Tuesday, December 29, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #29: Anna Sellheim

Anna Sellheim is best known for her raw and open autobiographical work, but the work she submitted for this year's CCS review is varied in terms of genres and approaches. In the DC Zinefest Covid-19 Zine, she had a one-page autobio piece done in Sellheim's usual style. She draws herself in a hoodie, her face obscured, which has always been an interesting part of her stylistic choices that make her work so distinctive. Many of Sellheim's comics are about her deeply-ingrained anxiety order, but this comic about the pandemic is funny because she revealed that when a real crisis comes along, she can handle it. It's her life the rest of the time that gives her problems! At the same time, she shares her brittle bone disease diagnosis that affects her hands, and how having to take off the gloves and repeatedly wash them is literally painful. It concludes with her tiny dogs not caring in the least that her hands are in pain, because they need walking, and dealing with that need is clearly centering.

Sellheim is an excellent letterer and makes that part of her style. She knows how to balance image and word balloons even in a particularly wordy strip. Her lettering is clear and the various kinds of word balloons she uses feel as much a part of the gestalt of the image as the actual characters. Everything about her drawing is very slightly wobbly, from the freehand panel composition to the actual drawing itself, and this raw, expressive style is well-suited for the kinds of stories she tells. 

My Lifelines is a painted mini meant for a mini-comics vending machine at a book festival. Seeing Sellheim slather on color, in comparison to their crisp line, is an interesting change of pace. The comic is about her two dogs and how they are helping her through the isolation she has to go through since she had to quarantine herself for possible coronavirus. The way she draws her dogs is adorable and some of her best character design; the tiny dogs' personalities come through in the shapes she used to build them. This is less a story and more of an experiment designed to have a strong visual impact. 

The Intern is an interesting departure for Sellheim, although she's done horror comics before. Co-written by Leah Weightman, it's a cleverly-constructed horror piece with a number of swerves. Its main character is Katie, a summer intern in Washington, DC. Right away, the reader is informed that there's been a rash of interns disappearing, with her mother asking after her safety. There are a lot of subtle character touches, like Katie talking about wishing she was talking to her grandmother, that don't seem significant at the time but play a role later. There's a swerve regarding who the murderer might be, then another swerve regarding Katie's fate with regard to the murderer. There's a series of panels where the murderer thinks they have easy prey in their kindly disguise, until Katie calmly explains that's not fooled in the least and the creature removes her arm from around Katie and starts to shake. This comic is in black and white, and Sellheim doesn't quite pull off the atmosphere needed in the story with her backgrounds, which are frequently cluttered with extra lines that detract from the narrative. This is a story that cried out for a simpler line approach and color.

#saveTucaandBertie is a tremendous short story that starts with something relatively trivial that ultimately reveals a deep, simmering rage. When the Lisa Hanawalt-created show Tuca And Bertie was canceled after a single season, Sellheim first reflected on not being a big fan of it at first. Then she enjoyed it not because of its humor (which wasn't her style) but because of the way it portrayed female friendships and how boundaries are often tromped upon. When she learned it was canceled, a slow-building rant built up and exploded in a conversation with her mom, as she decried the sexism that was inherent in the cancellation, then it morphed into a rant about oppression in general. Two things stood out: Sellheim's open-page layout with a clever use of spot color (in part to evoke the imagery from the show) and how Sellheim often depicts her emotions exploding because of how difficult she finds it to connect to them. 

Dreamzine is a blender's worth of Sellheim's comics. It's a comic inspired by dreams, and Sellheim noted that she only wanted to use positive or funny dreams--no nightmares. The logic in the strips is wonderful; in the first story, an anthropomorphic cat (with four fully-exposed teats) does a brief stand-up routine before she introduced an artist whose brilliant new installation was...the burrito. Hilariously, he didn't accept questions about his art, but he did invite questions about the night he ate the delicious burrito that inspired him. Sellheim's use of spotting blacks and color contrasts is especially sharp here, something that was no always present in her work. 

A dream about encountering Jesus in the Antarctic, only she's the comic strip character Cathy, was absolutely hilarious. That particular reveal is done to heighten its comedic punch, and the entire strip is very much in character, even as Jesus asks her to become a Christian. Sellheim uses spot color, loose sketches, pencil-heavy images, and an array of different techniques that somehow all flow within the comic. Sellheim closes the comic in a remarkable way; a dream comic that she had drawn about being a lawyer for a family of murderers that included the comic strip character Nancy was found in the hospital she was visiting because of surgery for her mother. The mention of murder triggered an intervention by the hospital's administration and nearly landed her in a psych ward! That particular true story was far weirder than anything else in the comic. It's a reflection of willingness to go deep and talk about whatever is bothering her through her comics, as though that's the way she best communicates with those feelings and ideas. 

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