Phase 7 #13 by Alec Longstreth

Categories:  Reviews

Phase 7 #13
by Alec Longstreth

There aren’t enough good things to say about Ignatz-winner Alec Longstreth and his comic series Phase 7. In some of the series’ latter issues, Longstreth writes about his personal history with comics and explains the story behind Phase 7. Arguably, his more personal stories have made those issues his best minis to date for the simple fact that people want to know more about how their favorite cartoonists operate.

It’s this personal touch that made Longstreth’s multi-authored mini The Dvorak Zine such a hit. When he draws himself looking right out at you from the page, concerned and familiar, it’s almost like a celebrity endorsement and suddenly you’re like, “Yah, Sally Struthers, I really do care about the hungry displaced African kids! I just needed reminding.” Or is it just impressionable little ol’ me? Well, personally I think Longstreth’s nonfiction comics make drab bits of information feel fresh and memorable.

Its with this same level of infectious enthusiasm that he approaches this latest issue of Phase 7. Even though this issue is just a recycled comic he wrote for a class back in college (more filler until he can finish Chapter 3 of “Basewood”), the topic is just as relevant today, because Issue #13 is all about art history! And when isn’t that worth knowing more about?

Something I love about Longstreth’s books is the way he organizes a page. In each cell, he makes space for language first, then in tandem he adds shapes that miraculously don’t compete with the bubbles. He does a great job of spotting the overall tone of a page, getting the grays and blacks just right, meticulously using crosshatching styles and textures that have a body of their own to fill out a page with beautiful shapes. It sounds almost like an elementary description of how everyone makes comics, but when you see it done right, like in Phase 7, it becomes clear that not everyone is making comics it this well. In the world of mini-comics, it feels like eating a 4-course made-from-scratch meal on Sunday at Grandma’s when you’re used to your parents just taking you to McDonald’s because they’re lazy and tired and sick of feeding you. Too much? Well, in summary, it makes for a really pleasant viewing experience.

In Issue #13, the author walks his reader through a brief history of art that illustrates everyday life from ancient Egypt to the autobiographical comics of today. The part I found most fascinating came at about the middle of the issue when the art history time line finally got to the invention of film cameras. I never before considered how much impact photography had on modern art, that most modern art movements were basically a reaction to the immediate accuracy of capturing real life on film and how it freed up artists to think conceptually, working with concepts and paint, rather than real life. So that was interesting. The book ends with a focus on the illustrious illustrative career of Norman Rockwell, which was also interesting.

Even though the comic had to follow a certain format dictated by Professor Stewart at Pratt Institute, it has a great flow. I didn’t even notice the comic moving towards the boxes it had to check off to meet the requirements of the assignment. Issue #13 has a good, natural thought progression that’s highlighted and emphasized by the art. It’s definitely a good example of how comics can contribute to academia. It’s probably just the issue you should show your teachers to convince them you too should be able to write comics instead of papers in school. NOTE TO OUR READERS: For a professor to okay this kind of diversion from a proper essay is highly unusual. Professors, in general, will not really let you do this. They won’t even accept a critical essay in poetic verse in place of a proper critical essay on an epic poem, according to a very cheesed off grad student I once met.

The latest issue of Phase 7 is available right now for $3 + shipping through the artist’s website. It is 24-pages long, black ink on white paper, legal digest size. If you like it, you can even order a subscription that will get you the next 4 installments of Phase 7. Whadda deal!

– Sarah Morean

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