Wednesday, December 18, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #18: Reilly Hadden, Andi Santagata

Reilly Hadden's comics are truly right in my pleasure-center wheelhouse. His art, his character design, and his pleasantly rambling fantasy plotlines have a deadpan quality that veers between horror and absurdity. Hadden just ended his long-running Astral Birth Canal series and has rebooted (with many of the same characters) as Astral Forest. The main difference is that unlike in the original series, which focused on a couple of characters per issue, Astral Forest flips between a few different characters in each issue. The first issue dives into a new storyline for Valentina, the earth woman who took off with space god Bork. In this story, they are living on a remote, icy planet with their baby Edward. In a long bit of scene-setting, it's revealed that some sort of anthropomorphic bird creature is watching them. In the second story, Hadden introduces Kath, a badass warrior who is on a quest while avoiding a bunch of demons who want her dead. An imp sent by her enemies winds up as her companion. Finally, there are brief interludes with Rona and Bird-Girl, who are told that there's an ancient tablet with their likenesses on it.

The second issue advances each of these stories. A group of rabbit bards hires Bork as muscle--uninvited, Bilbo Baggins-style. Kath uses the imp to escape some wolves. The tablet is actually part of a stone golem who declares that Rona and Bird-Girl are to be saviors of the Astral Forest. What I like best about these comics is that while Hadden spins a fun yarn, it's the corners and cracks of the narrative that he likes to invite the reader into. It's Bork trying to get the baby to sleep. It's Kath going on and on about the perfect sandwich and its ingredients. It's one of the bards singing an extended song. The small moments, the silly moments, and the absurd moments are the ones worth sticking around for.

Andi Santagata's work tends to deal with the reality of being embodied. It's just that the last comic I reviewed by him, Jed The Undead, was about a demonic teenager dealing with infernal ejaculation issues. The comics from this year are much more personal, including the autobio Trans Man Walking #1-2. Santagata employs a thin, scratchy line that offers that hint of horror expressiveness. It makes sense, given how many of these funny strips are about feelings of being trapped, or scared, or alienated. Santagata talks as much about being Asian as he does being trans. The highlight of the first issue was Santagata's CCS application strip, where the applicant is asked to include a robot and a snowman in their story. Santagata makes it funny and poignant, turning it into a relationship story gone horribly awry.

The second issue sees Santagata really lean into this kind of expression. The comics are tighter, funnier, and hit harder. There's a strip about how Santagata feels masculine most of the time...until he is hit with a period. The viscera and the scrawled lettering in that strip really pound its point home in a manner that's disturbing and hilarious. Santagata also points out in one strip how everyone always says the current year had so many bad things happen and counters it by noting that in 1997 his home country was returned to tyrannical overlords (Hong Kong, I presume), 9/11 happened, etc. It's a good point, one that he repudiates a few pagers later in an insert where Andi from the end of 2017 comes back from the future to warn present Andi that this really was going to be the worst year ever. The Time-Knife is a funny balance of sci-fi and autobio, as Santagata imagines how each decision we make creates an alternate self and universe where things are different. It's a warm story, as Santagata feels filled with regret at some of his decisions, but is well aware there are many others where he's truly an asshole. What it really does is speak to one's own potentiality at any given moment, and how powerful that truly is.

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