Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #14: Penina Gal, Betsey Swardlick, Moody

Penina Gal continues to move along her teen fantasy world-building exercise, The Fire Messenger, in slow increments. Chapter 3 was an especially eventful one, as Nik and Aiden have somehow escaped from their world of people with superhuman/magical abilities and come to our Earth. They are seemingly rescued by their old keepers/testers, until firestarter Aiden resents being treated like a lab rat and escapes from the menacing Mr Zacchariah. The aesthetic of this book is part comic book, part young adult novel, and that's heightened by the simple figures and the extensive use of what looks like watercolors to create mood and texture. The series reminds me a little of the His Dark Materials trilogy in the sense that children are being used as lab rats and have powerful abilities, but the general concept is fresh and original. This comic will look especially great when it's collected at a larger size.

Gal also engaged in a bit of silliness with a couple of collaborative comics done with fellow CCS grad Betsey Swardlick. Swardlick's comics mix humor, genre imagery and pointed political commentary in a manner that's snappy and light-hearted, and her fast, sketchy style reflects the nature of her writing. Glamera #1, as one might imagine, is two artists taking the pun of its title as far as it will go and beyond. A cross between a gender-bending David Bowie and the giant turtle creature of monster-movie fame, the titular character is a friend to all children but may well kill you when you grow up. When Glamera happens upon a bar filled with unfabulous sailors, the mission becomes one of glamming it up, until a match is met with a particularly fashionable sailor. That battle ends with the sailor being turned into a disco ball and an ensuing dance party. This is a comic that is quite aware of its own ridiculousness, one that revels in its gender-bending and queer-oriented humor. With this concept, it's pretty much impossible to take seriously, and the exaggerated artwork reflects this sensibility on the part of its artists.

Also on the silly scale is Thank You Professor Thorkelson, a Monkees tribute zine. Incorporating jams between Gal and Swardlick as well as clip art, they get to the essence of why they get so obsessed with the Monkees' TV show and music: its unapologetic stupidity. There's a great page where they write "Dear x, I love your stupid face" and then draw a strip where the Monkees are performing "I'm A Believer" (one of their many insanely catchy songs). Replacing Peter Tork on keyboards with a cat is one of many inspired, bizarre approaches in this comic. Another strip about how frequently the Monkees wound up in drag was hilarious, especially when Mike Nesmith lords it over everyone else as to just how pretty he looks. I could have read many, many more pages about this subject, as the Gal-Swardlick duo's comedic chops are top notch, especially with regard to caricature, body language and character interaction. Like Glamera, this is a deceptively silly comic; it's one where the artists obviously thought for a long time just how they were going to pull off their dumb jokes.

Speaking of silly, Katie Moody (alias Miz Moody or just Moody) has a variety of good-looking and light comics to her name after graduating from CCS. The four minis reviewed here are either all larks or obviously student work, as this former Dark Horse is clearly trying to find her voice. First up is Zee Leetle Prince, an affectionate send-up of the Antoine Saint-Exupery classic by way of using the simplified symbol set of illustrator Ed Emberley. Moody tacks on an exaggerated French "accent" to the story that's a bit much after twelve straight pages, but her mastery of Emberley's style is aces and it matches up quite well to the actual story. AAAAARGH #1 is an eight-page mini-comic about Moody's frustration regarding making an eight-page mini-comic. That meta level of a story about an artist who's stuck is a hoary one at this point, but this one isn't about not having any ideas. Indeed, it's about being too ambitious while having too little time. Moody's self-caricature here is my favorite part of the comic, as she switches from naturalistic to cartoony in short order.

For Your Consideration was her version of the famous CCS application, which requires the artist to do a story involving themselves, a robot, a snowman and a piece of fruit. Moody went all-out in this story, mixing in naturalistic drawing and classic cartooning styles from Herriman and Schulz to tell a story about how the lifestyle of being an adult stuck in an adult job was no longer working for her, how she felt trapped, lost and broken. That eventually led toward crawling in the dark toward the goal of becoming an artist and regaining her childhood appreciation of what is beautiful. This is an excellent comic, one that reflects her obsessiveness with regard to design and composition. The Mouse, The Bird and the Sausage is Moody's version of the lesser-known story by the Brothers Grimm. Printed in green ink, it's an interesting looking comic that hews closely to the original narrative, which seems to be about division of labor, predestination and being grateful for one's place in a closed system. The titular characters go about their roles every day; some of their jobs are easy, while others are more difficult. All three jobs contribute to the characters staying fed and happy, but when the Bird is told by another bird that it was being taken advantage of, it naturally leads to jealousy and a shifting of roles. Disturbing the equilibrium of their arrangement leads to doom and disaster for all. Moody concentrates on the visceral and kinetic aspects of the story without dwelling too long on its moral implications, as the characters are drawn in a particularly angular manner that accents their traits.  Everything I've seen from Moody so far indicates a cartoonist still in the warm-up phase of her career. It's clear that she's as talented as any of the CCS grads in terms of her inventiveness, drawing skill and other fundamentals. Right now, she still seems to be chasing the right kind of story to truly invest her time in.

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