Monday, November 25, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #25: Max Mose, Rio Aubry Taylor, Casey Bohn, Bill Bedard

Max Mose's recent comic The Grove is another of his sci-fi/horror commentaries on capitalism and culture at large. With a beautiful and disturbing silkscreened cover, this full-color piece (printed on a risograph, perhaps?) is one of his most striking works. Working in similar waters as Matthew Thurber, the story concerns a rapacious city literally draining the inspiration out of its artists for the benefit of its corporate classes, overseen by a sort of magical deity of capitalism. When one of the city's citizens rebels, he's shot out of a cannon into the nearby forest. Of course, when he messes with the "unnatural" order of things, a reprisal is ordered and the book's final conflict occurs. Mose leavens this critique with absurd imagery, jokes, self-aware critiques of his critiques and a general sense of awareness that the state of nature is no more welcoming or just than humanity's need to construct and eventually exploit its resources and then each other. Mose's pencils have become much sharper and cleaner while still retaining the grotesque and frequently bug-eyed quality that makes his pages pop. His use of color has been a big boost in getting him to make his pages cleaner and simpler, but he also seems to have found just the right groove and sense of confidence in letting go of clutter and over-rendering. That new simplicity only makes the images we do see all the more powerful, weird and funny.

Bill "Billage" Bedard is another CCS cartoonist whose work I only saw for the first time at SPX. Coffee Hunters represents the silly, sketchy side of the artist. With cartoony characters and stick figure warriors that are heavy on gesture and body language in telling their story, this mythological spoof features a tribe hunting for wild coffee. Rife with coffee and bean puns, this scratchy little mini is packed with eye pops and other visual jokes as well. It's dopey and good-natured, understanding that this is a bit of entertaining fluff that's nonetheless prepared with care and affection. On the other hand, his full adaptation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic lyrical poem The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner represents the serious, delicate side of the artist. Bedard truly engages the poem, using a thin line but a lot of grey-scale shading to add a bit of depth. Still, the whole story conveys the ethereal, monstrous, fantastic and spiritual aspects of the poem, with the Mariner's spectacles giving him a further sense of removal from his crew and the reader as well. The nightmarish qualities of the poem translate quite well to comics, with a number of lines leaving Bedard plenty of room for visual interpretation regarding violence, spirits and storms. In other, more still scenes, Bedard captures that deathly tranquility as well, his illustrations a fine counter-point to Taylor's rich and evocative language. Bedard's natural sketchy, grungy style eventually takes over the story, which is all for the better for this comic, as it's not a neat or comforting tale.

Rio Aubry Taylor's first issue of the moving and unsettling Love, Currently sees him break new ground as an artist.Told in a distinctive white-on-black page with various color fields and patterns popping into panels, it's a story of a man named Lan who fails to come to terms with his own anger and fear after the death of his daughter. First his marriage disintegrates, and then his life in general goes to hell. This is a first-person account of his own attempt at self-destruction and abandonment of his faith in the world, god and humanity. Taylor's art is haunting and evocative, as the way he often likes to use abstract patterns, light fields and dense cross-hatching serves a narrative purpose as a reflection of Lan's consciousness and emotional state. At just eight pages, it's Taylor's most coherent, dense and emotional work; I am eager to see where he will be going with this series.

Casey Bohn is one of the more distinctive stylists I've seen from CCS. His comics have tended toward loopy science-fiction that is conversant in all of the genre's tropes yet subtly commenting on its cliches and tendency toward obvious metaphors. It's a gentle nudging to be sure, as Bohn's art both celebrates its Jack Kirby influence with its bold, almost abstract use of thick lines and odd angles and is well aware of the silliness of its imagery. President X concerns an astronaut who becomes aware that aliens are about to invade Earth and establish a puppet president (the titular President X, who barely appears in this comic despite his distinctive appearance--it's a sort of shaggy dog element). It takes him years to get back, and no one believes him but a hilariously depicted group of hippies. Of course, they prove to be crucial allies, but Bohn plays up the violence vs non-violence angle in an amusing, heightened manner. The climactic fight is absolutely hilarious, as the eyeball-shaped alien is thwarted by its own digestive juices ("I'm eating myself! I...I'm delicious!"). Bohn represents the sort of humorist whose knowledge of and ability to work within a genre sharpens the humor within the piece while providing a credible, enjoyable story.

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