Saturday, December 29, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #29: Ocean Jones, Bread Tarleton, and Kevin Reilly

Ocean Jones and Brandon "Bread" Tarleton collaborated on a book called Big Grungus, which seems to be a collection of sketchbook-style zines where each artist traded the pages back and forth with each other. There's an aesthetic that I've seen developing among some young cartoonists that combines a scribbly, mark-making style of art with any number of genres, including autobio, fantasy or in this case, wise-cracking anarchist cats. That aesthetic is often closely aligned with punk/anarchist sensibilities, and that's certainly the case here. The loosely-constructed stories follow the cats Big Head George and Big Stinky as they lie around, go skateboarding, get in arguments, go on quests, brag, philosophize, and insult each other.  It's punk absurdism, with every mark on the page as important as any line of dialogue. There's a whirlwind of styles here, with some sections carefully rendered and others looking like ink is slashed across the page.

Jones' own Big Jumps 1 is very much in the vein of Big Grungus, only these are personal observations. That scrawled, expressive line and warped perspective fills every page as they talk about wanting to personally transform their body, piss on the government, and try to get up. Tarleton's The Woods is different: it's a silent work about a small person traversing their way through some thick, mysterious forest land. Tarleton's line here is dense, with lots of gray shading and cross-hatching. When the traveler sees a series of bug-like creatures marching in a row and then sees one of them devoured from above by a monstrous creature, they decide to leave the same way them came from. It's a strong sequence that manages to convey emotion through some subtle use of body language, and the visceral surprises in the story sell the reader on that shock.

I reviewed Mothball 88 earlier in December, but I have a few other Kevin Reilly comics to consider. Reilly's collection of short stories, Obscure Imperatives, sees him working in a number of different genres and styles. “The Birthplace Of Saints” is a story that sees him working through a number of different influences, yet coming out with a style all his own. It's been noted that his thin, wispy line is reminiscent of CF's, but I see more of Olivier Schrauwen (in terms of color and forms) and Dash Shaw (in terms of the fantasy) content here. That said, this story of a roller-skating keeper of the faith who protects a temple important to pilgrims is entirely its own thing. Reilly has a knack for not just world-building, but creating entire ontological systems for his characters. The way he has the belief systems attached to his worlds play out over the course of the narrative is fascinating, especially since so many of them wind up being horrific or lethal in some way. The way he ties those systems into sports and competitions is also interesting, as self-actualization as a believer is directly tied into one's own athletic prowess. 

There's a little Mat Brinkman in his “The Obscure Imperative”, a quest story with tiny panels, unusually shaped figures, and a starkly steady line weight. Again, Reilly's stories play out as narratives with a lot of stake, and in this case it's survival and memory. He creates a set of rules, lets the reader know just enough to follow the story, and then takes those rules to their logical (and frequently disquieting) end. “Fifteen” is an unusual mix of genres. It starts as a teen romance, with a mysterious girl named Molly encouraging the narrator to run away with her. She's too cool for him, but she gives him a mix tape that may have magical effects. There's a steadiness to his line here that is unchanged despite the frequent and weird scene changes, where the narrator goes from chasing her to becoming a member of a marauding, anthropomorphic rock band to fodder at a mental institution to running free.  
A Thousand Times is Reilly's take on the Ed Emberley assignment, where an artist draws a story using the simplest of geometric shapes. It's the story of a horse that keeps running and running, trying to find its girdle. It's another example of Reilly creating a world with its own dream logic that inexorably leads to a horrific end. Halcyon Bike Shop is a piece of cleverly-designed commercial work that doubles as a guide for how to maintain one's bicycle and an advertisement for the shop itself. It's beautifully constructed and designed, and it points out a constant in Reilly's work: absolute clarity in his storytelling. It's obvious that he has a big future ahead of him as a cartoonist, especially if he finds a publisher that believes in his work.

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