Friday, December 31, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #32: Less Than Secret

I enjoy anthologies that are a true team effort. This is something that's one of the major first-year requirements at CCS, as students are split into teams to make an anthology in a particular style, like Golden Age adventure or romance comics or 90s style Shonen Jump manga work. Because most alternative cartoonists are solo acts, forcing this kind of collaboration can be useful and teach a lot of lessons. Less Than Secret is an anthology from several CCS grads and several other cartoonists. Beyond their contributions in terms of the stories they drew, many of the book's cartoonists had other duties related to publishing. 

CCS grads Rainer Kannenstine and Ben Wright-Heumann served as its publishers. They were there to make sure the book was on schedule, obtain funding and consider distribution. JD Laclede was the editor, working directly with talent and sequencing the stories. Erienne McCray did the design, while Kelci Crawford acted as the crowdfunding manager. Angela Boyle was an anthology consultant, which makes sense considering her years assembling the Awesome Possum anthology. That collective sense of responsibility on what was clearly a labor of love is present and strengthens the overall anthology. 

The theme here is cryptids, or animals that some people claim to exist but whose existence has never been proven. It's fitting that Steve Bissette, the master monster-maker, penned a funny intro explaining his interest in monsters from a young age. Crawford's "A Day In The Life Of Mothman" is played for laughs, as a woman is followed by the legendary creature, whose presence foretells potential disaster. However, she can sense him, and it allows her to prevent a guy from being killed by a car, avoiding a fight at a diner, and preventing her from eating a bad hot dog. Crawford's line is crisp and expressive, with a lot of grayscale shading to add weight to the page. 

McCray's comic about the "Fresno Nightcrawler" (essentially a big baseball with legs) is also played for laughs, as this cryptid is more ridiculous than scary. They added a nice touch having the Loch Ness Monsters as its roommate and Bigfoot taunt it. McCray's line is fluid and a nice match for the kind of dynamic silliness that this ridiculous creature (wearing a fedora, even!) demands. Wright-Heumann is a horror guy, and he did a sort of Western/fantasy fusion with a family of Elves fending off a group of chupacabra mysteriously attacking them. The ending is grimly clever. His scratchy line was appropriate for the subject matter, though the extensive use of grayscale was distracting at times. This was a story that cried out for color. 

I'm not crazy about comics that insert huge blocks of typewritten text, but Angela Boyle's cartooning is so sharp in her story of the odd little elwetritsch that it wasn't too distracting. Moreover, using that text as the main character's interior monologue actually made this a useful device, commenting on the comic set around it. Boyle manages to sneak an entire murder mystery into this little comic with an unassuming old woman and her strange "pet." Ian Klesch and Andrew Small's story about how a lycanthrope used a dating app to fool a woman into being his prey was funny and grisly. The figure drawing was crude at points in a way that was distracting, and some of that was due to over-drawing in an effort to bolster a shaky line. 

Rainer Kannenstine's piece about the Dover Demon went in yet another direction: how messing with weird cryptids is likely to bite you in the ass in horrible ways. It's the story of a bully who attacks the creature in the forest with a ball, then gets his head crushed in revenge. He used some digital effects in interesting ways, including a "syrup brush" for some of the background fills that added to the story's atmosphere. Jess Johnson had perhaps the silliest story in the book, as an emo kid is befriended by his sister's new boyfriend: "JD," or the infamous Jersey Devil. Johnson turned the creature into an actual hockey player and made this a romance/family story where everyone took JD's presence for granted. It's hard not to see Johnson's strong shojo manga influence, giving this a radically different look and feel from the other stories in the anthology. However, it's not a slavish adherence to the style; rather, it's a launching point into Johnson's own style. 

There's plenty of backmatter in the anthology, including full biographies and behind-the-scenes stuff that's somewhat interesting, but at 20 pages (compared to 90 pages for the rest of the book) it feels like a lot of padding. That said, the interviews asking each creator why they chose their cryptid, their creative methods, etc. was at least thoughtfully done. Overall, this is a breezy anthology that I wished had been a bit longer. 

31 Days Of CCS, #31: Josh Rosen

Josh Rosen has two entries here. The big one is the art job he did for The Good Fight, written by Ted Staunton. It is an unfortunately timely book set in 1933 Toronto, at a time when Nazis were starting to take hold. Toronto is known now as one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities in the world, but this era showed how fraught that status was, and still is, to an extent. As such, the cast is very Toronto: a Jewish kid named Sid and an Italian kid named Plug, whose families live together, try to hustle their way into helping their families during the Depression. 

The essence of this book is a shifting idea of ethical behavior in the face of poverty, systematic white supremacy, and police corruption. Sid and Plug start the book hooking up with Tommy as part of a pickpocketing trio. Tommy is Jewish but pretends he's Irish, because it's better to identity with more traditionally Anglo-Saxon ethnicities than staying true to your own identity--especially as a grifter. His patter, his swagger, and his braggadocio were things that Sid and Plug were dazzled by, even as they slowly started to understand that he would (and later did) sell them out at a moment's notice. 

When Sid and Plug were pinched and ended up at the police station, they were quickly wisened up about how the world really worked. The cops couldn't care less about some teen yeggs. What they were after (and had been watching the boys over) was the identities of labor leaders, so they could crush them. They not only couldn't care less about the ethnic minorities who were banding together in order to get better working conditions, they were happy to let the burgeoning Nazi presence in Toronto take care of their job for them. 

The book's climax was the real-world Riot at Christie Pits. It putatively started as related to a hotly-contested softball game but led to what was supposed to be a massacre of Jews, Italians, and other minorities as the cops stood by and did nothing. Instead, the marginalized groups fought back and the pro-labor Mayor was able to use this to help get control over the police, and labor gained a number of concessions. In the 21st century, this is all somehow next verse, same as the first, as various forces continue to work against labor and the general voice and betterment of marginalized peoples. 

Of course, this is all framed through the eyes of the kids in order to bring it within the purview of YA fiction. This is where Rosen steps in so ably. He has a spare but expressive cartoony style that maximizes the expressions of his characters while keeping a foot in naturalism. The color palette is admirably restrained, emphasizing Rosen's line art instead of dominating it. The characters, especially the antagonists, are on the exaggerated side at times, although Plug, Sid, and Plug's sister Rosie are well-realized. It felt like Rosie was a character Staunton wanted to do more with but couldn't quite figure out how, and her status is somewhere between central character and a side character who adds a bit of color. This amounts to Rosen's PhD in comics in some ways, as it's his first full-length book after doing a lot of minis. His style is no-frills, but it told the story ably and aptly. 

