Friday, December 2, 2016

Thirty-One Days of CCS #2: Jarad Greene

Jarad Greene will graduate CCS in 2017, and his path has been an interesting one. He started off studying criminology & criminal justice, added theater studies and is now getting his MFA in cartooning. His comics employ a smooth, pleasant line deployed for a number of different storytelling and genre choices. Scene & Heard is an autobio comic about that very transition from his pre-law studies to embracing the arts. It studies the progression of choosing acting over speech as something that could help his future law career, precisely because it seemed more intimidating but also more potentially rewarding. The drama classes he took were grueling because it demanded a level of emotional presentness in the moment that is difficult to achieve, but once he did, it unlocked a new level of confidence in him as a person. What I like about this comic is that while there are psychological and emotional components in becoming an actor, Greene reveals that it's mostly a lot of practice, work and repetition--pretty much like any art or skilled activity. This comic is also all about understanding one's skill level when contemplating what to do next. Success for Greene meant conquering his first scene, building on everything he had learned up to that point. Unspoken in all of this is how this process obviously repeated itself in making this comic. Greene keeps things simple, staying within his wheelhouse as a draftsman but aggressively using unusual page designs to break up his story, varying panel size and layout as a way of modulating emotion and action. It's a very "talky" comic, but Greene also knew when to shut up and let the images take over the storytelling, like in one sequence where we see him really start to fall in love with acting.

Glass Figurines is a melodramatic slice-of-life piece most notable for Greene trying to use as much restraint as possible in not overloading the reader with backstory at the beginning of the story. It's about a guy going back home after the death of his uncle, and we quickly learn that his dad decided not to return with him for a variety of reasons. Withholding that information was important because the comic is really about how we process grief and the ugly practicalities that follow the dead after they have passed. In this case, there's a family dispute over an assortment of family knick-knacks, some of which are valuable, and one of the children who wants to sell as much of it as possible. Greene has a way of being fair to all sides involved, not underestimating the enormous psychological and emotional burden it can be to be a caretaker for someone who is dying and how after their death they need to be able to recoup some of that debt. The ending, where some beloved figurines become available after one is accidentally broken, is a bit on the treacly side.

When She Goes Skating Off The Moon is a well-crafted comic for children, with a great central hook: a young girl lacing up her roller skates when she falls asleep and zooming across the sky and around the moon. From there, she goes on all sorts of journeys across the world, both real and conceptual. Greene's fluid line and use of color are key here, along with a number of imaginative concepts and layouts. For example, on the page where she navigates "waterfalls of fountain pens", Green expertly leads the readers eye down and across the page and into the next page, filled with kinetic keywords like "zipping" and "spinning". Green doubles down on purples in this comic, reminiscent of Crocker Johnson's classic Harold And The Purple Crayon in the way it equates purple with the night. It's a charming little story, albeit one with no real sense of conflict or urgency, just pure fun.

The Fortress Charm is Greene's foray into fantasy comics. It's by far the most clever of Greene's comics and the one with the most unexpected twist, in large part because of the way Greene uses fantasy tropes that keep the reader guessing wrong. It's about a witch/alchemist type and her eager young gatherer/apprentice. After the apprentice kept bugging her for something to do, the witch gave her a simple job: to gather a flower from the ruins of an old castle, but dousing it in a potion before she gathered it. In the span of a few pages, what seemed to be an upbeat but typical quest/coming-of-age story turned into something far more sinister, and the reasons why were explained with no dialogue in a single panel. Greene accomplished the rare task of creating an entirely satisfying short story while leaving the reader wanting more. Fantasy may well be his best choice for future projects, because it's clear that he has a knack for navigating standard expectations of the genre and then subverting them in interesting ways.

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