Flipping to the other metaphorical side of the equally metaphorical coin we again metaphorically tossed into the air with our last review here, we land (last metaphor, I promise) on Brian Canini’s Two More Stories (published, as ever, under his own Drunkent Cat Comics imprint) — and if Three Stories represented everything that’s wrong with his career-spanning “throw some ideas at the wall and see which of ’em sticks” approach to cartooning, this superb mini represents everything that’s right with just following your muse wherever it leads you, come hell or high water. It’s an inherently high-risk/high-reward way of making comics, and this one falls squarely into the “reward” column.
Canini’s titular two stories function as both mirror images to, and thematic extensions of, one another, with the first, “Empty Rivers,” telling the tale of a “prodigal son” type who returns home for his mother’s funeral and is then forced to try to process his sense of loss and grief while punching the clock at his shitty service sector gig, while the second, “And Life Is Brief,” concerns a middle-aged woman paying a visit to her dying mother, from whom she’s estranged, and attempting to explain said estrangement to her kids. Both stories eschew heavy-handedness in favor of an agreeably oblique approach to complex subjects and trust readers to form their own conclusions and fill in the blanks in regards to both specific details and potential resolutions. Simply put, these are smart, sophisticated, subtle stories that hit all the right notes.
They’re also both nicely illustrated, in Canini’s populist style that borders on minimalism but retains strong elements of both classical cartooning and visual expressiveness — but more importantly they’re conceptually tight and form a really nice one-two punch when considered in juxtaposition with one another. As short-form strips, they’re each nearly flawless individually, but taken together they rise to a level well above even that. This in, in fact, an unassuming but undoubtedly masterful clinic on how to package and present stories together.
One thing I found curious was Canini’s decision to set the second strip in the future and to have the difficult parent-child conversation take place in a car straight out of The Jetsons, but this was an agreeable oddity more than it was an outright distraction, so again — props to our cartoonist for walking a fine line and remaining on just the right side of it. This isn’t always easy to do, but Canini makes it look easy and, more crucially, it all makes a kind of intuitive sense — you can’t quite put your finger on why it works, you only know that it does, and in the overall scheme of things, guess what? That’s really all that matters.
Honestly, I’m searching high and low here to level some criticism — even a mild one — at this book, just for the sake of critical balance, but nothing springs to mind at all. Even little touches like the gray-tone shading Canini adds to the second story work to accentuate and deepen the overall reading experience, and if my beef with Three Stories largely boiled down to the fact that it didn’t seem like Canini had thought the whole thing through much, the greatest praise I can offer Two More Stories is that he actually doesn’t over-think things — he just taps into a creative flow and rides it out for as far as it will go.
Which, as it turns out, is pretty goddamn far. This may very well be the most confident, cogent, and accomplished release from Brian Canini to date. You owe it to yourself to give it a shot.
Two More Stories is available for $1.99 from the Drunken Cat Comics website at https://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/products/30863416-two-more-stories
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