Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 26: Annie Murphy, Adam Whittier, Jon Chad, Sean Ford, Rachel Dukes

This CCS entry will focus on odds and ends, things that are more illustration than comics, and a few extra comics that arrived after I wrote an article about the cartoonist.

Adam Whittier's Snake Rapunzel (published by Charlie Clark Books of Portland) is yet another update of the Rapunzel myth. It's a book written and illustrated by Whittier, though it's not a comic. It's not quite a kids' book either, as there are hints of bawdiness throughout. Whittier quickly turns the book from a passive story of waiting to be rescued into an active story of scheming and counter-scheming. On one side is the witch imprisoning Rapunzel. On the other is an unscrupulous grifter who's pretending to be a prince. Then there's poor naive Rapunzel herself, who quickly wises up and displays a remarkable talent at the beauty contest that sits at the story's climax: the ability to drink any man under the table. Finally, there's Belinda the snake and Luther the porcupine, who intersect with all of these characters in unusual and amusing ways. Whittier spins a charming and even exciting story out of this character cloth, with the illustrations looking influenced by Dr Seuss and the prose influenced by Jules Feiffer. It's a combo that works well, as the story carries both traditional and modern touches.

A Cartoonist's Story Unfolding, by Jon Chad. Chad wasn't a CCS student, but he was a lab tech and later on the school's faculty. He may not have been a student there, but he certainly received an education in comics that helped lead him to having multiple books published for different audiences. This is the new recruiting pamphlet for CCS, and it's one of the best. Chad is a formalist who loves making the reader turn books upside down in order to read them and poke through eye pops to get bonus images. As one goes chronologically through Chad's career at CCS, the reader opens up the folded-up comic, flips it upside down and finds both his world as a cartoonist and the comic itself getting bigger and bigger. As with all of Chad's work, it's clever, accessible, funny and extremely well-designed.

Symbology, by Annie Murphy. This is an A-Z compendium of "archetypes and epiphanies", based in part on Murphy's career-long study of pre-patriarchal myths, symbols and rituals related to our understanding of the world. What's remarkable about this comic, and Murphy's comics in general, is the way she's able to make transcultural connections, delving deep into history and then drawing lines to symbols that appear in mythology and sources like the Tarot. One of the key and constant links was the way that feminine symbols and the import of feminine symbols were subverted either into becoming less important than masculine symbols or else transformed into masculine symbols. Murphy's aim here is not to denigrate the masculine, but rather to point out the frequently false binary created in positing the superiority of one over the other. Her "Androgyne" points to an ancient and primordial goddess figure who was both male and female, something that Aristotle also wrote about. (It's also explored in the Gnostic-inspired film/play Hedwig And The Angry Inch). Most of the entries are brief and boldly illustrated, with white text on black paper, until the rune "hagalaz" popped up. She ties this into ancient Germanic runes, Norse mythology, Sumerian goddesses and how they morphed into the archetypical "lady of the three faces" (virgin, mother, crone), witchcraft, modern medicine, Nazi appropriation of ancient peace symbols and the tarot. This is extended comics section was the best thing here, making me wish that more of the comic was similarly integrated into a single narrative, but Murphy does her best to draw connections wherever possible. Murphy's already helped construct a new Tarot (the Collective Tarot), but I'd love to see her bring a narrative to life involving what she knows about the cards.

Shadow Hills #5, by Sean Ford. This seems to be a pivotal issue in terms of setting up conflicts. The town is stricken by the terrifyingly-depicted 'black ink" attacks, but Ford draws back from that after reminding the reader that this is happening, focusing on the back story of a key character and a big decision she makes as she literally climbs into a huge void of a hole to look for another key character who had been swallowed up by the hole. Finally, the odd boy from the first issue takes mushrooms with his protector, and they descend into another hole. Ford's just on point in this comic, using visual cues to set up bold thematic parallels. This comic is all about not just messing with the unknown, but the unknown messing back, but more than the horror of the of "black ink" is the horror of human indifference. I'm eager to see how this one finishes up.

Frankie Comics Issue Three, by Rachel Dukes. More cat comics from Dukes, whose stripped down but expressive line is perfect for preserving the cute content that she's going for here. The comics about trying to give her cat a bath are especially amusing, as the first sees the cat miraculously leap her way out of a shower stall while the second sees her happily sinking into a tub. These strips are less about trying to draw a punchline about cats every time and more about the quotidian details that having a beloved pet engenders. These strange, annoying and delightful animals (they contain multitudes, they contradict themselves) are beings we spend a lot of time with, but Dukes has a special skill with regard to telling stories about her cat that are true to life and delightful but also quite realistic as to how animals behave. Soon she'll have a book full of these cartoons, and I predict that book will be quite successful.

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