Andromeda Issue Ten by Anthony Ferguson, Stephanie Neary, Lizzee Solomon, Nate McDonough & Daniel McCloskey, Andy Scott, Joe Probition, Artnoose, Jeremy Northrup, Tom Dewing, and James LaVecchia.

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I’d like to give a shout-out to a growing fellowship of hungry young dynamos from my native Pittsburgh. Andromeda has come out at a rate of a little more than one per month since last Fall, and their comics show an enthusiasm that matches their prolificacy.

That logo you see on the bottom right corner of the cover is The Penna Assembly, the “secret society” that denotes long-time contributors to Andromeda. It’s a neat little piece of design work, one of many gems to be found in this churning wellspring of effort and human emotion.

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The first full-length comic, by Lizzee Solomon, starts out with all the trappings of a typical autobio comic – the narrator works at a paint-your-own-pottery studio and notices that one customer always desperately wants to paint a “ring holder” even though she wears no rings on her fingers. This everyday sub-observation is the setup for some well-plotted surreal suspense that keeps the reader hanging at each page transition before the unspeakable payoff. The customer returns home, and the freshly-glazed ring holder is put to use… for holding Funyuns… to feed… to some kind of chained-up equine monster with an enormous gaping vagina for a face. “Mutual paradise” ensues. It’s a bit of perfectly transcendent silliness and a stab at less adventurous autobiographers.

The next comic is a self-parody in which each artist draws himself toiling in Andromeda’s sweatshop. Once again, a predictable premise is made fresh and enjoyable again with a few choice details. The cackling, vaguely Wonka-esque overlord is constantly eating chicken, because every evil act is more evil if it’s done while eating, and one of the cartoonists calmly resumes drawing with his feet after his arms are torn off at the shoulder.

The last multi-page comic is the only one that takes itself seriously, and it works surprisingly well given the context. It’s a biography of the narrator’s father driving a Higgins boat in World War II. Joe Probition is elegant and innovative in the way he establishes a sense of place: We never quite see a horizon, only churning waves or ships tilted at slight angles as far as the eye can see. The way he draws water also adds to the physicality of the scene. It never quite escapes the bounds of its premise, but it makes the premise weirdly charming.

Some of the pieces of non-comics art, though good, feel like they’re crying out for a story to be attached to, and the interior pages themselves are legible but a bit muddy (The submissions page asks for 200 dpi .JPGs.) The silkscreened cover is quite crisp, though, and the letterhead on the inside back cover reveals that the cardstock was stolen from the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Human Security. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but that’s a very Newspeak name for a department, and it meshes well with the secret society theme. Pittsburgh is a post-industrial city searching hesitantly for a new identity and a new relationship with labor, and maybe Andromeda has something in common with it, a sweatshop of labors of love, a secret society screaming as loud as it can.

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