Moulger Bag Digest
by Brent Harada and Rusty Jordan
When a book like this arrives in my mailbox, it can become a terrifying experience once I start to review it.
To a point, there’s a procedure I try to follow in writing about another person’s work: 1) resist comedy 2) talk about positive points 3) be honest about what doesn’t work 4) give the project a little exposure. It’s just that sometimes people get daring and create work that can’t be adequately assessed on these terms. Sometimes people send what could arguably be categorized as art zines. I like art zines, but it complicates the reviewing process for a Mini-Comics Editor, you’ve gotta admit.
As such, I’ve been sitting on Moulger Bag Digest for a few months and don’t know what to do with it. I like it. The pictures are pretty. Some of the pictures have words that are funny, like “fucking right.” It’s got good points, and I want you to know about it. In fact, I bet plenty of people would probably call it a comic if they bought it at a small press convention. It’s just that in the greater scheme of self-made books, it’s far more like an art zine than it is a mini-comic – and I’m gonna tell you why.
Coming from someone who’s worked in libraries all her life, I’m a dangerous (read: boring) person to talk semantics with. Cataloging, categorizing, alphabetizing, organizing – those kind of activities are to me way fun. I’ll pour over minutia to the point where I’m just talking to myself, but today I’ll be brief as can be: in the case of “Moulger Bag Digest: art zine vs. mini-comic” I’d rule in favor of art zine.
All of the words are small, and many of the words are obscured by imagery. Evidently, words are not a significant part of the book. However, I think it’s fair to say that at some point the narrative part of this narrative art form known as comics should come into play. But what if it doesn’t? I felt that Moulger Bag Digest was just kind of mumbling at me, something about ‘monsters…space nugs…groups of monsters…’ Well? What about them? Where’s the narrative in that?
The book’s collation would maybe have clarified the point, or at least the book’s title, but as it happens the book’s title and authors are relegated to the last page.
One of the most significant aspects of self-publishing is the community it has created for itself. An artist with something to say should at some point say who they are when it comes to book-making. Attributing authorship plainly serves as a reference point for readers who want to join in on the conversation an author’s ideas should spark. It’s my opinion that with art zines, the author doesn’t need much in terms of feedback, they would have more appreciation for fans who will go buy more of their art. Unfortunately, this is another point where the book fails. There is no web site given where someone interested in their work could learn more about upcoming projects or purchasing possibilities. The book hooks the viewer with beautiful imagery – then gives them no information whatsoever. It’s more than a narrative flaw, it’s a self-promotion flaw.
My best effort at internet stalking has led me to believe that the authors of Boulger Bag Digest – Brent Harada and Rusty Jordan – are best known as illustrators. Check out their t-shirts for Tender Loving Empire. They’re gorgeous. Go buy them.
I get that there’s something to be said for a story that is willfully obtuse, or told in pictures without words at all. I get that those are comics. But I don’t think Moulger Bag Digest even meets that criteria. Or if it does, it’s asking too much of its audience. It’s tough to look at a page full of overlapping characters opposite a page with a fascinating monster sitting alone and read between the lines to make those laterally placed images relevant to each other in a narrative way. My mind isn’t piecing this together, and I don’t think it’s a situation where heightened sophistication in comics reading would make sense of the matter. In terms of comics, I’m dubbing Boulger Bag Digest a failed attempt. However, in terms of an art zine, it offers a lot to the eye and imagination.
These boys are artists, damn good artists, but just throwing language in with imagery doesn’t necessarily make their work a comic. Why it came my way, I don’t know. It’s nice to have a little taste of fine art for $1, but this work would be most advantageously viewed in-person in its original scale, not as a xerox copy. The cover, however, is terribly clever and way appropriate for self-publishing. It possessed a kind of irresistible quality that kept me coming back with frustration to the book, wishing it was a comic so that I could review it here the right way.
Maybe you’ll see things differently? If so, their book is available $1 (or trade) to 4564 B, Live Oak Canyon Rd., Laverne, CA 91750 (info sleuthed from HERE).
Or you could buy a real piece of their collaborative artwork for, say $100, at islandsfold.com.
- Sarah Morean