Wednesday, December 23, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #23: Sam Nakahira

Sam Nakahira's development as an artist has been interesting, because while she's clearly headed to a career doing long-form, personal journalistic comics, she's taken the opportunity while at CCS to branch out a little and try different things. It's made her a better cartoonist, in part because her journalistic comics have sometimes been so deeply researched that it didn't leave a lot of room to have fun drawing things. Her mission was to transmit information clearly and succinctly, and that sometimes meant comics that weren't terribly interesting to look at on a purely surface level. 

That's certainly not the case with her selection of minis here. Cursed Hands is absolutely soaking in atmosphere, with black gutters and dense hatching immediately establishing an oppressive backdrop. The story is about a puppetmaker who creates puppets that are so lifelike that the small town she lives in think she's a witch. Her lover leaves after being unable to endure the abuse of the townsfolk. In response, the puppetmaker crafts a doll in the image of her lover so lifelike that it actually comes alive, drawing the attention of the devil. She tempts her with all sorts of things in order to get her hands, but the final confrontation is defiant. This story depended entirely on Nakahira's ability to get across emotion through body language and her ability to draw dolls and puppets. Her rendering is still on the rough side, but the actual cartooning nails every goal. The use of splash pages and unusual close-ups is highly effective in conveying mood as well. 

Copycat is a story that originally appeared in an anthology, but this solo edition similarly uses black gutters to set the story's tone. This one's about an art student named Mei and another student named Katie who befriends her. It doesn't take long for Mei to realize that Katie was starting to copy her sense of fashion, her musical choices, and even her choice of majors. It became clear that Katie wasn't just copying Mei but also trying to replace her. The final pages are chilling and inevitable. In this comic, keeping her character designs relatively simple allowed Nakahira a lot of room to experiment with different facial expressions and work in a horror vein with many of them. The bland friendliness of Katie in particular was cleverly played up as highly unsettling. 

The Quantum Worlds Of Bernice Bing is very much in Nakahira's bailiwick. This is a typically scrupulously-researched biographical comic about abstract expressionist artist Bing that's filled with Nakahira's own reactions and interests. Bing defied categorization, being less interested in getting on the treadmill of an art "career" and the capitalistic and competitive path this demands and much more interested in community outreach. Nakahira relentlessly pursues the hypocrisy and blatant sexism of the fine arts world and holds Bing up as a model for someone who did things on her own terms. 

Visually, Nakahira makes a lot of smart decisions in this comic. Clearly working from photographs and original paintings, Nakahira keeps character design simple. It's naturalistic, but Nakahira is more interested in capturing the essence of her subject rather than attempt to convey a detailed likeness of her subject. More importantly, Nakahira wanted to create a sense of what Bing's use of color was like, flinging colors across the page as though Bing was a wizard. This effect works, as once again Nakahira's goal wasn't to create precise reproductions of these paintings but instead of what it's like to experience them. That use of color makes this comic exciting to look at as well as read, and it's a testament to Nakahira's hard work on both clarifying her line and making her pages more visually striking.  

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