Monday, November 12, 2018

Minis: Eli "Hob" Bishop's Busybody

Busybody #1 is an excellent collection of Eli "Hob" Bishop's dreamy, visceral comics that almost all seem to involve body horror, body modification and/or bodily transformation. Bishop's page layout shifts and breaks on each page, running alongside other narratives. For example, "The Therapist" is a wordless, cartoony story in color about a couples therapist whose method involves mad science: putting them into a machine that combines them into a single, happy entity. Of course, when another couple with problems, the whole process goes horribly awry, until a surprise ending with a happy twist. Bishop contains the narrative to small panels that almost float along the page. "Discovery" runs along the top of these pages, and it's in stark black & white with heavy hatching. It's a shaggy dog joke of sorts about a man who falls in love with a woman but never manages to learn her name. There are no panels in this story; instead, it's an open layout that bleeds together. It's an interesting juxtaposition, as this story has a running series of narrative captions while "Therapist" has none. Both strips are funny with grim elements, and both have a strong punchline.

"Refresher" is a full color strip built on a relatively simple nine panel grid told from a first person perspective via narrative captions. It's the sort of story where the reader is kept in the dark for as long as possible as to exactly what's happening, and the moment of discovery for the reader is also the story's climax. It's about someone who lives in a remote area traveling to the city for something, and we don't learn what it is until the end. Then everything else up until that moment becomes clear. Bishop's line is extremely cartoonish here, looking more like a fantasy comic than anything else.

The centerpiece of the comic is "Shift Report", which has four different but related running narratives, stacked on top of each other on page after page. It's a black & white comic with subtle beige spot-colors that add a deliberate drabness to the proceedings. The setting is a hospital inpatient ward. The top row follows two patients, the second row follows a nurse from the time she wakes up til she's on the job, the third row doesn't even coalesce until later as a dream sequence, and the bottom row follows another nurse from the middle of his day til the end. The story is heavy on minutiae, because that's precisely what a hospital ward is all about: the small, tedious details. Bishop is deliberately stingy with personal details for each of the characters, revealing only what we see when everyone is either at work or laid up in the hospital. Tiny details do indeed emerge with regard to ambitions, relationships, errors and personal characteristics, but they are entirely mediated by the story's beats. It's a fascinating, ambitious way to capture a sort of liminal state of being and the stewards of that experience. I'll be curious to see how the narrative continues to proceed.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Youth In Decline: Lovers Only #2

The first edition of Lovers Only, published by Youth In Decline was a classic. The second issue has one brilliant story supported by two lighter, breezier stories. The brilliant story, one of the best I've read this year, was Sophia Foster-Dimino's clever "Lauren Oscar Veronica Eli Roverto Sarah Olivia Noah Lindsey Yasmin" (or LOVERS ONLY). Foster-Dimino is in the first rank of today's young cartoonists, both because of her uncanny verisimilitude with regard to dialogue and relationships as well as her formal boldness. Each page of the story features a different character mentioned by name interacting with another character. That second character becomes the focus of the next page as they interact with a new character, and so on. Foster-Dimino uses an open-page format as she builds the structure of each page around the first letter of the name of the character, writ large. (That's what eventually spells out "LOVERS ONLY").

The formal cleverness of the story supports the theme and characters. The open page format, for example, is a way of making the fluidity of the narrative and the relationships between the characters clearer. The characters and their stories bleed and loop into each other, with bits of info here and there being passed along off-panel. That's a smart move that heightens the emotional impact of each page, as the reader knows what's happened already and they then get fast-forwarded to the emotional punch of those events. The story is essentially about desire, and the ways in which each pair of characters on a page fit or don't fit together.

Yasmin loves Lauren in the first story--and the entirety of Lauren's dialogue here is "Mmph" and "Mm-hm". Lauren is a picture of self-loathing, which is heightened even more in the next section when she's with the cruel Oscar. Lauren doesn't love Yasmin, but she takes advantage of her for sex; she desires her. Oscar desires Lauren. Oscar gets a fetish fulfilled by Veronica and further passes on the poison of gossip with her. There are many different kinds of relationships shown here, some sexual and some platonic, but there's always a power imbalance of some kind. The last strip loops back around to Yasmin, having heard everything said about her, weeping on the lap of her silent friend. So many of the strips have completely silent characters, and even where there's a conversation most of the strips really are monologues. The agency flows only one way in each case, and on each page it seems like it flips from one character to the next like a line of dominoes tipping over.

Foster-Dimino's mastery of gesture and body language reveals something else. There's more than one way to hold up the upper hand in a series of power exchanges. Yasmin may have dominated the conversation on the first page of the story with Lauren, but there was no doubt that it was Lauren who held the upper hand. Similarly, Yasmin may have been distraught on the last page of the story, but she dominated the narrative in the way she was being comforted by Lindsey. The theme of this issue is "Love Triange", but Foster-Dimino turned it into a Love Tesseract.

Zacchilli's piece is about a woman who's in sort of a triangle with herself in terms of her attention. She dreams of being poisoned by her doctor but interprets it as a sex dream. Her job is to draw dogs but she's constantly thinking about who knows her best and least--and she can't figure it out, no matter how much she graphs it out. As always, Zacchilli's art looks like scrawl at first glance, but her pages have rock-solid composition, pacing and clarity.

Monir's piece is simple in concept that carries layers of deep, frustrated longing. It's about a character named Jason who attends a New Year's Eve party with a woman named Eri, who they're clearly in love with/attracted to. The party is hosted by Holly, who is attracted to Eri but is close friends with Jason. Eri and Holly wind up having sex in the same room where Jason is, and he winds up leaving the room. Interestingly, the title refers to "3 Girls On New Year's Eve", implying that Jason is really trans and hasn't come to grips with that yet. Beyond that, Monir deeply explores the ways in which being excluded from desire in a friendship is deeply wounding, especially when the objects of one's affection don't show much interest in restraining themselves. The feeling Monir gets across is a sharp and stinging one, of a betrayal of empathy. There's a visceral quality to Monir's art that cuts to the heart of the matter, amplifying those emotions and zeroing in on them as they have a somatic effect. Her story is a fitting bookend to Foster-Dimino's, as it recapitulates and focuses some of the emotion of the first story in a more concentrated form.