Saturday, November 2, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #2: Sophie Goldstein

Sophie Goldstein is an artist who immediately hit her stride after graduating from CCS. While her stories have science fiction and fantasy trappings, they serve as a way of exploring her real interests: gender, relationships, the environment and motherhood. Goldstein varies her style from project to project, though her line is always clear. She also tends to make use of varying types of grids, but her comics are always tightly structured, even when she uses a lot of decorative elements.

House of Women has an elaborate cover with two separate cutaways that cleverly introduce the reader to the protagonist, the supporting cast and their environment -- in that order. It's the story of four colonizers from "The Empire" who have come to a primitive world to teach its inhabitants their language, do experiments and research. Goldstein cleverly collapses state and religion into a single entity, as the four women on the team frequently say things like "Empire is family". Goldstein leans a little on the Garden of Eden parable here, but she leaves it vague as to exactly who is the serpent. Many of Goldstein's characters tend to be cogs in a machine, some of whom are questioning their role but cogs nonetheless. This leads to the overall tone of moral ambiguity for some of the characters, even as others are sure of themselves. The four women all fill archetypical roles, like the Nurturer, the Wise Woman, the Innocent, and the Seductress. The ways in which their roles play out is unusual and take some unexpected twists. Jaime Hernandez seems like he was an inspiration for the line weight and character design in this comic, though the way Goldstein has with making alien children absolutely adorable and heartbreaking is a quality that's unique to her. The way she spots blacks leads to some breathtaking sequences and page-to-page contrasts, creating the same sense of wonder in the reader that it does for her characters.

Eleanor Davis seems to be another clear inspiration for Goldstein, and that plays out a bit more in Edna II and The Good Wife. The latter is a full-color parable about a woman who becomes a wife to a primitive man and literally gives up her arms, legs and head to him when he needs her strength. Even when she's just a torso, the woman's limbs and head (now attached to the man) guide him when he wants to have sex with her. The way the pink woman with blank eyes contrasts with the green, hulking man with blank eyes and an orange nose charges every panel with tension, even as the images become stranger and even disturbing. The images are presented without further commentary, allowing the reader to interpret them freely. I saw a mixture of ideas here: it's about power and hierarchy, to be sure, but it's clear that the wife has subverted that hierarchy while literally giving up every aspect of herself. In every real sense, the wife is now the impetus of action, drawing pleasure while having sex with herself through the medium of her husband.

Edna II is about lost love, a shattered and despoiled environment and the possibility of redemption. Again, Goldstein is deliberately vague, providing a few clues here and there. We meet a scientist working on a great project in an environment that's sealed off from the rest of the world. His trusty companion is an aging robot named Edna II. The original Edna was his lost love, with whom he apparently had a son. His project seemed to be part robot, part idol, calling forth a new kind of deity. Like in many of Goldstein's stories, there's a sense of great sadness that I felt reading it, even as it seemed the scientist neared his goal. In Goldstein's comics, bonds are broken, friendships are abandoned and betrayed and children & innocents seem to get the worst of it. This sadness is carried out with great precision and restraint, allowing the reader to draw those feelings out of the story rather than have them dumped upon them clumsily. There's no question that Goldstein is in the top tier of CCS grads.

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