Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2007
By: Ruth Boyask
Creator(s): David Bradbury (Ed)
Publishers: Self Published
From: New Zealand
Price: NZ$ 24.95
It’s hard to review an anthology, or so small press reviewer Darren Schroeder said as he passed Pictozine II: Comic Aotearoa my way, particularly when the mix is eclectic. In this case the mix is eclectic, but Pictozine’s editor Dave Bradbury gives us some leads for how to interpret this collection. He claims the 36 contributors are connected on two points; 1) through their (sometimes tenuous) connection to the small Pacific nation of New Zealand, and 2) through their compulsive need to make art that tells stories. Apart from the regional aesthetics of Chris Slane (a straightforward strip) and Mat Tait (a more obscure one), the connections to New Zealand in the collection are not directly apparent. But there is a New Zealand pulse that runs throughout most of the contributions. The New Zealand cultural psyche is shaped by its physical isolation, resulting in a national identity in flux – one that shifts between the introspection of life condemned to the margins and a perspicacious interest in affairs beyond its shores. This duality shows up in Pictozine II, with some contributors particularly concerned with the intricacies of the self, and others more outwardly focused – telling stories about other places, relationships between people and social issues from the vantage point of the impervious outsider. How effectively the artists and writers convey their ideas relates to Bradbury’s second point. The most engaging contributions in this anthology do tell us stories. I empathised with Jason Conlon’s story of pathos and missing love. Brent Willis’s narrative was meandering and somewhat creepy, but when I reached the end I felt that I’d actually arrived somewhere unanticipated and worthwhile. Craig Gillman managed to retain my attention as his protagonist descended into the madness of a conversation with a cup of tea. Garth Thornton’s piece was an interesting space journey into urban myth, even though it was simple in its statement. Ari Freeman was just plain funny. And as usual, I enjoyed Indira Neville’s whimsical strips, with pithy ungirly punchlines decorated with girly froth.
The less successful pieces struggled to release their stories into the public domain, and to varying degrees their narratives remained trapped inside the artists’ heads. Draw’s piece appeared to typify the self-absorption and tedium of a comic artist making public an investigation into his own psyche. I was somewhat mystified by Samuel Killean-Chance’s sexually redolent, but impotent imagery. And while Dylan Horrock’s work had a visually appealing serenity, its impenetrable appropriation of ‘childishness’ and ‘femininity’ just made me wonder if he’d been in therapy recently. Whilst these pieces attempted to make explicit internal psychological processes, Jess Johnson traversed the domain much more successfully, using first person narrative to take the reader along with her as she explored alienation and integration within a socially redundant art world. Debra Boyask’s exposition on aging was also more successful than many of the other autobiographical pieces (not just blatant sisterly nepotism - compare with Steve Saville and see for yourself), and this may suggest that New Zealand woman comic artists have attained a greater sophistication in this genre than some male counterparts.
So what does this variation in the quality of story-telling mean for the overall publication? Is it a worthwhile addition to your collection? Whilst this collection of artists is not quite a who’s who of New Zealand comics (there are a few notable names missing) it is pretty close. But unlike Dave Bradbury, I am not convinced that story telling is the primary motivation for all these contributors. There were stories that engaged me, but I was more impressed by the overall visual quality of the work. Mat Tait’s colour cover is simply beautiful (and feels good too - smooth). Tim Danko’s 11 pages tell more about picture-making than the story of the H.M.S.S. Scuffy’s crew. And Sheehanbros’s page is an illustration of visual slickness. Putting aside the variability in story-writing, if you want a nice, fat collection of interesting things to look at, this is a worthwhile purchase. Its story-lines get a bit dull in places, and editor Dave Bradbury might want to consider his role in fostering quality in story telling for Pictozine III, but overall, his effort should be commended. Comic shops make sure you stock up well.
The only thing left to say is: Craig Petersen, you’re a bit of a sick puppy (read Pictozine II and you’ll know what I mean).
In a Word: Kiwiana.
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