Friday, April 6, 2012

The Comics Of Luis Echavarria

Luis Echavarria is an artist of Colombian descent, whom I believe attended the Savannah College of Art and Design. His sign-off on his comics is "Ud Ve Lo Que Quierre Ver", which roughly translates to "You see what you want to see." Many of his minicomics relate to the twin themes of misdirection and transformation, especially in how easy it is to ignore the latter. For example, Ole' is about the end of a bullfight that takes a surprising, unsettling turn as the bull not only refuses die despite how hacked up it gets, it gets stronger--much to the horror of the crowd. Echavarria brings a visceral quality to his art, with ink blotches and heavy use of spotting blacks giving his art a gritty quality. This is one of the many stories of his that touches on the supernatural, the relationship between man and nature, and the ways in which violence can rip apart lives but also become a part of one's everyday existence.

Empanadas: It's What Sells The Most is about a man who buys a house formerly owned by the mob who finds something terrible and wonderful behind the walls. The matter-of-fact and entirely sensible way he deals with what he finds makes sense, given the nature of mob dealing in South America. Solid Gold is a two-sided flip book bound in the center about a man who thinks he finds gold, but is fooled by his own greed. Like many of his comics, they are interesting art objects in their own right and catch one's eye. Trip's Over is not so much about violence but about the grim reality of death for the poor, as a family tries to transport their dead mother in a box tied to the top of their car realizes something horrible has happened in transit. This one's a folding comic bound to pieces of cardboard, mimicking the experience of the box tied to the top of the car in a grim but amusing manner.

Indeed, no matter how grisly things get, Echavarria manages to keep tongue in cheek. Bizarre Love Triangle involves an animal trainer, his beloved tiger, and a model that the man falls for. With the tiger growing enraged at flash photography, it's only a matter of time before the worst happens, but not before Echavarria throws some pointed barbs at the model industry. Las Chuchas throws barbs at both science and fanatics in this story of the discovery of a bizarre rodent in the wild. Echavarrias's pages tend to be cluttered, but he makes that clutter work thanks to the way he designs his pages and panels. He wants the reader to be suffused in this messy, uncomfortable world, but he's willing to lead them through it in a way that makes sense.

Getting back to this idea of transformation, El Diablo sees Echavarria try a clearer and more direct style as the Devil tries to kidnap a potential son and teach him his ways. More to the point, he's trying to become relevant again--the Devil is now a joke, and even the Devil-masked little boy isn't frightened by him for a second. Guino Danino ("harmful blink", roughly) is about a young man whose merest gaze breaks things, and the doctor who quickly assesses and cures him. The doctor has a medical practice complete with a receptionist, but he dresses as a shaman and uses a relic for the man's cure as soon as he's gone through his memories via hypnosis. One thing that I like about these comics is that Echavarria takes a clever idea, runs through it quickly and doesn't try to pad it out.

My favorite of Echavarria's comics is also his most elaborate and most autobiographical: Nothing Is Private. The cover flap depicts a pair of scissors going into a lock, and the reader must pull it out of the lock to open up the comic. It's a comic about the ways in which our bodies go on display with our families as we grow up in frequently unwelcome ways. The story depicts Luis and his younger brother Juan (ages 11 and 5, respectively) as constantly being interrupted and embarrassed by their sister who "accidentally" barges in to get something when they were showering together. A plan to get even with her backfires in the worst way possible when they thought they were going to walk in on their sister and instead walk in on their grandmother. The look of sheer horror on Luis's face when he realizes their mistake but his younger brother doesn't (and is laughing hysterically) jumps off of the page through Luis' eyes. That shared intimacy with his brother ended when Luis started to go through puberty and "grow hair on his pipi"--and tell everyone they knew. Echavarria ends the book with a punchline that gets him a little bit of schadenfreude regarding his brother.

Echavarria is an interesting young artist who is going about his development in a way that makes sense. He's doing it in public with short stories that develop one good idea into a satisfying end. He's varied his style from expressionistic to naturalistic, depending on the setting (Nothing Is Private was done in a highly naturalistic style) and genre. His storytelling is sophisticated but still raw in places, and it's interesting to see him refine his chops as he figures out what kind of stories he wants to tell. He's got the skills of an illustrator but the eye of a cartoonist, and certainly knows when to rein in the visual pyrotechnics. It seems obvious that he's ready to do a long-form work, and I'll be curious to see how that might take shape.

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