Friday, July 27, 2012

CCS Comics: Denis St. John's Amelia

With the publication of the fifth and final issue of Monsters and Girls: Amelia, Denis St. John finished one of the quirkier horror stories I've ever read. The plot of the story is quite simple: a college-aged woman decides to find two artifacts that are connected to one that her deceased mother used to own. She has an ornately carved box, and she manages to track down another to a sleazy antiques dealer who used to know her mother. From there, the story is a cat-and-mouse game between the young woman (Amelia), her bizarre younger brother, the dealer and the wigged-out daughter of one of her mother's former lovers as to who can gather the objects and what their significance might be.

The plot of these comics is beside the point, however. What makes them so enjoyable is St. John's mixture of body horror, the humor of awkwardness, and sex. These comics are a love letter to many influences (including H.P. Lovecraft's fiction and David Cronenberg's films), but the biggest influence seems to be the horror comics of EC. In particular, Jack Davis seems to be a big influence here, and that can be seen in the way St. John draws his figures with slightly distorted facial features. There's also a total unpredictability in the way each of the characters acts (possibly due to the influence of the artifacts) that twists the reader around. For example, Amelia sleeps with the dealer in the first issue despite a huge age disparity and then steals his artifact (a tablet) when he's sleeping. She sees a weird pair of eyes in the dark when they're having sex (in itself a hilariously and awkwardly drawn sequence, especially when the dealer orgasms), only to discover that they belong to her younger brother, who has inexplicably transformed into looking like "a Nosferatu".

This scenario is repeated in a far more disturbing fashion in the second issue, when Sammy is revealed to be in league with the dealer and after Amelia has a dream where she's pierced by the third artifact (a dagger) and a bizarre rash grows on her stomach. When the dealer takes off his shirt and reveals a sickening protuberance growing out of him that resembles a spiky penis, he pins her down and the protuberance is met by a flowery gash growing on Amelia's stomach. In the middle of this disgusting, upsetting scene, in walks Sammy nonchalantly complaining that the eggs the dealer cooked are burned. St. John's timing here is flawless, as the humor that Sammy's presence provides doesn't lighten the situation but rather makes it much worse. The next two issues feature a rapprochement of sorts with Sammy and Amelia and the introduction of Eleanor, the aforementioned daughter of her mom's ex-lover. She's a demented sorority girl who insists on guzzling alcohol prior to meeting with Amelia and Sammy. St. John draws her as big-breasted and almost anorexic, almost resembling a Tom Neely character.

The final issue is a dizzying recapitulation of the rest of the series, as Eleanor is drawn to Amelia (at one point, they start to drunkenly dance as Eleanor starts feeling her up), the dealer comes back and Eleanor stabs Amelia after the knife is almost stolen from her. From there, things get even more unpleasant and bizarre, as Eleanor starts licking Amelia's protuberance as though she were performing cunnilingus (to the annoyance of the dealer) and the dealer explains the true nature of the objects. After escaping into the box, Amelia comes back out and is able to defeat both of her opponents, including a marvelous scene where she rips out the entire network of obscene Lovecraftian plant-like growths lurking inside of the dealer. The ending has a fitting, tragic twist, which makes sense given the nature of the power that she absorbs and her own erratic behavior throughout the comic. Amelia may be the protagonist of the story, but it's not clear that she's a hero. Indeed, she turns out to be a monster and a girl. St. John's art is claustrophobic, rubbery, funny, moody and outrageously designed. The extras in these oversized minicomics are a nice bonus, including the photos of Amelia stand-in Jess Abston (a real trouper, given the design that's drawn all over her) that turn into a full-blown fumetti at the end as well as nearly a dozen clever pin-ups by a variety of CCS artists and faculty member Steve Bissette. Hopefully, St. John is shopping this around somewhere for a deluxe treatment.

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