Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Thirty Days of CCS #19: Nomi Kane & Donna Almendrala

Donna Almendrala & Nomi Kane submitted their most recent work together, which makes sense since they are both staff artists at Schulz Studios. Yep, they get to work with the Peanuts properties as they are currently still being published.

Kane came into CCS with an incredibly beautiful, fine line and a hard-won skill as both illustrator and cartoonist. What I think CCS did for her was enhance her narrative skills, as it’s clear that her ability as a draftsman is even more refined now than when she was in school. If Kane has a weakness as a storyteller, it’s a lack of subtlety. Things are spelled out very clearly, all of the time. That’s even true in some of her minicomics that range from the very silly to the political. The Alt-Left, for instance, takes the absurdity of that very concept and spells out its joke (essentially, oh no! The Alt-Left will destroy the country with health care for all!) on page after beautifully drawn page.  Shut Up, Donnie! uses quotes from the president with silly pictures to go along with them, which R.Sikoryak did to a more absurd extent and Warren Craghead continues to do in a far more grotesque manner. The result here is more silly than satirical.

On the other hand, Artsy Fartsies and I Don’t Want To Know How This Happened make great use of her playful style. The former is exactly what it sounds like: hilariously cartoony drawings of people farting with pithy descriptions, and the latter is Kane imagining new crossbreeds of dogs. The former comic works because it is designed to be funny, not disgusting. The latter works because of Kane’s incredible skill in drawing dogs, especially mashing up breeds in funny ways with amusing new names. The “Dachsador” (Labrador + Dachsund) was especially cute in a simple way, while Kane really went to town in drawing the Chihuapei (Chijuahua + Sha Pei), with all of the folds adding to the cuteness of the tiny dog. Anyone who loves dogs will enjoy this mini.

Almandrala, unlike Kane’s vivid use of color, sticks to pen and ink. Pick Your Poison is an Inktober challenge, where an artist receives a prompt to work from every day and tries to link each up in a way that makes some degree of narrative sense. Almandrala seems to enjoy drawing monkeys (based on her past work), and so it’s no surprise that a monkey should be the star of this densely inky of a monkey tossing pies and tomatoes at his friend, a one-horned demon. It’s really just an excuse for her to draw fun things, like giant spiders and space suits. Birbwatching takes the internet meme and squeezes it til the point of asphyxiation in search of laughs. Essentially a slang name for any kind of cute or odd bird on the internet, Almandrala mixes her skill as a draftsman with the tendencies of a stand-up comedian. Captions like “Heading to Birbcon”, with a bird carrying a pile of sticks and in flight, are an example of the amusing but not explicitly funny. On the other hand, a bird scratching its beak in the ground with the caption “Calling Ubirb” made me laugh out loud. Almendrala picked on a number of hipster or young people’s activities and used “birb” somewhere in there to poke fun at them, but it was also clear that she was poking fun at herself as well.

The Wanderer’s Guide To The Wilds is another illustration zine, this time taking creatures encountered as part of Jason Lutes’ own fantasy role playing game. Without the pressure that a drawing challenge presented, Almendrala clearly took her time with these drawings, and the result was beautiful. By using RPG style descriptions (example: “Hostile, Large, Group”), the reader gets a sense of what the encounter with each creature must have been like. Creatures like the Heavily-Armored Ravens are perfectly conceived and illustrated, with just the right amount of minimalist background. My favorite were the Miklos (“Clamfolk, At War, Lawful, Medium”), fantastic drawing of a creature that’s both vaguely cute and definitely strange, which I think sums up much of Almendrala’s work.

Lone Rock Falls is an anthology featuring both cartoonists as well as Kat Efird, with each doing their own chapter that takes place in the same town at around the same time. Kane’s piece is one of her best to date. The usual strongly-developed character design is there, but she uses odd angles at times to vary the way the characters interact with each other in space. In this cowboy story from an indeterminate era, the protagonist is a pigtailed young woman who has a few tricks up her sleeve. With a for page grid maximizing the sheer size of her characters, we soon learn that she’s in town to be an apprentice to the greatest magical mastermind around. Along the way, she fixes her horse’s hoof, pacifies a group of bounty hunters who are after her, guns in hand, and charms the local barmaid. It’s the queer western magic show story I didn’t know I needed, as Kane twists any number of clichés into a satisfying, funny narrative.

Almendrala’s story once again involves a monkey and sorcery, this time as a monkey revenant digs its way out of a grave and crosses a desert for some unseen act of vengeance. Its story is being narrated by an owl, who first sees the monkey bury her child, and then set off on her quest. The owl can’t stop asking questions both occasionally profound but mostly banal, finally stopping when she reaches what she believes may be her own clutch of eggs. She leaves the fearsome warrior to her quest, concluding, “Vengeance is tiring”. Almendrala’s line is scratchy and relies blacks being heavily spotted as well as huge swaths of negative space in the form of the desert. She also turns any number of clichés on their heads in this surprisingly cute story, when one considers the subject matter.

Efird is not a CCS grad, but she certainly fit right in with this take on vampires and gothic romances set in that same old west town. Half of the story is a shaggy dog story as we await what possibly could be the source of the scratching in a widowed woman’s old house, and the other half goes down that roller coaster into a hilarious rush of a monster-hunting story. Her style has some of Almendrala’s scratchy tendencies combined with the detail that Kane uses in her faces. Overall, this is a nicely cohesive anthology that flatters the talents of each of its creators. 

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