Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #13: Catalina Rufin, Alex Foller, Cuyler Hedlund

Genius Loci and Shirley, by Catalina Rufin. Rufin has a pleasantly ragged style that's made all the more effective with color. Genius Loci has an ambling pace to it, as it's a comic not so much about a specific narrative as it is about exploring a place and the emotions surrounding it. It's a story about a future where humanity was wiped out, but fairies and elves exist and have reclaimed the old spaces. In particular, it's about a fairy living in some abandoned trolleys that had personal meaning to her, but she was unable to stop living in the past. It took meeting a druid and their mentor to rekindle her interest in living her life again. There's a lushness to Rufin's style that works well with her bright figure drawing and generally relaxed storytelling. Rufin packs in a lot of information in a short period of time, as we learn all sorts of details about each character, but she's in no real hurry to get there.

Shirley is a retelling of Aesop's fable about the bat who can't join up with either the birds or the beasts because she's not enough like either of them to be accepted. She frames the whole thing in high school, with the eponymous Shirley the bat being rejected by both. She's not cool enough for the cool kids and doesn't have the same interests as the losers. Rufin takes this in an interesting direction in the end, where we see Shirley in therapy, clearly trying to shake off years of feeling unloved. It's a clever repackaging of the story that focuses on the nature of group dynamics and how even the powerless can be exclusionary. The visual approach is much the same, sans color, retaining the ramshackle qualities of Rufin's art without her distinct palette. In both stories, Rufin softens stories that in other hands might have been much harsher in terms of both narrative and characterization. Rufin shows a great deal of sympathy toward her characters, and one can feel it as a reader when all you want is for the characters to be happy.

Kid Pyramid, by Alex Foller. This was one of my personal favorite comics of the classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020, just based on my own personal aesthetic. Foller's shabby but cartoony line in this story of a teenager with a pyramid head stumbling his way through life. When his absentee father doesn't bother to show up for his birthday yet again, he goes on a quest to try to find him. Along the way, he's abused by his high school classmates (one referring to him as "ya food pyramid bitch"), traverses the desert, is trapped by a board game-loving creature underground and ultimately gets a bit of shaggy-dog joke advice from his father. The cartooning is a pure delight: rock-solid fundamentals with regard to pacing, storytelling and character design. However, Foller maintains an almost rubbery looseness that allows him to keep the story lively and unpredictable. Foller has a bright future ahead of him making some extremely strange comics.

Dear You, by Cuyler Hedlund. This is an interesting idea for a memoir comic, in that 22-year-old Hedlund found letters written by her when she was 15 and 18 years old. Each of them was addressed to a future version of herself--a senior in high school and a senior in college respectively. The fascinating thing about the letters and the comic itself is how cataclysmic changes can be during this time period. She went from being a loner child to someone building a new life with her boyfriend. Hedlund alternates pages as she goes from high school to college, with each letter in turns expressing yearning, cynicism, despair, loneliness, hope and a fervent desire to keep up with drawing.  The key to this comic was its page composition, and Hedlund created connections through time by mirroring events on pages with similar poses, similar panel constructions and similar uses of spotting blacks. There's also some smart use of lettering, where the 15-year-old Hedlund's hand is a little shakier than her older counterparts. Hedlund's line is mostly crisp and precise, but she also gets deliberately fuzzy during certain key memories. Hedlund goes far beyond the simple gimmick in the comic's presence to deliver something that's warm, unsentimental and ultimately hopeful.

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