Friday, December 4, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #4: Cuyler Keating

A large percentage of CCS grads tend to either specialize in memoir or fantasy comics. In both cases, however, their takes are often revisionist and subvert typical tropes. That's especially true with regard to fantasy, and Cuyler Keating is an exemplar of this approach. In the first issue of her new series, Food For Worms, Keating cleverly builds a world where a society of anthropomorphic frogs is set up with an arbitrary and cruel moral system. It's set against the only human who's part of their society, albeit in a subordinate role that is vicious wage slavery at best and outright slavery at worst.

The human is treated with disdain and abuse, constantly called ugly, lazy, unclean, and "webless." This series of jabs would be too on-the-nose if Keating wasn't careful to make the frogs' world feel so lived-in and desperate. The connections to the global pandemic are there as well, as a plague cutting through their population is something they are constantly aware of--and one merchant pointedly only masks up when the young woman approaches him to do business. Keating builds this world through lively line art backed up by extensive use of grayscale shading. The atmosphere is almost oppressive, even in scenes depicting great beauty.

There's also a lot of Catholic-style imagery in this comic, as the society is clearly a theocracy at least in part. The stained-glass images depicting spiders, foxes, and other creatures are beautiful and alien, giving a glimpse into the psychology of this world. Most of the second half of the book is devoted to the human trying to make her way through the world, internalizing it when people call her lazy or stupid. Like many slaves, she's been forced into devotion of the local religious images and takes it as seriously as anyone, hoping for her own miracle. Keating says a lot by allowing the reader to connect the dots, building on the story's hysteria regarding their plague by following the words and actions of the frog people rather than trying to impose narrative captions on the story. The result is a smart, challenging fantasy story with plenty of moral ambiguity and a lot to chew on. 

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