The comics anthology Irene is an ongoing series created and co-edited by three classmates from the Center for Cartoon Studies: Andy Warner, Dakota McFadzean, and dw. The three bonded while studying in Vermont and have kept their relationship together as collaborators and devotees to the comics medium by continuing to produce what has grown into one of the most exciting comics anthologies going. The anthology, now up to volume 3, not only acts as an outlet for the co-editors to explore a more experimental side of their work but also feature work from an impressive list of contributors from around the world including Alabaster, Barrack Rima, Ben Horak, Dan Rinylo, Jess Worby, Leif Goldberg, Luke Howard and Sophie Goldstein alongside editors Andy Warner, Dakota McFadzean, and dw. It’s a substantial statement at 136 perfect bound pages and works as a great showcase for the younger and more established talent alike.
Irene 3 starts off with Gin by Alabaster. Alabaster is a New York-based cartoonist whose work has the quality of a children’s fairy tale with darker undertones. Alabaster became a friend of the Irene family through interactions at MOCCAFest and the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics show as she was promoting her book Talamaroo. Regular readers on Printed-Matters know that I am fan of her work. Last year I reviewed Wool and Gin which includes Gin, the piece featured here. Gin is a fitting opening for the book, which starts with the line, “I guess I should have known I’d go right back” which editor dw notes fits his sentiment about the Irene project.
Next is The Sasquatch in Brooklyn by Jess Worby which adds a nice bit of sardonic humor to the mix in this story that reads like a news broadcast, interviewing eye witness accounts of Sasquatch sightings in Brooklyn. The line work and loose and full of energy and the array of characters depicted make for some hilarious comic reading.
Mark Connery was introduced to Irene through past contributor Marc Bell who appeared in Irene 2. Mark has a long history in the Toronto zine scene for his non-narrative and playfully cartoony work. Whots it mean is a great contribution in this vein which works nicely as a palate cleanser between some of the longer narrative pieces.
Next is BOATLIFE by editor Andy Warner. Andy typically works in non-fiction comics journalism, so Irene acts as an outlet for him to explore his fiction-based stories. BOATLIFE really captures a sense of youthful adventure in a story that could only have spawned from a night of smoking weed. And in a cemetery at that. Beautifully rendered with great comic pacing, BOATLIFE is one of the highlights of the book.
Irene has a history working with Lebanese cartoonists and this volume continues that relationship with a piece by Barrack Rima, a regular contributor and sometimes co-editor of the influential Lebanese comics anthology Samandal. Barrack’s piece, titled Nap Before Noon, is set in the world of dreams, rendered with a unique technique that blends collage, comics and typography. The effect is one of otherworldliness, a simultaneous familiarity and inscrutability. And being the longest piece in the book, Nap Before Noon really stands out against the other work, not only for it’s mixed media approach but for its ability to really stretch out and let the reader feel engulfed in this mysterious dream world.
Ten Minutes’ Break is a collaboration between editors Dakota McFadzean and dw, with Dakota on art duty and dw providing the story and copy. The concept is an interesting mash-up of content with the basic premise set around an epic dinosaur battle conceived in dw’s youth as retold through a dialog picked-up from two co-workers at his stacking job. The end result is a very down-to-earth feeling science fiction tale, beautifully drawn. Definitely one of the highlights of the book.
Ben Horak was another graduate from the Center for Cartoon Studies who contributed the hilarious nightmare sequence What’re Fiends For? It’s the story of an innocent do-gooder who can do nothing but harm in his pursuit to help others. The character design and pacing is just right for some well-delivered laughs.
Leif Goldberg Newton’s Mist is a member of Forcefield and a resident of Fort Thunder. It’s always exciting to see new comic work by Leif and his contribution Newton’s Mist does not disappoint. It’s a short, simply drawn, bizarre wordless narrative between two creatures from another world.
Dan Rinylo is another alum from the Center for Cartoon Studies whose work typically looks like a modern-day version of the classic styles of Floyd Gottfredson or E.C. Segar, but Find Sleepy is a bit of a departure. This piece doesn’t work as a narrative, rather a more interactive piece where the reader has to find the “sleepy” version of a ghost that’s rendered a couple hundred times over the course of six pages. There’s only one, and finding Sleepy is a heckuva lot harder than finding Waldo.
Edna II by Sophie Goldstein (another graduate from the Center for Cartoon Studies) isn’t your typical science fiction tale, rather its a touching story of friendship and personal struggle framed in a futuristic world. Sophie really shows off her storytelling ability here with a clear and confident style.
Luke Howard is another friend of Irene editors via the Center for Cartoon Studies. Luke’s piece, Dance Yourself to Death, deals with the personal choices and sacrifices artists make to create their work. Luke is a skilled draftsman with a simple yet effective style. The story is told in a nonchalant manner but its undertones reveal a darker message. A very strong and fitting ending to the book.
And throughout the book (including the cover), editor dw provides a series of wonderful and expressive short interstitial pieces which works well as a glue between the diverse set of stories.