Sunday, December 8, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #8: Cuyler Keating, April Malig, Lillie J. Harris

Lillie J. Harris is a first-year CCS student, and their comics to date reveal an interest in working with dense blacks and shadows in particular. Jawbreaker is a short comic that uses what appears to be the image of a roughly-drawn moon in a night sky, until it sinks and the sky and it's revealed that it's a jawbreaker--a kind of chewing gum. The person getting it is horrified when it comes out, it's warm, and it has a face. This is just a little horror warmup of a comic, but it establishes how Harris likes to use light/dark contrasts in order to establish mood. Gemini is another more explicitly horror comic about a boy with an identical twin named Elijah who wore a mask--and his brother was warned never to look at his face. In a manner similar to Nate Powell and Steve Bissette, Harris uses a dense, scribbly line that soaks up light on the page. The visuals heighten tension in such a way that just some hints at Elijah's true form are all that's necessary to reveal the final fate of the narrator.

Harris' Aesop's fable assignment is The Eagle And The Beetle, which they used to counterpoint against the story of the Kennedy family and its many tragedies. Just as the Eagle ignored the Beetle's efforts to protect a hare, so too did Joe Kennedy lobotomize and institutionalize his eldest daughter Rosemary, afraid that her behavior would hurt "his family's political career". Just as the Beetle got revenge by pushing out the Eagle's eggs from its nest, so too did the other Kennedy children suffer all sorts of tragedies. Harris keeps it simple and naturalistic here, relying more on grayscale than shadow. Finally, Maggie Doll is a beautifully-drawn comic with heavy atmosphere about a young woman finding her childhood doll in the attic. All of the memories, good and bad, come rushing back at her, but it's ultimately a positive experience as she reconnects with those memories and her love of the doll. Once again, Harris' use of pacing is sharp and tense, and their more naturalistic figure work is top-notch.

April Malig has mostly been making interesting Risograph zines with commentary on photographs for the last few years, and Near Constant Background Noise continues that trend. It's in many ways a summation of this period, as it directly addresses the frequently nihilistic quality of her musings. She asks the pertinent question if it's a distraction to search for happiness, or if there's a "possibility of a possibility" of hope. The bright, almost garish colors indeed provide both a distraction and an attraction on their own; they are pleasing in and of themselves. Malig's first comic in a few years, Rotten Roses, actually carries on this theme as it's about believing in close friendships. Mixing internet imagery with real-life interactions, Malig knowingly manipulates appearance and reality as part of a sense of personal performance. There's a group of friends living in a house who bond over a particular manga that spawned several adaptations, and their obsession was the lingua franca of their relationships. It was a way of highlighting and protecting the friendships from the ennui and despair of the outside world. Malig's character design is killer and the impact of her use of soft pastels gives the whole experience a gentle touch.

Cuyler Keating's The Attempt is a collection of short, experimental comics. "Jellyfish" goes all-out in presenting the reader with a dizzying array of images and visual approaches. On the first page, there are multiple colors in different panels and a lack of a traditional grid. The second page is a black-and-white splash page, with gray tones giving the pool in the water a double-exposure effect. The next two pages maintain that same shadowy tone, only the water in the pool has been replaced by jellyfish. It's a brief nightmare of a comic. An exquisitely-drawn silent story sees a skeleton in armor coming back from the Crusades, only the entire town consists of skeletons in regular clothes. The naturalism of the story is what brings that feel of death so close to the reader, a death that is only vaguely perceived. "Spaces" is a nice bit of comics-as-poetry, using the rhythm of a four-panel grid to define the physical and emotional spaces between her and her partner on a road trip. Keating's use of color is much sharper and more purposeful here than in her first story. "Full Formed" is about her wish to have been born fully-formed like in mythology, and once again Keating's deft touch brings famous images to life in an animated fashion. There's no stiffness in her line, as subtle soft tones accent her drawings without making them too fuzzy. The open-page layout is extremely clever, with the negative space working to push time forward on the last page in particular, as Keating comes to term with growth.

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