Tuesday, January 24, 2017

mini-Kus! Of The Week #9: Michael DeForge, Daria Tessler and Daniel Lima

mini-Kus! #43: Meat Locker, by Michael DeForge. It was a pleasure to see what appears to be slowly coalescing into DeForge's mature style on display in this comic. DeForge managed to cram three thematically connected short stories into one mini, and each one was satisfying in their own way. The first was "Meet Your Personal Trainer", a series of panels featuring what amounted to a personal ad for a personal trainer. In this particular reality, jocks are a marginalized sub-culture like punks or bookworms are in our reality, and DeForge's particular form of body distortion is a snug fit for these poor, desperate characters. The personal trainers may as well be sex workers, given how marginalized they are and how eager to make money they seem to be. People tend to forget just how funny DeForge is as they focus in on the quality of his drawings, but lines like "I have been fired from my past two gyms for falling in love with my clients. Pick me if you want a passionate personal trainer who loves mixing boundaries with pleasure!"

 "Getting Big" features some sly visual jokes from DeForge. Sure, it builds on the trainer-as-sex-worker premise from the first story, this time in the form of a "phone sex" trainer, but it's DeForge making this musclebound character slightly resemble Linus Van Pelt from Peanuts that made me laugh out loud. The pitch-black mouth in an undulating shape that formed on the protagonist's face while screaming about making "the legs of women turn into warm jelly, for passerby to slip on pools of it on the floor" combined DeForge's wit on multiple levels. Adding a layer of hatching behind the figure only made it more intense.

"Jocks" is the true standout of the three, as DeForge's use of color and character design are lurid, heartbreaking and hilarious all at once. Seeing the poor jocks just trying to get a workout or a run in and get harassed by everyone was incredible fun, especially when a gang of jocks goes to the beach and we see all sorts of body types: legs up to the neck, totally musclebound, tanned & toned. They fantasize about jocks running the world, as "People would line up for blocks to watch sports! We'd have athletes on t-shirts!" What's remarkable is the incredibly convincing arguments DeForge makes for them regarding their marginalization and how neatly that narrative fits in when compared to our world, and how hilariously emo the jocks get regarding their own sense of identity. That the final scene contained an emotional speech between two naked jocks in the shower only added to the ridiculousness of the story.

mini-Kus! #45: Music Of Changes, by Daria Tessler. The art here reminds me a bit of Gilbert Hernandez's really odd stuff, with weird shapes, bug-eyed characters, shadowy forms flying across the page and a conceptually absurd premise. Tessler's aesthetic is very much her own, as the soft pastels and fiendishly clever visual and written plays on words all serve the surprisingly tight narrative. This is a story about a farm that grows plants engineered to randomly sprout a number of different forms on its trunk, which are then turned into glass to create sculptures. This was conceptually fascinating idea on its own for a mini, but Tessler was interested in exploring order vs chaos where the expectations from the reader were flipped. Here, the protesters, dressed in all black garb, were the ones who were protesting against chaos and wanted the sculptures destroyed on general principles. Instead of those in control being rigid and orderly, they preferred weapons of chaos that were often quite whimsical. Those weapons included Dance Gas, which created little dancers that cut their targets but also entered into their bodies on a cellular level. Amusingly, a couple of protesters slipped away to a bar called Plato's Cave, a place where naturally knowledge becomes less certain in the shadows of a magic show. A magician claims that determinism exists with a large enough intellect to oversee seemingly random choices, but he's as much a victim of entropy as anyone else when he shrinks and then tries to restore the two protesters. This is an example of an issue of mini-Kus! where the anything-goes nature of the series really lends itself to going way out on a limb with strange ideas.

mini-Kus! #47: Sutrama, by Daniel Lima. This is an adaptation of a scene from the Robert Bresson film, Le Diable Probablement, wherein an analyst is asking questions of a woman who appears to be either naked with the body paint of a suit on her or else wearing entirely translucent clothing. I would guess that Lima added that detail to create some visual frisson in a story that is otherwise mostly talking heads. The session the two are having is as much philosophical debate as it is therapy, with nothing less than a quest for meaning being at stake. Every page finds Lima setting up another unusual tableau for the woman to be a part of, as though she were posing for a still life on every page. Her willingness to expose herself in terms of the provocative nature of her poses parallels her willingness to open herself up on an existential level. Lima's line is crude and direct, with colored pencil being used to fill in spaces on most pages. In the end, the analyst, after having run through the analysand's sex life, parents, etc, hits upon suicide as the solution that's most desired. When there's some protest to this (only on the grounds that death is as awful as life), the analyst simply takes over and guides her through. It's a disturbing ending, as it implies a genuine sense of inquisitiveness on the part of the woman that's subsumed and ignored by the analyst, who seems to be plotting her annihilation all along. The fragility of the line (not unlike C.F.) seems related to that imminent sense of extinction.

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