Sunday, November 9, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 9: Sean Knickerbocker and April Malig

Rust Belt #3, by Sean Knickerbocker. Knickerbocker's comics have always struck me as what happens when the teens from Chuck Forsman's comics grow up and have to deal with real life. The answer is: poorly. Drawing in a style similar to Forsman's emulation of cartoonists like Dik Browne, Rust Belt #3 details a man being confronted in a bar by a friend regarding his drinking. It quickly escalates into the police being called and his long-suffering caretaker sister once again being disappointed by her brother. The story ends with the man recalling his sister always sticking up for him and him always repaying her with selfish behavior. It's a story about patterns repeating, again and again, and the title of the series is indicative of that certain sense of hopelessness and being one of, as Hunter Thompson would say it, The Doomed. Knickerbocker's use of zip-a-tone gives the comic a bit more substance and structure on the page. The back-up story, originally printed in an anthology, is a sort of more extreme version of the idea of being doomed. A couple goes into their house, douse themselves in gasoline, and (with a pentagram revealed on the floor), set themselves on fire. Without a single word and using deep pencil shadings to get across a sense of melancholy, Knickerbocker takes us to the end for this particular couple, who clearly see themselves way past any other solution. While slightly less rooted in reality than the first story, it's simply a warped reflection of how quickly things can go south. Knickerbocker walks the tight rope of empathizing with his down-on-their-luck characters (they are not played up for sport) and excusing their actions.

Bananas 2, by April Malig. Malig's visual approach couldn't be more different from not only Knickerbocker's, but virtually every other CCS grad whose work I've read. Influenced in part by manga, Malig uses swirling lines, distinctive patterns and bright colors in bringing her poetic narratives to life. Her work is highly immersive, like in the opening strip, "Mission Statement", which depicts her breathing out "a tiny piece of me/and have it/find its way to you". That journey across the page and a landscape is beautiful, especially in the way that her use of color is non-naturalistic and frequently counter-intuitive. "Inelegant Structures" reimagines a lost relationship as a series of sound-like waves, a series of circuit boards turned into a maze, and ultimately a last barrier preventing intimacy. Her black and white journal comics perfectly illustrate particular frames of mind, providing the reader with new information rather than simply providing a picture to reiterate a particular set of words. Playing it straight,narratively-speaking, with her "Vampire Princess Cat" story is almost jarring compared to the rest of the comic. It's a cute, whimsical and quite meta story that mixes slice-of-life touches with manga send-ups, all with a narrator and lead character who comment on each other throughout the story. Malig's figure drawing is less interesting than her other types of drawing, and they look flat and awkward at times when interacting. It was interesting to see her flex a different kind of storytelling muscle, however.

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