“Uggggh, I’ll never be as good as Sam Alden and he’s only like, twenty.”
“Oh my god Sam Alden’s comics are so good I want to murder him. Did you know he’s only seventeen?”
“My table is right next to Sam Alden so nobody is paying attention to me. Fucking twelve year old genius cartoonists.”
This was pretty much what I heard at CAKE at this year — all anyone wanted to talk about was Sam Alden and how unfair it was that the best new artist at the show was a such a baby. I thought it was pretty funny to hear a bunch of 27 year-olds complain about ‘the youth’ invading their field — in fact, Alden is like 24, the same age Jack Kirby was when he drew the cover of Captain America Comics #1 — but I did have to agree with the assessment that Alden’s work is good. Really good.
He’s also scarily prolific — his tumblr features new medium-length comics work several times a month, ranging from looser, all-pencil compositions to fully-colored comics. The latest of these, “Backyard” and “Household,” are pencil (or possibly charcoal) compositions that seem to take place in the same bohemian post-Katrina New Orleans setting.
At first, the looseness of the drawing of these two comics may seem unfinished. But after reading a few pages, it becomes quite clear that Alden is in full control; the strokes may be bold, and the faces blurry, but there’s no trouble distinguishing characters or action, emotions are clearly conveyed, and the thoughtful use of chiaroscuro belies an artist with formal training and a keen eye. Both tales take place at a Lynchian intersection between the mundane and the extreme, delivering gut-punching impact even as they describe circumstances (incest, psychosis, and radical freegan communism) that will be foreign and possibly unsettling to many readers. They may be Alden’s best comics yet.
You can read loads of Sam Alden comics on tumblr. A mini-comic of “Backyard” is available from Sonatina Press. Like all the cool kids, Alden also has a webcomic project with Study Group Comics, Haunter, which features a fantasy setting and experiments in psychedelic watercolor. If you’re in the mid-Atlantic states this weekend, Alden will be among the many talented cartoonists exhibiting at Small Press Expo — just follow the line of disgruntled late-twenty-somethings worrying that their comics aren’t good enough.