Friday, December 27, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #27: Emil Wilson

Emil Wilson is a CCS outlier. Not quite a trailblazer, but definitely an outlier. At 53 years old, he was already established as an art director and illustrator in San Francisco. He's married. But like a few other older cartoonists, the muse took him to White River Junction in order to learn how to tell stories. Wilson is already quite skilled and has a fully realized style. What will be interesting is to see him learn how to craft narratives and work entirely within the discipline of cartooning, which is related to but quite different from illustration.

The urge to be a cartoonist is something that's clearly been burning in him because he was already quite prolific even before her arrived at CCS. Let's take a look at his comics. There are a few one-pagers, like The Great Sex Talk Of 1973. Right away, Wilson establishes his visual style: slightly distorted and grotesque figures with rosy cheeks and a restrained but prominent use of color. He's also quite funny, as this story follows seven-year-old Emil having read a book about sex and asking his mother about it. When he asks about the possibility of him impregnating her, her chain-smoking disaffectedness swats his inquiries down until Emil brings up Jesus as the reason he couldn't do it. How To Pronounce My Name is another funny one, as a barista mistook his name for "Anal" and even wrote it on his cup. This one's all in gray-scale shading with a bit of a Ben Katchor rattiness to his line. Once again, his instincts as a humorist are sharp. All About Me! The Body Edition is a single page illustration of his body, relative to various things that happened to it at various ages. Again, Wilson knows how to work a meaningful anecdote, including bits related to his husband and a lot of positive self-esteem.

Telling People is a clever mini where Wilson details the various conversations he had with people when he told them he was going to art school. The first strip outlines every second thought he had about it, from feeling isolated and out of place with younger cartoonists, to being separated from his husband, to worrying about encountering death due to Vermont's icy weather. His friend only reacted when Wilson pointed out that there were no Starbucks there. Again, Wilson has great comic timing, and visually, the page serves as a text-delivery mechanism, as he doesn't want to detract from the gag. The rest of the strips are variations on a theme, with the one where he's talking to his deluded mother being the best.

Killing Simon is a mini, I think, that may well portend Wilson's future. It's about a man who accidentally kills a family's cat right in front of them at a yard sale. He feels horrible about it, but his attempts at making amends only lead him into weirder and more awkward situations. It's an extremely uncomfortable comic that gets cringe-worthy in all the right ways. However, here we also see Wilson's limitations as a cartoonist. His figures are stiff at various points, and he doesn't have a sense of how to draw figures interacting in space. His use of gesture also needs some refinement.

Silent Witnesses was Wilson's try-out comic for CCS, and it immediately showcases two things: he's a funny writer and a distinctive stylist. However, this isn't really a comic in any traditional sense. This is illustrated text. The Turtle And The Bunny, Wilson's take on the CCS Aesop assignment, is another viscerally droll comic. Here, the layout is somewhere between illustrated text and an open-page comics layout, as a jealous pet bunny's own paranoia eventually does him in. The juxtaposition between the ornate lettering and cute use of color with the eventual grisly violence is a striking one, and the page of morals is grimly hilarious. The Princess And The Turnip is another whimsical and absurd fairy tale about a woman who falls in love with various inanimate objects, until she finally finds love with an umbrella. Once again, there's a nice contrast between the scratchy line and the elaborate lettering and lush use of color. The Taking Tree is a parody of Shel Silverstein's classic The Giving Tree, only the boy, in this case, is Donald Trump. As a parody, it's amusing; as political satire, it's a bit of a blunt force object.

Eight Nates is a funny kids' comic about a lonely kid who manages to conjure up seven copies of himself as playmates, to disastrous effect. This had an odd mix of black & white and color; I couldn't quite tell if this was deliberate. Introducing Erin Williams is a true story about a woman who stutters, and it's told as a kind of interview comic. Stuttering is an executive functioning neurological issue that is poorly understood by the lay public. This is a sharp, colorful comic that makes great use of naturalism and body language. We Will Never Be Happy Again is, as was stated in the mini itself, an illustrated poem. It's more of Wilson's grim sense of humor on display. Finally, The Pillow Of Your Dreams is a funny, well-designed "User's Manual" for a pillow that creates vivid dreams for its users. Wilson's obvious facility with this kind of drawing is what made the humor in this comic all the more effective.

I can't quite yet tell what kind of cartoonist Wilson is going to be. He's extremely skilled in some areas, but certain habits of illustration have to be un-learned before one becomes a good cartoonist and visual storyteller. Wilson is very funny, especially with regard to cringe humor, and I could see him going in that direction. The stuff he wrote about his family and friends is also funny, in an often bleak manner. CCS is a perfect place for him, because cartooning and storytelling are the bedrocks of their curriculum.

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