Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 12: Carl Antonowicz, Matthew New

Ostrich Cycles, by Carl Antonowicz. This is a grim, formally ambitious comic about an elderly doctor who slowly starts to lose his grip on reality and his adoring granddaughter whom he inducts into his demented schemes. His figures are intensely shaded (to the point of what looks like stippling on some of the pages) throughout, even as his character designs are bland to the point of dull. In terms of design, the mini is extremely impressive and disturbing, but the figurework's wobbly naturalism frequently took me out of the story. In one panel where the granddaughter looks up with adoring gratitude that she gets to pick out their next "patient", her face looks stretched and warped and her eyes oversized. I couldn't discern whether this was a deliberate decision or not, but the result broke up the atmosphere of the story. The structure of the story is such that the comics are told from the granddaughter's point of view, slowly revealing what's happening. They alternate with hand-written pages from the grandfather, with the quality of the script becoming increasingly deranged and sloppy as his descent into total lunacy becomes more pronounced. The scrawl goes from being written on blank paper to any loose newsprint laying around, giving it a collage effect. This aspect of the comic's visual works quite well, giving insight into the man's initial and reasonable critiques of society to his paranoid, delusional theories about brains being directly manipulated by the government. The character of the granddaughter has clearly been affected by the manipulations, though by the end it's not clear just how this will affect her long term. There's a coldness to her narrative affect that still indicates that she has her own will and opinions, even as she went along with what her grandfather said. Whether or not she will grow up to be a sociopath or her affection for the titular ostrich, a creature scorned by her grandfather for ignoring reality and by her father for being ugly, is left to the reader's imagination. The comic is an ambitious experiment that doesn't completely click on a visual level.

Billy Johnson and His Duck Are Explorers, by Mathew New. Mixing in equal parts Herge', explorer story tropes and absurdist humor, New's comic is both an affectionate send-up of and tribute to the intrepid explorer story genre. Starting the story in the middle of a chase with an irate gorilla, the titular hero and his talking duck friend, New immediately plunges the reader into the adventure and rightly concerns himself only with the facts at hand: there's a young adventurer with a sword (its name, "Mr Jabbers", immediately reflects how silly all of this is), a duck that talks and a gem-encrusted idol that the monkey wants back. It's deft, exciting and funny storytelling, given some weight by his bright but not garish use of colors. As the adventure proceeds, New slowly provides backstory as to why Billy does what he does: he's trying to impress an explorer's society, he's trying to live up to the example of his dead parents, etc. (We never do find out why the duck is a professor or why he can talk, but that's neither here nor there as it relates to the protagonist's primary narrative.) After a crazy adventure involving secret maps, a lost monkey city, treasure and aliens, Billy winds up with no proof of what he just did. The reveal on the final page as to what Billy really does for a living is surprisingly touching and sad without being maudlin. This comic is well-crafted, breezy and adds some surprising depth; it's a comic that I can now easily being transformed into a young adult comics series.

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