Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Minis: Ella Gall & Kostja Ribnik, Andreas Brandal

Glimpses of Comfort, by Ella Gall & Kostja Ribnik. This is a writer-duo from Bosnia, and there's a certain brutal quality to them that I associate with comics from the Balkans. The drawings are mostly naturalistic, but they are also distorted and grotesque. Details tend to reveal rot and decay. The stories have a dystopian, nightmarish quality with a strong element of darkly cynical humor. The first story, "Don't Edit Sober", sets the stage for the other stories in this collection, as the artist tells the writer that if being drunk is the only way to separate our consciousness from the absurdity of this world, you may as well edit your work drunk to keep a connection to it. "Once They Had Pest" looks a little like a Brian Chippendale comic in the way the eye is dragged back and forth across the page of an underground setting. It's the most concise expression of the collection's theme: that humanity is a plague that will eventually be eliminated, in a process that will be as absurd as it is inevitable.

"Or All The Worlds With Bottles" expresses that sentiment in a different way, with the heavy use of spotting blacks emphasizing the central conceit of the story: that the man living in a tiny flat can't bear to part with any bottles he brings into his apartment. When it's revealed that he keeps having to get new apartments after he crowds himself out with bottles and he ponders having to get a better job as a result, it's the best kind of absurdity: the kind that seems dictated by ironclad rationality. It's a funny parable for not just letting obsession take over and crowd out the rest of one's life, it's one specifically aimed at conspicuous & ultimately pointless consumption in a capitalist society. He desperately hopes the bottles contain beauty and meaning in the same way a person hopes their career and possessions provide meaning. "This Funny Story" transposes that problem to a brutal, totalitarian government where a character named Didi didn't find any of the absurdly brutal tactics he was exposed to the least bit funny, when it was the state itself that didn't understand the banality of its existence. Ribnik goes to town on the skinny, tortured figure in this story and the buffoonish yet terrifying oppressors he has to put up with.

"Autumn Love Story" breathes a little more than the other stories, but it's no less melancholy as it's about an immortal existence that's haunted by an inability to act on one's feelings. "Winter Song" opens things up even more, as all the negative space here is white. It's a story that in many ways doesn't necessarily contradict the prior messages in the comic, but rather expresses that despite the stupidity of existence, the only way to live that makes sense is to take emotional risks and get out of our comfort zone, even though this will inevitably lead to pain. The final story, "Sleep Museum", is a further illustration of that principle, as a woman living in a newly refabricated city experiences a sense of sleepy numbness as she always and only stays inside during the winter. The story then flips to a man walking outside and coming back in, resenting the way in which he feels like his city had been reduced to a museum piece. The final panel reveals both how true that actually was but also gave a bit of hope for a tiny rebellion in the form of a live, human connection. The question that the artists pose is, is that glimpse of comfort enough to live an authentic life, or is it more important to fully inhabit the ways in which the world makes us uncomfortable?

False Memories, by Andreas Brandal. Another in the Stripnjak comics published by Ribnik, this is a silent series of crudely-drawn and laid out, inksplattered, densely hatched and cross-hatched comics about a series of monsters who run various apparatuses that control different systems. The first is a diminutive creature resembling a troll doll that runs a labyrinth; the second a cylindrical creature that's a mix of robot, tendrils and maggots who plugs into a city's electrical system and deals out death; and the third are a series of monstrous insects and spider creatures. There's also a one-eyed man who runs a mysterious system of switches and potions to create and manipulate life, and the final chapter is a series of nearly-abstract creatures at odd angles that seem to interact in an almost benign way with other creatures. These comics have the feel of an Eamon Espey without the direct social commentary; they are harsh and uncompromising in their own way, yet they represent the logic of closed ecosystems. They represent reality as it chosen by the creatures who are the masters of these worlds, whether or not it's true. Truth has no place in these stories; the only things that count are process, experimentation and ritual. Not even good or evil, per se, have any meaning in these stories, which are uncompromising in their approach and willingness to stay opaque.

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