For Rio Aubry Taylor (who uses xe/xir pronouns), the urge to express xirself through abstract comics, lively genre comics and autobio are all tightly wound together. In Taylor's abstract comics series Tabe #12: Shed Your Blood For Pleasure, the repeated motif of dozens of vertical lines tightly packed together in a panel is used in some interesting ways. Taylor stops just short of making them hatching as xe adds a wavy quality to the lines that makes them all the more intense to look at. Taylor then modulates the reader's experience by experimenting with page design in terms of how many panels are stacked on each page and in what formation. Eschewing a standard grid, Taylor varies the height and width of the panels such that they alter the reader's experience by slowing them down on a page or speeding them up. By the simple quality of Taylor's hand, the line weight and the spaces between lines varies, creating a whorl effect on some pages. The reader's patience is eventually rewarded when Taylor (I'm guessing) improvises some figures that coalesce into musicians, revealing that the rest of the comic was a visual representation of experiencing sound. That was clever, but Taylor also carries this aesthetic into xir narrative series, Jetty.
Jetty is supported by Taylor's Patreon and appears as both a webcomic and a minicomic, of which five issues have been released. The series looks better as a minicomic than as a webcomic; something about it demands that it be on paper. This is an epic story that's clearly going to last a long time, and as a result, the first five issues are all over the place in terms of content. The first issue establishes the main plot, that "one billion minutes into the future", the sun disappears, causing worldwide chaos. As the series begins, a young girl named Mina is staying at a Buddhist monastery that's under attack by bandits and they have to escape. Along the way, we meet an explorer who's been stuck in the "dark internet" for two millennia, Mina is captured by a voracious shape-changing monster and then strikes it down when she suddenly evinces flame breath as a super-weapon, there's a blood-sucking insect who has intimate knowledge of important things, and meet a monk whose taste for alcohol gets him in trouble.
There is family turmoil and betrayal, physical and emotional trauma and greedy industrialists. Throughout the narrative, Taylor uses those abstract lines as a symbol for knowledge that's obscured or not yet attainable. Images, thoughts and beliefs fade in and out like a radio signal. The most remarkable issue was #4, which was an intensely personal story about Fill, a cyborg sorcerer's apprentice who is desperately looking for xir missing master. Fill was built to change xir appearance constantly and painfully, putting them in constant agony and making xir dangerous to others. Just as Taylor manifested addiction as a monster dragging people across jagged paths, so too did Taylor use Fill as a metaphor for being trans and desperate for human companionship. Taylor's intense and dense linework is at its pinnacle in this issue, as xe redesigns Fill in every panel with an astounding amount of detail each time. Fill's journey is far from complete in this issue, but Taylor's compassionate but unsparing account of xir life up to that point made for one of the best minicomics of the year. Overall, Taylor is really starting to get xir footing on the series, as each issue is more confident than the last as xe is allowing xirself to follow xir instincts on what storytelling instincts to follow. It's obvious that Taylor has truly found xir voice as a cartoonist as a result of creating this series.
Kevin Uehlein is an artist who seems to be on the verge of finding his voice, but is still trying to figure things out. He seems most comfortable working in funny animal style comics ala early Robert Crumb. In other words, anthropomorphic animals in adult situations. At the same time, Uehlein is interested in abstract narratives and psychedelia. Compulse 9 is an astoundingly beautiful collection of his color drawings, balancing that funny animal style with frequently apocalyptic, psychedelic imagery. It's sort of Joe Coleman meets Warner Bros. cartoons, as the images are funny, strange and yield more and more details upon close and long inspection. There's also the feel of a religious element as well, merging nature, death and life with ritual activities, as well as images that seem to bring to mind Hindu drawings. There are also anthropomorphic versions of Japanese samurai drawings from prints that are incredibly intricately drawn, as vivid as a Frank Frazetta drawing. Still, when I look at his drawings of cats in strange and psychedelic settings, I think of underground artists like Crumb or a more recent and perhaps sympathetic artist in Steve Lafler. It looks like he colored this using magic marker, and there's a rich, vivid quality to each page that makes this incredibly beautiful to study and appreciate.
Butt Gusters takes a different approach: black and white gag strips, mixing funny animal style as well as a highly cartoony but more naturalistic style. Uehlein is all over the map here. There's a funny autobio strip about giving up comics as a teen, a political strip about the absurd anti-trans "bathroom bills", and also lots of dark humor as well. There are inside jokes about comics (the "bad duck artist" gag was a good one), jokes about comedy (the stand-up for the elderly riffs on exactly what you would expect, but Uehlein still makes it funny), pop culture rants, joke mashups involving Caesar and pro wrestling, and plenty of visual jokes and puns. Every gag was so different that there wasn't much of a sense of rhythm, as it felt like Uehlein was throwing everything he could think of at the wall to see what would stick. Uehlein and DW teamed up KJC #3, their continuing collaboration comic. It's a nice match of DW's highly immersive use of patterns, collage and figures in a non-narrative manner with Uehlein's recognizable figure work, gags and psychedelia. They really went all-out in this issue, with everything in full color and some of the pages being done on transparencies, which was interesting on its own as well as when interacting with the art on the pages on either side of it. DW also engages in some dada narratives using his simplified figures, incorporating found text in the pieces to create a strange rhythm. This was by far the best of their collaborations: richer, more complex and more beautiful than the other issues. Again, Uelein seems to be on the verge of figuring out exactly what he wants to do, and I'm eager to follow whatever decision he makes.