Friday, August 23, 2013

Taking Flight: The Strumpet #2

The second issue of the all-women cartoonist anthology The Strumpet sees editors Ellen Lindner & Jeremy Day reach out beyond the USA and England to include cartoonists from all over the world. The result is another strong issue with a few dead spots here and there. Fitting for a comic whose contributors come from a variety of countries, this issue's theme is travel. That's a time-honored comics anthology theme, but there are definitely some interesting wrinkles in this book. For one thing, The Strumpet has creators with a widely diverging range of ages and even experience. Many of the cartoonists published comics when they were younger, stopped for many years to raise children, and have now gotten back into it. Kickstarter played a major role in getting this book published, and the editors went all-out in providing a dense reading experience at 92 pages, one that still flows reasonably well.

Despite its international cast, at its heart, The Strumpet still feels very British. That's due to its origins in its predecessor, Whores of MENSA. Indeed, eleven of the twenty-two artists in this issue are either from or currently live in Britain. That gave Lindner & Day an easy way to design the issue's story order, as they tended to alternate a UK creator with an artist from another country. The stories range from slice-of-life to flights of fancy and points in-between. For example, Myfanwy Tristram kicks off the issue with a career woman and mother struggling to get her daughter dressed and the garbage out because she's running late for her job...which turns out to be as an astronaut! It's a cute story where Tristram drops all sorts of  hints before the final reveal, and I especially love the plain, blocky character design choices she uses. Robin Ha's "Trenitalia" is a more typical traveler-in-a-foreign land sort of story, one that celebrates what starts off as a traumatic experience on a train in Italy and ends in a bit of romance. Once again, character design is a key to the story's success, as her own self-caricature goes from serene contemplation to exploding in horror and back again, in the face of a cartoonishly tyrannical train conductor. Rachael Ball's densely-penciled "Shadows" does a few interesting things. The text itself has certain storytelling properties, as words are stacked atop each other to mimic things like the flow of water downward. This fantasy story has the feel of a fairy tale in terms of its character design and execution, and there are moments of real dread in it, thanks to the way she draws a gang of menacing crows.

Lindner's own story of being an extra in a film that starred Bill Murray was a particular delight. Her autobio stuff always has a particularly bouncy feel to it, and I've noticed that her line has become a bit thinner and more cartoony. Her pages are still pretty dense thanks to the way she packs in and varies shading, but they're even more breezy and fun to look at than before. Patrice Aggs' long story about a couple quarreling is light on subtlety (the guy is a jackass from the beginning) and drags a bit as a result, but her character drawings are sketchy and lovely. Nicola Streeten's bracing story about an abortion clinic in Thailand is visually stunning, using blotchy water color effects in black and white. The lack of respect she was shown was discouraging, and the fact that so many groups and members of government are conspiring to limit access to legal and safe abortions as a choice makes this story all the more relevant. Dutch-born artist Maartje Schalkx is one of my favorite Strumpet discoveries, as her densely-shadowed pencils are a treat to look at; her story her is a simple reminiscence of her great-grandfather's bike shop.

Karrie Fransman is one of the more clever cartoonists in terms of solving design problems, and her strip that tales her from Brussels to Moscow for comics-related events alternates a line of simply-rendered, similar images with a line of text and then repeats the rest of the way. It's like looking at cave art. Julia Scheele's strip is also formally interesting, as four panels of two women sitting in a bus and having conversation are plastered across a two-page spread of the city itself. The anthology drags a bit with Badaude's comic about a visit to a studio; it's strangled by word balloons, confusingly laid out and feels too long. Tanya Meditzky's piece is moody and interesting to look at, but her use of cursive script for lettering for one of her characters makes it difficult to read.

That's why the transition to comics by Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg and Juhyun Choi were so welcome. Eisenberg's open-line style (almost no blacks or shadows) gives her account of missing her old home a children's book feel, one that makes sense given the magical realist events that occur in the story. Choi's account of her uncle's life and his orchard are serene and serious, aided by a similarly still and straightforward illustration style. Emily Ryan Lerner's simple road trip story similarly uses a stripped-line, basic line, only the story is sillier is more dedicated to the simple thrills of friendship.

The anthology concludes with three radically different stories. Julia Scheele's ode to her bus line features drawings of buildings and streets in London along her route; it's a sort of thank you note to the visual feast she gets to see every day. Marguerite Dabaie's outer space story features crazy character designs and lots of gags centering around glam, while Kat Roberts' fantasy story about what happens to the ashes of the father of two adult children is an absolute delight. Finally, Kripa Joshi's back cover featuring her zaftig character Miss Moti is another visual joy, thanks partly to the use of color.

Throw in the chummy familiarity of the editorial and a couple of pages of comics reviews, and you have an anthology that has the sensibility of an old-fashioned zine while featuring a lot of high-quality work. Not everything here is first-rank material, but almost everything ranges from solid to very good, with the stories by Lindner and Fransman emerging as my favorites. The Strumpet is notable because many of these artists don't have other regular printing outlets, and this anthology is giving them wider and more regular exposure. The anthology really stands out as a result of Lindner and Day taking risks with their choices, and I like that the series will have some regulars appearing in every issue along with new and old talent popping up here and there..

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