Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Two From November Garcia

November Garcia keeps plugging away with funny autobio comics that show off her ability to distill sweeping events into just a funny anecdote or two, as well as her ability to turn tiny details into a story. Take her Rookie Moves, for example. It details her trip back to the USA (she currently lives in the Philippines) to attend the shows CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) and SPX (Small Press Expo). The former she attended without tabling and the latter was the first show in the US at which she tabled. (Full disclosure: I spent time with her at both shows and briefly appear in the comic.) Her story is that of the overnight success that takes twenty years to get there and managing the cognitive dissonance between being a fan and a peer of this cohort of cartoonists is something that she played up for laughs. 

Indeed, opening the comic with funny highlights distilled from the local Filipino comic con set her up as someone totally comfortable her own surroundings, even if some young women mistook her husband Roy for Adrian Tomine. The next strip finds her at Chicago's famous Quimby's comic store at a reading, nervous and excited. Garcia's facility for comedy was quickly was demonstrated in two panels: one where she recognizes me (because of the hat, I say) and one where Iona Fox recognizes her (because of her nose, November says). The way she switches character positions, frames each panel with a proscenium of black, and relies on gesture to express the warmth underneath the humor shows just how carefully she considers her formal decisions. Garcia's figure drawings are simple but expressive, as she's especially proficient at depicting body language and the way bodies interact in space. Not unlike Julia Wertz, her backgrounds are tight and detailed.

Throughout the comic, Garcia balances genuine expressions of emotion with the urge to write toward comedic ends. She wrote about penning a letter to John Porcellino about how his comics had changed her life that she later found embarrassing. Garcia in this segment truly poured out her feelings in a earnest way, and the eventual punchline she used for the strip didn't diminish that. The rest of the comic finds her awkwardly making friends with Gabrielle Bell, getting up to shenanigans at signings, going to dive bars, and winding up in the wrong lines at SPX. Garcia walks a fine line in setting herself up as the butt of many a joke, but her affability and wit don't allow her to sink into self-deprecation for its own sake.

More Diary Comics (From A Relative Nobody) shifts the focus back to her everyday life in Manilla. If Garcia depicts herself as a fish out of water in her comics in America, she's very much in control in Manilla as she deals with work as a graphic designer, her wacky mom and life with Roy. Her line is much looser here, eschewing blacks and hatching altogether in favor of just using a bold approach. Throughout the comic, she obsesses about being obsessed with her career, with the paranoid sense that all of the offers she's receiving might dry up at any time and chastising herself for working too hard. Garcia also talks a lot about her health, with one strip starting with the line, "I woke up with whiskey regrets" as she combats the hangover with yoga and negates that with eating a bowl of potatoes. Garcia goes to extremes in her comics: she drinks hard, she eats rich food, and she stays up late, but she shows the ways in which her body pays for this excess with headaches and GI distress. Those extremes seem to be triggered as a way to cope with her two biggest enemies: boredom and anxiety.

Garcia in her comics seems happiest when she's moving: dancing in her house, exercising or running around. That and drawing help set up the central conflict in her life (and in many an introvert artist's): a desperate need for solitude interspersed with an even greater need for connection with like-minded people. Having that solitude disrupted triggers anxiety, but being isolated triggers boredom. Garcia also gets a lot of mileage of the old trope of a diary cartoonist not having anything to say and demanding that Roy do something. At the same time, the travel comics that completed this mini reverted to the kind of small, funny events in the context of a longer journey that marked the previous mini. Garcia's comics are less confessional than they are affirmations of the absurdity of her life, because that absurdity often leads to wonderful things.

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