Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thirty Days of CCS #28: Ben Wright-Heuman

Ben Wright-Heuman is unusual for a CCS cartoonist in that his concentration on horror. Perhaps it's not so unusual in that Steve Bissette is a long-time faculty member at CCS and is one of the most notable of horror cartoonists, and it's clear that Bissette's gritty style is a strong influence. CCS of course requires cartoonists to experiment in a number of different genres.

Phantom is an autobiographical story that's almost a mission statement of sorts. It's about Wright-Heuman making a friend with a musician in college and becoming part of a welcoming guitar circle. His friend, a native New Orleansian, wrote a song about the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought on his city. That song became a local sensation, even if the author was always and ever unsatisfied with it. The story is really about the power of creation, collaboration and inspiration. Wright-Heuman is not especially comfortable as a naturalistic artist, so he was wise to concentrate on color and contour instead of line.

Trinary is a wordless story about robots in the future who create art in a factory, and a robot who rebels against her programming. The story's extended metaphor about free expression and the oppressiveness of conformity is heavy-handed, but Wright-Heuman's scribbly line and use of browns and oranges livens up an otherwise predictable story. Predictable isn't so bad when a story is well-executed, and that's certainly the case for Wendigo. In that classic scratchy, Bissette line, Wright-Heuman does a compelling job in telling the myth of the Wendigo, a voracious, cannibalistic deep woods spirit that infects those unlucky enough to come near it. Wright-Heuman uses a couple of clever tricks to make the story interesting, as he first keeps the reader in suspense by narrating the story from the point of view of a man who didn't believe in the Wendigo--and then continuing that narration when he becomes one of them.

The Light Outside The Window is Wright-Heuman's best-realized work. With a scribbly but detailed line and a highly effective use of digital coloring. Based on legends surrounding his own college, the story is about a college freshman who moves into her dormitory, only to learn that it's haunted in an especially unnerving way. During the winter, the room grew especially hot, as a young female ghost would appear, begging to be let inside. What was especially clever about the story was that after the backstory reveal, the story takes an unexpected and even humane turn as the protagonist becomes friends with the poor ghost, which made the final twist all the more chilling. Figure drawing is Wright-Heuman's biggest weakness as an artist, and finding a way to create his own particular style instead of relying on over-rendering in a naturalistic manner will be the key to his future development. He certainly has solid storytelling chops.

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