Tuesday, November 22, 2016

mini-Kus! of the Week #5: Amanda Vahamaki, Lala Albert, Marie Jacotey

Marching on through issues of mini-Kus!:

mini-Kus! #31: It's Tuesday, by Amanda Vahamaki. The excellent Finnish cartoonist's work has always had a quality of erase as well as things not being what they seem. That's certainly true of this quotidian comic centered around a market in Finland. Throughout what should be treasured routines is an air of disquiet and dissatisfaction. A thrift shop worker can't be bothered to look through new bags of clothes. An art student is dissatisfied with her work and her teacher and is restless leaving the studio. Two moms discuss some kind of pervert in the woods who's been exposing himself to girls at a camp, and one of them feels the other is trying to force her to buy an ugly jacket for her daughter. Teenage girls are feeling dissatisfaction toward their parents and the world. It's a little comic filled with first world problems, essentially, but the disquiet her is an existential one. There's no sense of belonging, no sense of outreach and the comic is filled with alienation and isolation. All of this is subtle, almost banal, as Vahamaki is careful to focus on meaningless details as a way of establishing how far away her characters are from really dealing with true meaning. The bright and colorful nature of the comic, with lots of red-cheeked faces and attractive scenery, is another way of getting at how the characters in the comic don't really want to see what's around them.

mini-Kus! #32: R.A.T., by Lala Albert. Albert's comic is a kind of second cousin to Vahamaki's, only instead of the friendly, benign character design of Vahamaki's Albert's are more jagged and jarring. Whereas Vahamaki's use of color is warm, Albert's is often cold. It makes sense, given that the story is about a guy who has managed to have a woman download a program that allows him to observe her whenever she is sitting at her laptop. It's purely for voyeuristic reasons (he's not trying to get her passwords or money), but it's still obviously a monstrous invasion of privacy. What's interesting is that she has a sense that she's being watched, so much so that she starts researching surveillance software and downloads the same program that's monitoring her. Albert's character dynamics are fascinating here, as the man watching her objectifies her in a strangely idealized manner, as though she were a on a pedestal. When he realizes that she's watching other people, he's crushed that she would act in such a crass manner (ie, like him). When she realizes that she's been watched by him, she gets her revenge. What's especially fascinating about this comic is the way it addresses the concept of the gaze. In theory, looking in someone's eyes and knowing that they're looking back is something that's supposed to engender empathy. In this context, it has an almost reflective, narcissistic quality to it, creating a false sense of intimacy. Albert's deconstruction of this idea and the way she shifts the power balance is jarring and powerful.

mini-Kus! #33: BFF, by Marie Jacotey. This colored pencil extravaganza is a fairly straightforward love triangle story about a guy named Rob whose best friend Stan just slept with a woman named Amy whom he had been obsessed with but never officially went out with. The mini shifts relationship axes every few pages in a book that's entirely about avoiding conflict. Rob tells Stan that's it fine that he's seeing her but runs out on the two of them. Amy clearly still has feelings for Rob and ditches Stan without telling him. Amy and Rob run into each other and inevitably hook up after a very funny scene where a lot of tension is relieved thanks to overhearing a dumb conversation on the train. Of course, Stan tries to contact Rob and the latter declines to talk to him. It's like a parody of the film Jules and Jim, only if all three characters were relentlessly passive-aggressive and narcissistic. The only "real" thing in the comic is a child's drawing of Rob & Stan, where Rob is stabbing Stan with a sword; the drawing hangs in Rob's apartment. The comic on the surface doesn't judge its characters, but that drawing and a deeper examination of each character's actions (especially Rob and Amy) reveals a pretty savage attack on Jacotey's part. The naturalism of the character design is given an expressive shimmer thanks to the use of color, creating just the kind of dreamland that its characters would like to inhabit.

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