This is the blog of comics critic Rob Clough, who also has a column of the same name over at The Comics Journal website (TCJ.com).
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Foxing Reprints #9: Eric Kostiuk Williams
Hungry Bottom Comics #3, by Eric Kostiuk Williams. Toronto-based Williams is one of the freshest voices in autobiographical comics. He combines a playful, rubbery drawing style with remarkable line clarity, clever design choices and deeply expressive characterizations. He somehow manages to express the joy and spontaneity of being a young gay man in a big city with the thoughtfulness and introspective nature of someone much older. The result is a series of ruminations that are in turn philosophical, sexy and funny (and sometimes all three at once).
While Williams' interests are far-ranging, especially with regard to gender identity, performance and the importance of being part of an alternative queer culture that values real connection and creativity over merely just hooking up, each of the three issues published does focus on his own romantic life. If the first issue was an exploration of past relationships (and past mistakes) and the second issue was about finding out how to establish an identity on his own, then issue three is about exploring and reclaiming intimacy. It's a theme that builds throughout the issue.
Among other virtues as a cartoonist, Williams is also funny. A story about feeling slightly out of place at a non-gay specific comics convention ends with a gag about trying not to think too much about little kids taking the free "So Hungry" buttons from his table. Then there's his single-panel gag work, including punchlines about choosing the correct "party favors" for events or else risking having a horrible time.
That said, Williams is at his best doing longer-form work, like his story "The Berlin Weeks". It's a swooping, eloquent account of an accidental whirlwind romance that occurred while he was visiting Berlin for an extended period. While admiring the city's vibrant gay culture and bold androgyny, he's kept in check as to Berlin's problems by the man with whom he winds up having a passionate fling. Williams is a smart but passionate observer who brings Berlin to life by focusing on eccentric but crucial details. His naturalistic skill is important here, and the story looks like a cross between Phoebe Gloeckner and Jason Lutes.
"Bad Tuck" and "What Brings U On Here Dude" address alternative drag shows in Toronto and the ways in which social media have affected hook-up culture. Above all else, Williams advocates connection, camaraderie and face-to-face interactions over impersonal hook-ups. At the same time, he's sympathetic toward those desperate just for sex; Williams never judges while he's advocating, noting that he's been there and been that person who was closed to the possibility of something more meaningful and intimate.
That sets up "Bottom of the Future". It begins with Williams wondering about his future as an artist as well as the future of the culture. In one scenario, he imagines himself being a rich and famous artist. In another, he has a generous partner who allows him to lead the life of an artist. In another, he's injured and destitute. In another, a conservative reaction against gay culture drives him underground, where he imagines himself with an eyepatch and a wise-cracking, cyborg monkey. It's that playfulness that makes his musings so enjoyable, because he never takes himself too seriously while ruminating on subjects that are nonetheless important to him. The story ends with a tender, sweet and reflective moment, as it seems Williams has now entered into a healthy, positive relationship without giving up his own identity. It's a fitting conclusion to this first arc of issues. A collected edition of the first three issues is also available at Williams' site.
I battle cancer at my day job, and write about comics & women's college basketball at night. I have feisty young daughter who is my test subject for all the kids' comics I receive.
I will happily review any comics sent to me. I especially like to review minicomics. Contact me at tmc [at] duke [dot] edu for more info or send your comics to:
New Address as of 1/18/14 is now 815 B West Markham Ave
Durham, NC 27701