Secret Acres has been publishing fine comics for the last couple of years and has quickly become one of my top go-to publishers for exciting, cutting edge, artistic indie comics. They have published a broad range of comics with a variety of artistic and literary approaches. You never quite know what you’re getting into with a new Secret Acres book, but you can rest assured it will be quality. There isn’t a signature style of story or art at Secret Acres, if anything it would be iconoclastic and genre-defying, but everything seems to filter through the mighty fine taste of SA head honchos. Considering the varied and idiosyncratic nature of the comics at Secret Acres, I think it will be interesting to see how well our comics thesaurus terms do at describing these comics.
Capacity By Theo Ellsworth
TERMS: Iconoclast, Internal Life, Reflection, Imaginary World, Self Discovery
Capacity is an engrossing, intricately detailed, strange and wonderful trip through the mind and imagination. It has a very whimsical, surreal, dream-like feel. Theo Ellsworth‘s art is really something and its hidden details impel you to look closer and linger on each page. This book is another collection of shorter pieces and although there isn’t a overarching narrative, there is a consistent feel, mood and theme.
Applying Terms: Despite being a collection, the consistency makes it possible to apply some character and story element terms. The short stories are not plot driven so many of the story element terms are not applicable, but those that are help to describe Capacity and link it to other similar comics. The art is really the most difficult aspect to apply terms to, but not for a lack of style. Ellsworth has a clear, identifiable style that is very much his own. His art is very concerned with beauty, like the Classicists, but it has a very different approach to drawing and applying ink than the Classicists. So, although the motivation and aim is the same as Classicist art styles, Ellsworth’s work in Capacity fits much better within Iconoclast. The actual drafting style of the characters relies on simplicity and is not trying to mirror reality. When faced with difficult indexing decisions, it is best to go through some process of elimination and to look at other examples from the categories. I knew that this was not Animist or Formalist right off the bat. And when compared to other Classicist comics, I knew that was not the place for this, even though it is all about beauty. For now there isn’t a proper sub-category of Iconoclast that would work well for Capacity, but that could be an area for future expansion.
Curio Cabinet By John Brodowski
TERMS: Iconoclast — Primitive, Humor, I Just Want Friends, Loner, Rural
I know about Secret Acres thanks to John Brodowski who is a college friend of mine. Although I am friends with John and am probably a little biased, I really do think that he is doing some truly cool stuff with his Curio Cabinet comic and I always enjoy seeing what his twisted mind comes up with. And this is some truly bizarre, cracked stuff. Brodowski’s tastes for trinket collecting, gas station kitsch, 80’s horror and action movies, heavy metal, and rural Vermont get tossed in the blender and Curio Cabinet is the result. Brodowski has developed a signature drawing style that relies on pencil shading and leaves out the ink all together. The Curio Cabinet book by Secret Acres collects the self-published Curio Cabinet 1-4 plus some extra goodies. Each issue is a collection of short segments, with very little text or dialog, and other random drawings. Some of the pieces have the essence of a narrative, which is usually a very small segment of time or some psychedelic transformation. Browdowski has a real knack for expanding a moment and lingering on the details within. There is a really interesting tension between the hints of narrative and the refusal to lay it all out in some easily understood fashion. Basically, I think a lot of readers could mistake these short segments as not making any sense and not saying anything, but most of these segments do have some sort of logic to them, even if it is an inside joke and difficult to decode. Curio Cabinet really relies on reading the images, noticing small differences and having a twisted sense of humor. There is a continuing segment called Cus Mommy Says So, which chronicles the loneliness John imagines for Jason from the Friday the 13th movies. Most of the other tales are short one-offs. Look for tales of a suicidal axe, a man who want to become a squirrel, teen dweeb metal heads, the joys of building a fort in the woods, and other weirdness that is too hard to put into words and best just experienced.
Applying Terms: Brodowski’s art is very striking, very idiosyncratic, like the narrative, and clearly fits within the Iconoclast camp, and more specifically within the Primitive sub-category. Since this is a collection of very short stories and drawings it is difficult to apply story terms as there is such a variety on display and meaning and intention are tough to pin down. Humor is definitely a big component though. The setting is mostly Rural. In Cus Mommy Said So the Jason character is definitely a Loner and in need of friends, so I Just Want Friends and Loner can be applied since this is a recurring story.
Gaylord Phoenix By Edie Fake
TERMS: Iconoclast, Reflection, Self Discovery, Quest, Rite of Passage — Coming Out, Imaginary World
This is a pretty wild, psychedelic comic that seems equally concerned with art and story. The loose story is told mostly through the images and uses very little text. Gaylord Phoenix relies on fantasy, alternative reality, and dream logic to tell its tale. Edie Fake‘s tale is a quest that centers around a series of encounters, mostly sexual, between two beings with male bits and seems to be a journey for self knowledge and acceptance. Gaylord Phoenix has really cool art that is beautifully designed and merits close attention.
Applying Terms: Although design is a central concern of the art style the drawing style itself is rough and sketchy so this would not fit within the Formalist camp, of which Graphic Design is a sub-category. This example highlights the difficulty of indexing and constructing indexing languages, especially for art styles. Fake’s art in Gaylord Phoenix seems primarily Iconoclast, but with a strong sense of design. Perhaps this is an area where our indexing language needs to grow. For Affect, it is tough to pin down exactly what Gaylord Phoenix is about, but primarily it seems that Fake’s aim is to make the reader think, thus Reflection is the best choice. Self Discovery definitely seems to be motivating the characters and the world presented is clearly Imaginary World and Fantastic. I am tempted to apply Rite of Passage — Coming Out terms, as this seems closely related, yet at the same time the story is fairly vague, so its hard to say for sure, and this certainly isn’t your normal Coming Out story, but it seems like it has many similar aspects and appeal.
Fatal Faux-Pas By Samuel C. Gaskin
TERMS: Iconoclast — Primitive, Humor
Fatal Faux-Pas is a fun romp through a variety of short stories, jokes and observations. Sam Gaskin uses a variety of art styles throughout, but all have a simple, childlike approach.
Applying Terms: Like Brodowski’s Curio Cabinet, this art seems to fit best within the Primitive sub-category of the Iconoclast camp, but Gaskin and Brodowski don’t really look much like each other. Of course, this is what commonly happens in the Iconoclast camp, there is a common thread or approach, but results will vary drastically. As far as story goes, this is a collection of short pieces, but Humor is the goal, the intended Affect.
Overall, I think our thesaurus has done a pretty good job of describing the important parts of these comics, especially considering how vague and diverse most of these titles are. Art is an important, perhaps even primary element of these comics and all in all our thesaurus did well at describing and giving shape to the art styles on display. Of course, all of my selections were firmly in the Iconoclast camp, but Secret Acres has published other comics, like Ken Dahl’s Monsters and Mike Dawson’s Troop 142, that are much more Animist. Many of these were collections of short stories and drawings, so many of the character and story element terms just were not applicable. At least not at this level of detail. It could be worth describing character and story elements for recurring stories or significant themes, if present. Probably the biggest challenge is that several of these comics are somewhat difficult to logically understand and seem to operate more on an unconscious level where the reader has a sense of the meaning, even if they can’t quite articulate it.