Sunday, December 16, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #16: Steve Thueson, Ben Horak

Timothy Dinoman and Borsq, by Steve Thueson. Thueson mashes up genre comics with a punk rock ethos and emo melodrama, and these two comics see him branch out a bit from sword and sorcery comic. Borsq is a note-perfect Star Wars parody in the sense that it's about a bounty hunter going after a ne'er-do-well pilot. Thueson lays the visual supports on thick, with a spot red tone acting as creepy alien clouds and the color of the title character's cloak. He's made to cut a fearsome pose, until Thueson shrinks the panel size and zips the reader along quickly until he confronts his bounty target, Jake Caper. Caper is mooning over his ex-girlfriend, and the rest of the comic is split between hilarious dialogue about the ways he's trying to be OK with her seeing someone new and a running laser-gun fight and eventual daring escape. Thueson expertly meshes these together, understanding that all genre stories have melodrama at their core; he just gives the content of that melodrama a modern update.

Timothy Dinoman is a Bond-style spy caper with absolutely no context. That includes no explanation as to why the suave spy is an anthropomorphic dinosaur. It's a clever idea, because many action films are built around set pieces and have plot & dialogue added later. As a reader, we simply walked in in the middle of one of these set pieces, as the titular agent is chasing after a bad guy with a briefcase chained to his arm. Because it's a Thueson comic, there are also little comedic moments, like the spy needing to use a guy's phone. Mostly, this feels like an idea ("dinosaur spy!") that popped into Thueson's head, and he simply took it to its logical conclusion. At this point, I'd love to see Thueson tackle a long-form adventure in this vein. He knows how to push action while distracting the reader away from it with funny dialogue that deliberately feels borrowed from a different kind of story.

Daydreamin' Dave may be Horak's best comic yet. Fusing and undermining tired comedy tropes, absurd imagery and visceral, graphic horrific violence, Horak deliberately tries to create an unsettling but humorous experience for his reader. This comic starts with a Walter Mitty-esque fantasy vibe, as the titular Dave goes through his day fantasizing about various objects being alive and talking to him in a cartoonish way. There are still some weird close-ups that feature Horak's specialty (heavily hatched and labored art meant to act as a contrast to his rubbery, loose style), but it's more off-putting and weird than deliberately upsetting. Of course, Horak is playing the long game here, including adding tropes like a laugh track at the bottom of each panel where something "funny" is said. Horak keeps things under control with a steady nine-panel grid, which mitigates some of the stranger imagery.

Horak spends the first nine pages meandering, introducing us to Dave's world and acclimating the reader to this particular brand of magical realism. Then dopey Dave is introduced to a couple of bank robbers, and the various cartoonish characters he sees tell  him to be a hero. For his troubles, he gets shot right through the head in a two-page, grid-busting bit of visceral and graphic gore. It's a genuinely shocking scene, but then Horak makes everything from earlier in the comic pay off. The shooter makes a joke and starts to hear a laugh track. Every ridiculous thing that Dave saw and heard is experienced by this guy. The rest of the comic, as a result, is a relentless, hilarious and escalating nightmare. Every image and trope used in the first nine pages of the comic come back to torment the robbers in increasingly bizarre and fourth-wall breaking ways. Horak's command over his line was the key to making this work, because he had to nail every detail to draw the reader in before he completely flipped around the comic's premise.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #15: Erienne McCray, Pepita Sandwich

Orange and Definitely Not God, by Erienne McCray. Orange is a testament to how comics can tell a story through color alone. It's about the friendship between two boys named Kyle and Carl, and in particular it's about the way that boys relate to each other and how difficult intimacy can be. McCray's drawings here are loose, even sketchy, but she ties each page together with just the right use of color. That color is as expressive as the drawings themselves, and the result is a pleasant loop where the reader understands what's going on thanks to the relationship between color and line. Each character is immersed in their own color field: Kyle is red, Carl is yellow. Kyle is clearly a loner that Carl reaches out to, inviting him over to his house for dinner. When Carl learns that his father has cancer, Kyle tries to reach out in his own way throughout the rest of the story. It takes a while, but Carl finally opens up emotionally and allows his friend to hug him as he weeps when his father is dying. When they embrace, they combine to form the color orange. It's a simple, powerful technique that underlines the dialogue and the line drawings.

