Friday, November 8, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #8: Amelia Onorato

Amelia Onorato's comics are explicitly concerned with gender roles using mythological and melodramatic tropes. Her first series, Rockall, concerns a man named Kagan who buys a property on a remote island near Ireland who discovers that a woman and her son are still living there. The woman, Muirinn, is known to be a "selkie", a sort of sea lion that can take human form by temporarily shedding its skin. Hiding her skin allows one to control her, until she can find it again. When Kagan is told about this supposedly demonic creature, he refuses to believe local legend. The series plays out as he slowly gains the trust of Muirinn and her son, and all three negotiate fear and hatred. What's interesting about this series is that Onorato has her cake and eats it too, as the superstition regarding Muirinn is very much that of a town revolting against an independent, husband-less woman who doesn't kowtow to religion or social mores. At the same time, she is also a magical creature who has to confront that the reason she can't find her skin has more to do with her responsibilities as a mother and less to do with her deceased husband. This isn't a cheap cheat; indeed, Onorato plays by her own rules, as the only person in the story who doesn't believe that Muirinn is a selkie is Kagan himself. The point of the story is that all of the reasons why Kagan did not give in to fear were entirely valid; whether or not she was a magical being didn't justify persecution. Overall, this is a fairly simple story, simply told. Onorato seems greatly influenced by the way Jaime Hernandez spots blacks, but her overall character design here is on the primitive side. Some of the character drawings are rough, as though she didn't quite have the chops to pull of drawing a number of different characters. That's especially true when one compares the way that Muirinn looks compared to the other characters.

Her more recent comic, Burn The Bridges of Arta, demonstrates that she's brought her chops up to a higher level. It's more thematically complex and dense than Rockall, but it's the precision of the drawing that is absolutely essential to the success of this first chapter of a longer story. At its heart, it's about the love a younger sister has for her older sister. Her relentless inquisitiveness about why she hasn't returned from her honeymoon fuels the greater plot, which concerns a worker who quit a prior, horrible job to take care of the grounds at the little girl's house. Throughout the story, Onorato's drawings of beautiful buildings are impeccable, and this is no coincidence. Indeed, the sheer beauty of the buildings is a crucial plot point that doesn't get explained until the end of the issue, when we learn what sacrifices must be made in order to ensure that such beauty endures. Onorato's figures have more a Jason Lutes-style polish to them in this story, a stylization that makes sense given the beauty seen in the story. One can see touches of other influences in her figurework and especially gesture, as Onorato's characters tend to be effusive and demonstrative. The effusiveness of the young girl combined with the reluctance of the other characters to openly discuss how the world works forms an effective tension, as her questions are the reader's questions, until such time as the reader is shown how the world really is. This is an excellent opening chapter for what promises to be an interesting series that once again touches on the ways in which women are exploited and stripped of agency, and the steps other women take to claim it.

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