Wednesday, September 15, 2010

SPX Find #1: Shawn Cheng's Counting Comics

I've had time to unpack from my SPX trip now, and I'm starting to sort through the minicomics I obtained there. My plan is to read them slowly, and to write about them as I go, rather than burning through the whole pile in a weekend the way I have in the past.

The first books I have to hand are a couple of sweet little gems from my former student, the Partyka stalwart Shawn Cheng.

Shawn had a couple of new-to-me minis at SPX, both of which have a really pretty opalescent cardstock for covers. They're obviously meant to work as a pair to some extent, because they both feature appealing, stylized drawings of creatures and events from classical mythology, and because they're both set up as counting books. That is, each illustration accompanies a counting number and illustrates some countable detail. It's like an alphabet primer for numbers—a genre we're all familiar with from childhood.

So, in The Numbers of the Beasts, "One is the eye of the Cyclops, Two are the horns of the minotaur," and ...

Three are the necks of Cerberus. You can see a little bit of Shawn's participation in The Road of Knives in these monster drawings, but by and large they're much smoother and much cuter than the drawings in that project.

In Hercules Counts to XII, rather than the parts of mythological creatures, we're counting things from the twelve labors of Hercules, like this:

Five brooms for the Augean stables.

I think Shawn's doing some of his most appealing cartooning ever in these books. The curves of his forms are friendly, stylish, and cute. The objects and animals are stripped down to really basic forms without quite losing the stretchy eccentricity that I associate with Shawn's earlier drawing.

Count those nine kisses for the belt of Hippolyta!

She cuts an intimidating figure, doesn't she? She looks ready to administer a death by snoo-snoo, yet it's the icky kisses that Hercules recoils from. That's a good sign that these are genuinely kid-friendly books, and in fact they're clearly designed for kids, except in that minicomics are probably too flimsy to survive long between the grubby fingers of your standard pre-schooler. If I were a children's-book publisher, I'd be pressuring Shawn for color versions of these cartoons so we could put them between hard covers and charge four times as much for each book.

And look at the graphic-design chops evident in these highly simplified drawings:

I admire the way the figures in Shawn's basilisk drawing ("Eight are the legs...") fill each other's negative space, yet still overlap enough to create depth of field. It's a smart bit of composition, and each of the drawings in these books takes that kind of visual knowhow for granted. I asked Shawn about the change in his drawing style, and he said that these simpler drawings actually take him longer to execute, because everything has to be carefully planned. Looking back over these books, I can easily see what he's talking about.

The Numbers of the Beasts and Hercules Counts to XII aren't in the Partyka store as I write this, but I imagine they'll appear there before long.

Meanwhile, as an extra bonus to this review, here's a sketch or doodle Shawn did for me at SPX, with his characters Whiskey Jack and Kid Coyote (from a different minicomic) dressed as Cyclops and Wolverine.

Thanks, Shawn! Stay tuned, gentle reader, for more minis from SPX.

1 comment:

Ben Towle said...

Just got around to looking at this myself. Beautiful stuff!