Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Minis: S.Lautman, K.Fricas, C.Bean

Blabbermouth 2 and Art Fan, by Katie Fricas. This issue of Blabbermouth has a clever premise: taking a bunch of notes friends wrote to her in 7th grade and creating a narrative of sorts out of them, accompanied by Fricas' distorted and often grotesque figure drawings with garish, non-naturalistic colors. The results, as you might guess, are hilarious. Fricas prints notes that pinball from sheer teenage boredom and discussion of tedious school-related minutia related to tests to wacked-out stories of home, like one kid getting in a screaming match with her mother and then locking herself in the bathroom, calling her a bitch. An anecdote about scoliosis testing gets across the intense feeling of humiliation that went into the exams, especially if one's spine was curved. There's lots of talk about guys and one note where someone was trying to comfort Fricas by saying "You are not as ugly as you think you are" after a guy turned her down. Fricas is never less than intense in depicting all of the awful and yet sweet absurdity of being a 7th grader, in the form of documents that clearly meant enough to her to keep for well over a decade.

Art Fan is a collection of art criticism that Fricas did in the form of comics on the art website Hyperallergic. I could read a full-length book of these pieces, as her ratty line, effective use of grey, expressive use of color and uncanny ability to evoke the spirit of each of the art shows she attended gave me a thorough understanding of what each show as about. The Duke Riley show "Fly By Night", which involved going to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, waiting for sundown, and watching pigeons wearing LED lights being compelled to fly up and to the nearby bridge. That kind of extreme stunt in the service of a simple aesthetic reminds me a bit of the sort of thing Christo does, only it involved "defying their nature, the pigeons refused to surrender to a darkening sky". Pedro Reyes' "Doomocracy" combined the aesthetic of an interactive art installation with that of a haunted house in a critique of capitalism and political corruption that felt harrowing in interesting ways. Fricas seemed drawn to shows that pushed typical understanding and experience of art but wasn't necessarily out-and-out performance art. A strong visual component seemed key to her appreciation of the show, which is one reason Bjarne Melgaard's show bored her, as it was dull to look at and felt more like a fashion shows advertisement disguised as a show than authentic self-expression. Whereas the fashion history show Rei Kawakubo show's presentation had a whimsy and specifically a punk attitude that took the familiar and stretched it, battered it, and bloodied it and still came out looking beautiful. I'd love to see Fricas turn her discerning eye to reviewing comics, as she's an outstanding writer and gets to the heart of works in a clear manner.

Ghost Sex, by Sara Lautman. Lautman's comics are some of the strangest I've ever seen in terms of being in service to their own internal logic and nothing else. They are anti-narratives, like one story about a person anticipating a smell, inhaling the aroma, and then waiting for it to come back around again. The lines are thick, quick and simple. "The Most Popular Thing" is simply someone musing what the most popular thing happens to be, whether it's ice cream, dogs, music or "likes". There's a joke about a hamburger that's the same image on page after page, with only the accompanying text telling us something absurd about the item of food. The titular comic is the most interesting, as Lautman really plays with form here, as two Pac-Man style ghosts go from first base and then all the way home. Lautman is playful with her use of shapes and the way they relate to sex--especially when the two ghosts merge. Lautman's attention to seemingly inconsequential details is a strategy for her overall project of observing the absurd in everyday life.

Snake Pit and Why Draw?, by Cara Bean. Bean is an art teacher and many of her comics are about the experience of teaching and the process of teaching. Why Draw? is more in the vein of the sort of thing that Lynda Barry does, except it takes what Barry regards as a self-evident truth (everyone loves to draw) and delves into it a bit. On page one, she explodes Barry's "Two Questions" ("Is this good?" Does this suck?") that inhibit both creativity and the basic pleasure that making marks on paper brings. She does this by using her self-caricature (an anthropomorphic bean, of course) to say, "You don't have to like your drawings. I will like them." There's power in that statement, as Bean gives the potential student (the reader) and gives them unconditional support in what they draw. They just have to do it. From there, Bean goes into the litany of positive effects that drawing can have on the brain. From there, she does short strips about various artists and their comments about drawing, as well as getting into the right mental space to draw. This feels like a perfect mini to hand out on the first day of a drawing or comics class.

Snake Pit sees Bean use her talent for synthesizing lectures into short comic strips that crystalize certain topics. Here, it's adolescent depression and suicide. The way she illustrated the symptoms of depression, for example, gives them a solidity that simply reading a list of symptoms does not. Without minimizing them, she uses funny drawings to make them even more memorable, like a group of arrows branching off to indicate problems with concentration. Similarly, for more serious symptoms (like suicidal ideations), her drawing a mountain that someone's scaling, wishing they didn't exist, is a powerful visual metaphor. Bean goes on to describe some of the consequences of depression (like learned helplessness) as well as treatments like Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy (CBT). It's a clear, non-judgmental and easy to understand distillation of a lot of information, as the simplicity and fluidity of Bean's clean line carries a lot of complex information.

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