Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thirty Days of CCS #29: Kazimir Lee

Kazimir Lee is one of the more versatile and polished of CCS grads, and his output reviewed here certainly reflects that variety of styles and facility in any number of genres. For example, End Of A Century is a marvelously well-realized mash-up of superheroics and slice-of-life drama. Using an appealling, cartoony line with character design reminiscent of the sort of thing that Brandon Graham (by way of Bob Fingerman) does-- that mix of manga, street art and Archie comics. Lee cleverly makes slow reveals in this story, as we first meet Ethel and the equivalent of her conscience /Microsoft paperclip. We immediately see that this is a futuristic world, that Ethel was formerly a superhero, and finally that she's a robot. The fact that she has to upgrade her "self-esteem software" is both a running joke and a clever plot point. Lee manages a genuinely exciting action climax and a quiet character moment at the end.

Here, After is another sort of mash-up: horror and existential character drama. It's the story of a young man housesitting for the family of his dead best friend. With character design that once again employs a sort of cartoony, grotesque doodle, Lee creates an atmosphere of tortured guilt and thick suspense as the reader is left guessing what's real and what's imagination. It's a story about someone who's adrift in part because of his guilt, and partly because the relationship he had with his friend was so ambiguous and clearly tortured. The metaphor that Lee employed, of the protagonist being unable to relate to his friend's love of horror movies, resonated as him being unable to connect to his friend while acting as the story's horrific fuel.

The City That Cried Wolf! was an Aesop's Fable assignment at CCS that Lee turned into a Black Lives Matter metaphor. The shepherd in this case was a kid who fabricated evidence against wolves, inciting city-wide fear and resentment against them that led to real rioting. While the story is far from subtle, the cleverness of Lee's visual set-ups mixed both modern and ancient appects of the story in an amusing but pointed manner.

Curtain Call is "adapted from writings by A.M.L" and is certainly a thematic departure. It's a "same time, next year" story about a drama professor's sexual encounter with a former student in a hotel room. This time around, Lee uses a brushy approach with a cartoony style that looks a bit like a New Yorker strip. It's frankly sexual but not erotic, as the thick and curvy lines, pointy noses and other anatomical exaggerations tell the story in a manner that's emotionally realistic but not exploitative. Lee nails the swirling emotions as well as the small talk and the pillow talk here.

Finally, Lee was the editor of the CCS anthology It Is The Bad Time, whose theme was dread. Dread is very carefully selected as opposed to horror, because dread is a feeling of anxiety and fear of the unknown as much as it is the actual experience of horror. Emily Parrish's "Monstrum" connects a young woman's encounter with a possibly cursed bracelet with certain growing and unpleasant appetites. Anna Selheim's "Wasted" is about a young writer frittering away her time, only be visited by a ghastly spirit who warns her about this. The ending is predictable but still high-impact, especially given her emotionally resonant character design. Cooper Whittlesey's "Autopoesis" is a manically scrawled story of survivalism gone horribly wrong, while Lee's own "Ugly Boy" is about bullying, bad parenting, a monster in a pool and the way children manage to still love their parents in even the worst of circumstances.

Tillie Walden's one-pager "Muscles" uses dense cross-hatching to get across the fear of feeling one's tendons and muscles simply snap, while JD Lunt's "State College" uses the metaphor of a college football town to express the horror of crowds and cults of personality in a dizzying swirl of silhouettes, shadows and bizarre images. Finally, Angela Boyle's "Spores" is a fitting capper, as her pleasing line soon turns to utterly disquieting and nightmarish images as a young woman is slowly infected by a monstrous creature disguised as an old woman. The device of the barking dog as a warning sign that's ignored is especially effective here.

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