Friday, January 25, 2019

CCS Extra: Carl Antonowicz

In volume one of Buer's Kiss, Carl Antonowicz built a world mired in disease, arbitrary religious and political authority and a total lack of respect for the humanity of others. In volume two, he burns it all down--quite literally, in some cases. The protagonist, Felecia, was thrown out of her village thanks to receiving "Buer's Kiss"--a leprosy-like disease created by a demonic creature. She's surrounded by a number of characters with competing points of view. There's the village doctor, who reveals her plan to get revenge on the church and state by infecting every village. There's the naked chief of the outcast colony, who idiotically embraces his disease. There's the Moor on the colony's edge, decrying heretics of every stripe. Finally, there are the soldiers looking to kill the doctor. One of them is gay and quickly lost his patience by the needling comments of his superior officer and his doltish assistant. Put all these characters together, and you have a volatile situation.

The care with which Antonowicz detailed Felecia's new life in the first volume sets up the horrific events of this book. This is an unpleasant world where compassion is not rewarded. The crux of the second book is Felecia discovering the doctor's plan and trying to stop it before she poisons her old village. At the same time, the soldiers happen across the colony and burn it to the ground after killing the leader. The gay soldier finally has enough of the others and rides off on his own. The climax of the book comes when Felecia comes across the soldier's pass, begging him for help. His response is to push her out of the way. The book's format is the same as the first volume: twelve panel grid that collapses at times, dense hatching and cross hatching, heavy use of blacks with a consistent use of background white for contrast. There's no shading or gray-scaling here, as Antonowicz builds the book around his linework and use of spotting blacks. It's mostly successful, though his line felt a little more wobbly in this volume than the first at times.

This book is about dignity, empathy and agency. Felecia is the only character who possesses all three traits. Her sense of dignity leads her to blaze her own trail and abandon the alms plate she was given. Her agency led her to want to learn the doctor's craft, strike out to save the village, and any number of other acts that displayed her willingness to act. Her empathy led her to show kindness to the Moor, to let down a guy who had a crush on her easily, and to try to save her village despite the way they treated her. The gay soldier has dignity and agency, but his lack of empathy doomed the village. The doctor had the same flaw, as she was consumed by vengeance. The chief lacked dignity and agency, making him a useless mound of flesh. The Moor lacked agency, or rather, it was taken from him. The other soldiers lacked all three qualities, making them callous killers who had no clue as to how to navigate the terrain. In the end, Felecia is stripped of her own agency and dignity as she's forced to become a beggar, making this story a tragic one.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

CCS Extra: Laurel Lynn Leake

Laurel Lynn Leake has been slowly building up an interesting body of work since her dynamite debut, All Rumors Are True. Her latest, Suspension, is reflective both of her sensitive and humane approach to character and world building as well as the craft of design. With a metallic green cover, she immediately conveys a sense of mechanization with the images of not just characters, but their identification badges for their job. It's an important image because the story discusses the way that capitalism at its heart reduces labor to pure commodities instead of valuing them as human beings.

The story is set in an unspecified future where a number of different people are construction workers laboring on a new project. Pointedly, the cast is a diverse one, as the job clearly drew people from a wide socioeconomic spectrum. There are a few pages of establishing material, as the reader learns about the job, the workers' dependence on their high-tech suits for safety, and the perilous nature of the job. Leake uses a single tone (a metallic green), mixing spot colors and washes. She creates depth and contrast by using white for negative space, putting the emphasis on the characters above all else.

The meat of the comic comes when one worker makes fun of another for eating hearty lunches. As it turns out, the company provides the gear for free but doesn't pay for "wear and tear"...which includes staying within whatever weight class you entered into the job with. It's a staggering revelation that truly reduces each employee to their weight and little else. Leake lets that incident speak for itself without elaborating too much on it, other than a lingering close-up on one employees's wrist counter. It reveals how many hours they've worked and how much they've earned. It's a brutal calculus that reveals the workers as nothing more than a means to an end--especially since the penalties for "wear and tear" are not immediately evident. As always, Leake is an excellent character designer whose expressive figures are the key in restoring humanity to this problem.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Minis: John Hankiewicz' N for Nadelman

It's been a while since I've written about John Hankiewicz, who I consider to be one of the greatest cartoonists in the world. He came out with a book (Education) and a short mini within the last couple of years which I haven't reviewed yet, so I did want to get to his latest release as soon as I could. That comic is N for Nadelman, which is a meditation of sorts on the sculptor, artist and collector Elie Nadelman. He was active in the burgeoning avant garde scene in the early 20th century as a sculptor and later put together (with his heiress wife Viola Flannery) a huge collection that focused on folk art. His own work was forgotten during his lifetime, and there's one detail in particular that Hankiewicz zeroes in on: he put all of his pre-1935 work up in his attic to slowly rot away.

