Sunday, December 23, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #23: Luke Howard and Penina Gal

Match, by Luke Howard. Every year, CCS sends out a comics pamphlet detailing the benefits of the school in a general way and specifically asking for donations. Howard, an administrator at the school and also a graduate, wrote this year's pamphlet for 2018. Unsurprisingly, it's funny and quirky, with its main concept being that giant hands from the sky often come to help us when needed. These "helping hands" later help cartoonists match up with "top-notch teachers" at CCS in addition to helping humanity at larger, spurring any number of theories as to what they actually are. Howard, never afraid to go meta, actually has a character posit the idea that the giant hands are a metaphor, which gets the character roundly ridiculed by his friends. At the very end, there's a pull-back that reveals that a grandpa was reading the story to his grandkids, who found it a "". At the same time, Howard stays on mission as the kids ask "why didn't the cartoon school just come out and ask for donations directly?"--and then turn and look at the reader.

This is a bit of applied cartooning, to use the term championed by CCS founder James Sturm, but it's entirely in Howard's style. Howard is someone who can work in any style, but he's really come into his own over the last few years. He has his own take on the stripped-down figure style based on simple geometric shapes. His storytelling mixes utter sincerity with distancing irony at the same time, creating an absurd atmosphere that the reader must navigate on several levels. In this case, Howard directly addresses the reader in an attempt to ask for donations to the school, but the level of distancing in the comic also addresses the fact that doing so is humiliating. Throw in his usual, slightly pained sense of humor, and you have a pretty remarkable comic.

Drift, by Penina Gal. This continues Gal's more recent trend of doing more abstract, poetic comics. This one is built around swirls of color on the left side of the page and a four-panel grid on the right that's mostly just text. The overall effect is a rhythmic one, as patterns and colors rise and fall around the text. Gal writes about ADHD in this comic and makes the sage comic that the disorder is only pathological in a capitalistic society that demands focus on a particular task and actively discourages daydreaming. There's a sense of resentment that she has to take drugs and go to therapy for something that doesn't actively distress her; she's being forced to alter her brain in a way she doesn't want. It's also an example of a comic that I've seen a lot of lately, which is how to cope with living in Trump's America as part of a marginalized group, especially as a highly empathetic person The mix of anger and activism with calls for self-care is very much part of this, but (on brand) Gal drifts back to thinking about the hows and whys of her brain's function. In particular, she notes that her therapist posited the idea that her brain "processes tasks through emotion rather than deliberation." It's an interesting idea, focusing in on the executive functioning portion of the brain. Someone who processes information emotionally is susceptible to emotional burnout and overload, which is why the self-care aspects of the comic were so important. For a comic built on personal feelings and experiences, Gal outlines the mechanics of this empathy and its relationship with focus with a great deal of precision.

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