Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sabin Cauldron's Maleficium

Sabin Cauldron's minicomics series Maleficium is the lesbian separatist witch comic I never knew I needed. It's a funny, action-packed and over-the-top trip through a number of different sub-genres that reminds me a bit of Ben Marra's stuff. In fact, his hyper-masculine action comics satires are a kind of mirror image to what Cauldron is doing here. Both artists take their genres quite seriously, but there's a ridiculousness to it all that's told with a straight face.

The first issue, set in 1969, is a send-up of horror/detective stories. "Lesbian Renegade Witch" Lobussa Thirst has to track down a killer that cleanly decapitated the head of a friend of hers, and the stories follow those beats until she tracks him down. Turns out she knows him, because she helped create him when she was getting her own head lopped off during the French Revolution. She inadvertently made him into a Human Guillotine, with the actual mechanism of how he accomplished it turning into a remarkably grotesque image. When she manages to seduce him, it's all over, as the story goes in a markedly different direction with a full-tilt series of occult rituals that bind him to her will. Cauldron only winks at the reader a couple of times (like with the epilogue), but the gritty, naturalistic art lends gravitas to a story that could have been much more ridiculous (and not in a good way) in different hands.

The second issue puts the rest of Lobussa's coven in the spotlight as they are forced to go up against a gang of biker werewolves whose bikes are also lycanthropes. The latter revelation made me laugh out loud, one of many funny moments in this satire of biker exploitation films crossed with a similar kind of witchsploitation film during the same era. This issue also makes use of psychedelic imagery, especially in its use of splash pages for some of the more outrageous scenes. The fight scenes are interesting in the way that Cauldron plays around with page design, putting the panels at jagged edges next to each other. Cauldron also makes nice use of negative space, flipping between positive and negative space in the most violent of scenes to lessen the impact a bit. There was even a bit of over-the-top poetry at work, as the comic began with an ode to the unpredictable power of electricity and ends with the witches triumphing over the wolves thanks to a live wire.

The third and fourth issues are even wilder. One of the witches, Caprina, was bitten by a werewolf and the result was that her head became that of a goat's. Later, she's dragged forward into time (into the far reaches of 1996), as San Francisco is becoming big on tech. She hooks up with a group of women anarchists in a squat and opposes a mysterious hooded figure who uses superpowered creatures like Finjas (merman martial artists) and an armored figure that's a Judge Dredd send-up called Kill-O-Byte. Throughout the issue, Cauldron drops dozens of easter eggs with images that refer to the women's alternative comics of the time. It's funny to see Carrie McNinch laying on a sofa in the squat as Caprina comes in. The hooded figure is trying to control the then-developing world wide web through Caprina, until the latter blows it up at the end of the issue.

Caprina is blasted forward to 2016, and virtually every character looks like a famous cartoon character, with Nancy giving a real estate tour to Daddy Warbucks. Caprina's therapist is "Dr. A.Kominsky", with Cauldron nailing the cartoonist's slightly grotesque self-image but not taking the reader too far outside familiar territory. When Caprina tracks down the hooded figure, a monstrous ball of energy emerges and destroys her old foe--but later comes for her. There's a lot of intrigue and running plotlines in this issue, as Caprina has to figure out why it seems like her partner is plotting against her. There's an amazing scene where she seeks out her former coven member Starlite, who complains that "black, brown and asian witches [are] used for emotional labor" when asked for a favor. The end of the issue reveals the origin of the energy creature that started stalking her as well as a surprise climax. For all the bombast and absurdity of the story, it's actually quite tightly plotted. There's also romance, betrayal, the ways in which gender identity changed over the years and much more. Though each issue stands alone, the running storyline becomes more compelling with each issue. Despite all the visual silliness, Cauldron never drops a straight narrative face in doing the comic, which makes the more dramatic portions of the comic all that more tense

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