In Panel Panopticon, Nick Hanover and friends talk about the comics they’ve picked up for the week, good, bad or otherwise.
Most of the releases I picked up this week were either middle issues or just didn’t fully grab my attention, so fuck it, I’m dedicating this week’s Panel Panopticon to some newer stuff on Study Group Comics because I’m baffled by their complete lack of presence in the Digital/Webcomics section of the Eisners. FUCK YOU EISNERS. Ahem.
Written and Drawn by Ben Sears
Updates every Monday on Study Group
Adventure Time has helped kick off a whole wave of all-ages tag team quest stories and Ben Sears’ Double+ is one of the better series to pull from the AT template. Featuring an impulsive young boy and a robot that tries to keep him focused and out of trouble, Double+ may lack Adventure Time’s vivid colors and wild landscapes but still gets what’s at the heart of that series’ appeal: good old fashioned exploring. In the case of Double+, the exploring is happening in an ominous mountain being mined on a desert planet and like any good quest, there’s a potentially magical object in need of acquisition.
Sears’ minimalist style is perfectly suited to the desert environment his characters are exploring, as he utilizes grainy textures and ample negative space to drive home how wide open the world of Double+ is, a choice that truly pays off when our adventurers go deeper in the mountain and discover a detailed second world of archeological wonder. But Double+ really comes to life through Sears’ character designs, which are as starkly efficient as the best comic strips. The robot half of the duo is squat and not exactly humanoid, shaped more like a lost Jetsons character than an android, while the boy is defined by the goggles he wears to accessorize his shirt and shorts combo. The rest of the figures that inhabit Double+ are either ancient looking sand crabs, amorphous blobs with eyes or kids that look like they were accidentally summoned from Family Circus. It’s a weird world and you get the sense that our duo are from somewhere else, something that seems even more likely when you factor in the dialogue that indicates they’re just as confused by this desert town as we are.
The economic designs that Sears has crafted for Double+ allow him to get more adventurous with his panels, as he works in cross sections with zoom ins for specific action and also stretches action sequences across multiple panels, like an early sequence featuring our heroes falling through the panels. Many of the updates of Double+ end with a webcomic interpretation of a splash where one specific definitive action stretches out over what would normally be a few panels, making for cliffhangers that do double duty as stark visuals, the best of these being a simple image of an inexplicable floating hand closing on the adventurers. Double+ is still early in its run, but Sears has an excellent grasp on pacing and storytelling that bodes well for the rest of the series.
By Aleks Sennwald and Pete Toms
Updates Every Friday on Study Group
I’m an unabashed Pete Toms devotee, but anyone familiar with his particular brand of Kafkaesque explorations of our ego driven culture might at first be confused by Short Con. A collaboration with Aleks Sennwald, Short Con is a noir all-ages story, where kids talk like Raymond Chandler creations as they investigate homocides in “the crime ridden near-future.” Sennwald’s art is a beautiful mixture of Quentin Blake’s Roald Dahl illustrations and New Yorker cartooning, full of sharp visual gags that perfectly complement Toms’ dialogue and storytelling. Short Con is less heady than Toms’ On Hiatus, but he and Sennwald use the simplicity of the story and art to convey some complex concepts, from the orphanage police squad set-up to the “existential crisis” audience surrogate Mary Branwell experiences within the story.
Short Con begins with Branwell questioning her surroundings as she’s literally thrown into an orphanage police squad without much explanation. She’s paired with Pops, a lovably gruff kid detective– “maybe the best,” in the words of the chief nun who serves as her boss– and Toms eagerly plays off of the disconnect between seeing a child speak and behave like Harvey Bullock. By using Branwell to ground the story, Toms is able to both treat Short Con as a straightforward noir story that just happens to feature kids and to comment on the inherent weirdness of that perspective. Where On Hiatus gets its Kafkaesque elements from the disconnect anyone immersed in digital culture goes through on a daily basis, Short Con gets it from the alienation Branwell, and by extension the reader, feel in every panel.
Even without any investigative theorizing, though, Short Con is an exceptionally smart and engaging story that works on multiple levels. Sennwald’s style alone sells the story and the world in the panels is easy to get lost in, provoking dozens of questions for every one it answers. There are a lot of noir-infused all-ages stories out there, but Short Con is already shaping up to be one of the best.
Written and Drawn by Josh Burggraf
Josh Burggraf’s slacker sci-fi opus Typhoon 99 is a pretty unique experience that just wrapped up its second chapter. An amalgamation of the street level perspective of Brandon Graham’s King City and the kind of elastic character design of ’90s Nickelodeon classics Ren & Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life, Typhoon 99‘s first couple chapters have explored separate characters who seem to be on the verge of connecting. Chapter one was dedicated to a reprobate shaman who supposedly has tremendous skills but is hurting for followers, though that seems to be on the verge of changing after he gets an ominous prophecy from a deity, which may be in regards to the Geiger-by-way-of-Shepard-Fairey artifact a busboy musician stumbles across.
Burggraf forgoes traditional narrative techniques in favor of a casually disconnected omniscient narrator, who comments on Typhoon 99’s happenings in a manner that merges the Matthew McConaughey of Dazed and Confused with the Matthew McConaughey of True Detective. Typhoon 99’s world might be confusing and vaguely defined at the moment, but Burggraf fills his panels with enough details and tidbits to make reexamination a necessity. Burggraf’s approach to detail isn’t as cluttered as the Grahams and Farinas of the world, instead he favors a vivid, clean approach where flat coloring and heavy lines call attention to his bold designs.
Typhoon 99’s short, efficient chapters also make it easier to drink in the world Burggraf is building and though these first couple entries have mostly set the story in to motion without answering much, the world of Typhoon 99 is endlessly fascinating.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with Dylan Garsee on twitter: @Nick_Hanover