I first heard of Olivia Horvath when researching past winners of the Xeric Grant, which they were awarded in 2012 for the publication of Tiny Bangs. In an obscure market that mostly lacks endorsement and funds from the nation’s wealthy and elite, the Xeric was one if not the only grant aimed at helping self-publishing comics artists produce and distribute their work (it recently ended after 20 years). This was a grant that every self-determined, hard-working cartoonist I know applied for, and I found myself asking what sort of qualifications it would take to win such a grant, and in other words have one’s work be crowned “BEST COMIC[S] OF THE UNDERGROUND.”
While I can’t speak for what The Best Comic[s] of the Underground are, Horvath’s stark yet poetic narrative, which focuses on one young woman’s day, reached me in a way that many other described “poetic” comics do not. With fine brushwork, light washes, and intentional splotches of darkness, Horvath focuses in on the unspectacular, but with great intensity. I.e, grooming in the bathroom, smoking a cigarette by the windowsill, washing some dishes, all scenes are paced slowly so that we have time to take in the event and find its meaning. Meanwhile, the young woman’s unconventional job of being a nude model is presented as just another passing moment in the day.
Above: Excerpt from Tiny Bangs #1 by Olivia Horvath
Now I know what some of you are thinking. I too, often find that comics about the everyday and mundane can come off as kinda, well, mundane. This is not one of them. While the tone of the work is subtle, the honest presentation of human desire and emotion (or lack of) is acutely-observed, which allowed myself to take a moment to appreciate the thoughtful, awkward nature of our species. And that’s a pretty cool thing to allow.
Mike Taylor‘s work equally evokes the raw and honest nature of our people, mixed with a hyper-thoughtful understanding of the system that they dwell in, plus a dose of the amusingly absurd.
Above: Late Era Clash (AKA Scenery) #22 (2009), by Mike Taylor, with a featured story by Sam McPheeters.
While I highly endorse all of Taylor’s work, today I focus on Late Era Clash #22 because I just read it for the fourth or fifth time and can confidently say that Yes, this is one of my favorite mini-comics of the recent past. Ah-hah!
With a screen-printed cover and b&w xeroxed interiors, Late Era Clash features an array of different narrative-driven comics, drawn and inked in a style that I can only describe as, “Yeah, this is pretty fucking righteous.” Stories focus on various human interactions that take place in seemingly average small towns that may or may not have one jarringly eccentric component to them.
Above: The gov doesn’t know what you’re talking about in this episode of Private Panthers, featured in Late Era Clash #22.
Some stories made me smirk or even chuckle, while others made me wish that I could only create such perfection in a mini-comic. Taylor’s sense of humor seems to stem from the anxiety of being overly aware of one’s surroundings, like someone who is locked in an empty room with no distractions but a loud, ticking clock, tensely awaiting the Next Terrible Thing to happen to them. Basically, the world can be a wretched place, but we use humor to make it out alive. And man, Taylor uses it well.
Below: Big Baby Man enters the scene and he’s NOT happy. From Late Era Clash #22, story written by Sam McPheeters.
Bottom Line: If you’re the type of person who enjoys to sit and observe those surrounding you when most others have their noses in smartphones, ipads, or books, you are taking note of their features and gestures, their personality, thinking about What Kind of Person they might be and what kind of life they might live, appreciating the beauty of some, and the ridiculousness of others, well, then the passionately written & drawn work of Olivia Horvath and Mike Taylor might be for you.