Saturday, December 7, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #7: Kat Ghastly

Kat Ghastly's comics are a mix of bracing autobio and light entertainment. Even in the most personal of comics, their instincts as an entertainer are front and center, and I get the sense that their creative instincts lie in the intersection between scorching personal honesty and weird fantasy/fiction/horror. Starting with the landscape-printed What To Drink When Everything Is Nightmares, this is ostensibly a breezy review of disgusting energy drinks. This is rocket fuel for cartoonists pulling all-nighters and seems like a layup to do something light and funny. Well, the result is kind of light and funny, but Ghastly also alludes to their getting divorced, chronic pain, and the many things that make them sick. However, they need drinks like this to stay awake and had a job to do as a cartoonist for this comic, and they certainly delivered. Their reviews are funny and their mix of naturalism and cartoony gore is memorable.

Snakes Will Be Snakes is an even better mix of horror and personal trauma. Based on a fable by Aesop (a standard CCS assignment), the premise is Ghastly's weakness for snakes: "If I see that a snake is in trouble, I feel compelled to rescue it." Snakes here are wounded but toxic people who repay kindness with selfishness--or worse. It is, after all, their nature. They take this visual metaphor all the way, and it's cleverly done. It's funny when the snakes do absurd things like burn down a house and disturbing when they bite down deep and draw blood. In either case, the harm here is at a visceral level of trauma; there's an illustration at the end of Ghastly's naked body filled with serpents wriggling out of their flesh. What's especially fascinating is that Ghastly doesn't paint themself as a victim, noting that they're drawn to these kinds of people--and may well have been transformed into one.

Burn The Witch I is their most straightforward autobio comic, yet even here the intersection between memoir and horror is blurred. This is the first in a memoir series, and it's about how they coped with childhood bullying. A bookish child, people made fun of their name; their fascination with books, magic, and cats; and their general but vague lack of fitting into cultural norms. Their cartooning here is excellent, as their figure work is highly stylized. They alternate between ultra-simple stick figures in some panels and dense linework in other panels. Different emotions and events have different visual codes, and Ghastly guides the reader's eye easily across the page. The comic ends with Ghastly not being cowed by the bullying; if anything, they had a desire to get even. This led them to witchcraft (inspired by the movie The Craft, who had a vengeance-seeking character Ghastly wished she could be), and there's an allusion that getting into it led to far more trouble than their actual bullies brought them. I've never read a memoir quite like this one, and I'm fascinated to see where the talented Ghastly takes it.

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