Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Minis from Jep

Jepcomix #5 and #7 are by the cartoonist Jep (Jeff Clayton) and they are mostly four-panel autobio comics that originally appeared on the web. Issue #5, however, is mostly fiction. Using a crude, mostly stick-figure style for his stories, Jep emphasizes exaggerated gestures above all else. In the story of a mouse and a sentient ball of some kind (complete with oversized eyes and teeth), Jep's characters are in constant motion as they seek to raid the bounty of a picnic table. The cartoonist keeps details to a minimum while using a gray wash to add a bit of weight to the page. The result is a funny, clearly told story that moves along at a pleasant pace. The visual formula is repeated to a different effect in a funny reinterpretation of Jesus' pleas to God in the garden of Gethsemane. Here, Jesus talks to God in the form of a cloud and amusingly forces god to come up with good reasons why he has to die. In the end, Jesus is threatened with being dismissed altogether, so he plays along. What I like about this is that Jep is engaging in some solid theological debate in addressing some very basic assumptions.

Jepcomix #7 is a very long look at Jep's life with fighting as the narrative structure. He describes each of the encounters he had in school, where he lost every fight. There's no wistfulness or regret here, as he recognizes why kids interacted the way they did and how utterly pointless it was. This also led to a series of strips where he was followed by dolts who called him homophobic slurs. By this point, Jep was deliberately a pacifist, so he had to rely on luck and his brains in order to get out of those situations. Much of the rest of the comic is concerned with the world and his emotional state after Trump was elected. It's fascinating to read, because on the one hand Jep had done a lot of work confronting his own anger issues. Responding to a situation with blind rage was no longer his modus operandi. So Trump being elected (despite Jep being Canadian) was in many ways the ultimate test of his attempts to find tranquility.

Indeed, much of this issue focuses on tiny but steadily growing changes he sees in the world around him in terms of greater hostility, as well as his own inability to deal with his own outrage at the result of the electoral shift. He deals with this via meditation and even avoiding the internet for a couple of days. The comics in this volume are quite wordy and Jep is well aware of that, and he tries to vary formats on different days, emphasizing an image or two filling up panels with a minimum of verbiage. It all forms a curious sort of tension, as Jep acknowledges his own unresolved anger problems and his attempts at seeing the viewpoint of others while at the same time still having a short fuse and a loud mouth. This level of honesty and self-awareness, along with a commitment to engaging with the world, is unusual for this kind of autobio comic. The art becomes mostly a means to an end here despite his best efforts; it's a delivery system for his thoughts and not too much more. What he's talking about simply doesn't lend itself to stretching himself more in terms of the visuals, or at least, it doesn't lend itself to being a visual problem for Jep to solve. He gets his points across, and there's an almost frantic quality to his line and even his letter, as though he was slashing at the page as quickly as possible. These comics certainly stand out against most autobio comics of this type.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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