Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 18: Romey Bensen

It's always great to get a bunch of work all at once from a CCS cartoonist with whom I am not familiar. Let's check out a variety of projects from Romey Bensen.

The Polar Pals. Featuring a penguin and a snow bear at the Audubon Zoo (Bensen lives in New Orleans), this is a nice entry point for Bensen's work. He's certainly in the top ten percent of all CCS cartoonists when it comes to sheer drafting skill, but some of that detail here obscures the cartoony nature of the characters. There's a pleasantly mannered quality to the narrative here, which proceeds at such a slow pace that the narrative itself becomes entirely secondary to the characters and the eccentric narrative voice.

My Biblical Daydreams. This is a grab-bag of short stories featuring a variety of approaches. Bensen's angular self-caricature is a particular delight, as he invests it with a sort of stiff but neurotic energy that's both serious and amusingly self-effacing. "The Temptation of Wormwood" is the most fleshed-out story here, following a man stalked by a cat who is talked into buying a streetwise, talking fruit with an eye and teeth. It meanders amusingly and ends suddenly. Bensen's line is scratchier here, with less of an emphasis on blacks. The open page layout with panels also lets his drawings breathe a bit more. I liked that the character is a rounder, more cartoony version of Bensen's own self-caricature.

The Extraordinary #1. This is Bensen's superhero project, and it's a delight. There's something about working with characters one came up with as a child and molding them as an adult into something with a bit more substance, and it's obvious that Bensen worked hard to make this into something that's an intriguing read. Bensen mashes up a bunch of superhero and manga tropes to create his trio of superheroes and uses time-shifting narrative tricks to both keep the reader off-guard and get across information in a creative way. The comic follows a robot named Tim Tanium, a girl with vaguely-defined magical powers named Ursula Violet and a boy genius who is their team leader. This most closely recalls the Doom Patrol, but Bensen notes hints of other kid-superhero comics as well. The use of time fracturing and recycling familiar elements with a new emotional context reminds me a great deal of Paul Grist's work. The thin, almost fragile line Bensen uses here along with frequently dense hatching and cross-hatching works well here, giving old material a new coat of paint, so to speak. There's something wonderfully delicate and fragile about this comic and its characters, and seeing that level of fragility is unusual for a genre comic.

The Garden of Earthly Delight. This was Bensen's thesis comic, and it's by far his most complex and ambitious. It's a mash-up of the Bible, Hieronymous Bosch and Elzie Segar by way of R.Crumb, and Bensen's chops were up to the sheer task of cartooning this in a convincing manner. There's a good bit of misdirection in what's happening, as the narrative introduces us to Turnip Head, a primitive man who decries his lot in life because the leader of his tribe is greedy and took away his apple. A plan to usurp him by manipulating a bigger, stronger guy goes awry when the bigger guy (Trunk) kills Turnip Head after taking care of the leader. That's when we learn that the protagonist of the story is the sister of Trunk's mate. She's an artist, painting pictures on the cave wall, as she's above the others yet a non-productive in the context of her tribe. Here, sex and food are treated as more or less the same thing ("It pass the time"), and both are fundamental urges driving everything else. Only the artist here is an exception, and it has every bit to do with her inability to adapt to outside life as it does to her ability to carry insight. Bensen's sparing use of color, page layout and the patois he created for his characters breathes life into the scenario of the artist's lament: failure in their lifetime, but with the possibility of their work outliving the achievements of kings. Bensen's approach may be tongue-in-cheek and even self-effacing in this regard, but it's still very much a comic about the process of being an artist. As such, it's an appropriate first major work for an artist who has a great deal of potential.

No comments:

Post a Comment