Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Foxing Reprints #1: Daryl Seitchik

A couple of years back, I was reviewing minicomics for Foxing Quarterly's blog. Unfortunately, that site no longer contains my original content, so I've been rescuing it from old email queues and the internet wayback machine. Here's the results of my first dig:

Missy #1, by Daryl Seitchik (Oily Comics). The cheeky tagline for Seitchik on Oily's site is "Your new favorite cartoonist". Of course, it's 100% true. In a short period of time, Seitchik has made a huge leap in her autobio and semi-auto-bio/allegorical comics, with a simple but refined & expressive line that she's in total control of. Seitchik was Gabrielle Bell's intern, and some of those sensibilities can be seen in her work, especially the deadpan quality of her sense of humor. This issue is the diary written by eight-year-old Seitchik to herself ("Missy"), and the strips range from angst over the divorce of her parents, to anger toward her sister, to the politics of dating for the pre-tween set. Every one of these strips is brutal, with streaks of pitch-black humor. They're emotionally savage precisely because of Seitchik's restraint as an artist. The subtle placement of Missy's dot-pupils speaks volumes as to her emotional state, especially since Seitchik so frequently draws her as stone-faced. The intentional misspellings of certain words and the intensity of the emotions felt add a sense of verisimilitude to these comics, as though they were drawn at the time and not sixteen years later.

Missy #2, by Daryl Seitchik (Oily Comics). The second, expanded format issue of Missy takes the reader up through her nineteenth year. There are always visual and other callbacks in Seitchik's strips; they aren't so crucial that they demand the reader remember them, but they add an additional layer to the story when read all at once. Here, the diary entries pick up later, as Missy is now disgusted by writing about a boy she had a crush on. While Missy is the protagonist of her own story, she's far from heroic, as recounted in a strip about a boy declaring they were going out and how repulsed she was by this. Indeed, the casual cruelty of children is a running theme throughout these comics, and Missy isn't immune to doling out punishment. At the same time, she understands the hierarchical nature of relationships, and when a senior she has a crush on declares her "his favorite freshman", she imagines herself as a sort of pet dog, coming and going at his beck and call, waiting for a pat on the head.

The mini goes into detail about the uncomfortable nature of sex ed in school, the ways in which she felt nothing kissing a particular boy, and an epic section about James McMurphy, her first serious relationship. The first two pages where he's introduced are entirely silent, except that every third panel his name is simply spelled out. It's a brilliant bit of storytelling that tells the reader everything they need to know: this was an important person in Daryl's life, he cut a striking figure, was a bit of a nerd, etc. Things go downhill after a while, when his academics cut her out of his life, and then she dumps him unceremoniously, with a laugh that's betrayed by the look of sheer fear in her eyes. it's a raw and ugly scene, one that deliberately leaves out a lot of details to get to the emotional climax. The last few strips are about a living situation where Missy is in love with her apartment-mate, whose girlfriend also lives with them. The weirdness of Missy having seen him as a nude model prior to becoming friends with him is lingered on as a tantalizing bit of forbidden fruit, one that leaves her stuck writing and writing "until my hands fall off". She eventually takes the last page of her journal, rips it out, and turns it into a paper airplane--something that's mimicked in the actual comic by having its last page torn out by hand. It's a message to no one in particular, reflecting on the impotence of simply writing in a journal instead of doing something about her feelings.​

Middle School Missy, by Daryl Seitchik. This comic of Seitchik's retraces its steps back to age thirteen, which is generally one of the toughest transition years for any teen. She was no exception. The slightly tremulous girl of the first issue of Missy is replaced by an angry young girl who lashes out because she got braces (whose existence inhibits her ability to make out), boredom, and dealing with boys in animation class (ameliorated by being with one of her best friends and spinning chairs). There's a hilarious strip about her "studying" for a Spanish test, as she goofs off in various ways while talking about them in Spanish, until her mom comes in and spoils the fun. There's a hilarious strip about getting her period that's highlighted by her use of orange to depict her having to wear a pad that feels like a diaper and an overall descent into hell. Another strip interpolates the film Titanic with drifting away from her friends (though not her stuffed animal. These strips are a little wilder than the material in her Oily comics and much less restrained; at times, it's like a different person is writing them, even as Missy's dead-eye stare, modulated only by those dot-pupil eyes that say so much with so little. Even when things get crazy on the page, as Seitchik draws Missy wearing a diaper like an infant (complete with pacifier) and wandering through lava, that gaze never alters.

477 Bright Circle, by Daryl Seitchik. This comic is more in the vein of Seitchik's breakthrough comic, Sub. It's surreal autobio, as an adult Seitchik bikes by a store called Now that is seemingly never open. When she rides by and its "closed" sign has finally changed, she finds herself transforming into a little girl and waking up in a field of what at first appears to be grass. (This is neatly foreshadowed by the choppy way Seitchik drew grass earlier in the story.) Of course, it's not grass, and when she picks a "blade", she is transported to the house she grew up in and a particular set of childhood memories. From there, it's an elegant, wordless series of transformations using the simplest of lines to create environments, not unlike Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon. The final panels reveal that this adventure into the past ultimately yielded nothing, that this store purporting to sell the experience of "now" can only sell the past as a consumer article. Seitchik only drops clues as to what's happening, using her usual storytelling restraint to leave it up to the reader as to what she gains from the experience, if anything. She says at the end "I got nothing", but does she mean she purchased nothing, received nothing, got nothing out of the experience of reliving an important moment from her past, or simply has nothing to say about it? For an artist whose MO is slightly detached, spare drawing, there are any number of visceral, heart-stopping moments in this comic, like when the reader takes her view as she's running and panting toward the door of her old house. Drawing slightly bigger than usual, her eye-dots are even more powerful, especially the look of utter shock when she looks up to see her old house. This is a deep, rich comic that's indicative of Seitchik's status as a rising star.​

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