Monday, August 7, 2017

Tyler Cohen's Primahood: Magenta

Tyler Cohen's collection of her Mamapants/Primazons short stories and minicomics, Primahood: Magenta (published by Stacked Deck Press) is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. What I mean by that in this case is that the alternating Primazon and Mamapants stories gave each other structure and context in a way that was difficult to achieve in single issues of her minis, where Cohen had to sometimes overexplain what she was trying to do. Here, she doesn't even have to try, as Roberta Gregory's superb introduction makes some important distinctions between the two interlocking storytelling devices. The Mamapants stories are a Cohen's autobiographical comics about being deciding later in life to have a child as a bisexual woman who eschews labels as much as possible. The silent Primazon illustrations depict a matriarchal society whose members seemed to be a mix of insectoid and avian, but still humanoid. They're Amazons, of a sort, in a society that's at once whimsical and fierce. Everyone is at play, but play for everyone is deadly serious.

In the Mamapants stories, Cohen is interested in three things: to record the fierce and highly unpredictable behavior of her daughter, to comment on how she and her partner were raising daughter Nene--and in particular, the ways in which they were trying to avoid patriarchal influences, and finally what other "Primazons" had to say when she asked them questions about their bodies, femininity, and being treated like an object. Cohen was adamant about not letting gender hold her daughter back in any way and she wanted it to shape her personality as little as possible. Of course, the influence of society is powerful, so she came back from preschool wanting to play princess and she wore little else but pink. At the same time, her daughter loved playing outside, being physical and getting the kind of knee scrapes that Cohen got as a child. Still, Cohen obviously struggles with the influence that pop culture and other children have on her child, not to mention the omnipresence of sex being introduced as a kind of commodity.

Cohen's art is a mix of fluid, scribbly and cartoony. It's no stretch to see a naturalistic pose turn into a fantastical one, like depicting her young daughter as a tiger after dreaming she was giving birth to a cat. While spot color is used in the autobio comics, Cohen depends on her line to provide structure and stability for those comics. They are grounded in reality, with some of the color leaking in from lands of fancy in certain panels. The Primazon material is almost entirely dependent on color, often eschewing black lines altogether and sticking to bright, colored pencil renderings. When Cohen relates the results of her various survey, the figures telling the stories are Primazons. In many ways, the Primazons aren't so much an alternating storyline as much as that they seem to exist in the same space but in a slightly different dimensional space. Sometimes, there's some bleed between the two dimensions. 

Cohen has certain hopes and dreams for her daughter, but she's also adaptable and eschews rigidity whenever possible. When her daughter wants a particular doll that mixes monster tropes and Barbie tropes, Cohen relents. In short order, Nene becomes disinterested, which likely would not have happened if Cohen had forbade it. Cohen understands that a child's energy and desires can't be extinguished, but rather only rerouted to something healthier. While Cohen is fascinated by various milestones (like when her daughter's breasts start developing) and genealogical similarities, she's mostly just fascinated by the crazy magic of raising a child and seeing them develop their own sense of energy. When a bystander asked young Nene what she was (princess? ballerina?), Cohen simply said, "She's herself." That self is a slightly inchoate, rapidly developing (and sometimes in a contradictory way) young person who is pushed and pulled by contradictory images and desires that trusts and talks to her parents on her way to new adventures. There's a wistfulness at work here that covers up some of the extremely annoying parts of being a parent to a young child to be sure, as this volume roughly finishes up the preteen years. Cohen does it all with a very purposeful, radical point of view that is less interested in lecturing than it is in simply being honest, humane and funny.  

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