Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2dcloud: Blaise Larmee, Andy Burkholder

Following up on my recent Minnesota post, let's take a look at one of Minneapolis's finest: 2dcloud. The publisher, Raighne Hogan, is a cartoonist in his own right, but he's made a splash thanks to his willingness to take risks with avant garde, eccentric and boundary-pushing comics. Hogan's put interesting work back in print, printed the work of locals, given homes to more-widely read cartoonists who needed a new publisher, published the work of emerging cartoonists and he's even gone the international route. At the moment, 2dcloud is running a kickstarter in an effort to support publishing some pretty remarkable books. Here are some reviews of releases from the past couple of years.

Ice Cream Kisses and Comets Comets, by Blaise Larmee. I've been following Larmee's career since his earliest minicomics to his most recent books. Despite his frequent online forays into deliberately provocative, Dada/Situationist-style culture-jamming, Larmee is an artist who has consistently been 100% committed to whatever he's writing about. In some cases, like Young Lions, his stories were about concepts like erasure and the nature of relationships and art scenes, which was a bit of an ouroboros. In Ice Cream Kisses, Larmee instead explores sexual longing and fantasy. The structure of the book is an extended Skype session between a young man and a young woman, in which we hear the fantasies of the man and see them played out on the page by Larmee. It is important to distinguish between fantasy and reality here, No one actually has sex in the story, other than masturbation. The images we see are fuzzy, even if they are explicit. In many respects, they represent images in the man's mind. Another interesting thing about the book is that we only hear the man's perspective in all of this; Larmee does not allow the reader to hear anything the woman has to think or say. In that sense, the intimacy portrayed here is as imaginary as the sex itself, and the dialogue is deliberately coarse. There is some affection proffered, but this is an extended look at lust and the ways in which levels of separation both heighten and frustrate that lust. The result is a 122-page shaggy dog sex joke without a punchline, which was designed to put the reader through that same experience of unquenchable arousal and fantasy as the narrator. It's an in-between state, a limbo state, and so the end in many ways was as arbitrary as the beginning. Larmee could have accomplished roughly the same thing in a hundred less pages, but that would defeat the purpose of the experience for the narrator, for the reader and perhaps for Larmee himself.

Comets Comets is a mini drawn by Larmee in his Young Lions/C.F. style, featuring an interview conducted by an unnamed  young woman and "celebrity artist couple" Hall Hassi and Davidson Middle. Not surprisingly, it's an imaginary interview with imaginary artists who discuss their imaginary careers using celebrity in conjunction with feminism, using tools like webcams to disseminate their work far and wide. Larmee deliberately uses heavy colors to obscure some of the lettering in the comic, refusing to grant the reader the privilege of knowing all that was said among the three characters. Hassi is an extended internet creation of Larmee's, who loves playing with the concepts of identity, fame and creation in an internet world where fame is arbitrary and viral, identity can shift or easily be hidden and manipulated, and repurposing art and images is more rampant now than ever. Like I said, when Larmee commits, he really commits, and he never breaks character in either comic.

Qviet, by Andy Burkholder. Here's one way to describe this book: it's 300 pages of single-page strips about sex. That doesn't begin to address the contents of the book, however, as Burkholder's daring, weird, innovative and trippy use of line bends and warps his figures in the act of fucking in a myriad of ways. From barely-sketched out figures that transform into objects mid-coitus to cartoony figures who have sex to naturalistically drawn figures that provide the strangest backdrop of all, Burkholder goes through sex in every permutation. As opposed to Larmee's comic that simply imagines sex, Burkholder's figures, even at their most abstract, have a raw and real quality to them as all pretenses are dropped and the fetishes and desires of the characters are laid bare on the page. Some of the strips are intensely erotic, some are played for laughs, and some become Dada punchlines. In each of them, Burkholder adds a title that creates a humorous frisson, piling a conceptual joke atop a visual one. Later in the book, the strips are "vandalized", as Burkholder scribbles over the original strip with thicker lines and ink blots--he's jamming his own work! I took it to mean that the creation of these strips was no clinical and calculated event, but rather as transformational and joyous for the artist as they were for the reader. As such, there were times when he simply "lost control", and these clever id-inspired strips were truly overrun by the id unfettered. In many respects, they resembled bathroom stall graffiti.

In further contrast with Larmee's book, the denseness of Burkholder's work never feels punishing or unnecessary. While it took me a while to get through it (it's best read in twenty to thirty page bursts), every strip proved to be as startling and unpredictable as the next. Burkholder's conflation of geometric shapes with sex organs gave them an elastic quality, leading to any number of different punchlines. On the inside front cover, there is an oblong shape next to a hole, with an arrow pointing from the phallus to the opening. It's a funny gag, but it's also a recapitulation of the entire book: humanity's obsession with putting things inside of holes and having holes that need to be filled. From this admittedly ridiculous image comes all of human desire, and Burkholder gives an honest account of all kinds of desires, fetishes, attractions, and practices in all their glorious silliness. Some of the desires are dark and destructive, some lead to self-destruction or exploitation of others and still others simply reflect what it is to be alive and embodied. From frantic to gentle, from densely penciled to barely suggesting form, from visceral to theoretical, Burkholder feverishly journals what it is to be a sexual being.

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