Friday, October 26, 2018

Minis: Jenny Zervakis, Whit Taylor

Strange Growths #16 1/2, by Jenny Zervakis. Zervakis threw this one together shortly before the Zine Machine show so as to have something new, so it's a bit shorter than a usual issue at just twelve pages. Zervakis hasn't been able to do many comics in recent years, so getting this issue was a treat. Most of the issue is about a beach trip she took with her daughters and a friend & her daughters. The cover is one of her best: a drawing of her daughters on vacation, the wind near the beach whipping through the  palm trees and their hair. It's the perfect blend of Zervakis' knack for drawing vegetation and capturing the likeness, personality and body language of her girls.

There's always been a reserved quality to Zervakis' work. There's not much in the way of surface flash in her drawing or writing style. However, I'm inexorably drawn to it because of her quirky, meditative observations and her spontaneous, expressive line. Even pondering such quirky Americana like the tourist trap South of the Border, Zervakis manages to imbue it with a poetic quality. Most of what she writes about in this story is fairly quotidian: what she and her daughters did on their vacation in Myrtle Beach. That said, the essence of her daughters' personalities comes through both in terms of how she draws them as well as little quirks regarding the things they wanted to do. Zervakis' zines have always been personal and intimate while usually being deliberately spare regarding specific details, but this issue finds her opening up a little about her divorce and the ways in which certain rituals and public appearances may seem routine to others but trigger sadness in her.

There are also a few sketches of her kids and pets, along with a series of cartoons from her older daughter Penelope that are darkly hilarious. Everything about this issue feels spontaneous and loose, as Zervakis noted to me that she was doing it on a time crunch. To my eye, that freed her up to not fuss over things and instead trust in her instincts as a storyteller. Zervakis played to her strengths here as an artist, and the result was a series of images that were lovely on their own and even more effective in conjunction with the text.

Fizzle #2, by Whit Taylor. The second issue of Taylor's slice-of-life series about a disaffected young woman named Claire. She works in a boutique tea shop, she has a rich stoner boyfriend, and she has no idea what to do with her life. One of the questions that Taylor raises here is if there's a difference between existential malaise and depression. After all, there's nothing "wrong" with her life, but it's made clear that she's desperate to have a "thing" to make her own. A hobby, a belief, a creative outlet--something. Taylor seems to suggest that there is certainly a link between the two concepts of malaise and depression, with the former leading to the latter at times. Indeed, many therapists recognize situational depression as a diagnosis different than major depression. That said, the character of Claire is in more of a holding pattern in this comic, trying to fight the feeling of "meh", with anything, even something as silly as making gourmet popsicles.

There's a panel where Claire made her popsicles out of different kinds of fruit, she tries it and fireworks go off around her head. It's a brief, sublime moment. There's that moment of possibility that's then spoiled by her boyfriend and her awful boss, but it's a memorable moment nonetheless. A Shark Tank-style reality show introduced toward the end makes me think the comic will go in that direction, but even if it doesn't Taylor's wry comedic chops are on display here, as her send-up of popular and youth culture in general is sharp. She's really locked into her style as an artist as well, with expressive faces that center around lips and eyebrows. There's a smooth confidence to her work that can be seen all-around in her page design and backgrounds. In a comic that's mostly talking heads, her ability to make create compelling expressions was the key to the comic's success.

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