Monday, July 20, 2015

Mini Round-Up: E.Brubaker, Luce, L.Suburbia

Reich #12, by Elijah Brubaker. Ten years and 260-odd pages after he began this series about psychologist Wilhelm Reich, Elijah Brubaker finally finished it with this twelfth and final issue. It's a tribute to new Sparkplug publisher Virginia Paine that she's found a way to raise the funds to see this project through after the death of former publisher Dylan Williams. The final issue, which covers his eventual imprisonment and death, deals with Reich in much the same way Brubaker did throughout the entire series. Reich was both a moral crusader with ideas about sex and sexuality that were way ahead of his time and a hypocrite consumed by jealousy over imaginary situations and dismissing jealousy from others. Reich was almost always the smartest person in the room but also lost touch with reality, conflating real threats with imagined ones in what resembled a schizophrenic breakdown. His unshakable belief in himself and his discoveries was both his admirable quality and the eventual cause of his downfall. Brubaker treats Reich as a fascinating, brilliant, flawed and damaged person; he is sympathetic to his plight and even-handed with regard to many of Reich's theories, but is interested in the gestalt of Reich's life, both good and bad.

Brubaker's detailing Reich's early sexual experiences in a previous issue is a crucial but understated way of showing how many of his theories originated in encounters he couldn't fully process as a child. Making Reich the narrator of his own story also helped keep Brubaker's explicit opinions out of narrative, giving Reich himself the opportunity to state his own case--for good or ill. The angular, shadowy and cartoony nature of the art allowed Brubaker the flexibility to make this as much an emotional narrative as it was a chronological one. To his credit, Brubaker never shoots for visual or narrative pyrotechnics throughout the story, no matter how bizarre Reich's stories of battling with UFOs with orgone energy became. Indeed, one question left for the reader is that given that many of Reich's theories about sexuality were so progressive, what aspects (if any) of his orgone-related research (including seeding clouds) are valid? Brubaker asks that while Reich may have been delusional and jumped to some incorrect conclusions, it doesn't mean that many of his ideas weren't worth pursuing, albeit using different methods. Reich was a fantastic series about the ways in which ego and personality conflict with seeking the truth, and how those conflicts affect those around us.

Oafanthology, edited by Ed Luce. Luce's Wuvable Oaf is a genuine comics phenomenon, but one underrated aspect of that book is how much Luce loves to collaborate. This "collection of Wuvable Oaf drawings & stories" allowed Luce to work with fans, friends and admirers with his characters. The series (recently collected by Fantagraphics in a superbly well-designed hardcover) has always been part romance comic, part pro wrestling comic and part rock 'n roll comic. The fact that the titular character is a "bear" and that most of the characters are gay somehow manages not to matter much with regard to the above genres, yet the fact that most of the characters are gay is crucial to the series' DNA. It's assumed, uncompromising and direct, as Luce doesn't dilute his content for a crossover audience, yet the wacky but somehow relateable characters clearly appeal to a relatively wide audience. Fantagraphics wouldn't be publishing it if they didn't think so.

Oafanthology takes this crossover appeal and runs with it. For example, Luce's collaboration with Tom Neely, having Oaf meet Neely's "Henry and Glenn" characters, reflects Luce's own contributions to Neely's anthology and their shared aesthetic and cultural touchstones with regard to metal. The same is true for "The Spawn of Goteblud", drawn by Josh Bayer, who has used his scratchy line to write about pro wrestling elsewhere. Edie Fake's comic about Oaf's crazy cat working for the sadistic chef character is hilariously over the top. The Katie Skelly-drawn strip about the character who loves to wear dead cat skins is perfectly in Skelly's wheelhouse in drawing fashionable characters. In the same vein, Vanessa Davis's story about Oaf's grooming is perfectly her. There are a number of interesting pin-ups as well, including a mind-bending Junko Mizuno drawing, an appropriately disgusting one by Johnny Ryan and even one by mainstream artist Stephen Sadowski. None of this will make a lick of sense to non-Oaf fans, but it's a perfect supplement for those who are in the know.

Cyanide Milkshake #6, by Liz Suburbia. Suburbia just had her first book released by Fantagraphics, but this series is a catch-all for her other interests. This is the sort of one-woman anthology that's stuffed with gags, brief vignettes, a running serial, autobiographical notes and more. Suburbia's foice is clear and distinctive, and her line is both clear and expressive. A memory of nearly being kidnapped into a stranger's car and barely outrunning him is chilling, especially in the way she contrasts the terror of the moment with the calm of hiding out in a fenced-in yard with a rabbit staring at her. The post-apocalyptic romance "G.B.A" is exciting, funny and charming, mixing the Gary Panteresque style with a vividly detailed relationship story, one where commitment, choices and killing zombies all go hand-in-hand. Suburbia effortlessly blends fantasy, rock, feminism, punk, autobio, dogs and superhero gags into a surprisingly coherent package, held together by a singular aesthetic. This is the laboratory of a percolating and unique talent and indicative of the ways in which younger creators draw inspiration from a huge variety of sources.

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