Friday, September 14, 2018

Catching Up With SAW, Part 2

Let's look at some more minis from SAW:

Sketch Zine Twenty-Seventeen, by Miranda Harmon. This comic is chock full of illustrations and short comics taken from Harmon's sketchbook. Harmon is a big-time talent whose frank portrayal of both depression and alienation is marked by a light touch and friendly, inviting line. I liked one strip where she didn't want to buy into the idea that the actors in the tech comedy series Silicon Valley were supposed to be unattractive; her expression is almost one of resentment for what the entertainment industry was trying to get her to accept as true. Harmon uses two different self-caricatures: a scribbly bushy-haired one and her "Lil Onion Head" character. The latter is especially appealing and still manages to capture her essence, without sacrificing any expressiveness. Harmon's skill as an illustrator (especially of cute images) could earn her any number of mainstream jobs, but I hope that whatever long-term projects she takes on, she's able to personalize them as much as she does her autobio strips.

The Way I Look, by Melissa Iuliano. This is a short, cleverly-designed comic about body image. Iuliano makes great use of negative space in this comic, opening up with a couple of pages worth of silhouettes as she describes things she doesn't like about her body and then how she learned to accept it, with one exception. That exception is the discoloration on her upper lip, and the litany of horrors she had to endure in order to attempt to "correct" this. The last two pages are a beautiful expression of frustration and determined acceptance. Iuliano's line has some rough edges, but her storytelling techniques are sophisticated and engaging. Her ability to mesh technique and message in a smooth package is impressive.

Tabitha Waves In..."Your Biggest Fan!", by Kiana Stewart. This modest mini is about an aging anthropomorphic alligator actress (the titular Tabitha) who randomly runs into a fan on the street. The keys to this comic are body language and gesture, and Stewart nails both. At first, the actress is taken aback by the enthusiastic attention of the fan, but it's made clear that she winds up providing something for her that she needed. That's made clear toward the end when the fan gives her a big hug after Tabitha gave her an autograph. In a two-panel set, the first panel shows Tabitha unnerved by the surprise embrace (her eyes wide and her mouth pursed) and the second panel sees her eyes soften and her mouth relax, as though a weight had been lifted off of her. Notably and subtly, you can see her hand in the bottom left of the panel, softly returning the embrace.

Gnome Comix, by Lance "Gnome" Raber. There's a bit of an R.Crumb, id-inflected inspiration in these comics, but with a twist. Raber can draw in any style, from MS-Paint inspired wackiness to highly-detailed, realistic drawings, to grotesque caricatures in-between. There is certainly plenty of that grotesque quality permeating his strips, though the twist is that rather than play out as a series of fantasies being fulfilled, Raber instead specializes in drawing man-children of various shapes and sizes. Some of it is clearly self-effacing, while other strips are a clear critique of toxic masculinity. This mini is just a selection of strips done before Raber's time at SAW; though his talent is obvious, they're also all over the place. I'd be curious to see how he developed after SAW.

The Sculptor 2, by Eric Taylor. I've enjoyed Taylor's comics in the past, but this brutal parody of Scott McCloud's epic misfire is his best comic to date. The comic picks up after the end of The Sculptor, where a guy was given the power to sculpt anything he wanted with his hands by Death, only his life would end sooner. This time around, Death came in the form of Stan Lee to a young cartoonist. The woman he meets beats him up (instead of the absurd "angel" angle of the original book). Everything he does is a male power or sex fantasy fetish, including his savior act at the end. The comic is so effective because it exposes McCloud's original comic so mercilessly. Whatever good intentions McCloud had going into the sculpture were undone by his painfully treacly sentimentality and self-indulgence. There's also a painful lack of awareness of the viewpoints of others. Taylor plays that up while adding all kinds of wacky and obscene sight gags that serve to send up underground comics in general, as he "samples" Crumb and others in certain scenes.

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