Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thirty Days of CCS #33: Dog City

The latest edition of another significant CCS anthology series, Dog City, went in a different direction than the first three volumes and took some interesting risks in doing so. While the first three volumes used clever packaging and design in order to celebrate the minicomic, Dog City #4 is a book that celebrates collaboration. Unlike what we might think of as collaboration in comics, this isn't really one person handling the script and one person handling the pencils. Instead, each of the seven stories features a far more involved level of collaboration, with each pair of artists deciding on methodology and division of labor in a different manner. The results were highly uneven but still quite interesting.

A lot of the matches were between cartoonists in different countries, and also between men and women. I'm not sure if this was by design or a natural consequence of how the editors (Juan Fernandez, Luke Healy and Simon Reinhardt) sought out talent, but there's no question that this diversity made for a more interesting comic. The first story, "Untitled Correspondence", was in many ways the most intimate collaboration, in that Swedish cartoonist Disa Wallender and American cartoonist Matt Davis literally mailed pages of drawings and scraps of drawings to each other, cannibalizing and reusing the other's images in photocopies and montages. The story itself was about consumption, criticism and creativity, as well as the diferences between virtual and real-life experience of art and experience itself.

American Sasha Steinberg and Irishman Luke Healy collaborated on the best story in the book, "Berghain Berlin". This is about identity on a literal level, as we meet a dull cubicle worker named Karl in Berlin and quickly understand that he has a queer alter-ego named X. With Healy drawing the story from Karl's perspective and Steinberg from that of X, we quickly start to question who is real and who is in fact the alter-ego. The dizzying scenes in an underground club and the dissonance between Karl and X are sharply portrayed, as X eventually must learn to integrate aspects of both people into his life. The different styles of each artist clash in a manner that makes complete sense given the context of the story, but that clash is an organic one and in no ways feels contrived.

Brazil's (but now in Taiwan) Iris Yan and Ireland's Sarah Bowie collaborated on "Crossed Memories", and their approach to this memoir comic was to react to something from the prior artist's page. The chemistry between the two was remarkable, as a page by Bowie that evoked memories of growing up in a rural area is matched by Yan recalling the details of her father telling her about growing up in the countryside and making "cow pies" to use as fuel. That led to Bowie recalling a story about burning coal (using the last image from Yan as a visual seque), which led to Yan thinking about barbecues, and so on. There are interesting coincidences, like Yan and Bowie they were both tall for girls their age, which led to both considering the social implications of their height. Bowie's gritty style is a nice contrast to Yan's simpler, cleaner line.

Britain's Ed Cheverton and America's Dan Rinylo did a trippy strip that looked and felt a lot like the sort of thing that Marc Bell does. I found that distracting in reading it, though I imagine the inspiration might have come from any number of artists who have made Bell's unique style a key influence, especially the Adventure Time and other Nickelodeon artists. I'm familiar with Rinylo's other work and it hasn't looked quite like this, and one gets the sense that this collaboration came about quite organically, but it's not especially strong work overall.

Reinhardt teamed with Whit Taylor to create a series of small moments in "Gestures", where they switched writing and drawing responsibilities depending on the titular gesture. I thought the first two mini-stories, involving a failed attempt at breaking a pinata and a woman alone at her apartment brushing her teeth, were interesting because they hinted at deeper emotional subtext, whereas the next two didn't have much to offer beyond the surface facts. Taylor's increasingly stripped-down and refined line and open-page layout made the strips she illustrated more visually appealing than those of Reinhardt's whose occasional over-rendering was distracting.

Aaron Cockle and Fernandez sent each other drawings, and each would work over the drawings of the other. This was the most intensely integrated collaboration of the book, as the outcome didn't strong resemble the styles of either artist but ceretainly had elements of each. The blotches, scribbles, splatters and stabs were given context by text later added by Cockle, grounding the images with musings about wandering, the possibility of integrity and the reality of heartbreak.

Finally, Jennifer Lisa and Caitlyn Rose Boyle's collaboration is at once seamless in the sense that it wasn't clear who did what, but the line weight and line quality varies so much that it looks like a hastily constructed 24-hour comic rather than a carefully considered work. That's too bad, because they touched on some interesting issues regarding the ways in which teenage girls relate to each other as friends.

Overall, there are a couple of excellent stories in here as well as some lesser efforts, but the process of collaboration was clearly a reward in and of itself for the artists. I'm not sure all of it merited publication, but I admire the chances that were taken here and how difficult it must have been for the cartoonists to move out of their comfort zones.

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