Today, the closest popular media gets to comics is highly overrated Hollywood hits. The degree to which comics are overlooked points to the radical shifts entertainment has undergone over the last 50 or so years, but it does not point to a lack of quality within the medium.
The word “comic” is associated with humour and childhood, and perhaps this is why comics have remained, to some extent, a thing of the past. But they are not just that. gangLion comics – a self-publishing Canadian zine that just released its fourth issue – shows what contemporary comic art at its best can do.
Based in Toronto, gangLion gives new comic artists a chance to publish their work. They offer manageable deadlines and encourage new comic artists to meet and share ideas. “Our knowledge of how comics are created is continuously hindered by the secrecy and solitary nature that most comic artists seem to thrive in,” said Georgia Webber, the zine’s publisher, organizer, and designer. “What we also don’t see are all the people who…decide to give it a try, and find that it’s too intense or that there’s too much pressure and seclusion. We aim to give those people a chance before they give up on themselves, and to open up the creation process of the more independent creators to help them develop their skills.”
gangLion’s fourth issue contains eight comics by seven artists. It offers a range of styles and skill levels, from those who have evident expertise to those who are obviously in the process of developing it.
The opening comic, by Daniel Ra, is a simple one-page animation of the the circle of life. It depicts a man’s day from morning to night through a series of banal images, readable from left to right or right to left, showing both the circle of day-to-day routine and the circle of time. The simplicity of its funny-yet-depressing theme is perfectly harmonious with its brevity, making it more of a punch in the face than something to ponder.
The second comic, though, is tedious and predictable. “Two Years Left,” by Jason Bradshaw, uses four pages to tell the story of a prisoner with high hopes for freedom, who is killed on the day of his release by a falling brick in a construction site. The suspense the comic builds implies the conclusion early on. It is dry and unfunny to read.
The highlight of gangLion’s fourth issue is “the day the internet exploded,” by Nick Semko. Semko uses an animation style reminiscent of DC Comics – replete with black and eerie green – to render a hilarious modern apocalypse. Much like Dr. Strangelove, “the day the internet exploded” combines witty and unpredictable dialogue with the threat of an apocalypse. But instead of nuclear attack or an environmental zeitgeist, the threat is that the Internet – contained within a giant container “bursting at the seams” – will explode. The Internet’s last moment consists of a high school student’s Tweet and a teenage boy uploading a shirtless picture of himself onto Facebook. Then Star Wars kid escapes to embark upon a killing spree with his light sabre, the puke combined from everyone who’s ever watched “Two Girls One Cup” floods the streets, and all the cats, “no longer forced to endure the humiliation of playing at a keyboard being dressed in absurd outfits…turned on their tormentors…[and] devoured everything in their wake.” The conclusion is equally hilarious. Semko uses humour to thrust a very contemporary fear onto the reader in much the same way a cat owner hides medicine in its food. The first response is laughter and the second is anxiety.
The best comics in gangLion are those that are economical with image and language, like the “Circle of Life” and “the day the internet exploded.” They use a naïve medium to express sophisticated ideas. And in this way they are an intimate kind of art. Gabrielle Charron-Merritt, author of gangLion’s “An Unripe Peach,” a facile story about the pleasure of simple secrets and imagined revenge, writes, “If people enjoy [my comic], they’ll take me seriously with a hug rather than a handshake.”
The release party for the fourth issue, was held at Divan Orange on March 2. It hosted four music acts that were similarly informal and quasi-innocent. Charron-Merrit – also a musician – played a solo acoustic show, followed by Ghost Trees, Elgin-Skye, and Emperor Bulash. Charron-Merrit’s sound was discordant and jarring, at times bursting into moments of sweetness; Ghost Trees was ghostly and warm; Elgin-Skye was un-naïvely bubbly, like a coy person’s most poignant diary entries; and Emperor Bulash, the only full band, put on the best performance of the night with multi-vocal folk rock that was youthful, clever, and honest. If Emperor Bulash were a teenage boy, they’d be the kind you’d want to take home to your parents, then take on an all-out binge drinking road trip across America, dining-and-dashing along the way.
gangLion’s fourth issue will be available at Drawn and Quarterly within the next month. For more information, visit ganglioncomics.blogspot.com.