Sunday, June 12, 2011

FYC Replay: Icecreamlandia with Even Englezos & Josh Moutray

More from the vault, as I replay another of my columns spotlighting small press comics from the Pulse. This one looks at a creative team who produce meticulously illustrated mini-comics that are often laced with witticisms and non sequiturs. They are interesting and enjoyable and well worth checking out.


For Your Consideration: Mini-comics from Icecreamlandia (Eve Englezos & Josh Moutray)

By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: Everyone thinks they know the definition of what makes a comic. But for the most part, any definition is terribly limiting. Self-publishers and mini-comics creators are challenging the status quo with artistic creations that may look like traditional comics on the surface, or not, but once one peeks behind the cover, they discover something brand new. Two such creators are Eve Englezos and Josh Moutray. Step inside and find out what they are doing to broaden the horizon of comics.

The 411:

Mini I: you’re living in the past

Mini II: no time like the present

Mini III: about yr future


4” x 5”, 12 pp. b/w, $1.00 each

Their Condolences

5.5” x 7”, 10pp. b/w, die-cut cover, $3.00

Written & Drawn by

Eve Englezos & Josh Moutray

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

One of the problems with comics – in this context I refer to comics as it is perceived by the general populace as well as a vast majority of fans – is that everyone “knows” what comics are and what comics can do. That is, there are many preconceived notions regarding mainstream comics that incite the most rabid fans – an audience that seems to be steadily dwindling – to pick up almost any book published by the “Big Two” while also prejudicing a large audience against even considering reading a comic, any comic. Whether it be format (22 pages, color, glossy paper, with ads) or genre (mainly superheroes) or style (the episodic continuation of the status quo with no true resolutions forthcoming, not unlike television soap operas) these parameters that many consider to be inherent to the medium are far too limiting.

Luckily, there are many creators who wish to expand the medium and are constantly pushing to discover the wide breadth of possibilities within comics. Some of these artists can be found within the mainstream, but they tend to be the exception that proves the rule. The large majority of creators searching for new ways to make comics can be found doing mini-comics and self-publishing. Whether experimenting with genre, style, or presentation, the diversity of comics available at smaller shows such as MoCCA, SPX, and APE is astounding and any fan looking for more from his or her comic experience should make plans to attend one of these great shows.

Two of the creators challenging the expectations of what can be found between the covers of a comic, or mini-comic, are Eve Englezos and Josh Moutray. Having studied printmaking at the Kansas City Art Institute, they both come at comics from a different angle than most. Infusing the art of comics with sensibilities falling outside the often limited influences of many who aspire to create comics, Englezos and Moutray bring a different perspective to comics that is fresh as well as challenging.

To be fair, the minis from Englezos and Moutray are definitely not what most people have come to expect from their comics. The five small books I picked up at last year’s MoCCA Art Festival all contain single-page illustrations with dialogues – or monologues, as the case may be. Readers seeking a narrative within the covers of these mini-comics will be sorely disappointed because, as Englezos and Moutray put it, though there is the implication of a narrative, in order for one to discover that narrative, it is necessary to do a lot of the work within one’s own imagination.

This is not to say there is nothing that connects all the images. Within each book, there is a thematic element that ties each of the pages together, providing a subtext that can thread the dialogues together, but much of the detail must be provided by the reader. Therein lies the challenge, and for those who enjoy some “mental lifting” with their entertainment, therein might lie the satisfaction one often seeks within these paper and ink pamphlets.

The themes found within these books comprise the past, present, and future as well as devilish plots and the condolences shared by relatives and acquaintances for the deceased Abram. Some of the books are held together more tenuously by their themes than others, but all of them are entertaining and will make readers think if they are smart enough to pore over the books rather than just consuming them as fast as possible. The dialogue is smartly written, in some instances only a few lines while others have an entire short story hidden between their many lines. And the artwork is fantastic. Using fine line ink drawings and moodily rendered pencil sketches, Englezos and Moutray showcase artistic ability that is hard to match.

