Monday, June 11, 2012
Black and White: Nurse Nurse
Katie Skelly's Nurse Nurse is the first book to be published by Sparkplug Comic Books after the death of its publisher, Dylan Williams. Plans for collecting Skelly's original miniseries had long been in the works, pending Skelly's completion of the story. With the boost of an Indiegogo campaign that helped fund a year's worth of books, Nurse Nurse finally made its debut in May of 2012, eight months after the death of Williams and a few months after it was announced that the trio of Virginia Paine (a former Sparkplug employee), Emily Nillson (Williams' wife) and Tom Neely (Williams' close friend) would take over operations of Sparkplug. Skelly noted that Paine did a lot of production work on her psychedelic epic, and it shows in the way that even Skelly's earliest images pop off the page with great clarity. When we reach the more explicitly psychedelic portions of the story, the pages look especially beautiful. I would have preferred them going to a larger page size to truly feature that aspect of the storytelling, but the simplicity of Skelly's line is such that no details are lost going to a digest-sized format.
The comic was inspired in large part by Roger Vadim's film Barbarella, which in itself was adapted by the Jean-Claude Forest comic. Both are essentially complete nonsense, and really act as an excuse to indulge in style as well as T&A. Skelly was not so much inspired by the sexual content of Barbarella but rather its style. Each chapter of the book is a chance to dip into a different set of stylistic flourishes, to the point that in Nurse Nurse, style is substance. The story of vaguely Candide-like outer space nurse Gemma finds her going from one set of perils to the next, just barely staying ahead of doom and/or insanity. She winds up on Venus, where a careless chemist has created a goo spread by the planet's many butterflies that causes those who touch it to become super-horny. She is captured by space pirates, who include a masked woman and a half-woman/half-panda hybrid as well as her ex-boyfriend. She commandeers an escape pod to Mars and winds up with mysterious natives who are hosting the most popular pop band in the universe.She winds up having a bad trip but recovers, only to discover that her likeness is being used in a popular TV show. Investigating further, she is nearly torn to bits by a group of her clones, until she's rescued by her pirate ex-boyfriend. She finally winds up on Earth and simply drops out, laying in a field.
All of those episodic plot points are to be enjoyed on their own, as Skelly throws a kitchen's sink worth of crazy and cute images at the reader. With a very simple and spare line, Skelly tosses in classic psychedelic images, which at its core is all about the ways in which black and white interact with each other. There are a number of pages that reflect that sort of interplay between the two opposites, with figures and background melting into and warping into each other. Skelly is still interested in telling a story, which is why the visuals draw the reader in rather than overwhelm the eye, as a lot of psychedelic art might. Her character designs are simple but effective, drawing in the eye with the use of key details like carefully-placed freckles, odd clothing and body paint. The simplicity of her character design makes the psychedelic quality of her pages all the more effective, since it's still easy to follow the action in every sequence. In addition to character design, character costuming is another important aspect of this comic. In addition to the crisp nurse uniform Gemma wears, the outfits worn by the pirates are a sort of futuristic mutation of 1960s mod fashion. Skelly's use of gesture and body language drives each panel, with character poses that almost look cinematic in their dramatic nature. The overall effect is a breezy, lighthearted, relentlessly strange and amusing narrative that must be accepted by the reader on its own terms. The conspiracy theory and adventure narrative that might have driven other comics are less important in Nurse Nurse than simply enjoying the journey and taking in all the sights.