Saturday, January 5, 2013


As Top Shelf Month begins, we dive into a series from an established talent.

Sulk is a one-man anthology by Jeffrey Brown. Brown is a prolific comics creator known for his intimate autobiographical works, such as Clumsy, as well as far ranging parodies/homages like The Incredible Change-Bots. His art style is distinctive, a mix between cartoon and realism, and here he has grown ever more capable with his writing voice. This series tends to be more toward the parody/homage spectrum of his work, and thus far there are three compact volumes.


Bighead and Friends

Volume 1 follows the adventures of Bighead, a superhero in the vein of 1970s Marvel Comics, with dramatic cliffhangers, stories that reference each other, insane villains, and bombastic action. Some of the stories chronicle his early crime-fighting days as Little Bighead. In his mature adventures, he confronts adversaries like the Claw, the Grapplers, the Bowler, the Beefy Hipster, and even himself. Over the course of these stories, of course he dies, meets the Devil, Jesus, and Buddha, and has to fight his way through demons to be reborn. It is apparent that these adventures are outrageous, overblown, and surprisingly silly, but there is also a sincere affection for these superheroic conventions. Brown at once parodies these adventures while also capturing their joyful parts.

Sean T. Collins called it "a funny, intelligently drawn superhero humor comic."

Deadly Awesome

The second volume is more like a manga, with one MMA fight comprising the totality of the book's plot. Brown stages the action with great detail and attention, and his visual storytelling is quite excellent. What puts this story over the top is its crazily intense and intricate dialogue (both external and internal) that lends an inappropriately undue amount of gravity to the proceedings. The fight is a formulaic one, the up-and-coming brawler Eldark Garprub versus the cagey veteran Haruki Rabasaku, but Brown's artfulness keeps things interesting, fresh, and exciting. This parody cleaves closely to its source material, but its love for fight stories shines through even as they are exposed as overinflated bags of wind. The net effect: I really got into this story, snickering at its pomposity but also wondering in suspense who would win.

J. Caleb Mozzocco wrote about it, "The story is more or less all sports story cliché, but Brown livens it up with a lot of extremely weird touches, and a wild use of various layouts that give the book a surprisingly fluid look."

The Kind of Strength that Comes from Madness!

This third volume of Sulk is less of coherent whole than it is a survey of caffeinated science fiction and fantasy stories. Pirates, college students with huge, remote controlled robots, and long-haired martial artists populate these pages. There are vampires fighting unicorns, giant lizards terrorizing cities, and astronauts taking substances to augment their abilities. Things often end poorly for those involved, transforming the clever twist endings of Twilight Zone episodes or formulaic Silver Age monster comics into something like a blunt object. These stories wink at those past tales in part in admiration, letting us know we are in on a joke, but they are also pretty brutal in their execution. Except for its ending with a jokey story about time-traveling babies, I felt this book was very dark in comparison with the others.

This volume is probably the one I have seen least positively reviewed, mostly, I feel, because of what Sean T. Collins observes, that "the anchor point in The Kind of Strength That Comes from Madness is much harder to locate." It is a satire about pretty wide genre conventions.

The series as a whole seems to me very well received. The reviewer at Avoid the Future wrote about these three volumes, "the stories in Sulk are nothing if not concise, and, like most good short fiction, waste nothing in their construction. Every panel and word is valuable, and consequently, it’s difficult not to feel absorbed whilst reading it." It is difficult to read these books and not conclude that Brown is very good at making comics of many varieties.

Top Shelf provides lots of information and previews for each volume in this series (click the links to see more about volumes 1, 2, and 3). 

No comments:

Post a Comment