Friday, November 1, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #1: Paul Swartz

This is my first segment on a daily feature in November, wherein I'll take a look at a different artist or artists from the Center for Cartoon Studies, past and present.  Today's entry will feature Paul Swartz.

I'd only seen bits and pieces of Swartz's work until this year's SPX. He uses a highly-stylized, color-saturated approach that I believe is mostly done with computers. The above sample is from his comic From The Jaws Of Defeat. Swartz is an incredibly clever political satirist, writing absurd stories with genre touches that are able to absorb pointed and hilarious content without being overly didactic or hectoring.This story starts as a history lesson by a scientist, talking about how the USA finally broke down into another Civil War, devolving into states like Greater Texas, Florida Libre' Amber Waves of Grain and Ubetcha. With America at the mercy of the Russians, Chinese and aliens, the scientist tells the reader that he knew a great leader was he set about his project of cloning and regrowing Abraham Lincoln. The structure of this comic is ingenious, as the narrative unwinds and we see the monstrous results of 100 foot high, naked, raving dead presidents menacing the country (JFK trying to seduce the Statue of Liberty is particularly amusing). The final image pulls the final string on the narrative, pulling the rug out from under the reader and forcing them to question just how reliable the narrator was, and whether or not he has a point.

Swartz makes his figures recognizable, but matches the saturated color schemes with looping lines and rubbery figures. He tones things down a bit in State of the Union, a comic that mostly trades in yellow, green and purple. The comic begins with a shadowy figure descending into a mysterious subway underneath the Everglades. He starts talking about conspiracies and how people use them to explain away the world. "For some, Freemasons pull the strings. Others see a sinister Jewish cabal. For a few, it's a secret race of subterranean lizardmen."  The next image we see is a lizard-headed subway car, as he notes "And wouldn't you know it, the last group guessed it right." Slightly reminiscent of They Live, the lizards are working to undermine humanity, hiding among them so as to "encourage their self-destruction". Cue images of George W Bush, the Pope, Henry Ford and Christopher Columbus. Of course, the Lizard Men are having it tough, falling prey to gerrymandering, species prejudices, pointless conflicts that take money away from funding pressing needs, etc. Sure, some of the imagery is a bit on the nose, but Swartz's confidence in his storytelling device makes that intentional. The almost lurid color scheme, cartoony imagery and sheer cleverness of his ideas and wordplay make this a memorable and effective comic. I could easily see Swartz winding up on Matt Bors' Cartoon Movement page.

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