Saturday, September 18, 2010

SPX Find #3: The Adventures of Tyler J. Hutchison

One of the things I try to do at SPX is to pick up a few minicomics by people whose work I have never seen before. I figure it's part of my task as a critic to search out the best new work, even if it's coming from somewhere unexpected. That means I often come home with a lot of stuff that I want to recycle right away, but it also means that I see new and interesting things I couldn't have anticipated.

It also means I have a lot of minicomics I feel ambivalent about. What if there's something amusing but crudely drawn, or a moving story with C+ storytelling? What if there's a pompous mini with grand intentions that just fails to deliver, or an improvised, loose, and silly comic by someone who could do better?

I'm of two minds about The Adventures of Tyler J. Hutchinson.

On the one hand, it's a fun little mini, jam-packed with amusing incident. Its sense of humor seems to be positioned somewhere between Scott C. and Scott Pilgrim (two of the better Scotts in comics, leaving aside the question of Scotsmen in comics). Ghosts hang around at a party in the woods wearing backwards ball caps and calling each other "bro"; when Tyler kills a troll, a visible graphic displays the increase in experience points, and text screens reveal what's added to his inventory.

There's a good deal of random, silly, improvised-feeling humor in this comic, and I'm certainly in no position to complain about that. When Tyler receives a quest to locate a dead wizard's favorite hat, he imagines what he'll be able to do once the magic hat is his:

That's a pretty fun sequence, and I can tell it was fun to draw. Click to enlarge it.

When he does finally find the hat and the monster that stole it, things are certainly not as we would have expected:

Can you see the hat?

... And yet, I'm even of two minds about the goofy humorousness of this story, since it basically leads Hutchinson off chasing whims, and keeps the story from really feeling like it has a resolution (since the story has so little shape). Will Tyler return to the tree that gave him such fateful instructions at the beginning of the story? Will he claim the treasure by killing the ghosts? These questions are important in the mini's first few pages, but they fade away in favor of other issues. Will he be held accountable by the troll's family? What happens to the fratboy ghost who slips himself a roofie? The comic doesn't conclude so much as merely end. I know Adventures isn't expecting me to care about this, and yet I can't help wanting the book to feel more structured, because it's in the form of a book.

The story also exists in its entirety online, and it might feel more natural (and more satisfying) in that format, which implies looser structure and less terminal closure at the end (where more pages can always be added on).

On the web, you're also going to see these pages at about twice the size they appear in the mini, which helps Hutchinson's art retain its legibility. He works with a lot of faint and thin lines, and those haven't translated very clearly into the minicomic I brought home from SPX. (It's small, only about 4" x 6": see my fingers in the first picture?)

Some of the images that were designed for the screen get pretty muddy on the miniature page, even though there's good drawing underneath them.

(Compare this page before and after clicking to enlarge it.)

So, in the end, I think The Adventures of Tyler J. Hutchinson is a fun, silly comic that does some interesting things with the conventions of adventure fantasy. (My favorite thing about it, actually, might be that it announces itself as a "journal comic" full of "very personal life stories" without containing anything set in the real world.) I'm glad I've read it, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it wholeheartedly. If nothing else, however, you can read it for free online, along with Hutchinson's other amusing comics, so if you've got the time and inclination, follow that link to check it out.

Since I didn't get Tyler Hutchinson to draw a sketch for me at SPX, I've decided to end this review with a different sort of bonus: a little bit of "fan art" I doodled up, featuring his frat-party ghosts:

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