Hankiewicz (along with Warren Craghead) is the premier practitioner of comics-as-poetry. His approach has always been to use the familiar framework of comics in an oblique manner, creating rhymes through repeating certain panels and lines of dialogue. It is a narrative, but it's an oblique narrative whose meanings must be teased out and contemplated closely. In this comic, Hankiewicz defaults to a six-panel grid, 2 x 3, and he collapses them from time to time to emphasize certain images. He also uses his super-dense cross-hatching technique here to help create the atmosphere not just of darkness, but of being lost in the dark. The story begins with the image of a duck juxtaposed against the darkness as a woman approaches a house during a thunderstorm. She has a small pin in the shape of a duck in her hand, and these are key figures because they are representative of the kind of folk art that Nadelman collected and created himself.

The comic is set in 1944, two years before Nadelman's death. The woman spells out some details: she works for an art gallery and they borrowed a pie plate with two carved owl heads as handles from his collection for a folk art show. Her narrative captions only loosely match the accompanying image, as though she was thinking about these memories from the future and she was dictating a parallel narrative. She notes that his house was mostly bare from losing a lot of money in the stock market crash, and that only plays into Hankiewicz's hands. The house is bizarre as a result: dark and empty of almost everything except sculptures.

Throughout the comic, Nadelman is never literally seen. Instead, his works and objects stand in for him, a kind of visual metanym for the reserved, defeated but proud artist. Along with that visual bit of reality shifting, the narrative itself shifts in terms of causality, confusing even the narrator as Nadelman himself is confused. Was she there to bring back the pie plate or to take it? She wanted him to tell him a fable associated with the owls while simultaneously flashing forward and back in time and experiencing déjà vu. Nadelman in this book is about precision of language even as his form changes from one of his famous busts to his Dancer piece to his Tango piece. There's a joy of movement in these pieces that translates into cartooning, animating the page more than the other drawings. 

All along, she's wondering where she had seen him before, even as the tale of two owls staring at each other in desolation played out on the page. She and Nadelaman were those two owls, talking themselves into being other than they were in the desolation of life. However, she couldn't quite let go of that nagging sense that she knew him. Know him she did, because as she saw him literally as an impression of his works, she had "seen" him through one of his works that she saw in the city. In a sense, all that was left of him was his art--at least in her eyes. His world was dark and fading from existence, yet he would live on. 

Accompanying this comic is Notes for N, featuring "unwanted text" and "sketches from the beach". The text was excised from the comic and paired with sketches (some of them in Nadelman's style) that he made at the beach. The juxtaposition of art and image here in a setting that is not-art because it was only a precursor to something larger is fascinating. Like with any ready-made and repurposed use of art, the juxtaposition changed the meaning of both word and image. sketch of a bird is captioned "The rain has stopped, so I ask that you leave". It's fascinating, because the images that Hankiewicz drew are folk art images: just people and animals at the beach. Some of the images were then repurposed for drawings of sculptures, but it's all part of the overall project: reconciling fine art, folk art and the role of the artist in treading these two worlds. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Minis: Coin-Op Special: Karl Marx Bolan

The Coin-Op brother-sister art duo of Peter & Maria Hoey is well-known for their fastidious approach to their comics' aesthetics. Their smaller-run comics, the "45 rpm" line, both mimics their fascination with music in terms of form and content. They are designed to look like sleeves for 45 rpm records, best known as short-playing records with a single song on each side. The comics also are a mix of music history and something else. In the case of Karl Marx Bolan, it imagines an afterlife where rockers Gene Vincent & Eddie Cochran conspire with Karl Marx to change the world. The Hoeys have the uncanny ability to draw naturalistic caricatures of famous people without losing any expressiveness; indeed, they lean into the caricatures to emphasize their larger than life qualities.

