Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Frontier: Richie Pope, Rebecca Sugar

Frontier #13: "Fatherson", by Richie Pope. This is a fantasy story in a deep sense. The idea of being able to open up a box and create a FatherSon in your own bathtub is an astounding fantasy, even if the way that plays out is unpredictable. The high concept of the comic is taking a pellet out of a package like it was medicine and waiting for it to grow. What's profound is that you're creating a father figure out of thin air, but in so doing you're creating a being dependent on you to a degree. The variations in how it behaves are a simple commentary on how as children, we don't really know what are parents are capable of. They are initially symbolically omnipotent and omniscient, but we later come to understand that they are just human. Pope's use of blue, yellow, purple and red only slightly recontextualizes his interest in exploring different kinds of black fathers in particular. It's yet another binary that Pope blurs, as the comic both is and isn't about race. The things Pope describes are very much the sort of things that a kid would find impressive (like being a good basketball player) or embarrassing (like being a bad basketball player).

The book has the cadence and form of a children's book, which is another interesting binary, because it also feels like a commercial as well. Each page introduces us to a different Fatherson, be they kind or abusive or artistically inclined. The implication that some Fathersons simply leave is left lightly on the page, yet that also has heavy symbolic value, especially the lines: "Some Fathersons run so far they forget where they are."/"Others run so far they forget who they are." On the other hand, there's something wonderfully warm and touching about some Fathersons creating their own Fathersons, which act as the consumer's Grand-Fatherson. Pope then shocks the reader back to reality on the last page, letting the buyer know you can return your Fatherson for credit if you don't like it. It reinforces the capitalistic aspect of the product in that it's designed to create an experience in creating a parent as opposed to having a child. What is left unstated is what the Fatherson is doing for the consumer on a practical and emotional basis, yet it's obvious that this is the key aspect of the comic. And of course, in real life, we can't go back and get a new father; all we can do is understand and accept our parent's flaws. The flatness of the drawings and the garishness of the colors are meant to mimic advertising materials, yet Pope at times injects a real sense of humanity into his drawings that defy the consumer qualities of the product.

Frontier #14: Rebecca Sugar. Sugar is of course an animator best known for her extremely popular and groundbreaking animated show, Steven Universe. This comic is kind of a dumping ground of ideas and themes that abound throughout her work, including her show, from her sketchbook. The first is a strip called "Margo In Bed", which involves a stand-in character meeting a cartoon character from her childhood in the 90s that she was in love with. It was one of those painful attempts at creating a cool character, a surfing dog named Rad Rover. Upon travelling to meet the dog, she remembered she was a princess in this land and wanted to meet her perfect fantasy boyfriend prince. Here is where Sugar gets at the heart of the strip: the concept of obsession that in reality is just narcissism. It's wanting to see the reflection of yourself in the object of your desire, not seeing them as they actually are. This is a theme that's constantly repeated in Steven Universe, that obsession is an attempt to take ownership of someone else, and that to be obsessed with a thing or work of art can be a way of avoiding one's desires in a mature way. Of course, obsessing over a cartoon is far less harmful than over a person, especially as a cartoon, and Sugar notes that her relationship with 90s cartoons is far different now than it used to be, especially since she's now "behind the looking glass" in that she's created an object of obsession for others.

The second half of the comic focuses on dance and movement, which are also hallmarks of the show as forms of both self-expression and intimacy with others. It's easy to respond to Sugar's work because her characters are so expressive and over the top; their emotions are easy to read not just because of their facial expressions, but because Sugar was careful to make their body language an essential element of the show. Her drawings also reflect her interest in drawing a variety of body types, from lithe to Rubensesque to muscular. Every body is capable of its own form of expression, and that's reflected in these drawings of dancers, which reflect raw emotion as much as they reflect movement on the page. Another thing that's evident in her work is how her method starts from the complex and is eventually simplified. Sugar's dense and almost frantic scribbles are an attempt to create a certain energy on the page in the hopes that this energy can be retained even as the images are refined. Her drawings have a fluid naturalism and anatomical accuracy that provide the bedrock for cartoony expressions, exaggerated action and general larger-than-life qualities. Like "Margo In Bed", Sugar's strength as a creator is making something that feels both real and like a dream. Like in the poem on her phone that opens the comic, it's an "organized mess".

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