Definitely Not God is clever in a different way. The mini contains selected daily autobio strips (which McCray puts on twitter) that are a conversation between McCray and an unseen presence that can best be described as a self-care conscience. The resulting strips are unique in the daily strip genre, as McCray talks about her moods, her anxiety and her depression all while this distinct voice helps her through, gives her advice and encouragement and the occasional stern word. There's one strip where McCray is surprised at the strong reaction these strips have received, given that they're quickly drawn and aren't her "real" work. However, the looseness of this work is its strength; it reminds me a bit of Jules Feiffer in terms of the way she works the grid with these sketchy lines that nonetheless have a distinctly drawn sense of gesture. Some of the strips are cheerful, where she talks about how much she enjoys hand-inking or a new haircut. Sometimes she works out grief, like with regard to her dying father. As McCray points out in the comic, she's just 23 years old, and it's fascinating to watch her find herself as an artist while working in public.

Brain, Back Wards, Space Girls and Favorite Flavor Day, by Pepita Sandwich. Josefina Guarracino, aka Pepita Sandwich, has some tantalizing potential as a cartoonist. Her authorial voice is distinctive, but her stylized drawings are particularly interesting. She ignores naturalism altogether and instead her comics are in a cartoonish, symbolic universe that's nonetheless rooted in ways in which bodies interact in space and with each other. She's part of a wave of South American cartoonists whose work is cutting edge stuff, mixing the personal, the political and the fantastic.  Space Girls is a four page mini featuring alien girls who happen upon an Earth devoid of human life, its populace having died taking selfies in trash piles. Her striking use of color and open-page format are a nice introduction to her overall style, which serves to both reassure the reader in terms of its approachable graphics and colors and unsettle them with its odd character design and page composition. Backwards is a nice bit of dream logic, as two young women enter a bounce castle and find that it's full of visceral representations of their memories, with items like the "dad shoe river". Every detail is carefully considered to create this world of dream logic, and Sandwich draws heavily on the way her drawings act as drawings, warping arms back to depict motion, for example.

Brain has a few stories, starting with the biographical entry "Women Move Mountains". It's about the explorer and activist Annie Smith Peck, who at the age of 44 decided to start traveling and mountaineering. She later became a member of the suffragist movement. Sandwich used her life as a metaphor for the figurative mountains she had to climb as she struggled against the patriarchal and sexist society she was born into. Sandwich switched back and forth between naturalism and symbolism, and her style made that easy to accept as a reader. Sandwich used map symbols, books, statues and other visual metanyms to reflect how Peck, even in death continues to have a strong influence. There's also a loopy story where she and a friend of hers found the special disco version of the the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" on cassette, only it causes time to stop. Here, Sandwich proves adept at comedic work, as each attempt to make the world a better place fails miserably, in escalating fashion.

Favorite Flavor Day is a work of autobio from her childhood, and the story is as unusual as the presentation. With her beautifully stylized figures, stripped down and cartoonish in an elegant manner, she puts them in a variety of panels: circular highlight panels, open-page layouts, charts and various grid patterns. The hook of this story is a great one: her dad was the owner of a gelato factory when she was growing up. She of course used it as leverage to make friends, but she also wrote about her father working all the time made her resent the delicious sweets he brought home. Indeed, there's a hilarious scene where she rebelled by eating horrible industrial ice cream. There were also scenes of hanging out at the ice cream factory, where she and her brother become expert tasters. This comic is a beautiful mix of processing emotions, tender family memories, and a good dose of humor.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Thirty One Days of CCS #14: Amy Burns, Marshall Hull, Pat Leonhardt

