Monday, May 14, 2018

Minis: Matthew Kelly

Goulash 1-3, by Matthew Kelly. These comics are less drawn than scrawled, befitting a loosely-connected series of anecdotes that involve children and their perspectives. In the first issue, that’s especially true in a strip where a young boy is punished for saying a “bad word” by a teacher, and then given a lecture that his parents are unfit to raise him. The strip simply ends with the boy hanging his head and saying, “Sorry, sir”. It’s a brutal encapsulation of the ways in which authority figures misuse their power in a fit of self-righteousness, without understanding or caring about the ramifications of their actions. Later, there are a series of self-portraits of someone named “Didi”, with a crude attempt at realism producing a character all clad in black; then a rainbow stick figure; then a shadowy figure in panel full of scribbles and finally a pitch-black figure in a black panel. The stark simplicity and total disinterest in any further kind of explication gets across a lot of information in a series of anecdotes that are often about trauma but also about aspirations.

The second issue is about identity and impostor syndrome. In each of the stories, it's shown that lies and fears about being called out form the make-up of the relationship. In the first, it's about two people who meet on a hiking trail, where the narrator talks about meeting every question with a lie in order to disguise their "true" self, which is implied is repulsive and hurtful. The second story is about a kid who doesn't understand anything his older brothers say, but he pretends that he does anyway. The third story is about body dysmorphia, as the main character has their head replaced as a youngster because doctors said it wasn't right. Even after getting a head transplant later in life, the character questions not just their identity but the veracity of everything. There's a sense that in each story, the root cause of this self-loathing is a fundamental disconnect between children and their parents, with the latter abandoning or failing the children in some way. 

The third issue is a recapitulation of the first two issues, with a single narrative about a kid who portrays themself as Frankenstein's monster, swinging back and forth from feeling like a monster and feeling like a kid, even as their peers reverse course and say that they're just a little kid. In so many situations like this, once the precedent has been set to negatively identify someone in a particular way, that label sticks hard. Even after the label has been proven false or otherwise contradicted, internalizing shame and self-hatred comes easily once it's been implanted, and attempts to uproot it are met with suspicion. The second story is about the self: what is it to be oneself, or not oneself? What does it mean to try on different personas, and how real are these masks? Using scrawled text, sharp images and collage, Kelly gets at the impossibility of this question, just as most of the issues he broaches have no solutions. Kelly's rawness empowers the emotional quality of these comics; if anything, Kelly needs to learn how to simplify and pare things down even more in order to deliver his message. 

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