Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mini-Comics, All New To Me: Deacon, Harmon, Lucas, Pallmall, Coyle

This group of minicomics is all interesting, and it's all by cartoonists whose work is new to me.

Coma Deep, by Brigid Deacon. Deacon's approach here is somewhere between Velvet Glove-era Dan Clowes and Charles Burns, maybe by way of Julie Doucet. Even on pages that utilize a great deal of negative space, Deacon's blacks are rich and bold, but they aren't slick in a way that makes one's eye fall off the page. Instead, there's a profoundly organic quality to her often horrific (but frequently just very strange) drawings that reminds me more of a Richard Sala. The characters are alive on the page, and that's what makes the bizarre images so affecting. The comic is about two young women trying out a bunch of strange cards and then spending the rest of the comic in and out of its bizarre vignettes. The narrative only implies this, mind you, as the reader and the girls in this story are sucked along without warning into a weird comic called She-Bitch Stinkpants, cuts open the moon with a switchblade, gets their faces rearranged by a balloon, get wrapped up in some body transformation sex, and on and on. The end reveals a reverie broken and a journey into one's subconscious ended--though it continues to loop around. Deacon's comic is an audacious one, using a larger than normal size for a mini and blasting out strange image after strange image while never losing her tether on the narrative properties of the comic. Indeed, playing with the formal properties of images and comics themselves is all part of the fun.

Peat and the Rabbits and Intergalactic Dance Party!, by Miranda Harmon. The former student at Tom Hart's Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW) clearly picked up some solid storytelling skills, because this is a very fluid, exciting comic. Using a cute style and prepping the reader as to the cute premise of the comic (an adorable cyclops wizard named Peat works in a magic shop), things take a very dark turn when Peat meets a rabbit in the garden. Things go from spooky (the rabbit hypnotizes Peat into coming into their warren) to horrifying (a pile of bones reveals the rabbits' dark secret) in an entirely organic manner, as Harmon never deviates from her bright, sketchy style. The latter comic is about a satellite crashing on a planet, with the denizens of said planet recovering it, deducing its purpose and discovering that it's the Voyager, and they party listening to "Johnny B. Goode", which is one of the recordings on it. It's a clever premise that's skillfully executed. These comics feel like warm-up exercises for an artist who's ready to do more.

Colloquial, by Jesse Lucas. Starting off with "Cash and Bubs", an anthropomorphic animal story in a similar vein to the sort of thing that Simon Hanselman does, Lucas displays some very assured storytelling and a keen sense of humor. Indeed, even though this comic shares some of the stoner humor, questionable friendships and anthropomorphic character types, the tone here is different than in Hanselman's comics. First off, Lucas plays around with the form in a self-aware manner, as the bear Bubs informs his dog friend Cash that dogs don't wear pants as the latter frantically looks around for them. The big payoff for the strip comes when Cash gets so high that he and his friends start to look like humans, heightening the absurdity of the strip's building blocks. Lucas' muted use of color serves to flatten the strip further as he uses animal references for jokes (the "good sticky-icky" that Bubs the bear shares with Cash is a bottle of honey, while the police won't come out for "possum-related incidents" near a seedy park. Lucas has a strong grip on the mechanics of stoner/slacker humor and at the same time delights in sending it up. The other, shorter strips in the book have a quieter impact, including a girl turning invisible and spooking her younger brother, a horrific memory of a threatening father and a mom excitedly playing Call of Duty. Lucas' deadpan tone is his greatest asset as a humorist, driving every other aspect of his work. Playing so many aspects of his drawing in particular straight only serves to make everything else funny.

Sporgo No. 1, by Laura Pallmall. This pencil-heavy comic features two stories featuring tense, but quotidian stories. "Picaresque" is about different people finding themselves in places they didn't expect and regretting it. Pallmall's line is heavily-shaded, frequently adding a level of hatching that adds atmosphere and weight to a story that carries a great deal of emotional tension. A man is awakened in the middle of the afternoon by a friend after having a weird dream, and they discuss his current set-up. He's house-sitting for a couple he's friends with who have just gotten married--only they've opted to have a stay-home honeymoon. They chat for a while and go out for some food after the man burns his hand while cooking, and the story ends as he's awaiting a thunderstorm and giving advice to a man who's asking for help to get back to Panama. The key piece of information in the story is that the man is a musician whose band is about to go back on tour, and he's starting to doubt this way of life. That thunderstorm he's waiting for is an apt metaphor for a life waiting for something bad to happen, and the way he serves the newly-married (and now arguing) couple illustrates his desire to be around something he hopes has some solidity to it, even if its foundations are cracking.

The second story, "From Eden Hill", is about a young woman (possibly the artist herself?) who has a ghostly encounter when she believes a woman named Aidy Leem tapped her on the shoulder. When she looks her up on the internet, she learns that a woman of that name is dead and buried in the local cemetery. There are then several pages of what seem to be anticlimactic dead ends as they track down her grave. Then the protagonist realizes that her room is the only one visible from the gravesite, which leads to some mind games later on when it appears that a shadow in her room has an unnatural quality to it. Like the first story, the tone is consistently low-key and emphasizes small talk and character interaction, which makes the story's reveal all the more surprising. Pallmall's figurework is her biggest weakness at the moment, as her figures lack fluidity. Her naturalistic approach sometimes falls short as a result, with some panels looking overworked and others underdrawn (usually the figures). Still, her ability to create mood and depict malaise with an undercurrent of far more serious emotional concerns makes these stories unusual.

Western Democracy No. 1, by Noah Coyle. This is a political and sharply satirical comic that uses a variety of visual approaches in its attacks on the police state, anti-abortion exploitation and malaise. The first story takes place in an unidentified city (the only clue is that the signs are in French), as the police barge into a woman's apartment, demand to see her ID and weapon, then barge into her son's room and inanely interrogate him, asking if kids at school talk about "throwing rocks or spray-painting check-points". It's a story about the blunt, brutal and dehumanizing nature of police tactics as an extension of state terror--and it's dehumanizing for both police and citizenry, as one cop in the story had to be reminded to keep his barrel up when he went into a room. Coyle's line is naturalistic but shabby, depicting a world falling apart.

The ads in this comic are parodies of real ads from old porn mags and comics, like the old Count Dante ad being posited as whether he can "cure terrorism".The centerfold is printed on pink paper, and it's a drawing of a humiliated prisoner at Abu Ghraib, naked except for a sack tied over his head. "Abortion 2023" raises the chilling yet utterly plausible scenario where the state requires that ultrasounds of aborted fetuses be kept in perpetuity. That data was then purchased by an entrepreneur, who turned it into an online game similar to the Sims, where people could raise those aborted fetuses as virtual children. The game created its own currency, which became exchangeable for US currency, and eventually anti-abortion activists crashed that economy. The story's assumptions that unregulated greed and a lack of concern about the rights of women make this almost seem like a matter of when, not if as a potential future. The low-key final story about two gas-station attendants shooting the breeze then turns to a discussion about changing the gas-price signs and the stock market crashing in 2007--a micro approach to events on a larger scale. Coyle's line does the job, as its looseness doesn't completely fall apart, though there are times (especially when doing parodies) that he over-renders a bit too much. That said, it's clear that the rough edges that don't help his work will eventually get smoothed out as he continues to produce work, and it's both welcome and unusual for a cartoonist to do this kind of political work who isn't explicitly an editorial cartoonist or who doesn't do more didactic work.

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