Pensive Hedgehog, Hedgehog Detective, The Spirit Board and Love Letters, by Amy Burns. Burns' comics are an interesting mix. They are personal without being overtly autobiographical. They are cute but not cloying. They are frequently grim without being melodramatic. In Love Letters, for example, Burns tells the tale of a girl "who whispered a love letter to the stars". The stars passed it around until it fell into the heart of a boy, and he and the girl fell in love. So far, so cute, with Burns making good use of negative space as she makes her figures small against the vastness of the night sky. Their intimacy is that much greater in the face of infinity. Burns is not interested in "happily ever after", as an emotional rift opens between them because of pain they are unable to express. Burns' approach to this was artful and fanciful, and the bottom panel of each page was the ribbon of a song playing with its lyrics written out.

Pensive Hedgehog features her go-to character talking about mental health and the paradox of inner strength. When we rely on ourselves all the time, it makes it hard to seek help when we need it. Here, she uses the spiny creature getting ever smaller as it weakens. Hedgehog Detective #1 posits the mystery of hedgehogs being kidnapped, fed and tickled. It's a totally absurd premise with all sorts of dramatic angles used to give it fake gravitas. The Spirit Board starts with a typical ouija board session and then mutates into a bizarre scenario where Santa contacts them, tells them that god and the devil are battling for their souls, and not to eat anything red. It's creepy and innocent at the same time, and Burns adds an absurd "spirit trivia" glossary that spells out some rules. I like the way that Burns is exploring unconventional story ideas and expectations, as well as the way she frames them visually. She's still clearly figuring out what kind of cartoonist she wants to be, so future work by her should be interesting.

Over The Top Comix!, by Marshall Hull. Hull approached this biography assignment using a variety of interesting visual approaches. The story of Maria Bochkareva, a pioneering Russian soldier, was presented using a bright color palette, interesting page design and the running feature of a Russian bear in uniform who was narrating the story. Bochkareva petitioned the Tsar himself to get into the army, where she sloughed off the laughs she initially received by performing astoundingly brave feats, like saving fifty men caught in No Man's Land. Later, she formed her all-female Battalion of Death in an effort to shame male soldiers into fighting back against the Germans. Hull shares a lot of information with the reader, but he manages to keep it light and make every page interesting to look at. The use of a black background made the whole comic look more dramatically stark.

Margo #1 and Collage, by Pat Leonhardt.  I had the pleasure of sitting next to Leonhardt watching him work on Margo #1. He's chosen one of the tougher cartoonist career paths as a humorist. Like his nearest CCS predecessors Garry-Paul Bonesteel and Ben Horak, Leonhardt is mining horror in particular for comedy. What makes it work is his fantastic attention to detail, especially in the color portions of his work. Margo is the middle-school protagonist of this story, and as it begins, she's just another weird girl going to school--except she happens to be a zombie of some kind. A zombie wearing a dress with unicorns and pizza on it (a level of detail that made me laugh out loud), but a zombie nonetheless. Margo can only communicate in the form of picture-rebus puzzles that her best friend can translate, but she has to navigate the usual school problems. For example, there's the mean girl clique, the "Beckies" (one of them appears to be an alien, but she wears a cute hair bow, so apparently this is fine). When Margo gets mad, she bites--and this is what sets the plot into motion, even if almost all of it takes place in the background of the story.

Leonhardt drops clues throughout the story that though zombies are involved, this is another sort of tale--a Monkey's Paw story. That is, a story where a wish is made through an evil totem, and the wish comes true in a horrible & ironic fashion. This becomes evident with the behavior of her father, the fact that her mom's in a mental institution, and a flashback to her mom as an explorer. Leonhardt gives this story a bright and breezy feel with the extensive use of white negative space, though he uses a zip-a-tone effect for his characters to give them some weight. It's a smart, funny comic with clever character design. He needs more experience in terms of character interaction in space and naturalistic gesture (if only to violate it), but it's obvious that he's thought through this character and her story very closely.

