Monday, February 4, 2013

Catching Up With 2D Cloud

One of my favorite micropublishers is Minneapolis' 2D Cloud, spearheaded by Raighne Hogan and Justin Skarhus.  Let's take a look at their recent output.

Startled Maggie, by Meghan Hogan. This is a memory comic devoted to the artist's first memories, supplemented by the memories of her parents and others. It's charming in the way that anything a little kid does is charming, even when it's really obnoxious or disgusting. Hogan employs a scratchy, scribbly line that's expressive and unfussy, carrying the reader through gently captioned memories, milestones and adventures. The way Hogan draws her parents as having blank eyes behind their eyeglasses is almost as perfect as the way she draws herself: a crazy-haired curmudgeon with either a glint of mischief or a permanent scowl on her face. The panel captioned "Maggie gives orders now" features a scowling child yelling "OFF PHONE!". The other thing this comic captures so well is the seriousness of play. For a young child, play is an activity that requires intense concentration whose purpose is a kind of making or remaking of reality. Toward the end of the comic, as Maggie enters her toddler years, that scowl is replaced by a relentless sense of wonder, leading to amusing flights of fancy and endless questioning. It's an entirely accurate view of early childhood with an emphasis on the lighter side of a child's struggle to gain agency and control over her world.

Ablatio Penis, by Will Dinski. The stars and stripes and red, white and blue color scheme of the cover initially conceal the title of this comic, which is fitting considering it's all about what is concealed and why. Dinski, a long-time favorite of mine, loves to misdirect and redirect a reader's attention in interesting ways in his narratives, which is especially fitting here considering that the story is about an election. Taking no particular sides, Dinski details the machinations between charismatic Republicatn Andre St. Louis and dishwater dull democrat Susan Wallace. What's interesting about the two is that while both harbor deep secrets that could lose them the election, neither acts on that knowledge when grudge-holders pass it on to their campaigns. The secret that is revealed by an ex-girlfriend (despite his womanizing tendencies, he is a virgin) does indeed cost him the election, though the reason she does it is political, not personal (though as Dinski suggests, is there a difference?). Of course, his real secret, as suggested by the title (which means "detached penis") is never openly revealed, though it is strongly hinted at late in the book. A botched circumcision is what causes him to keep the many women attracted to him at arm's length, a secret known by only a few. In some ways, the end of the book is a shaggy dog joke, but Dinski constantly subverts expectations as to motives and gives new meaning to earlier scenes in the book when all is revealed. As always, Dinski's pacing and character design are both slightly eccentric, focusing on exaggerated, cartoony details as well as jamming a lot of panels on a single page while still leaving enough room for those individual panels to breathe. Telling the final third of the story through the eyes of a random person sitting in a diner was an especially inspired move, creating a narrative that's even more subjective and removed from the truth. "We can only know what we're shown" is the quote that concludes the book, and it sums up the ways in which St Louis lost and what secrets he was able to keep--and the price he paid. It also sums up how Wallace manages to win despite her own sordid history and robotic personal affect: what she didn't show got her elected moreso than what she did show. The difference between being and seeming has been a running theme throughout Dinski's career, and he adds an interesting layer of complexity to the subject in this book.

RDCD Fist #1.5, by Justin Skarhus. This wordless comic feels sort of a like a Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead version of the first issue of Skarhus' comic about exploring a space and the visceral and surreal nature of violence. A ghostly, spectral character emerges from a warped television image until it coalesces into a director's chair, prints out scripts and gives them to the waiting "actors" from RDCD Fist #1, eventually swirling to form the word "action" above its head. Skarhus is an interesting thinker, and I like the way he juxtaposes simplistic scenes of violence that are the core of most genre comics with a sort of phenomenology of the entire experience of exploring the space, experiencing the fight and watching the fight all at once, both as a "real" event and as a contrived ritual done for putative entertainment. That he manages to do this despite limited drawing ability makes it all the more impressive.

High Score, edited by Raighne Hogan. This is an anthology that's part of a Kickstarter incentive for a book by Rusel DeMaria of the same title, done in full color. It's about a variety of cultural experienced related to video games. Hannah Blumenreich writes of being a girl who wanted to play a video game at daycare but found herself shunned by boys. When she finally gets a chance to play, the boys are less than cooperative in showing her how to play. Her character design is especially effective here, emphasizing the hyperbolic qualities of children. Peter Wartman's comic about his German cousin wanting to play a "Medal of Honor" game in order to "kill German people" gets at the heart of the power of video games and why it's sometimes important to take a step back. Eric Schuster's 8-bit style history of the disastrous ET Atari game is hilarious and dovetails nicely with Saman Bernel-Benrud picking the story up when thousands of copies of the game were supposedly buried in a landfill in New Mexico. He imagines a scenario where the ET-shaped spirit of the game rises out of the landfill, shedding a tear at seeing kids play other games. Toby Jones contributes a typically amusing list of how his sedentary hobbies might look as video games, in contrast to the more active creator of key Wii games doing the same with his active hobbies. Finally, Hogan himself shows off his dazzling talent as a colorist with a variety of pages involving monsters and children. Overall, the anthology is best suited for gamers, which makes sense considering its original publishing history. It certainly bears the mark of a typically well-designed and eye-catching work from Hogan.

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