Thursday, August 2, 2012

Taking a Voyage with Rio Aubry Taylor

There's no question that Rio Aubry Taylor is the trippiest of the CCS cartoonists, and his most recent work certainly proves it. It's not so much that he's intentionally going for psychedelia in his art, but rather that comics for him serve as a sort of healing and creative ritual. The simple act of drawing serves as a magical and therapeutic act, and not only for himself but for others as well. That's the point of his brief mini Werefore Teach Comics?, which is a love letter to his teachers at CCS. In thanking comics enthusiasts like Alec Longstreth for his role in his education, he refers to him as a wizard who gave him a magic wand in the form of a pencil. For Taylor, this is only a metaphor in the thinnest of senses, because drawing for him boosts imagination, improves communication and provides an antidote to attention deficit-disorder. Taylor's total immersion in drawing not only as a vocation but as a total way of life reminds me a bit of Theo Ellsworth's approach, though Taylor doesn't have the same degree of control over his line at this point.

There's no question Taylor's dedication or productivity, however. His "abstract comics" zine, Tabe, was collected in an attractive package after ten issues. Each issue is brief--essentially two sheets of 8.5" x 11" paper--but is intriguing. Some issues are purely visual, drifting to Aztec imagery, shadowy beasts or shape-changing robots that also look a bit like Aztecs. A couple of issues are folded in such a way as to make the reader unfold and transform them into comics-delivery systems. Some issues rely more on text, like his thoughts on Carlos Castaneda and his influence on him or an "interview" wherein Taylor talks about wanting his comics to help others remain in the present (a goal of many cognitive behavioral therapy systems, interestingly enough). Other comics focus on the ways he thinks about the ways in which he perceives darkness within himself and how it impacts others, and how he hopes to deal with it. Other issues are invocations of love. Every issue is at least interesting to look at, as his imagination and line is totally unfettered without the standard structure of a comics page. Indeed, his art is much more fluid on these pages than in his more typical narratives, which are still a bit stiff.

Taylor combats that stiffness in the pages of his one-man anthology, Jetty, by writing stories that defy normal narrative conventions. In "King", for example, a child is taken from a car crash by giant bug-like aliens and winds up dominating them with the expected emotional maturity of a three-year-old. "Outer Space" and "Reincarnated Solvent Abuse" both use white on black images of squid-like creature in space. The wordless first story seems to be an imagination piece that posits that the connections we see between stars are in fact sentient creature. The latter story is a retelling of the story of Moses, except that instead of a burning bush, Yahweh happens to be a bug-eyed space creature. The second issue starts with a cyberpunk story with a character who looks not unlike Uncle Duke from Doonesbury trying to gain a piece of crucial knowledge by entering cyberspace, only to fall prey to a sentient virus and fall prey to the "dark internet". The latter story is about a Taylor stand-in who gets in a car accident with his sister, with both having their souls plucked by the Grim Reaper. Both of these stories are as over-the-top as they sound but both utterly heartfelt, with no happy ending in either case. The protagonists are laid low with no warning and no opportunity to even say goodbye. The first story is slickly illustrated while the latter is quite crude, with the stiffest character work in the batch. Taylor explains in the issue's notes that these stories were a way of purging something within him, another indication that art clearly acts as a kind of therapy for him. That's quite apparent in the last story of #1, "I Left You A Note", which sees the main character slowly disappear, reappear and then say "it's for good this time" before disappearing again. This is obviously about suicide, and is Taylor's way of exploring what it means to not exist. Taylor is very much the working definition of an artist who's in the process of discovering his own voice. These short works aren't false starts, but rather stepping stones for an artist who has the potential to do some very exciting work.

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