Monday, December 10, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #10: Natalie Wardlaw, Emily Zea and Alexander Washburn

Full Bore, by Emily Zea. This comic is only four pages line, but Zea offers up a lot of clues as to what kind of cartoonist she is. This brief story is the first part of a longer saga about an outlaw family in the old west. There's a nice swerve in this story, as what seems to be an innocent victim is actually the newest member of the family, helping her father rob a train. Zea has a loose, expressive line and a strong command of page composition. Her varied line weights add an emphasis to her characters in motion and her mix of difference perspectives makes this a visually interesting comic. For something so short, Zea packs a lot of information into this comic and makes it a single, satisfying unit. 

The Tortoise and the Hare, by Alexander Washburn. I believe a story involving the tortoise and the hare is a regular early assignment at CCS. This one involves martial arts (a ninja tortoise?) in addition to the classic race. Washburn goes all-in on using a thick line and over-the-top expressiveness in telling this story. It's all about flop-sweat, arched eyebrows, clenched teeth and emotions yelled out loud. It reminded me of something like Naruto as much as anything, only on a much smaller scale. I have no idea what Washburn's interests as a cartoonist will be, but he definitely has the fundamentals to do an action strip in the vein of a Stan Sakai. 

Rehabgiving, Chronic, The Princess In A Suit Of Leather, Run, Trigger Warning, and Just One Branch, by Natalie Wardlaw. This is an astounding suite of comics by an excellent young talent. The order in which I read them worked out well, as more and more of Wardlaw's frequently traumatic life was revealed in each subsequent zine, as well as her process of healing. Just One Branch is her version of the Aesop fable "The Man and the Wood", and like Issy Manley, she provided a feminist take on it. However, the take was a bit different; in her version, the lumberjack is a seductive man slowly but surely insinuating his way into the life of the tree (who is feminized with a human face) until he cuts her down and rapes her. The reaction of the nearby tree: "Well, she did let him have her branches". It's a brutal story that illustrates how consent can be given but then brutally overstepped, leading to a reaction of "she was asking for it."

Similarly, her take on the story The Princess In A Suit Of Leather finds her own attitudes toward the ending shifting as she aged and understood that men and relationships were not going to save her. In the story, a girl who was raped by her father runs off to the woods and manages to put herself in the skin of a fierce animal. She winds up with a prince who cuts away her skin. When she was younger, she thought the prince freed her, but now she looks at the story as a man cutting away a woman's defenses before she was ready to give them up. It's a cogent critique, and one that makes sense in terms of the tone of the story.

Chronic has a medical intake form as its cover, which is filled out on the third page. It's a story about Wardlaw's chronic pelvic pain suffered from age 15 to age 21. It's especially brutal and poignant because it's not only true that modern medicine has a horribly limited understanding of women's health issues, it actively ignores symptoms and information in favor of throwing ibuprofen at it. Wardlaw had to suffer through three operations before they got it right and she was freed from a life of pain, though she notes that the reminders of pain are something she holds on to, because in a time when she had no voice of her own, the pain was all she had. Her naturalistic art is simple, effective and powerful.

Run was inspired by the simple Ed Emberley technique of drawing with basic geometric figures and building on them. This is done as a fairy tale where Natalie goes out to the desert and things seem to be going well, but a guy moves into her house who is violent and abusive. Of course, everyone makes excuses for him, and he keeps threatening to get her. The metaphor of fear as a little animal in her head telling her to run is a powerful one, especially at the end where she kills it. There's a common thread in these comics of numbing and detaching herself as a way of coping with extreme trauma, and that carries over into the next comic, Trigger Warning. 

This is a brilliant, harrowing piece of art told in six separate anecdotes. One shows images of trying to pretend fear wasn't there by pretending she didn't feel it, until she was proven horribly wrong. Another is the swing between feeling suicidal and homicidal as she goes through emotional swings, as well as the cycle of whether or not autobio comics about trauma are helpful or harmful. There are strips about feeling like she had "asked for" sexual assault and/or manipulation because of substance abuse, strips about her shifting body image, and a funny and awful strip called "The most truthful thing I ever said after sex". In that one, a guy asks her if she wants to be his girlfriend (in so many words) after sex and she replies, "I'm sorry, I can't...I have problems". This is an emotionally raw comic with delicate, assured drawings and a powerful emotional narrative, one that doesn't have an easy or pat conclusion. Indeed, being in a place where trauma was no longer actively happening had its own set of difficulties, making her wish for that time when all she had to concentrate on was trying to survive in the moment.

Finally, Rehabgiving is about checking herself into a clinic where she was treated for addiction, among other things. The interesting thing about this comic is her focus on other people's issues in terms of narrative. It makes sense, so most addiction recovery groups focus on group work and being there for others, caring enough to hear their stories in a non-judgmental way. The beginning of the comic is a tarot reading that outlines a road to recovery and strength, while the end notes that the clinic did not "cure" her, but started the process of recovery in a powerful way. It's a strong statement of its own in a remarkably coherent way. Wardlaw has a powerful narrative voice, and as she refines her already-strong storytelling skills, she has the potential to turn her life into an unforgettable comics narrative, if that's the path she chooses. 

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