Friday, May 16, 2014

Reading Ray Ray Books

Cartoonist Cody Pickrodt has formed a micropress in order to publish not only his own series, Reptile Museum, but also the comics of cartoonists Emma Louthan and Laura Knetzger. Let's take a look at the initial output of this new publisher, Ray Ray Books.

Reptile Museum #3, by Cody Pickrodt. This was an interesting issue because it brings up issues regarding the ethical behavior of its protagonist, "Pants". In this post-apocalyptic setting, Pants' abilities and past are still something of a mystery. Having impressed a young woman named Gristin in the previous issue, he seeks to impress her further by taking her on a tour of the titular museum. That involves leaving her for a moment in the dark in a room full of scaly creatures and then kissing her neck when he returned. While Pants believed that they engaged in consensual sex, Gristin's reaction when he finally tracks her down says otherwise--that she believed she didn't have a choice. In Pants' point of view, he was trying to impress her and thought he had simply seduced her. Pickrodt was bold in painting an already complicated protagonist with the brush of sexual assault, and I'll be extremely curious to see how this incident affects the rest of the series. Visually, the big change in this issue is going from black & white to a single, bold blue color. It's an effective change that complements Pickrodt's open page style, wherein there are no defined panel borders and sequential transitions are more organic and fluid. Note that Pickrodt is offering subscriptions to this comic.

Club Queen Rat King, by Emma Louthan. Louthan is quickly becoming one of my favorite young cartoonists. Her combination of a slightly ratty line, distorted character design, dreamy and weird settings, and frank but funny embrace of sexuality and style give her comics a feel all their own. I'd classify what she's doing as her own brand of Immersive comics, meaning that text, line and image blur in such a way that the reader has to carefully and willfully enter the world that Louthan creates on the page. The comic must be read on its own terms or not at all. That said, Louthan provides any number of visual cues and entry points for a reader. The first page appears to simply be a number of lines bifurcated by a solid vertical line in the center of the page. When one turns the page, we see the lines are curtains of a club, and we meet the titular "club queen". This comic is done in gold and blue, and Louthan isn't afraid to cram a lot of detail into very small panels. Sometimes, that creates a blurry mess, but Louthan turns that to her advantage in trying to create a disorienting environment for the reader in the bizarre club that's run by blobby figures. They beg her to work for them as a bartender and to tend to the Rat King in the VIP room. The comic is about rarity, beauty, and the slow acceptance of something horrible as actually something beautiful. It is also about the manipulation of image, aesthetics and fashion. There are a lot of layers to unpack in Louthan's comics, which are dense in more ways than one.

Flowering Vine, by Laura Knetzger. This comic is in two colors: blue and green, as Knetzger essentially takes a look at herself and her own growth through a series of anecdotes, drawings and thoughts all loosely connected as a sort of stream-of-consciousness narrative. The story is one of advancing and retreating, where her ambition is to always move forward and create but occasionally retreat when feeling broken. The loose narrative is frequently beautiful and poetic, with lines like "I made in myself a shining iron heart capable of molten romance" standing out in this back-and-forth series of illustrations. The comic has one serious flaw, and it's that the illustrations in it are superfluous. All of the text in this comic could easily be read as a poem without losing an ounce of meaning if the illustrations were removed. While the illustrations are attractive, they are all rather on the nose in working with the prose, rather than the prose and images working together to create something different. It's an illustrated poem and not comics-as-poetry, making it more of a visual exercise rather than a fully-formed hybrid work.

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