Monday, September 3, 2018

Minis: Colin Lidston, A.D. Puchalski

The Age of Elves #3, by Colin Lidston. This is the continuing story of a group of high school gaming friends who make a long road trip to the enormous Gen Con show. What the series is really about is how social outcasts who feel awkward around most people interact with each other, and how this interaction is not always a positive one. That's especially true when they find themselves out of their comfort zones. In this issue, for example, all is well for the first few pages of the story as they are amazed by the size of the con and get swept up in gaming sessions and merch tables. Then the sole girl in the group, Sarah, gets lost on the way to a dance later that night and encounters a couple who give her some encouragement.

It's when she gets to the dance that all sorts of awkwardness is triggered and well-illustrated in the body language depicted by Lidston. Sarah pulls Jamie on the floor to dance, leaving Bram and Evan on their own. Bram, who is clearly unnerved by social interaction outside of gaming contexts, walks away to find a game. Evan proceeds to get hammered on his own. There's a telling quote when Sarah later asks Bram if he made a new friend at the gaming table, and he replied "I was able to turn a marginal advantage into a rout, through..." Strategizing in lieu of other forms of interaction, as opposed to being a gateway to further and deeper interaction, is at the heart of the group's dysfunction.

That further comes to light when it turns out Evan doesn't make it back to the room and they are eventually informed that he passed out drunk in the lobby. Sarah is clearly the member of the group forced to do the emotional labor for everyone (not surprising, since she is a young woman), as she takes care of Evan and tries to deal with the tantrums of Bram and Jamie at the same time. That's especially true when they try to blame her for all of this. That plays into another aspect of the group: their friend Phillip who quit. The reasons why he quit are a matter of debate; some of the group play the old "he wanted to spend time with his girlfriend instead of us" canard, while others say that they embarrassed him now. Fealty to the group and the game superseded everything else, and the very idea that the game would end terrified Jamie. Hardcore gamers, those who arrange their entire lives around the hobby, often wind up recapitulating the same societal rules that they find themselves being alienated by. The new rules they create have different names, but they are still about dominance and competition in the worst of situations.

Pet: "The Garden Party", by A.D. Puchalski. This is an odd little story that starts as a courtly comedy of manners and turns into a supernatural slaughter. Drawn with a delicate, almost fragile line that is buttressed by dense cross-hatching, the figures look a bit like Dr. Seuss meets John Tenniel (illustrator of Lewis Carroll's Alice stories). The story starts along those lines, as a dashing anthropomorphic wolf captures a girl-cat thing to bring to a garden party. The young men and women at this noble affair have on animal masks of their own and mock the wolf, whom nonetheless makes an impression on one of the women. Meanwhile, the indolent partygoers summon an all-devouring demon who starts to destroy everything around him, scattering the characters at the end of the story.

There is a confidence in Puchalski's storytelling that is especially clear in her character designs. That slightly droopy quality in the wolf, the feral weirdness of the cat-girl, the delicate decadence of the garden party participants, and the blobby horror of the demon are all highlights in this leisurely-paced comic that only has two panels per page. Puchalski's commentary on the decadence of the rich, the desperation of those looking to move up in status and the sheer indifference of those without a chance are all on display here, told in a manner not unlike a deranged fairy tale. That's thanks in part to Puchalski's formalism with regard to dialogue and lettering that's as delicate as every other facet of her visual approach. This certainly left me wanting more.

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