Monday, January 6, 2014

Two From Yeah Dude: Emma Louthan, Laura Knetzger

Pat Aulisio's tastes as a publisher are so all over the map that it's impossible to predict what one of his books will be like. I'm guessing he wouldn't have it any other way. Case in point with these two minis, Catburglar Cream and Three Fates. The former comic, by Laura Knetzger,  is a cutesy story of a jewelry thief who works with his cat to temporarily "borrow" an enormous gem that happened to be filled with ancient, delicious ice cream. Everything about this comic is clean, cartoony and devoid of sharp edges. It stops just short of being twee thanks to its sense of restraint in terms of both length and stylization. It's a comic that's less about plot or even character than it is a funny idea, that of a catburglar who uses an actual cat to commit his crimes.

It's hard to believe that the same publisher would release Emma Louthan's Three Fates, which is a scratchy, weird, crass, hilarious, pornographic and philosophical narrative. It's a vision quest comic of sorts that starts with a raunchy man and the mystical strippers/prostitutes who happen to adore his rough, weird ways. Louthan, using a dense and crude pencil line that gives the deliberately pornographic nature of her images a completely different meaning, uses the strippers in a mythological fashion, as they are both Fates manipulating the life of the man and a Greek chorus commenting on it. Seeing the women go on in poetic fashion while in a variety of sexual poses and positions but rendered in a distorted and even occasionally grotesque fashion is both disconcerting and funny, adding a layer of sweetness and almost innocence to the proceedings. Nothing is "dirty" in this comic; rather, it's all part of a natural order being observed by others, until they deem that it's time to stop.

That's when the comic stops on a dime and the man is reincarnated as a woman named Nadya who amusingly becomes a stripper in order to get free time to sit around and watch TV (much like she did when she was a man). This part of the comic is a direct commentary on the first half, but it also acts as a distinct, clever and even touching narrative of its own. Louthan's pages have a powerfully immersive quality, wherein text has a decorative quality and is directly integrated into the page's visual impact and images can be read individually or as part of the gestalt of the entire page. The closest referents I can think of are John Brodowski and Juliacks, but Louthan has a different storytelling agenda. There is a stirring purity and a refreshing lack of apology in the way her characters delve into their sexual lives; it's a life stripped of shame that accepts sex and sexualization as part of the natural order. At the same time, Louthan satirizes the actual poses found in porn and stripping, exaggerating them in frequently ridiculous fashions. At its heart, Three Fates is about the possibility of creativity and the ways in which sexuality can be both a help and hindrance in this regard. It's also consistently funny and fascinating to look at.

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