Friday, December 15, 2017

Thirty Days of CCS #15: Rio Aubry Taylor, Melissa Mendes & Michelle Ollie

Jetty # 5-9, by Rio Aubry Taylor. Taylor’s transfuturist sci-fi fantasy epic continues in short bursts, but by issue #9 it seems like Taylor is almost ready to move on from this particular storyline. Though this comic is science fiction, it’s also quite obviously intensely personal. The general plotline, that it’s the future, the sun has disappeared, and a girl named Mina is trying to escape capture thanks to some friendly monks who have vowed to protect her, is straightforward enough. It’s an a to b to c story, going from place to place and trying to find safety. At the same time, there are a number of other ancillary characters whizzing around, sometimes interacting with the main plot and sometimes off on their own. This is a story about transformation and loss, and how the two are navigated. It’s about demons and personal demons; one character is a recovering alcoholic who picks up a stray bottle of whiskey, and his self-loathing as a result allows a thousand-eyed demon to track them. It’s transfuturist with regard to trans issues, to be sure, but it also meditates upon the predatory future of capitalism that is far more efficient in eliminating those that don’t contribute to the bottom line. Issue six features a righteous barbarian witch who helps Mina by first clubbing the demon and then casting it into hell. Meanwhile, Taylor’s abstract comics background is used in the service of the narrative, as background characters continue to melt, transform and face incredible pressures.

Issue 7 features a cat creature named Leel’ Riot (a quasi-anagram of Taylor’s name) and zir friend Fill, the constantly and painfully transforming cyborg receiving an epiphany about the location of a missing friend, and Mina’s group gets some info from the witch. The eighth issue is the best of the group, starting with a hilarious flashback to giant underground worms (who seemed to be named after the alter egos of three of the original X-Men) who accidentally unleashed a horrific evil on the world. Taylor gets into some real eschatological stuff here, with demons feeding on pain and Mina’s anger and heretofore unknown powers playing a big part in everything. The sequence with the worms is a compact marvel of great cartooning and funny writing, as the melodramatic worms seem ridiculous until horrible things to start to happen. On top of all this, they are being observed by a sort of techno-Hindu deity up above. The very brief ninth issue is a big stop sign, as Taylor reflects upon zir nature as a sorcerer/cartoonist, conjuring up zir own worlds and creating zir own descendants. Dragging the story through abstract muck must be an incredible amount of labor on an issue to issue basis, and the story might be better served finished all at once. There’s no question that Taylor is creating a stirring, whimsical, queer, frightening and heroic narrative; it just simply needs to breathe a little.

The Weight, #1-2, by Melissa Mendes. I’ve read this in dribs and drabs for a while now, and I look forward to the collection of the original minicomics. That said, Mendes’ sense of design and willingness to delve into behind-the-scenes material makes each mini a valuable read on its own. Mendes’ comics have always been about families, but this is the first time she’s gone deep and to some dark places with a family that is not happy and supportive. Indeed, Edie (the latest in a series of characters who  gender is vague according to appearances, favoring the aesthetic and lifestyle of a tomboy) has an abusive father who took her mother away from her own parents. What makes it worse is that he seemed to have done it out of spite as much as anything else. As portrayed in the first two issues, her father Ray is a ball of resentment and cruelty, hating himself almost as much as he hates everything else in the world.

Her mom, Marian, is helpless against his rage and determined will. The first issue depicts Edie’s birth and Ray’s subsequent revenge on Marian’s family (especially her father) by taking away their daughter from them. The second issue is Edie at about age six or so, a portrait of both extreme toughness and tender empathy. When some local boys trap a rabbit in a snare, Edie takes it away from them, daring them to stop her, as she gives the coney a proper burial. Mendes truly stepped up what was already one of her greatest skills as a cartoonist, which is her use of gesture. With just a few facial expressions and with her body language, Mendes gets across the ways in which she is similar to each of her parents. The fact that none of the boys in this story would dare step to her speaks volumes as to what happened the last time they might have tried to do such a thing. Yet she clearly is nurturing, loving and kind. Seeing her tenderly comfort her mother after another beating at the hands of her father quickly established the lengths to which she would go to help her mother, as well as her rage against her father. It’s a remarkable exploration of some dark territory for Mendes, but she nailed the emotional content of the story not because she’s used to writing highly dysfunctional families, but because the way she’s portrayed loving families comes through so brightly with regard to Edie and her mother. I am eager to read the whole thing, as Mendes continues to become one of the best cartoonists with regard to portraying small but crucial moments.

From The Desk Of The President, by Michelle Ollie. This is the annual CCS pitch comic, and what was interesting is that rather than have a guest or an alumnus make it, the President of CCS, Michelle Ollie, took it upon herself to do so. While not generally a practicing artist, Ollie reveals in this comic a lifelong love of the form. In doing so, she subtly gets across the CCS message of both Applied Cartooning (using your skills in a career that’s not necessarily publishing typical graphic novels) and also the expressive power of comics that anyone can have access to. In the story, she discussed her difficulty reading growing up and going to a rigidly-run Catholic school. It wasn’t until her father noticed that Ollie could read the words in comics just fine that he realized that there was a new avenue to pursue here. Soon, Ollie was not only reading comics, but also writing & drawing her own material. With the comic in a landscape format, Ollie juxtaposed her own childhood drawings of Snoopy in black with blue-line Charles Schulz originals underneath. Comics, she suggests, are simply another means of self-expression. That combination of word and image has a transformative effect on many, including children and veterans returning from war. For those struggling to put things into words alone, the alchemy of words and pictures together unlocks something in the brain, especially when one gives oneself permission to do “bad” drawings. In other words, to simply enjoy the experience of putting pen to paper without worrying what others might think about it. Ollie’s own line is charming and expressive; it more than does the job, especially since she clearly thought out the composition of her comic.

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