Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thirty-One Days of CCS #24: Penina Gal & Betsey Swardlick, Bailey Sharp

Betsey Swardlick & Penina Gal put out a second issue of the completely ridiculous series Glamera, and the world is a more fabulous place for it. The character design is so amazingly on-point that I can't help but marvel at the simplicity and detail of this cross between the monster Gamera (complete with fangs and turtle shell) and David Bowie (sporting Ziggy Stardust-era makeup). Glamera encounters the ghostly Glamurai and has to fight them because they're being controlled by outside forces. When Glamera breaks the spell with a boombox bomb, the Glamurai claim they were controlled by a scientist trying to steal "Glamessence". What follows is a hilarious but heartbreaking scene as the scientist, Dr. Marvin Doctor, gives a lecture about being glam as a child but abandoning it for a love of science and history. His "audience", in a hilarious reveal panel consists of a teddy bear, a troll doll, a mirror, Mr Potato Head, etc. After another battle where Dr. Doctor tries to absorb the ghosts, Glamera reveals that passion for anything is in itself glam, and that the doctor should embrace this aspect of himself. It's all played for laughs, but Gal & Swardlick get across their greater point that glam is about total self-acceptance and embracing those things that make one who they are. Subverting action paradigms along the way was another goal of this comic, as rigidity in thought and action is precisely what they're trying to expose. As is often the case with Swardlick's comics in particular, there's some serious points made underneath a lot of silliness.

Bailey Sharp's unnerving story about anxiety, T, works so well because of the highly stylized character design and visceral descriptions of a high school girl's mental breakdown. It begins when T's boyfriend sends her a text to meet him during lunch, which sets off a visceral panic that he's going to break up with her. What follows is an odyssey of avoidance, as she starts shaking uncontrollably and is terrified to see him, especially since they were about to off on break together. She can barely face her best friend, and when she does enter the lunchroom, she's mystified by the presence of the marching band. That's when she switches her own narrative and thinks he might propose, which spins her around even more, as she leaves the lunchroom when he hasn't arrived yet, hangs out in the bathroom, lurks in the theater, somehow goes to homeroom and then back to the lunchroom, only to encounter her friend. Her friend is angry because it's revealed that T's boyfriend was going to take them all to the beach right after school. T eventually winds up under the bleachers with another girl who is also trying to avoid the world.

This is a story about image, as T wonders what she could have possibly done to merit being broken up with, wondering "aren't I...perfect?" It is revealed to her that she has no identity of her own; it's entirely wrapped up in what he thinks of her. The tiniest bits of minutiae are replayed in her mind as something to desperately hold onto, and it doesn't take much to start fantasizing about leaving town with him and never returning. That's the ultimate negation of self and the ultimate sense of feeling validated by another, since they are leaving everything behind them as well. She questions her own sexuality down to the core of her sexual desire, wondering if she's "frigid". What's interesting is that after she emerges from the bleachers, an experience that involved some sensory deprivation, she emerges different. It's as though that moment was her siege perilous and she came out the other side stripped of illusion, finally able to see the world differently. The grotesque and distorted nature of the character design (which gets more warped as the comic proceeds) only serves to act as cues for the reader as to how she sees herself and the rest of the world. The fact that her odyssey took place during a prescribed time (the lunch hour) is another clue that T took a journey where her old steady-state of belief and sense of identity was shattered and that a new one started to emerge at the end of lunch. Sharp's ability to detour into unusual and warped spaces is all part of her ability to get at the core of a character's inner conflict.

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