Monday, October 19, 2020

Ley Lines Monday: Eric Kostiuk Williams' How Does It Feel In My Arms?

Eric Kostiuk Williams has long fascinated me because of his consummate skill as both illustrator and cartoonist as well as his blend of intellectual curiosity and pop culture--especially gay culture. As such, his entry in the Ley Lines ("How Does It Feel In My Arms?") series plays to all of his interests, as the artists/writers he examines as inspirations are pop music icon Kylie Minogue and anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin. 

Williams' signature visual style is a mix between highly-detailed naturalism and rubbery surrealism. His figures are liquid, morphing back and forth into new forms. Gender and identity are fluid as his characters dance to a pounding rhythm. The discussions mix the dance floor and the salon and obliterate the divide between high and low and between body and mind. His comics are also intensely personal; this manifesto about what he loves about Minogue's pop songs is not such aimed at the reader as it is aimed at his partner, who initially scoffs at Minogue's music in a record store. Williams spends the rest of the comic not only commenting on Minogue's deeply humanistic approach to lyrics, he even connects them to the kind of intentional anarchistic utopia that Kropotkin dreamed about.

The introduction of a glamorous, dancing Kropotkin was hilarious, but in the context of the warmth of the comic and especially Minogue as a benevolent hostess, it made perfect sense. Kropotkin's thesis was that the competitiveness of capitalism was not man's natural state and that in fact cooperation and helpfulness were humanity's default state. Williams postulates that adherence to capitalism and in particular, a reaction to resource scarcity with violence is a diseased state of being. There's a clever page where he does a send-up of the classic illustration of the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan by following it up with Minogue in a similar pose. Rather than believe in an oppressive ruler who maintains order because the state of nature is "nasty, brutish, and short," Williams (though Minogue) posits a culture and society that integrates art, dance, pleasure, sex, and creativity, one that works through cooperation and hope instead of fear. 

It is collectivist anarchism that embraces its margins rather than tries to eliminate them. It values variation instead of trying to encourage conformity. Rather than embrace Hobbes' Leviathan as its social contract, or John Locke's credo of "life, liberty, property" that was cribbed by Thomas Jefferson, Williams' revolution is more French: liberty, equality, fraternity, where all three aspects are equally important and have a beat you can dance to. The fact that the comic is done in a hot pink wash only adds to this effect.

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