Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thirty-One Days of CCS #29: John Carvajal

John Carvajal has a pleasantly chunky, cartoony style of art that doesn't really remind me of many American contemporaries. There's a slight resemblance to Tom Hart, but the bigfoot stylings are far more reminiscent of French comics. That extends to his restrained, tasteful use of watercolors, especially in the post-apocalyptic sci-fi series he's doing with the writer Simon Mesnard, Anterran: Day 0. The story is about a scientist named Stan and his younger friend Oliv'r as they navigate a world filled with zombie-types and ruthless agents of the dictatorship. The apocalypse was brought on by something that Stan was involved with: a sort of Motherbox technology in cube form called Sok'as that was used worldwide, until one day something went wrong and millions died. The story is very much about how a utopia dependent on an all-invasive technology is a fragile one, as technology can be manipulated. It's also implied that the psychological aspects of the cubes had an addictive quality; indeed, the mutants transformed when "Day 0" (the day of the apocalypse) arrived are junkies for them. Stan's goal is to populate a spaceship to move off-planet, and the creators throw in a wild card character named Cl'ar whom they rescue from mutants. While the series is heavy on info-dumps to catch the reader up on this particular bit of world-building, Carvajal's lively art animates the characters and keeps the readers interested in the action. The storytelling and composition of each page is fairly conventional, as the character design and expressiveness of the art is the real star of the series.

His one man anthology, Scraps, is predictably a mixed bag. It collects stories done for anthologies at CCS as well as other places. "Hidden Truth" is about an adventurer who stumbles upon an ancient temple and is seemingly aided by the spirits inhabiting it...until it's too late. It's a silent story, though its greater point beyond the ending as evidenced seemed oblique. Carvajal uses a lot of misdirection in his narratives, and "Saved" initially seemed to be about how the protagonist went on native on an alien planet but instead likely suffered some kind of hallucination...or did he? "Power Outage" does something similar, turning a story told in caveman times back into a modern yarn when the power came back on after an outage, leaving the dad initially upset that he didn't get to finish his story, until he finds his own distraction. It's a nice story about how losing one's attention to interpersonal connections is so incredibly easy. Carvajal's cartoony style is especially effective here.

"La Parcea" telegraphed its absurdity-of-war message, but "Mel's House" once again threw a real monkey wrench at the reader in the story of a man trying to escape from pursuers with his baby in a forest. Carvajal has a way of getting the reader to buy into the narrative from the perspective of the protagonist and then totally flip reality around to reveal that all was not what it seemed. "Forgotten", about a robot on a quest, is one of the best-drawn comics in the book. It goes on a few beats too long, but the drawing is so fun to look at that it was not a huge impediment. In general, however, the drawing in Anterran was considerably more confident and accomplished than the work here, which I think speaks to the power of experience. "Memories" and "Anxieties Of Life" are two of the stronger pieces in the comic, which gets better as it proceeds. Carvajal's autobio is restrained and thoughtful, as he recalls an idyllic time earlier in his life with his friends at the local swimming pool as he was riding a bus home. The latter is about the front he has to put up in front of his young students when he's teaching, as he's hit with an anxiety attack afterward. The best story in the book, "De Aqui Alla" was originally an entry in Frank Santoro's correspondence course, and the use of the grid and overall sense of discipline in his storytelling was evident in this story of a young trans woman who is frustrated by life, seems to meet her end in an accident, goes through a metaphysical journey and comes out the other side alive. That life has a cost, as Carvajal reveals in the final panel. It's clear that Carvajal is well on his way to doing some interesting things, and that the CCS experience allowed him to find his voice as a storyteller.

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