Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Minis: K.Berry, R.Hendricks, W.Taylor

Spank, by Kitty Berry. Berry is a talented alum of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and this violent sexploitation comic is a love letter to high-voltage women's revenge/ass-kicking movies. The closest comics analog is the kind of material Katie Skelly has been doing of late with her Agent 8 comics, creating a feminist context for highly stylized (and stylish) violence and character design. Berry's character design has a rubbery quality to it, with exaggerated curves, absurdly accented lips and an emphasis over suggestion of form and action rather than a naturalistic filling out of character. Berry also favors dramatically staged shots, like one where the titular Spank is standing over a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend who had just tried to kill her, pointing a gun at his head. The skewed perspective (essentially a ground-eye view that focuses as much on his smarmy expression as it does her gun. Other than one two-page spread which expresses Spank's humanity and vulnerability in assuring her client that she'd bring back her missing daughter, the book is full of posing, attitude and assured bad-assery. The Quentin Tarantino influence I see in the comic is likely as much an artifact of films that influenced him as it is the influence that the director may have had on the cartoonist. This first issue has some problems (the fight scenes are stiff and there's a general lack of fluidity throughout), but it's otherwise a delightful, over-the-top set-up for something potentially far more explosive.

Passing, by Whit Taylor. While this is just the first chapter of a longer story, Taylor touches on topics rarely explored in comics. The concept of "passing" refers to a person of color whose physical characteristics allow them to pass as Caucasian. It's a reference to the ways in which how dark a person of color is can affect social standing and overall levels of privilege, as well as the complicated nature of multiracial identity and politics. This comic starts with a young woman looking for an older woman who may have been a friend of her mother's, who was a person of color. The frigid response she gets is enigmatic on the one hand (and I assume the specifics get explained later), but it's obviously related to race and shame. Taylor plays to her strengths here, focusing on character design (the details related to clothing are especially important and telling) and facial expressions. This comic isn't bold simply because Taylor addresses race in a way few comics do, but because the vividness and realistic qualities of her characters provide a perfect platform.

The Washington Tragedy and Stranger Two Stranger, by Robert Hendricks. Hendricks uses a dense, naturalistic style to relate historical fiction and and quotidian encounters. The Washington Tragedy is about the assorted questionable activities of Daniel Sickles, a mid-19th century congressman. It speaks to one eternal truth: where there are politicians, there is scandal. Sickles was a known philanderer, yet it was his outrage over his own wife's affair that led him to hypocritically react in a wounded and morally outraged manner. In this first part, Hendricks establishes Sickles as a corrupt member of the Tammany Hall political machine who married a 16-year-old after being involved with a prostitute for many years. With a penchant for dense hatching and cross-hatching, Hendricks does well in creating atmosphere and dread. Stranger Two Stranger is not unlike the Julia Wertz-edited anthology I Saw You, taking Missed Connections ads from Craigslist and turning them into comics. Most of them are on the literal side and not especially interesting, but Hendricks does come up with some interesting compositions, like "Would You Like My Umbrella", which goes the extra mile in creating atmosphere, with the best panel being a picture of a woman wearing glasses, with the lenses entirely covered with drops of water.

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