Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Avery Hill Week: Parsley Girl: Carrots and Buttertubs

Avery Hill certainly makes some eclectic publishing decisions. Parsley Girl: Carrots and Buttertubs are both loopy fantasy comics that have almost nothing to with more somber fare like Tillie Walden or Owen Pomery's comics. They're simply books that the publisher liked enough to take on and release.

Parsley Girl: Carrots is by Matthew Swan. The bright and almost garish color scheme of this comic is fitting given that it's about fighting monstrous carrots. Pretty much every panel in this story where every character is a monster, a robot, a fairy or some other kind of magical creature is saturated with greens, pinks and lavenders. That's until a carrot is mutated by a mysterious figure and it starts to replicate itself, attacking the local populace and doing something to their brains. Indeed, the comic's structure feels a bit like the film Shawn of the Dead in that the protagonists don't immediately notice what's going on, then try to fight back against the monsters, and finally fall back and try to find some safe spaces. By this time, the dominant color is a sickly orange, as the carrots and carrot mush are everywhere. One character apparently sacrifices himself, there's a deux ex machina solution to the problem that's explained by hieroglyphics, and the villain controlling the monster has motives that resonate in an amusing manner. It's all very silly, and the constant burst of color makes the reading experience numbing of times, but the stylized figure drawings are appealing and Swan wraps things up in thirty pages, eschewing unnecessary exposition.

Buttertubs is by Donya Todd, and there's a strong Adventure Time/Michael DeForge vibe throughout. (And of course, their visual ancestors, including Marc Bell and perhaps Paper Rad as well.) This is an adventure comic that features Hester and her enormous dog Buttertubs trying to go to the birthday party of Princess Puppy, who lives in Prettyland. Hester and Buttertubs run afoul of the Hot Dog Queen, who plans all sorts of traps along the way. Like Adventure Time, the aesthetic is one of clutter: there's virtually no negative space used in the comic, and there isn't even any gutter space between the panels. Todd throws the reader into the deep end of her aesthetic and demands they swim right away, as the density of each page can be oppressive if one isn't willing to engage it. Once one does engage it, one can see Todd subtly alter line weights and use other visual cues to help the reader focus on the characters as they negotiate their treacherous environs. Like Adventure Time, Todd's read on fantasy is ironic and languid, where the real draw of the comic is watching relationships unfold. There's also a cheeky, profane streak here that reminds me a bit of the sort of thing that Alabaster does in her comics, staying on model with regard to the fantasy elements but adding an extra and unexpected layer of comedy with the dialog. Todd's character design is marvelous, especially Buttertubs himself, the dog who sweats out butter. Every character has a simple but unmistakable look, thanks to Todd's sharp but subtle use of certain visual cues: one character has dark hair, another has black leggings, another is wearing black shorts, etc. All of the silliness is highly effective, making for a delightful read that uses familiar techniques in the other's own distinctive voice.

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