Sunday, February 6, 2011

FYC Replay: the work of Alex Wilson

For Your Consideration: Inconsequential Art and The First Noel from Alex Wilson, et al.
By Chris Beckett

The 411:
Inconsequential Art #1 & 2
Written by Alex Wilson
Art by Dennis Culver (issue1), Jenna Huisken (issue 2)
12pp. 3.5”x2”, b/w
$1 each or 8 for $5

The First Noel
Written by Alex Wilson
Shot by Jack Lucido
28pp. photo-comic
Available online

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

Alex Wilson has many hats in his closet. He writes prose – a short story of his ran in the WHAT issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction – creates poetry, has experience as a short film and stage actor, and has contributed gaming features to periodicals such as Dragon Magazine, along with a number of multimedia creations that can be found on his site. But comics is in his blood, and his love for the medium helped birth his recent mini comics, which are about as mini as one can get.

Inconsequential Artissues 1 and 2 are the size of a business card, and they have something often missing in today’s comics, an abundance of fun. Playing off the title, Wilson slides tongue firmly into cheek and plays with the possibilities of the medium. The first issue includes a silent comic titled “The Amateur” drawn by Dennis Culver whose artwork matches nicely with the farcical nature of this story. In these seven pages, readers are treated to a young man doing what all young men do best, making an ass of himself while trying to impress an attractive young woman, who he has just met outside his favorite coffee house. The problem is, this girl smokes, but the guy does not. He quickly hatches a plan to facilitate becoming more tolerant of the cigarette smoke in order to get closer to this woman. The thought process behind his strategy should be familiar to many, as well as the warped logic behind it all. The results are humorous, and the final page brings a climax filled with humor and irony that emerges directly out of the previous events. In the end, it is the only ending that fits, and yet readers will not see it coming.

The second issue of Inconsequential Artdoesn’t actually have any comics, though it does contain a gag cartoon drawn by Jenna Huisken as its centerfold. The meat of this tiny comic is an interactive story in the “choose your own adventures” mode, with Wilson’s sarcasm firmly ensconced within the options and consequences. This one took me back to when I was younger and picked up a number of Choose Your Own Adventure “novels” based upon Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings cycle. I loved those books and would pore over them daily, trying to work my way through to the end without being devoured by a dragon or sliced up by orcs. Having grown up – a bit – in the intervening years, the caustic irony Wilson laces the story with is a welcome relief for this mid-30s cynic. Like the first issue, this one will bring a smile to readers’ faces and transport many back to the wonder of their youth. And with the many choices available, readers are rewarded with a different tale each time they open it up.

The final mini, The First Noel, was actually produced as a short film – utilizing still images as with the short film La Jetée – a few years ago, but Wilson was not happy with the results and translated it to comics where the static images could play to the strengths of the narrative. Like the first issue of Inconsequential Art, this is a silent comic, but unlike his other minis, The First Noel is more serious in tone.

Living alone in a cramped apartment, the protagonist of the piece is experiencing – it certainly could not be described as celebrating – Christmas Eve. In the middle of his living room, if one can call it a proper room, he is eating a microwave dinner as he watches television on his small TV. He is alone, not well off, and yet, throughout the story, he is playing with his wedding band. This facet of the narrative compels readers to ask why is he alone and what happened to drop him into this sad state.

Each panel of this comic is a window into the story, into this man’s life. The audience is able to experience his anger, his frustration, and his sadness through these windows, and it is as palpable as the emotions evoked by any good film or novel. The First Noel is a touching and heartbreaking tale that is related brilliantly through the choice of images and use of long shots that not only expose the meager surroundings in which he lives, but also shares the isolation he must be suffering on what should be the happiest night of the year. This is really an amazingly effective short comic, and one I would heartily recommend to your attention.

An Interview with Alex Wilson

THE PULSE: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

I'm a visual thinker, and comics are about as dynamic a mass medium as you can get without utensils. And by that I mean a chunk of audio (music or spoken word) requires at minimum an audio player, film requires a media player, video games require a console. But to have a self-contained pile of story that doesn't require any tool to enjoy, you've got prose and comics printed on dead tree.

I've written and created in a number of media but almost every story for me starts as a comic. In a perfect world, the story would dictate the medium, but at this early point in my career, given a choice between (a) selling a prose story to an existing publisher and collecting $400+ or (b) creating a comic, from hiring an artist to setting up distribution channels, and paying $2000+ for the privilege... it's easy to choose prose in most cases. Hell, I'm hoping the former can pay for the latter eventually.

A lot of the prose stories I've written, I had to re-imagine for a non-comics medium during the creation process, simply because the prose world has slush piles where I have a one-in-a-thousand shot, and my queries don't earn replies from even the smaller comics publishers. But I'll keep at it. Comics are my first love and no publishing realities can take that away from me.

