Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Three from Diana Tamblyn

Writer’s Block, published in fall of 2003, is a twelve-page comic with a story that gets in, makes its point, and gets out. Tamblyn doesn’t waste time with an elaborate set up for this tale of a writer struggling to find a subject for a second book. She knows that she only has twelve pages to make an impression and to her credit she does. This is a basic story, but it’s alternately told from the point of view of the floundering writer and his sister with kids. The writer is creatively and personally struggling, but he comes clean to his sister and her two kids. About his second book, he admits, “Here’s the thing – there is no story.” His first book featured diners from the 1950s, and it’s an unexpected hit. But he’s at a loss as to what to tackle next. The kids try to help him come up with a subject for his new book. “Grilled cheese?” “Neon lighting?” “Polyester?”

This is a sweet story and there’s a lot packed into twelve pages; in fact for a mini-comic there are a lot of panels per page, often eight to ten per page. Sometimes, though the art in Writer’s Block has this “frozen in time” feel to it. On the first page, first panel, the boy looks like he’s been zapped in mid air as he rushes through the door. Tamblyn uses very bold lines in creating her characters and they almost seem like cut outs placed on the page. I found this style distracting at first, but the warmth of the story was enough to win me over in short order. One note, Uncle Al’s face seemed like it was a particular challenge to Tamblyn. He’s a weary looking guy, and his face, especially the eyes, shifts as he feels more and more pressured, but in one panel on page ten, his face, with one eye dangerously askew looked like something out of a Picasso painting. That’s nitpicky stuff, but I can bet those eyes drove her crazy.

Writer’s Block is $3 and you can purchase it from Tamblyn’s website. This is a solid story and as I mentioned there’s a lot to it. This reads more like a typical comic, because she packs a lot of story into this mini.

There You Were, Tamblyn’s latest mini-comic, is really a short story masquerading as a mini-comic. Like, Writer’s Block you get a one shot tale that moves in fast and makes you care about what takes place on the page. That’s not easy in such a brief encounter, but Tamblyn makes it seem easy. Josie is an introverted bank worker who spends her lunch hours taking calls from wrong numbers that are trying to reach a foot doctor. It seems she’s tried to change her number, but has been unsuccessful. So, Josie patiently listens to Mr. Bella’s foot complaints as a guy in the office starts to take an interest in her.

The characters in There You Were still feature the stiffness that dogged those in Writer’s Block, but I found that it suited the setting and mood of the story much better this time out. It’s Canada in the winter and they are stuck in an office. Later in the book, another side of Josie surprises the reader. My impression after reading these two comics back to back is that Tamblyn is a solid storyteller; she wastes no words in these short comics, yet you feel like you get your money’s worth in theses pages. These are quiet scenes really, rather than splashy events, but there is just as much impact in these pages. There You Were is twelve pages too, but again, this is a jam packed twelve pages. It’s available on Tamblyn’s website for $3 where you can also read a two-page preview.

Shifting gears with Duty Must Be Done: The Story of Frederick K. Banting, Tamblyn tackles the tale of the famous scientist credited with “one of the greatest medical discoveries of the twentieth century” – insulin. Duty Must be Done is a fascinating narrative that’s as text heavy as an old EC comic. To break up the captions, Tamblyn peppers the narrative with conversations attributed to Banting and gives the reader a bibliography page in case they are curious to learn more about this medical pioneer.

Tamblyn shows Banting as being obsessed with recreating his earlier success with insulin, and she reveals just how driven he was, often to the detriment of his own health and personal life.

This is biographical comics work at its finest and it is something I’d like to see more of in comics. This story also appeared in the 2002 SPX anthology, so if you’ve got that hanging around on your bookshelf you should give Tamblyn’s story another look. If not, you can purchase it at her website. Tamblyn has a clean looking website that makes it easy for you to purchase her comics. I’m a big fan of previews and she has them for almost all of her books. Go check it out.

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