Monday, December 14, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #14: Leda Zawacki

I was well aware of Leda Zawacki's work before she went to CCS, and the comics she submitted all have a level of sophistication and polish that's indicative of an artist with a style that's close to fully-formed. That's not an accident, considering that she's been making comics for a while. Zawacki has a delicate but highly stylized line that reminds me a little of how Lilli Carre' approaches the page. There's a flat, cartoony quality to her characters that aggressively emphasizes their two-dimensional nature such that every narrative has a dreamy, magical feel. Each of these three comics provides variations on that approach.

For example, The Swinging Bridge, a story adapted for comics from Mari Navarro, emphasized its two-tone colors as the primary driver of the narrative. The dark blue-green not only represented the story's nighttime setting, it also served as the color of clothing. The brief shocks of bright yellow were narrative interjections, representing key emotional turning points. Zawacki's line is a thin one, relying on color to do most of the heavy lifting and fill up negative space. The story, following a teen and a friend who is obviously acting out against a lack of parental engagement, sees Mari go to her friend Rosana's house for her birthday. Rosana demanded that they play with a Ouija board, which freaked Mari out, but also seemed to be a strange, chaotic outlet for Rosana. The story culminated in a dangerous bike ride across a bridge and a shocking encounter that could have been much worse, especially for two Latinx girls. Zawacki mixed dread, anxiety, and confused personal identities into a visually dense but narratively clear story. 

Pomegranate Heart was Zawacki's CCS application comic, which of course meant that it had to include a snowman, a robot, fruit, and the artist in the story. Zawacki wove a sad, sweet story about using a red, fleshy pomegranate as the heart for for a robot and then for a snowman, and then had to find a way where they could be inside together without the snowman melting. This was an experiment in leaning entirely on her line art, and while it looks wobbly in some places, Zawacki's commitment to that clear line backed up by selective uses of hatching, spotting blacks, cross-hatching, and even some stippling gave the story the weight it needed to counterbalance that essential lightness of the narrative.

The Visitor was Zawacki's very loose take on the traditional Aesop's fable assignment. Based on Aesop's fable "The Astrologer," it's ostensibly about someone being so fixated on reading signs that they ignore what's around them. Zawacki, employing grayscale shading to add weight to her thin line, hit on a strong visual formula in this comic. The story was about a lonely seer doing online tarot readings when a demon came through a paid political advertisement. Being a seer, she rejected its attempts to fill her with dark thoughts, but she invited it to dinner as she noted that while she was looking at the cards for fun, she knew she had to engage the outside world eventually. It's an elegant metaphor for quarantining against the pandemic and being wary of intrusive thoughts and isolation. 

Zawacki still works best using color and obviously leans toward philosophical and thoughtful fantasy and mythology as her go-to genres for expression. She's done longer work before, and I'm curious as to how her CCS experience will alter her eventual career trajectory. 

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