Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #12: Quinn Thomson, Kristen Shull, Eddie J. O'Neill

Zero Point and Quinn Thomson's Comics, by Quinn Thomson. Zero Point is a self-aware parody of Alien, more or less, employing a mix of line weights that emphasize different aspects of storytelling. A spaceship is sent on a rescue mission to an uncharted planet, and there's one guy in the crew who knows that everything on this “routine” mission is going to go horribly wrong. The stark blacks in this comic work well on the slick paper that Thomson chose, and they help accentuate his excellent work with making his faces expressive in an exaggerated way. The cartoonish nature of his line made me wish he had chosen to hand-letter the comic, as the fonts he chose were distracting. This is a funny comic that gets a lot of mileage out of its horrifying aspects and the awful decision-making of its characters. Thomson's portfolio comic shows off his expressive cartooning in an even better light with comics like “Metro”, which looks like it could be a short story featured in a French anthology somewhere. It's about a guy with stringy hair that stands up (an excellent design) having a miserable time on a subway. There are bits of over-rendering here and there, but for the most part Thomson keeps things clear and focuses on the physical humor of the jokes. In “Bibliomancy” and “Meditation Comic”, Thomson makes great use of a lively, squiggly line to create a wonderful, zaftig character in one comic and alternates between heavily spotted blacks and wonderfully scrawled faces in a deep-sea diving adventure. There's also a little of Graham Chaffee to his work, in that I could see him working comfortably in either comics or animation.

Netflix and Chill, Bones Vs. Tomes and Infernal Nihilism, by Kristen Shull. Shull is adept at the comedy narrative, as each of her three stories featured somewhat cynical sense of humor with genre trappings. Bones Vs. Tomes is a four-pager about a sorcery adept who goes out to the woods to learn spells instead of studying books to get them like wizards. In the span of four panels, she sets up the premise and introduces us to the teenage story of the story. Things go wrong (because of course) and she accidentally summons up a bunch of skeletons out for blood. Then there's a page and a half of negotiating the killer skeletons, until she's saved by a bunch of dickish wizards. The final two panels offer her wicked revenge for dealing with those bullies. Her line is decent, looking great when dealing with the main character and a bit more unsure when drawing other people. That said, her storytelling fundamentals are solid. There's nothing spectacular-looking about this comic, but her execution made it memorable.

Infernal Nihilism is a take on Dante's trip to hell, done in the Ed Emberley style of simple geometric shapes. Like much of Shull's work, it is simultaneously funny and grim. For example, Virgil, Dante's guide, takes the form of a scotch-drinking, cigarette-smoking giant squid. The planets of hell that Virgil shows Dante are filled with inconsiderate people, people who don't clean up after their animals, and those that feel they're morally superior. When Dante's relieved that he doesn't fall into any of these categories, Virgil reveals that the afterlife is all made-up, and that Dante's made his own hell. The cuteness of the story works effectively in both adding to the laughs but also making its nihilistic ending all the more stark, juxtaposed against the art.

Netflix and Chill is a great shaggy-dog joke of a comic, wherein a woman is brought out of a cryogenic sleep six hundred years after she went in and finds that all of humanity was absorbed by artificial intelligence after the Singularity occurred. The AI is fascinated by her as one of their ancestors and wants to keep her happy while studying her. They wind up throwing in another subject into her cubicle, a handsome guy, and the punchline swerves away from the common parlance of what “Netflix and Chill” means (sex) into something much more literal. Shull's line is pleasing here, working in a mostly naturalistic way but allowing her faces to be distinct and even slightly exaggerated. In general, Shull is adept at making short stories memorable, thanks to her comedic chops and strong sense of storytelling. That said, this is an artist that I can easily see tackling a long-form comic in the near future.

Rising, Caged Birds, Flight Club and Rats, by Eddie J. O'Neill. O'Neill has a distinctive voice that uses grotesque and distorted images to tackle complex emotions. In Rats, O'Neill uses a blood-red patina to tell a brief, horrifying story of a person feeling rats crawling around inside of them but fearing for them if they get out. The last image is of the person swallowing the rat, because “I'm not a mother”. The fear of being an inadequate nurturer of one's own parasitical entities supersedes the body horror images of the art itself, which I found fascinating. The pathological fear of losing one's own demons is in itself a horrible fate. Caged Birds features a a group of birds-as-mental-patients. They are drawn as birds and more-or-less act like birds...except some of them are in there for hearing voices, OCD or other mental illnesses. O'Neill takes this to its logical, grim but funny extreme when one of the birds tries to escape—and runs into a window. Once again, O'Neill's images point to dehumanization and detachment from one's own body.

Flight Club was done as part of a non-fiction assignment, and it's a highly clever story about O'Neill's family's history with violent birds of prey. From a pair of auks at a highly dangerous open-air, walk-through zoo, to some hopping mad turkeys to ultra-aggressive terns at the beach, there's a lovely clarity to O'Neill's line that is aided by the highly-effective placement of spot reds that emphasize the homicidal nature of these birds. There's one panel comparing the “pure evil” of all three birds and noting that it's the same despite the size difference of each—and evil is just blood red on the chart. Rising uses a thicker line weight in this moving, grim story about a monk trained in specific sacraments relating to the dead. The monk's job was to carry the body to a certain place where the bodies would be eaten by birds, allowing the souls to move on to their next life. When a group of bandits cut down a child, the monk overcomes adversity and gets the body to the top of the mountain—only to see his image burned down. When he returns and he realizes that he can't move all the bodies, a miracle happens. It's a genuinely joyous and surprising moment, and O'Neill's careful use of spotting blacks on the final pages frame the characters in just the right way.  

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