Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #6: Melissa Mendes

Melissa Mendes' Oily comic Lou represents an interesting evolution in her storytelling.She's unquestionably one of the best cartoonists when it comes to telling stories about children that are devoid of nostalgia and sentimentality even as they are affectionate and honest. She's especially adept at telling stories about tomboys, as a former tomboy herself. In Lou, Mendes expands her family dynamic narratives by telling the story of a larger family, as opposed to simply telling stories about her "Freddy" character. The titular preteen is a middle child, looking up to her metalhead artist older brother Eddie and her pain-in-the-ass younger brother John. The story begins as a simple one, as the three kids try to find things to do without killing each other during summer break. Mendes is always at her best when telling these sorts of in-between time stories, narratives about time that has to be filled in imaginatively. Throughout the course of this 17-issue (12 pages per issue) narrative, she does a remarkable job of capturing the voices of not only the three children but also their working-class parents.

Mendes introduces elements of danger into this storyline for the first time in her career. She wisely steers away from having the criminal plot dominate the series, instead serving as a catalyst for each of the three children. When Eddie's boss at the pizza parlor goes missing amid visits from thugs, he and his friend take over the business. Lou and her friends explore an abandoned theater as she deals with the first pangs of puppy love from one of her friends. John is tired of being bossed around (especially by Lou) and runs away from home when their parents are out on a date. Mendes is careful to avoid too much cliche' surrounding this scenario that eventually puts the kids in danger, and I'm curious to see the final issue to see how the plot pans out. I hope she continues her history of restraint regarding her storytelling and avoids sensationalism. I thought she did a reasonably job of ratcheting up the tension at the end of #16 in an organic way, though I would have been just as happy to see that plot turn into an anticlimax instead of a true confrontation.

Mendes' art is simple, influenced as she notes by the wobbly linework of 90s Nickelodeon shows like Doug and Rugrats. Her figures are powerfully expressive with a minimum number of lines, though it's the few details she uses that make her characters what they are. In Lou's case, it's the bangs, the thick eyebrows and the freckles to go with her uniform of t-shirt and Oxford shirt. For Eddie, it's that long, stringy hair and gangly body to go with the fuzzy mustache that's sprouted on his lip. John's shock of hair that makes him look more like his mother is just part of his makeup as Mendes uses a slightly stronger line weight for this forceful, loud character. Like all of Mendes' work, Lou's pleasures are simple but are confidently and authentically expressed. Mendes has developed a style not unlike John Porcellino, in which the events that are most important are those that carry a powerful aesthetic value, one that's stripped down and simplified so as to bring it to life more vividly.

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