Thursday, November 9, 2017

Minis: Mardou, Drew Lerman

Some Day My Witch Will Come, by Mardou. Sacha Mardou rarely does autobio comics, though it's obvious that her slice-of-life comics have always had an autobiographical bent to them, be it through adapting direct experience or adapting the experiences of others she knows. This comic is about Mardou turning forty years old two years ago, and in most respects, it was a great time. Her first book was published, she has a wonderful family, and stability. Despite all of this, she was feeling a nameless anxiety and was suffering from acne out of the blue. What followed was a journey that reminded me of a less severe version of John Porcellino's The Hospital Suite, as Mardou went from one homeopathic cure to another in order to fix her acne and eventually realized that she had hit upon a well of trauma that she had never dealt with.

Trauma is an odd thing. It can lie dormant for years as one can consciously push it down, but it will always emerge eventually and frequently has a somatic component as well as an emotional component. When she was getting acupuncture for her acne, she started bursting into huge, wracking sobs for no apparent reason; what was actually happening was Mardou allowing that trauma to start to escape, a little at a time. Or rather, that trauma forced itself to the surface and exploded, especially when she started to try meditation. Mardou zeroes in on facing the witch archetype and how she initially feared it (in part because of the trauma surrounding her religious background). Learning to accept that archetype as always being present in her life and to embrace it as a way of navigating that trauma was a fascinating tool that Mardou started to use, as well as being more aware of her dreams and what they were trying to tell her. She notes one dream where she's at a wedding where two young teens are getting hitched but the flower girl was throwing a fit. She reached out to comfort her and felt a sense of happiness. It wasn't until later that she understood the dream--her parents were teens when they were married and the little girl was her--and she was able to comfort herself.

That's a powerful image. In a therapeutic setting where a patient has a hard time forgiving themselves or loving themselves after going through extreme trauma at a young age, it's not unusual for a therapist to ask if the young version of them was worth saving. Coming to terms with that truth, where one is able to return love to oneself as a child unconditionally is an unbelievably powerful feeling akin to that of the feeling one has for their own children. In Mardou's case, communicating with her inner child meant wanting to play with her young daughter, and that she was able to play with her in the same way she would play as a child only added to that sense of healing and joy. Mardou's layout choices were interesting--open page layout with stacked horizontal panels, anywhere from two to four of them. The looseness of the format contrasts the tightness of her drawings. Certainly, Mardou always maintains a certain ratty looseness in her drawings as part of her style, but there was a boldness and confidence in her line here that made everything look crisper and more fully-realized. I wouldn't say that I'd equate this comic with therapy, but it is a vivid recreation of a therapeutic experience that packs a wallop.

Milk Debt & Boucher's House, by Drew Lerman. Lerman is a rarity: an alternative comics cartoonist from my hometown of Miami, which has never had a discernible scene. He's done Frank Santoro's correspondence course and his work has obviously been strongly both by the grid and the vivid use of color so many Rowhouse students like to employ. In Milk Debt, Lerman tells the story of some fourth graders who speak in a remarkably florid style, the most interesting of which is Hector, a psychopathic bully who has a demon living in his chest. At the same time, Lerman, creating a grotesque atmosphere both in terms of character design and his lurid use of color, skillfully depicts the notion of "fairness" that obsesses children of that age. Rules, deals, and promises have a powerful sense of meaning for them, and trying to retract same has horrible repercussions. That's true in this comic, as when one friend bets another $20 that he'll never French kiss a particular girl. His friend does kiss the girl, who immediately wants a gift (that later turns out not to exist). That sets off a chain of events that leads Hector to buy the debt and punish the kid who owed the $20, only to have his skin ripped open and the demon freed.

This comic works on a number of levels. There may be an eight-panel grid (constantly recentering the page), but it's an open-page format, so there's more of a sense of bleed between the panels and events. Lerman's use of children reminds me a bit of Steve Weissman's, where there's a sense of extreme exaggeration but also a great deal of accuracy with regard to the way children truly interact with each other. There's also the sense of how each child is very much not only in their own world, but actively narrating their stories until they get interrupted by someone else's narrative, often with disastrous consequences. The kids in this story don't so much interact as they do cross paths and engage in power struggles for the right to impose their version of reality on the world.

Boucher's House keeps the eight-panel grid but smashes the panels together to instantly create a sense of suffocation for the reader. The coloring, which was crisp and neat in Milk Debt, is splattered and expressionist, more along the lines of what Dash Shaw does. This comic is a satire of fragile masculinity, as an older man with a young wife is constantly jealous and paranoid that she's out to get him somehow. Whereas it's obvious that she's loving and patient with his frequently toxic but ultimately impotent gestures. I wish there had been a bit more to her character than the patient sex bomb, but I understood what Lerman was getting at in this satire, especially in the hilarious scene where the titular Boucher visits a friend to earn some sympathy and is dealt back the same kind of macho nonsense. Lerman's sense of humor is at once exaggerated and bone-dry, and his line matches those qualities.

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