Two good old-fashioned, self-published comics for this weekend's small-press shows

There are two regional small-press comics gatherings this weekend that should be well worth a visit, if you’re in driving distance to either.

There’s the Fluke Mini-Comics and Zine Festival in downtown Athens, Georgia this Saturday, and there’s also the long-lived Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo in my former home-town of Columbus, Ohio on both Saturday and Sunday.

Such shows often provide handy goals or deadlines for self-published creators, giving them a place to debut new work to an audience primed to receive it and thus incentive to get something written, drawn and printed in time to have it there.

Here are two such examples, one from each show.

You may be familiar with the work of Athens-based artist Joey Weiser from his AdHouse books Cavemen in Space and The Ride Home, or his AuthorHouse book Tales of Unusual Circumstance, or his kaiju comic strip Monster Isle.

He’s also been creating a graphic novel titled Mermin, about a young mer-man who washes ashore one day and befriends some kids at the beach, embarking on an all-ages fish(man) out of water style comedy, with plenty shark-kicking, sea monster-fighting action.

Weiser has been publishing each chapter as a mini-comic, five in all, each with a single-color cover designed around the placement of a Mermin character sticker (Since Weiser kept sending me copies, I kept reviewing ‘em in various places, if you want to read up on it)

This weekend he’ll be debuting the one-shot Mermin Theatre in the same mini-comic format.

The book opens with Mermin in a robe and ascot, holding a bubble pipe, and welcoming readers to Mermin Theatre (like Masterpiece Theater, only dealing with Mermin, rather than masterpieces). He introduces two short stories, one from his former life among underwater fish-people, and another from his current life, on land.

The first is a sort of eight-page gag comic, in which Mermin and his friend Benny go searching for a cute little octopus to add to his octopus collection, and discover the natural defense of octopuses, which include spraying ink, an incredible grip and teamwork.

The second is a 13-page story in which Mermin and his human friend Pete find a lost dog, and try to save it and reunite it with its owner, which involves the sort of action found in the Mermin series proper, like our hero swimming up a waterfall salmon style and head-butting a grizzly bear.

If you’ve read the previous mini-comics, it’s a nice addition; if you haven’t, it should prove a nice introduction. If you’ve never read any of Weiser’s work, you should correct that ASAP, and a mini-comic like this is probably the best place to start.

Weiser’s art is full of cute, incredibly “performed” cartoony designs, and his sense of humor is strong and sharp enough that it’s all-ages in the literal sense of that often misapplied term.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, Max Ink has put together a much more elaborate package, one that resembles an album style graphic novel instead of a mini-comic (It’s got a spine, a slick cover, a $7 price tag, and runs about 60 pages, 32 of which are comics art). But like Weiser’s Mermin work, it’s a chapter of a longer, novel-length work in progress (although it’s also pretty accessible whether it provides your first or your sixth exposure to the storyline).

It’s titled Blink: So it Goes Chapter 1: Wonka Wonka Kochalka. You’ll recognize the name of another cartoonist in that title. James Kochalka is discussed during one of the book’s many conversations regarding music.

Blink is Ink’s comic about a Columbus-based cartoonist and her friends, and this is the first chapter in a second graphic novel. It’s a literary, slice-of-life affair, and the action of this comic involves Blink and Sam attending a musical performance by singer/songwriter type friend Hank, and meeting his three geeky friends for the first time.

It’s mostly conversation, listening to music—which Ink illustrates through the different lettering of dialogue bubbles, and tight panels of various characters’ expressions—and talking about that music.

Ink is an incredible artist, capable of creating extremely distinct character designs that come off as realistic but cartooned, and placing them in highly representational, immaculately drawn settings in a way that’s reminiscent of Dave Sim’s Cerebus work or a lot of manga.

The central characters are pretty thoroughly fleshed out, and even this is the first time you’ve met them, it’s clear they’ve been around a while, having lived a long time in Ink’s head and sketchbook.

I found the new characters to be a little too on-the-nose in terms of geek type—there’s a smart character in glasses who uses really big words, and an abrasive, slovenly, know-it-all sort—but on the whole the ensemble provides an entertaining enough night out for the reader to fly-on-the-wall.

There’s an additional pleasure to be found in Ink’s book for Columbusites, as he fills the book with real settings from the city, and fictional versions of real elements of Columbus life. For example, the altweekly I used to work for is the same one in which Blink’s comic strip appears, although it has a slightly altered name (akin to Martian Manhunter forsaking Oreos for Chocos, or the DC Universe having a Sundollars coffee shop on every corner instead of a Starbucks), and this weekend’s SPACE convention, at which you can of course pick up a copy of Wonka Wonka Kochalka, is referred to as SPICE.

If you do happen to be in Columbus for this year’s SPICE—er, SPACE, you may also want to check out Ink’s gallery show at Wild Goose Creative, attend Friday night’s SPACE pre-party at The Laughing Ogre Comic Shoppe (my very most favorite comic shop of the half-dozen or so that have been my regular Wednesday dealers during my comics-reading lifetime) and check out the current show at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum.

And if you’re neither in Columbus nor Athens, you can always hit Weiser and Ink up online.

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