As Collage proves, Leonhardt can work a variety of styles. "The Wallabies" is very much in a George Herriman vein, as he uses a thin line and stick legs to create action with a family of wallabies. He uses violence for different purposes, but one can see just how skillfully he worked this sort of style. "Wash Your Damn Hands" is a debate between a man and some kind of hygienic Greek chorus, as they tell him to wash his hands before urinating, and he tries to come up with excuses as to why he doesn't want to do it. When we see his penis, the various faces and fruit variations Leonhardt uses are hilarious, as he keeps escalating the humor. I'm not generally a big fan of bathroom humor, but there's an almost relentless level of meticulousness at work here that I admire.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ten Years Of High-Low

The most recent review I've done marks the tenth anniversary of posts to my High-Low blog. High-Low as a column existed for a couple of years over at, but it's nonetheless been precisely a decade since I decided to strike out on my own. I want to thank my readers, my patrons, the publishers and the artists who have supported me in my critical endeavor. I want to especially thank the late Kim Thompson, Eric Reynolds, Tom Spurgeon, Annie Koyama, the late Dylan Williams, Megan Kelso, Rob Kirby, Rebecca Perry Damsen, Dirk Deppey, Colleen Frakes, James Sturm, Michelle Ollie, Tom Hart among many others for their support, advice, encouragement and support. Here's to many more years!

Thirty One Days of CCS #13: Catalina Rufin, Alex Foller, Cuyler Hedlund

Genius Loci and Shirley, by Catalina Rufin. Rufin has a pleasantly ragged style that's made all the more effective with color. Genius Loci has an ambling pace to it, as it's a comic not so much about a specific narrative as it is about exploring a place and the emotions surrounding it. It's a story about a future where humanity was wiped out, but fairies and elves exist and have reclaimed the old spaces. In particular, it's about a fairy living in some abandoned trolleys that had personal meaning to her, but she was unable to stop living in the past. It took meeting a druid and their mentor to rekindle her interest in living her life again. There's a lushness to Rufin's style that works well with her bright figure drawing and generally relaxed storytelling. Rufin packs in a lot of information in a short period of time, as we learn all sorts of details about each character, but she's in no real hurry to get there.

Shirley is a retelling of Aesop's fable about the bat who can't join up with either the birds or the beasts because she's not enough like either of them to be accepted. She frames the whole thing in high school, with the eponymous Shirley the bat being rejected by both. She's not cool enough for the cool kids and doesn't have the same interests as the losers. Rufin takes this in an interesting direction in the end, where we see Shirley in therapy, clearly trying to shake off years of feeling unloved. It's a clever repackaging of the story that focuses on the nature of group dynamics and how even the powerless can be exclusionary. The visual approach is much the same, sans color, retaining the ramshackle qualities of Rufin's art without her distinct palette. In both stories, Rufin softens stories that in other hands might have been much harsher in terms of both narrative and characterization. Rufin shows a great deal of sympathy toward her characters, and one can feel it as a reader when all you want is for the characters to be happy.

Kid Pyramid, by Alex Foller. This was one of my personal favorite comics of the classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020, just based on my own personal aesthetic. Foller's shabby but cartoony line in this story of a teenager with a pyramid head stumbling his way through life. When his absentee father doesn't bother to show up for his birthday yet again, he goes on a quest to try to find him. Along the way, he's abused by his high school classmates (one referring to him as "ya food pyramid bitch"), traverses the desert, is trapped by a board game-loving creature underground and ultimately gets a bit of shaggy-dog joke advice from his father. The cartooning is a pure delight: rock-solid fundamentals with regard to pacing, storytelling and character design. However, Foller maintains an almost rubbery looseness that allows him to keep the story lively and unpredictable. Foller has a bright future ahead of him making some extremely strange comics.

