Friday, December 18, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #18: Reilly Hadden

Reilly Hadden has long been one of my favorite CCS cartoonists, even as his work is hard to classify. It has fantasy elements, to be sure, but it's a sort of alt-comics fantasy: rough around the edges, filled with moments of weird humor, and frequently absurd. Despite that absurdity, there was always a terrifying edge to his work, where horrible things happened to innocent people for no reason. 

Since ending Astral Birth Canal and after just a couple of issues of Astral Forest, his fantasy series, Hadden has spent much of his time on a different project: the adventures of Kricket The Cat. These are all-ages fantasy comics with a wonderfully gentle sense of humor that rely on the reader's desire to hang out in this particular world. Indeed, the plots, such as they are, are cursory at best. Instead, we are presented with the things Kricket does on a particular day and the people that he meets. An early version of this from 2017, Krikkit Goes Outside (note the different spelling) is drawn with a spareness resembling John Porcellino, as young Krikkit meanders around the forest. He searches for mushrooms, chases a frog, and rides down the river on a raft. The only use of color is a hand-drawn yellow for Krikkit's fur. There's a simple pleasure to be found in just seeing how Hadden lays out each page, leading the reader on in some pages dominated by their negative space and on others with simple drawings but a dense layout. 

Hadden has refined and changed the character a bit, releasing other minis in full color. Kricket The Cat introduces him as a "gentle young man" who "loves mysteries," so Kricket sings to periwinkles on the beach to draw them out, waves hi to the ghost in the forest, and meets the monstrously large Old Man Catfish. The color strips remind me a bit of Pablo Holmberg's Eden strips a little, as the narrative wanders from character to character. His friends Joey and Jenny get the spotlight, then we follow the ghost at home, worrying about a growth on their faces, and finally follow Kricket down into a well-labeled dungeon where a mimic gives him onions as his treasure. There's a light, easy, self-consistent logic at play in these strips, where everyone is languid to the point of inertness at times. When Hadden counters this slowness with actual action, it perks up the reader. The strips also knowingly play on fantasy tropes without mocking them, it's as much a part of daily life as laying in the grass is. His line is a little more developed in this mini, ut Hadden mostly keeps it simple, prefering to let the color fill in gaps and give the pages weight. 

Free Boots follow Kricket on a single adventure, as he puts on a pair of free boots but discovers they are full of slugs. He doesn't seem to mind, however. Indeed, he becomes obsessed with them, and the slugs not only start rapidly multiplying, they become a single, belligerent consciousness. Only the intervention of Old Man Catfish saves the day. The nature of his adventure and the fight make it seem like something that wouldn't be out of place in one of Hadden's old series, but it still retains the essential gentle quality of the character. 

The Tower Underneath is entirely in black and white, printed on yellow paper. It starts as a take on tourist traps, turns into a dungeon crawl that subverts expectations (the big, sword-wielding lizard man is actually quite nice), goes up the stairs of the Tower of Destiny, meets the Wizard in the Wall, and learns that his fate is to be entirely average. Hadden pulls off the trick of wrting a fun fantasy narrative that subverts the genre at every turn without mocking it entirely. This is the heart of his work right now, as he's slowly assembling a beautiful body of work that's easy to glide through, yet immensely satisfying to read. 

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