The webcomics blog about webcomics

Simplicity Is Key

Last week I was looking for autobio works by male-identified authors. I suspected there were many more online than I’d found, but it took my going offline to find the totally endearing High Maintenance Machine by Matthew Reidsma, which is available both online as well as in minicomics form (depends how you like your reading). High Maintenance Machine is a sketchbook diary that visually very much evokes James Kolchalka’s work, and in fact name checks him from time to time.

I discovered the print collections at this past weekend’s Boston Zine Fair; the webcomics (which appear daily) are collected monthly and printed in minicomics form. About one of his issues, Reidsma writes, “If you like comics about people talking on cell phones and leaves falling off of trees in New England, with a bit about naughty cats and sleepy boys, this might just be for you.�

The main character grapples entertainingly with simple things, like getting the lid off a jar of salsa (or not), a sneezing spouse (who creates her own incredible art as well) and, it’s true, the aforementioned naughty cats, who are also sometimes abominably cute. There are of course mentions of holidays as well as random sweet moments interspersed throughout.

We see him solving a cake problem and surviving cooking mishaps. Reidsma disarmingly details the very real perils of autobio work and reveals the real truth about graduate school.

But his work is most disarming when it is evocative and heartbreaking. These are strips that are so personal and poignant that it just kind of stuns the reader for a second, especially someone just clicking through the archives. Any autobio author can take moments from his or her life and spin them into a one-note joke (I know this punchline as “banjo player� rather than “philosopher�), but it takes someone who really understands how comics work to create strips like these which just so gracefully knock the wind out of you. They’re amazing, beautiful things, all the more so for their economy.

It’s fascinating to watch Reidsma’s drawing style become more refined the more he draws; the differences between the early strips composed shortly after his 30th birthday freakout and his current work is noticeable but charming. It’s always interesting to see an artist’s work develop over time, and that’s one of the real strengths of High Maintenance Machine. It’s also relatively recent (August 2006) and the strips are perfectly sized little slices of life, so reading through the archives is not a daunting task.

Reidsma also has a number of other projects available online, the only one of which with regular updates is Happy Child, which are stories from his childhood. But there’s also the utterly winsome 24-hour comic Skippy and the Magic Tricycle, as well as a number of the newspaper strips that Reidsma published in the Western Michigan University Herald in 1999. You can see echoes in High Maintenance Machine of some of the elements in these strips (like the bar-code faced people).

Have a look. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Simplicity Is Key

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