Friday, December 8, 2017

Thirty Days of CCS #8: Hannah Kaplan

Hannah Kaplan is one of a younger set of autobiographical cartoonists whom are especially frank about their mental health, their overall existential position on the world and their sex lives. Politics is also something else that's become a part of her comics, thanks to the changes the country's going through.

Wandering is a hand-cut, screenprinted comic that's nonetheless restrained in its color scheme (olive green and red). It serves as a brief introduction to her work and persona, ever restless as she balances a desire for solitude with the necessity of connection. It also alludes to the increasing number of marches and rallies that concerned people have started to throng to this year, especially in big cities. The personal is political, as the saying goes, and that saying has never been more true. Many of Kaplan's comics explicitly explore that idea.

Self Help is a work of fiction that highlights Kaplan's ability to zero in on excruciatingly painful moments of social awkwardness and then let the characters twist. This copy is grayscaled and I'm not sure it was meant to ideally be read this way, since all of her other comics are in color. It starts with a woman named Mel having lunch with her friend, who is about to get married and has those sorts of problems. Mel begins the story by relating a "tapping" technique that she uses to strike her pressure points so as to "transform my negative emotions". Mel continues with affirmations all he way to work, where she's approached by her work fling CJ, of whom she told her friend that they were keeping it casual, but she thought he was falling for her. Instead, this unctuous individual tells her that he's seeing someone else at work now ("She's fantastic! Have you talked to her?"), and even though he's "all about the polyamory thing", his new girlfriend didn't want him seeing anyone else at their company.

That kicked off her trying more affirmations that wound up betraying her real feelings ("Even though CJ isn't all that great a guy and actually his hair is really greasy and he smells like onions and he rejected me...") and then firing up the dating app Tindr on her phone--which led to a talking-to in front of her boss which grew increasingly (and hilariously) more awkward by the second. Things get worse and worse until she finally acts to look like she visualizes herself: as a bespectacled brunette with earrings and a mustache. Ridiculous times call for extreme measures, including becoming some else altogether, and the end of the comic reflects the first time she stopped needing to go through constant affirmation. While Kaplan's drawing is rough in spots, her ability to create expressive characters and depict body language is all she really needed to make this comic work.

A Quick And Easy Guide To Finding A Husband had a disclaimer on the cover that it was based on a true story with a fictional ending. Done in a pink and blue  wash, it's an odd story: Kaplan proposes marriage to a man from Australia living in Brooklyn with whom she'd had a single hook-up, because he was having Visa problems. It's an awkward, funny and strange way of looking at an awkward and strange kind of marriage, because it involved sex and cohabitation--it wasn't just a paper marriage. One thing to note about Kaplan if it hasn't been clear: she's a hilarious writer. Going to Brooklyn and encountering hipsters exchanging cheeses on picnic baskets and declaring their creativity, she nailed that sense of alienation that pretension can create. He's blunt when they discuss why she's doing this: "I guess it's all material for you anyway". They wind up getting married, it winds up going disastrously, but they cleverly reconcile when they decide to date other people. However, they wind up communicating through their Tindr profiles (shades of "Escape (The Pina Colada Song"!), to the point where they stop talking face to face! It's a funny, clever idea. Kaplan draws people and places with a messy, schlubby, lived-in quality: people as they are on a day to day basis, not some idealized idea of the same.

Is This OK? #7 is the latest issue of her autobio series, and this is the real meat of her work. Her coded use of colored pencils gives the comic a vivid yet clear sense of flow. That's especially true when there are multiple characters; she'll often match the color of the line for the characters with the color of their lettering. It's a small but valuable detail that reduces confusion just a bit, keeping the reader totally involved with the page. The book starts on election day in 2016 and ends on February 1st, 2017--three months of all kinds of turbulence. Kaplan bases this book on her willingness to be emotionally raw, open and vulnerable. The palpable sense of trauma after the election extends even to her therapist, who suggests a kind of group trauma on top of everything else going on in our lives.

Some of the stories run a few pages, but most are a single page with a 2x3 grid. There are stories about work (including one where she had a nice male customer and she didn't that he wasn't even trying to hit on her), stories about the frequently contentious character of her relationship with her boyfriend, a strip where she follows the full moon and an odd one where she appears nude in six straight panels with forlorn expressions, with the lyrics of Meredith Brooks' song "Bitch" as the text. My favorite was one where an old boyfriend came into town, and her thoughts were in red cursive script, like "I don't know how to be nice to you". Trips across town to hang out at a bar are interspersed with road trips to DC to protest the inauguration (there's one strip where she tries to count the number of pussy hats that she sees but there are too many). The issue ends with a stunningly open and clear talk with her boyfriend about their relationship that results in matter of factly breaking up. The combination of her scribbly and expressive line, the use of color that never fails to add clarity to the proceedings, and her relentless pursuits of authentic experience and happiness are quite potent, adding punch to every page.

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