Monday, July 23, 2012

Life Doesn't Turn Out As Expected: Moose, Rust Belt

This post kicks off five straight days of discussing work from artists who graduated from or had a residency at the Center for Cartoon Studies. 

Moose, #6 and #7, by Max de Radigues. This fine series about a high school boy who is relentlessly bullied but refuses to tell anyone about takes an interesting turn in these two issues. Issue #6 of this humbly-produced yet attractive minicomic (the minimalist cover featuring a few thick lines and a few big dots for a face is augmented by a zip-a-tone pattern and augmented by a wide swath of negative space) sees our protagonist, Joel, outsmarted at every turn by his tormentor Jason. Face to face with the boy who has made his life hell out in the hallway, he even asks why he's doing this without an audience. Chillingly, Jason has simply come to enjoy inflicting cruelty on someone else. Joel gets a reprieve when he's sent to the school nurse, an oasis that is further explored in issue #7. The nurse, Sarah, is the only one who clearly sees that he's being bullied but also understands that Joel doesn't want to discuss it. Partly because of this, but mostly because she's more-or-less presented as the apotheosis of cool, she's the one adult that Joel trusts implicitly.  His crush on her is also quite obvious. As always, de Radigues' wonderfully fragile line and use of angles makes his comics wonderful to simply look at. The fragility of his line is an apt method of illustrating the fragility of a young life.

Rust Belt Spring 2012, by Sean Knickerbocker. This issue concerns brad, a middle-aged middle-manager at a Wal-Mart type of store. The cover pretty much expresses it all: Brad takes a long look at his life lived in "quiet desperation", wanting to scream all along. Upon meeting a former lover and flashing back to scenes ambiguously describing why they didn't work out, he takes stock of how miserable his daily existence is, living with his disabled mother. Things get worse when he's given the choice of being demoted or fired (with a severance package), swallowing what little is left of his pride and accepting the demotion. Brad is a classic sad sack character in that he's miserable but selfish to the point of near-solipsism. He ignores his wheelchair-bound mother while smoking pot and reading porn, very much like a teenager would. Knickerbocker's cartoony line is perfect for depicting these sorts of sad sacks, with bulbous noses and blank eyes. I've compared his figures to Dik Browne in the past, but there were also flashes of Ron Rege' in the flashback sequences. His use of greyscaling is restrained but effective, adding just enough dreary atmosphere to an oppressively dull environment.

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