Friday, December 13, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #13: Nhi Luu, Jess Johnson, Donna Almendrala, Kori Michele Handwerker

Nhi Luu is a first-year CCS student, and her mini Latchkey Kids serves as a preview of a larger work. She uses a thick, expressive line that's also quite scribbly in this story of two sisters who find themselves lost in a haunted hotel. Not much more than the premise is established in the mini, but Luu lets us know that the older sister is dissatisfied to be on a working vacation with her parents, and the younger sister is a kid who wants to have fun. The undercurrent of anxiety and dread that emanates from K.C. (the older sister) when her parents don't answer their phones and haven't returned by midnight is a palpable one. It's that kind of existential fear felt when a loved one is away and you're terrified they might die. It's also unclear what's going on in the hotel, but there's a late scene that's both funny and creepy: when Mai (the younger sister) leaves her crayons to mark their path, hands reach up from under the floorboards to take them away. The thickness of Luu's line would seem to indicate maybe using a color wash later in the process because the figures really cried out for it. The mix of YA familial tension and mystery leaves the reader wanting to know more.

Similarly, Jess Johnson's Student Council Yearbook features bits and pieces of a longer work about a slightly fantastical scenario involving the student council of a school. Of course, Johnson's work is highly informed by manga tropes, so there's a lot of drama, flashy uniforms, and odd relationships. Johnson spots a lot of black into her comics, which adds to that sense of dramatic confrontation. Johnson's line is really thick in this comic, and there are times when it doesn't seem she has total command over that line. Some figures look wobbly and half-formed. There are clearly plenty of ideas here, so hopefully, Johnson can clear things up on the page and also perhaps consider color.

Donna Almendrala graduated from CCS in 2012 and she's worked on all sorts of clever, genre-oriented projects. She's doing these nicely-produced series that have a lot of color touches, focusing on some of her favorite subjects. Food Fanzine #1 isn't just recipes (though that's part of it); it's also stories and memories about food. For example, "Pizza Spaghetti" is a recipe for a rich, meat-based pasta dish. But the story is really about growing up and trying to connect with your far-away family by making beloved dishes. A strip about favorite ice cream flavors is about how eating it can momentarily distract from workplace stressors. The guest spots from Maia Kobabe and Alena Carnes were perfect fits in this kind of emotional narrative surrounding food.

Desert Dreamin' #2 sees Almendrala doing what she does best: draw cute animals. This is the story of a new mother owl who realizes that feeding her kids is going to be way more difficult than she had expected. Almendrala's combination of clear, naturalistic detail and cartoony grasp on motion and exaggeration make this comic a breezy delight. Indeed, the comic's comedic touches take it beyond the realm of simply being cutesy, especially when the owl is struggling.

Kori Michele Handwerker's career has been split between genre stuff, queer (and specifically trans) romance, and comics about the importance of pronouns and other signifiers of identity. Their Books About Gender Make Me Feel A Way is interesting because it's all about Handwerker's struggle with reading other people's experience being trans, in part because are worried about being triggered. More to the point, it's really a comic about what they really want to write about and what they're afraid to write about. Dancing around the issue of just how much ink to spill is difficult for any cartoonist who chooses to work in memoir, but even moreso when navigating these emotional pitfalls. They don't come to any particular conclusions but do wind up reading a book they were avoiding on the subject (Maia Kobabe's Genderqueer). That mere act sparked this particular comic, and it seems clear that it might just be the beginning.

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