Monday, July 21, 2014

Brit Comics: Julia Scheele

Julia Scheele is a young British cartoonist who's mostly done collaborations to this point in her career, though her own solo work has proven to be more powerful. Her catch-all anthology, I Don't Like My Hair Neat, is a lushly-produced affair in full color. This proves to be quite important, given Scheele's facility as a colorist. Her use of color in the "Positive", a story from the first issue of her zine that's written by Katie West", establishes the mood of the story far quicker and more effectively than any accompanying text could. The first few pages, detailing an affair a woman has more-or-less on a whim is shaded entirely with an icy blue, giving a sense of the ethereal quality of the event. That's both in the sense that it was heavenly but also that it didn't feel real, including any pretense of emotion. When she got back out to the real world, the coloring scheme switches to a fiery orange with reds and yellows giving some slight contrast; it's the light of the sun, of course, but also a revealing light. When she thinks she might be pregnant, that orange starts to get oppressive as she rushes to get a pregnancy test while lying to her partner. The ending is especially fascinating, as she's let off the hook in a way that she perhaps doesn't deserve. While the story is well-written, Scheele's own one-page "A Short History of Touches" is far more devastating, as a red arm is shown touching her in various pleasant, romantic and erotic ways--until the last panel, when it's clutching her by the throat.

The second issue features more illustrations and stories she did with other writers that look striking, like "Spells of the Kama Sutra" once again juxtaposing blue and reddish-orange, or her adaptation of the song "Like A Mountain" that gives it an apocalyptic quality. More interesting, once again, are the more personal stories. "Tell You Now" is an adaptation from a Le Tigre song, but the images speak to something else, bringing back that chilling image of a hand around a neck and the subsequent attempts at healing and simple survival. "Sinking" is a fantastic, wordless story about a woman trying to fool her nightmares into thinking she's someone else after she chops off her hair after a nightmare where she starts sinking into her bed and then has her arms and legs chopped off, like a mannequin. When she tries to go back to sleep, the same thing happens, only this time she sinks beyond sight into the bed. It's a chilling story of trying to wash horrible thoughts and memories away, only to be sucked up again by them. "Bad Omen" is another interesting story about bringing a boyfriend to a beach in Brazil after a ceremony took place that had some animal sacrifices. For her, it's a part of the local culture and her past; for him, it's an affront to civilization and she found herself have no defense against either his reaction or his arguments. The story ends abruptly, because as the title suggests, it's easy to surmise what happened after this. Here, the stark white of the beach and the bold blue of the sky create an atmosphere where gore and weirdness truly stand out.

Scheele edited The Heroines Zine, which asks each contributor to write about, draw or draw a story about a particular woman who has had a powerful impact on them--real or fictional. Philippa Rice's drawing of her sister and herself wearing onesies is charming and sweet, while Lizz Lunney's ode to the TV character Clarissa is heartfelt. Heather Wilson's story about British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst is all about how her consciousness was raised. Ellen Lindner's bouncy illustration of and interview with "city stitcher" Lauren O'Farrell (aka Deadly Knitshade) is illuminating both in terms of allowing O'Farrell to tell her story about how acts of creation became life-affirming in the wake of battling cancer as well as Lindner discovering yet another interesting creative trend. Alistair Bohm's essay about musician/writer Carrie Brownstein is terrific, and the accompanying illustration by Scheele is even better. Her drawing of musician Kathleen Hanna is even better, as it captures her dynamism. I'd like to see more on the comics side of things for future issues, but it's a terrific idea that's well-executed.

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