Reminiscent of the delicate linework of P. Craig Russell, Barry Windsor-Smith, and classic illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, these two are able to create fine pieces of black and white art on each page that would be fit for framing if only they were not so small. These artful pieces coupled with the witty dialogue make for incredibly entertaining reading. Add in the challenge of discovering the narrative through-line that connects each piece within a given comic and the works from Eve Englezos and Josh Moutray make for fully satisfying reads that are well worth opening again and again.

So, is this comics or not? I contend that it is, and the audacity and skill with which Englezos and Moutray tackle their unique brand of comics is to be applauded. With something as ingrained as the idea of “what a comic is,” it is a daunting task to throw convention out the window and pursue one’s artistic muse when common sense might argue otherwise. And when that is done in such a small community as the comics community, the achievement by these two artists is even more auspicious.

An Interview with Eve Englezos and Josh Moutray:

Chris Beckett: What is it about comics that attracted you to the art form and makes you want to create your own mini comics?

Eve & Josh: Mini-comics are an amazing narrative medium in which we get to utilize visual art, prose, theater, and film elements, as well as all the inherently magical tactile properties of books. Plus we have total control over everything, from the content to the physical craft of the object, which is both inspiring and intimidating. Also, quite obviously, our books are a way to share our shrewd cultural fictions with the world at large, rather than just wasting them on one another.

Beckett: Your mini comics eschew a traditional narrative for fine line drawings coupled with interesting non sequiturs. What are you hoping to achieve with your mini comics, and is there some hidden thematic connection underlying these pages?

Eve & Josh: In our early work the connection underlying the pages was merely that these people existed together, and placing them in succession created a social narrative of that particular group of people. The comic panels bounced from person-to-person and subject-to-subject, much like listening to conversations as you walk through a crowded airport or flipping through channels on the TV. In our last few books we've constructed subtle, loose themes to connect the pages. Providing this structure seems to give readers more of a foothold to work with while reading the panels and makes a subtext for the characters' monologues. This manipulates the human desire for narrative by implying that there is one. Our readers then create or recognize an identity for each of the characters and infer how they may or may not relate to one another.

Beckett: The imagery is very precise with delicate line work reminiscent of classic artists such as Hal Foster or contemporary ones like Adrian Tomine or James Owen. What instruction, if any, have you had, and who are some of the artists that have influenced you?

Eve & Josh: We're both printmaking graduates from the Kansas City Art Institute, so we definitely have some formal training under our belts. We admire the work of several comics and zine artists--from the old school of Gene Deitch and Chester Gould all the way to the Picturebox crowd and quite a few of our mini-comics colleagues--but we don't have a consciously direct comic art influence on our collaborative body of work. We try to make our drawings generically specific, meaning that they tread a line of realistic cartooning that essentially cancels out its own "style.” We’d like the reader's concentration to be focused on the characters themselves and what they're revealing through semiotics and not just how interestingly they are drawn.

Beckett: If readers are unable to get to a convention you are attending, how might they be able to preview or purchase your mini comics?

Eve & Josh: Our website ( [1]) has all our mini-comics which are still in print available to purchase along with a few sample pages to view for each one. The website will be undergoing a major facelift soon, but our work will always be available there. We also post random panels, sketches, previews of future projects, thoughts, and other ephemera on our blog ( [2]) for fanatical completists interested in that sort of thing.

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

Eve & Josh: All our time the past two months has been spent creating new work for our solo gallery show You’ll Never Get Away With This, which just opened at the Green Door Gallery here in Kansas City, MO. The show is our attempt to weave a nebulous chamber mystery in the grand traditions of Agatha Christie and Jessica Fletcher. We illustrated events leading up to a gory murder in the lobby of a theme hotel and presented a cast of witnesses, suspects, and acquaintances of the victim. Though it isn’t necessary for the viewer to solve the mystery, we hope the conventions of detective fiction lend a new twist to our exploration of implied narrative and social satire. For the next month or two we'll be compiling some type of book, zine, or mini-comic from the pieces in the show. In 2008, we'll basically be feeling our way to new books through trial and error. We generally create three to five new complete works (not all mini-comics) per year depending on the scope of the projects, so keep an eye on our website and blog as our path is revealed to us.

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