Rosen also included Wrestle Club!, a fun zine where he invented an all-women's wrestling federation. He alternated between profiles and short comics involving the wrestlers, and it's a delight. The federation (the All Girls Fight League or AGFL) is a bit like Japanese feds like Stardom where most of the fighters are pretty young (and mostly teenagers), and Rosen really keys in on how each character's gimmick is informed by their personality. This seems like a perfect future YA project; I hope Rosen pursues it. 

31 Days Of CCS, #34: Ben Wright-Heuman

Ben Wright-Heuman is a highly versatile cartoonist, writing everything from gag strips about cosplay and comics conventions to horror to suspense thrillers. The Letters Of The Devil II: The Legacy of L is certainly in the latter category, and it's a sequel to his clever original about a cop and a childhood friend engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse. The titular L delivers letters to others giving up incriminating information about someone else, and Wright-Heuman keeps the reader guessing til the end about who the protagonist of the story is--or if there even is one. 

For the sequel, Wright-Heuman takes a bit of a page out of the Scream films and adds a distinctly meta element to the proceedings. This time, there is most definitely a protagonist: a first-year Criminology student named Malina who decides to study the case surrounding L, which had become a media sensation. In particular, L's obsession with truth and justice superseding the law resonated for many. She's aided by some inside info: her mother is chief of police, and the corrupt cop at the center of the first book worked under her. When one of her friends commits suicide when she receives a chiding letter from someone who appears to be L, it opens up a brand-new can of worms. 

Like any good author of a thriller, Wright-Heuman doesn't cheat with regard to clues; they're all hiding in plain sight, if you're willing to pay attention. One of the clever meta-elements of the book is that serial killer types like L tend to spawn copycats, In this case, it inspired something far beyond that, once again invoking supernatural elements as a tease but certainly using the trappings of cultists. The ending was a bit over-the-top (especially with regard to the cult leader), but then truth is usually stranger than fiction. That's how QAnon became a viral belief system; why not the cult of L?

Heuman is limited as a draftsman, but his storytelling is solid. His use of pacing, gesture, and character interaction was solid, and his characters were highly expressive. The use of red as a contrast color and as L's signature continued to be clever. However, I found the relentlessness of the greyscale shading to be a distraction. Rather than add a sense of weight to a page and filling in dead space, Wright-Heuman drowned the whole narrative in greyscale; it served as a distraction from his storytelling, rather than an enhancement. His storytelling is strong enough that this narrative simply didn't need it. Indeed, this book was a relentless page-turner thanks to his understanding of story structure, motivation, and how to swerve the audience without it feeling cheap. A simple and limited line should be embraced in this situation, because it will provide the easiest access to that first-line/best-line expressiveness that simplicity offers. I'll be intrigued to see how Wright-Heuman continues this particular story and what new directions he can find for it. 

31 Days Of CCS, #33: Luke Kruger-Howard

Goes #1 is the innovative collection of comics from Luke Kruger-Howard, built on a non-profit model. I did an extensive interview with him on the model at SOLRAD, but I'm going to discuss the actual content of the book here. Howard's a talented draftsman who can work a number of different styles, but he's found something that works well for him with blocky, bulky, and distorted figures. There's an intentional distortion of naturalism at work here that emphasizes the actual quality and shape of the lines and figures. It's a self-conscious technique that pushes the experience of line qua line on the reader, making them experience the figures as both part of the story and as actual drawings. It's a delicate balancing act, but that bit of abstraction away from naturalism ironically allows the cartoonist to imbue his figures with greater emotional energy. Kruger-Howard's line is certainly up to that task.

That sensitivity is crucial for a collection whose theme is "touch." Kruger-Howard explores non-romantic, non-erotic touch through the issue in a variety of ways. The main piece is "Men's Holding Group," which can best be described as the antithesis of the way many many misinterpret "Fight Club," embracing its machismo while ignoring it as a satire of capitalism. In Kruger-Howard's story, we have a story that's every bit as subversive, using non-romantic touch and intimacy between men as a way of attacking the barriers that cultural mores have erected against this kind of closeness. The story follows an organizer of and a new member of this "Men's holding group," whose purpose is to not just ask the question as to why men don't show affection toward each other, but also engage deliberately in ways to change that with hugs and holding hands--again, all in non-romantic ways. Throughout the issue, including an excerpt from a fake zine from the future, that lack of touch is labeled as a sort of emotional starvation that begins with the lack of affection many fathers have with their sons. The story is sweet and funny and awkward, as everyone acknowledges both that the whole thing is weird--but that it's also sad that it is weird. There are segues to hyper-masculine settings--the gym, football locker rooms, even the show "Friends"--and how creating a culture of friendly touch also opens up the door to greater emotional intimacy, improves communication, and creates stronger bonds between friends.

"Dead Dog" is an autobiographical story about the recent death of Kruger-Howard's family dog, Whimbly. One of Kruger-Howard's best assets as a creator is his total willingness to confront tragic and emotionally devastating revelations with gallows humor. In this story, for example, as he's hefting the corpse of his big, beloved dog, he recalls a childhood anecdote where his mom made a hilariously horrifying joke when he was trying to put his childhood dog's body into a car. At the same time, Kruger-Howard gives himself permission to write a parallel narrative where Whimbly is getting all of the food, walks, fresh air, and comfy dog beds that he wants in the afterlife--but he can never quite settle in because his people aren't there. Kruger-Howard ends the story with a look back to when he first met Whimbly as a way of expressing how our affection towards pets and each other creates a narrative that never ends. 

"Let Me Show You Around" is a clever story about therapy and anxiety. A very of Luke invites a therapist named Edith inside his "house," aka, his brain, to help him fix it. Meanwhile, the house very much has its own agenda, even as it constantly worries about falling into the ocean. It's moments like this when Kruger-Howard's work has an absurd, almost detached sense of humor, echoing the sense of fatalism he feels with regard to mental health. Of course, this story has a brightness to it in that the "house" can be repaired and fixed up. The final story, "Goes," recapitulates the book's theme in a sweet way. It's about his son turning one year old and him remembering the various ways he held him at various ages, with the last panel being his son running away. "He still quickly goes." Holding an infant isn't just about intimacy; it's a way of comforting the child, helping them sleep, digest food, and so much else. While a constant need for this sort of touch must be pushed aside as a child become independent, the entire point of this issue is that it shouldn't be entirely abandoned, either. Touch remains nourishing, invigorating, and comforting, and there's no reason why it should ever stop being any of these things. This is a moving and entertaining comic, and it's radical both in terms of how it came to be and of the ideas it espouses. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

31 Days of CCS, #30: Rachel Bivens

Rachel Bivens is very much a CCS student hunting for her style, playing around with the student assignments in some clever ways. For example, Texture! is a silly story about needing to use three different kinds of textures in a story; Bivens turned it into a meta-assignment. The cartoonists gets a sweater with fuzzy texture and a haircut with feathery texture bur cries when they can't afford a third texture--and the puddle from tears winds up being the third texture for the real assignment. Bivens' lettering is rough, but that fit into the spontaneous nature of the story's energy. 

