Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Minis: D.Edwards, M.Feazell, K.Wirick, T.Breed

Nervenkrank #2, by Katherine Wirick. This is the second chapter of Wirick's long-form work about Dada artist John Heartfield, aka Helmut Hertzfeld. The first issue discussed his time just after being released from a mental hospital after a breakdown during World War I as a German soldier. This issue sees him being brought back into the army as a sick ward attendant. Wirick gets right to the heart of the Dada ethos when she shows the utter pointlessness of the conflict and nationalism as a whole through his eyes. Dada was in large part a reaction to the War, born in the middle of the conflict in Switzerland from those dodging the conflict and then spreading through Europe and then to America in different forms. Wirick runs the story's narrative spine across the relationship between Heartfield and his brother Wieland, as the latter was absolutely steadfast in his support of his brother's career as an artist. The constant specter of death that loomed over them as they were both soldiers eased as Wieland was injured severely enough to earn an honorable discharge, and he used that time with his brother to introduce him to George Grosz at the end of this issue. Grosz and Heartfield would go on to found German Dada, but more to the point, it pushed Heartfield to create again after losing all desire to paint in the face of his anxiety and wartime realities. Wirick's use of grayscale is expressive and moody, providing a counterpoint to her naturalistic figure work. She's able to get across the fragility of both men in her drawings in the face of a nightmare, but also portrays Wieland's quiet strength and John's tenacity despite everything. She takes her time in telling this story, but it's clear that establishing Heartfield's circumstances was crucial in understanding the way in which he chose to express himself.

The Amazing Cynicalman #43, by Matt Feazell. The Rembrandt of stick-figure mini-comics continues to draw his signature character in minicomics form. This series reprints weekly comics that are either four or eight panels long. Feazell's humor is extremely silly, as Cynicalman (always with a straight line for a mouth--neither smiling nor frowning) is always dealing with an annoying, disappointing world. Yet he keeps chugging along no matter what, both in his normal day-to-day activities and in his role in the Board of Superheros (sic). There are other regulars that Feazell draws, like teens Spud n Ernie, Stupid Boy, Cute Girl, and Anti-Social Man. Feazell's comics are interesting because of his refinement of stick-figure drawing, which is both wonderfully precise and expressive. His ability to balance elements in each panel's composition is remarkable, be it text, negative space to express a beat of time, or background elements that are key to understanding the gags. Feazell can't afford to waste a single line, yet there's something attractive about the way he draws a page. Feazell is one of the earliest minicomics makers who's still drawing on a regular basis, and the result is a formula that's refined to such a fine point that it's reached the level that once you start reading, you can't stop reading.

That Night: This Must Be The Place, by Tony Breed. This is a quiet, elegant and deeply felt story about the grieving process. It's about the associations music and relationships have, and how a musical cue can both exacerbate and ease pain, depending on the context. As Breed reveals in the course of the comic, his husband died six months before this story was set, and the Talking Heads song "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" comes up because it was a reading for their wedding. A different version of it comes to Breed's attention in a positive way, and as he walked home from a bar, he listened to it (with the key line "Love me till I am dead" especially resonating) and saw what seemed to be a fox on the way. There's a funny epilogue where a friend tries to pinprick that scenario but asserting it was likely a coyote, not a fox, but Breed squashes it by noting that it wasn't really important as to what it was--the important thing is that it was personally significant for him. This sums up the comic, as we seek meaning and connections in the face of grief as part of the mourning process. Everything about this comic was simple: a standard 2x3 panel format, typical grayscaling, and expressive art that stays within the range of naturalism. This wasn't a comic where Breed was looking to reinvent the form; rather, Breed was working within the comfort of the form to approach some difficult emotions in a way that didn't overwhelm the reader (or him) but still got at the heart of his grief and his attempts to experience and move past that grief.

QAT Person #2, by Dylan Edwards. This is Edwards' own anthology series of short stories as a man who identifies as transgender and asexual. Edwards has come a long way as a cartoonist since his first book, Transposes, which was published five years ago. Working in full color, these comics are sharper and have a much more confident and bold line than his earlier work. They also work better as narrative, as each short story packs a powerful punch in just a few pages. The first story details Edwards' history coming to terms with not only his sexual orientation and his gender orientation, but also dealing with the enormous pressure of being made to feel less than because he only rarely felt sexually attracted to others. When a wise doctor said that this situation should only be considered problematic if it bothered the individual in question, it gave Edwards permission to eventually embrace his identity as an "ace". Edwards also points out that asexual does not automatically mean aromantic, and this creates its own set of challenges.

This story is both intensely personal (going all the way back to childhood and an evangelical christian background) and written with a great amount of clarity with regard to explaining what all of this means to people who might not be familiar with these terms or this experience. There's also a short strip grappling with the reality of having Donald Trump as president and what this means to queer people, as well as a short, fascinating strip about visiting Japan and discussing trans issues with an activist/DJ/bar owner. In particular, they note that insurance frequently doesn't cover trans-related health care in both of their countries. Edwards has always clearly had the urge to be an educator, and his comics have a pedagogical quality to them. However, Edwards has also become a top-notch storyteller, using an economy of words and lines to pack an enormous emotional punch as well as as relating clearly-delineated ideas.

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