Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thirty Days of CCS #7: Beth Hetland, Mary Shyne, Josh Lees

Half-Asleep Volume 7, by Beth Hetland & Kyle O'Connell.. This penultimate issue of Hetland and writer O'Connell's sci-fi epic/familial struggle answers some questions and sets up a potential final conflict between teen Ivy and her mother, a scientist who's been using her daughter as the guinea for her experiments. Her mother has been trying to figure out ways to reach out between the realms of consciousness and sleep, and the previous two issues, where Ivy went under in the lab's dream vault, saw her encounter all sorts of horrible and wonderful things. Ivy came back to the world of consciousness in this issue because her craft was out of energy; her mother thought that Ivy had been gone for forty years of subjective time but it had only been six--still enough time to really mess with things. It's difficult to parse this issue out in terms of plot; indeed, it will require a complete re-read when it's collected to properly evaluate it. I can say a few things about the highlight of the issue, a brutal conversation between mother and daughter.

Ivy rightly calls out her mother for her monstrous behavior in terms of how she was being exploited for her unique abilities. Her mother simply replied that she was doing her best to make sure that Ivy was capable of handling the world on her own. It's that kind of chilling logic without empathy that created their conflict in the first place, as both have spent the entire series keeping information secret from each other. Her mom reveals that she knows more than was written down and coldly notes that it will be a way for her to stay involved in her daughter's life. Meanwhile, Ivy realizes that she was the prototype for this experiment, and that her mother was preparing others to try to retrieve objects from other dream worlds. I imagine in the last issue we'll learn what her mother's true motive has been all along, but that won't sting as much as the revelations that came across in this issue. Hetland continues to use a bold line and a creative use of the grid (chopped up in three rows per page in a number of different permutations). I missed the use of color since Hetland brought us back to the waking world, and there were some pages with sloppy gray-scale that made me wish for a one or two color wash. On the other hand, I enjoyed Hetland's subtle visual pops. Ivy's inability to get real sleep starts to have a horrible effect on her, as she starts to begin hallucinating that a miniature version of herself was sitting on her shoulder. It speaks to her partnership with O'Connell that he doesn't over-write and instead clearly relies on Hetland to get across subtle pieces of information through graphics alone.

Get Over It #1, by Mary Shyne. I have Shyne's work in two separate articles because the comics are so radically different. This isn't unusual for a CCS student, as they are often encouraged to branch out and try several different genres. This comic is a beautifully-executed set-up of a clever idea that's sort of in the neighborhood of Ghostbusters. In just twelve pages, Shyne manages to create a vivid portrait of Leigh, a slightly aimless young woman who delivers food from her father's restaurant in New York City. At the same time, using a vivid color overlay, she reveals that she can see the auras of people and that they in fact are creatures that reflect the mood and emotional state of each person. Unbeknownst to us, they can also get into fights with other auras and do severe emotional damage and trauma. When she delivers something to a lab at a university, she puts on a metallic glove that informs her that she's a new employee, confirms her aura theory and tells her that her job is to contain harmful auras (which they call "miasmas"). The issue ends just as the real fight begins, and it's an excellent cliffhanger. Shyne hit on a nice concept here, and her clear but bold line combined with the spot color for the miasmas makes this a smooth, fun read. I hope she keeps going with this, because it's close to being fully formed.

Liberty High School Detective League #1, by Josh Lees. This is a straight-up kids mystery-detective comic with Bernadette "Burnside" Snyder and new kid at school Ray Griego. Lees very consciously creates a group of characters that ring true both in terms of their interests and ethnicities. Burnside is a skater who's also a member of the school's Detective League, and in this story, she's presented with the mystery of who's tagging her locker and why. The production of the book had some quirks. While the size and shape is perfect for kids (roughly the size of the platonic form of kids' comics, the Archie digest), the vibrant colors of the first few pages dull a bit into spot color and gray scale. It's fine for what it is, but the transition was a jarring one and the story doesn't quite pop as hard with the revised use of color.

The story was clever enough, but the real attraction here is the subtle use of characterization. Burnside is smart, clever and independent, carving out her own space in school and as a skater. At the same time, she's sometimes oblivious as to who's attracted to her. When the tagger is revealed to be a boy who wanted to get her attention, she has a great reaction--try to talk to someone about things they're interested in, for starters. The repudiation of borderline stalking behavior instead of valuing it as some kind of grand romantic gesture was delivered in a stark and direct fashion. Ray's Hispanic identity is important, but Lees makes sure he's not just a cliche'. The low-stakes nature of the mystery here make those characters even more important, as they are investigating something that's personal. Lees' characters are sometimes a bit on the stiff side; there are times when they look like they're posing as opposed to being in action. That felt like a creator who was paying close attention to details regarding setting and character design and needed to work more on panel to panel transitions and overall storytelling fluidity. There is certainly a great deal of potential in this series.

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