Sinking is a very clever use of the Ed Emberley assignment with simplified, geometric figures. It's a mostly silent story about a deep-sea diver who has her oxygen line cut, inducing hallucinations until she manages to make it back to the surface. The simplicity of form contributes both to the comic's sense of wonder and terror. 

The most interesting of Bivens' comics was Granite. This sketchy, expressive comic is about a trio of teen girls who go to a beach. The narrator is shy, unathletic, and clearly not into doing things like cliff diving or log rolling. She goes along with most of it because of her clear crush on one of her friends. It's more than that, however; there's an element of feeling you were exactly like one of your friends, but then you encounter them in a different environment and everything changes. There's a beautiful sense of tension and ambiguity in this comic.

The opposite is true in the fantasy/friendship comic Rhubarb's Cold Open. Rhubarb is a messenger going through a scary forest and is accosted by Smallflower and Frog Fruit. They start their friendship by scaring him and spend the entire comic ignoring his boundaries, either by refusing him a moment's respite or actively putting him in dangerous situations. The intent in this comic for kids is to encourage opening oneself up to adventure, but Smallflower and Frog Fruit are so over-the-top and obnoxious that one can hardly blame Rhubarb for wanting to be alone. This is only part one of a larger story, so perhaps this gets resolved, Rhubarb's "friends" don't display much real friendship here. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

31 Days of CCS, #29: Kat Leonardo

Over the years, it's been fascinating to me to see how CCS students choose to interpret their assignments. That's especially true of  the Aesop's fable assignments. Kat Leonardo is a young cartoonist with a lot of illustrating skill, and that's readily apparent in The Mouse And The Manticore. It's a variation on "The Mouse And The Lion," wherein a mighty creature shows mercy on a mouse and is later rewarded for a small kindness. It's the details that make this comic pop: the cute mouse endpapers, the delicate and restrained use of watercolors, and the refined use of gesture to tell a simple story. 

The Damselfly is a beautiful, unsettling statement of self, using a powerful visual metaphor. Introducing the titular insect as one that sheds its skin as it grows, evolving past old forms and leaving them behind, Leonardo's character reveals that she cannot leave the past behind, and that's revealed through dozens of hands grabbing her, holding her fast, and surrounding her. It leaves her "hiding in plain sight" and she signs off with the desperate plea of "come find me." Using a simple blue line, Leonardo's visual approach is entirely dependent on that clear line that devolves through the comic to create a horrific effect. The use of hands in this way reminded me a bit of Tom Neely's The Blot.

Anosmia makes use of a mostly blue/gray wash to tell the story of Leonardo losing her sense of smell in 2020. She wasn't sure if it was COVID-19 or not, but the interesting story here is that she used to have what she described as a "superhuman" sense of smell. This is a comic about trade-offs, highs and lows in life. Her sense of smell was so powerful that she could smell flowers from across a room, and eating was a blissful experience. It also meant she was extra sensitive to foul odors, and she was frequently so overwhelmed by smell that it induced debilitating migraines. Things are now more level and there's less pain and discomfort, but Leonardo clearly misses the highest of highs. Her use of ink to depict smells, and additional spot colors to indicate migraines, was a clever storytelling device. One thing I wish she would have discussed is smell's relationship with memory and how that's changed for her. 

Redacted sees Leonardo using yet another technique: colored pencils. In a story about being visited by someone's ghost, or the memory of a person missing from her life, the way that colored pencils blend together and are made even more intense when juxtaposed against entirely negative space is a clever storytelling solution. The intense brightness of her current world contrasted with this memory that's harder to access is powerful. 

Eternal Knight is a love letter to love itself, through time and multiple lifetimes. Leonardo uses her full bag of tricks here: clever endpapers, a wide range of watercolors, interesting page compositions, and a theme that resonates throughout every technique. In telling a story about lovers that continue to find each other, again and again, throughout different lifetimes, Leonardo gets across that sense of interlocking souls that seem to never have enough time together, no matter what. The biggest problem with this comic is that Leonardo goes too over the top with color, and it sometimes overwhelms her line. A more restrained palette would have been more effective in returning the focus to the lovers, rather than their environment. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

31 Days of CCS, #28: Jarad Greene

Jarad Greene's semi-autobiographical YA book A-Okay is proof that literal truth is not particularly relevant when it comes to this genre. The narrative is always more important than literal facts (and these facts are actually beyond one's ability to adequately portray them for many reasons), both in terms of the story narrative but doubly so for the book's emotional narrative. 

In Greene's case, there are elements of fact from his life in the character of Jay Violet. Greene was referred to as a "porcelain doll" for having nice skin and dressing well. His severe acne flared up in his senior year of high school and later in college. With regard to his asexuality, it's something that he didn't understand and identify as until his mid-20s. The character of Jay Violet is an 8th grader and confronts both these questions regarding his identity and his appearance during this time. Greene's own experiences obviously informed the events of the book, but A-Okay is a smooth narrative because Greene was less concerned with the precise timeline of these events and more interested in that emotional narrative: the feelings that Jay Violet experiences during the course of the story. 

A-Okay contains multiple storylines. It includes a running plotline about friendships and how they often center around identity, and how they can radically shift in one's teenage years. It's a graphic medicine story not unlike Raina Telgemeier's Smile or Guts, in which Jay relates a specific course of therapy over time for his severe acne and the ways in which it affected other parts of his life. It's a queer story about adolescent relationships, only Jay winds up as an inadvertent antagonist to the romantic feelings of close male and female friends before he understands that he's asexual. Finally, it's about finding your place with your own skills and dreams and finding the right set of people who will support you. 

The book is over 200 pages, so there's plenty of room to cover all of this group. What sets A-Okay apart is that it never feels like Greene is feeding the reader medicine. Indeed, it's so well-paced that it flies by, yet the pacing never feels rushed. If anything, it feels like a languid hang-out book, where getting to know everyone is more important than an overarching plot. In part, that's because the book barely has a plot, and what there is of it is episodic, divided into seasons of the year. 

