By Aron Nels Steinke
360 pages, black and white
Published by Bridge City Comics
I’ve read and enjoyed Aron Nels Steinke’s books in the past, but I was especially excited to read Big Plans: The Collected Mini-Comics and More. His graphic novel Neptune is an all-ages book, and The Super Crazy Cat Dance is for very young readers. So in reading Big Plans, it would be a jump to lots of comics that weren’t necessarily created with the younger audience in mind. What I found was a collection of memories, reflections, and struggles in getting through life. And ultimately, this is a collection where I think having all of these stories together gives you a stronger overall experience.
The majority of the stories in Big Plans are, despite the word "big" in the title, small in scope. That’s part of the appeal of the book; it’s not these huge crashing events, but lots of little glimpses and snippets of Steinke’s life. One story can be about a memory of playing Nintendo while a sibling is about to be taken to the hospital; another one is about strange noises in a house that can’t be easily explained. As you get more of these pieces laid side-by-side, you begin to get a good feel for the personal that Steinke presents through his comics.
A lot of Big Plans is self-deprecating on Steinke’s part. Some of it is regretful, as he looks back on his behavior and regrets decisions that he’s made. Other times it’s funny, like celebrating the first time he receives a piece of hate mail about his comics. And when there are times when his decisions might seem out there to a reader, I appreciate that it’s presented frankly and without any additional justification. A prime example of this is, "The Terrorist," when Steinke and his girlfriend grow increasingly convinced that two people on their cross-country flight are terrorists. As their panic grows, they finally make a choice that I suspect will surprise many readers. But even when things don’t go exactly as expected, there’s that strong conviction that ultimately holds the entire piece together. This is from Steinke’s point-of-view, and as a result, it doesn’t deviate from how he sees the sequence of events. It’s a strong piece of storytelling, and I think that’s Steinke’s real strength in Big Plans; big or small, the stories he tells are related in a way that pulls you in and holds your attention.
Part of the charm of Big Plans also comes from Steinke’s art. It’s a deceptive style, one that looks simple at first but has far more detail than you might catch at a glance. With dots for eyes and a thin line for a mouth, it’s great how much expression Steinke can get out of his characters. As you start to draw in the art, you’ll find so much attention paid to everything on the page; individual grains on the wooden floorboards, dots all over a jacket to create a sense of texture and pattern, hundreds of individual leaves on a bush. I also like how Steinke isn’t afraid to not fill up the entire page with panels, to help control the pacing from one moment to the next. Some pages are entirely full, others will have just one or two, giving emphasis to those moments and deliberately slowing you down in that part of the story. It’s a smart technique that you don’t see used very often in comics.
Big Plans: The Collected Mini-Comics and More is a charming compilation of comics from a creator who I feel just keeps getting stronger with time. By the time you get to "The Intruder" (which was originally in Big Plans #5), it’s hard to not see the amount of growth in his creations. The lines are stronger and more confident in his art, and his storytelling skills have formed an inviting rhythm in his pages. With mini-comics often hard to find, it’s nice to have an attractive and well-packaged collection like this available.