Sunday, December 1, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #1: Mary Shyne

Kicking off my annual feature on the artists of the Center For Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT, we have Mary Shyne's Get Over It. Shyne is a fairly recent graduate whose stylish early chapters of this book caught my attention last year. Shyne stands out because of her strong character design, attention to background detail, and firm understanding of how to draw frenetic action. The high concept of the comic is that a bike delivery woman named Leslie, who works for her father, can see the anthropomorphic emotional projection of everyone around her. When she happens upon some equipment at a college lab she was supposed to deliver food to, she realizes that the equipment makes these "emotional miasmas" solid...and punchable.

The high concept is clever but complicated, and Shyne explores this complexity with a couple of clever devices. First, the comic is in black and white, and while Shyne uses a fairly thin and fluid line, her dense use of spotting blacks and high level of background detail make the panel-to-panel reading of this an intense experience. However, to depict the miasmas, she uses the clever trick of drawing them all in red. It's a fantastic contrast, especially when there's a transition between the miasmas being invisible to everyone by Leslie to them having actual corporeal qualities and wreck the streets of New York. The depiction of speed and motion is also a crucial part of the narrative, as the comic is very much an ode to bicycle delivery and the ways in which the city becomes a kind of angular, high-speed adventure. Shyne does this through the use of Dutch angles, grid-smashing page layouts, high-impact splash pages, and visceral body language that bends and stretches with the action.

Shyne matches the visual complexity (yet fluidity) of the visuals with a complex layer of plot and emotional themes. There are a couple of emotional locked-room mysteries that steer the narrative, but Shyne hands out subtle clues from the very beginning of the comic without overplaying her hand. What's especially clever about them is that as Shyne unravels them, the mysteries surrounding them melt away in ways that seem obvious in retrospect but are tense in the moment. The lab tech whose equipment started Leslie down this road went through a brutal break-up, but when her ex is someone surprisingly close to Leslie, the mystery deepens. As the narrative stakes get higher when a piece of equipment disappears in a taxi, the emotional stakes similarly rise as Shyne reveals the final layer of the story: this is a comic about a father and daughter.

It's a story about resentment, and fear of abandonment, and loneliness. It's a story about unresolved trauma and how it was not only revisited on Leslie but on others around him. Shyne cleverly reflects the many complex layers of feeling with a literal fistfight with a monster, complete with acrobatics and lots of property damage. There are no monsters, there are no heroes or villains. There are just people, many of them with feelings of betrayal that never healed. This is a story about therapy (in its most visceral, outrageous form) and how healing can begin. That said, Shyne never abandons the mechanics of the original narrative. As a result, when we reach the end, there's a surprise reveal that opens up the possibility of a sequel. This is a confident debut for a skilled artist with a sophisticated understanding of fast-paced adventure storytelling and a lot to say about difficult emotional relationships.

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