Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Comics From SAW, 2016: Part 2

Let's finish up the rest of the comics I was examining from the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW) from 2016.

Vegas Style, by Eric Taylor. This is an odd slice-of-life comic about extremes. Aaron is a high-strung waiter who lives with a slob of a roommate who won't even get off couch, much less do anything about the trash and roaches in the apartment. It's hinted early on that there are other tensions as well, but Taylor cuts to Aaron and his erratic behavior. He slips into waiter autopilot mode and helps a snickering couple, though he does make a point of asking what the woman wanted to drink instead of taking the man's word for it. That results in the woman encountering him outside a bathroom and making out with him, until he reached up and accidentally nearly pulled her earring off. There's an air of someone on the edge of a breakdown with Aaron, who returns home and nearly grinds his fingers by accident when he tries to stuff a bunch of roaches down the sink and cuts his hand on broken class. Then there's a shift to his roommate trying to calm him down and ultimately giving him a hand job.

This comic was printed on a Risograph on light green paper, and it's more an emotional mood and character piece than a traditional narrative. Taylor uses a mix of naturalism and slightly cartoony faces and then uses shadows and other effects to alter mood. Most notably, Taylor uses a light on dark approach when Aaron is trying to fantasize about a woman when his roommate is jacking him off. This is an intense scene that clearly dives into a lot of territory that was only hinted at earlier in the comic, especially as Aaron keeps saying "I hate you" to his roommate. Aaron is a character twisted in knots, hating his life and himself even as he keeps himself as tightly buttoned up as possible. The end of the comic is a (literal) release, but really it's only a reprieve--not a solution. Taylor depicts his fragility with a thin line, especially when drawing his face. The line is so fragile that it barely forms an entire figure at times. The tension is depicted by Aaron reciting his waiter litany to himself, splashing his face with water and engaging the rest of the stuff with awkward banter. There are no conclusions to be drawn here, no real resolutions. There is just the depiction of confusion, frustration and perhaps exploitation mixed with genuine affection.

Missing, by Maxine Marie. This is an odd comic in its own way, as Marie uses a 4-panel grid to tell a story about missing persons and shifting identities. The young woman at the center of the story sees a spate of missing persons fliers and wonders about this even as she hardly sees anyone on the street. She briefly ponders this oddity when she sees the photo on the missing persons flier  turn into an anthropomorphic animal. To her surprise, she turns into a fox. Things keep shifting back and forth, until buildings and streets start to appear on the signs as well. There is no resolution here; just a feeling of alienation, of paranoia, and even a touch of whimsy mixed with dread

Turtles, Frog In Love and Harmontown, by Miranda Harmon. Harmon has a beautiful, fluid line that gives her comics an inherently charming quality regardless of the subject matter. The overall cuteness of her comics is balanced by the frequently dark and personal subject matter that she chooses to explore. In Turtles, for example, a young ogre-like creature is writing to her parents a year after she chose to move underground and live with the turtles. Harmon expertly captures that feeling of being young and falling in love with a new place and wanting to be a part of it, but also is not only wistful regarding what she left behind, but is also disappointed & surprised that the move didn't change her more. It's the sort of rude awakening that one receives that a move and a fresh start doesn't solve all your problems. Frog In Love is a lovely little story about a frog wishing to be a creature that would impress a nearby swan with its own beauty. The irony is that the frog gets turned into an ugly duckling, who is picked up by the swan! Harmon uses a light touch and lets her visuals tell most of the funny story here.

Harmontown is a revealing bit of autobio about Harmon dealing with depression and loneliness through listening to writer Dan Harmon's titular podcast. It's a show that's about pain, camaraderie, shame, addiction and finding ways to persevere. The members of the show also play a round of Dungeons & Dragons, both because role-playing is a long-time passion of Harmon's but also because it represents that sense of shared experience and camaraderie. Harmon delved into her slowly growing depression, noting that the show helped when she was struggling and avoiding the work of therapy. After describing how she slowly got better through therapy and meds, she got to the meat of the book: going to Los Angeles and getting tickets to the podcast. As it turns out, the show often asked for audience participation, and when they asked "Who's in pain tonight?" she raised her hand. The resulting conversation, the kindness of the hosts and the rollicking humor that resulted in a place she knew was safe made for a remarkable account. What's interesting about Harmon's autobio is that she projects timidity but acts boldly. She is unclear about her future as a creative person yet shows a remarkable work ethic. She delves into her pain and feelings of worthlessness and comes out being able to accept who she is, even if that hurts sometimes. Harmon balances that sense of personal awkwardness with a remarkable self-perceptive quality that is well-suited to her versatile and cheery line.

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