Thursday, December 19, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #19: Brainworm 3-5

Brainworm continues to distinguish itself as part of the continuum of CCS anthologies led by students over the years. So much of the CCS experience encompasses opportunities that are difficult to come by later in one's career, and the ability to easily collaborate is one of them. Having access to one's peers as critics, accountability partners, and creative partners as part of a difficult but rewarding experience is one of the biggest draws of living in White River Junction. There's also often an urge for a creative person when faced with an assignment or deadline to want to work on anything except their assignment. I've always had the sense that being able to blow off steam like that in a creative and productive way is a big reason why there have been so many anthologies at CCS over the years, but I'd also imagine having the opportunity to make something as good as Irene or Sundays presents its own challenge.

Brainworm's editor is Kat Ghastly, a second-year student. One can always tell that Ghastly's got a lot of different gears going, and her ability to wrangle consistently solid and interesting contributions is a credit to her as an editor. Brainworm is also a record of sorts that touches four different graduating classes, giving it its own unique identity regarding a specific period of time. Each issue is themed, and the third issue's theme is "Surprises." There are some fun incidental drawings from Leise Hook and Emily Zea, followed by a cute strip from Erienne McCray. The latter involves an octopus trying to get adopted as a pet, and McCray's line and use of blacks drives the cute factor home. Katz's strip combining the myth of Noah and the Trojan War was absolutely hilarious, especially with regard to the mumbled dialogue.

Cuteness and weirdness are interspersed neatly by the editors throughout the comic. Emma Hunsinger's dryly humorous bit about a skeleton woman who maintains high-fashion status is its own self-reflective commentary. Surprise monster payoffs from A.C. Rooks and Rainer Kannenstine mash that cute/horror dichotomy effectively. There's a long series of drawings from a number of artists for a "Trickster Battle Royal" that looks like it was drawn on post-it notes, but the reproduction was too small to discern most of the details. That's too bad, because there seemed to be a lot of clever ideas here. The two MVPs of the issue are Kristen Shull and Tim Patton. The former's autobio comics are among the most heartfelt and authentic I've read, especially with regard to sex and relationships. This one's about the horrible feeling of knowing that someone is in love with you when you don't feel the same way in a casual relationship. Patton's scrawled pencils start with a cutesy metaphor about a monster eating orange-creatures and then quickly turns the subtext into text by way of narrative captions. The reader is informed that all of his comics are really all about sex, love, and above all else: survival. "Absurdist constraints" are just there to hold into place that essential idea of barely being able to hold it all together, with one's vices both helping and hurting. This is as raw as it gets and Patton goes all the way while using an interesting layout that also harmonizes his text with funny drawings.

The theme for #3 is "Bad Romance," which is a wheelhouse category for a number of these contributors. Issy Manley's story takes the theme and bends it first toward romance comics tropes and then to EC horror comics. Of course, it's all about a relatively mundane event (power going out in winter, neighbor being sent to help) that's ratcheted up in everyone's imaginations to create tension and paranoia. Katz's comic uses a combination of extremely spare cartooning in some parts of its open page layout and then beautifully intricate linework to tell the story of an old woman receiving care from a volunteer. The story grows increasingly strange until the truly bizarre climax. Not surprisingly, Shull's comic on the subject is excellent. This is less about a specific relationship and more about her relationship between herself and her own body as she felt herself aging a little. More to the point, it's about the persona she felt she created in response to her feeling less desirable; it worked so well in attracting friends and lovers that she felt it wasn't ever really "her;" she had become her own shadow. Shull's line is perfectly suited for this kind of story. It's clear and slightly cartoony without being overly stylized.

Catalina Rufin, Jess Johnson, and Liz Young all tell variations of the same story. It's about younger versions of themselves finding themselves in abusive relationships where partners told them what to do, what to like, and what to say. They were demeaned and insulted. For each artist, they had to find their own journey to self-actualization. Johnson's story is interesting because she was so shaken by her experience that she wasn't even sure what she liked anymore, so she undertook a furious self-tutorial to figure it out that culminated in getting a cute Adventure Time-themed dress. There's also a trio of monster/horror -related strips from Rainer Kannenstine, Tim Patton, and William Prentiss. Ghastly's own strip involves a couple going to hell that feels highly autobiographical.

Issue #5's theme is "Doppelgangers." This was the most interesting and consistent issue to date. Zea and Daniel Foulfellow both use variations on doppelgangers pursuing or threatening the original versions with dramatic tension. Ivy Allie takes that idea and turns it on its head in a hilarious way. Lillie J. Harris' story about a brother and his twin is a story I've already reviewed back in her recent entry on High-Low, but I wanted to note how it really anchored the rest of the issue, along with Andi Santagata's "The Time Knife". Johnson and Shull both offer stories about how apparently twin versions of themselves were wandering around town, but Johnson at least met hers in real life while Shull was left wondering if they blacked out and dressed like a banana for a weekend.

Tristan Scilipoti's "What It's Like To Have Sex With Yourself" starts as an "erotic visual essay" but winds up being about dysmorphia and self-loathing. It's an unflinching, raw story. Ghastly's "Horrorshow" is about that feeling of "someone else driving the bus" when feeling disconnected and detached from the world. Patton's "Gemini" strip is a variation on Aristophanes' speech on androgyny from Plato's Symposium (humans being one being split into two). Coco Fox's strip about a murderous doppelganger takes a hilarious turn with a beautifully expressive line. Overall, the balance between horror, comedy, and personal stories made this the most fully-realized issue of Brainworm to date.

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