Friday, August 12, 2016

Minis: Bowie, Turbitt, Scully

Bowie and Fourteen Euros In Primark, by Sarah Bowie. The Irish cartoonist self-published two very different comics in terms of tone. Bowie immediately addresses the question if she's related to David Bowie (no), but she turns that into an amusing fantasy where he's her eccentric uncle who sends her birthday cards and invites her over to his flat. On an expansive flip page, Sarah's visit is hilarious, as they're both dressed as Ziggy Stardust and grooving out. Sarah's art here is exuberant and silly, adding in all sorts of visual humor to go along with all of the expected Bowie jokes. Fourteen Euros in Primark is much different, as it tells in an emotionally detached but still devastating manner the story of a dysfunctional relationship. Point of view is Bowie's key storytelling trick here, as she juxtaposes images that often work against her narrative, or present that narrative from an unsettling point of view. For example, in a two page section of the story where she describes being unnerved by her boyfriend keeping his eyes opened while they kissed because he "liked to watch her", we see Bowie undress bit by bit--with the zeroed-in focus of a leering male gaze uncomfortably present in each panel.

Bowie sharply addresses the conflict between how she thinks she should feel about having a boyfriend (and much to her dismay and seemingly out of her control, a fiancee) and her actual feelings of being simultaneously controlled and ignored. The reaction of her mother, presented in a series of panels depicting the housework her mother was doing, is dead-on in terms of detaching the narrative from any sense of romance. One almost gets the sense that her mother wasn't starry-eyed for her daughter not because she sensed that her boyfriend was awful, but because she knew he was awful and felt that this kind of relationship was inevitable for her daughter, just as it was likely inevitable for her. Bowie gets at the subtle and not-so-subtle ways he emotionally abused, like leaving her alone at a bar while he went to hang out with her friends and the comments he made about her appearance, but the ever-present push of societal acceptance pressured her to stay in it--and he knew it. When she hinted at a break-up, he threw a noose of a wedding proposal at her, with the expectation of happiness reining her in. The proof of how good a decision she made to finally end it came when she illustrated the saucepan he came by to take, without warning or even asking, after they broke up. Bowie's restraint in her storytelling decisions just barely holds back her fury, frustration and indignation; she keeps them simmering by continually and purposefully avoiding drawing faces, and the result is a tense, harrowing story of escape.

Philadelphia Sketch Book and WaWa, by Meghan Turbitt. An underrated quality of Turbitt as an artist is that she's a keen observer of her environment. While her comics have an exaggerated, grotesque and hyperactive veneer, the fun stuff is built on a spine of drawing from life and nailing key details. It's the details that allow the reader to see just how exaggerated her stories can get. The mini sketchbook is mostly in color, detailing people she sees on public transportation and other public arenas. She's especially intent on drawing African-American people, drawing what she actually she sees instead of racial cliches. WaWa is her tribute to the convenience store chain and the surprisingly good food available there. Anyone who's read any of Turbitt's comics is well aware of her food obsession, so the fact that this mini reads like a love letter to someone who's surprisingly good in bed should be no surprise. Turbitt's greatest asset as an artist is the spontaneity and energy of her drawings, and what's changed is that her draftsmanship has improved dramatically over the past couple of years without sacrificing the speed or energy that's her trademark.

Internal Wilderness, by Claire Scully. Published by Avery Hill, this blue-toned comic beautifully illustrates the understood relationship between nature in the form of forests & mountains and the small towns one can find nestled in them. This is a point of view comic where the reader sees no characters, only someone's point of view. Scully lovingly draws foliage, streams, and mountains in a manner that's naturalistic but almost romanticized, as though contemplating them is restorative and meditative. The buildings look like drawings of buildings, very deliberately rendered in a cartoony fashion by someone's hand, which at first gives them a jarring quality. As noted in the end notes but as it's also made clear in the story's point of view, this comic is as much about consciousness as it is about a particular place. Indeed, the lack of specificity in the drawings (there are no signs or landmarks that would notate a specific place or time) points to that sense of this being the cartoonist's "happy place": a serene, natural environment. The comic is a tour of that happy place and feeling about nature instead of being a narrative, That joy comes across on every page, as though Scully's mind's eye flips from image to image.

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