By Brian John Mitchell and various artists
This may well be the most unusual package of comics I’ve ever received. Certainly the smallest. Each of Brian John Mitchell’s mini-comics, some illustrated in stick figure style by him, others illustrated by various artists, including Cerebus’ Dave Sim, are tiny – a mere 54mm tall and 45mm wide – somewhere between A8 & A9 in size, a small matchbox if that makes it easier to visualise.
Another way of thinking about it – if you’re looking at the review on a 20″ widescreen monitor like mine – all the art on here is actual size. Tiny doesn’t really cover it.
And as such, the first response is one of intrigue and frankly, astonishment, that you can make comics quite this small. The page count varies slightly, 32-44 pages long, but always (no surprise) just a single panel on each tiny page. In effect what you’re getting is a standard small press short comic presented in a fascinating format where the tiny scale means the artists have to really work hard to get everything over in a very small space. Often their art can be nothing more than iconography, especially those who work almost to scale, with an image per page being the rule. And unlike normal single page works for anthologies, Mitchell is intent on telling a complete story in so little space, and it makes for a strange reading experience.
But quirky formatting only gets you so far, how do they stand up? Overall, pretty well. Flawed, difficult, some struggling with the small scale, some embracing it…..
(l: Lost Kisses #21 by Mitchell, r: Built by Mitchell and Badon)
Lost Kisses #21 – Art by Brian John Mitchell
Okay, a difficult one, since it’s not only part of a series, but it’s the resumption of the series after the interludes of #11-20, the Ultimate Lost Kisses series, which, confusing, haven’t all been published yet. Confused? Just a touch.
Brian John Mitchell’s stick art is as simple as you might expect, and the whole thing revolves around the seemingly disconnected speech bubbles on each page, almost random thoughts, and the captions that answer them. But there’s a pained, autobiographical feel to the words, as Mitchell talks of his desire to time travel… and then meanders around the subject, of memories, future possibilities, ideas on the practicalities and much more. The ideas come thick and fast, a scattershot approach that works with the tiny pages and with the simplicity of the art. I liked it, but I can easily imagine some hating it for it’s pretension.
Built #1 – Art by Joe Badon
The posible start to a new series with a robot built for play, or possibly gladiatorial style games, who overcomes his programming, makes a break for freedom and discovers that the outside world is just as beautiful as he imagines. But in taking in all this beauty, his focus is lost and he’s tracked down, trapped by humans. Again, a great little story, full of sketchy, expressive artwork.
XO #7 – Art by Melissa Spence Gardner
In which a tale of debauchery infllicting tension on a relationship turns into something more. The twist works beautifully and it’s something I would rather like to have read much more of. Gardner’s art does a really good job as well, necessary spare and tight shots of faces are the rule, but stylish and well done.
(XO#7 by Mitchell and Gardner)
Monthly #1 – Art by Eric Shonborn
Starting off as a man’s laundry list of what he’s looking for in the girl of his dreams, Monthly switches halfway through into something far darker and weirder. There’s a twist halfway through and then an even bigger twist a few pages after that. And despite it being very simple, very genre based, it’s very, very good. And the art, rarely more than tiny icons, does so much to get over both the mundanity of the first half and the fantastical, fruitless search in the second.
(Two page spreads from Monthly, showing a trip into darkness – by Mitchell, art by Shoborn)
Ultimate Lost Kisses #12 – Art by Jeremy Johnson
Brian describes Ultimate Lost Kisses on the website as “Lost Kisses with better artwork and better storytelling”. Issue 11 had art by Dave Sim (more on him later), this time round it’s Jeremy Johnson, and he does an alright job of it, although his figure work (face work would be a better description I suppose) leaves a little to be desired, there’s something nice in there.
