Saturday, December 15, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #15: Erienne McCray, Pepita Sandwich

Orange and Definitely Not God, by Erienne McCray. Orange is a testament to how comics can tell a story through color alone. It's about the friendship between two boys named Kyle and Carl, and in particular it's about the way that boys relate to each other and how difficult intimacy can be. McCray's drawings here are loose, even sketchy, but she ties each page together with just the right use of color. That color is as expressive as the drawings themselves, and the result is a pleasant loop where the reader understands what's going on thanks to the relationship between color and line. Each character is immersed in their own color field: Kyle is red, Carl is yellow. Kyle is clearly a loner that Carl reaches out to, inviting him over to his house for dinner. When Carl learns that his father has cancer, Kyle tries to reach out in his own way throughout the rest of the story. It takes a while, but Carl finally opens up emotionally and allows his friend to hug him as he weeps when his father is dying. When they embrace, they combine to form the color orange. It's a simple, powerful technique that underlines the dialogue and the line drawings.

Definitely Not God is clever in a different way. The mini contains selected daily autobio strips (which McCray puts on twitter) that are a conversation between McCray and an unseen presence that can best be described as a self-care conscience. The resulting strips are unique in the daily strip genre, as McCray talks about her moods, her anxiety and her depression all while this distinct voice helps her through, gives her advice and encouragement and the occasional stern word. There's one strip where McCray is surprised at the strong reaction these strips have received, given that they're quickly drawn and aren't her "real" work. However, the looseness of this work is its strength; it reminds me a bit of Jules Feiffer in terms of the way she works the grid with these sketchy lines that nonetheless have a distinctly drawn sense of gesture. Some of the strips are cheerful, where she talks about how much she enjoys hand-inking or a new haircut. Sometimes she works out grief, like with regard to her dying father. As McCray points out in the comic, she's just 23 years old, and it's fascinating to watch her find herself as an artist while working in public.

Brain, Back Wards, Space Girls and Favorite Flavor Day, by Pepita Sandwich. Josefina Guarracino, aka Pepita Sandwich, has some tantalizing potential as a cartoonist. Her authorial voice is distinctive, but her stylized drawings are particularly interesting. She ignores naturalism altogether and instead her comics are in a cartoonish, symbolic universe that's nonetheless rooted in ways in which bodies interact in space and with each other. She's part of a wave of South American cartoonists whose work is cutting edge stuff, mixing the personal, the political and the fantastic.  Space Girls is a four page mini featuring alien girls who happen upon an Earth devoid of human life, its populace having died taking selfies in trash piles. Her striking use of color and open-page format are a nice introduction to her overall style, which serves to both reassure the reader in terms of its approachable graphics and colors and unsettle them with its odd character design and page composition. Backwards is a nice bit of dream logic, as two young women enter a bounce castle and find that it's full of visceral representations of their memories, with items like the "dad shoe river". Every detail is carefully considered to create this world of dream logic, and Sandwich draws heavily on the way her drawings act as drawings, warping arms back to depict motion, for example.

Brain has a few stories, starting with the biographical entry "Women Move Mountains". It's about the explorer and activist Annie Smith Peck, who at the age of 44 decided to start traveling and mountaineering. She later became a member of the suffragist movement. Sandwich used her life as a metaphor for the figurative mountains she had to climb as she struggled against the patriarchal and sexist society she was born into. Sandwich switched back and forth between naturalism and symbolism, and her style made that easy to accept as a reader. Sandwich used map symbols, books, statues and other visual metanyms to reflect how Peck, even in death continues to have a strong influence. There's also a loopy story where she and a friend of hers found the special disco version of the the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" on cassette, only it causes time to stop. Here, Sandwich proves adept at comedic work, as each attempt to make the world a better place fails miserably, in escalating fashion.

Favorite Flavor Day is a work of autobio from her childhood, and the story is as unusual as the presentation. With her beautifully stylized figures, stripped down and cartoonish in an elegant manner, she puts them in a variety of panels: circular highlight panels, open-page layouts, charts and various grid patterns. The hook of this story is a great one: her dad was the owner of a gelato factory when she was growing up. She of course used it as leverage to make friends, but she also wrote about her father working all the time made her resent the delicious sweets he brought home. Indeed, there's a hilarious scene where she rebelled by eating horrible industrial ice cream. There were also scenes of hanging out at the ice cream factory, where she and her brother become expert tasters. This comic is a beautiful mix of processing emotions, tender family memories, and a good dose of humor.

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