Monday, October 23, 2017

Minis: K.Short, C.Nowak

Doors Closing, by Kelsey Short. What I most enjoyed about this curious little urban fantasy tale is that Short does not bother to tell the reader what's going. The nature of the quest or mission is unrevealed, as is the origin of its magic. Instead, Short immerses the reader in one very specific aspect of the classic fantasy quest, or to put it in Joseph Campbell's terms, this story comes right after "the refusal of the call" and starts with "supernatural aid" and ends with "crossing the first threshold". The story features a young woman getting on a subway car and encountering a chicken-sized bird with her face! This mini looks like it was printed on a Risograph, with soft oranges and blues providing much of the background and foreground coloring, respectively. The linework is clear and unfussy, but she makes the sheer weirdness of the supernatural characters quite obvious.

Short uses a classic fantasy device where real world concerns are slowly subverted into something hidden and secret. She's given certain magical tools (a bird cloak, a magic flashlight, etc) and told to wait, as the denizens of the subway car start to shift and become creatures. She's told to jump out of the car at a certain point, a literal leap of faith, and her bird-friend flies in to save her, chiding her for jumping out of a moving train just because she told her to! It's a funny but pointed meta-comment; why obey any instructions when going on a quest? Why go on a quest at all? Short doesn't bother trying to explain that here. Instead, she was clearly interested in exploring that entirely irrational behavior linking the old life and the new, and calling it what it truly is: irrational.

No Better Words, by Carolyn Nowak. (Published by Silver Sprocket.) Sex, sexuality and desire have always been running themes in Nowak's comics, but this is her first explicitly pornographic comic. And it's about desire as an almost reified structure: she makes the reader feel it, thanks both to her evocative writing and her lush, warm art that uses color in a restrained manner and makes excellent use of negative space. It follows the thoughts and desires of Mallory, as she's got it bad for Theo, who will be at the house party she is about to attend. Nowak leads Mallory and the reader through a series of funny metaphors, imagining Theo as a planet, then imagining her desire as her chasing him through a maze made out of cheap sheets (where everything is pink, naturally); she even apologizes for not chasing him through something more interesting! Nowak's awareness of cliches and knowing which to lean on and which to ridicule make this especially effective in conveying true desire.

Interestingly, Nowak's comic had something in common with Short: there was a point of no return that both of their main characters crossed that changed the nature of all of their subsequent interactions. For Mallory, it was seeing Theo in the kitchen, and after some small talk, she told him she had a dream about him. She made the decision to be daring when he inevitably asked what it was about; perhaps he even guessed that it would be vaguely flirtatious. Instead: she went all the way: she told him that he made her come. Subsequently, Nowak's sense of pacing was used for exquisitely painful comedic purposes, as after a few panel beats of silence and blushing, there were ten agonizing panels of a housemate busting in, asking about marshmallows. The subsequent page, where Theo moves from right to left in order to be in front of her, was interesting because most action on comics pages is from left to right; this indicated how unusual the nature of this interaction was, how it was sort of like swimming upstream. One panel has Theo right underneath a lamp, giving him a halo effect as he was still so far away--and it disappeared as he drew closer and therefore real, and not idealized.

The sex scene is absolutely perfect: funny, fumbling, heated, sweaty, hot. The decision to show actual penetration was important to the story precisely because it took away the fantasy element: it was real, physical, immediate, powerful. On top of all of this, after they have sex, she considers one more metaphor: of Theo as a book that she doesn't want to even crack open for fear of ruining it, but not being able to help herself. The book knows it's being read, but only she knows how important he is in helping her to delineate the difference between wanting and that state of desire and actually being able to enjoy an experience and be present in it. Her figure drawing is picture-perfect, precisely because the bodies look like bodies, with all of their oddities, slight disfigurations and irregularities, the beauty of being unique and embodied. It's another outstanding entry in the body of work that Nowak is building about relationships of various kinds.

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