Wednesday, July 6, 2016

2dcloud: Gina Wynbrandt's Someone Please Have Sex With Me

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. First, here's a review of a recent publication.

Let's examine Gina Wynbrandt's collection of stories, Someone Please Have Sex With Me. Along with Sophie McMahan, Wynbrandt is very much in the Lisa Hanawalt school of using static images to create confrontational, hilarious and absurd scenarios. Whereas with Hanawalt's work sex was often present but never emphasized, Wynbrandt makes it a point to get in the reader's face regarding her desire and the various ways it has been thwarted. In that sense, Wynbrandt has a lot in common with Meghan Turbitt, another cartoonist who spins her own insecurities and desires into comics gold. Like Hanawalt, Wynbrandt is an extremely skilled illustrator with a naturalistic style that she warps for her own cartoony ends. Wynbrandt uses bulging eyes, flared nostrils and exposed teeth as her comedic arsenal, celebrating her own desire and personhood even as she creates ever-more-bizarre scenarios that appear self-deprecating on the surface.

"One Less Lonely Girl" sets the tone for the rest of the collection while at the same time is the most conventional story. Her younger sister encourages her to become interested in teen idol Justin Bieber, which starts a chain reaction of self-infantilization that is a running theme throughout the book. This story features her trying to get the attention of men her age (she's 21 years old and in college in this story) without having a clue as how to do so. There's a hilarious scene where a guy offers her a pretzel, which she takes as a sign of attraction, so she does her best to eat it as sensually as possible. Naturally, this provokes bafflement and alarm on his part. There's another funny scene where two skinny (naturally) female classmates babble on about their lives, and Wynbrandt meets them with a furious, silent glare: eyebrows furrowed, nostrils flared, eyes piercing like blades. Wynbrandt has further misadventures, including a disastrous party, before she receives an actual twitter reply from Bieber to an incredibly crude post she made. The resulting drawing of Wynbrandt in silhouette, jumping for joy, is hilarious.

As amusing as that story was, it's restrained compared to the rest of the book. "Tiger Beat Exclusive" starts off with Wynbrandt going full-bore in terms of her obsession with teen idols, which is emphasized when her mom tells her that "It's like, really creepy, Gina" and follows that up with an even creepier "I'm just trying to help you get laid". Like Turbitt, Wynbrandt is visited in this story by Kim Kardashian, who announces that she's her fairy godmother. There's the expected montage scene of shopping, makeup, wine-drinking and "industrial strength anal bleach". What helps push this story over the edge is that Wynbrandt keeps the gags flying on every single page, be they crazy drawings or absurd situations. She winds up going to the Teen Choice Awards (mistaken for "a very pregnant Kim Kardashian"), and there's a page of hilarious physical and facial contortions as she's desperate to "smell just ONE boy". Even her crisp, beautiful lettering plays a part in the storytelling, going from all uppercase to all lowercase as she's clawing at herself in ecstasy. Things continue to escalate on page after page, winding up in the Teen Choice Awards being burned to the ground and Wynbrandt winding up in Jamaica with Bieber ("meh....okay"). Using the framework of teen mags like the aforementioned Tiger Beat and celebrity mags like Us Weekly, Wynbrandt turns the vapid nature of the entire culture as fuel for laughs as she wants nothing more than to embrace all the frippery. Even the halfhearted acceptance she got was enough.

"Someone Please Have Sex With Me" is a far darker story, as it discusses the feeling of simultaneously not feeling desired by those she finds desirable while being targeted by creepy, unsavory men. It also points to the problematic nature of placing the entirety of one's self-esteem on whether or not someone will have sex with her. This story is a sort of career arc of sexual dysfunction, starting with an eight-year-old Wynbrandt selling Playboys to boys in high school to literally throwing herself at anyone who'd have her, with dialogue like "WOW, I drank an entire beer. ANYONE could take advantage of me right now." From there, Wynbrandt details a humiliating photo shoot where she's told to keep stuffing her face, a gym fantasy that turns into a gay orgy scenario, a scene in the future where she forces an employee to have sex with her in order to keep his job, getting a Pikachu-shaped sex robot when much older (only to have it self-destruct!), coming to terms with her problems on her death bed and then getting fucked by a demon in hell ("Hooray!") . Wynbrandt gets at the heart of her dilemma here: having her desire subjected to erasure, exploitation, and humiliation. The objects of her desire are also the source of her pain.

In the staggering "Big Pussy", Wynbrandt further identifies her other problem: her self-imposed perpetual adolescence. Instead of taking charge of her own sexuality, she surrenders it to these dream scenarios that never materialize, or even worse, are warped by those who take advantage of them. In this story, she is inspired by an anime character blossoming thanks to the tutelage of a talking cat, so she naturally seeks out her own talking cat. Amazingly, she winds up finding a bunch of feral cats with human faces who agree to train her after she pays them, and they have her perform a number of demeaning and disgusting tasks that center around feeding them (snapping a rat's neck), grooming them (not with a brush!), and in a page that defies any kind of polite description, gets fucked by them. That clinches her training and subsequent over-the-top bacchanal, which includes some amazing panels where she's snorting catnip. Wynbrandt is an artist who loves extrapolating beyond the obvious end of a story, and so she takes things to another level with her giving birth to a cat/human hybrid, and extends the joke one last time while tying it into the beginning of the story (where she mocks her inherent laziness and childish behavior) when she and her daughter later appear on Maury. Wynbrandt's willingness to go to any extreme for a joke is at its zenith here, and the varying shades of pink only add to the story's ridiculous atmosphere.

The final story, "Manhunt", sees Wynbrandt with a "boyfriend", i.e., a guy who fucks her and tells her to go away afterward. In the story, Wynbrandt exaggerates the slightest non-abusive behavior as exorbitantly generous, like giving her some gum. When he stops answering her calls, she turns to her "Palpable Loneliness" wishlist and she gets a recommendation for an x-rated video game featuring a female bounty hunter. What follows is ridiculous scenario after ridiculous scenario starring Wynbrandt as the hero, featuring a lifeguard, a librarian, go-go dancing, x-rated puzzles, choking an enemy, and finding a unique way to subdue her target. The "inspiration" she finds from the game goes down the drain when her hook-up texts her, with the overcooked text of "For a moment, I gave up on love. But love didn't give up on me" being a perfect recapitulation of how Wynbrandt's fantasy scenario was a product of romantic tropes she had been fed (and feeding on) her whole life, tropes that were impossible to fulfill in any real way. Wynbrandt is a force of nature as a cartoonist, evincing a fully-formed toolbox of drawing and storytelling skills, a razor-sharp sense of humor, and (contrary to the image she portrays) a powerfully developed sense of self. One other young cartoonist who comes to mind as a comparison is Nick Sumida, and that may well be the best match, given their youth, their ability to exploit popular culture and social media to specific ends, and their unflinching willingness to talk about their desires and how they are frustrated.

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