Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Minis: N. Van Sciver, E.Luce/M.Wobensmith

His Last Comic, by Noah Van Sciver. This is Mini-Kus! #60, and it's a jokey story from Van Sciver that he ran on his Facebook page. Van Sciver excels at drawing schlubs and losers, and this is a sort of second cousin to Dan Clowes' old Dan Pussey stories. It's about a worker drone who's been self-publishing his shitty superhero comics to no acclaim for years, and he wonders if he should just give up on his dreams of being famous and getting to go out with this particular woman at his job. In a plot twist that hinges on EC Comics' Old Witch selling him a magical potion which will solve all of his problems. When he pours the potion into the ink that's used to print his comic, he finds that no one can resist the actual object...but no one cares about the story. This is a hilarious send-up of comics as a speculator's item, wherein their perceived "value" was more important than their feelings about the story and art. The main character is an exaggerated loser with no redeeming qualities (even Van Sciver's sad-sack narcissist character Fante Bukowski was likable in some ways), existing to serve a gag and to get his just desserts with an EC-style twist ending. For such a goof of a story, Van Sciver can't help but make beautiful pages that actually add pathos to the narrative. The above image of the artist walking in the snow is gorgeously rendered, giving the reader a sense of the fully-developed world that the artist lives in but can't quite see because his imagination is occupied by adolescent nonsense.

Wuvable Oaf #5, by Ed Luce & Matt Wobensmith. Three years in the making, this 40 page comic book-formatted effort sees Luce going in some different directions, even as he continues to be a genre and boundary-smashing artist. It's not just that this is a gay romance comic; it's a gay romance comic that's about death metal, pro wrestling and features a number of characters who are "bears", or large, hairy men. There's also a strong magical realist component to the comic which resembles Jaime Hernandez's work a bit, only in a different context. Oh, and kitties.

The first few issues of the series focused on the titular Oaf, a former professional wrestler, who developed a huge crush on Eiffel, the diminutive lead singer of death metal band Ejaculoid. The last issue featured their (despite all sorts of weirdness) adorable first date, and the back-up story beginning in this issue deals with the ramifications of Oaf and Eiffel being in a couple while Ejaculoid is on tour. There's a reason why the story is titled "Yokoaf Onoaf", which is one of my all-time favorite story puns. Luce is a skilled illustrator and cartoonist, and there's an astonishing two page spread filled with literally flowery detail when Oaf walks into the hotel holding the gig and finds it filled with flowers and ferns. It's precisely the opposite of the sort of grit and grime usually seen in this comic and it's a marvelous comedic turn. After singing "Fatty Daddy Baby Batter" (an ode to sexy, chubby dads), we are introduced to Marx, who apparently commands black, magical mind-control tentacles but is mostly looking to get laid on Ejaculoid's tour as its manager. (He hooks up with Simon Hanselmann's Megg character here, for instance.) It's silly, it's weird, and it's funny, even as Luce cooks up some band melodrama for further episodes.

On the other hand, the other side of the comic (it's a flip book) follows Smusherrrr, the "artist" who once was obsessed with Oaf to the point of stalking and is now obsessed with Oaf's friend Bufu. This section was written by Wobensmith, and Smusherrrr is presented as a character who is desperately in search of an identity, and often tries to find that identity in his obsessions with others. There's a hilariously creepy scene where Bufu, who is African-American, is "accidentally" run into by Smusherrrr and his grocery cart, which contains nothing but chocolate items. After an over-the-top and uncomfortable scene where Smush essentially begs Bufu to be his, there's a hilarious drug sequence (inspired by smoking hair of various people and animals) where he confronts aspects of himself that he was unwilling to come to terms with. This leads up to his attending a support group for fake people; in other words, people who appropriate or fetishize other cultures and races. The best character there is Killrrrrr, who is drawn like a grown-up Charlie Brown (including using the same lettering style as Schulz!) wearing a Dodgers jersey and a do-rag whose biggest ambition is to break into "the inner circle of Hollywood gangster character actor extras." Satirizing racial and ethnic  stereotypes & appropriation is a tricky matter, but Luce does a lot to make it work with his exaggerated, cartoony drawings. He's an exceptional caricaturist (it's perhaps his greatest skill) and putting in jokes like adding in the Tupac hologram (from Coachella 2012) as a literally fake racial persona went a long way in making the situation funny, rather than relying on drawing a lot of stereotypes. I'm not sure what the ultimate point of this storyline will be (an epiphany for Smusherrrr? a tour of racist appropriations throughout history? leaving Smusherrrr as a clueless, narcissistic parasite?), but Luce has thus far heightened the humor and defused what could have been a number of problematic elements.

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