Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Thirty-One Days of CCS #6: Alex Karr

Alex Karr's comics are a mix between fairy-tale fabulism and EC horror-comics twist endings. Ultimately, they are about agency and the ability to define life by one's own parameters, but they're also about the ways in which genuine concern by family can be constrictive and oppressive. In Fairy Godmother: Held Back, the audience is introduced to the titular Fairy Godmother, who is the narrator of the story in much the same way the Crypt-Keeper is in EC's horror comics, only far more pleasant. Both characters are moral scolds, but the Fairy Godmother at least gives characters a choice to do the right thing--even if she knows they won't.

In this story, we're introduced to a young artist named Iris and her father. Her father is totally disinterested in her burgeoning career as a successful ceramicist, and he is instead more interested in her finding a husband. He's a hypocrite who was forced to marry by his parents when he didn't want to, and then internalized the message to the point where he thought he had a "perfect family"--at which point his wife walked out on him. He screams at her in the restaurant and causes a scene, and afterwards encounters the Fairy Godmother, who is willing to grant him his wish of Iris having a man to take care of her. That's when the comic takes an EC turn, as Iris ironically gets in an accident, loses both her arms, and is taken care of by a male physical therapist. While she does eventually wind up happy, his inability to accept her no matter what leads to their relationship dissolving.

In the more complex Fairy Godmother: Sister's Forfeit, a teen named Rose resents her older sister Fiona trying to monitor her behavior like their now-deceased mother might. Rose is taking increasingly larger risks going out at night, and she also winds up in a car accident (!) that puts her in a coma. When Fairy Godmother appears, she offers Fiona a deal: Rose will live if Fiona takes over as Fairy Godmother, but that will mean Fiona never existing. Of course, the extra ironic twist thrown in is that Rose does remember her sister, but no one else does, and it drives her crazy. We're introduced to the Fairy Godmother queen at the end, who becomes a sort of meta-narrator as the concept of a larger structure is thrown into this otherwise simple story.

Karr's line is simple and expressive, with slightly distorted heads that emphasize emotion over form and action. Indeed, almost all of the action takes place off-panel in these comics, as Karr is far more interested in measuring reactions than producing shocks. The conceptual shocks of her ironic twists are far more disturbing than the visceral depiction of the actual accidents. The Fairy Godmother herself is an interesting character, because she's not exactly a benevolent presence in this story, even though she very much looks the part in her "princess dress" garb. Karr's comics need a bit of refinement in terms of evening out the drawing and lettering, but I see her making a leap like Katie Skelly, the nearest comparison I could think of at that stage of their careers. Her layouts are sophisticated, her storytelling voice is strong, and the comics are conceptually unusual. I'll be curious to see if she continues this series.

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