Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #6: April Malig, Josh Kramer, Dakota McFadzean

Last Mountain #5: To Know You're Alive, by Dakota McFadzean. This is an interesting departure for McFadzean, who rarely does autobio work. It's a fascinating addition to the burgeoning comics genre I'm calling True Parenting. Anyone who's a parent knows it's both terrible and wonderful, often at the same time. That's especially true of the toddler years, when kids develop agency but they've not yet reached the age of reason. This comic follows McFadzean, a stay-at-home dad, on a day with his toddler son. McFadzean describes his son as "intense" as a counter to his wife's more cute description of him as a "firecracker". ("Mama will come home RIGHT NOW!") The latter description is applicable when his son did things like get excited by green garbage trucks and the trolley on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. The former description applied when his son hit McFadzean in the back of the head as hard as he could with a block. It's an amazingly rendered scene, as visceral as anything McFadzean has ever drawn.

What's most interesting about this comic is McFadzean's understanding of what his son is going through on an intellectual level and actually going through it with him. His son was going through a particularly painful teething process, the result being "he just screams and screams". As a parent, you feel awful. As a human being, it is hard to deal with. How one copes with that fight-or-flight confrontation through tantrums is crucial, and McFadzean feels bad about screaming back at him. There's another scene where he is literally surrounded by his son's screaming word balloons, his own attempts at reason drowned out as he covers his ears, puts his son in front of a screen and crumples into a heap. At the same time, McFadzean reveals his near-instantaneous anxiety over bringing his son into horrible world and compensates by psychologically picking at that wound, seeking out upsetting images. It feels like a way of fighting the everyday anxiety of child-rearing (amplified by a lack of sleep) by distracting oneself from it with actually horrible thoughts and images. The comic coalesces into a bizarre episode (?) of Mr. Rogers on a dark set, with shadowy figures that frightened his son enough to call for his father's help. It was the unknown calling, anxieties swirling for both father and son, as they passed through it. Though Mama came home at last, his son wanted to see the monsters again.

My Dumb Feelings, by April Malig. Malig's comics are a mix of swirling, colorful images (brought to life thanks to a Risograph) and her own pointed, funny and self-deprecatory comments. Lines like "I have a lot of energy, uh, it's just all potential" get at Malig's general discomfort with life. That page has bright orange and pink backgrounds with images of flowers coalescing on the page. It's the ultimate in potential energy. As she talks about on the final page of the comic, there's just a general sense of weariness pervading the comic. She's tired of everything, including herself and her own feelings. She's unsure if she's sad or angry enough about the right things, in the right ways. She has no idea if making something beautiful means anything, and notes that "believing in dumb magic feels as good and valid as believing in anything" else on a gorgeous page filled with colorful talismans. Malig advances no viewpoint other than her own personal uncertainty, which is a statement in itself. Nowhere is there a statement of surrender or inaction; she'll keep right on feeling those dumb feelings and doing meaningless stuff, but she knows she'll never get the Answer to any of her questions. That might make her tired, but at least she's trying, in a comic that can only be described as day-glo existentialism.

The Cartoon Picayune #8, edited by Josh Kramer. Kramer chugged along and published eight issues worth of solid comics journalism, with each reporter out in the field reporting on a story. This is unfortunately the final issue (published in 2016), but it's typically quite good and focuses on a variety of stories. Some are low-key, some are whimsical, and some are a matter of life and death. It's like a comics version of Radiolab or some other unpredictable, informative podcast. This issue features an interview with a man named Tony Burns, who went from homeless (thanks in part to having AIDS) to being the recipient of a government housing program that restored his dignity and autonomy. It's allowed him to become and advocate and assist others in similar situations. Kramer mostly just lets Burns tell his story (the story got a little cramped with tiny lettering at times, and everything about it demanded a bigger page), and it's a testament to putting the lie to the notion that public assistance saps an individual's interest in doing things for themselves. To the contrary, the knowledge that one's basics are at least partly cared for allows an individual to be a contributing member of society. This story fed perfectly into the issue's theme of "Unnoticed". Homeless people are unnoticed and ignored, and it wouldn't take much to help so many people reclaim their sense of dignity.

Laura Brooke Kovac's "Forgotten" is about a scrap-metal dealer who stumbled upon a metal egg that turned out to be one of the lost Fabrege eggs of Russia. What followed was a fascinating history of the eggs, including a note on how much they cost to make for the Tsars and their families relative to the average person's yearly salary. Ellis Rosen's "The Number Stations" is about the cold-war tactic of transmitting codes via short-wave radio to a one-time pad with the corresponding code to relay information. The original messages are available for anyone to tune into, and they continue to be transmitted to this day. The story follows how the public picked up on them, wrote books about and generally pondered their usage. It's an interesting artifact of the Cold War that persists precisely because it's so hard to crack. Finally, Kramer's "Why Grown-Ups Are Playing D&D" is still timely today, as the game continues to explode in popularity. Drawing each person he interviewed as their character as a fun touch, but Kramer gets at the heart of why it's drawing people in. In a world where technology is isolating, the camaraderie and imagination of the game is appealing.

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