Monday, May 7, 2018

Josh Pettinger's Goiter #2

It's always enjoyable to read a good comic from an artist that I'm unfamiliar with, as was the case with Goiter #2. It's easy to trace his influences (DeForge, Ware, Clowes, perhaps Box Brown), but he goes in different directions than any of those cartoonists. This issue features a single story, "Henry Kildare". This is a story about helplessness and being manipulated by forces beyond one's control. Pettinger uses a 12-panel grid on most pages, slowly moving his characters across the page as there is very little action. Usually, a lot of panels on a page indicates a lot of activity in terms of panel-to-panel transitions. Here, Pettinger forces the reader to endure the same kind of ennui that the titular character experiences as well. There's also a certain rumpled quality to Kildare, a sense that he's been beaten down a bit. It's in his shoulders as well as his schlubby appearance.

Kildare is traveling across the country by bus, occasionally making phone calls to a girlfriend who never answers. After an arduous trek to a small town, we learn that he's a comedian who's headlining a club, and that he is a ventriloquist to boot. Again there's that theme of being a "dummy" to forces beyond one's control. That plays out when Kildare does mushrooms with the bartender at the club, which she does as a sort of ploy to seduce him but only turns out making him sick. He lies down in a park and then goes back to his room when events start spinning out of control. A pair of a young girl's underwear was stuck to his back, and they happened to belong to a girl who was missing. Suddenly, the small town turned on Kildare, quickly sending him to prison in a series of harrowing but hilarious scenes. Kildare only makes things worse when he tries to run away initially, but he's eventually released when police find the actual body. The coda of the story finds him finally making it back home, where he not only finds himself alone, but is still blamed by the mother of the dead girl despite being exonerated.

That speaks to another key factor: the ways in which pre-determined narratives affect our ability to deal with the actual data at hand. Upon telling a driver he was from Chicago, he was told it was a "war zone" and that his nice little town was nothing like that. The town was practically begging for a big-city outsider to take the rap for the crime, twitchy Kildare fit the bill perfectly. So much so, that they ignored the actual facts to create a narrative that made sense to them. Alternative facts, as it were. Kildare himself is a sad-sack character who is put-upon from the very beginning of the story until the end, unable to assert his agency in any meaningful way. That he was a punching bag of a character made it all the easier for the town to turn against him. Pettinger's deadpan drawing style makes the humor in this comic extra dry, as he lets the events themselves drive the humor, rather than funny drawings. Pettinger is clearly trying to find his own voice and he's not quite there yet, but you can see his skill, wit and understanding of storytelling on display.

Also included in this issue was a short mini, with a story titled "Dollybird". Pettinger's drawing style is a bit different here, looking more like Archie comics than anything else. With a single image per page, Pettinger aims to have the reader linger not just on each image, but each step of the story. It's about a man who goes online to find someone who can fulfill his specific kink: being beaten up by another man. The exploration of that kink in the man's narrative captions is juxtaposed by his verbally abusive behavior toward his wife. That juxtaposition reveals the disconnect between his desire for a kink that he can't explain and how he acts out his anger through his kink as he's punished for it.

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