Sunday, December 20, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #20: Emil Wilson

When Emil Wilson came to CCS, he had a career in graphic design and illustration. He knew how to effectively design a page. After a year in the program, he's also become an excellent writer and cartoonist. His dry sense of humor and ability to plumb the depths of human despair in interesting ways reminds me a great deal of Will Dinski's work, especially when one also considers the formal and design qualities of their work. 

The Final Results follows the final journey of Carl, a man who dies in his sleep and stops at an afterlife computer terminal that is there to answer his questions about anything. Carl asks how many times he had sex, who stole a childhood bicycle, and if the Cubans killed JFK. Then he goes deeper: who was his soulmate? What was his ideal career supposed to be? Occasionally, the computer would tell him things like "the future is not supported on this device," which was clever. The comic was done in black and white, with the ink line droppping out for Carl. He was drawn in a spectral blue with a blue sky background, which was a smart visual solution in depicting his non-corporeal state. Wilson's figure drawing is still a work in progress, but the actual character design was excellent, as he excels in crafting ordinary-looking schlubs. 

Potato, Potato, Potato was a sweet comic about dementia. A quick note: Wilson excels at typography and lettering. He's a smart and sharp designer with regard to fonts and overall design and has a knack for knowing what will work for each story, because he never repeats the same design. His lettering is bold but organic and never lacks for clarity. This comic was about an old married man and woman and his creeping dementia. When he appeared naked in the living room with a collander on his head one morning, she knew what was happening. After the usual round of doctors and advice from her children, she gave him a photo book in an effort to jog his memory. He responded by trying to eat one of the photos. In a marvelous, hilarious twist, she joined him in his nonsensical behavior--yelling at the trash can, putting all the furniture outdoors, etc. But she also put on dance records at random and he responded to that. The final page, where she tells him about a tree and he responds, "Potato," was especially sweet, because she responds in kind and it is comforting for them both. Here, Wilson's character work is absolutely spot-on. Gesture, facial expressions, and especially the way the characters interact in space are so intimate it's almost painful. It's an absolutely lovely, charming comic.

The Sorry Man is yet another visual experiment. It's a comic with an unusual open-page layout, where images are matched with lines of dialogue. The story is about a man whose job is writing elaborate apologies to aggrieved customers of a particular airline. Whatever the complaint, no matter how small or petty, he had a way of completely acquiescing to their emotional demands. It's not just a matter of apologizing though; it's wording it in a very precise but passive-aggressive manner that relieves his employer of responsibility. The parallel story was that his young daughter was dealing with a mean-spirited bully at school. After the usual advice of being extra-nice to her backfired while he was dealing with an incident where a psychotic flier was restrained with duct-tape over her mouth, he snapped. He told his daughter it was OK to get mad, and she promptly beat down her bully and made her bleed. His ultimate solution to both problems in the form of letters was cutting, dark, and hilarious. The moody brushwork and innovative lettering solutions that added clarity to the piece were indicative of a cartoonist who carefully thought out the solutions to visual and narrative storytelling problems.

(Probably) The Last Time is a memoir of COVID and his dying father. Once again, it's a visual departure from his other comics. Wilson's versatility is one of his best qualties as a cartoonist, because he can work in a wide variety of styles. This was done scrapbook/collage style, with hand lettering. It's a series of two-page spreads, with some dominant header often done in the style of an advertising font. The story follows Wilson visiting his father on the west coast after he was told that he probably had just three months to live. His sarcastic sister, needy mom, and suddenly emotional and open father are all part of the cast of characters, as is Wilson's husband Giacomo. A memoir about a specific set of emotions regarding his father went absolutely haywire when COVID struck and forced Wilson to make a number of difficult choices regarding his schooling, and it got even more complicated when his husband got sick. This is a bracing, funny, and knowing story about a family that for all its dysfunctions, was still incredibly important to Wilson. The moments of affection and honesty his dying father gave him were depicted as almost overwhelming in the way they surprised him. The visual bag of tricks Wilson unleashed on the reader made every spread exciting and challenging. I'm especially excited to see Wilson's senior thesis project, given his progress and ambition as a cartoonist. 

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