Wednesday, June 28, 2017

More Minis From CAKE: N.Garcia, L.Knetzger, S.McMahan

Here are a few more minis from CAKE:

Bug Boys #14, by Laura Knetzger. Knetzger was on my "Place As Character" panel, and I chose her specifically because of the way the forest has taken on an ever-expanding role in this gentle YA series about two bug friends who are slowly finding their way in the world. This issue is a perfect example of the way that Knetzger invites her audience to explore a new space, feeling the rush of excitement and mystery that this new environment has to offer. While the Bug Boys adventures are always fun, the series really is a kind of philosophical diary for Knetzger about identity and growth. This issue starts with the newly-crowned Queen Bee visiting the Bug Boys' village; she was the new queen in part because of the bravery of friends Stag-B and Rhino-B. The issue begins with a simple question of what's in a name, as she's called either the Queen by outsiders or Mother by those in her hive, but had no name for friends.

Apropos of the theme of exploring a new environment, the bee and the bugs take a spill from the top of a raspberry bush and wind up in its root system. Exploring the tunnels together, they happen upon a central chamber that has a giant gem with roots coming out of it. The Queen suggests that maybe it's the soul of the bush, which leads to a discussion about whether plants have souls, and how the queen thinks of herself as the soul of her hive. That's not just in the case of her own individual agency having precedence over everything, but rather imagining her agency as part of the entire hive's needs, wants and dreams. When they emerge from the tunnels (unscathed; there is rarely real danger in this series, and when it happens, it's dramatic because of its typically gentle tone), one of the boys says, "Goodbye, Soul!", and there's a beautiful sequence where the Queen is taken aback in one panel, then realizes the profundity of this statement and is filled with love. This sequence worked in part because Knetzger is not only increasingly confident in her line, but she's also increasingly elegant as well. The Queen is just a lovely figure to look at: graceful, poised and confident. Knetzger's cartoony but naturalistic line, paired with zip-a-tone to give the world depth and texture, allows the reader to easily interact with the characters but also enjoy the majesty of the environment.

Malarkey #2, by November Garcia. Garcia is my favorite new autobio cartoonist, especially given the way she's able to navigate humor and poignant moments with equal aplomb. Malarkey is her catch-all comic where she collects her four-panel gag strips that center around her family, her husband, comics, and life in general in the Philippines. Her mother is perhaps my favorite character, especially in the way Garcia draws her. The glasses she wears obscure her eyes, which I imagine is a deliberate distancing technique for a character that Garcia depicts as odd, abrasive, in-your-face and frequently larger than life. That distance also sets up her storytelling ability, like in a series of strips where her mom describes her childhood. She told the story of "Uncle Doctor", whom her mom hated, because he was a helicopter parent who micromanaged everything they did. Even as an older person, Garcia ably depicts her as a total free spirit, unconcerned with mores and custom in many ways. That wasn't always a good thing, as in the course of their conversation her mom told Garcia about the racial slur she and her family used to refer to her cousin by, as well as her husband on occasion!

Observing these strips carefully, Garcia does something interesting visually to add a bit of context and activity to what is essentially a two-talking heads strip. First, she changes the pose of both of her characters in each panel, carefully adjusting poses them so as to better relate body language. Garcia also adds food and drink in each panel, giving the characters something to react against and giving the reader's eye something else to look at, but it also works on a sequential basis, like when Garcia does a spit-take at the end of one panel. Garcia also loves exaggerating facial expressions in particular, with wide grins, wrinkled-up expressions of fear, and almost sad-clown type frowns. She also captures the fact that her mom is the kind of person who speaks with her hands, so her arms are flying in every other panel.

There are also various strips about drunk adventures (a wine-and-cheese festival was especially amusing) and comics. Being in the Philippines, Garcia naturally feels quite distant from the North American comics scene, so seeing her do strips about listening to podcasts where her comic is mentioned or fantasizing (positively and negatively) about what going to CAKE would be like have that element present in all of Garcia's comics: an element of pure joy & excitement about life balanced with anxiety and in particular regret for things she hasn't actually done yet. That element adds a certain tension to these strips but doesn't dominate it, as her enthusiasm for life is still the dominant element in her work, and it's the engine for her sense of humor.

Dreaming Of Johnny, by Sophie McMahan. This is a collection of reprints from McMahan's outstanding You Were Swell series as well as a few other stories I hadn't seen before, all printed beautifully on a Risograph. The colors make the original strips pop even more, like "Winner"'s beauty-pageant nightmare. McMahan explores 1950s romance comics and advertising art in her work, and the candy-colored quality of the riso's coloring adds to that sense of the grotesque as she subverts that imagery. In "Please Go", she uses ornate, immersive lettering to say "Wondering when this empty feeling will leave/I hope it's not here to stay" in a posed family photo of three girls. Their eyes are blank in both shots, with what looks like tears or vitreous humor being forced from their eyes.

McMahan explores body dysmorphia through body horror, like multiple eyes on a beauty-queen type, teeth falling out and faces & bodies warping through distorted self-perception. It's also a brutal satire on societal norms and expectations creating an unobtainable image and idea of what one's self-worth should be like. "Lothario From The Black Lagoon" is perhaps my all-time favorite comic of hers, as the titular monster is depicted as a sleazy guy using tired pick-up lines like "Come here often?" and concludes by saying "Another day, another girl. You now how it goes." There's almost a sense of resignation in his own sense of emptiness and alienation, even as he takes advantage of women by saying all the right things. McMahan has a powerfully realized aesthetic that she's refined even further in this comic, one that addresses her own internalized feelings of worthlessness as well as the societal forces that shape them. Her comics are an innovative way of externalizing those feelings by subverting the very kinds of images that helped to create them.

No comments:

Post a Comment