Over the last few years, Jim Mahfood’s style has been constantly evolving in the direction of looser, more expressive layouts and composition in stark contrast to his earlier, comparatively tight work. This development has culminated with Mahfood’s first stand-alone comic release in some time – a 2-issue miniseries called Kick Drum Comix.
Even before you’ve opened the pages, you can tell there’s something special to the arist about this project. Mahfood has chosen to package the book in a glossy, oversized issue costing the above-average sum of $5.99. The quality of the art and printing is incredibly high, and since this is a rare full-colour release from Mahfood, it feels like extra care has been taken to ensure the book looks as good as it can.
Inside, Mahfood offers two all-new short stories. The first is an anarchic look at the life of a fictional musician called “Death of the Popmaster” which exames the events leading to his death. Reflecting the world as depicted, the art is grimy and messy, but each page, expertly coloured by Justin Stewart, looks like an amazing piece of artwork in its own right. On the down side, the lettering suffers a little under this freer style, occasionally becoming hard to read. My only criticism of the story is that it feels a little oddly bleak coming from Mahfood. Where usually, his near-dystopian depiction of America’s celebrity-soaked culture comes from a satirical perspective, this one seems to almost revel in the excessive and hollow culture depicted. It makes for some cool visuals, but uplifting it is not.
Luckily, for feel-good fans, the second story in the issue, Coltrane’s Reed, is a bit more optimistic, featuring the kind of slice-of-life Gen-Y culture Mahfood so expertly captures, as a skater evaluates his ambitions following an encounter with “Coltrane’s Reed.” For this short, the art has been substantially reined in, showcasing the more restrained, (and, to be honest, more legible) side of Mahfood’s storytelling. It doesn’t look quite as good as the last story, but what it sacrifices in visuals, it gains in storytelling making for a more satisfying read.
Kick Drum Comix isn’t quite the “return to form” I was hoping for from Mahfood, after finding his last few releases a little rushed and uneven, but it does show that Jim Mahfood, the nuanced and emotive storyteller does still exist beneath Mahfood, the poweful artist. While his changing style leaves me somewhat nostalgic for the early days of “Clerks” and “Grrl Scouts”, it’s undeniable that he’s an individual voice in comics and a supremely talented illustrator. I’m not sure how I’d feel about Kick Drum Comix if I hadn’t followed his career since virtually day one, but as long as he’s releasing work, I’ll be happy to buy it, if only to see where he takes himself next. Kick Drum Comix #2 is out next month.