Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Retrofit Extra: Kochalka and Alabaster/Forsyth

Today at, I have a big feature on Retrofit Comics from the past few years. After I had finished that article, I got a couple of new entries from the publisher, so I thought I'd review those books here to supplement that article.

Elf Cat In Love, by James Kochalka. I've never been a fan of Kochalka's twee storytelling style, but I must that he's an underrated influence on contemporary cartooning and animation. This book is a mix of cute character design with dialogue that's very much in modern vernacular, which is the starting point for Adventure Time's formula. The book follows a typical fantasy quest as the titular character and his companion, a floating magic tennis ball, encounter a monstrous princess, a possessive and jealous dragon and a windy mountain. Elf Cat is cocky and conceited and denies the attraction between him and the tennis ball (who is female). The adventures are essentially a set-up for their relationship to spark, sputter and then blossom. While it's all a bit of fluff, there's no question that Kochalka's cartooning is top-notch if highly simplified. Considering that Kochalka was responsible for the infamous "Craft is the enemy" quote, his own craftsmanship is highly polished in its own way. He's very careful in the way he spots blacks, His use of negative space to divide his pages is crucial in getting his simple character designs to pop. His character designs are highly expressive and his panel-to-panel transitions are remarkably fluid. While I don't think cartoonists always take away the right lessons when drawing inspiration from his work, there's no question that his stripped-down style that emphasizes motion and emotion over everything else has considerable storytelling power.

Hellbound Lifestyle, by Kaeleigh Forsyth and Alabaster. With two dots for eyes, a tiny line for a mouth, and wavy blonde hair, artist Alabaster creates a memorable avatar for writer Forsyth's deadpan and hilarious commentary. In essence, this comic is an illustrated series of texts and notes made on a phone from Forsyth that get at a highly self-aware and self-effacing sense of ennui. As amusing as Forsyth is, Alabaster essentially one-ups the deadpan commentary with similarly understated but ridiculous drawings. In one section titled the "Self-Esteem Improvement Plan", one of the items denoted as "First find out: do I have an STD" is illustrated with Forsyth holding a hand mirror and putting one leg on the toilet. At other times, Alabaster is just there to provide a minimum of imagery, like in a series of attempts Forsyth made to learn other languages, translating sentences like "The tailor is my dealer" from German to English. It's rare that I see an artist/writer combo that works as well as this one, and that's not because Alabaster overwhelmed the text with her style. Indeed, her own comics are quite different in nature, though her raw sense of humor dovetailed perfectly with Forsyth's. The book was just under eighty pages, and I could have easily read another eighty pages of similar gags and observations and continued to enjoy it. That said, they were wise to keep the book relatively short and punchy, because the results were highly memorable.

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