four-page story called “A Little Insubordination” that documents two video-game monsters relaxing on their Friday lunch hour. The Xeric Grant-winning Costa is a great cartoonist, gracefully characterizing a lute-playing skeleton and a sentient gelatinous cube with emotive features.

Another highlight is David Enos’ ludicrously-scripted adventure story “The Mute,” which contains lines that would make Nic Cage’s head spin (“No!” cries a nefarious priest. “The preserved bodies of our ancestors are vulnerable to fire!”). The Gary Panter-indebted art fits perfectly with the weird, yet wonderful dialogue.

Other notable contributions include Jane Samborski’s delicate illustrations of “Dragon Mating Dances” and Grant Reynold’s dark, moody “Black Forest Hymn.”