Friday, April 25, 2014

Revising Myths and Twisting Sci-Fi: Kinoko, Maggie Woolfolk, William Cardini, Matthew McDaniel

The Epic of Gilgamesh, by K. Kinoko Evans. This is a charming, cartoony and yet mostly faithful adaptation of "the world's oldest story". In three issues and around 75 pages, Kinoko distills the highlights of Gilgamesh's journey from boorish and hated ruler through a hero's journey that matures him. Along the way there's sex, violence, monsters, the gods, double-crosses, schemes, journeys through the land of death, an account of the Great Flood and essentially the template for every other mythos and epic belief system ever recorded. Kinoko uses a charming line and a cute set of facial expressions that amusingly contrasts the seriousness of the events of the story. In that respect, her art reminds me a bit of Kate Beaton in terms of its breeziness, clarity, decorative qualities and gentle irreverence in depicting the classics. Kinoko does use a thick, fat line in drawing the lead's eyes and eyebrows, giving him an immediate sense of power. Kinoko depicts Gilgamesh as a sort of overgrown frat boy with godlike abilities; it's no wonder that he inflicts so much misery on his subjects, especially in the form of jus Primae Noctis, or having sex with virgins on their wedding nights before their new husbands do so. To that end, a priestess of Ishtar lures Enkidu, the Wild Man, to the kingdom of Uruk to fight Gilgamesh. Finding themselves to be equals after fighting for hours, Kinoko then transforms the book into the first bromance. The way Kinoko incorporates modern slang is still entirely in keeping with the spirit of the story, as it is certainly no less epic or violent in her interpretation than in its original form. She also adeptly captures the inherent pettiness of the gods and the ways in which they mimic humanity's own short-sightedness. In the end, Kinoko also captures the epic's central message regarding the power of friendship and the need to live one's life in the moment.

Ratchethart Forest, by Maggie Woolfolk. Inspired in equal parts by Norse mythology, Pogo and maybe True Swamp, Rachethart Forest is a funny, weird, charming and disturbing comic that seems to be a perfect outlet for the artist's pop-culture and literary segues. Woolfolk has really hit on something here, as these characters resonate in a way her past comics never quite did. Part of that is that delicate synthesis between character and concept; some of her older work fell flat because it was entirely conceptual and reference-based, or else too personal in relating her particular tastes. Here, her forest animals are both familiar to a reader in terms of their archetypes yet entirely within the bounds of her broad, silly and sometimes violent sense of humor. Fittingly, this is a quest comic. The ancient crow known as Ode guides a beaver named Sixer across the swamp in an effort to alleviate her pain after her husband went crazy/was possessed and ate their son's eye. Other creatures have their own agendas and their own journeys in this swamp, which is part mythological dumping ground, part swamp and right next door to a nuclear power plant. Woolfolk saturates her dense and expressive drawings with musical references, odd pop-culture appearances (I especially liked the Log Lady haunting a dazed owl), puns, wordplay, poetic allusions, scatological humor and in general a rousing blend of high and low culture. The earthiness of the swamp and its denizens is countered by the mythological weirdness of many of its features and creatures. The grey-scaling and printing job in general is a bit on the muddy side; I'd love to see this collected when it's done (two more issues) and printed larger and on better paper.

Optik Noize #4, by Matthew McDaniel. I'm not sure how much earlier issues are supposed to inform this lighthearted bit of escapism, but this issue felt like a complete product not dependent on other stories. The drawing is somewhere between Scott McCloud cute and Charles Burns grotesque, while the story itself trades in on classic sci-fi tropes like clones (and the problems with cloning a clone) and an all-encompassing "everything equation" that solves every problem. McDaniel also makes this an old-fashioned romance comic as well, with a square-jawed hero and a long-suffering romantic interest, with their relationship being thrown into bold relief when an evil version of him asks some uncomfortable questions. This mni is certainly an amusing throwback; it's the sort of comic that would have been published by someone like Comico or Pacific in the 1980s. It's a fun and breezy read and well-executed at a genre level, and it doesn't aspire to do or be more than that.

Vortex #4 and Tranz #2, by William Cardini. Once again for Cardini, his comics are less about story and character than they are about texture and shape. If a comic drawn on a computer can be said to espouse the "mark-making" ethos of so many characters influenced by former Fort Thunder cartoonists like Mat Brinkman, then Vortex certainly fits in this category. This fourth and final issue of the series finds its protagonist, the Miizzzard, in conflict with the head of an evil slaver empire. The battle is all wavy lines, repeated patterns, zip-a-tone effects and a cascade of psychedelic effects. There is still a character at the heart of things in the Miizzzard, but he's more of an audience entry point and interpreter of an environment than a character that's been fully fleshed out. The second issue of Tranz is more of the same sort of action without the benefit of a particular plot or character to lead the reader along. I find the zip-a-tone in particular to be hypnotic and beautiful in its own strange way, just as I'm drawn to Cardini's comics despite his obvious influences.

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