Monday, December 16, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #16: Angela Boyle, Denis St. John, Cole Closser

Bearskin, by Cole Closser. This comic is from 2013, from Ryan Standfest's "Rotland Dreadfuls" minicomics series, but I've only seen it relatively recently. Closser adapts the Brothers Grimm to forceful effect, as the story of a soldier who makes a deal with the devil has multiple twists and turns. Closser, who usually adopts the veneer of classic cartoonists in his comics, here instead uses a more traditional illustration style, albeit one fitting for a fairy tale. In particular, he really nails the early part of the book before we are officially introduced to the titular character, as small creatures in what seems to be a forest taunt an unseen presence. It's Bearskin himself, as the bet he made was that he wouldn't cut his hair or nails for seven years, nor would he bathe. It turned him into a monstrous pariah but also gave him riches that he used to help out a sad, bereft old man. In return, one of his daughters volunteered to marry him. In the end, the devil may have missed out on getting Bearskin, but Bearskin's action inadvertently led to him getting two other souls. It's such a brutal story because there is no moral, only the inevitability of death. The timing and grittiness of Closser's art is a perfect fit for this kind of story.

Artema The Beast #2, by Rachel Cholst and Angela Boyle. The second issue of this series about an exile from a peaceful society is more ambitious than the first, but it does have certain structural problems. Artema joins a small party of thieves and killers and proves to be far more bloodthirsty and deadly then the rest of them combined. Cholst gets at Artema's inner struggle here, as she doesn't know if she likes what she's become. Artema's loyalty to her country supersedes everything, but she is also aware that she's being manipulated. Boyle's bigfoot cartooning is an interesting match for a gritty fantasy story, and that is part of what makes the story visually interesting. There's a lack of fluidity in some of the fight scenes and some general clunkiness when it comes to characters interacting in space, but Boyle usually finds a way to work around it. Indeed, the stiffness of character interaction is more pronounced in non-combat scenes. There are also some panels suffering from a paucity of background detail that further accentuates some of the character design issues. Boyle's art was more interesting in close-ups and with just two characters together. When the series is hopefully collected one day, I could see Boyle re-doing certain pages here and there.

Continuing the monster/fantasy theme, let's check in with Denis St. John. His Monster Club Comix is a collection of short Patreon comics originally created for subscribers. St. John's level of detail and expressive scribbliness are a highlight of his comics, along with a ghoulish sense of humor. In the first couple of strips, we meet a teen who encounters a horrifying yet intelligent slug-like creature on a bus. In a later strip, it suddenly grows after being on her body while she's taking a bath. It's a hilarious take-off on that particular trope and even gives it a romantic bent. There are also several monster vs monster one-offs, and these suffer in a comic the size of a minicomic. The level of detail in the drawings sometimes makes it hard to tell precisely what's happening on a panel-to-panel basis. Some of the best strips are stories like "Passage," about an alien coming to this dimension and struggling with every aspect of it and finding a way out through a human. It isn't a gruesome ending--it simply jumps into his shadow. It's an interesting point-of-view comic with a twist worthy of an EC horror comic, which is a clear influence for St. John.

The Kiss Of Death is an individual issue of Monster Club, done in the style of a Jack Chick tract. With the Vampirella-style hostess "Hella'Rella" narrating, St. John goes to his other main well as an artist: sex. Just as monsters in his comics almost always have a humorous edge, so too is sex a subject of humor. In this story, the classic trope of the monster seducing and destroying the innocent human woman is hilariously subverted as the monster disintegrates upon a kiss. Hella'Rella then warns all innocent monsters about the depraved humans. St. John plays it up for all its worth, and the formal qualities of the comic all help sell the joke.

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