Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 23: Rebecca Roher, Jonathan Rotsztain, Peter Audry

Let's turn to some of the most recent CCS students.

Rebecca Roher's comics use a thick line and simple character design to relate observations about life, nature and human interaction. Her work reminds me a little of Eleanor Davis' in that she freely mixes in certain fantasy elements while keeping the character work grounded and personal. In Gotta Get My Veg, her brushy figures are lively and expressive, carrying a story that veers toward the twee at times. (The phrase "Gotta get my veg" is overused to the point of annoyance.) Still, there's a combination of gentleness and empathy toward her characters combined with a hint of mischief that makes the story worth reading. Short Stories features a mix of sketchbook-quality art that was hastily but expressively drawn, lush color work, fantasy stories with an open-page layout and autobio stories. One of the color stories, "Fireworks", is a slight but beautiful observation of the sky when fireworks went off; nothing more, nothing less, other than trying to convey a sense of beauty and awe she felt. Roher experiments by using a fuzzy line in a dream sequence in a different story, but much of her work has the running theme of conveying little moments of wonder.

The story Lost In The Sublime was the most interesting of the three minis and deals directly with this concept of beauty as defined by Immanuel Kant, the notion of the sublime. It is beauty so great that the nature of encountering it cannot be truly communicated. One can talk about, or react to, or think about the sublime experience, but all of these post facto activities are not the experience itself. For Kant, this experience of beauty was mystical in nature, despite that experience being rooted in temporality and corporeality. In other words, we encounter something at a particular time that looks or sounds a particular way, and it moves us as something sublime, something that we apprehend at a level beyond simply our five senses. This mini describes this experience as felt by Roher at various times, beginning with acutely feeling a sense of scale in nature: her smallness against the bigness of nature. The same was true when she closely observed an ecosystem and the way that insects, plants and animals interacted with it. It concludes with an acid trip, one where the interconnectedness of all things is seen as both painful and beautiful. Here, her character design is especially simple but engaging. While Roher is not nearly as innovative as Davis was even in her earliest days as a cartoonist, one senses a similar level of potential in drawing comics about what it means to be human and to interact with the world.

Jonathan Rotsztain, Roher's partner and a fellow CCS student, takes an entirely different approach to comics. His early autobio catalog/comic, Everything That's Wrong With My Body, is a bracing account of everything he finds disgusting or weird about his own nude body. It's an interesting exercise, almost a sort of autobio palate-cleanser that got a lot of self-loathing out of the way early on. The crudeness of Rotsztain's line lends a certain power and authenticity to the proceedings. That crudeness doesn't work quite as well in the autobio piece The Subjective Way, an account of his time as an employee of the popular fast food chain. It's really a story about trying to find his way as a human being who found himself drifting through life, dealing with the luxury and guilt of having the safety net of his parents the entire time he was working fast food as a young adult in his early 20s. Rotsztain is acutely aware of the nature of his "slumming", dealing with that sense of privilege with a tad bit of guilt by way of a lot of self-deprecating comments.

Indeed, self-worth is a running theme of his comics. In his truly strange A TailTale Tale, he creates an amalgamation of Archie Comics and Jack Chick tracts. Rotsztain imagines a world where humans never lost their vestigial tails, one that disappears in utero. This comic describes a world where the size of one's tail is essential to one's social status. A man with a stubby tail or a woman with a big tail is considered a freak. What's fascinating about this comic is the level of detail that Rotsztain provides in creating this world. It's obvious he's thought long and hard about the implications of having a tail, but beyond that, he nails the language of tracts and self-help books. He doesn't quite have the chops as a draftsman to pull it off seamlessly, but the sheer, crude energy of his line gets the idea across with deadpan humor and a certain relentless earnestness. Rotsztain certainly knows how to tell a story, but it will take him time to develop a style that fits with abilities as a draftsman in a more seamless manner.

Finally, there's Peter Audry. His collection of daily strips, Spirit Shack Vol. 1, is one of the more intriguingly scattered comics I've come across from a CCS cartoonist. Most daily comics tend to be about mundane, slice-of-life matters. There's some of that in here, to be sure. But Audry strings together bizarre narratives involving a baby character that acts as a stand-in as well as anthropomorphic weirdos who go on a quest to find the "Double Rainbow" guy. There are psychedelic ramblings, pointed satirical strips, echoes of character designs from a dozen other cartoonists, pop-culture parodies, studies from life and some plain old great gags. This is what a daily strip should be: a free-flowing lab for ideas and experiments. Like Roher and Rotzstain, Audry is at an exciting period in his career, as he throws any number of ideas and techniques against the wall to see what will stick. I could see him concentrating on any number of directions seen in this comic, or going in a completely different direction. It's fascinating to watch artists with potential flounder a bit, daring to get better in public as they figure out what they're doing on the fly. I quite like the quality of Audry's line, as it wavers between cartoony, dense and realistic. That versatility will serve him well down the road.

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