When in a comic book store, sometimes the most exciting finds come from the small press/consignment sections. Last year, I picked up Dash Shaw’s 3 Stories, and that led to a binge reading of Dash Shaw graphic novels.
Consequently, with our arrival to a new city, I looked forward to what I would find in a new comic book store now that my beloved Hub Comics is so many miles away. After a few excursions through the small press section of Sunset Boulevard’s Meltdown Comics, we managed to dig out a couple of books from stacks of very pretty (and quite expensive) DIY comics with impeccable artwork but alas very little content. What makes small press DIY comics special is also what sometimes kills it: there are no rules.
As a result, these comics fall everywhere across the good to bad spectrum, with the good potentially being exceptional, the bad being remarkably so, and the mediocre being outrageously lukewarm. Thankfully, one of our selections fell on the good side of that aforementioned spectrum.
Motherlover: An Anthology contains four small works from Nic Breutzman and John and Luke Holden with elaborate coloring by Raighne Hogan. Each piece experiments with visual technique or storytelling forms, making Motherlover a fun, fast, and quite sinister read.
Hailing from Minnesota’s comic underground, the authors and artists of the Motherlover anthology fill their work with a darkness, vulgarity, and absurdity reminiscent of the glory days of San Francisco’s comic underground but progressed into the 21st century. The opening bit, Mood Ring sets the tone and pace of the adventure to come. Intentionally crudely drawn in an almost comic book Expressionist way, Mood Ring shows adolescent boys just being boys with a stolen mood ring. General indifference…check. Cursing…check. Reference to their hormonal state of hyper-sexuality…check. Mood Ring borders the obscene in its topic and in its shortness, but it certainly sets the mood with its punch-line type ending which transitions into the title card.
Photograph, the next story in line, opens with a stunning and ominous photograph of a man holding a skull at a gravesite on a snowy mountain. With this picture, we expect to hear a tale about a curse stemming from the picture or some ill fortune occurring to the man in it, but Breutzman surprises us and focuses on the process of creating a picture and the story of the people behind it. Photograph centers its narrative on the grandson of the man in the opening photograph attempting recreate a photo of Louise Bourgeois, and in the course of the day after the photo attempt, we find out the origin of the mysterious skull picture. Photograph, in few pages, explores why we take pictures in a state of boredom and how we come to reflect on those photos in the moments and years after.
The Boys, the third in the book, stands out as the strongest story of the bunch. Styled with grotesque looking characters and almost ghost-like smears and splotches of purples, reds, and acid green, The Boys features the best of mix of discomfort, crudeness, and strangeness that makes Motherlover an entrancing read. The Boys explains the odd characters we encounter in life and each of their idiosyncrasies and how we come to interpret them when we are young and somewhat sheltered. The Boys is by far the most unsettling work of the book, but, despite its uncanniness, it captures a certain honesty about what an adolescent boy wants and sees in the imperfect world around him.
You Can’t Be Here closes off the anthology, and of the collection, and I must admit I really did not know what to make of it. After re-reading it a few times, I began to like it much more; I initially thought it was the weakest, but after a while I realized my initial reaction of dislike came from my surprise in its difference in visual style and storytelling; You Can’t Be Here is the most normal and traditional looking story in Motherlover, but it contains the most insight into nostalgia for a place called home. With a bits of humor stemming from the main character’s cluelessness in the world, Breutzman digs into that uncomfortable, aloof feeling you have when you realize you do not belong in the place you grew up, and you really do not belong in the place you always aimed to escape to. In few words and few pages, You Can’t Be Here captures the conflicted feelings of nostalgia and disassociation you have when you return to a familiar place because you do not really know where else to go.
Without any structure or formal guidelines to follow, Motherlover thrives. With the brevity of each story, you realize every image matters, every word matters, every bit of detail has an intention. Motherlover has no fatty excess on it; sure, there are plenty of moments of lewdness, but none of them exist just to be shocking, which is a critical feature to the ebb and flow of the full book. While reading the 72 pages of Motherlover, you’ll manage to feel a full range of emotions including horror, humor, regret, disgust, nostalgia, and befuddlement, all which lead to a final moment of contemplation and sobering to allow you to reflect on similar moments you may have had as an adolescent or young adult. Let’s just hope that your moments had fewer occasions of braless demon-like moms, adventures in digging up graves, and/or out in the open pooping.
Motherlover: An Anthology by Nicholas Breutzman and John and Luke Holden is available via 2D Comics.