Monday, July 11, 2011

Two Minis From Emi Gennis

Emi Gennis, a student currently at the Savannah College of Art & Design, has been making minicomics that cover a lot of interesting ground. Her latest comics, Spaz! #4 and The Collyer Brothers, span autobio, gag work, rants, stories about unusual deaths and advice on how to be a wayward teenager. Gennis is a student at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) and has begun to find her own voice as a cartoonist. With her Julia Wertz by way of Jim Davis style of art, Gennis' line is cartoony but sturdy, clearly telling a story and cleverly emphasizing her figures. There's a beautiful precision to her figures' Muppet-like eyes, her hatching and the way she spots blacks. That sturdy foundation allows her to go silly or serious at the drop of a hat, even while using the same style of art.

In Spaz #4, Gennis begins with an embarrassing anecdote called "Squat", detailing her difficulties in China in attempting to use a squat toilet in a public place. Gennis' even-handed but amusing account of this ordeal is cringe-inducing but ends with a great gag. Her "vent strips", "Shit I Worry About", are a combination of funny, poignant and weird, as her depictions of doing things such as falling into sinkholes and accidentally cutting off her drawing hand are genuinely funny. Just as funny is "Shit I Don't Worry About But Probably Should...", including the recurring gag surrounding drinking too much alcohol. In the same vein, "There Are Just Some Places I Don't Want To See Hot Guys" sells its premise with images of Gennis on an examination table at a hospital, as a hot guy is "very seriously pondering my vagina". Gennis draws herself with bug eyes in all of her strips, but her eyes get extra wide here, amusingly representing her mortification.

Gennis rants about obsessing over the use of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer isn't especially substantive, but it's still funny, thanks to her drawings of bacteria and white blood cells duking it out and a hilarious drawing of herself as a child, eating dirt. This best story in the book is her "Guide To Being A Teenager", a step-by-step method on how to sneak out of the house that includes going downstairs on all fours, getting picked up a block away from her house, and making Ramen noodles and bagging them before coming home as part of a cover story. Her character work is lively and expressive here (which is a contrast to the more generally static nature of her images), capturing realistic body language in a cartoony manner.

Something that sets Gennis apart from other primarily autobio artists is her running series of strips taken from the Wikipedia list of unusual deaths. What's interesting about them is that Gennis doesn't play them for laughs (like the Darwin Awards or similar death-as-gag institutions). Indeed, her account of Kurt Godel's paranoia and subsequent death due to starvation when his wife fell ill was heartbreaking. Her use of a more realistic style in these strips is probably their most problematic aspect, as she isn't always up to the task of incorporating such drawings while still crafting a fluid story. Still, there several haunting images in the Godel story, as well as in her separate mini The Collyer Brothers. The latter is about two brothers in early 20th Harlem who grow increasingly paranoid and reclusive living in a brownstone, until that paranoia winds up doing them both in. The slightly more cartoony figure work suits the story well, even as it spirals into describing the brothers' ultimately deranged but pathetic ultimate fates. This was Gennis' longest such story, and while it lacks some of the snap and polish of her autobio work, it ultimately proves to be a step forward.

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