Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thirty Days of CCS #4: Ben Juers

Ben Juers is a 2011 grad of the Center for Cartoon Studies whose work I'm seeing for the first time. With his mini Shirley coming all the way from Australia as part of a Mini of the Month program, I was excited to see what he could do. The comic is a fantastic blend of art-world satire, geometrically-inspired cartooning, mysticism and fart jokes. It follows the titular character getting a childhood couch from her mother and falling into it, revealing a passageway into an artists's studio. As it turns out, the artist put herself into a trance and used drawings from Shirley of a weird bird-creature she had made as a child.

Shirley winds up going to an art show, where those same drawings are on display, subject to pretentious and pointless interpretations from the crowd. What's interesting about this comic is not just that it lampoons the art world, its patrons and those artists whose "work" is more a swindle than a reflection of talent or insight. All of that is mere comedic fodder, fueling a frantic pace that perfectly matches the crisp and angular nature of Juers' cartooning. Juers skillfully introduces a series of absurd characters and eventually rips away the facade behind each one. What starts as an art-world caper turns into a long-held revenge fantasy, as the manager of the artist turns out to be the real source of the drawings who holds a grudge against Shirley for copying the images and taking credit for them. Of course, that revenge fantasy turns into a "follow-the-money" caper, as someone posing as a reporter was secretly an agent for the company that created the image in the first place. In the end, the weird bird object itself winds up having its own peculiar influence, just as Juers ties off the plotline with a well-placed fart joke that had explosive results.

Juers is content to use fairly standard grids for his page layouts, with lots of four panel grids and a few other pages with two joined panels at the top or bottom. The creates a steady rhythm and moves the action along, which is important in a comic that has a great deal of motion and farcical energy but whose images are somewhat static. Juers prefers to let his character designs dominate each panel, using a minimum of background detail, so that the sheer weirdness of each character is emphasized. The artist, Josie, has an upside-down triangle for a head. The agent has a diamond-shaped head with a man-bun hair-do and symmetrically large and absurd eyebrows and mustache. Compare those two to Shirley herself, whose face looks like a sideways triangle, posed in such a way that gives it greater solidity than the other characters. The ways in which these figures meet in space creates its own kind of believable reality, as the ways in which they relate have a familiar, cartoony energy. Shirley is smart, absurd and visually clever work.

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