Friday, December 28, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #28: Rainer Kannenstine

It's a special privilege to see the entirety of a CCS student's thesis package, as I noted when I reviewed Dan Nott's comics. CCS students are taught to emphasize format and presentation alongside content. In terms of the former, Rainer Kannenstine's thesis was a one of a kind. It's not unheard of for a thesis to be presented in a handmade box. However, gluing nearly forth teeth to the side of said box, which has been criss-crossed with electrical tape, is something I've never seen before. It made it feel as though I was about to peer into a forbidden tome of some kind, literature that's dangerous.

The actual contents were much friendlier than that, showing off a variety of different styles in a bunch of narratively unconnected but thematically similar minicomics. Kannenstine's future as a cartoonist lies in humor, as the best of these comics were the funny ones. That said, the supernatural/sci-fi aspects of many of these comics showed that he was fluent in a number of different genres and cross-genres. His character design is strong and no-nonsense, giving the reader an immediate sense of what each character is about. There's also an immediacy to his work that indicates an admirable level of spontaneity. His line is lively and fluid. However, the trade-off there is that his work has many more textual errors than I would expect in a final project. There were times where I wasn't sure if this was part of a specific dialect choice or if they were indeed errors, which took me out of the work. Kannenstine clearly needed other eyes to proofread his comics.

This Sucks is a slightly revised version of a comic that he did earlier, and it's still one of his best. It involves a stressed-out young woman being chosen by a cosmic being to help decide if her universe lives or dies. Kannenstine's use of a thin line to establish the woman and her general ennui is then subverted by sticking her in space, that line swallowed up by the black void of space. The cosmic being is almost formless, other than his cruel mouth and tuxedo. It's a nice, absurd touch. The end of the story is both funny and horrible, yet entirely fitting—especially since the woman is not actually rewarded for doing what she did.

Zapadoodle 1 and 2 are sketch and process minicomics. The first one emphasizes linework, and one can see him employing different line weights with the same material as a way of generating different effects. Kannenstine's blobby characters have a cartoonish charm that works well, like a pair of cacti in a desert, a huge brute and a smaller creature considering helping him, or his own self-caricature. He's also good at using greyscale shading to interesting effect, but I think his future as a cartoonist lies in further developing that loose, casual use of shapes in creating figures. The Life of Ded makes that clear, although the heavy line weight here is too dense in telling this funny store about a ghost who reluctantly goes to a party. His authorial voice is bold in that comic, however, and it further shows his strengths in writing funny comics.

Nidhog is perhaps the best-looking of his comics here. Kannenstine uses bold black and white contrasts in telling the story of a woman and a demon, mixing around time and perspective to get at their relationship. His linework here is excellent, as he found a delicate balance between using a thinner line weight without sacrificing the overall boldness of the visuals. As the story goes on and the reader begins to understand that the power dynamic between the two of them was not what it appeared to be at first, the ending is all that much more effective.

To My Dearest Johan is indicative that Kannenstine used his thesis not so much to show that he was a finished product as a cartoonist, but rather to demonstrate a number of different kinds of storytelling approaches. This is a strong drawing display about a child devouring himself, talking the reader through how and why. It's whimsical and weird, much like most of his output. Finally, Snakes is Kannenstine's most focused and sustained narrative. It's about a spaceship containing the eggs of the last remaining race in the universe not devoured by “the Snakes”, and the relationship between the caretaker of the eggs and his friend the robot. Kannenstine uses the slightly ragged line of This Sucks, the sharp black and white contrasts of some of the other comics, and a sweet sincerity that's not really present in his other work. What kind of cartoonist is Kannenstine going to become? Hopefully, it will be one who can draw on gleeful nihilism as well as a genuine attempt at creating empathy for his characters. He's clearly most comfortable with subverting genre work in frequently humorous fashion, especially with regard to how he varies line weights. Between Snakes, This Sucks and Nidhog, there's a formula there for a longer work with memorable characters, funny twists and a commitment to working within a genre to create emotional content and surprises.

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