Other than a bully whom Jay gets a small measure of revenge on late in the book, there aren't really antagonists in the book. Instead, there are lesser or greater levels of confusion and resentment that characters feel toward each other. His best friend Brace is a musician who forms a band and then drifts away from Jay, deliberately pushing him out of his burgeoning new group of friends. Jay's identity centers around art, and he angers a girl named Amy who has feelings for him by not wearing a gift she gave him because of his medication. He also baffles a gay boy named Mark who has a crush on him, until he realizes that he's asexual. This is a book about communication and avoiding isolation above all else, and Jay really needed Brace to work through some of his issues, and Brace wasn't there for him. There was no huge plot development that brought them back together other than a particular project for Brace's band; it was simply through taking the bold step of reaching out and telling the truth that relationships were repaired and misunderstandings smoothed over. 

I found the low stakes of the book to be refreshing. At the same time, I've never read a YA/MG book that delved into a topic like asexuality, nor a graphic medicine book that focused on severe acne. While these were unexplored ideas, they're ones that young people face all the time. Trying to figure out one's sexuality is brutal when you don't understand it yourself and feel freakish for experiencing it. The severe side effects of acne and the brutal treatments for it are something that so many teens experience yet rarely talk about. I also liked that this was a boy who was struggling with body image, something rarely discussed in YA lit but is also extremely common. 

From the first mini I saw of his, it was obvious that Greene's chops were perfect for this market. He simply knows how to draw teens, from clothing to body language to gestures. There's a simple ease to Greene's line that has a direct effect on his storytelling ability. It's smooth without being slick, and every character is distinctively drawn but all within the structure of his style. His page composition varies, going from grids to dutch angles to open-page layouts, depending on what was called for by the story. The fluidity of Greene's work is what makes it so affable; even if you don't have much in common with Jay Violet, you still want to hang out with him and his friends. While a number of kids will identify with this character, many kids won't, and that won't matter because they'll find someone to relate to in this book. By not focusing on any one thing in particular, Greene makes everything seem important without making that importance seem forced or didactic. Greene wrote a book where very little happens, and I enjoyed every moment of these non-events. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #27: Robyn Smith

Publishing, and comics publishing, in particular, is a funny place. A publisher will reject a work from the margins sometimes, not because of its quality, but because "there's no audience for this." That's especially for true with regard to non-genre comics about women and girls. Once extremely commonplace during comics' first 25 years or so, they were almost completely systematically eliminated by super-hero comics. Those who ran comics deliberately tried to make comics deliberately aimed at boys; if some girls happened to like them, that was an accident. 

It always shocks Hollywood or the publishing world when something explicitly aimed at a Black or Asian audience is a smash hit. It's even more surprising that with something like Black Panther, it was a huge cross-over hit. A lesson that seemingly needs to be re-learned on a near-constant basis is that the more specific a story is with regard to its details, the more universal its appeal. It's a paradox, but it's true because a narrative with exquisitely-detailed specifics (even if it's foreign to one's experience) is more appealing than a narrative aimed at being broadly appealing that's entirely generic. In any genre, "truth" is irrelevant. What is important is the appearance of authenticity, and authenticity is generated by describing the minutia of a situation. Raina Telgemeier's Smile was a story about a middle-school girl, her problems with friendship, and her dental issues. It was aimed at the tween girl audience desperate for this kind of story because no one was aiming work at them that they could relate to. It was also a big hit with boys because while they couldn't relate to the specifics of Raina's narrative, it was so highly detailed that it highlighted universal issues with regard to health and friendship. 

This brings us to Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith's Wash Day Diaries. Rowser related Toni Morrison's quote ("If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.") in describing her goals as an author: creating (and publishing) books for Black women. In Smith, she has a collaborator who's more than up to the challenge of depicting these stories--especially with regard to hair. Wash Day started as a mini-comic and was expanded into a full-color book precisely because an audience "magically" appeared that was hungry for stories about Black joy and friendship among women. The original mini was about a moment in time about self-care that was highly specific; the expanded book tells interlocking stories that touch on a number of topics. 

The book opens with the "Wash Day" story, featuring a steely young woman named Kimana (nicknamed Kim) coming home from a night out, and then waking up and washing her expansive hair. That initial image of a seemingly unflappable Kim with her keys splayed in her fingers in case she had to defend herself speaks volumes about not just her, but a specific understanding of what it's like to be a woman walking on the street. Much of this story is about Kim dealing with the daily forces that assail her: casual misogyny in catcallers, a man who won't stop texting her, and her local bodega being affected by a rent increase and passing it on to her. For a moment, for a day, time stands still as she buys some milk and breakfast and takes care of her hair in a very specific manner. Smith shines here in the way she draws hair along with the way she draws different kinds of bodies. She's also aces at body language. 

Each chapter follows the story of a different friend. Tanisha relates the hilarious story of being in an inadvertent love triangle and how she gets out of it; it's once again connected to hair as she tells it in a group chat with Kim and her other two ride-or-die friends as she's getting her hair done. An increasingly self-isolating Davene calls Cookie to cornrow her hair because she missed her hair appointment and reveals that she's gripped by depression--something that Cookie doesn't fully understand. Cookie visits her father's mother in a nursing home, a woman who refused to recognize her as her granddaughter because of her father's affair. The final story ties all of these threads together as the friends gather at one of Kim's concerts and chase off the guy who had been harassing her. The whole thing winds up in a sleepover at Kim's house. 

The overlying plot is pretty thin; one gets the sense that it was reverse-engineered to give some small sense of structure to each story, and that was especially true in the final segment. None of that really matters, because it was the small moments in each story that were important. Davene's interactions with Cookie were particularly interesting. Davene revealed to her friend that her career as a social worker wasn't working out, and there was an implicit reference that going into work wearing her natural hair was going to be problematic. While this is a book about Black joy and friendship for this group of women, it doesn't pretend that racism and misogyny don't exist. The threat of violence from Kim's ex-boyfriend, the aforementioned catcalls, and hateful stares from white people on the subway are all part of the backdrop. It's par for the course, with the weight of it affecting each woman in different ways. Davene clearly feels it the hardest as it contributes to her already-present direction, and Cookie's initial attempt to minimize it and rejecting Davene's thoughts of getting on anti-depressants with a crystal reflected a lack of understanding and actual empathy in that moment. Cookie redeemed herself by actually noticing what Davene needed at Kim's concert and pulled her out of there for the sleep-over. 

