Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sequart Reprints: Leslie Stein, Blaise Larmee, Katie Skelly

 This article was originally published in 2008 at sequart.com.

Eye of the Majestic Creature #3, by Leslie Stein. Stein's unique blend of misanthropy, anthropomorphic fantasy elements and search for connections returns with a new issue. #3 goes in a slightly different direction, as "Larry" (Stein's likely stand-in character) leaves her isolated cabin to visit her family in Chicago. This 40-page comic is quite rich and dense, both in terms of story and art. As always, the visuals in her comics are a treat. The fact that it's printed on cheap, thin newsprint somehow enhances the tactile experience of reading this comic. As in prior issues, she employs a rubbery thin-line style that's given depth by her painstakingly intense use of stippling.

This issue is probably her most focused and sustained single narrative. There are fewer random digressions and surreal moments, but the story is no less odd. The plot is simple: Larry goes to stay with her mother, hangs out with old friends for a night of drunkenness that leads to a blackout, then has dinner with her brother, father, and his assorted exes. Then she returns home to her best friend, the anthropomorphic guitar Marshy. What's interesting about the story is the way Larry lives a little less in her own head than in past stories. The comic has always been about the tension between misanthropy & alienation and the desperate need to connect. This issue feels a bit like Larry is rewinding to a past identity or identities and seeing how they fit. The result carries an evocative sense of verisimilitude in its craziness. It reminds me a bit of certain issues of Hate, as we're thrust straight into someone else's family drama and pub crawl. The latter sequence is one of the most entertaining I've ever read. I love the way that the button eyes she employs for her characters dilate as they get drunker and drunker. The page where Larry approaches her blackout is cleverly composed, as the formerly neatly-aligned panels get smaller and tumble down the page and her figures get more and more sketchy (in every sense of the word). The story's last page reiterates Larry's essential struggle: the need to connect against the exhaustion she feels when she gets home...and the exhilaration she feels when she's alone again.

Stein's work is alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) charming and grotesque, and I was especially impressed by her character design and characterization in this issue. There is an issue-to-issue narrative of sorts, albeit a thin one, and I'm curious to see how long she intends to continue this particular project and where she sees it going. Her high level of craft and care, combined with her unique sense of humor, makes reading each issue an increasingly rewarding experience.

Nurse Nurse #2, by Katie Skelly. The clever Skelly really starts to bring her psychedelic sci-fi story to full life in this second issue. Skelly shows a confidence in using the visuals to carry the narrative that wasn't quite there in issue #1, and the result is a pleasantly demented story. Our heroine, the sexy nurse Gemma, arrives on Venus only to find a man attacked by a cloud of butterflies, a mysterious black goo and the surprising sight of two of her colleagues making out with each other. Skelly really stands out here with a hallucinogenic sequence of one patient, a free-flowing & loopy series of drawings that coalesce nicely with her expressive character design. I like the fact that this is a science-fiction story that draws from very few conventional sci-fi sources, especially in terms of the look of the story. As always, Skelly writes funny, blunt dialogue to go along with her rapidly-developing sense of motion and composition. I'm looking forward to the eventual collection of this mini-series.

Untitled, by Blaise Larmee. This is a 12-page comic printed on thick cardstock, with a mysterious, evocative narrative about family and tragedy. Jumping back and forth in time, Larmee tells a story of a teenaged boy and his two sisters. Working with light, pastel tones, Larmee uses color to evoke different levels of memory, fading panels in and out as though he were connecting them to specific memories. A brother and sister must deal with a phone call out of the blue telling them that their parents have died, while a third sister is in the hospital with a toy elephant that serves as an emotional anchor for her. The end of the story flashes ahead to the brother, Birch, thinking about his past and literally walking out of the present into the past, taking his youngest sister out of the hospital as she rides out on her elephant, the hospital room flooding. There's a sense that the whole sequence, the whole story is about regret and connections lost. It's a story that demands multiple readings to allow the visual cues Larmee uses to really wash over the reader.

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