Tuesday, December 3, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #3: Amelia Onorato and Daryl Seitchik

It's tough to describe Amelia Onorato's oeuvre sometimes. Something like feminist-fantasy-fairy tales sort of gets at it, with a strong undercurrent of horror and frequent use of historical fiction tropes. At the same time, even her grimmest stories have a whimsical element, and they are always humane above all else. Regardless, her minicomic Churn is yet another fine example of her mind at work, combining many of those elements. This time around, the setting is the Massachusetts Bay colony in the 1600s, and there is a love triangle between a blacksmith named Prosper Smyth and "sisters" Remember Goulburn and Obedience Bright. (Those names just slayed me!) The gimmick here is that Remember, a young native woman, is in love with her adopted sister Obedience, while Obedience loves Prosper--and he loves them both!

Throw in a monster who takes on the appearance of the person you desire most, and you have a formula for some solid horror soap opera. There is a scene where Obedience kisses Remember (for "practice", not knowing how much her sister desired her) that triggers a tragedy and then some bold moves on the part of the protagonists. Onorato knows how to draw a tense action scene, but the ending surprised me at first, before I thought about the humane core of her work. No one ever considers why a monster does something, and that proves to be a major plot point here. Once again, it's Onorato's attention to detail that makes the story so effective.

Daryl Seitchik may be best known for her quasi-autobiographical Missy comics, but I remember her breakthrough being a surreal mini called Sub. It was an exploration of her subconscious, partly by way of her childhood, but it established early on her interest in exploring symbolic and surreal ways of exploring ideas. That was certainly true in her sole graphic novel to date, Exits, but it's much more pronounced in her more recent work. For example, Waiting For Ariel starts off with Seitchik in an "after-life bar", waiting for someone named Ariel. Seitchik's line looks simple on the surface, but then you blink and she uses this interesting broken-line technique that fractures pages and panels like a broken mirror.

This is a story about running the gauntlet, about death in the tarot sense: transformation. Indeed, the Daryl character walks around the afterlife with an infinity sign over her head, like she was the Magician from the tarot. It's reflective of infinite possibilities, even as she clearly had unresolved ties with the material world. There are hints of unresolved relationships, unresolved gender questions, and a fundamental unwillingness to let go--to fall. A false fall finds her in her childhood room, berated by Matryoshka dolls, until she realizes that she possesses the agency to ignore them. What she has to accept and embrace is her childhood self: memories, experiences, and all. Once she comforts her childhood self (an essential element of all therapy and self-actualization is self-love, and self-love starts with going back and loving one's self as a child), she's able to finally meet Ariel. This is a supernatural lion being, showing her the ocean that represents possibility and infinite growth.

Seitchik emerged fully-formed as an artist after just a couple of minis. Her voice, her intellect and most of her technique were there from the beginning. What's different about her work now is that she's pushing the limits of that technique and expressing herself in new ways. That was true in Waiting For Ariel in terms of her daring and original use of line, and it's certainly true in the first issue of her new series Follow The Doll. This is firmly in the category of "revisionist fairy-tale" that interestingly also uses Russian religious and folk imagery. There's an ornate quality to that kind of imagery that lends itself to visual depiction, from architecture to clothing. Seitchik's use of color is spectacular and something I haven't seen from her before, but the watercolors at play here form the backbone of the story's narrative.

This issue follows a young girl at a time when her long-suffering mother has died. Her mother left her a doll that occasionally spoke to her. In the wake of her death and her father subsequently and quickly marrying someone new, the girl finds her entire view of the world in ruins, especially her belief in god. After a fantasy sequence where god (as a sort of Emperor tarot figure with a flaming sword) appears in the sky and she kills him with snowballs, the doll simply tells her, "There is no man in the sky." When the doll later throws itself on the fire, it reappears, Phoenix-like, flying across the girl's house. Her father thinks it's evil witchcraft, the work of Baba Yaga, but the girl suspects otherwise. What is the doll? The dawning of the age of reason, or the symbol of personal renewal? Is it the essence of the relationship between mother and daughter? All the girl (and the reader) can do at this point is to follow the doll.

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