Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Some CCS Minis: Forsman, Barrett, Bohn, McFadzean, Vaughn

The advent of SPX has once again brought a bounty of minicomics to review. Here's a quintet of minis from assorted students and alums of the Center for Cartoon Studies.

The End of the Fucking World #1, by Chuck Forsman. One of Forsman's specialties has become the depiction of losers, creeps and the generally alienated. This mini concerns an extreme example of such a person, a nameless teen who at a very young age has an awareness of being a psychopath. That manifests in his inability to laugh or feel, leading him to extreme behavior in an effort to generate some kind of emotion or sensation. The result is a lot of dead animals, two of his fingers mangled by a garbage disposal and contemplating the murder of someone who more or less pushed her way into being his girlfriend. The issue ends with him slugging his father and stealing his car. Forsman's line continues to grow simpler and more economical as he evolves as an artist. He still adds a lot of hatching and cross-hatching in the corners of his strips, an effect that rounds the tops of his images and contributes an air of gloom and dread. He also has a knack for depicting kids with long hair with just a few lines. This is an intriguing little comic and I'm eager to see just where Forsman will take this story.


Dental Damned!!, by Pat Barrett. This is the fourth issue of Barrett's one-man anthology series, Oak & Linden, done in a completely different format. This is a 7x3" comic (landscape, essentially) done entirely in color, and it looks like it may have been drawn on a computer. The color is more than a little garish as Barrett is trying to emulate animated features moreso than comic books. Another clue in that direction (other than the Looney Toons tribute on the inside front cover) is the way his characters move: in fits, spasms and jerks. The story concerns a Barrett stand-in character on his way to the dentist to fix a tooth that's been knocked out. Along the way, he spins fanciful reasons as to how the tooth got knocked out (fencing match, orgy, dance party) until the merciless dentist makes him tell the truth. What I liked about this story is that Barrett takes standard autobio tropes (a story about a medical problem) and spins it into an exaggerated series of gags. In terms of images, the panel where one sees a huge penis juxtaposed against Barrett's cute drawing style was especially funny, as was the naturalistically-drawn close-up of the rot & gore in his mouth. This is not Barrett's best comic, in part because it doesn't flatter his most significant skills as a draftsman, but it's an interesting experiment nonetheless.


After The Future, by Casey Bohn. Some artists come into CCS without a real style to call their own. That is not the case with Bohn, who uses a simple line predicated on chunky figures and the dominant use of black to emphasize backgrounds and deemphasize figures. His line has a somewhat creepy quality, as his figures resemble something like 1950s clip art or advertising art. It lends his comic a weird, artificial quality, as though it was an object that was found instead of drawn. That sense of disorientation is an apt match for this comic about an inventor alienated from his magnate father who transfers his consciousness into robot form. The ending is somewhat anticlimactic and makes the issue feel more like an origin story than a one-off, but the quirkiness of Bohn's style is enough of a draw to make this a worthwhile reading experienced.


Ghost Rabbit, by Dakota McFadzean. McFadzean is one of the most accomplished draftsmen I've seen from CCS, and it's clear that his storytelling instincts are also well-refined. Despite his obvious skill, there's a sense of restraint in his storytelling that elevates his work above its basic visual appeal. This story features the parallel narrative of a young girl growing up in a house where her mother struggles with her own mentally decaying mother along with an anthropomorphic rabbit haunted by the titular ghost rabbit. The lingering images of memory loom large in this story and they're elegantly portrayed by McFadzean, starting with the vellum cover featuring the ghost rabbit and an intact country house that transforms into a house ravaged by age when the page is turned. McFadzean implies that the anthropomorphic rabbit's narrative is a product of the girl's imagination as she processes the repeated phone conversations her mother has with her grandmother, until she actually sees a rabbit in the wild. Initially, that real-life meeting leads to a joyous fantasy sequence (featuring two pages of the characters dancing with each other excitedly) but the ghost lingers further when she understands that the rabbit is sick and soon dies. We see that small ghost hop after her when she comes inside after covering the dead rabbit with leaves, as the girl has acquired the same sort of ghost that she imagines her mother is burdened with. This is a simple, elegant and poetic comic by a highly promising young artist.


Heavy Flow, by Jen Vaughn. This is the third in a series of Vaughn's hilarious and frank "Menstruation Station" comics, this time focusing (in minute detail) on the mechanics of the menstrual cup and why it's a superior alternative to tampons and pads. Vaughn has always been ambitious and creative in her page design and panel composition, adding elements of diagrams, instructional manuals and decorative illustrations in an effort to create a narrative around her campaign for alternative menstrual cycle care. Vaughn also makes a number of interesting side points related to gender with a helping of wit, but she doesn't soften her rhetoric while doing so. For example, she refers to tampons and pads as "yet one more tax for being a woman" and includes things like birth control and ibuprofen but also adds "unicorn figures" and "creepy hair removal products" to the list, with an asterisk that notes "some items optional". What's disappointing about this mini is that while Vaughn has a definitive and powerful voice as a writer and designer, her line simply doesn't live up to the material. Vaughn's line is in a limbo state between naturalistic and cartoony, a state not uncommon for artists who are trying to draw something very specific but simply don't have the chops to draw it effectively. Part of Vaughn's problem is that she rarely varies her line weight (except when lettering). Another problem is that her attempts at hatching and cross-hatching seem rushed and sloppy. As a result, some images create distraction instead of imparting information and telling a story. Vaughn does have a nice knack for body language and gesture, and the pages that feature two characters interacting with each other are her most successful. I get the sense that Vaughn will simply improve over time, but I hope that she one day redraws these minis when she's ready to collect them.

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