Monday, April 2, 2012

Mini Anthologies: Candy or Medicine, Fuzy, Holy Shit

Candy or Medicine #16, edited by Josh Blair. Blair has been putting together this entry-level anthology that takes all comers for several years now, and the results have always been decidedly (and understandably) mixed. From beginning to end, #16 is the best issue of the anthology, with every entry worthy of attention. From the clever cover by Emi Gennis to single-page drawings by Andy Nukes and Robert Dayton, Blair manages to put together a wide variety of styles and storytelling approaches. Jim Gullet's story about a bounty hunter going after a lizard man has deliberate echoes of Gary Panter, and it's told with a touch of wit to go along with its grim reality. Nate McDonough's excellent, strange character designs add a lot of energy to his story of the ways in which a very tall man and very short man conflict on the street. Finally, Harry Nordlinger's story about a kid going into a forest filled with monsters has a certain Edward Gorey quality to it in the way he lists the various sorts of monsters that he might encounter. Like the other work in this comic, that strip has a lot of energy, even if the line is a bit thinner than some of the other strips.

Holy Shit, edited by Sean Knickerbocker, Katie Moody, Dakota McFadzean, and Amelia Onorato. There have been a number of attractive anthologies from the Center for Cartoon Studies over the years, but this is one of the best. From small details like the biblical appearance of the book with Gothic lettering, gold-leaf tipped pages and a ribbon bookmark to the stories themselves, this is an anthology that holds together at every conceptual level. As one might expect, the anthology centers around religion, with four different takes on belief. McFadzean's strip is a sort of shaggy-dog story about a schlubby older guy who goes through his morning routine, down to popping a zit and beating off in the shower. The final reveal as to his true significance was funny, even if the joke felt a little easy. His attention to detail was crucial for making the strip work. Knickerbocker relates an anecdote from his childhood where he was trying to fit in with a church youth group because he was so lonely and desperately wanted friends. The sinking feeling he experienced when he realized he was around crazy people shattered any number of belief systems, especially social ones.

The best story in the collection is Katie Moody's long explication of growing up Catholic and how she decided to reject her faith. Focusing on a childhood incident that festered until it became a source of constant guilt and anxiety, she overcompensated by trying to be perfect in order to combat that guilt. When she realized that she and the church no longer shared the same values, she left...but it wasn't easy. Her cartooning is extremely sharp and innovative here, with a lot of decorative lettering and unusual visual cues. Onorato's exploration of how religions evolve out of each other (framed as a discussion between her and a "cute" Jehovah's Witness), her take on the tragedy of the Children's Crusade and the wonder felt by the Western discoverers of Easter Island reveal an artist whose work isn't as personal as Moody's or Knickerbocker's, but do reveal a sharper satirical point of view than the other artists in this book. The fact that there isn't a unified approach or point of view regarding faith (other than deep suspicion) makes this a stronger anthology.

Fuzy, edited by Mark Thisse. This is a beard-related anthology consisting of stories contributed by members of the classes of 2007 and 2008 at CCS. Despite having such a silly premise, there's a surprisingly strong range of stories to be found here. Steve Seck's excellent sense of comic timing is on full display in "The Beard's Beard's Beard", an absurd story about a famous set of Hollywood facial hair who disguises his homosexuality by being married to a female beard, only to find out that his wife is having an affair with his boyfriend, who is in fact a female beard in disguise. This is every bit as silly as it sounds, but Seck manages to imbue his story with just enough pathos to give it some narrative weight. Baldemar Byars' "My Whiskery History, 1966-1967" is an account of the artist running headlong into facial hair and cultural expectations. This very funny set of anecdotes finds the artist called a Marxist by his family in Texas, but it's also assumed that he's ready to join up with bomb-throwing protest organization SDS. His drawing is a little on the cartoony side, and it's functional without standing out in any particular way.

Sango Imai-Hall contributes something rare for the average CCS graduate: a straight-ahead, sword-and-sorcery story, albeit one whose main character is a young woman with a red beard. Aaron Cockle adds his own version of a genre story, in which an imprisoned, broccoli-bearded man is visited by a man with a beard of bees. As with most Cockle stories, he alludes to events and scenarios that remain hidden, adding a level of intrigue to a story that has an unexpected punchline. Jeff Mumm's guinea pig comics are exquisitely drawn and jammed with sight gags, while Mark Thisse's comic about a magician who disappears his own beard, only to recover it when he least expects it. It's not an especially eye-catching story, both in terms of the drawings and the story. Still, there are a lot of gems from some artists whose work I've never seen before.

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