Wednesday, August 1, 2012

More From CCS: Jeremiah Piersol and Jeff Lok

One thing I've noticed about Jeremiah Piersol's work is that he likes to work big. I'm not sure if that's the influence of Gilbert Hernandez and the original format of Love & Rockets or something he stumbled on organically, but there's no question that he likes to have his figures fill up a big page. What's interesting is that the single work that seems to have had the biggest impact on Piersol is not Palomar or Poison River, but rather Love & Rockets X. Much like that tense story without a definitive resolution, Piersol explores issues related to race, class and gender and how tensions can develop along those lines. His new comics, Tableaux #1 & #2, aren't traditional narratives in the sense of following characters over time or using a panel grid. Instead, each page contains a single image that is meant to be juxtaposed to the image on the page facing it as well as all of the illustrations in the book.

Piersol stated that these drawings "contain cultural reflective snapshots of 'scenes' relating to disparity and the human condition". It's not always a polemic, but rather aims to have an unflinching take on the world. There are drawings of extreme wealth and extreme deprivation. There are also drawings of diverse families, confused children, angry protestors, steely taggers, elegant mothers, expectant and joyous mothers, along with scenes of desperate people trying to satisfy their most depraved desires. Piersol also weaves in "hybrid" drawings, in which a mash-up of several people is done to create a single jigsaw image. Despite how jarring these images are, there's something about them that allows the eye to rest, because these are still images that feel like looking at a sort of distorted stained glass in a church. Piersol's regular illustrations tend to range from the extremes of human existence (being present at a volcano erupting, surrounding a loved one as she's wheezing out her death rattle, seeing a nude stripper at work) to the most mundane of moments. The second issue ups the ante by going more extreme, depicting images of cadavers, concentration camps, murders and airplanes exploding while at the same time drawing cheerful babies, pop stars and actresses winning awards. It's as though Piersol is saying that aside from the ways in which people find themselves separating themselves from others, the only real juxtaposition to be made is alive or dead. It's an interesting project, made all the more tantalizing by only labeling the images with an index at the end of the book. I'll be curious to see how long he continues to do this, and how it will affect his work when he returns to more standard narratives.

Jeff Lok is developing his chops as a truly demented gag cartoonist. His desert island/baby cannibalism jokes in his comic Gag Rag were both disgusting and hilarious, downplaying the horrible nature of the subject matter by sticking closely to the structure of the gag. His new mini, Oh Babies!, moves his baby jokes into a bizarre Fight Club territory. Revealing what really happens in a maternity ward when the adults are away, his misshapen and slightly grotesque newborns get into fistfights and death matches, complete with chairs thrown and knives drawn. The comic takes a turn when a comically oversized baby with a nasty temperament appears in the incubator, leading to a bizarre series of events involving the babies using welding equipment to make a specialized shiv to jam in the huge baby's vulnerable fontanelle, the big baby damaging himself by accident, and a surgery scene where the babies-as-doctors need the supplies that make up a baby. While I love Lok's character work, there are some odd bits of white space in a lot of his panels that throw his images off-kilter. Some of those are intentional, but there are others that feel a bit odd in terms of composition and broke me out of a reading rhythm. I think that's the price paid for the delightful spontaneity of his character design, the looseness of which is integral to establishing the humor of the comic. I hope Lok continues to keep himself open to his strangest ideas even as he tightens things up in terms of format.

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