Wednesday, March 11, 2009

FYC #2: James Hindle's Worry Stories @ Pulse

Originally published 06/21/07

For Your Consideration #2:
James Hindle’s Lamplighter & Folded Paper Assembly #1
By Chris Beckett

The 411:
Written/drawn by James Hindle
22pp., b/w
Hand-pulled screen printed cover

Folded Paper Assembly #1
Written/drawn by James Hindle
24pp., b/w
Hand-pulled screen printed cover

Not available in stores, but you can purchase them online at Hindle’s website

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

James Hindle was exhibiting across the aisle from me at last year’s Small Press Expo. A shy unassuming young man, he seemed content to allow people to discover his comics rather than pushing his books upon unsuspecting passersby. This was refreshing within the general clamor of the Expo, and despite not being the best way to get one’s book into readers’ hands it did not deter him from selling books. A lot of this can be attributed to the eye-catching covers Hindle produces for his minis, two-color screen printed illustrations incorporating simple images with vastly contrasting hues that make these covers pop. His books stand out against the rest of the crowd and are easily visible from across a room. This is one of the best ways to get readers to sample a book.

Of course, a good cover does not a worthwhile comic make, and Hindle realizes this as well. Upon reading Lamplighter and Folded Paper Assembly #1, it is obvious that he is creating very personal stories. They are “slice of life” stories told in an understated manner, unadorned by melodrama or exaggeration. Most comic book fans would dismiss them out of hand, longing for the heavy-handed plots and uber-physiques of the spandex set. Sadly for them, they miss the point that Hindle’s stories carry more weight because of the truthfulness to be found within each narrative. These are tiny vignettes that come straight out of small town America, which any reader could easily recognize. The personal stamp that Hindle puts on these tales is not only a testament to an artist following his muse, but also allows for a wider audience than the typical superhero fare.

Lamplighter takes place on what appears to be a late summer evening. A group of friends – not far removed from high school if they are not still enrolled – are meeting at Abe’s house for a party while his parents are out of town. All of these kids realize, though it may be subconsciously, that this is an important moment in their lives. They are standing on a precipice, looking forward to what awaits them beyond their little town while afraid to leave behind what comfort they’ve known all their lives. Whether it be Noah’s self-induced sleep deprivation, Abe’s drug-induced hallucinations, or Forest’s insistence of maturity, each one of the friends seems to be searching for his/her identity in their own individual ways. The action, as it is, is relatively tame but wholly recognizable to any of Hindle’s readers. It is this recognition of oneself within the pages of Lamplighter that can shed light on the answers we all seek while plodding through this life.

Folded Paper Assembly #1 collects three of Hindle’s shorter works, which can also be found at his website. The three tales revolve around the common, though often unstated, insecurities and obsessions of everyday teenagers. A young man in “None of Them Knew They Were Actors” gets lost in a soap opera while trying to survive a sweltering August day. Anyone who has ever had an obsession with a band (for me it was Van Halen) will easily relate to the second story “You Can’t Talk About This.” Despite only being two pages, this is probably the strongest offering in the book, and Hindle conveys perfectly through his main character the feelings every teenager has experienced with their own favorite band. The final story, “Our Mercurial Pace,” is the longest at thirteen pages and conveys the fragile nature of relationships during this pivotal stage in one’s life. The insecurity. The peer pressure. The hormones. They all contribute to the highs and lows of high school life as readers are witness to a close friendship between a boy and girl turning sour after one foolish moment – a stolen kiss – from which the two seem unable to recover. With sharp, precise scenes, Hindle carries his audience through an entire school year in these thirteen pages, telling his tale poignantly without going over the top.

Hindle’s art style fits these stories wonderfully. Not unlike his writing, Hindle’s artwork is simple and self-effacing. He is able to compose a fully realized world within the small panels of his comics, utilizing well developed backgrounds without cluttering up the panel or losing the focus of the story. And yet, he also employs some very complex narrative devices within his artwork. Most notably he utilizes a technique I first encountered reading Watchmen, where a static background spreads over multiple panels while the characters move about the area within each of the panels. One instance where Hindle uses this technique is on the rooftop where the party is being held in Lamplighter. Forest seeks out Abe, who is alone on the roof, to find out why he isn’t hanging out at his own party. The roof spreads across the top 2/3 of the page and is cut into four panels within which readers see Forest’s feet or Abe’s head coming in off a panel as they move around while talking. It is a beautiful illustration of what makes comics unique, and it is also an interesting storytelling device that should be used more often, but seems to be missing from most creators’ toolboxes.

It is this combination of the simple and complex in his storytelling abilities that makes James Hindle a creator to watch. Blend this ability with stories that touch the emotional heart of what makes us human and are easily accessible to readers, and I am hopeful that Hindle will continue to work – creating and publishing comics that strike a chord with those who enjoy good stories.

An Interview with James Hindle:
Chris Beckett:
Why comics? What is it about the medium that makes you want to create comics?
James Hindle: I think I chose comics because it is a very personal way of creating a visual narrative. It also feels really simple and really complicated at the same time. I’ve always liked that.
CB: Your 2-color covers are very eye-catching and I was curious as to whether they come from an artistic instinct on your part or if they are a result of any art instruction you may have had, and what is the thought process like behind your covers?
JH: The two color covers are really the result of the screen printing medium. Since each color is another screen you have to pull, it makes sense to keep it simple. And then the challenge is just to design within this two color limit (actually, three colors, including the paper).

CB: The layout of your comics is based, for the most part, on the 9-panel grid within which you expand or contract panels for pacing and storytelling reasons. Is this a conscious decision on your part and what are the benefits and drawbacks of the 9-grid in your experience?
JH: It’s a conscious decision for the most part. When I’m thinking about the layout of a page I’m thinking mostly about the composition and the amount of time that is existing on the page. The 9 panel layout is a sort of controlled environment for that.

CB: Unlike most comic artists, you utilize some of the strengths uniquely inherent to the comic page which make for some very interesting storytelling choices in your works (I am thinking specifically of pages 10 and 12 of LAMP LIGHTER) that allow you to play with “time” in the comic panel. What is the genesis of this specific technique, and could you speak to any other qualities unique to the comic medium?
JH: Those two pages are really just examples of different ways to show a lot of time and movement in a small amount of space. Since showing time in comics is an abstract thing, I think you sometimes need a less literal way of presenting it.

CB: What is your process when developing one of your books? Does the story or the imagery come first, or does it differ between projects?
JH: It’s always an idea first. I think of something small and then a narrative will develop around that.

CB: What other projects are you working on now, and where and when can people find these and other projects of yours?
JH: I’m planning on making more comics. People can find them at

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