Again, Rowser set it up, but Smith knocked it down with her unerring depiction of body language that was easy to interpret without being intrusive or ham-fisted. Each story is involved with hair in some way, with each character helping or being helped with hair, an act of profound compassion and intimate connection. It's both emblematic and symbolic of their connections in a tangible way, mixing aesthetics and ethics together at a fundamental level. That's especially true because Rowser goes out of her way to make each character radically different in terms of personality, weaknesses, desires, and ambitions while still sharing crucial connections as friends. Each story is tonally different, from comic relief (mixed with an unvarnished depiction of sexual freedom) to familial drama & pain to the sheer loneliness of mental illness. It's a book that needed to be created, one that will hopefully open up avenues for others like it. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #26: King Ray

King Ray's comics are oblique and a little terrifying. In Parched, which looks like the Ed Emberley assignment, there's a minimalist figure in the desert--not an uncommon image for this assignment, really. It begins with the figure being desperately thirsty--for water, certainly, but for other things as well. When another person comes along and points them to an oasis, they both hop into a deep source of water, passing jellyfish and whales. The heartbreaking element was the first person emerging on the other side, with no sign of the person who had saved them. An appeal to darker forces was made, which resulted in creating a loop of eternal thirst. Here, Ray's pencils are delightfully spare and a tad smudged, giving the comic an especially desolate feeling. 

my beast, my friend is similarly propulsive in its narrative, only it's rendered in a more naturalistic style. This can only be described as a horror story, detailing the highest highs of deep friendship and love and the lowest lows of abuse, depression, and suicidal ideations. Midway through the comic, the narrator describes being chained to a dark, great beast after "being turned away from the gates of Dionysus after waiting for 200 years." This was a fascinating sequence, as this is a metaphor for indulgence and sobriety, yet the ensuing state was one of melodramatic, self-spawning darkness. The narrator chose the darkness, in fact, but the betrayal came when a chorus of voices told her to disappear--and one of them was the voice of her friend, "pouring poison into the ears of our friends." The finale of the book, with the narrator cuddling up with the beast, utterly alone, is as desolate as it gets. Ray's language is poetic and the images are rendered in that smudgy, minimalist pencil, warping into grotesque figures unexpectedly. Ray has a lot to say, and I'm curious to see them continue to push themselves on the page.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #25: Kori Michele Handwerker

Kori Michele Handwerker's path as a cartoonist is a bit of a swerve. Instead of doing something long-form, or even self-publishing a lot of stand-alone stories, Handwerker went back to the early 90s and has been doing a series of throwback personal zines. Replete with stickers, comics, recipes, old ads, montages, and other classic zine tropes, Hello Friend also serves as a way to connect during the pandemic. As someone who read a lot of zines during this era and participated in an APA, there's something wonderfully both nostalgic and 100% forward-thinking about these zines. 

Virtually every one of Handwerker's cultural and personal touchstones are foreign to my own experience. It doesn't matter. The ancillary material is precisely what provides context for the comics themselves, fleshing out experiences that go beyond simply things that they like. This is an account of how a life is lived and an almost desperate attempt to share that with as many people as possible in an effort to reduce the isolation that the global pandemic has created as well as a modern culture that discourages one-on-one engagement. 

Handwerker's own self-caricature is a perfectly-rendered mix of cuteness and curiosity, and it's an easy entry point for a new reader into their anecdotes and experiences. These range from things that Handwerker gains comfort from as well as serious discussions with regard to gender presentation and identity. Hello Friend #1 came out in early 2021, and Handwerker notes that it's a manifestation of how they helped get through the pandemic: writing letters and staying connected with others. The first story is about the sheer weariness of depression, the desire for rest that never comes. For many, suicidal ideation isn't so much a matter of wanting to die, it's just wanting to not exist for a while. Here, Handwerker admits they have nothing dramatic to say about the subject other than noting that they're going to get up and keep doing it. The next section is about cute sticker books, with Handwerker's nice hand lettering highlight things they found that delighted them. Another strip about depression is followed by tea recommendations and a fill-in-the-word-balloon game for an old men's underwear ad. A silent story depicting themselves drowning in a flood and coming out the other side, appearing and disappearing is followed by an exhortation to make your own zines. 

The second issue of Hello Friend is a music-themed issue, another classic zine trope. However, in this instance, the zine is specifically about the ways in which music has become a powerful tool for survival. The issue has more talk about stickers, a reprint of their Hourly Comics Day experience. It's all inside, as they work from home and enjoy simple pleasures, like their husband reading them fanfiction. There are also a number of mini-zines tucked inside, each with photo montages and lyrics of favorite songs for particular circumstances: feeling lost, feeling hopeless, etc. 

There were other, shorter minicomics. Some were about favorite anime or dramas, and another about finding out one guy wrote a bunch of their favorite K-pop songs. Another is a reminder that You Never Make Comics Alone, meaning that even in this isolated art form, the cartoonist is always informed by and connected to their influences, peers, and overall community. In an isolated age, it's a comforting thought. Unwind is just a bit of fun, as Handwerker turns toward a wordless comic stretched out over several pages, with the final pages revealing two mermaids intertwined. I have a sense that this is Handwerker's eventual destination as a cartoonist, doing queer fantasy. Finally, there's Potential Energy, a zine not only about their non-binary gender identity, but a thoughtful essay on the frequently reductionist quality of binaries to begin with. Not just with regard to gender, but to all sorts of ideas. Handwerker also notes that their current identity doesn't invalidate prior states; it was just another step along the way. This is a comic that I'd like to see expanded upon at a bigger size, because I think it could help a lot of people in the same way Handwerker stated that Melanie Gillman's comic Non-Binary helped them. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #24: Ashley Jablonski

Ashley Jablonski's comics have a sincerity to them that extends to whatever genre they happen to be working in. In Ghost Lights, for example, Jablonski explores the titular phenomenon which goes by other names, like will o' the wisp, where mysterious lights appear. While there are various scientific theories, others view this event as a portent--for good and ill. What I liked about Jablonski's approach here is that they used historical data in discussing the sightings before revealing their own experience. Jablonski's approach is always to approach an event from a number of different perspectives; they never force an interpretation on the reader. At the same time, their vulnerability in sharing this and other personal and private moments is one of the best qualities of their work. The use of an expressive watercolor palette here is crucial to the comic's success. 