As for storytelling, the Ultimate Lost Kisses line is a far more focused thing than Lost Kisses – each comic deals with the “emotional traumas that shaped a woman’s life”. The first Ultimate Kisses (#11) told of a 30-something woman receiving a death row letter from a son she gave up for adoption in her teens. This issue we shift back to the moment she discovers she’s pregnant, and we follow the girl from first realisation to trying to figure out just what she will do. Her homelife seems troubled, her mother angry at her making the same mistake she did, her life now seems closed down before it’s really begun, and she makes the descision to run away to the midwest and give up the baby for adoption.
It handles this emotive, difficult subject quite well, but the micro scale of the storytelling proves a problem, and it just doesn’t pack enough of an emotional punch. However, what there is is nicely done, even finding time for a few moments of light relief – her mother described as “sounding like one of the teachers from Peanuts” and the girl’s observation that her friend Matt is “the kind of guy I should go out with. Safe & sweet. I wish he wasn’t a dork“. Ultimate Lost Kisses is a good, strong comic that, despite the few problems, succinctly gets over something powerful.
(Ultimate Lost Kisses, by Mitchell and Johnson)
XLK – Extreme Lost Kisses #1 – Art Nick Marino
And from one extreme to another, god knows why this comes under the Lost Kisses banner, as it’s simply a sort of mildly funny-ish 80s stupid hero romp. Throwaway stuff.
Vigilant #1 – Art by PB Kain
again, this fell into the nothing category, this tale of vigilante violence on the streets. A shadowy, thuggish figure narrates and dishes out casual violence. That’s it though, nothing more, no depth. Art’s not great either, and even falls back on what looks like reproducing panels – ridiculous in something this short.
Poit! – La Jetee and Poit! – WTF? – words and layout by Brian John Mitchell, artwork and story by Dave Sim
Yes, that Dave Sim. He provided the art and story, and Mitchell’s turned it into two seperate comics – Poit! La Jette and Poit! WTF? with his script. Essentially they’re working Marvel style – story, layout, art, finally dialogue that has the ability to change eveything, hence two complete stories from one set of art. The thing is, they’re actually a little lightweight and weak – a tale of one man, his unhappiness, a film, a murder, jail, possible time travel, and all in just a few pages.
Interestingly, even with stick figures there’s still an unmistakable Sim touch – never more so than when Sim’s lettering comes into the page.
(top: Poit! La Jetee, bottom: Poit! WTF? One story drawn by Sim, turned into two mini comics by Mitchell by two sets of dialogue)
Star #1 – Art by Kurt Dinse
Of the lot, this is perhaps the most polished artwork, although it does feel like it was produced at a much bigger scale and then reduced down to this small scale, as there’s an awful lot of detail in each page/panel. Sometimes it works, and the result looks really good, occasionally it’s a terrible fail, and you look at a page wondering what the weird shapes are actually meant to be. But mostly, it’s really nice.
The story, of a touring muso on the run from demons, metaphorical, imagined and literal, is nicely paced, the muso’s narration taking place over a series of flashbacks, as the demons stalk him, and his girlfriends end up paying the price. He’s a fascinating character, not necessarily a nice one.
(Star, by Mitchell and Dinse – and he does mean demons)
Small Art Stories – by Brian John Mitchell
Not comics, these are Mitchell’s paintings for an exhibition, with text introductions to create something of a story. Interesting artwork, altough practically pointless to talk of them at this scale. However, I think it would be something I would have liked to have seen in a gallery, and this sort of artbook, accompanying a gallery show, has more point to it, even at such a small scale, than all of those expensive D&Q books I keep ragging on that essentially do the same thing at a bigger scale and much more money.
All in all, a mixed bag of very interesting mini comics. Which is as you would expect. However, there’s at least a couple of these that show great potential, and I’d like to see more of them in the future. Whatever you think, Mitchell’s insistence to work so small, with all the limitations it imposes, both in terms of story and art, is laudable just as an experiment. And as such, especially those that are actually very good, it’s something worth seeking out.
All of these very tiny mini-comics are available from the Silber Media website, at a $1