In small press comics, the output from a publisher tends to reflect their own personal aesthetic, even when they exert no editorial control over them. That shows through in things like design and format, creating a sort of house style, especially when a publisher puts out a limited number of comics in a given year. For the now-deceased Dylan Williams’ Sparkplug Comic Books, this couldn’t be any less true. Williams’ own work was frequently quirky and personal, so it’s no surprise that he encouraged the artists whose work he published to feel unfettered in the way they expressed themselves. The result was a catalog that containsed very little overlap in style or subject matter, yet was all compelling. There’s a sense of obsession that followed each artist’s work from Sparkplug, as though they simply must get their ideas down on the page or else. For a comics reader who is a true omnivore, it makes reading Sparkplug’s output especially appealing.
Williams was also unusual in that he printed a lot of pamphlet comics. David King’s Danny Dutch is somewhere between Steve Weissman’s stuff and John Hankiewicz’s (by way of Charles Schulz) in terms of the character design and set-ups of the former and the narrative abstraction of the latter. I remember seeing some of these posted online and not really being engaged by them. Reading a collection of the strips, what King was doing finally clicked for me. The strip has a sort of dizzying quality as King finds ways to simultaneously distance and engage his readers. He introduces these cutely-drawn, grown-up kid characters who are sometimes grappling with existential concerns and sometimes grappling with scatological humor (and often both at once). King loves grounding the absurd in a staid package, and occasionally taking the reader out of their comfort zone by going from a cute, iconic style to a more visceral, naturalistic style—usually to depict something horrible or stunning.
King’s chops as an artist are remarkable. He’s in total control of his line, presenting the reader with at least three different styles of visual representation: cartoony, stick-figure and naturalistic. Some of his strips have punch lines, but he’s not afraid to simply relate an anecdote or emotional yearning instead of a gag. King’s work is also surprisingly raunchy at times, but that raunch is restrained and made more powerful as a result of him channeling it into resolving either an anecdote or feeling in each story. Some of the most pervasive emotions depicted include regret, loneliness, curiosity and camaraderie. One can’t help but get swept along in this quirky collection of strips that speaks loudly through its quietude.
Danny Dutch by David King
Sparkplug Books, 2008