Friday, December 14, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #14: Amy Burns, Marshall Hull, Pat Leonhardt

Pensive Hedgehog, Hedgehog Detective, The Spirit Board and Love Letters, by Amy Burns. Burns' comics are an interesting mix. They are personal without being overtly autobiographical. They are cute but not cloying. They are frequently grim without being melodramatic. In Love Letters, for example, Burns tells the tale of a girl "who whispered a love letter to the stars". The stars passed it around until it fell into the heart of a boy, and he and the girl fell in love. So far, so cute, with Burns making good use of negative space as she makes her figures small against the vastness of the night sky. Their intimacy is that much greater in the face of infinity. Burns is not interested in "happily ever after", as an emotional rift opens between them because of pain they are unable to express. Burns' approach to this was artful and fanciful, and the bottom panel of each page was the ribbon of a song playing with its lyrics written out.

Pensive Hedgehog features her go-to character talking about mental health and the paradox of inner strength. When we rely on ourselves all the time, it makes it hard to seek help when we need it. Here, she uses the spiny creature getting ever smaller as it weakens. Hedgehog Detective #1 posits the mystery of hedgehogs being kidnapped, fed and tickled. It's a totally absurd premise with all sorts of dramatic angles used to give it fake gravitas. The Spirit Board starts with a typical ouija board session and then mutates into a bizarre scenario where Santa contacts them, tells them that god and the devil are battling for their souls, and not to eat anything red. It's creepy and innocent at the same time, and Burns adds an absurd "spirit trivia" glossary that spells out some rules. I like the way that Burns is exploring unconventional story ideas and expectations, as well as the way she frames them visually. She's still clearly figuring out what kind of cartoonist she wants to be, so future work by her should be interesting.

Over The Top Comix!, by Marshall Hull. Hull approached this biography assignment using a variety of interesting visual approaches. The story of Maria Bochkareva, a pioneering Russian soldier, was presented using a bright color palette, interesting page design and the running feature of a Russian bear in uniform who was narrating the story. Bochkareva petitioned the Tsar himself to get into the army, where she sloughed off the laughs she initially received by performing astoundingly brave feats, like saving fifty men caught in No Man's Land. Later, she formed her all-female Battalion of Death in an effort to shame male soldiers into fighting back against the Germans. Hull shares a lot of information with the reader, but he manages to keep it light and make every page interesting to look at. The use of a black background made the whole comic look more dramatically stark.

Margo #1 and Collage, by Pat Leonhardt.  I had the pleasure of sitting next to Leonhardt watching him work on Margo #1. He's chosen one of the tougher cartoonist career paths as a humorist. Like his nearest CCS predecessors Garry-Paul Bonesteel and Ben Horak, Leonhardt is mining horror in particular for comedy. What makes it work is his fantastic attention to detail, especially in the color portions of his work. Margo is the middle-school protagonist of this story, and as it begins, she's just another weird girl going to school--except she happens to be a zombie of some kind. A zombie wearing a dress with unicorns and pizza on it (a level of detail that made me laugh out loud), but a zombie nonetheless. Margo can only communicate in the form of picture-rebus puzzles that her best friend can translate, but she has to navigate the usual school problems. For example, there's the mean girl clique, the "Beckies" (one of them appears to be an alien, but she wears a cute hair bow, so apparently this is fine). When Margo gets mad, she bites--and this is what sets the plot into motion, even if almost all of it takes place in the background of the story.

Leonhardt drops clues throughout the story that though zombies are involved, this is another sort of tale--a Monkey's Paw story. That is, a story where a wish is made through an evil totem, and the wish comes true in a horrible & ironic fashion. This becomes evident with the behavior of her father, the fact that her mom's in a mental institution, and a flashback to her mom as an explorer. Leonhardt gives this story a bright and breezy feel with the extensive use of white negative space, though he uses a zip-a-tone effect for his characters to give them some weight. It's a smart, funny comic with clever character design. He needs more experience in terms of character interaction in space and naturalistic gesture (if only to violate it), but it's obvious that he's thought through this character and her story very closely.

As Collage proves, Leonhardt can work a variety of styles. "The Wallabies" is very much in a George Herriman vein, as he uses a thin line and stick legs to create action with a family of wallabies. He uses violence for different purposes, but one can see just how skillfully he worked this sort of style. "Wash Your Damn Hands" is a debate between a man and some kind of hygienic Greek chorus, as they tell him to wash his hands before urinating, and he tries to come up with excuses as to why he doesn't want to do it. When we see his penis, the various faces and fruit variations Leonhardt uses are hilarious, as he keeps escalating the humor. I'm not generally a big fan of bathroom humor, but there's an almost relentless level of meticulousness at work here that I admire.

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