I was in Vancouver a few weeks back, mostly for kicks but also to sample the local comics scene. There’s more to it than Marc Bell, whose playfully obtuse strips and illustrations get most of the attention. Nicknamed Vansterdam for its tolerance of all things herbal, Vancouver has long mined its health-conscious hippiedom for excellent cartooning.
One of its current stars is thirtysomething Rebecca Dart, whose woolly adventure story, RabbitHead, made the leap from self-published zine to glossy pamphlet when Florida publisher Alternative Comics reprinted it last year. The surreal book is like the Wild West teleported to Tatooine. It starts with a single strip and storyline: our rabbit-eared heroine galloping out of a cemetery on a creature that’s part horse, part lederhosen. Every few pages, Dart highlights a detail from one of the panels and launches a new strip nearby. At its peak, the book has seven separate strips/subplots on the go; a lot for a reader to juggle but you won’t mind bouncing back and forth between them, if only to gawk at Dart’s confident brushwork and vivid imagination.
Dart is a darling of the new Vancouver scene, whose hub, say some, is a small but well-articulated shop called RX Comics near the corner of Main and Broadway. I dropped by the store and was given a mighty payload to relive the Van experience in the comfort of my own home.
It included David Boswell’s classic lactose freakout, the late-’70s serial Reid Fleming: World’s Toughest Milkman. Boswell is one of Van comics’ patriarchs, a precise draftsman whose hilariously sour comics won a cult following in the early ’80s. Reid Fleming is like Andy Capp’s nasty cousin, a cube-nosed egoist who hates his job and his fellow man and treats his milk truck like a munitions lab. Hollywood bought the rights to a screenplay but has yet to bring the little bastard to a multiplex.
Robin Bougie’s hand-written porn report, Cinema Sewer, is more prose than comics but the raunchy rag also came highly recommended. Bougie, who reviews movies for this site, has a colossal love of smut, and his zine is stuffed to the rim with reviews and appreciations (some as comics) and the odd contribution by cartoonists like Kim Deitch.
But the one that stood out is Nick Threndyle’s brooding Golden Eyes on the Ocean Floor. The book’s cover — black, with a single coloured panel framed by cascading text — had me hooked, and it only hints at the mysteries within.
Threndyle weaves rhyming ruminations around wonky panels that stretch and sway like a blissed-out yogi. His protagonist is a goateed wanderer with big lips and heavy eyes. It’s similar to the way Joe Sacco draws himself. In fact, Threndyle seems to have dined on a steady diet of Sacco; Golden Eyes uses the same meaty line and fish-eye framing. But this ain’t journalism. Threndyle is deeply buried in his character’s cranium and builds a hypnotic rhythm with hallucinatory rhymes and spasms of dry wit. We follow the nomad on his rounds — his commute, his nightlife — Threndyle unspooling his verses with the shifting cadence and tangents of a hip-hop MC. “Down coffee streets,” he writes of the rush-hour commute, “past amphetamine styrofoam faces of tramps, reckless tangerine daughters in short nylon pants, sullenly sighed from work, scented and shaved, silently depraved office clerks….” The text on this page is drawn as dripping loaves of dog shit sprawled on the sidewalk. On another page, the text is part of a subway ad; on another it curls inside a drunk’s highball glass. If you’ve read David B.’s Epileptic or his more recent Babel, you’ll see a similar playfulness between panels and text, blurring the line between comics and illustration. That Threndyle does this in a hand-made zine, and does it so well, shows his enormous talent and ambition.
As a bonus, Golden Eyes has one of the best pickup lines in comic history in a scene between the hero (suddenly in a space suit) and a buxom babe: “Greetings,” the cosmonaut begins. “I have travelled several lifetimes in a cryogenic chamber, weathered solar storms, hostile lifeforms and constant cosmic dangers. Of thousands sent, I alone made it through. I carry with me a precious seed, a message meant for you.” And she buys it! They do things differently on the West Coast.