The Shortpants Observer #1 (Shortpants Press)

obv_07-header.jpgMidwestern minicomics purveyors Shortpants Press inaugurate their new anthology with four of Chicago’s finest unsung artists.

The cover to Short Pants Observer #1 by Jeremy Tinder. Click for a larger image.72 pgs. black and white and blue; $8.00

(W / A: Anya Davidson, Corinne Mucha, Becca Taylor, and Jeremy Tinder; Edited by Sarah Becan)

Finding high quality minicomics can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, so it pays to have a friend with good taste to dig out those diamonds in the rough. You couldn’t ask for a much better friend on that front than Sarah Becan, whose imprint Shortpants Press specializes in scooping up some of the finest unsung artists of the Midwest and publishing them together under one banner. Becan’s latest publishing venture, The Shortpants Observer, serves as a sampler, collecting work from four of the finest minicomics makers Chicago has to offer, with Becan promising to branch out to other Midwestern locales if the series proves a strong seller.

Mr. Magic art by Anya Davidson. Click for a larger image.Unfortunately, the first story of the anthology, "Mr. Magic in: Holey Moley," is a bit of a clunker, although I’ll admit right off the bat that a big part of my reaction is that Anya Davidson’s art style in general is not my cup of tea. Davidson draws in a purposefully ugly style, with grotesque faces marked by beak- or snout-like noses and beady eyes, and figures are captured in a brush-inked style that leaves lines either super-thick and chunky or extra-light and feathery without much in between. In the story, the titular Mr. Magic is a "a baby-faced scoundrel" who "could sell acne to a teenager, a perm to a poodle." When he runs into our protagonist (running late for a nose-hair braiding appointment!), he uses his wiles to drag said hero on a variety of non sequitur adventures that don’t seem to lead anywhere. There’s a very particular sort of weirdness to Davidson’s story that will no doubt appeal to some readers, but this reader wasn’t one of them.

Corinne Mucha muses on death. Click for a larger image.The book won me back, however, with its wonderful second chapter, Corinne Mucha’s "Four Short Comics About Death." Mucha’s self-portrait is the height of Lynda Barry-an simplicity, with oval heads, squared-off noses, and elastic limbs that bend to her comedic will. And that’s one thing these four shorts have is comedy—not laugh-out-loud knee-slappers, but subtle, quick witticisms sure to put a smile on your face. In "What’s This Thing Called Death?", Mucha thinks back to her death-obsessed youth and how her views on death have changed in adulthood. Reasoning that, as Touched By An Angel taught her, death only comes when you’ve "finished your business" here on Earth, Mucha notes in her narration, "I always made sure to have something unfinished" while her cartoon self stares up at the clouds and says, plain-faced, "Just so you know, I have some laundry to do." The timing and delivery is note perfect. Mucha flashes back to her childhood once more for the simple and sweet "Sunny, the Sports Loving Hamster," a short story captured flawlessly in its childlike dialogue. (Mucha: "My hamster watches sports! Her favorite team is the Phillies." Classmate: "Your hamster is a loser.") Guilt is the name of the game in "One Day I Will Be the Kind of Person Who Does Not Kill Plants," as she worries that her many water-starved houseplants may have souls or brethren waiting to avenge their death, and the closer "Easy Life, Hard Life, Hard Life, Easy Life" ends the suite on a philosophical note. Mucha’s last minicomic, Shithole, was a delightful surprise, and her work here is more of the same great stuff. Hers is definitely a name to watch out for.

Becca Taylor's Sorties. Click for a larger image.Becca Taylor’s "Sorties" is the odd one of the bunch. It’s easily the most experimental, and your mileage will definitely vary, but there’s something very appealing in its oddness. The story, such as it is, is mostly narration from a documentary on the mating rituals of sharks, illustrated with ragged thin lines that strike the perfect balance between photo-realism and abstraction, all over a sea of deep, flat royal blue. The narration occasionally shifts from the biology lesson to what seems like human relationship talk, though the point Taylor is trying to make with that shift never quite congeals. It’s still an interesting story, though, and its vastly different approach makes it a nice change of pace for the anthology.

Jeremy Tinder's Forever. Click for a larger image.Jeremy Tinder, the biggest name in the bunch thanks to a couple books (Cry Yourself to Sleep, Black Ghost Apple Factory) published by indie giant Top Shelf, wraps the book up with the fun but slight "Forever." Like the stories in BGAF, "Forever" succeeds in creating instantly likeable and identifiable characters and setting them in an interesting setting, and Tinder’s cartoony style (with a hint of James Kochalka) is inherently appealing. The story—a guy, a gal, and a talking bear go to stop the atomic clock—is endearingly goofy, but the story doesn’t have any push at it reaches the finish line, ending The Short Pants Observer‘s inaugural issue with a question mark instead of a period.

Not all four of the stories in Small Pants Observer will appeal to all readers, but the adventurous spirit of the collection, and the chance to sample and support artists on the rise, should be more than enough reason to give this fresh new anthology a try. | Jason Green

Click here for more information and an 8-page preview, courtesy of Shortpants Press. And as an added bonus, click here to read Jeremy Tinder’s entry, "Forever," in its entirety!

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