Saturday, December 19, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #19: Leeah Swift

Leeah Swift is an interesting talent, as an example of a cartoonist who already has a highly-developed personal style as a young cartoonist but is clearly still figuring out what kind of cartoonist she wants to be. Initially springing out of the Minneapolis scene, Swift's comic Meet Cedar The Giraffe was published by Caitlin Skaalrud's Talk Weird Press. This is a comic that deliberately plays with social conventions, as the unseen interlocutor who attempts to engage Cedar is a role that Swift inherently questions from the beginning. Cedar is a woman, writing a note, sitting in a booth, but in some ways, the "giraffe" part of the title comes from the narrator treating her as though she were an animal in a zoo. Cedar's reluctance to engage and general guardedness regarding her name and past both seem more like well-established defense mechanisms than the sign of a disaffected character. However, this understanding for the reader comes slowly, as Swift slowly subverts the cheerfulness of the narrator and Cedar's prickly response into something much darker and more personal. Ultimately, however, Cedar is reluctant to let go of the conversation, needing a connection of some kind, any kind at that moment. 

In terms of the drawing, Swift's character stylizations are deeply rooted in a thorough understanding of gesture and body language. The wooden booth, drawn as old and deeply pitted, anchors each page, giving Cedar something to play off of. There's a fundamental sense of restraint in both writing and drawing, even given the subject matter and Swift's character design. 

The opposite is true in her Aesop assignment, the classic The Tortoise And The Hare. Subtitled "Race Through A Silly Metaphor For Depression," Swift is highly self-aware that this comic is all over the place. It's less a narrative and more a deeply personal pause at the fork of a road. The first three pages are devoted to the story proper, and they're a showcase for Swift's increasing skill as a draftswoman, with tight hatching and fine details. Swift has a confident and bold line and has a great sense of comic timing as well with regard to visual gags. 

The back half of the story is Swift relating to both tortoise and hare. She felt the malaise and depression of the tortoise but also understood that slow labor was the only way she could make the kind of art she wanted. She related to the hare's energy, confidence, and ambition, but recognized that it also led to an overinflated sense of self and arrogance. I think for a cartoonist like Swift, CCS is an ideal environment because it likely forces her to draw on on the positive aspects of both of these selves. It puts her in a supportive environment but also one where collaboration, deadlines, and the expectation to publish are all expectations of the program. She has to do the work and thus avoids the impatience of the hare. She has to do the work and thus avoids the malaise of the tortoise. What will be interesting is when Swift is ready to tackle a more ambitious assignment in her second year and what that might look like. 

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