Friday, November 29, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #29: Irene 3

Irene is currently the best of all the CCS-related anthologies. The editorial crew of Andy Warner, DW and Dakota McFadzean is not only a talented group in their own right as artists, they also seem to have a great sense of how to bring each of their aesthetic approaches to bear in the anthology in a manner that produces a cohesive final product instead of a bunch of stories that clash. For example, DW's scribble aesthetic and repurposing of text for decorative reasons is in line with the old Fort Thunder group, so it only makes sense that Leif Goldberg should contribute a story here. In "Newton's Mist", we see a figure battling against the forces of physics in a magical forest; though just two pages, the images are primitive and powerful. DW himself takes on what I like to call the Mat Brinkman spot in the anthology: creating a series of related interstitial images. In this case, it's scrawled, funny images of a band called "Veronica and the Good Guys". Some of the drawings are tiny and fine, while others are blown way up in order to give the reader a sense of the thickness of the line. Indeed, the essence of DW's drawings is to constantly remind readers that they are drawings, that they're made out of ink.

Andy Warner's influence can be felt with the presence of Barack Rima, a Libyan cartoonist and filmmaker whose dream comic "Nap Before Noon" is a fascinating trip not only through his own subconscious, but through the cultural and political landscape of Libya. The shadowy, hand-constructed look of each page certainly bears the mark of his cinematic influence, yet he's interested in the single, striking image above all else on page after page. This story held down the middle portion of the book, and it served as a fascinating change of pace, resembling nothing else in the book. Warner's "Boatlife", by contrast, is a slice-of-life story told in his typical naturalistic style. Relating two teenage girls hanging out in a cemetery, it's the sort of "nothing happens" story that's nonetheless full of crucial emotional beats and events that create lasting memories.

McFadzean's closest aesthetic compatriot in this comic is Sophie Goldstein, whose "Edna II" I reviewed here. Like McFadzean, Goldstein's storytelling is crisp, clean and assured, which allows her to go off on flights of fancy or use cartoony figures in a story that is otherwise naturalistically told. McFadzean drew DW's story "Ten Minutes' Break", a fascinating and funny workplace strip about three creatures essentially dealing with creation myths and alien civilizations. However, it's entirely from the point of view of working stiffs taking a break from their otherwise endless labors. McFadzean's every bit as good drawing fantastic characters and weird scenery as he is drawing average people and the plains of Saskatchewan.

Certainly, there are creators present here who cross lines. Alabaster's "Gin" combines the fanciful, beautiful and cartoony art with a story that's emotionally painful and raw, all wrapped in a quirky, decoratively interesting package. Jess Worby's "The Sasquatch In Brooklyn" has a heavily-shaded, ramshackle aesthetic that fits right in with DW, but it's easy to see how its humor and characterizations fit in with the other editors. The same is true for Mark Connery's "Whots It Mean", bringing more of that ragged art that brings a bawdy sense of humor to the proceedings. I would guess that the origin of this fused editorial aesthetic is that the CCS experience is one that encourages artists to understand and appreciate the work of artists whose approaches are radically different from their own. I would also guess that the editors deliberately sought out work that combined different aspects of their own aesthetic interests.

The stories by Luke Howard and Ben Horak are other good examples of this. Howard's "Dance Yourself To Death" is perhaps his most original, best-realized story to date. Using a slightly flat line and character design style, this story of the dark ways in which artists gain inspiration has a powerful payoff at the story's climax and then another shock in its denouement. In an anthology filled with downbeat and often disturbing stories, it was the perfect capper for the book. Horak's "What're Fiends For?" is a more broadly comic story, but no less dark than Howard's work. It's the ultimate example of a well-meaning but utterly destructive friend. Horak impressively manages to up the ante of menace in a rhythm not unlike that of a Looney Tunes cartoon, only with a viscerally disturbing ending.

It's likely that Kramer's Ergot and perhaps Non are significant influences on Irene. Both of those anthologies were fueled in part by Fort Thunder's influence and contributors; Goldberg himself is a KE alumnus, of course. It's certainly not a straight copy, but rather an influence in the sense that the editors wanted certain kinds of aesthetic approaches to comics to be present in the anthology, and once selected, they wanted those artists to have total freedom. For example, Dan Rinylo's "Find 'Sleepy'" is less a story than a reader activity, as they must find the one "sleepy" ghost on page after page of other ghosts. Cleverly, the pages are designed to make the reader's eye explore a space in much the same way a Brian Ralph or Brian Chippendale story might, only it could easily appear in Highlights or the old Nickelodeon magazines as well. Irene continues to be an anthology that's greater than the sum of its parts, a statement that's all the more impressive when one considers how individually excellent many of the stories are.

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