Monday, July 18, 2016

2dcloud: Christopher Adams, Minis from Bongiovanni, Breutzman, Donsker, Miles

Following up on my recent Minnesota post, let's take a look at one of Minneapolis's finest: 2dcloud. The publisher, Raighne Hogan, is a cartoonist in his own right, but he's made a splash thanks to his willingness to take risks with avant garde, eccentric and boundary-pushing comics. Hogan's put interesting work back in print, printed the work of locals, given homes to more-widely read cartoonists who needed a new publisher, published the work of emerging cartoonists and he's even gone the international route. At the moment, 2dcloud is running a kickstarter in an effort to support publishing some pretty remarkable books. This column closes out my look at some releases over the past couple of years. 

Strong Eye Contact, by Christopher Adams. One of 2dcloud's virtues as a publisher is their willingness to give emerging artists a platform for unusual and nonintuitive work. Christopher Adams is a perfect example of this, as his work is immersive in a way that's unusual. Instead of demanding that the reader allow a complex page with little negative space to slowly reveal itself to them like many immersive artists, Adams instead offers up variations on narrative that contain a great deal of negative space but focus on quotidian moments and an emotional journey without the anchor of dialogue or narrative captions. Adams walks the line of providing a clear emotional through-line while leaving much of the narrative itself for the reader to decipher. The book is about a stand-up comedian who happens to be African-American; both are interesting choices because Adams seems to be going out of his way to write about someone whose experience is similar to his in some ways and radically different in others. The unnamed comedian is a different race than Adams and specializes in an art that is almost entirely reliant on audience reaction for success. The book's title hints that the story is very much about performance, and the titular "strong eye contact" is a key to a comedian connecting to and engaging with their audience.

The first part of the book alternates between quotidian events in the man's life and abstract patterns that resemble landscapes or wave patterns. The fact that he's a stand-up comic makes the veracity of these events fluid, as some of them seem to be either fodder for stand-up material or Adams' way of getting across a stand-up storytelling comedian. There's one bit where he's in an amusement park with a woman and what appears to be her son, and he winds up accidentally kicking the kid in the face while wearing roller skates. A cameraman in the last panel casts the reality of that sequence into doubt; was this for a TV show? Are the abstract pages reflective of his "real" thought processes, as opposed to the calculated way in which comedy works?

The second section is in scrawled crayon and tells a single story. Compared to the crisp and sharp drawing and coloring of the first section, the second is deliberately jarring as it depicts the comedian playing mini-golf, getting locked out of his car, dealing with the cops and eventually making it home. Adams piles woe after woe on his protagonist, with the use of crayon simplifying the narrative and making it plainer for the reader. The final section is heavily cross-hatched to an almost abstract idea, as the patterns the cross-hatching creates are recognizable as drawings but also have their own plastic identity as a series of interlocking shapes. The section is not so much a narrative as it is a series of stills (photographs? post cards?) that tell a fractured story of travel and adventure. It's yet one level further removed from the reader, as the "strong eye contact" is nonexistent in this section, even if on a meta level it's still about performance. There's a short interview mini that goes with the book, as then co-publisher Justin Skarhus interviews Adams and the two grapple with the book's content and how to promote it. 

Yule Log, by Christopher Adams. Adams goes in a completely different direction here, emphasizing a lush  pencil line in this story about a man hired to be Santa Claus aboard an airplane that then crashes in the mountains. The book is very much about conspicuous and crass consumption, as the private jet features champagne being popped and every luxury imaginable. Adams then uses several pages to get across the awesome and indifferent power of nature, as the man manages to survive the wreck, calling out the names of loved ones (presumably his children) as he crawls through the snow. He passes out when he sees the Northern Lights, only to wake up tied to a Christmas tree that's being towed by a snowmobile. Santa's work is never done, as he sees a small shack and two kids jumping up and down in the distance. The cover, featuring masking tape over rolls of toilet paper, is hilarious, getting at the essence of the conflation of holidays (and human interaction and closeness) and commerce. Adams' pencil work here is unbelievably detailed but lively, as he emphasizes visually arresting events though he notably leaves out the visceral aspects of the crash itself.

The 2dcloud minis are a fascinating mixed bag. How It Happened is an autobio comic by Jason T. Miles that details the first time he went to Fantagraphics co-publisher Eric Reynolds' house. Reynolds is never mentioned by name, but Miles drops enough hints to make it pretty obvious. I've always loved Miles' use of negative space and giving shadows a visceral quality. Miles goes after nervous energy in this comic, as he's trying to stay cool in meeting someone that he clearly admires. The use of text as part of the drawing adds to the slightly claustrophobic nature of the story, which has a funny punchline when he reads a truly disgusting comic that Reynolds did.

Adams' Easter Island features the artist engaging in comics-as-poetry, as he constructs comics "sculptures" on each page, with text horizontally bifurcating the text on each row. Each image is responsive to the nature of being split in half, with each page documenting a memorable moment in time. Mayme Donsker's The Arborist's companion uses single-page photos to create a narrative of a person interacting with a tree: looking at it, sawing a branch off, and essentially doing other things to ponder or prune it. Like many 2dcloud works, it asks the reader to consider wordless art and contextualize it.

Nicholas Breutzman's Harvest is a viscerally drawn, cartoony account of some ranchers gathering calves' testicles and bringing them to a local bar and grill. A bunch of oilmen come in and start a fight (a big mistake), and things only come to a close when the "Rocky Mountain Oysters" are fried up and ready. It's a hilarious, rollicking read that sees Breutzman really cutting loose on the page. Bongiovanni's Cavities and Crevices is visceral in another way, as it addresses the idea of penetration, consent and rape, beginning with a witch who "is lustful but not young". It's about the power of naming things and power dynamics in general. It's unsettling and powerful, and Bongiovanni's spare, scratchy art burns itself into the reader's mind.

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