Monday, August 27, 2018

Two Minis From Adam Meuse

Adam Meuse is slowly but surely starting to get more attention for his funny, clever and often poignant mini-comics. His recent comic Ball Of Shit has an obviously startlingly scatological title, but the comic itself is actually quite thoughtful and philosophical. It takes the literal action of a man rolling a ball of shit on a beach and pondering what he's doing and connects it to Egyptian mythology and their obsession with scarab beetles. The scarab rolls balls of its dung and their creation god similarly rolled the sun across the sky. On a more literal basis, scarab dung contains scarab eggs, which hatch and eat the dung before emerging. Meuse then ties this back around to the man rolling the ball on the beach, as the hope is to clean the environment and for new life to emerge.

It's a remarkably visceral little comic, printed on thick card stock with approximately 3" x 3" dimensions. It alternates image and text on facing pages and creates a rhythm that doesn't flinch from talking about shit and waste in general as things that must be confronted, understood and even embraced. Meuse doesn't overreach here in terms of his philosophical territory; indeed, the simplicity of his drawing style and the comic's title are designed to keep pretension to a minimum. That said, this fits into his larger project of connecting our most basic belief systems with the biological factors that underlie them, even if those factors are not always taken into account. In other words, Meuse posits that there is no such thing as abstract thought, and that those who think otherwise are kidding themselves. This is not to say that conceptual beauty and thought don't exist, but rather that their agents are always and inevitably embodied.

Faults is a collection of loosely-connected gag strips. Some of them aren't even gags, like his account of the Karl ńĆapek play Rossum's Universal Robots, which is less about robots as machines than as workers that were exploited because it was assumed they had no souls. Meuse uses an angry red for this color. Immediately following that was a gag regarding the price ballerinas have to pay for dancing in terms of disfigured feet, but in this case her foot was that of a reptile and the guy in the strip says, "'re a lizard person", with the last panel featuring a long, forked tongue flick into view. There's a strip about fried potatoes which is funny but also reveals a great deal of thought that went into it. There are some dark strips about red blood cells complaining about traffic until it lightens a bit, only to reveal a person who's slit their wrists in the final panel. There's also a truly grisly Dudley Do-Right parody where Nell Fenwick doesn't quite escape from being tied to a log. 

Though a nimble draftsman, Meuse's experiments with color always fascinate me. He uses them for geological purposes in drawing different kinds of faults (i.e., connected to earthquakes), until the last panel reverts to the more familiar meaning of the word "fault". This mini is a good introduction to his work overall, because it's hard to pin him down. He does strips that depend on old cultural references, whimsical studies about food, autobiographical observations and memories, strips featuring insects, animals and microbes, completely silly nonsense and comics-as-poetry. Meuse is simultaneously ambitious and probing as a cartoonist and yet completely unpretentious. He's willing to experiment formally but never for the mere sake of experimentation. Meuse looks at concepts and images with the same lens, as he's fastidious with his drawings qua drawings yet never goes completely abstract. Indeed, exploring the shape of things and thinking about familiar shapes in new, funny ways goes to the heart of his project as an artist. His greatest skill is his ability to understand what formal approach works best with what idea, be it color, shape, line weight or use of negative space. The result is one where concept and drawing complement each other well. 

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