Sunday, December 10, 2017

Thirty Days of CCS #10: Iona Fox & Penina Gal

Almanac 2017, by Iona Fox. So this is actually two variations on the same comic, with some overlapping material and some material unique to the volume. Both are in color. Fox noted that a final edition would be published at the end of the year. These autobio comics at once feel like a blend of influences (Carol Tyler's quirky character design, formal sensibilities and painterly qualities, Julie Doucet's embrace of the grotesque, Gabrielle Bell's whimsical sense of self and John Porcellino's embrace of nature) but also very much its own thing. This is mature work that shows Fox working with a great degree of confidence in her style, and with good reason.

Fox's comics have two built-in advantages. First, in her occupation as a farmer and mountain cabin caretaker, she simply does things that no other cartoonist talks about. Second, her sense of humor is extremely sharp, and she's able to bring humor to any situation. Fox also brings the perspective of someone with a number of intellectual interests, as her degree is in geology, she knows quite a bit about meteorology and it goes from there. Her self-caricature is one of my favorites, with a "fox curl" on top of her head and a collection of freckles, knobby knees and jumbled limbs. Her strips can range from a relationship strip about geese to a beautiful series of shots of sunsets. The strips pre and post Trump's election certainly have a different tone, as she touches both on politics and protecting those around her. There are strips about undocumented dairy workers and their struggle for improved conditions. Fox is also unabashedly frank with regard to her wants and needs with regard to both sex and companionship. There's a remarkable strip where she's betwixt and between out on a hike. She knows she's running late but also understands that moments like this that she's carving out for herself might not be available in a few years. She does it by coloring herself with the yellow-orange glow of the late afternoon and the details she provides of her form include stubble and bony hips. ,

The other edition prints some context notes for the reader, as well as printing rough sketches of strips that didn't make it to her weekly strip in a free weekly. This also has some strips from later in the year, including a hilarious one from the CAKE show where she was advertising on Tindrin order to get people to come to the show. Fox is a great example of a CCS grad who is somewhat limited with regard to the images she creates but at the same time turned those limitations into a highly expressive and personal style with top-notch storytelling. While Fox's stories about her jobs is fascinating and even informative at times, she can turn any subject into something interesting, thanks to her storytelling and narrative abilities.

Orbiting & Meow De Vivre, by Penina Gal. Gal has dabbled in humor and fantasy in her career, but Orbiting is a remarkable, warm, joyous and sensitive message from one friend to another. Told visually in red and green in the language of nature (flowers, clouds, wind, rain, waves, sky and space), it broaches the difficult topic of when a person is dealing with a lifetime of internalized exclusion. They feel they're a bother to others and don't deserve love. On top of this, the person in question is trans, making it even harder to express one's true self. In excruciating, beautiful detail, Gal talks about her friend knowing that she wanted community, but being unable to make it stick for fear of constantly feeling burdensome and unwelcome. There's a moment describing the friend's first kiss, up against a van, the person saying "I care more about art than kissing. Your art is beautiful." Throughout the imagery relates to the friend's tendency to have their head in the clouds, to overthink, to withdraw inside. There are reminders that they are integral to the earth, they are part of it, they are connected and fearless in ways they haven't even considered. Gal's command over line and color is fantastic and imaginative, with a constant tension between keeping the imagery grounded and letting it fly off into space or under water. The beauty of this comic is matched only by its generousness of spirit.

Meow De Vivre is a much sillier project, but it's also visually distinctive. Originally designed for gallery space at a hair salon, Gal actually does something original with cat cartooning. The "Singles In Your Area" page is hilarious, with profiles from "OK Catnip". There are "pawdicures", trash talk about dogs, cat selfies, cat haute couture, and a clever collage. Gal has an eye for gag humor that's never been obvious in some of her other work (with the exception of Glamera, which she did with Betsey Swardlick), but it stands out here in page after page celebrating cats as familiar creatures or as performing drag. Once again, Gal's watercolors are the main attraction, grabbing the eye without looking too garish. Being in a gallery, that use of color was obviously crucial for an audience, but it worked just as well on the page.

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