Monday, November 24, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 24: Kevin Uehlein, Red House

Kevin Uehlein's comics fall somewhere between the mark-making and underground traditions. Each of the minis he sent me looked ripped straight from his sketchbook, giving them a certain sense of freshness and immediacy. At the same time, there's little in the way of coherency or continuity to be found, though this didn't seem to be his goal to begin with. For example, Compulse 6 and 7 are pure sketchbook work, repeating themes and images. Uehlein experimented with color, form and variations on a theme: cute girls, bearded creatures, cat creatures, wolf creatures, etc. That underground impulse is strong, even if his attention to explicitly sexual issues is tangential at best. These are exercises of the imagination, not just the id.

Dumbass Dog In "Smell The Roses" makes a couple of winking nods to R.Crumb as it employs anthropomorphic animals, one of whom does a variation of the "Keep On Truckin'" pose. Trying to roust his horrible friend, Disgusting Duck, to go out on a walk, the comic goes as scatological as one can imagine, only there's a clever joke he manages to conjure out of the situation. The comic ends with what seemed like it might be a sad-sack climax, only to reverse reader expectations by making its protagonist a profoundly satisfying winner against a bully. This was my favorite of Uehlein's comics, partly because of the character design and partly because of the odd turns the story took.

Compulse 5: Hideous is a cross between autobio and sketchbook mini, as Uehlein ponders a day spent in Los Angeles as a recently minted thirty year old. The page design of this comic is especially interesting, as he crams up to a couple of dozen panels on each page of wildly varying size. George Herriman is as much a touchstone as Crumb in these comics, as there's a poetic quality to each page, both in terms of the images and the actual text. The use of funny animals allows him a certain flexibility regarding the depiction of reality, giving him a chance to get weird at the drop of a hat without jarring the reader. At the same time, the comic is clearly personal and a way to work out issues related to loneliness and a sense of purpose.

Finally, KJC #1 is a jam between Uehlein and fellow CCS classmate DW. It's a pretty exquisite merging of aesthetic sensibilities, The two color pages in particular are a surprisingly tasteful psychedelic explosion, mixing the sheer density of a DW page with the more open and cartoony Uehlein drawings, along with the typical DW use of collage and repurposed text. It's more interesting to parse and scan than actually read, which is true of much of Uehlein's work here.

Uehlein does lead off the mini anthology Red House, a funny and gross collection of misfortunes and misadventures. With his Disgusting Duck character, Uehlein goes way over the top in depicting a string of utterly disgusting events (including a street vendor selling vomit for some reason), leading to the duck's job at Subway and an unexpected punchline. Pat Barrett's shit-related interstitial material is brutal in terms of its satiric punch, especially the ones aimed at religion and belief systems in general. Beth Hetland's atypically nasty strip about a tiny female creature that torments humans in ways big and small is just a series of escalating jokes that simply keeps going. Ben Horak's "Fun Fun With Dumb Dumb" is a typically masterful account of a horrible person trying to get over on a girl by putting a squirrel in his pants (to emphasize his "masculinity"), only to traumatize the animal that eventually comes back for revenge. It's the tiny visual details (like the squirrel shivering in the shower or tentatively peeking outside while wearing a robe and smoking a cigarette) that make Horak's work so funny. Josh Kramer's joke about a raccoon as a chef in a fancy restaurant doesn't have quite enough of a wind-up to make it effective, but Dakota McFadzean's take on a Casper the Friendly Ghost type character is hilarious and terrifying at the same time. This group of CCS alumni is clearly quite simpatico, even when some of them worked a little out of their wheelhouse with regard to subject matter. Uehlein's sensibilities clearly set the stage for this anthology, as his piece didn't vary much at all from his regular work.

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