Wednesday, August 31, 2016

NoBrow: Jen Lee, Bianca Bagnarelli

Vacancy, by Jen Lee. This is one of NoBrow's "17x23" line, a sort of deluxe mini-comic, complete with French flaps. Because it's a NoBrow book, color is the most important aspect of its aesthetic, using a bright and warm palette draw the reader in and quickly differentiate characters. Lee uses a fairly uniform and thin line weight in order to emphasize not just color, but also gesture, body language and the ways the characters relate to each other in space and from different perspective. There's one panel (above, second page, panel 3) where the visual field of the protagonist goes from eye level to looking straight up, and Lee orients the reader partly threw the use of a light green sky's negative space. That allows her to frame the panel with the back of the dog's head at the bottom of the panel and the top of the deer's head at the top, creating a pleasingly balanced composition. Note that in the last panel on the page, when the deer is crashing through the fence, that Lee switches the background color from light green to white, in an effort to really draw the reader's eye to the action with a starker choice for negative space.

The story involves a house dog who's been abandoned, hoping every day that his people will join him but also feeling the pull of the wild. When a deer and raccoon happen by, he begs them to take him along and teach him the ways of the forest. The obnoxious raccoon constantly leads the dog astray, while the good-natured deer has nothing but bad advice. Of course, when a pack of coyotes comes to prey on them, it's the dog's familiarity with home turf that winds up saving the day. Lee cleverly informs the reader of exactly why the dog was abandoned in a chillingly casual way and reinforces it as we see abandoned house after abandoned house. The anthropomorphic animals pause at the end as they take up residence in the dog's house, looking at their human-appearing shadows, understanding that they're truly the ones who are living in the house and the suburb. Lee's character design is sort of like a cuter Michael DeForge, but still containing a hint of danger and visceral animal behavior.

Fish, by Bianca Bagnarelli. This is in the same format as Vacancy and is similarly dependent on colors to push forward its narrative, but in an entirely different way. The dominant colors here are light purples, pinks and oranges, all of which have an almost sickly tint. That's fitting for a comic that features a teen named Milo who is in the process of trying to deal with the deaths of his parents. Handling grief as an adult is difficult enough, but for a teen who's already trying to deal with hormones and exaggerated emotions, it's almost impossible to wrap one's head around it. Different people will cope in different ways, and for Milo, it's musing on the fragility of life on a visceral level. That is, what is keeping our very organs from bursting forth? When he's ridiculed by his cousin, Milo attacks him. There's a great dinner scene where everywhere Milo turns, his eye turns toward death or decay: wilting flowers, the visceral quality of the food and even lingering on his aging grandfather. The book's climax comes when he's faced with the dead body of a girl who had gone missing and he reacts by vomiting. It's a cathartic moment though not a comforting one, as he gets confirmation that we really are all just meat and that our illusion of control is just that--an illusion. That said, when his grandfather picks him up at the end, there's a moment of comfort, as his aging grandfather is still alive and still capable of being there for him. The sickly hues are key to understanding Milo's view of the world: not so much a dark and gloomy one, but rather one where the veneer of reality conceals that we are all potentially sick and beginning to rot. Like the titular fish, we're either meat or predator, depending on circumstance. Milo understanding this fact and starting to accept it demonstrated that he was on his way to actually processing his grief.

No comments:

Post a Comment