Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mini-Comics Grab Bag: Bagnarelli, Ghetti/Schiesaro, Lafler, Alabaster

January The First, by Bianca Bagnarelli. Bagnarelli is a big-time talent from Italy. Her cartooning looks and feels cool and detached even as the actual events of the story are intense and often upsetting. Consider this short story, a first-person retrospective narrator about a young woman going off for a drive with two shifty young men. Bagnarelli uses cool pastels and a stripped-down approach to character design, with a small line and a few simple loops here and there for faces. Those faces rarely betray the uncertainty felt or the later sense of betrayal, as everything and everyone is deadpan. That sense of restraint is almost agonizing, considering the outrageous but absurd level of violation she experiences. This one's from the Italian publisher Delebile.

Myriad, by Lorenzo Ghetti and Ugo Schiesaro. Also from Delebile is this first chapter of what promises to be a longer work. The art here is scratchy and cartoony, giving this story of life on a space station a grimy, lived-in feeling. As the first chapter unfolds, the reader is slowly made to understand the order of things on a station that's been inhabited for years. It's actually modeled on industrial revolution-era family life, where there's a child class, an adult worker class and an elder class. In the case of this ship, the elders are there to provide instruction to the children until they're ready to take over leadership from the adults, who then become the new elder class while the adult women are impregnated and prepare to have children. What happens to the former elder class is the subject of this issue, wherein conflicts between generations are hinted at and something goes horribly wrong when the elders are being "processed". This comic is a great use of genre as a setting, because it allows Ghetti and Schiesaro to create a social engineering experiment and expand upon its implications.

Death In Oaxaca #2 (Alternative Comics) by Steve Lafler. An alt-comics veteran since the 80s, Lafler continues to make great use of the periodical format. He describes the contents of this series in a text feature at the end as "reportage, satire, self-discovery, and surreal fantasy". In other words, it's Lafler as usual. Even his truly crazy series like Dog Boy that were essentially excuses for his id and subconscious to go on a walk together still had elements of political content, autobiography and social commentary. For Lafler, it all goes hand-in-hand, and no one element is more important than the other. That said, his fantastical elements have certainly always stood out, and this series is no exception. The story is about a family of ex-pats moving to the remote, historical city of Oaxaca in Mexico. Along the way, the father, Max, hooks up with a group of local musicians (much like Lafler) and starts having conversations with Death. Death is a musician who jams with him and reveals that he had been here before in a past life.

Meanwhile, Gertie (Max's wife), dons lucha libre tights and decides to fight crime. A friend of theirs is revealed to be an ancient vampire who was Max's father and Gertie's husband in a past life. Along the way, Lafler provides a loving look at the sights and smells of the city, gently mocks ex-pat culture, and generally rambles his way through the issue with episodic little vignettes. Lafler is in no hurry to get anywhere, as scenes in markets and with musicians jamming having a languid quality. At the same time, the issue feels packed, thanks to the weird images and rubbery art that's Lafler's trademark. Lafler's drawing fundamentals are rock solid, especially with regard to anatomy, body language and gesture. That allows him to loosen up his figures, sometimes going dramatic with the occasional use of hatching and detailed, decorative features on the story's more supernatural elements. Lafler's character design looks a lot like Steve Ditko's, especially in the confidence he evinces in the odd and slightly ugly nature of many of his characters. In Lafler's eyes, the world is beautiful just as it is and doesn't need any sort of idealistic sheen being added to it.

Mimi And The Wolves,Act I by Alabaster. I was introduced to Alabaster's work in The Complete Talamaroo, which highlighted the essential frisson in her comics. That is, her delicate line and ultra-cute character design are simply the facade for a much darker, weirder world where sex and/or violence can spring at the reader on a moment's notice. Consider the first few pages of this comic: we see the faces of the characters, and they're all adorably stubby-looking. Even we we meet a spooky figure in the woods, it's more pleasantly eerie than anything else. When we meet the titular Mimi (a sort of cat girl), she's busily gathering flowers with which to make garlands. She then goes off with her self-described mate Bobo (a little dog man), they go to work on the farm of friends and later go into town. It's a little jarring when the characters undress at the end of the day given Alabaster's style, but that should be the reader's first clue. This isn't a fairy tale, but rather a world that's quite real for the characters involved, and they act as anyone might. After that pleasant day, Mimi has a nightmare with some grotesque, violent and sexual imagery out of an Eamon Espey comic--and it turns out this is a recurring nightmare.

Things get more intricate and complicated, as the story takes on feminist undertones given the reactionary and controlling actions of Bobo when she starts to explore her dream and meets up with wolves who claim to worship the woman that Mimi sees in her dreams. When Mimi and Bobo break up at the end of this first chapter, she essentially cuts off her last tether to society as she knows it--and she says "I feel free." That said, the wolves seem to be on the up-and-up, but it's clear that they're not telling her everything. This comic is all about the freedom to explore one's true self and how that sometimes leads to uncomfortable and unpleasant conversations and confrontations. Alabaster creates a world that's bursting with life, with each page cluttered in all the right ways. She's careful to leave a lot of negative space in each panel so as not to get in the way of her storytelling, but the small panels and lack of gutter space between them is a strategy that allows her to use a lot of quiet moments at a fast pace.

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