Dear You, by Cuyler Hedlund. This is an interesting idea for a memoir comic, in that 22-year-old Hedlund found letters written by her when she was 15 and 18 years old. Each of them was addressed to a future version of herself--a senior in high school and a senior in college respectively. The fascinating thing about the letters and the comic itself is how cataclysmic changes can be during this time period. She went from being a loner child to someone building a new life with her boyfriend. Hedlund alternates pages as she goes from high school to college, with each letter in turns expressing yearning, cynicism, despair, loneliness, hope and a fervent desire to keep up with drawing.  The key to this comic was its page composition, and Hedlund created connections through time by mirroring events on pages with similar poses, similar panel constructions and similar uses of spotting blacks. There's also some smart use of lettering, where the 15-year-old Hedlund's hand is a little shakier than her older counterparts. Hedlund's line is mostly crisp and precise, but she also gets deliberately fuzzy during certain key memories. Hedlund goes far beyond the simple gimmick in the comic's presence to deliver something that's warm, unsentimental and ultimately hopeful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #12: Quinn Thomson, Kristen Shull, Eddie J. O'Neill

Zero Point and Quinn Thomson's Comics, by Quinn Thomson. Zero Point is a self-aware parody of Alien, more or less, employing a mix of line weights that emphasize different aspects of storytelling. A spaceship is sent on a rescue mission to an uncharted planet, and there's one guy in the crew who knows that everything on this “routine” mission is going to go horribly wrong. The stark blacks in this comic work well on the slick paper that Thomson chose, and they help accentuate his excellent work with making his faces expressive in an exaggerated way. The cartoonish nature of his line made me wish he had chosen to hand-letter the comic, as the fonts he chose were distracting. This is a funny comic that gets a lot of mileage out of its horrifying aspects and the awful decision-making of its characters. Thomson's portfolio comic shows off his expressive cartooning in an even better light with comics like “Metro”, which looks like it could be a short story featured in a French anthology somewhere. It's about a guy with stringy hair that stands up (an excellent design) having a miserable time on a subway. There are bits of over-rendering here and there, but for the most part Thomson keeps things clear and focuses on the physical humor of the jokes. In “Bibliomancy” and “Meditation Comic”, Thomson makes great use of a lively, squiggly line to create a wonderful, zaftig character in one comic and alternates between heavily spotted blacks and wonderfully scrawled faces in a deep-sea diving adventure. There's also a little of Graham Chaffee to his work, in that I could see him working comfortably in either comics or animation.

Netflix and Chill, Bones Vs. Tomes and Infernal Nihilism, by Kristen Shull. Shull is adept at the comedy narrative, as each of her three stories featured somewhat cynical sense of humor with genre trappings. Bones Vs. Tomes is a four-pager about a sorcery adept who goes out to the woods to learn spells instead of studying books to get them like wizards. In the span of four panels, she sets up the premise and introduces us to the teenage story of the story. Things go wrong (because of course) and she accidentally summons up a bunch of skeletons out for blood. Then there's a page and a half of negotiating the killer skeletons, until she's saved by a bunch of dickish wizards. The final two panels offer her wicked revenge for dealing with those bullies. Her line is decent, looking great when dealing with the main character and a bit more unsure when drawing other people. That said, her storytelling fundamentals are solid. There's nothing spectacular-looking about this comic, but her execution made it memorable.

Infernal Nihilism is a take on Dante's trip to hell, done in the Ed Emberley style of simple geometric shapes. Like much of Shull's work, it is simultaneously funny and grim. For example, Virgil, Dante's guide, takes the form of a scotch-drinking, cigarette-smoking giant squid. The planets of hell that Virgil shows Dante are filled with inconsiderate people, people who don't clean up after their animals, and those that feel they're morally superior. When Dante's relieved that he doesn't fall into any of these categories, Virgil reveals that the afterlife is all made-up, and that Dante's made his own hell. The cuteness of the story works effectively in both adding to the laughs but also making its nihilistic ending all the more stark, juxtaposed against the art.

