Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thirty Days of CCS #11: Anna Selheim

Anna Selheim is a senior at CCS (class of 2016), and she's demonstrated an emotionally raw style of storytelling. Let's take a look at her recent work:

This Isn't About You is the most bracing, difficult and emotionally honest of her comics. It's about being bullied as a child and becoming so angry that she just snapped one day on her abuser. A few years later, the tables turned and Selheim became the bully. While it started with verbal taunts that made her ever-more popular because of her sense of humor, it escalated into actual physical abuse. Despite her own regrets and shame over her behavior, it was as though she was addicted to the practice, humiliating a substitute teacher and threatening to make someone's life hell who dared to stand up to her. Time, therapy and medication eventually curbed this constant state of rage, though Selheim reveals a couple of telling points when her former bully sent her an email message, and Selheim started to write a reply that took the moral high ground regarding the situation, until she realized she didn't have a leg to stand on. A session with her therapist that revealed her numbness to her bullying behavior that culminated in the question, "Hey, am I a sociopath?" is played for laughs but also showed the extremes of her problems. The final vignette shows how she's come to terms with her past; in many respects, this comic is less a confession than an acknowledgment of past behavior. Unlike some of her autobio comics, which features less a self-caricature than an avatar, Selheim fully discloses everything going on, including her own appearance.

Everything Is Fine is a series of color strips, this time depicting Selheim's face as a series of twisting lines, regarding mental illness and its manifestations. The strips about catastrophising--imagining a worse-case scenario spinning horribly out of control--are especially pointed and powerful, because they show precisely how these sorts of negative fantasies take over one's train of thought and eventually can have a physical side-effect. Many of the strips use Selheim's initial denial of problems as a repeated set-up for the punchline of realizing that the things she's trying to ignore are real problems. The strips act as a way of venting resentments out loud, allowing her to contextualize how self-centered some of them are. There's an amazing strip about how being on an antidepressant can make it incredibly difficult to actually cry--even when one is feeling sad. One by one, Selheim humorously addresses her difficulties with her body image and subsequent purging, intrusive thoughts, and her need to vent. It's one of the better approaches I've seen toward dealing with mental illness.

Petty is an 8 page work of fiction that pairs an extroverted girl and a shy boy together as an unlikely but happy couple. Selheim has an astute understanding and ear for teen dialogue, so when the boy is warned that his new girlfriend "is a slut", there's an uncomfortable level of verisimilitude in the speech patterns and rhythms. What I liked about this comic is that both the boy and girl are troubled in their own way and seek each other out as a potential safe harbor. The boy in particular accepts her so unconditionally that he quietly punishes the guy who told him about his girlfriend by stealing from his store. Here, Selheim's line is ragged but expressive, reminding me a bit of Chuck Forsman's comics. I like that the title of the comic refers both to the petty crime committed by the boy as well as the petty nature of gossip.

Wasted is another comic whose title is a play on words; it refers both to the heroine's tendency to get drunk as well as the time she wastes in trying to become a playwright. She's visited at night by a creature who tells her that she's wasting time in how she's approaching things, urging her to get lost in her goals--and face a horrible final fate. This features some of Selheim's most confident-looking art: bold and crisp.

Their Souls Are Fleeing is a brief but brutal comic from a World War I anthology. In just a few pages, Selheim gets at the almost absurd reality that was life at the front in that poorly-planned war. In particular, the extremes between incredible tedium and the sudden presence of mutilated bodies. That the main character is jealous of the dead is not surprising. The story is perhaps not quite as visceral as Selheim intended, but she didn't have the chops to nail down all of the details.

Sisters. Based on one of Aesop's fables, this is a funny story about two mermaid sisters. One has a beautiful human top half and a fish's tail, while the other has a fish's head and human bottom half. Naturally, the latter mermaid has trouble attracting sailors to eat, until she cries to her father and is told to use her sense of cunning. That leads to a hilarious final page. In this strip, Selheim used a much finer line that allowed for greater embellishment; it looks far more work-intensive than later approaches but it certainly was effective here.

Selheim's development is typical of many CCS students: producing work for anthologies, finishing small projects, trying a variety of storytelling approaches. There's a great deal of emotional power in her work to go with her sharp sense of comic timing. Her approach mixes cynicism and idealism in the same package, along with bitterness and hope. That thematic complexity will lend itself well as she continues to develop as a cartoonist.

No comments:

Post a Comment