Conversation #2, October 2005, Top Shelf Productions
by Jeffrey Brown & James Kochalka
[Blogger's Note: This issue was originally read and reviewed on Saturday, November 4, 2006, but techinal difficulties postponed the entry's publication. The following review is an extended version of the original entry. ]
My girlfriend is a Jeffrey Brown fan, so at the Comic Con, I purchased Conversation #2 for her, a jam piece with James Kochalka, a talented, hilarious, and frequent contributor to Nickelodeon Magazine. (I saw Kochalka read some of his strips aloud at a Nick Con panel, and I must confess the guy seems quite charming.) Since the mini was a gift and thus technically part of my galpal’s collection, and although I was interested I never ventured to read it, this entry does not violate the pre-established A Comic A Day rules. Phew.
Alas, before one can struggle in the pursuit of purchasing comics, one must struggle in the pursuit of creating them. Therein lies the topic of debate between Brown’s self-depreciating caricature and Kochalka’s American Elf. In Conversation #2, these characters meet and instantly discuss the complexities of life and art, specifically through the lens of illustrating autobiographical comics. The issue is approximately 5” x 5” in size, so many of panels are splash pages, but the artists’ styles range from beautifully rendering the little space to eliciting shock with a close-up gross out. For instance, on one page, the characters stand under a cloudy moonlit sky and debate the balance of happiness versus power through the exercise of art, and on another page, Brown apparently throws up his feces into the Elf’s face, a symbolic but disgusting expulsion of his failed self-expression. The characters are heady without being full of themselves, and although they’re comics are blatantly about themselves, they are very cognizant of creating something relevant for everyone, as well. Conversation #2 definitely fits the bill.
Since this issue numbered two, I assume it’s the second in a series of jam pieces between artists, a phenomenon that doesn’t happen enough. Brown and Kochalka are two completely different artists, but they apparently have enough to in common to carry on a conversation, so as a reader I almost overlooked the visual distinctions through the wit and sophistication of their dialogue. I think the only other comic I’ve experience similar to this format is Savage Dragon Versus Megaton Man, which is another kind of slugfest altogether, believe me. Sometimes, I wish an artist would just let me in, you know? Why do you do it? Why do you lay out a page like that? I can find plenty of books on method, but I’m more interested in mentality. This expository is the closest we’ll ever get – a makeshift, modern Waiting for Godot for the comics crowd, with two bums waiting patiently for their own purpose to show up. It was worth the wait.
Despite its fair share of toilet humor, Conversation #2 is an all-audiences book. My girlfriend did like it, after all. From the high school student struggling with his paper on Flowers for Algernon to the indie comix zine enthusiast, everyone can relate to the concept of the fleeting muse. Me, I can write about this stuff for days. I just need a few more comics to do it. I hope guys like this keep up the good work, so I have plenty of rich material to choose from.