Monday, November 18, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #18: Lena Chandhok

Lena Chandhok is one of many CCS cartoonists who are looking for a style and a voice. Her collection of mostly student work, Leftovers Are Good Luck, is filled with a number of charming comics rendered in a variety of different styles. There's the clever design conceit of the cover being a refrigerator and the top portion being the "freezer section" and the bottom portion the "fridge section", with the two sections actually cut separately. That top portion is an hourly comics challenge as well as a nicely drawn Peanuts pastiche, featuring Chandhok looking not unlike Lucy. The hourly comics capture a day in the life of a CCS student, from the interesting lectures given (like being made to watch La Jetee and 12 Monkeys) to how dinner plans can change on a time because of heavy snow. She packs a surprising amount of detail into what are obviously hurried comics.

The rest of the stories range between fantasy to autobio to visual experiments. I especially enjoyed "Robot Baby", a funny and touching story about a couple who give birth to a robot and all of the weird complications that ensue. When Chandhok uses a fantasy trope, it's always in service of a greater metaphor, and that was certainly the case in that story. "Fear" and "A Week of Ups and Downs" are both autobio involving her boyfriend (the cartoonist Paul Swartz, who was entry #1 in this series) in a variety of stressful situations. "It Never Knows In San Papel" sees Chandhok use a thick, chunky line that's less effective than the thinner line weights she eventually chose. "Blue" is about a faceless woman turning invisible like so much plastic packaging in a store; I got the sense that this one was originally in color and it suffers a bit in greyscale here. In short, this is decent student work, but is fragmented in the way that early work inevitably suffers from. Still, there are a number of sparks of inspiration to be found, especially thanks to Chandhok's solid character design and wit.

One can see how all of that paid off in her most recent comic, Pony Tale. Once again, Chandhok uses fantasy tropes to explore identity issues. In this case, it's about a young woman named Callie who is half-centaur in a world where mythological creatures are quite real. Her only problem is that she looks like a normal, bipedal human; her centaur heritage is hidden. It's a clever metaphor for any number of identity issues, from race/culture to sexuality, where one's assumptions regarding another person are based solely on appearances. It's also about the hurt that results when someone trying to identify with a particular group is excluded because of some arbitrary criteria. Using a chunky, cute line and giving her pages a bit more thickness with more greyscaling and spotting blacks, Chandhok avoids bludgeoning the reader with her message by coming up with an amusing, well-designed cast of characters as Callie's circle of friends. The repeating motif of Callie staring into the mirror at various angles before leaving is a clever one, especially as it gives over to greater confidence toward the end of the comic. I'd love for Chandhok to revisit this world, perhaps from the perspective of one of the other characters.

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