Burn is a compilation of short dream comics, once again done in watercolors. One was about a vampire masquerade and being pursued by a real vampire. This showed off Jablonski's sense of humor, as the bat left behind a bloody valentine in order to woo them. The other was a dream of being on the star Vega and being told telepathically by the dead members of the civilization that Jablonski had been one of them. It ended with a silly pun. While neither of these comics are personal or deep, it shows Jablonski's willingness to go all-in on an assignment. 

Rituals exemplifies the best of Jablonski's work. It's a short comic, done entirely in rough pencils, about the rituals they use as an artist prior to beginning. Jablonski notes the rituals they've seen other artists use and how they've adapted these rituals for themselves, but this mini was also done as a way of passing it on to others. There's something deeply humane and generous about their work; Jablonski seems to be most interested in establishing a connection with their reader, to reach them at an emotional level, that is rare for artists. The pencil lines are expressive and make an immediate impression, further solidifying this direct appeal. 

p...a...r...a...m...n...e...s...i...a... is a different look from Jablonsi. Printed in landscape with a single image per page, it has a flip-book quality to it. That physical quality of the book is apt for the subject matter, as it's about a young woman who's being questioned by the police for an unknown reason. Jablonski slowly eases the reader into this chain of events that starts off with pleasant memories of being outside, then reveals the inquisition, then slowly clues the reader in that there's a serious lacuna going on here and some sinister events. Many of the pages are entirely black, signifying how trauma can blot out memories altogether in order to protect the victim. 

A technique Jablonski uses there and in other comics is the classic dissonance between word and image. It's the tool of the unreliable narrator. It can also be used for humor, like in their small minis Autocorrect Fails and What The Duck?! #2. In Autocorrect Fails, Jablonski draws precisely what the fail depicts; in a fail that used the word "blubber" instead of "number," they drew a walrus. In What The Duck?!, the words "dick" and "fuck" get replaced by "duck," leading salacious or angry texts to be depicted with a duck or duck toy instead. It's a good gag, and Jablonski is good at getting mileage out of them. 

Jablonski is ambitious in their drawing, and their skills as a draftsman sometimes aren't up to their level as a storyteller. Other technical aspects of their work, like lettering, need a lot of work. Jablonski does well when using something to enhance their line like watercolors or using that expressive pencil approach, but simplifying their line in all aspects as they develop those skills would probably lead to more cohesive results. It's clear that their storytelling and cartooning have become rock-solid in a variety of different genres, so this is simply a matter of just continuing to develop and getting better in public. e

Thursday, December 23, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #23: Al Varela

Al Varela's work is different from a lot of their classmates, but in many respects is representative of comics at large, especially with regard to webcomics. This mini, Love Game, is part of a larger series called Young, Dumb & Queer (an all-time great title!). The art style is clear manga-influenced, and the character design is clear, consistent, and highly expressive. While it's full color, the color doesn't overwhelm the line art and things like gesture and body language. 

From a technical standpoint, I just wished it was bigger. The art felt cramped. The text overwhelmed the art in a lot of panels, in part because in a character study like this, there was a lot of dialogue that needed to be used. I often speak of a rough 2:1 rule in panels and on pages: Two-thirds of your panel should be an image, and no more than one-third should be text. This is a rough rule that can be worked around, but when the text overwhelms the art on multiple pages (especially if it's a talking heads story), it leads to feeling cramped. I also appreciated Varela hand-lettering the whole thing, but their lettering suffered from the same cramped quality. They'd probably benefit from using an Ames guide to letter, in addition to alloting more space to the art.

As for the story, Varela effortlessly weaves multiple relationships in multiple states for a group of young queers who are trying to figure things out. The aspect of the story that I found most interesting was that there were heroes or villains in this story--only people trying to figure things out as best they could, often while trying to combat their own limitations and mental illness. For example, Leslie is a character who hurt Maggie. Maggie was concerned when she spotted Leslie making out with Faith, both because she was worried that Leslie might hurt faith but also that her lovesick friend Pearl would freak out, because she was into Faith. Leslie does and says a lot of insensitive things in this comic, but she's not a villain. Her self-loathing has painted her into a corner where she feels "bad" and hence does "bad" things, but those are ultimately her own choice and ineffective as behavior. The story explores the limits of each of the characters as they ultimately share empathy and work things out, with some funny and awkward steps along the way. Varela has a keen understanding of character dynamics that's enhanced by their skilled use of gesture and an understanding of how bodies interact in space. In other words, their storytelling is quite good; it's just some of the details that need to be cleaned up.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #22: Annabel Driussi

Annabel Driussi's comics delve into some serious topics surrounding love, intimacy, and vulnerability. However, there is an upbeat quality to almost all of her work that shines through, even in the most difficult of reads. Driussi has a background in neuroscience and has done a lot of science illustration work, but her personal comics here are frequently funny, sexy, dark, probing, and horny. While she has a particular aesthetic that carries over to all of her projects, she's also capable of truly varied work, especially in terms of tone. 

Fig Leaf was her first minicomic, and it showed in terms of layouts, lettering and sequencing. However, Driussi's style was quickly in place and the black/white flip in terms of negative space was highly effective in this harrowing conversation between father and daughter about sexual preference and their own fraught relationship. Sure On This Shining Night is an assured howl of anger, depicting (presumably) the artist riding a bike at night, being sexually harassed and then followed by a man in a car, and her frustration and anger once she was safe. The fact that she even had to ponder being safe when she was just trying to get from point a to point b was the reason for this explosion. The use of color is meant to add a sense of visual dissonance to the proceedings, doubling as a way of expressing the emotional narrative of the story. 

Deeper! is sort of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea meets H.P. Lovecraft, only as lesbian erotica. It takes itself exactly as seriously as you would expect, to its great benefit. There's not any actual sex or nudity depicted, but the salaciousness is amusing, as is the genius virgin-related gag the defeats the deranged villain. Driussi was forced to work a little small, as she crammed a lot of panels onto each page. That sometimes hurt her character renderings, as she couldn't quite decide at times when to drop out detail and when to do a more detailed rendering, and the results were mixed. 

The Bull & The Gnat was the Aesop's Fable assignment, but it was completed with her left (non-dominant) hand because of an injury to the other hand. It looks like it was done with colored pencils, and it speaks to the idea of cartooning and illustrating being two related, but different skills. The rendering was actually quite good, even if the lettering was rough, but the whole story is really about the gnat's actions being irrelevant to the bull, so the gnat may as well do what it wants. Rice Krispies is the Ed Emberley assignment, and Driussi made this a sort of stoner break-up story, where the main character is hung up on his ex, regrets his actions, and later learns he was totally forgotten. The animal heads of every character turn out to be a result of his being high. Driussi really nails the setting and these particular character types, and their style was well-suited to work in the stripped-down Emberley style. 

