Continuing my look at recent work by CCS grads, here are three wildly different projects.
Frog Stories, by Ross Wood Studlar. Studlar, who has a career as a park ranger, brings that interesting experience to bear on his comics rather dramatically in this comic. He's really found his voice doing comics about nature and wildlife, bringing a clear and whimsical voice to these animal narratives. This comic is a one-man anthology of frog-related stories, imagining a voice for these animals as they go about the business of predation. The first story, "Song For Hungry Horned Frog" was drawn four years ago, and one can see the progress Studlar's made as a draftsman since that time. That doesn't apply so much to his drawings of frogs (though they have become sharper), but rather of of everything else. Studlar's also become more adept at depicting motion, as shown in the second story, "Acrobat By Night", which was done white-on-black to depict night activity. Here, the frog remains still in one panel and then jumps impossibly high to devour its flying prey. The way Studlar draws the frogs in full extension is quite beautiful; one can almost hear the frog's muscles stretching in mid-air. "Big Bad Bo" is about a bullfrog that terrorizes its pond, eating everything in its sight--even small mammals and birds. He meets his match when he's caught and placed in a terrarium, and even his constant stream of urine doesn't save him from that particular embarrassment. One can see Studlar's limitations in the last panel of the story, where the person is revealed; he clearly doesn't have a good feel for drawing people, or at least not as developed a one as he has for drawing nature. That really doesn't matter all that much, considering how lovely and charming his wildlife comics are. I'd love to see a book full of such stories, ones that continue to display the humor that Studlar mines out of his wildlife observations along with the deadly reality of nature.
Annotated #8, by Aaron Cockle. This is the latest and densest in a series of postmodern comics by Cockle that muse on the idea of language, the way it is controlled, and the ways in which language at its very core is rooted in deception. Prefacing the contents of the issue as being "half-told stories" (a clever play on Twice-Told Tales), each of the single-page anecdotes in this comic contains wide swaths of text that have been redacted, as though by a government agency that got a hold of the work before the reader saw it. The comic follows a day of an unnamed woman as she negotiates politics at her job at a publisher of some kind, goes out to lunch, goes on a date and later gives a lecture about her experiences. That lecture is interspersed with an account of her father telling a story about what happened in his life after getting divorced from her mother. The story ends with both the woman and her father more or less trailing
off, alluding to events that they assume are well-known to the reader
and involve a great deal of high-profile stress. This issue is all about
in-between times, the times when the characters suffer setbacks so
great that they have to leave town and take up again with their parents.
There are also three comics about artists: Ezra Pound, Jean Cocteau and Hal Croves. Each of the the three comics deals with the artist's biography as well as works, focusing on Pound's avid fascism and personal stake in knowing that his precise words were being used for the cause; Cocteau and his thoughts on critics and "this sickness, to express oneself" and the shell game that was Hal Croves' identity. Croves wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as B Traven (maybe), but his identity was something he kept purposefully vague. The mystery surrounding his identity is tailor-made for Cockle, who skillfully plucks certain key quotes about his life and then depicts a scene from one of his stories. The labyrinthine nature of Cockle's storytelling is reminiscent of Borges and Roberto Bolano, and Cockle builds on that effect with the physical manipulation of text and the juxtaposition of text and image. Words are warped, staggered, blotted out and erased. Even titles of pieces are frequently partially redacted, as though Cockle was pulling out a piece from a puzzle and hiding it from the reader. He leaves plenty of hints for the reader to follow along, but this comic is so effective because at no time does it rely on the visuals to create an impact. Instead, his mixed-media style enhances the text and allows the simplicity of his image-making to hold sway. Cockle's comics grow more exciting with each issue as he continues to play to his strengths as an artist.
School Pencil and other comics by Jose-Luis Olivares and friends. Olivares' fascinating, scrawled comics made him one of my favorite of the CCS artists from the very beginning of his tenure. For 2012, he had the idea of starting a minicomics subscription service (something that Liz Baillie also did): each month, the reader gets a minicomic, hand-made book, stickers and/or other assorted miscellany. The package he sent me contained several of his projects, starting with the gorgeous full-color accordion micro-mini-comic Animal Sense. Flipped on one side, and this is a comic featuring colorful cut-out animals going through the food chain on a desert island. Flipped on the other side, and the various rows form a single image. Each page of the hand-constructed Tramp Stamp is done with a hand-cut stamp as it follows the sad story of a woman with a bad tattoo who catches her boyfriend cheating on her, leading up to her stabbing him. School Pencil is an anthology done with fellow CCS alums Matt Aucoin and Holly Foltz, each of whom participate in a jam and contribute a variety of one-page strips. The work here is off-the-cuff to be sure, but Foltz and Aucoin contributed some fairly polished strips (especially Foltz, who has really sharpened up her draftsmanship) with solid punchlines. Foltz's pun on "Illuminati" was especially funny. For his part, Olivares contributes several diary strips that flip between studied naturalism and scribbly expressionism. There's something about his blocky, chunky style when he draws figures that's simply eye-catching and appealing to follow across a page. The strips are also personal and revealing while being restrained as far as going into too much detail; all the reader needs to know to understand the emotional context of these strips is what Olivares gives you. This mail service is the next best thing to seeing Olivares at a convention.
I just got a new comic in the mail from Olivares called Pansy Boy #1. While not explicitly autobiographical, it feels deeply personal. It starts with a teenaged boy's dream about a superhero and his sidekick (the titular character) saving the world. The hero then declares "And now we must kiss...first with our tongues...and then with our butts"--and then we shift to the boy waking up, as we see he was the sidekick in the dream..The rest of the comic features the boy quietly trying to deal with his erection, sneaking around the house and looking for "gay" images on a search engine. There's a level of verisimilitude that is almost uncomfortable yet funny, like reaching down to take off one of his socks when he's close to ejaculating. As he's cleaning himself up, his little brother comes in and barks out "Mom says you can't use the computer" without understanding what's going on or why. He's assuaged when the teen promises to tell him a story, starting off with a story of "2 handsome superheroes". Olivares' scribbly line is a perfect fit for a story about kids, even as it touches on the kind of adult issues that teens must face. In particular, it's a story about a teen who knows that he's gay, even if it's not something that he can discuss openly with anyone else. I also love that while there's an element of risk involved in this story, the teen manages to find pleasure without guilt or recriminations. I can't wait to see how Olivares follows this up.