THE PULSE: The First Noel and Inconsequential Art #1 and #2 are mini comics in the most literal sense. What went into the decision making process for the format of each book?

I remember giving someone a self-printed business card with my URL on it and a month later he Googles me to find my site. I was lucky he bothered. He didn't hang on to the card. And why should he? It was an ad for my benefit more than his.

An artist might add value to that card with a slice of her work. A pretty man might put his photo on it. But how can a storyteller add value when the narrative canvas is no bigger than a credit card? Foldable business cards gave me four pages. Three foldable business cards stapled together like a booklet gave me twelve pages, including cover. I met artist Dennis Culver at Warren Ellis's The Engine forum, and he "got" what I wanted to do. He illustrated the main 7-page story and cover of the first issue, which is garnished with a 12-line science fiction story-poem about NASCAR and Einstein's special theory of relativity. The bulk of the second issue is a text choose-your-own-adventure piece I first published in the humor e-zine called Planet Relish. I'm a literary guest at Trinoc-Con in August. I'll put my panel schedule on the back cover of IA#2 and see how it flies.

THE PULSE: The First Noel is a heartfelt story that comes across as biographical. What was the inspiration for this mini comic?

Thanks! I'd worked as an actor with a director named Jack Lucido. He wanted to collaborate on a piece for a local holiday film festival. Our limitations included no cast/crew but us two, just a few hours to shoot, and little/no sound equipment other than the on-camera mike. I wrote shot lists for two stories, one humorous and one serious. I kept those limitations in mind and wrote to their strengths, which allowed us to film both. The humorous one ended up working quite well as a ten-second film grenade (available on my site and YouTube as "The Three Rs") and won probably the most audible reaction from the audience at the festival, but I won't spoil it by describing the sound. The serious one isn't biographical, but that type of personal resonance sans dialogue was what I was going for. It was a series of still images. We imagined La Jetée, but the result was a slide show. But again it's about letting the story dictate the medium. I just wanted to let the story exist and what I had with those images was sequential art. I turned it into a standalone webcomic story (available on my site as "The First Noel") last year.

The minicomic version I showed you was little more than a proof of concept, to see what the challenges would be to produce a story in the printed form with the least amount of cost. I probably created a dozen copies total, and I ultimately decided that the images breathed more freely as the webcomic than they did in the black-and-white mini. But it got me past the technical challenges that allowed me to create Inconsequential Art.

THE PULSE: Why Inconsequential Art as a title for your minis?

I don't know, but for novels and other thick, grand projects, I like small titles, like "Zounds!" or "Percussing Billy.” For short stories and other morsels I like big titles, like "Stabbing Ain't Nothing But the Eskimo Word for Nookie" or "You Know More Things to Do with Wet Shorts Than Anyone I Know.” The more prepositions the better, because it gives you these beautiful capitalization minefields.

The most obvious play on the word "Sequential Art" is "Consequential Art." Not only would that title feel pretentious, but it's also incorrect if you're describing these little business card-sized comics. So "Inconsequential Art" it is. And you know it's long enough when it barely fits on the cover of an issue. And neither Culver nor the artist I'm talking to for issue #3 have felt that it was a slam on them (calling their particular work inconsequential) so it looks like I got away with the title.

THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?

Head on over to Click on "Find My Work" or for the latest and greatest.

In a few weeks, a story illustrated by Mario Boon will appear in the upcoming fund-raiser anthology Hope: New Orleans, from Ronin Studios. I've got a five page Future Shock-style story currently being illustrated for the British comic anthology series FutureQuake, but I'm not sure about the timeline for that.

Steve Milligan, easily the best cinematographer I know, has directed a few films I've worked on, including a comedy-ish short, "Fin de Siecle," (co-written by Jeremy Pinkham) which goes out to its first festival slush pile this month, and the action-short "Intermission" (working title), which we start editing this summer. Steve was also DP on Brian McGinn's "Otherwise Pandemonium," a Nick Hornby short story I helped adapt for film, which just needs to get cut to original music before it can hit the festival circuit as well.

But of particular interest to comics readers might be the Captain-America-in-Vietnam parody I wrote, animated, and voice-acted a few years back, "All's Fair in Love and Police Actions.” It was an iFilm "Pick of the Day.” Brian K Vaughan called it "F--kin' tops," and Cory Doctorow (science fiction author and blogger for Boing Boing) called it "amazingly funny and well executed."

Lessee, I release free and cheap spoken word audio files regularly at an online project called Telltale Weekly. One of my favorite narrations is my (free) recording of Kelly Link's "Most of My Friends Are Two Thirds Water." The New York Times called it "worth downloading," and they tend to do research and stuff.

And I've always got a few dozen stories in slush piles. I just hit the 400 total submissions milestone after almost nine years, and I'm finally starting to break out of the slush piles and into the magazines I grew up with.

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