Netflix and Chill is a great shaggy-dog joke of a comic, wherein a woman is brought out of a cryogenic sleep six hundred years after she went in and finds that all of humanity was absorbed by artificial intelligence after the Singularity occurred. The AI is fascinated by her as one of their ancestors and wants to keep her happy while studying her. They wind up throwing in another subject into her cubicle, a handsome guy, and the punchline swerves away from the common parlance of what “Netflix and Chill” means (sex) into something much more literal. Shull's line is pleasing here, working in a mostly naturalistic way but allowing her faces to be distinct and even slightly exaggerated. In general, Shull is adept at making short stories memorable, thanks to her comedic chops and strong sense of storytelling. That said, this is an artist that I can easily see tackling a long-form comic in the near future.

Rising, Caged Birds, Flight Club and Rats, by Eddie J. O'Neill. O'Neill has a distinctive voice that uses grotesque and distorted images to tackle complex emotions. In Rats, O'Neill uses a blood-red patina to tell a brief, horrifying story of a person feeling rats crawling around inside of them but fearing for them if they get out. The last image is of the person swallowing the rat, because “I'm not a mother”. The fear of being an inadequate nurturer of one's own parasitical entities supersedes the body horror images of the art itself, which I found fascinating. The pathological fear of losing one's own demons is in itself a horrible fate. Caged Birds features a a group of birds-as-mental-patients. They are drawn as birds and more-or-less act like birds...except some of them are in there for hearing voices, OCD or other mental illnesses. O'Neill takes this to its logical, grim but funny extreme when one of the birds tries to escape—and runs into a window. Once again, O'Neill's images point to dehumanization and detachment from one's own body.

Flight Club was done as part of a non-fiction assignment, and it's a highly clever story about O'Neill's family's history with violent birds of prey. From a pair of auks at a highly dangerous open-air, walk-through zoo, to some hopping mad turkeys to ultra-aggressive terns at the beach, there's a lovely clarity to O'Neill's line that is aided by the highly-effective placement of spot reds that emphasize the homicidal nature of these birds. There's one panel comparing the “pure evil” of all three birds and noting that it's the same despite the size difference of each—and evil is just blood red on the chart. Rising uses a thicker line weight in this moving, grim story about a monk trained in specific sacraments relating to the dead. The monk's job was to carry the body to a certain place where the bodies would be eaten by birds, allowing the souls to move on to their next life. When a group of bandits cut down a child, the monk overcomes adversity and gets the body to the top of the mountain—only to see his image burned down. When he returns and he realizes that he can't move all the bodies, a miracle happens. It's a genuinely joyous and surprising moment, and O'Neill's careful use of spotting blacks on the final pages frame the characters in just the right way.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #11: TS Moss, Gaurav Patil, Sage Persing

The Sun And The Frogs, by TS Moss. This is an elegantly designed mini featuring a die-cut cover and a beautiful sense of design throughout, meant to mimic stained glass storytelling. This feels like a retelling of a fable, only it's one directly related to climate change. The swirling blue of water throughout the story appears placid but holds menace as it rises day after day. On one set of pages, as the story within the story is told, the frogs beg the sun not to give birth to another sun, because they would boil. The narrative continues on the next two pages, only the visuals are of a protest against climate change that is ultimately fruitless. The final image is truly the final image, and the end of the story: “The frogs boiled alive”. This is a beautiful, pointed and straightforward story that makes its point quickly and doesn't overstay its welcome. Moss' aesthetic is sleek and stylish without being overly slick; I believe this story was drawn on a computer but it doesn't have that slightly stilted feel that such comics can have.

Confidential and B.B. By Gaurav Patil. B.B. looks like it was drawn as an Ed Emberley exercise, like several other of the first-year students' assignments. Patil took the opportunity to make the story a children's story of sorts in the Emberley tradition of stripped-down, geometric drawing with basic shapes. Patil uses the format as a sort of shaggy dog joke that doesn't pay off until the final panel. The titular B.B. stands for “big bad”, who comes from a tribe of badasses and seeks out other badasses to confront in the world. Every creature he encounters simply tells him their name, and a dinosaur points out to him that he hasn't made it clear what he is the biggest and baddest of. He realizes he's a wolf at last and can finally make sense of what the other animals are doing, but things go awry when he meets three little pigs. Patil shows nice comedic chops here, as well as a solid sense of how to use negative space effectively.

