Thursday, September 13, 2018

Catching Up With SAW, Part 1

Let's take a look at some recent comics from Tom Hart's Sequential Artists Workshop, or SAW. It's his comics school that aims to have affordable rates without skimping on the actual quality of the education one receives. Like any good comics arts school, it demands that its students be working cartoonists, making minicomics. Let's take a look at the crop from last year.

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On, by M Parker. This is a shadowy little horror comic in the dense, scratchy and hatched tradition of a Steve Bissette. A horny guy lets in an old lover, who reveals herself to be a horrific figure with fangs and sharp claws that envelops him in a grim, yet also loving and maternal, embrace. The image of row after row after row of teats is interesting because it's both strange and comforting, as though she was an all-mother figure as well as a death figure. It's all a dream, of course, but upon awakening, the guy in the story is in tears.

A Silent Sigh, by Maxine Marie. This is an excellent example of comics-as-poetry, using the metaphor of a hook ensnaring another lodged in the throat of a woman who has lost her voice. Marie uses a thick, simple line and portions of shapes in order to craft her story, with text often opposite a page with that evocative, haunting bit of imagery. The most important image, as the woman saw another woman with a kite issuing forth from her mouth, is that the lodged in her throat and the key used to fishing it out are barbed. They are meant to catch fish, and the barbs are meant to hold them. In this instance, fishing out the key would mean causing an incredible amount of pain and trauma. It's a metaphor for holding in trauma vs the decision to confront it. In the former scenario, she could avoid the pain by ignoring her trauma, but at the cost of her voice. In the latter scenario, she would have the potential for speech again at the cost of great pain. The last image reveals her choice, and Marie's expert command of minimalist gesture makes that panel one to remember.

Minis by Karla Holland. Flash 'Vu is a clever comic involving Holland's daily commute at age 14 and age 24. Each 2-panel page featured the younger Holland on top and the older Holland on bottom. Younger Holland is going to school in a bus and older Holland is going to class in a car...and they spot each other in a splash page that smashes the two narratives together. It's a clever idea that's well-executed, especially in the way that Holland pays so much attention to details like body language.

Facing Back is a series of musings about a beloved childhood friend that she had to move away from and never talked to or saw again...until she saw her pop up on Facebook. What was interesting about this comic was Holland's line of reasoning with regard to getting in touch with her again vs. just letting that part of her life alone. Indeed, every one of Holland's comics is one that reveals a mind that's constantly evaluating every aspect and angle of her life and her choices. This particular mini looks better on the web than on paper, but that's more a formatting issue than anything.

Holland is a versatile artist. Vomics! are strips from working in a sports stadium, with all sorts of amusing observational humor and some absurd premises. The gag about a t-shirt gun gone horribly awry was especially effective. None of the jokes here were revolutionary, but this is a workplace comic in a workplace that's just not commonly seen in comics or our culture in general. Her The World Dance coloring book reflects a dedication to the small details necessary to differentiate clothing that's distinctive to different kinds of dancers in different spots around the world. Even though these are illustrations, not comics, Holland's skill as a cartoonist is such that the body language of each image feels like it's in motion, rather than a static figure dead on the page.

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