Saturday, November 1, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 1: Beth Hetland

Beth Hetland and writer Kyle O'Connell laid down a good bit of narrative pipe in the first issue of their series Half Asleep. That issue established the strained relationship between "hypnology" professor Michelle Lassette and her eleven-year-old prodigy of a daughter Ivy. Ivy is a student at the university at which her mother teaches but proves resistant to her mother's prodding ways. In particular, because her mother's research involves the interaction between the waking world and the dreaming world, Ivy is reluctant to share her dreams. The second and third issues are a sort of chess match between the two of them to reveal hidden information. Dr Lassette wants to know about her daughter's dreams. Ivy wants to know precisely where her father is and also wants to move out of her mother's house.  Her mother counters by giving her an "internship" that puts her in the basement, even more isolated from other kids.

Things start to get seriously weird in the the third issue, when Ivy discovers a hole in her basement room and a talking, monkey-like figure who asks to be called "uncle". As the third issue ends, Ivy and Uncle go off to his lab, with him promising to tell her some secrets. What's interesting about this series is the way that Hetland and O'Connell have become such a precision team. O'Connell likes creating mysteries that sometimes get in the way of understanding the narrative (like in their Cycles), but the turbulent emotional connection between mother and child that is at the core of this series stands above the weirdness. It helps that Hetland continues to exhibit a greater mastery over her own line and that her ambitiousness in terms of page design truly pays off in these two issues. First of all, the colors she uses for Ivy's dream sequences have a pastel-soft strangeness that gives them a sense of mysterious comfort. The rabbit-masked man (presumably her father?) who appears in her dreams is taking her on a sort of elliptical, parallel plotline involving Ivy's status as a potential creator or destroyer. I especially like the mix of color and black and white when Ivy is inbetween the two states. Beyond the use of color, Hetland's detailed linework is clear, vivid and exciting. Her characters are still expressive and fluid without sacrificing clarity. The intricate mask/flap covers are another highlight of the comic.

Half Asleep is interesting because one can not only sense that both writer and artist are starting to hit their stride as both individuals and a team, but also because it's clear that they can sense it as well. The professor's lectures serve as backfill information for just how hypnology works and where it's missing out on information on how the waking world and the dreaming world interact. The professor knows that her daughter is somehow the key to this missing knowledge, putting her in a position where she must act both as loving mother and as relentless researcher trying to wring knowledge out of its test subjects. O'Connell and Hetland clearly question the ethics of the entire scenario without pushing that point too hard, and that restraint in the larger portion of the plot helps keep the dream sequences grounded. The sense of urgency the reader increasingly feels from the professor is masked the the story's leisurely pace and insistence on exploring relationships before plotlines.

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