Confidential [Top Secret] is a variation on a world with mutants and how they affected the world. Someone would experience an “awakening”, which would unlock “their true potential.” Some were recruited by a sinister organization called The Agency, and this comic explores a mission featuring agents code-named XI (super-hearing) and XII (super-strength), as they went on a mission. It's an amiable enough comic, rolling on with a distinct sense of humor without resorting to outright spoof. The characterizations are exaggerated slightly to the point of silliness, but there's a darker core here. Patil's drawing here is serviceable as it's clear he understands his limits as a draftsman. He's careful to make clarity a priority in his storytelling and drawing, even if his actual drawing is wobbly at times.

Sage Persing submitted a whole bunch of comics that fell roughly into comics about family, comics about queer and trans issues, and other stuff. I'll start with the latter. Dead End was done using an unusual twelve panel grid, shoving a lot of story into each page. That pushes the reader through what is otherwise a relatively placid slice of story featuring two teenage girls who are wandering around. Persing's draftsmanship is shaky here, but their storytelling is confident and clear. Moreover, their sense of verisimilitude regarding the dialogue is spot-on, as this feels like a real anecdote that sums up a brief but crucial point in the lives of the two girls. Be Well is a portrait comic featuring various people saying things to them, often related to wellness—and mental health in particular. It's a comic of gratitude—thanking people for being there for them when Persing reached out and needed them. The portrait work is raw and expressive, and it captures something lively about each subject.

Visiting Dad is an excellent series of anecdotal memories of visiting their father in the hospital. The things that Persing remembered and chose to record are precisely the kind of fragments that stick with you during a traumatic and transitional time. In this case, it was hospital socks that Persing drew in great detail, recalling that they were supposed to have finished reading Kafka's The Metamorphosis before the grade started, and details of the restaurant they went to afterward. There's no other narration or information given, because the point of the comic was memory, not narrative. Good Friday sees Persing using watercolors to detail a particularly volatile argument between a daughter and her father; while it's not explicitly autobiographical, there are certainly family dynamics at work here. The argument is with regard to the existence of god, and it upsets him so much, that he stops the car and gets out. The comic is not so much about the substance of the argument as it is about the memory of the event itself. The moodiness of the color scheme is key to the success of the story, as Persing's character design is wobbly.

Things I Know About Nanny is Persing's Emberley assignment, and they made it a doozy. It's a family history of their grandfather (Nanny), including the bizarre events surrounding their great-grandfather (Cactus) and how his wife ran off with another man and took the children with them—until they dumped them. Persing not only expertly uses Emberley-style shapes in an efficient and clear manner, they also add a color scheme that makes the story pop. The narrative goes until the death of their grandfather, who at a certain point was paralyzed after an accident but lived long after that. The story concludes with Persing's birth, which was the anniversary of the day of Nanny's paralysis.

The Beasts, The Birds and the Bat is Persing's take on the Aesop assignment. The story is about the bat refusing to take a side in the war between birds and beasts, claiming to be a beast when asked by the birds to join and vice-versa. When peace arrives, they shun the bat. Persing turns this into a metaphor for being trans, with Aesop's admonition to “be one thing or another” especially brutal here. On Queerness is a single-page comic done in the form of a quilt to honor the work of David Wojnarowicz, who often used “stitches and thread”. It's symbolic of the patchwork but beautiful “chosen and created” families of queer folk, and there's a similar kind of beauty to be found in this representation of Persing's own chosen family. The metaphor of wounds being stitched-up by one's chosen family like a quilt is stitched is a powerful one. Finally, Tranny Joke is a brutal, personal account of the way trans people have long been used as a punchline in comedy—dehumanized, reduced, slurred. Persing relates how especially hard this is because comedy is so important to them, and shows that are otherwise incredibly important to them are instead attacks on people they love. Persing's potential bursts off of each and every page: as a memoirist, as a political cartoonist, as a slice-of-life storyteller and more. Persing's got the goods, and at this point it's just going to be a matter of refinement for them.