Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Foxing Reprints #17:Oily Comics: Josh Simmons, James Hindle

Flayed Corpse, by Josh Simmons. One thing I've enjoyed about Chuck Forsman's tastes as a publisher is how wide-ranging they are. From coming-of-age stories to humor to all-out body horror, his aesthetic is less about genre and more about a certain gritty feel with regard to the work of each artist. In the case of Josh Simmons, Forsman attracted him to Oily thanks once again for the opportunity to do very short pieces that nonetheless are highly and supported with great enthusiasm. 

Simmons' comics have become increasingly brutal and nihilistic, even as he's become increasingly restrained with the more extreme trappings of his comics. At the same time, his absolutely pitch-black sense of humor is at his sharpest. This mini is a good example, as a group of doctors gathering around a mutilated corpse in order to determine the cause of death. The doctors are hilariously cold and clinical in the increasingly absurd number of ways the corpse died, leading to a first climax of everyone being right about how the person died. That leads to a discussion of theology, wherein Simmons doesn't let atheists off the hook either, as the final argument is that while there is no god, the man's agony "echoed out and was absorbed into a universe already sick with pain". There may be no meaning to life, but the phenomenon of suffering is not merely clinical, either.

Training, by Josh Simmons.  Speaking of suffering, this mini is effective because it's so concise. Simmons is totally uninterested in backstory or why a character has arrived at a particular moment of excruciating pain and hopelessness. The "training" here being forced upon a young man seeking a kind of unstated help is to inflict unrelenting pain in order to eventually make them not only "strong", but essentially closed off and desensitized to pain and any other emotions. It reads as a person undeservedly being punished in attempting to seek help, but I also see it as a brutal satire of how corporal punishment and institutionalized brainwashing of any kind can destroy an individual's spirit. Simmons' line is once again spare and even cartoony; the main antagonist vaguely resembles Gary Panter's character Jimbo. 

Close Your Eyes When You Let Go #3, by James Hindle. This is one of the more conventional series published by Oily, and yet it fits in with Simmons in the way the main character is obsessed with fear and the things that could happen to his young son. Unlike Simmons, Hindle gives his protagonist an out when he refrains from almost accidentally killing his son when he hears a strange noise at night and goes to investigate. It's an ending that fits, given the tone and emotional sensitivity of the strip. A tragic ending would have felt maudlin. Much better to see the father slowly try to get better, as he takes his son to the "dangerous" playground and just asks his boy to go slowly. There's something beautifully understated about Hindle's drawing that sells the emotion as well. His line is spare and doesn't vary in terms of line weight; the spareness and space he provides in each panel allow his fears to fester and then breathe. 

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