Friday, November 7, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 7: Colleen Frakes and Sarah "Chu" Wilson

The Saint's Eyes and Tragic Relief #17, by Colleen Frakes. Frakes has long been one of the most prolific and skilled cartoonists to come out of CCS, refining her style very early in her career. Her use of the brush gives her comics a strikingly different look than most of her peers, though she was the first to take on the tropes of mythology, fairy tales and reinterpret them through the lens of gender, something that many of her peers are doing now. I've reviewed most of these stories in various places, The title story originally appeared in the old Hey Four-Eyes! anthology of old, and the reformatting the strip is given in this book makes it really pop off the page. It's about a young woman whose eyes are stabbed out by her jealous sisters, and who is given a pair of beautiful cat's eyes glasses by St Lucia. Her nobility earns her favor in the end. As always, Frakes' uses of blacks and her supple line make this strip a pleasure to read. "Cursed" doesn't end so well, as a woman cursed to become a monster until she killed the four people she loved most winds up surprising the reader at the end of the story with a neat twist. The two-panels per page approach give the story a storybook quality, and the way she gives the lettering a visual and decorative prominence makes each panel also look a bit like a poster.

"Jerks" gives her a chance to draw children, an area in which she excels because she doesn't draw the child so much as she draws the child in motion. The drawings are always a little bit looser, a little more out of control and frenzied when she draws kids arguing and fighting, like in this strip that has a satisfying punchline. "Late For Tea" is a different kind of family strip, one that interlaces mysticism with sheer desperation, as a skeleton woman and her children bemoan the absence of the father, and the mother makes a fateful and heart-breaking decision regarding their future. The final page reveals the true reality of the situation before the metaphor takes over once again. Once again, Frakes invests monsters and mythology with humanity that makes it especially tragic when they meet their fates.

Witch has the trappings of the supernatural but it based on historical and tragic events. It takes gender on directly, as it relates the story of two women who passed as male witch-hunters in Scotland. The inevitable story of them making money rooting out "witches" and feeling slightly bad when their victims are put to death is given a remarkable twist at the end. Years later, one of the women tells the other that they did what they had to survive, but that they knew full well that what they did was wrong. What was fascinating was the reaction of the other woman, who fully internalized their narrative to such a degree that anyone challenging it must be destroyed. That betrayal is made all the more striking when compared to the early, intimate scenes of the two women rising to go about their day as men. Frakes really nails the landing on this comic, which is short enough to make an impact on the reader but never drags.

Heart Burn and When Life Gives You Lemoranges, by Sarah "Chu" Wilson. When reviewing the work of a young cartoonist for the first time, I always find it helpful to look at as wide a range of work as possible. Wilson's two comics here are a prime example as to why. Heart Burn looks like scratch board work, and it's about a society of creatures and building fires as a form of expression. The comic is all about the narrator's feelings of insecurity about her work and the jealousy she feels of others. It's about Lynda Barry's Two Questions that plague artists: "Is this good? Does this suck?" The ending of this particular story is a grim one, as the fires of creativity and destruction are uncomfortably alike. This is a smart, bleak comic about what can happen when the Two Questions take over your life.

On the other hand, When Life Gives Your Lemoranges is a funny, light-hearted sci-fi furry comic drawn with a lively, lightweight line. There's a visual gag in there about awful drink mix loaded with scare quotes that had me laughing out loud, for example. Wilson has obviously looked at a lot of manga and lots of funny animal comics, but the weird sci-fi touches and storytelling style are distinctly her own. Wilson also goes out of her way to vary page layouts and visual flourishes, even pulling a couple of tricks out of Wally Wood's "22 Panels That Always Work" with a couple of silhouettes. Wilson graduates in 2015, and it's clear that she's built up a strong toolbox of cartooning and drawing tricks to go with her strong fundamentals and storytelling sense.

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