Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Minis: Michael Aushenker, Kelly Kusumoto

Trolls: Operation Great Wall, by Michael Aushenker. Michael Aushenker not only likes to go over the top in his humor, he builds the wall extra high and then goes over the top. The composition of his drawings, the frantically scrawled quality of his lettering, and the lurid nature of his colors hammer the reader from the beginning and don't stop. He's clearly going for a Warner Bros. cartoon on acid (or maybe PCP) here, as his anthropomorphic air traffic controllers Wayward and Edward have exaggerated actions and conversations starting on the very first page. Aushenker pushes the reader into parsing the pages (his lettering sometimes gets out of control to the point where it eats up panels) and blasting them through the narrative.

The narrative is slight, with just enough story to get the characters moving. Wayward's fiance' Winda (a lisping, Chinese tweety-bird sort of character) gets kidnapped by her controlling parents and taken back to China. Wayward and Edward hijack a plane and crash it into the Great Wall, where more assorted hijinks occur as they wind up in prison. They are eventually freed because they inadvertently uncovered a terrorist cell while an absurdly racist and sexist Bill Clinton (an anthropomorphic pig) is there to make all sorts of inappropriate comments. Aushenker goes as far as to use the softened version of the n-word here, though the other characters make it clear that he shouldn't be saying it. The Clinton character goes on to insult every ethnic and religious group possible as a way to get cheap heat, essentially. Aushenker was trying to cast Clinton as the epitome of the uncouth ugly American, but it didn't quite scan and instead detracted from the overall story. That's unfortunate, because the manic energy of the narrative didn't need that extra bit of offensiveness in order to be effective.

Art Is My Joby, by Kelly Kusomoto. Aushenker tipped me to her lovely four-panel gag/diary work, which is simple and direct in its execution. What I especially liked about this comic is that Kusomoto varied her topics and tone from strip to strip. Some of them were melancholy, like when she bemoans being single but still gets a gag out of it when her dog thinks "What is she talking about? I'm right in front of her." Indeed, she gets a lot of mileage out of her dog, whether it's for silly or sentimental purposes. The simple shape she designed for her dog is yet another triumph of design, as her use of expression and body language is so precise that she can get across an enormous amount of information and emotion with just a few lines.

Other strips revealed her anxiety about stress and pressure she feels in her life but also talks about her love of being a wrestler and how it changed her life for the better. Some of the strips talked about self-care and how bad she is at it, while others talked about the frustrations she feels as a graphic designer. It's not diary work in the sense of taking the reader through a specific day and set of days over time. Instead, Kusomoto peppers the reader with anecdotes that build on each other, though many of the strips could have been rearranged with great ease. The comic left me wanting more, in part because each strip was so pleasant and made me want to read another one, but also because I got the sense that Kusomoto's work would have its greatest impact consumed in larger chunks. She doesn't quite spill a lot of ink about herself here, slowly revealing things about her life and history, but I think a clearer picture would emerge over time and a greater aggregation of comics. There's definitely something promising about her upbeat but emotionally sincere comics.

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