Finally, Touch Your Self! was Driussi's most interesting comic. Not because of the obviously salacious subject matter regarding masturbation, but because of her incredible vulnerability and the critical faculties she brings to bear on the idea of not only catering to male fantasies by her very existence, but that masturbation for her was always performative and never only for her. She then turns the tables and asks the reader to think about masturbation and what it means to them. In so doing, she is both engaging the reader in an intimate connection and also putting the reader in that same performative space that she finds it hard to get out of. The visuals are frank and stark, tinged with the slightest touch of humor but mostly played completely straight. 

Driussi is a thinker as a cartoonist. It's interesting take her work in a vastly different direction from her applied comics work with regard to science, yet still use that sense of composition in some of her work. It's also fun to see her loosen up while zeroing in on these issues related to intimacy and vulnerability. I'm curious to see what her thesis will look like and what she pursues in the future.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #21: Kit Anderson

Kit Anderson is an exceptional young talent. With years of graphic design experience, it's obvious that her comics are well-considered in terms of composition. However, despite her obvious skill as an illustrator, there's a welcome lack of slickness in her work. It is just visceral enough to really draw in the eye instead of repelling it. Anderson is also the rare CCS artist explicitly interested in literary/alternative comics, a form of comics storytelling that's become less dominant in the past few years. It's clear that they excel in this milieu. 

Anderson is interested in the emotional ramifications of being caught betwixt and between. Her comics also deal explicitly with memory and identity. "Glasshouse Transcript" is an interview with a woman about a past memory of meeting with a friend during the lunch break of her job. Formally, Anderson does a number of interesting things here. Each page is a single image. We never see any people, except in faint outlines as part of memories. The narrative captions are one-sided, entirely from the woman's point of view. We never learn why she's being interviewed or by whom. The focus of the "action" is on a bench in the glasshouse, a visual metonym for longing, happiness, and then loss. The ink wash gives the entire thing an atmosphere of nostalgia and regret, and the slightly enigmatic ending doesn't mute the sense of what was lost--and why, as this was a queer relationship that could never be. 

Dive, an entry for a CCS anthology, is another story about an in-between space in a journey. One can see Anderson experimenting with figure work possibilities, with some drawings more successful than others. The real attraction here is a quiet, desperate kind of storytelling as Anderson depicts an abusive relationship defined by poor communication, a crisis that becomes literal as a woman at first seems to drown, and a surreal ending that metaphorically depicts the end of a transformative journey. There's more than a little touch of David Lynch here, and the blue color wash that appears highlights that use of light and color as a transformative narrative element. 

Quests is something completely different. It's cartoony, but also carefully cross-hatched. It's in full color, but the colors are muted and restrained. The short story here may as well be a metaphor for being an artist: it's an eccentric man who may be a wizard and whose motivations are unclear. He works to save a baby bird using certain techniques, including some yarn he's purchased, then moves on. It's a story about the ways in which narratives brush against each other, briefly existing in the same orbit before moving on. 

Country Lane is about another relationship and another liminal space. It's about a couple where one half isn't ready to fully commit by moving in, in part because that adds a certain finality to the decision. She also has trouble sleeping (a symptom of being betwixt and between to be sure), and her partner downloads the sort of sleeping-guide app that is familiar to anyone who's ever had trouble sleeping. The comic concludes with her listening to the recording and it turning into something else, concluding with standing outside out of a house at night, seeing someone waiting for them. The guiding voice asks, "Are you going to go in?" It's a brilliant, subtle exploration of the subconscious, where one knows what the right answer to the question is but can't quite pull the trigger. The narrative is left unresolved, because the story is about this indecision and self-inflicted misery. The use of yellow as a spot color is careful, because the girlfriend's shirt is yellow, and that color is repeated throughout the story. 

The Whorl is the first part of a larger story that also stands on its own. Here, Anderson dips further into horror. Not so much gore or monsters, but the ways in which the unexplained and a loss of identity is a terrifying experience. It's about two sisters going through a morning routine. One of them (Allie) is an early riser who loves to go running, and the other (Claire) prefers to get up later. One morning, Allie finds something unusual out in nature: some kind of whorl phenomenon. Whether it's light or energy or water or sound or something else is unclear and irrelevant. However, when she photographs it and sends it to Claire, there's a gap of time. The only clue that there's something amiss is that the cat freaks out. Later, Claire shows the unusual photo of Allie and the whorl to a friend...but has no idea who Allie is. She has never existed. It's a moment of existential terror to lose track of one's own identity, but it's just as bad for the reader when someone close to her disappears as well. Anderson uses a graywash here as well and a naturalistic approach, but this time it's all used to establish mood. 

Anderson seems like she's trying to figure out exactly what kind of cartoonist she wants to be, as she dips in and out of genre in interesting ways. Each mini is quite good on its own, but taken together it really informs the reader that this is a restless, probing talent matching her themes against her use of technique in genre in a restrained, mature fashion. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

31 Days Of CCS #20: Ross Wood Studlar

It's always good to see a new comic from Ross Wood Studlar, the forest ranger/cartoonist. His comics always center around nature and folk tales. His latest, Can Jumping Spiders See The Moon?, is one of the more technically accomplished comics of his career as it focused on an interesting arachnid. Studlar details the story of the Jumping Spider, an arachnid interesting because it can see in color and each of its eyes acts like a camera with greater range of visibility than other spiders or insects. Furthermore, it is a patient and strategic hunter, using techniques not unlike big cats, which is unusual considering a jumping spider's brain is tiny compared to that of a lion. 

Studlar's feathery, beautiful line is equal to the task of making the spider come alive. Studlar captures their movements and general lively quality, then shifts over to an equally well-drawn fantasy scene of a jumping spider playing a lion in a game of chess. Studlar's throughline is wondering about what these spiders think about; what do they make of sights like the moon? How much of their cleverness as hunters is tied into their sensory apparatus, and how much of it is tied to larger cognitive capacity? These are interesting questions, and Studlar's natural curiosity rewards the reader in a comic that is informative but is far from a dry recitation of facts. There's always an element of narrative in his work. This feels like a chapter in a longer work about Studlar's observations, and it seems he's been building them for quite some time. 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #19: Emil O Melia

Emil O Melia is an example of a first-year CCS student who makes the most of the standard assignments. In On The Market, for example, this is the Aesop's Fable assignment about a young mouse who thought a rooster was threatening and a cat was friendly, until her mother told her not to judge appearances. Melia drew a story featuring anthropomorphic characters, as a mouse named Yon took a job at a farmer's market and was immediately seduced by a cat. The next day, when she was befriended by a rooster, the cat revealed that she was just trying to make her girlfriend jealous when she made out with Yon. It's a gentle jab of a story, one where Melia's delicate touch with their pencil and vivid use of colors carried the gently amusing narrative. 

