Friday, June 14, 2013

Delving In: Eric Kostiuk Williams and Mardou

Hungry Bottom Comics: 2Fags 2Furious, by Eric Kostiuk Williams.  First of all, this is clearly the title of the year. Williams is a fantastic young talent whose debut mini was remarkable. There were a number of clever takes on autobio in that comic, which doubled as a soul-searching session. This issue tilts even more in that direction, as the Eric who floated through the gay hookup scene in Toronto found himself increasingly uncomfortable with what he was doing and his own identity. The issue starts with a hilarious take on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, with "bears" being used in its alternate meaning in a manner that was both funny and endearing. The problem with the story is that it was fictional in every sense; Williams doesn't have that kind of relationship right now, and in fact took a step back into celibacy.

That celibacy was less a deprivation than it was a kick-start to start exploring different aspects of himself and his community. In "Christeene", Williams discusses his first time doing full drag, with assistance from a close friend not yet comfortable with "dressing out". Williams' fractured panel placement, exquisite decorative touches and rock-solid rendering mesh perfectly on page after page, creating a tumultuous but exciting world of discovery. The account of the concert by trans performer Christeene is hilarious and outrageous: glam rock at its most transgressive. In each of the following chapters, Williams picks up a new persona, all armed with a long knot of hair: Goldilocks, her Britney-esque drag persona, her celibate nun persona, and a masked X-Man, defending him against a world that hates and fears him. That's the persona that responds to gay-bashing and homophobia he encountered on the streets of "tolerant" Toronto, thanks in part to the fluidity of his own gender identity. He points out that the oppressiveness of some aspects of gay culture made him almost as uncomfortable as the heteronormative culture he so dearly wanted to escape. In the end, he notes that there has to be something in-between celibacy and the hook-up culture, and it's obvious that he still has work to do on himself in order to be comfortable and confident with all of these identities while presenting them in public. I loved the way how Williams once again used comics to take a good long look at himself, merging his fantasies and his fears while articulating both in an entertaining, fluid and honest manner. There's no question that he's already become one of the most exciting autobio artists out there.

Sky In Stereo #2, by Mardou.Mardou's coming-of-age story is so true-to-life that it hurts. After a first issue tracking Iris, a young woman in college who works at a fast-food joint for extra money and has an unrequited crush, this issue follows her on an acid trip. I've read many a comic depicting the experience, but Mardou's take is impeccably accurate in so many ways. She captures that sense of being the only person in the world who's awake at 4am, the way that the rapidly approaching light of a sunrise can be a visually stunning experience,and most especially the way that a first acid trip can be a game-changer in terms of how one looks at the world. She also captures how the return to "consensus reality" can be rocky and unpleasant and how long it can take to truly adjust to the filters and guards we put up to defend ourselves from the world. Of course, the simple act of taking a drug doesn't really change anything but one's point of view, and the feeling of just how Important one's thoughts and feelings are on the experience are always exaggerated and often seem silly in the cold light of day.

The other aspect of the comic that was devastatingly effective was the reaction of Iris' mother when she failed to show up for work. The desperation and gratitude in her eyes when Iris told her the truth was heartbreaking, and Mardou captured it perfectly in the way she drew the mother's slightly bulging eyes. The thought that Iris had at that moment, that she wished her mother had covered herself up better, was hilariously and perfectly apt. Throwing her mom's obtuse and abusive boyfriend into the mix (who says charming things like "Right now, I don't care if you live or die") gets at the heart of Iris' central feelings of self-hatred and an overall lack of self-worth. Mardou's always had a knack for getting at real and unpleasant human interactions, but she's truly outdone herself in this series and this issue in particular. This issue was published by Rina Ayuyang's increasingly ambitious Yam Books, which has been releasing an interesting mix of full-length books and minicomics.

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