The story follows Marx using the event of Elvis Presley's death as a distraction in order to send Vincent and Cochran to save Marc Bolan. He claimed that "We need a working class hero who knows how to boogie!", and Bolan's music destabilizes the Soviet Union and leads to crushing defeats of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. What makes the comic so much fun is the way that the Hoeys are so obviously conversant both in Marx's political ideas as well as the stories of each rock star. In just eight pages, they tell a story with an epic sweep that touches on raw early 50s rock, 70s glam rock and funk. It's a funny statement about the potential power of music apart from its status as capitalist commodity. The whimsical qualities of the comic are grounded by its naturalistic approach and roots in reality, but at heart it's still a fun bit of subversiveness.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Minis: Maia Matches' Incelocalypse

Dutch cartoonist Maia Matches' comic Incelocalypse is a hilarious, over-the-top satire of so-called InCel culture done in the style of a Jack Chick tract. From the eye-catching black and red cover and landscape page layout, Matches captures the frenetic, weird qualities of Chick's old religious pamphlets while adding exaggerated sex and violence. She even nails odd, mechanical quality of the lettering and the frequent footnotes in these comics, replacing references to the bible with "verses" from Gmail, Apple and Google Maps.

The story details a femme dom named Bitch and her search for proper cum providers. She finds them via a couple of InCels ("involuntarily celibate" men), who were in the news for their sheer, raw misogyny and belief that they are somehow owed sex by women. Bitch, an unforgiving and all-powerful figure, gets all of her prey to submit. That includes the Straw Feminist, a hilarious parody of what InCel-types purport to be feminist beliefs. The end includes the typical Chick "who will you choose" features and instructions on the "one way to fuck". Matches keeps the comic short and in-your face, aggressively engaging the reader in Bitch's world from the very beginning and dropping pointed and funny attacks on her targets. Considering that Chick parodies are not uncommon, Matches is careful to make hers stand apart, both in terms of its visceral impact as well as its message.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #31: Aaron Cockle

Aaron Cockle's meditation on work, capitalism and the merging of personal and work spaces is a comic called Over Time, Every Section Had Been Allowed To Grow Accordingly. The second issue collects four more stories in this quiet but nightmarish scenario. "Walks Through Untended Orchard" is unusual because it's all figure and illustration work by Cockle (albeit with day-glo colors provided by a Risograph). Most of his strips tend to be collages of a sort or at the very least filled with text. Instead, this is a quiet moment away from everything. There's no work, no information other than the apple tree and the apple. The onomatopoeia of the "crunch" filling up an entire page is crucial, because the whole trip is an appeal to the sense unhindered by technology or the structure of work.

"Dream Sequence" is about the concessions one makes while trying to create art in a world driven by money. A team of two is filming a bootleg horror film until a "weather event" sweeps them away with a sense of almost calming inevitability. Here, everything is taken away from two people trying to work under the radar, with their impending bad end being so obvious that it's almost welcome with a smile. "Emperor Panorama" is a text/photography cut-up, mixing two different strains of text about time and place with photos bled through with a single spot color. "Anxiety Of Isolation" is the most disturbing of these stories, as it's about night shifts, loneliness and disconnection.

Andalusian Dog is a new series from Cockle, and I've read the first four issues so far. It's about a man who has a video game named after the famous Surrealist film by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. Unlike that film, which was made purely on whatever images they could think of in an effort to shock and jar the viewer with dream logic, Cockle is crafting a narrative based on paranoid logic built on hidden knowledge. The first issue finds the narrator kicked out of an apartment for mysterious reasons, but he takes the Andalusian Dog video game with him. Turns out the game is a reality emulator and creator; it can recreate spaces that it's been in long enough. The second issue ties the video game into a wider, byzantine secret society/cult surrounding versions of the game that predated the video game. Immortality, arcane knowledge and fever dream logic are all part of it as Cockle alternates text and image in the 2 x 3 panel grid on each page. It has the rhythm of a game, just as the open-page layouts of the first issue felt more like floating through free, virtual space.

The third issue is a sort of take-off on the idea of terms and conditions for owning the game, only the punishments for violating them are hilariously severe. Exile, banishment, public and private humiliation are all on the able, as the harsh text illustrates crudely-drawn diagrams. The final issue is giant block printing over old office photos; the text is frequently and deliberately obscured by the images to create dissonance and discomfort, mimicking the experience of being trapped in an office. Once again, Cockle's goal is to destabilize one's idea about corporate culture and capitalism in general by treating it as a kind of incubator of madness, a sinister form of feng shui. The game may be a key to subverting it, or it may be part of what creates it; Cockle leaves this vague. As always, his ideas discomfit the reader in a calculated but often whimsical fashion.