Monday, March 8, 2021

Minis: November Garcia

There are a lot of ways to think about the most recent comics from November Garcia, which include Malarkey #5 and (Even) More Diary Comics From A Relative Nobody. The first thing I want to discuss, however, is Garcia's level of craft. Even though many of these comics were done during what was clearly a tumultuous time on top of dealing with the global pandemic, Garcia's drawings qua drawings show her at her peak. In Diary Comics, which is all black and white, there's a level of mastery and control on every page that reflects her comfort in working on fine details when appropriate but never quite leaving behind the rubbery qualities of her line that helps make her comics so funny. Her use of body language, facial expressions, and even the way she letters her comics is simply pleasurable to look at. Malarkey makes extensive use of spot color, usually for reasons of mood or contrast, and it's every bit as effective. Even the non-narrative sequence where she illustrates the lyrics of a song show Garcia returning to her psychedelic roots, only this time there's a much greater use of restraint. 

Diary Comics, like much of Garcia's work, tends toward closed autobiography. There isn't much in the way of context, emotionally or otherwise, but it doesn't matter much because she never cloaks her diary in any kind of coherent gimmick. That total lack of pretension is what makes Garcia's work so refreshing, along with the fact that she's a humorist even in the grimmest of situations. That almost ruthless funniness, usually at her own expense, reminds me a little of what Keiler Roberts does, only with a completely different personal context. What I mean by a lack of a gimmick, Garcia makes it clear that she's dealing with mental illness, addiction, social anxiety, and grief, among other issues, but all of those problems are muted in favor of trying to work them into gags. There's a strip where her therapist decides that Garcia has bipolar disorder, so she gives her Valpros. Garcia shrugs, saying, "Bend my brain, Valpros!" and matter-of-factly reports the drug helping her concentrate but also making her feel indifferent. Garcia is a clever, succinct writer, but it's her drawings that sell the hell out of every panel. Seeing the way she draws her hair alone is a big part of the appeal of her work.

Garcia's comics have also been about her slow entry and acceptance into the world of alternative comics. There's a strip about being named as an Ignatz award juror and having a funny conversation with Gabby Schulz about it. There's a self-deprecating strip about her "process" that touches on her cycle of addiction and fitness. There's a particularly grim strip that shows her completely over herself and her "made-up problems," wondering why people are even buying her comics. There are also more traditional comics about sharing old photos with an ex and making mutually lascivious comments and a hilarious set of exchanges with her dad about modern technology. 

Malarkey #5 I believe is slated to be the final issue, and it's the most substantial one to date. The issue touches on mortality and the time we spend together. As always, any material about Garcia's mother is gold and Garcia could write an entire book about her childhood alone that would be hilarious and weird. In this issue, she discusses how she first encountered death: first through pets, then her grandfather (as she tried to summon up feelings) when she was still quite young, and then her more recent friends and relatives. That makes her think about how she's living her own life, and it's sometimes a grim prospect.

That leads into a long, psychedelic adaptation of the song "Gasoline" by Shovels and Rope. It's a harsh, cynical take on life matched by Garcia's absurd, visceral, and weird drawings. She goes all-out here, playing up lurid, sick colors with the images of rot, decay, and putrescence. The back half of the issue features two examples of Garcia's specialty: the travelogue. Garcia particularly enjoys portraying the more depraved and hilarious aspects of her trip, like sending cocaine to former cartoonist Tom Van Deusen and giving him a bare-ass spanking along with cartoonist Max Clotfelter. It's such a ridiculous sequence of events, with the best part being a panel where he's getting spanked and his face is a mask of pleasure with little hearts surrounding it. The final sequence of a hung-over Garcia looking at a photo of herself elbow-dropping a bible capped off the silliness while giving it all a touch of regret.

More meditative is her account of her trip to Hawai'i with her husband and partner-in-crime Roy as they meet cartoonist Gabby Schulz. Garcia used an open-page layout here, which seemed fitting in this dreamy, meditative story that focused on a hike they all took together. Even the lighter use of color (colored pencils, perhaps?), as opposed to the denser, more saturated hues elsewhere in the book, reflect the gentler, more thoughtful tone at work here. There's still plenty of funny content, once again mostly at Garcia's expense (like having to slog through a deep puddle while the boys manage to mostly skip over it), but it's all a bit of an oasis, both personally and artistically.

The issue concludes with her mom's outrageous statements, told with a metal-blue wash. Garcia assembled something special here, even if it seemed to take an enormous toll in so doing. The raw nature of her observations, the lack of pretense, and her willingness to ramble all give her comics a sense of vulnerability and verisimilitude in a way a smoother narrative doesn't. Indeed, life itself is not a smooth narrative where everything makes, and Garcia's comics reflect that herky-jerky quality in a way that doesn't spare exploration of her most nihilistic thoughts but also allows her to share the absurd delight with which she views the world and the genuine curiosity and affection she feels for others.

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