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25 November 2010

Enquirer Dharbin by Dustin Harbin

(Photo by Ortega Gaines for the Charlotte Observer.  Stolen from The Dharblog.)

Enquirer Dharbin by Dustin Harbin.
Self-published full color newspaper comic.  16 x 21 inches on newsprint.  Technically an 8 page comics but it contains much more than 8 pages worth of comics. 

One of the main items on my must have list for this past summer's HeroesCon was Dustin Harbin's newspaper comic Enquirer Dharbin.  I wanted the paper for a couple of reasons.  One is that I'm a big fan of Harbin's comics.  I've been reading his stuff since he first started posting comics online and he keeps getting better and better. (As I mentioned in last year's best of post and hinted at in the 2008 best of post.)  Another reason is that I just love newspaper comics.  Specifically, I love the "Sunday funnies" supplement that can be found in the Sunday edition of your better newspapers.  I'm pretty lucky in that my region's main Sunday newspaper, The Bristol Herald Currier, still provides a nice big full color supplement each week.  (Also lucky that my parents have a subscription otherwise I'd never see the thing.)  Enquirer Dharbin is very comparable to that in both size and substance.  As far as size goes, it's pretty much a newspaper supplement.  No other way to describe it really.

I love newsprint.  There is just nothing like the way color comics bleed and fade into that cheap imperfect off-white  It even smells great.
The content of Enquirer Dharbin is also comparable to your Sunday supplement in that in features a lot of humor in a wide variety of styles.  Which, is pretty impressive coming from one person.  I think that a lot of that variety comes from the fact that these comics are mostly from 2009 (and maybe 2008) when Harbin was playing around and experimenting with styles.  In a couple of years we'll look back on these comics as Harbin's "early work" and with all "early work" there are inconsistencies.  These inconsistencies that might look like weaknesses in a graphic novel collection actually work to Harbin's advantage in newspaper supplement form.  The variation gives the flavor of multiple artists just like the Sunday funnies.  I have a very short attention span so I appreciate the variety.  If Harbin failed to break up the style it might all bleed together.  Here it works perfectly.  It's either a happy accident of inconsistency or Harbin is a genius.  It's probably a little bit of both.

Harbin's cartooning shows a lot of range in this paper.  There are flat sketchbook strips, classic newspaper cartoon strips, heavily rendered illustration styled strips, strips with intricate tones and textures,  diary strips, memoir strips, silent strips... It's a very nice blend of cartoon strip styles from E. C. Segar to Chris Ware.  And I'm not just talking about his drawing, which is plenty strong, but his story/gag telling style, the pacing and especially this strong sense for design.
The paper also displays several nice coloring styles.  Harbin pays close attention to his color pallets.  Each strip contains lovely colors that fit the tone and in some spots do a great job of punctuating the gag.  The colors are subtle and only get loud when the gag demands it.  He also does a great job with tones and knows where to hold back on some of the more heavily rendered drawings and let the line art do the work.
I think he's using Photoshop on some of the strips but the prettiest panels are done with markers. (Or at least I think I remember reading that they were done with Copic markers.)  The marker colored strips are really lovely.  As lush as watercolor but with more brightness.  See those panels just above?  Isn't that lovely?  They look great on newsprint as well.  A little bit faded but still very nice.  

Harbin's strongest cartooning skill (or at least the one I'm most jealous of) is probably his lettering and logo/title designs.  Many of the strips have their own impressive titles.  It's something I don't see enough of these days and Harbin is really great at them.  The lettering is fantastic.  Perfect variations to suit each strip's tone and variations within the strips to suit each moment of the gag.  Some time ago I recall Harbin answering the "where do you see yourself in five years" question with something to the effect of "Eisner award winner".  I can see him picking up one for lettering in the next few years.  Easy.  He's already hand lettering Matt Fraction's Casanova and he lettered a Star Trek comic for Paul Pope.  As far as I'm concerned, working on a comic with Paul Pope is like sitting in one bass for Jimi Hendrix.  So, he's off to a good start for sure.  
Oh, and I guess I should say that Harbin is also very funny.  I've gone on and on about how  great these strips look without mentioning the most important thing.  They are very funny.  Very clever.  Very good. 
Enquirer Dharbin has been one of my favorite comics of 2010.  I've re-read it several times.  I've also enjoyed his daily diary comics this year.  2010 has been a busy year for "the Dharb".  I'm looking forward to see what he pulls off in 2011.  

Your best pal ever,
Shannon Smith

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