Monday, December 2, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #2: Gilmore Girls Fanzine and Doug Catches Up

A time-honored CCS tradition is creating fanzines for favorite TV shows, bands, and other pop culture. It's a very CCS thing to do, as it's collaborative, it's project-oriented, and it provides a fun way to blow off creative steam when not working on one's thesis. Considering that all of the equipment needed to whip out a comic is available at their fingertips in CCS's amazing lab, the urge for a project like this can be satisfied quickly. It also seems like fellow Keren Katz is at the center of a lot of these projects these days, be it comics or wacky dance performances or musicals. One person can mean a lot to a community as a catalyst, and Katz is truly a miraculous walking whirlwind.

Most of the fanzines from CCS have been about shows I don't know. However, the Gilmore Girls Fanzine (edited by Katz and Jess Johnson) is very much in my wheelhouse as a show I both love and love to hate. Of course, living in a small, quirky Northeastern town like White River Junction makes it easy to relate to the small, quirky setting of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls, with its vast array of cranks, weirdoes, dreamers, and artists. The heart and soul of this comic is Jess Johnson, who edited it but also provided a lot of interstitial material to bind its stories together. There's a funny segment imagining Lane, the childhood best friend of Rory, one of the main characters in the show, going deep into different kinds of manga to read in the same effortless, encyclopedic way she knows about rock. Johnson even ties this into Lane joining a comics circle in the same way she joined a band in the show.

Natalie Wardlaw zeroes in on Rory's romantic life and all of the horrible men she dated. She turned up the angst and even the undercurrent of physical threat presented by her Stars Hollow boyfriend Dean, based on a scene where he tangled with a bad boy at Rory's private school.  Rachel Ford's funny story digs in on the small character details and makes fun of the way that Lorelai, the mother of Rory, pretends to be humble but secretly revels in her relative glamorousness in town. Julia Alekseyeva talks in all seriousness about how seeing a bookish girl on television was very important to her as a teen, and she longed to have the same kind of relationship with her mother that Rory did with Lorelai. Pop culture and simply having the feeling of being seen can have a powerful effect.

Of course, funny strips by Emma Hunsinger and Kat Ghastly balanced that devotion as they imagined what the show was like, having never watched it. Ghastly imagined that cannibalism eventually would become a plot point. Isabel Manley and Ortal Avraham both get at the heart of the show: that putative protagonists Rory and Lorelai are both self-centered narcissists in the same way that Lorelai's mother Emily is. The tenor of this fanzine is at once loving, devoted, skeptical, and mocking: a perfect description of the Gilmore Girls fanbase. Now, pardon me while I start my essay on why Rory and Lorelai were the real villains of the series...

Kori Michele Handwerker and Pat L's Doug Catches Up is less a fanzine than it is fan-fiction, imagining an older Doug Funnie returning to his old town of Bluffington years after he had moved away. Doug was an interesting cartoon in the way that it addressed pre-teen angst and issues in a direct, honest manner, even if its visuals and details were absurd and cartoony. That's lost a bit in this black and white comic (although the cover preserves it), but the creators otherwise remain true to the spirit of the show. Doug has a long talk with his former bully, Roger, where he reveals that he's bisexual and engaged to another old friend of Doug's named Chalky. The entire comic has a tone of gentle forgiveness, understanding, and self-examination. As Handwerker notes in the afterword, the comic isn't a manifesto about the true nature of the show's characters or about forgiving bullies; rather, it's a logical extrapolation of how some of the kids might have turned out and dealing with issues that are more openly spoken about in today's culture (like coming out, or coming out as trans and using different pronouns). The artists really nail the visual style of the show to such a degree that this could easily serve as an updated version of the show.

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