Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Minis: Drawdoer, Reinwald, Johnson

Crass Sophisticate, by Josh Reinwald. Though apparently part of a larger series, this comic stands alone in its depiction of insane, deranged, drunken and otherwise out-of-control characters doing strange things. There are characters shitting themselves, vomiting on themselves and others, and pathetic alleyway fights between men with a variety of disabilities, many of them emotional and/or mental. Reinwald's art is a heavily hatched scrawl whose characters have a heavy black outline in order to stand out against the craziness around them. The panels are drawn freehand, giving them a tilting and wobbly character to go with the generally sloppy but dense artwork contained within. The 45 page story concerns Josh, a war vet with a bad leg, his roommate Justin (who seems somewhere on the autism spectrum but actually has a date of sorts lined up), a thrill-seeking woman Justin meets at his job bagging groceries, and the belligerent super of the YMCA they're staying at. The book devolves into a hilarious fistfight between Josh and the super, one where Josh makes himself a homemade Batman costume that sends him into a state of babbling psychosis, only to be rescued by Justin leaping off of a fire escape. This is a comic with the courage of underground-inspired convictions, never tipping over into irony or winking at the audience. Instead, we get an array of barely functional humans and their interactions, with all of their dilemmas, hopes and dreams taken absolutely seriously by the artist. The lust object Bethany, a "normal" person, is depicted as being far more fucked up in some ways than anyone else in the story. This is a story about rock bottom and the people who desperately cling to it for fear of somehow falling even farther, and its frantic energy and willingness to follow gags and ideas all the way gives it a strangely compelling power. This comic has dozens of cringe-worthy moments but crucially never laughs at its characters, especially when moments of action arrive. The more visceral and scatological elements of the book are less important for their shock value than they are for narrative and humorous reasons.

Be The Love 2 and Infinite Jest Tijuana Bible, by Jon Drawdoer. Be The Love is another edition of Drawdoer's grab-bag one-person anthology. It's trippy, philosophical and open-ended, as Drawdoer is fond of using genre trappings for far-reaching psychological exploration. The issue starts with Drawdoer taking the reader on a tour of his books and essentially talking about the ideas behind them. The essence of Drawdoer's comics seems to be a devoted attempt at tearing down the notion of binaries: gender, personal, health and otherwise. The first story, about an alien dentist obsessed with their father and family issues, cleverly uses sci-fi trappings to create an alternate society where gender is far more fluid but the difficulties surrounding control are all too familiar.Other stories involve a musician relating quotidian aspects  his life story, the importance of having personal projects and of course the meaning of music in his life. Another part of a serial concerns musical riots, zen resumes, and the power and importance of games. Drawdoer is part of a burgeoning comics movement I like to call the "psychedelic ink-spillers". That is, these are cartoonists whose work is deeply personal and autobiographical ("spill some ink", as the saying goes, meaning talk about things that mean something to you) but presented in a trippy or deeply allegorical manner. Even in the Infinite Jest Tijuana Bible, which explores a future where the President is a germophobe who smokes dope and has orgies with his assistants, there's a level of thoughtfulness at work. As he explains in the coda, Infinite Jest is a book that means a lot to a lot of different people; it's a soul-searching work of comedy, and he wanted to riff on that a bit here in a comic that was inspired by a DMT trip. Drawdoer does a lot of the comics equivalent of noodling on the page, but I have a feeling he's getting somewhere.

Star Fruit, by Gretta Johnson. This is another slice of psychedelia by way of Winsor McCay (the dreaming protagonist tossing and turning in her bed on page one is a hint of this), only it turns into a fascinating celebration of womanhood, identity and the notion of personal goddesshood. The young dreamer is visited by a crone who feeds her the fleshy "star fruit", kicking off a series of images and adventures inspired by a cross between Robert Crumb and Henri Matisse (the painting The Dance is explicitly referenced, for example). Of course, this crone is on the lascivious side, wishing not so much as to free the young woman as to keep her for herself. When the crone was revealed to be half-chicken, the woman quickly fled, with a nearby cat stretching out to give her fur. In the second half of the book, she meets a wise old man in her kitchen who claims to be her guardian, and they wind up in bed after he eats the star fruit. All along, the crone is still there, watching over in the form of a small bird. When the woman wakes up, the man is gone, having transformed into a baby. The comic is an odd subversion of the hero's journey crossed with the biblical myth of eating the forbidden fruit, In both instances, there's an oddly fleshy, visceral quality to the story that not only connects sexuality, spirituality and the intellect, it considers them all part of the same continuum. The woman at the end has a family of sorts, only the mother and father figures morph from sexual partners into children and pets. I'm not sure just how far to dig with regard to its symbolism, because the story makes sense on its own terms in that it posits that every journey is really a psychological and spiritual one moreso than a physical one, with the goals of enlightenment and change always available to those who seeks it right at home.Johnson's composition is rock-solid and her figures quaver and slither across the page in fascinating ways, modulated by intense but comforting use of color.

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