Friday, December 7, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #7: J.P. Coovert, Robyn Smith

Simple Routines, Volume #7, by J.P. Coovert. For his daily, 4-panel autobio comics, Coovert channels his sense of joy and positivity into each one. Even for sad strips like where his beloved dog London dies, Coovert just lets it all out there on the page. The strength of this comic is the strength of Coovert's cartooning: it's clear, fluid and strong. Even as Coovert uses a simplified style of character design, the actual drawings themselves are not only bold and confident, they are filled with life. His drawings of his dogs in particular are not only cute as images, they come to life on the page with a few strokes of his pen, thanks in part to his understanding of how objects interact in space. Coovert works mostly as an illustrator, but it's clear that he is really a cartoonist. These comics clearly serve to keep his head in the game while riffing on the things and the people he loves.

His comics with and about his wife Jacie are particular treats, as are those comics where he gets together with one of his friends. There's an undercurrent of sadness in his strips sometimes, as the various moves around the country have cut off some of his friendships. There's also the sadness of being away from childhood and college friends, and the intensity of those reunions in his comics is tinged by the sense that it's something that won't last. That said, one can frequently see Coovert circle around and remember the good things about his life and concentrate on them, and it seems clear that these comics aid in that as well. Simple Routines in many respects is an exercise in finding the positive by writing about the positive, and the results are uplifting for the reader as well.

Wash Day, by Jamila Rowser & Robyn Smith. There are any number of striking and beautiful images in this comic drawn by CCS alum Smith, but the most striking is the second panel on the first page. The main character of the story, Kimana, is coming home off the subway and walking to her apartment. That second panel shows her with her keys splayed out of her fingers like miniature knives, as her best form of defense in case she's harassed or worse. This is a comic both about the essential dignity of black women and the ways in which men seek to tear it down. In both instances, there is great restraint and subtlety in exploring both ideas. Kimana is endlessly calm and patient in the face of catcalls and insults on the street as well as dealing with a trifling man sending her endless texts, apologizing for something he did.

As she explains at the end, this was not a day to deal with annoying lovers or give the time of day to a catcaller: it was wash day. Smith shined throughout the comic in terms of giving us a full understanding of Kimana's personality strictly through he body language and the way she relates to other people. Obviously, the images of Kimana slowly and methodically washing her hair, adding conditioner, brushing it out and putting it in clips is compelling and fascinating to watch. There's a specificity regarding what is clearly an important ritual that is striking in the sequence, one rarely seen or discussed in pop culture that is still overwhelmingly white. While those images are striking, Smith's drawing Kimana going about her morning as she walks to the local bodega, interacting with the manager as a regular and then passing the time with her flatmate Cookie are equally important in their own way. This is the story of a black woman giving herself permission to negotiate that particular day on her own terms, no matter what.

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