A brief intro to precede the proceedings: I envision Live Area as a column devoted to thinking and writing about comics in an elastic and ever-changing way. One size doesn’t fit all for comics, so neither should an exploration of them. To start things off, this installment of Live Area will be comprised of capsule reviews of comics I’ve read and enjoyed recently. Without further fanfare:

Snake Creek by Drew Lerman

A laissez-faire peanut-shaped cartoon named Roy and a bespectacled-and-bearded existentialist named Dav live the vagabond life in Snake Creek, a surreal land populated with ugly birds, various disembodied heads, racketeering gangsters, foolhardy mayors, and yappy dogs. But the heart of Snake Creek, a collection of the strip’s first year, is the evolution and eventual marriage between Drew Lerman’s scracthy-but-stylized line and his writing’s linguistic hijinx. Lerman’s pen swirls and jukes across the page with a frenzied hatching that never becomes oppressively claustrophobic the way other hatch-heavy comics can be, and that’s due in part to his equally energetic writing, itself a loopy and free-wheeling examination of the cosmic joke of existence.

There is a certain type of shaggy storytelling that is unique to daily comic strips that Lerman really locks into in the second half of the collection, wherein Dav and Roy happen upon a large pile of unaccounted-for mail that they decide to deliver in fanciful ways (saying more would ruin some of the best strips in the book). It’s in these strips that Snake Creek begins to find a jaunty rhythm that coincides with a widening scope that makes me excited for where the strip will go next. Luckily we can all follow along at Lerman’s instagram (@drewlerman), where he also posts fantastic sketchbook excerpts.

Kids With Guns #1 by Alex Nall

I’ve only recently been turned on to Alex Nall’s comics (credit to his fellow Chicagoan cartoonist Josh Pettinger), and I wish I had found them sooner. Nall has a pleasingly sturdy approach to comic art and storytelling that seems to finally be coming back into vogue after a decade of “art comics” have left us with copious amounts of style but scant amounts of substance. And even only one issue in, Kids With Guns is flush with substance, starting with its grabber of a title. This is a comic about the way American violence threads a needle through personal and universal history, while also being a non-judgmental look at how those who have never known real violence (i.e. suburban kids) are simultaneously enchanted by and cognizant of its ugliness.

That all sounds heavy, but Kids With Guns is not a sorrowful drag. Credit for that goes to Nall’s cartoony sensibilities — his art reminds me of Neat Stuff-era Peter Bagge — and his keen observations of childhood excitement and anxiety (Nall teaches comics to kids). Kids With Guns #1 sets up a lot of narrative dominoes that I am excited to see get knocked down in subsequent issues.

Girl in the World by Caroline Cash

Caroline Cash’s Girl in The World is about the art of hanging out: at parties full of people you don’t want to see, at home stoned watching YouTube, in a car taking a ride through the neighborhood, at the 24hr food spot after the bars let out, or by yourself in the world doing your own thing. In Cash’s eyes, hanging out is a reaction to a world full of unimpressive nonsense — like men or school or “creatively named Facebook events” — the end goal being to establish a rhythm and space to comfortably exist away from the typical shit everyone else is so enamored with. This approach is perfectly captured in the moment when one of Cash’s characters comes home to her roommate and friends unexpectedly in her room, lounging on her bed, smoking her weed, using her phone charger, and she doesn’t seem to care at all. After all, these are her people, and they’re just hanging out.

What you first take away when opening up Girl in the World are Cash’s formalist bonafides: it’s impossible to deny the assured way she creatively lays out her pages and then vividly colors them in with a rainbow coalition of markers. What registers next are Cash’s prolific and inviting character designs, which are all of-one but also each individually unique — a tough game to play that Cash makes look easy. Next, once you start actually reading it, you’re impressed by her funny dialogue and kaleidoscopic storytelling. Then, finally, your brain melds all these pieces together and you’re gifted with something that can only be described as Pure Comics.

Aorta #1 by Sarah Horrocks

Second only to the funny pages, manga were some of the first comics I fell in love with when I was a kid (the first comic I ever bought that wasn’t a newspaper strip collection was Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind Vol. 6 when I was eight years old at the local Barnes and Noble — I still have it). I was part of an entire generation that came of age during the manga boom of the late 90s-early 2000s, a boom that bred American cartoonists who now create heavily manga-inspired work. One of the more interesting authors from this wave is Sarah Horrocks.

Aorta is her take on the Mecha genre, specifically pulling from the space-opera melodramas that the genre has to offer (More Turn A Gundam than Patlabor, if that means anything to you). Most of the first issue is about an impromptu rescue mission in the eye of a mammoth tornado, Horrocks slashing ink and screen tone across the page in violent energy. The panel layouts in Aorta are a synthesis of American Comic Book and Manga: boxy grids give way to emotionally jagged panels, with exquisite use of full-bleed spreads that keep the pace interesting. Her character designs are also manga-influenced but her idiosyncratically sketchy style gives them a new, raw dimension. The overall plot is vague so far, and ditto the character relationships, but it’s only the first chapter, and there are a lot of intriguing hints of things to come to keep me interested. I mean, who doesn’t love a good meta-fictional epigraph?

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