Ilex is the classic CCS application comic, which must feature a robot, a snowman, and a piece of fruit. Melia turned it into a horror comic. Melia spotted a snowman with a tangled piece of downed power line as an arm on a walk after contracting food poisoning. What they slowly realized was that the snowman's arm was dropping poisonous holly berries into their meds and tea in an effort to murder them. The comic doesn't outlive its welcome, and though it looks like it was drawn quickly and digitally, there's a spontaneity to the line that's appealing. 

Twin Flame is the Ed Emberley assignment. Melia really got into the spirit of absolute minimalism, with the slight cheat of relying heavily on color for narrative clarity. It's a story of two best friends who seem to have some kind of godlike or spiritual role in the world. Separated by distance, they meet in dreams and in the forms of their creations, who are all in their image. It's a touching, gentle romance of a story. Melia is clearly just trying to figure things out as an artist, but there's a light touch to their storytelling that's highly appealing. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #18: Leeah Swift

Leeah Swift's comics have a searing quality owing to her willingness to churn through a lot of issues in public, especially with regard to mental health. As a result, I braced myself for the stories in her collection Tit Bits, given the plethora of content warnings at the beginning and an apologia at the end. However, the collection felt quite restrained and reserved, leaving much to the imagination in its examination of various kinds of tensions. Which is not to say that they weren't interesting or emotionally resonant, just not as heavy as Swift implied.

"A Talk" was my favorite of the three stories. It depicts an outdoors adventure with two trans women, Violet and Jane, who have diametrically opposed ideas as to what it means to live as a trans person. Of course, the ridiculous adventure, including tiptoeing over a suspension bridge, going over rough ground, and up rope ladders, was all a funny visual metaphor for the rough ground they were experiencing as friends. Jane couldn't stop framing every idea and personal interaction as a political one, and Violet was tired of jargon and politics and just wanted to be a woman. Moreover, she didn't want to be talked down to just because she didn't want to engage politically. In the afterword, Swift said she didn't want to make specific, grand statements about being trans; while that may be true, she still touched on something that really landed here. 

"A Joke" is about a deeply depressed and anxious woman named Luna, and the story is about not just the awkwardness of social interactions and social anxiety in general, but about how sometimes the possibility of communication seems impossible. This plays out in the form of a joke that Luna tells after she's late for work yet again, and it also points to the ways in which boundaries play out in situations like this. Swift's distorted, grotesque, and funny cartooning is the star here, especially as Luna's face twists into grimaces and forced smiles. 

"A Show" is the simplest of the three stories, but also the most emotionally powerful in its way. It's about a trans woman named Alexa who simply wants to get a bite to eat before she walks home from work and her fear in being pursued by an overbearing asshole. It speaks to both the possibility of sexual violence that women face in situations like this, and how this is often even more dangerous for trans women. In the story, she makes it home safely (thanks in part to a bit of magical realism and a lamp post that helps hide her) and texts someone who cares about her. That last page, a splash page where she's safely in bed, is an expression of not just relief but connection. Swift's storytelling is an absolute delight, and its singular stylistic quality will actually work for any number of stories. 

Friday, December 17, 2021

31 Days Of CCS #17: Violet Kitchen

Violet Kitchen, another first-year CCS student, definitely has the goods. She submitted five comics for review, and they're all quite good. You Are These Streets And These Streets Are You is comics-as-poetry with a memorable palette consisting of violet, blue, and yellow. The water metaphor is used in an interesting way; rather than the constant rain being depressing, Kitchen instead talks about mirroring the malleability of water and literally going with the flow, "ready to pour myself out to the nearest passerby, to prove that water has a memory." Matching the text with images of rain pouring from the sky, umbrellas in the street, and water running down drains as a sort of visual metonomy is clever and heartfelt. 

Immortals is the Ed Emberley assignment, about an immortal being trying to track down another immortal being on an otherwise inhabitated planet. Kitchen goes beyond aspects of the assignment in that everything in the comic is fairly naturalistic with the exception of the protagonist, who is strictly a stick figure. An expressive stick figure, to be sure, but a stick figure nonetheless. Once again, Kitchen's prose is assured, terse, and powerful. 

Do You Believe In Life After Love? is a classic experimental comic, taking pages from many other comics and doing a "mixtape" style cut-up with an entirely new narrative superpositioned over the original images. In this case, it's literally about a mixtape that someone made and is listening to now in an effort to not kill themselves. Kitchen has an interesting and varied bookshelf, especially in terms of color, and it made for a lively experiment. 

Baggage is from an anthology about in-between spaces that Kitchen was part of, and it's yet another polished, smart, and visually striking but restrained narrative. This story is about hotel rooms, clearly inspired by Richard McGuire's classic story "Here." That's a story about a space over a long period of time, as opposed to a set of characters, and there's a particular page where Kitchen depicts snippets of the lives of dozens of people who stayed in that room, echoing the experience of her unseen protagonist, who muses on living out of a suitcase, trying to imprint a little of one's home on a room, and then leaving it all behind. She also muses that we leave something of ourselves in these spaces; dreams, if nothing else. 

Lack. is a personal zine about Kitchen coming to terms with the idea that she is asexual. This was my favorite of Kitchen's work, partly because it was the most personal and partly because the art was more raw. One possible concern for her as an artist is a tendency to be almost too polished at times; I wanted to see something where she spilled a little ink, metaphorically speaking, and had a little more urgency in her line. The is a memoir that discusses a lifetime of feeling like she was missing something because she didn't feel sexual attraction and horror at the prospect of delivering something she didn't want to do with she was older. Combine that with a perpetually youthful appearance, and Kitchen described a sense of being "unfinished." When she finally came to terms with asexuality, she noted that while it was freeing, she's still having trouble fully coming to terms with being romantic but asexeal. Helping others has helped her accept it herself a little, but I appreciated the idea that she hadn't made some hero's journey, where everything was great on the other side. Things are still confusing, uncertain, and fraught. Kitchen's use of black and white and a slightly tremulous line made the story all the more effective, getting across her vulnerability in a way that her confident prose didn't always directly convey. Kitchen can do anything she wants and is on her way to big things; I'll be curious to see her direction.