Friday, August 7, 2020

Quarantine Comics From Caitlin Cass and Glenn Wilkinson

The global pandemic and its subsequent quarantine has had and continues to have a profound effect on artists all around the world. That was especially true during the period of March and April, where most people were actually obeying the constraints of the quarantine instead of pretending that science doesn't exist. That global sense of isolation moved many artists to dig deep into this feeling.
Caitlin Cass's Notes From Quarantine (Vol 10, #5 of her long-running postal constituency comics series) is something of a departure for her: these are single panel, New Yorker-style gag comics about quarantine life. Cass has actually had several strips published in the New Yorker, but it's clear that these quarantine strips are meant in part to satirize the dry, comedy-of-manners quality that one normally associates with that publication. In other words, COVID-19 and the quarantine have rendered that kind of wry satire irrelevant. Making quips about (relatively privileged) quotidian concerns without referencing the quarantine is like writing fiction.
Cass leans into that, combining the droll punchlines of this genre with brutally cutting observations. In one strip, a woman faces away from an older relative in a wheelchair, saying "Oh no, it's someone I know and love." A nurse walks by an apartment building on the way to work and admonishes its residents for staring at her. A school valedictorian gives her speech on the computer, noting that her generation can't mess up any worse than this one. Using a mix of soft grayscale shading and pastels, Cass delivers sharp barbs in a comforting form. The confidence and steadiness of her line is a great deal sharper than it was earlier in her career, making this kind of pastiche all the more effective as a result.
UK cartoonist Glenn Wilkinson's Quarantine Comics takes a different tack. These are three fantasy/sci-fi tinged short-stories done while in quarantine, but they aren't actually about quarantine. Although there are some thematic similarities. For example, "Once a wizard, now a pleb" is about a father and daughter going down to the market in ancient Rome. The magic that they understand is passing out of the world, and he's at first outraged that she's selling it for Roman currency, until he's made to realize that they are obsolete.
All of the stories are about a sense of loss and mourning with regard to something in society. In the second story, a Dr. Who-like character is outraged that the Daleks were created at the whim of an alien race that mistreated them. He winds up marrying the last Dalek, only his attempt at being a savior goes awry. The third story is about a man trying to fix his brain to keep up to date with current standards of goodness, only "goodness" is revealed to be a brutal accounting of personal hatreds and scores to settle. There's a profound cynicism at work in each of these stories: magic is fading from the world, heroes can't solve problems, and like in a Yeats poem, "the worst are full of passionate intensity." Wilkinson's work is in full color and looks like it's either been painted or made to look like it was painted. The figures are crude but effective. The overall aesthetic works for what he's trying to achieve.